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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Two Days

Two days and I still haven’t been down to Boston.

Not uncommon: I live across the river, by the Somerville / Cambridge line.  We have coffee shops and restaurants and libraries and gyms and bookstores enough, and once those are accounted for I’m content to shuttle from one to the other to the other as the mood takes me.  I used to work in Seaport, but these days I only take the Red Line across the Charles to meet my wife after work, for drinks or a show.  I was born near here, but I only returned a few years back.  I’m nothing like a native, haven’t even assimilated much—like Shen Fu, I live in the floating world.

So I haven’t been to Boston in a while, and certainly not in the last two days.

I went down to MIT this afternoon to meet friends who have been out of the country for the last few months.  Lots of National Guard at the subway station, which confused me at first, before I remembered.  Like normal friends long-separated we talked about everything, which means, of course, that we talked about the marathon.  One knew a woman who was hurt, badly.  The other had trouble making it into the city this morning because of a bomb scare on the Framingham line.  The city shut down cell service, apparently, but you could still send and receive texts.  This didn’t make much sense to us.

About when it was time for me to leave, we received word that Kendall Square might be evacuated.  Another scare, maybe, or just procedure.  People coughed on the subway, on the outbound ride.  I could hear the movement of their feet.  Can I always hear the movement of their feet?  Do people always cough that much on subways?  Or were the voices gone?

A pen is like a knife; to observe is to cut.  That classic move, choreographed like an aikido sword form: step back from whatever, let the experience rush in, then slice it into manageable chunks.  But selection matters, and the slices that first occur to us are no more true than any.  They are just the closest echo of our minds’ diseases.

Today was the first day that felt like Spring—that being the first day the sky doesn’t intimidate you into bringing a jacket that zips or buttons up, the first day you don’t feel the weather’s other shoe about to drop.  Leaving the house this morning I saw an honest-to-God robin eating an honest-to-god worm, which I don’t remember ever seeing before, with my own eyes.  In Davis Square a man played acoustic guitar through an amplifier under budding trees, and in the T stop there a toddler danced on the counter of her father’s snack stand, singing tunelessly along.  And people did talk on the subway, and argue, and laugh, and my friends did return from their adventures with plans for more, and people reach out to one another in a thousand subtle ways.  Brick buildings shine bronze in sunset.  Across the bridge near Alewife station, the lane of traffic bound toward the Concord Pike was stop and go traffic, almost every car inhabited by a single driver.  Up the opposing, empty, lane a motorcycle zipped, two people on its back, her arms around his waist.  All that’s there, and it’s real.

But I will go to Boston, soon.

Marathon Checkin for People I Know

This is a horrible moment, and I’m creating this list in an effort to move some of the text message / cell phone load in my community onto the internet.  My wife and I are fine.  Much of this is redundant with Facebook, but I’m not friends on Facebook with everyone, and lots of folk I know don’t check Facebook regularly, so here’s a list of people who I’ve heard from & are okay:

  • Steph N
  • Dan J
  • Jon J
  • Vlad B
  • Marshall W
  • Matt M
  • Seth B
  • Lisa D
  • Vardit H-C
  • Richard H-C
  • Andre G
  • Jess G
  • Vicky
  • Stef F & Anna P
  • Heather F
  • Nat D & Emmy M.
  • Nat & Michelle W-R
  • Stu & Alicia R
  • Hyoun P
  • Mike & Lisa S
  • Benji S & Emily L.
  • Sarah M.
  • Todd & Lynda S
  • Lauren M
  • Amy Sarah E.
  • Anne C
  • Gillian D
  • John C.
  • Dave Hou.
  • Margaret R. & Josh
  • Kristin J. & Donald
  • Ankita T.

Feel free to comment to check in.

EDIT: I’m not posting full names because I’m wary of posting full names in the clear.  If you need any clarification, email me.

The Lunge

Since I came back from France, my fencing lessons have focused on the basics—mostly extension and lunge.  Extension is straightening your arm with your blade pointed toward the other fencer; most normal folks call that a ‘stab’, but stabbing is a violent motion, while a perfect extension wastes neither energy nor effort.  Your point floats out, and the other person happens to be in the way.

A lunge, on the other hand, is more or less exactly what it says on the tin: you start in the standard fencing ready stance (like a cat stance for those of you with more of a martial arts background), extend your arm, and spring forward, crossing a large distance in an eyeblink’s time.  A good lunge flows like water; mine tends to judder like boulders bouncing down a hill.

In my first lesson after returning to the States, my coach and I figured out what I was doing wrong (one of the many things I was doing wrong): I was getting in my own way.  Rather than kicking my front foot off the ground first, I was leaning forward and using that foot to spring forward, which telegraphed, slowed, and shortened my lunge.  Focusing on that one aspect of technique has really improved my lunge.  It’s faster now, smoother, longer.  I even stomp the floor less when my front foot lands.

Of course, now that I almost know how to lunge without making a fool out of myself, I lunge all the time during bouts—even when I shouldn’t.  Opponent is advancing?  Lunge!  Opponent is retreating?  Lunge!  Opponent is obviously baiting me into an attack?  Advance Lunge!

I should know better, but damn if that smooth feeling doesn’t tempt me into the next foolish move.  I have one cool new key, and I try it in every lock.  Time will fix this, though, and experience.  Learning a new technique, or a new aspect of old technique, is hard, but so much easier making that technique a part of you.  And losing because you’re excited by your own freedom is much better than losing because you can’t help stumbling over yourself.

Still, better to win.  But let’s take this one bout at a time.

Goodreads Giveaway

Only 27 days until Three Parts Dead comes out!  But if you can’t wait to read a copy, we’re giving away a handful of ARCs on Goodreads: uncorrected proof copies, but very handsome all the same, and softcover to boot–slightly less effective for stunning burglars, but lighter to carry around, so there’s that.

If you have a Goodreads account, enter the giveaway here.

New Toys

I know a pen doesn’t make a writer – it’s been a lot more than a decade since I last wrote out an entire novella in longhand, after all – but dipping my feet into the waters of Fountain Pen Land has been a lot of fun.  My bright blue new Lamy Safari feels like a zippy little Japanese race car, and lays a nice thin line.  I know I need to work on my sales resistance, though, when the first thing I do after I get a new fountain pen (after trying it out, of course) is stare longingly at other fountain pens.

The internet, ladies and gentlemen.  The curse of Eris no longer applies to immortals only.

Juan of the Dead

The trailer for Juan of the Dead, Cuba’s first horror film, just blew me away.

There are a couple teasers floating around youtube that play up the entrepreneurial “We kill your loved ones so you don’t have to” aspect of the plot: this one, for example.

Juan of the Dead, like Attack the Block, looks set to play with monster movie cinematic vocabulary using settings that are less comfortable, less upper-middle-class, and, frankly, less white than those of the traditional US-made horror film. I only slept for a handful of hours last night, which leaves me barely competent to write this sentence, let alone discuss the implications of these movies and the ways they’re embellishing, enlivening, and ennobling (what I often think are) tired genres – or to compare them with new American takes on similar material, like Zombieland and Super 8. Let’s just say that Juan of the Dead and Attack the Block have me more excited about horror films than I’ve been for at least a decade.


Somewhere in middle school, I got the idea that I should have long hair – hair down past my shoulders, gathered in a pony tail.  I should have long hair, and a long tan trenchcoat, and I should wear sunglasses when the opportunity presented itself.

Also, I wanted to carry a katana under my trenchcoat.  I never had a katana, though, to the general relief of the universe.

It’s important to note that I decided all of these things before I’d ever seen an episode of the show Highlander.  Nobody I knew even watched the show – it wasn’t popular in middle Tennessee.  So, I don’t know how the idea that Duncan MacLeod was the be-all and end-all of men’s fashion entered my system, but there it was.

I liked having long hair.  Long hair makes for easy maintenance, provided I didn’t much care how it looked.  I like hanging out in the shower, so the extra time required to wash was okay.  I kept that hair for about ten years, until, on my way back from China, I decided it was time to look sharper.  Job interviews loomed, and the workaday world still isn’t terribly pony-tail friendly.  So I went to a good stylist, and got my first short haircut in ten years.

The good surprise was that it looked excellent.  The bad surprise was that, with short hair, I need to visit the barber more than once every 10 years or so.  I still haven’t nailed this process down.  My general grooming strategy is to wait until it looks like I have a tribble growing on my head, then walk into the corner barber’s and say, “Help!”  Then, I walk out, humming “C’est moi” from Camelot, because there’s not much better to hum when you know you look awesome.

Nothing like a good haircut to make you feel like you’re ready for battle.  And there will be some battles this week, make no mistake.

It’s almost enough to make you want to carry a sword under your trenchcoat.

Dave Carter

Last night at Club Passim, Stephanie, Dan, visiting Sylvia and I participated in a memorial concert for Dave Carter, an amazing folk singer and songwriter who died of an untimely heart attack, aged 49, in 2002.  “Participated” I write, because I can’t write “saw,” or “listened to,” really — it wasn’t a passive kind of concert.  Watching, I gave myself to the performers gathered to remember someone I never knew save through music.

Dave Carter wrote and sang what Roger Zelazny might have called high mimetic folk music–songs in which the characters lived their daily lives in an epic context.  His song “The Power and Glory” belongs in the same breath as Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat, bridging a world greater and older than our own with the common tale of a man seeking his fortune in Nashville.  “236-6132,” a love song centered around the beloved’s phone number, dances through a complicated relationship with lyrics and driving guitar — a song a genius might sing to herself driving down the highway between gigs, when she wasn’t afraid anyone would hear:

236-6132 is the number of my love

Even though it’s been some time

Since he made fair to answer

‘Cause he feints and fades from view

Like a fighter ducks a glove

Though I play the highway kind

And he the China dancer

These songs are not embarrassed by their own intelligence or virtue; they do not shrink from challenging the listener, even as they invite her inside.  Wonderful as the lyrics are, though, they’re just a shadow of the full effect of the songs: Dave Carter worked together with the amazing Tracey Grammer, forming a brilliant folk duo replete with harmonic melodies, counterpoint, and solid fiddle-work.

I could go on about the music here for pages, and I’ve only ever heard one of their albums (though after yesterday’s concert I’ve downloaded two more, but my mp3 player has betrayed me and refuses to actually play the music (!!!!), so my teeth will be on edge until I make it home tonight), but as much as the music struck me I was blown away by the love and strength on display last night.  Tracey Grammer emceed the evening like patience on a monument, though smiling more in memory and celebration than in grief; guest artists played great sets, and musicians rose from the audience to sing and celebrate Dave’s songs.  One man delivered a wild, spoken-word version of Carter’s Snake Handlin’ Man, invoking the audience and the Spirit like a wandering preacher; a woman shaking with joy and nerves slammed out a heartfelt rendition of “Phantom Doll,” the last song Dave Carter wrote, the last song too that he ever played.

I know we live in a fallen world, I know you can’t trust what you see, and that the fairest face can hide something dark, but watching that show, watching Tracey, and hearing people talk about Dave Carter, about his love of songs and songwriting, his sharing spirit and his eager, good-natured jealousy of Townes Van Zandt for having truly written a song in his sleep, I can’t help but feel that he was the Real Thing: a Tzaddik of folk music, one of the 36 secret kings in each generation without which the world falls to pieces.  At the very least, he seems to have been that rarest of creatures, a brilliant man who was also good, or a good man who was also brilliant.

It was a pleasure to be a part of the concert yesterday, and I can’t wait to get home and put more of Dave and Tracey’s albums on the stereo.