Thursday, July 26, 2007


Jamaica Kincaid was a bit late to this afternoon's Q&A. So to pass the time, poet Henri Cole asked audience members to stand up and recite any poems we had memorized. I was surprised and saddened to realize I didn't know any. The best I can do is the opening lines to A Prayer for Owen Meany...

I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice. Not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God. I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.

It gets better from there, but I can't remember anymore. It's a great beginning, but I should know a poem, dammit! (And maybe a little more from Owen Meany's first paragraph.) So this is the task I'm set for myself, to memorize a really great poem. And then who knows? Maybe I'll want to memorize another. Another? For starters, I'm thinking maybe something by Carl Sandberg or Emerson.

I challenge others to do the same. Come on, at least it's not the multiplication table.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

With the Finish Line in Sight

Tonight was a one-two punch of literary readings...Robert Stone and Allan Gurganus. Stone's piece was an excerpt from his memoir, and concerned a trip he took with Ken Kesey el at. Merry Pranksters down to Mexico. So much of what I've heard here over the last month has been preoccupied with New York or the east coast, that it was refreshing to hear about somewhere. And not simply somewhere else, but California, even if it was the top half.

Allan Guganus read a funny, sad, indelible story about a senile old man, told from his son's perspective.

Today was my last workshop. It's been an incredible month, helpful to my writing in myriad ways...ways I know I won't fully comprehend for another few months.

Ten-year high school reunion!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Two-for-one (Entry for Friday and Saturday)

Last night's reading included Ricky Moody. His piece was a sequel to a story titled "Story with Advice*," which he previously published in Conjunctions. The basic premise is a newspaper advice columnist continuing to answer readers' questions, all of which center around death and the afterlife. Suffice to say, it was very funny and astute.

I realized I haven't yet commented on this second workshop, which is lead by Rick. So here's my comment: it's going great. There are seventeen of us brave workshoppers, almost half of whom are from New York. Last session, nearly half of the participants were Californians.

A friend who's also training for Superfrog has begun calling it "The Frog." So henceforth, this blog will simply refer to it as "The Frog."

I did a brick today in preparation for The Frog, 2:30 on an exercise bike and a 30-minute run. I spent a good amount of the cycling session wondering why exercise bikes don't have split seats (and why I didn't bring my bike with me to Skidmore). There have been sweeping advancements in the world of exercise equipment--elliptical cycles, neoprene-convered dumbbells, disinfectant to rid machines of cooties. Why can't someone streamline the shape of the exercise bike seat and put a crevice down its middle?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Too Smart For My Own Blog

While waiting for tonight's reading to begin (Lee Abbott and Binnie Kirshenbaum, both very enjoyable) I looked over at the person next to me, an older gentleman, and silently remarked to myself the chances of seeing someone at a literary event who looks like John Updike. He had his thick grey hair, his sport jacket, his characteristic nose, everything your mind flashes to when picturing the great novelist. And so while Lee Abbott read, my mind wandered (although Lee's story was engrossing, really) and I wondered how my situation would make an interesting blog entry--sitting next to someone at a reading who looks like John Updike. I really turned it over in my head--the generous smile, the brown leather loafers, it all fit the "type" of John Updike.

Later at the reception, a workshop mate tipped me off to the fact that John Updike was in fact in the audience. And yes, he was sitting next to me. I hear he has a house nearby, and sometimes drops in for the Skidmore readings. Usually, writers of stature sit in the cordoned-off front row. But he chose to slip into the audience...and next to a spacey young woman.

So what was going to be a funny blog entry is hopefully still that, but in a different way. I never mind when the joke is on me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


So I am finally going to do Superfrog this year. Since I'm without my bike for a month, the best I can do is an exercise bike in Skidmore's gym. This evening I did a 75-minute cycle and 20-minute run. It went surprisingly well, but that could be because the "bike" was devoid of wind resistance, three-way stops, stop lights, traffic, Del Mar Fair traffic, hills, angry motorists, flying objects, potholes, road construction, other cyclists, runners, baby strollers, skateboarders, rain, wind, or lobsters on the road (to be fair, I only encountered this once). It was easy, but it was boring as all hell. And I was forced to watch some western on the tv nearest to me. I don't know how this guy, or this guy, did it.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Lake George

A woman in my workshop took myself and another workshop mate out on her boat on Lake George. After being on campus for two weeks, it was a perfect getaway. And the weather coorperated, too; high seventies, no humidity. We swam and motored around a portion of the very big lake.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Halfway Point

Marilynne Robinson read from Gilead this evening. At the reception, my class assembled three tables and a bunch of chairs, and peppered her with questions about writing. She led our workshop for a week, but somehow there wasn't enough time to ask these questions. She graciously answered one and all.

Most of the people in my workshop aren't staying on for session II and gave me what they didn't want to take home. Anyone need a hangar? I wish I had enough clothes to use them all.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The McCannMan

Tonight was the Tri Club McCannMan Aquathlon. I did my own McCannMan in honor of Jim here in Saratoga Springs by swimming in the pool and running through campus. I almost left the conference early, opting to head home after the first session, but life is appallingly short.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Long-haul Trucker

Joyce Carol Oates read tonight and it was simply amazing. Her story, which imagined the last days of Ernest Hemingway's life, had a deeply affecting compassion for the characters, delivered with a lyric intensity that seduced a listener, like a snake charmer's flute to a cobra. After nearly two weeks at Skidmore--my time spent considering and reconsidering and re-reconsidering how one tells a story--to hear something complete and successful and beautiful reminded me that it can be done, and why I want to do it.

Afterwards she took audience questions, and at one point compared her job as a writer to that of a truck driver. In essence, she makes the long haul, day and night and with blinding oncoming lights, occasionally careening into ditches and then having to get the darn thing back out the mud, all for the finish line. Which isn't really a finish line but a quick rest stop, before making the trip again.

Random non sequitur: check out this house. Who knew Agoura was so hip?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007, Flashlight Reading

Alix Ohlin and Charles Simic read tonight. I'd heard good things about both of them (they both lived up to their press) and was looking forward to the reading. But I didn't expect it to be such a memorable evening. With the power out across campus (and the city of Saratoga Springs), they read by flashlight. Charles Simic confessed he couldn't read the poems he'd originally planned on, and instead chose ones appropriate for the unusual evening...including one referencing Hieronymous Bosch...any poem referencing Hieronymous Bosch is a-okay with me.

I know you're wondering, is she feverishly typing to get this out before her computer battery dies? Thankfully, the power was eventually restored, and my air conditioner is churning out cool air.

I met with Marilynne for a one-on-one about my manuscript. Essentially, she told me to wipe away the artifice of an imposed plot, and trust my instinct about what first interested me in the story. It's good advice...and requires a big rewrite. And one I won't be doing until I get the okay from my instinct.

Monday, July 9, 2007


My novel excerpt was workshopped today. It was very helpful. I'm going to let the thing sit for a few months and return to short stories, but really, this means it was very helpful.

Everyone in the Writers program has told me I look about 18. So I've gotten used to feeling like a young'in here, as some nebulous, ill-defined "they" say. But when lifting weights this afternoon in the school's gym (the weather gods are playing a cruel joke on the northeast, and I couldn't possibly run in 9000% humidity), with gangster rap music blaring, I made one final pull on the rowing machine and thought, I am old.

Saturday, July 7, 2007


I've been trying to photograph one of these suckers for a week now. This is the fuzzy result.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Bedtime Story

Michael Ondaatje read tonight from his latest book, Divisadero. A Sri Lankan-Canadian novelist reading a story set in central California in an auditorium in upstate New York. It almost made me forget who I was and what was real and imaginary.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Breakfast with Ballerinas

The Summer Writers Institute is one of several summer programs happening at Skidmore. This morning I ate breakfast (a surprisingly good bowl of oatmeal) surrounded by ballerinas--each in footless tights, at least one article of pink clothing, and their hair pulled into a perfect bun (even the ones who looked eight years old. Are hair buns as elementary as first position? Mine are always lopsided).

Yesterday I passed several suspiciously masculine-looking girls on my way to the cafeteria. Once there I saw a dozen young boys in drag. These are the same kids who I've also seen spooled in masking tape. There must be a theatre program on campus.

And lots of other artsy-types in general. Because on my way across campus, I spotted the world's longest daisy chain.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Fourth of July

This best sums up my Fourth of July. No, I didn't reread one of my favorite books. And no, Richard Ford wasn't on campus. But with Skidmore completely denying the holiday, and saddled with 90 pages of manuscripts to read, this is as close as I got to any type of American celebration. Maybe next year.

My day's most festive activity was a run in the rain. It was beautiful.

Mary's take-way phrase from today's workshop was "No Cheetos in fiction." Which means no fluff. Making every word count. It applies to my month here, too. Making every writing and reading session count. Then I'll go home, back to the real world, and make every moment with Bryan count.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Skidmore College

The sights...

Sunday, July 1, 2007

New York, New York

When a workshop mate tells you how, while wearing a tomato-red down parka, she smacked into Mikhail Baryshnikov on a busy sidewalk and levelled the lithe dancer, you know it's going to be an epic summer in New York.