In Which the Prof Feels His Existence Is Somewhat Justified

Trung Duong is a student of mine, a double major in English and graphic design. He’s also an All-American wrestler and a terrific kid, and he’s in my poetry workshop this term.

In any case, Trung stopped by my office the other day with some questions about a poem I value very much. We talked about it, and about the ideas underlying it. It’s always great to talk about cool poems with the students — indeed, that’s a big reason I got into this racket.

A couple of days later, I found out Trung’s motivation for asking me about it.


He brought it by my office and gave me a lovely printed copy, which I’ll frame and hang in the office very soon. I’m very grateful — not just for the work, which is beautiful, but for the reminder that sometimes all the talking I’m doing gets through and that I get to share something beautiful in a way that will let it live for another generation.

Posted in Culture, Education, Literature, Why I Do What I Do | 1 Comment

In Which The Spawn Enters a New Demographic

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the Spawn’s visible (and audible) entry into the life of Clan Mondo. Through a fortunate confluence of events, her class for today was cancelled, and she put in her regular Friday work hours yesterday, so she’s free for the day, and may even be awake by now. As a consequence, I’ll be knocking off before too long and escorting her to her favorite burger joint in Real City, followed by a jaunt to the bookstore and then a screening of Logan, after which we’ll head home for the cake and gifts thing.

My mom (who was six feet tall) used to say that she had always wanted a guy around that required her to look up — she hadn’t realized, however, that she’d have to grow her own. Likewise, I’m thrilled to have someone around with whom I can talk about writing, geek culture, and a variety of other topics — and I’m pleased with the part I’ve played in her getting there.

She’s putting together a submission for the Mondoville literary mag, and continues to sharpen her writing skills. Her grades are solid as well, but the best part of her rising maturity is that she has become more willing to engage with the world and people around her. And every day for twenty years now, I’ve found a new way to be proud of her.

Happy birthday, Em — I love you.

Posted in Family, Why I Do What I Do | 2 Comments

Frost Revisited

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

And if you can’t get either, screw it — go with the spiders.

A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to Herr Schreck, via the book of faces.

Posted in Culture, Literature | Leave a comment


For years, I’ve been among those who joke about books people buy, but never read, such as Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time or Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum — books that occupy space on shelves or tables as social signals, totems of an intellectual bent that may or may not actually exist, but which the wielder hopes to communicate to his audience. In recent years, meanwhile, there seems to be a cultural shift away from this sort of poseurism, but it’s a shift toward another sort — whatever one might call the position of proudly discussing books one hasn’t read.

In some ways, I think there’s a weird manifestation of E.D. Hirsch’s cultural literacy at work. Remember, Hirsch observed that it isn’t necessary to actually read a work like Romeo and Juliet; one can function quite well as long as one can identify it as the referent in a line like “Wherefore art thou?” (Of course, lots of folks think “wherefore” means “where” rather than “why”, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.)

But where I’m going with this is that a growing proportion of people — including those who ostensibly think about books and literature, including those who are actually paid to do that very thing — are acknowledging that in many cases, they have not read the works under discussion, nor have they the intention of reading those works. Ever. And while in the past, such an admission was, well, an admission, we now seem to find it declared with insouciance, even a wink at one’s own cheekiness.

It is a world not of illiteracy, but rather aliteracy, and while we may be used to that sort of thing from the historic underclasses of our society (although not always — consider the 20th-C. phenomenon of the Middlebrow with ambition, or farther back, Johnson’s boatman who longed for the chance to be educated), it’s a more recent development in the allegedly intellectual classes.

All this is the subject of an article by Alex Good in Canadian periodical The Walrus — I commend it to your attention, and find the conclusion intriguing:

We have created a void, and what has rushed to fill it is either ignorant bloviating or, even worse, the manipulations of self-interested parties, now free to operate without checks or balances. Such hollowness may be comfortable—not reading is easier than reading—but it cannot be sustained. What scares me is that the rot now so much in evidence at the top of the food chain is the result of what have been bottom-up cultural forces. Which means we really have nothing to fall back on as well as no guides left to urge a change of course.

Posted in Culture, Education, Literature | 3 Comments

Gig Report: Friday at the Soundbox

It was time for some observable Berries activity last night, as we were paying another visit to Simpsonville’s Soundbox Tavern. The 80% of the band who live in or near to Mondoville gathered at the studio at 7 p.m., and Larry rode with me in the drum hauler as we made the 50-minute drive to the Upstate. We were first to arrive, and the other guys showed up a few minutes later, in time to load in.

Soundbox Marquee

Although we were the titular headliner, we were the second of the three bands to perform last night — which was actually at our request, as the other two bands were relatively local. First up were Streetfish, a recently formed band from Greenville. One thing that caught our attention was the band’s guitarist, an older, bearded fellow who happened to be wearing an outfit (dark vest, dark blue shirt, slacks) that was nearly identical to the ensemble that Larry (an older, bearded fellow) of the Berries was wearing. As we were introducing ourselves to the guys, the guitarist stepped up, “I’m Larry,” he said.

“So’s he,” I said. Holy doppelgangers, Batman. And then it was time for their set, so I settled onto a sofa by the soundboard and Justin and I shared a pizza as Streetfish powered their way through a set of original alt-rock with a strong 90s groove and a leavening of covers that fit the vibe quite nicely. They also brought a significant crowd to the show, and the fans gave the local heroes the support they earned. In fact, the response was warm enough to spark an encore, a cover of Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Streetfish appear to have a good thing going — and I expect they’ll only get stronger as they get more shows under their belts.

We were up next, and broke out a 16-song set that included a couple of new songs. We capped the set with our own encore, a cover of the Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird.” Although we’ve played Soundbox several times now, we’re still the out-of-towners on the bill, and so we don’t really have a built-in audience there, which we do in Real City, for example. We meet new audiences every time we play Upstate. This means that every time we’re there, we see it as an opportunity to win the audience over,  and judging from the kind words we got as we cleared the stage, I think we did a solid job last night.

People at our shows are often struck because four of us take lead vocals at different points in the set — and because I’m one of the four. But last night, members of both of the other bands asked how we decide who sings what. Basically, people sing the songs they wrote, and I also take most of the covers, possibly because I’m frequently the guy who finds them for the band. Meanwhile, I always get a few comments from people about the “singing drummer” bit, but it really doesn’t seem that hard to me — the voice just becomes one more limb to coordinate as I play. I sing more in this band than I have in other groups, but part of that also has historically been a function of microphone issues around the kit. Ultimately, though I think that as a singer, I’m a reasonably competent drummer.

Three-fifths of the band hit the road after our set, but Larry and I stuck around to see Finding Freedom, another Greenville band. They opened the set with a nice rendition of the Eagles’ version of “Seven Bridges Road”, including the a cappella sections. While I’m not an Eagles fan (indeed, I lean toward a “Dude from The Big Lebowski position), I respected FF’s willingness to open with a challenging vocal number like that. They also took what I thought was an unusual step by covering a song from Needtobreathe, an Upstate band that has made it to a higher level, having released several albums and doing the national tour thing.

Like Needtobreathe, Finding Freedom does bluesy, mainstream classic-sounding rock with a decidedly southern inflection, and could be played back-to-back with acts like Tom Petty or the Black Crowes without cognitive dissonance. An equally interesting point of comparison (to me, anyway) is that the band’s lyrics have a spiritual dimension without spilling into the preachiness that shows up in too much “Christian Contemporary Music.” The band offered a nice, tight mix of the spiritual and the secular, and the audience responded warmly.

We congratulated them on a nice set as Larry and I picked up our pay and got on the road. I dropped Larry off at his place, went home, had a few brownies that Mrs. M had thoughtfully left for me, and got to bed a few minutes before three this morning. As usual, it was a good time, meeting new people and hearing some new music. Our next scheduled gig is next month at our Art Bar home base, but I’m already looking forward to getting back Upstate as well.

Posted in Music | Leave a comment

An Observation from a Percussing Professor

The classroom across the hall from mine has a faulty HVAC unit. While the unit still seems to fulfill its purpose, it’s pretty loud. Today, there’s a loud rattling emanating from that side of the room, sounding for all the world like castanets. Doubtless it’s annoying enough in itself, but it may be even worse for me, because I keep hearing rhythms in the not-quite-random noise, which makes me think of the songs that go with those rhythms. Thus far today, I’ve found myself distractedly humming this:


but on my way back to my office, it morphed into this classic opening:

and it’s on the verge of going full earworm on me.

I can only hope I shake it off before tonight’s gig. And that the climate control there is quiet.

Posted in Culture, Education, Music, Why I Do What I Do | 1 Comment

A Few Words from LB, and a Look at the Weekend

I’m pleased to report that the “Mountain Times” section of the Watauga Democrat  is sporting a chat with Lawrence Block about the decade’s finest collection of short fiction inspired by the work of Edward Hopper. Along the way he mentions an upcoming anthology of his that will include another of my stories. As ever, it’s an honor to be on the team. Check it out.

In other news, the Berries are headed to the Soundbox Tavern tomorrow night for a show with Finding Freedom and Streetfish. This will be a bit of a challenge, as our set will likely conflict with a sizable portion of the titanic struggle between UCLA and my beloved Kentucky Wildcats in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Nonetheless, I’ll try to keep smacking out the 2 and 4 as necessary, and doubtless a gig report will follow. See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Literature, Music | Leave a comment