Thursday, November 11, 2010

Carol Frost reads from her new book Honeycomb this coming Tuesday, 6 PM, Galloway Room on the Rollins Campus

Listen, Carol Frost's new book Honeycomb is out, and on Tuesday, this coming one, 11/16, in the Galloway Room on the Rollins campus, at 6 PM, Carol will read. Come out and let's celebrate this fabulous poet who has come to Central Florida to direct Winter with the Writers, do her good work and teach us all. I first met Carol at Bread Loaf in 1991. That was many Carol Frost books ago, and she's only getting better.

See you soon, I hope.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

More Dylan: Speaking of Blasts from the Past

Herb Budden, my great old friend since seventh grade, rings in on Dylan:

I have been trying to remember the details of my first Dylan concert, in 1965. There were others I'd been to, but this is the one & only in my estimation. Thank goodness for Google...I found the playlist and the exact date for the concert friend Craig and I saw at the Arie Crown in Chicago that year. Here it is:

Bob Dylan
McCormick Place
Arie Crown Theater - Chicago, Illinois
November 26, 1965

She Belongs to Me

To Ramona

Gates of Eden

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue

Desolation Row

Love Minus Zero/No Limit

Mr. Tambourine Man

Tombstone Blues

I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)

Baby Let Me Follow You Down

Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues

Ballad of a Thin Man

Positively 4th Street

Like a Rolling Stone

Forty-five years this Thanksgiving. We went up from Champaign on the train. I have no recollection of staying anywhere, or even how we got to McCormick Place. On a side note, I was there at the Arie Crown this past spring--the first time I'd been there since . . . . It's been refurbished, obviously, but the bones are the same.

At the concert we sat main floor, ramrod straight in what were possibly reserved seats, like at a symphony, and applauded politely after each song. In those days, before real pandemonium overtook rock concerts (just four years later in May 1969 we saw Hendrix at the Fairgrounds--Led Zeppelin was the warmup--everything was way, way different). I believe in '65 there was still a controversy going on about Dylan's "going electric," and we wondered if there would be boos. There weren't.

I wish I could remember more about the evening except to recall thinking how cool he behaved & looked & how he never said a word between songs. I don't know if the set list was played through or if there was a break.

All I know is that a couple of years ago . . . I made my way to the Morgan Library in NY and felt the hair on the back of my head stand up when, while looking at Dylan's rather prosaic Mead notebooks under glass, I saw in his handwriting the words "How does it feel, to be on your own..." among other scribblings & crossouts.

Listening to him today on XM and reading Chronicles, I know I'd have the letdown-- if I could meet him in person-- that I have had on meeting the few celebs I have in the past.

He's just a man, and on virtually most counts, an ordinary primate like the rest of us. BUT. The work overtakes the man.

Listen again to any song on the above set list to have it confirmed, esp. Baby Blue and Tom Thumb's Blues.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bob Dylan for the first time

On 10/10/10 evening Susan and I trundled out to the University of Central Florida arena to see Bob Dylan. I thought I should see him since a scene from a 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue concert is central to a story of mine, "Lowell and the Rolling Thunder." I was a follower of Dylan and Baez long, long, long ago, and saw with commentary the scene I describe in the story in the Scorsese film "No Direction Home." Susan had seen Dylan three times over the years, in different stages of his life.

I'm ashamed to admit that after 45 years of playing the guitar (capitalizing on 1963 lessons at the Green Street Y in Champaign), the one song I can play clear through is "Don't Think Twice," a favorite song of all time for me even now. I'm more ashamed to admit that the concert had just kicked off on Sunday, and we were well into the second song, and I leaned down from my binoculars to ask Susan what song was playing. I couldn't catch the melody, I couldn't come close to catching the words. THAT was the song Dylan was singing! That made me laugh, and then I settled in to listening and did catch a phrase or two. I'm damned in fact if he didn't actually end it on a verse that isn't the published end of the song, but that's sort of how it went, not like anything you'd imagine but wondrous nevertheless if you happen to live in the past as intensely as I do.

Dylan wore a flat brimmed brilliant white hat, a white shirt with a string tie, as I recall, and a blue blazer with larger than you'd expect gold buttons, matching blue pants with a wide sparkly gold stripe down the side, quite prominent at first because he stood sideways to the audience playing the keyboard for his first song. For "Don't Think Twice" he stood face-on with his guitar. At the keyboard, stage lights, reddish, shined from below and his skin was red brown. Facing the audience at the microphone, brilliant white light forced his eyes to slits. His expression was intense and serious while he was deep in a song but he smiled between songs and during bridges, smiled with his mouth though in his almost closed eyes the expression was plain and flat and giving nothing. The famous harmonica bracket never appeared. Instead, on those songs he let the band handle the guitar and he held in his hand a special mic and his harmonica, and I think I loved those songs the most because there was great familiarity in Dylan's distinctive harmonica riffs. Clearly he'd been standing there all his life, and, apart from my aging ears, one reason I didn't quite pick up "Don't Think Twice" initially was that vocally he wrestles with his best known melodies and reinvents the songs spontaneously. The band was great staying right with him as he went on his way.

Dylan doesn't say much from the stage. We could say he lets the music speak for itself -- nah, that's not it either. Instead of performing, he's up there evoking himself through all the years, like an abstract painting that refuses to speak in plain language because there's not much else to say but maybe it will remind us of something. That tall shadow on the wall behind, see it? It put me in mind of the icon of Don Quixote in the Sixties when "Man of La Mancha" was playing everywhere and Quixote was an image of naive idealism and a heroic fantasy.

You've probably seen Bob Dylan in concert. For me it was long awaited. The past, all of those years, was present in the giant arena. Dylan's connection to youth isn't gone, or maybe it was the youth who treasure music including musical history who were there, but it was a great blend of people. As you can see by the picture above, taken with my lame little phone camera, I needed the binoculars. I wanted everyone to have them, because the view was beautiful and the sound was huge and together they hit me with great force in my chest. I wanted my friends from back then to be with me, and I wanted that me to come again and hang out a while. The past is present at a Dylan concert. We can't go back except maybe just a little, and when the music takes off, something very big I can only call (with reverence) the past comes up the tunnel to meet us half-way.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Argentina and the Southern Cross

We arrived in Argentina June 21, a few hours after it turned winter there. While Bali is about 10 degrees south of the equator, Buenos Aires is 35 degrees south. One evening in San Antonio de Areco, where the gaucho picture above was taken (there were festivities going on and I was putting the dodge on dancing), several us went out far out away from the out buildings on the ranch and, standing next to the fence for a giant pasture, we looked up and scanned the sky to see if we could spot the Southern Cross. I didn’t know what proportion to look for. Would I have to sort of glue it together in my mind like I do the Big Dipper, or would it jump at me at a glance, like Orion’s belt. Well, it jumped at me. The Southern Cross hangs in the night sky of the Southern Hemisphere like a crucifix on the wall at home when you were growing up. I know, not everybody's Catholic, but 92 percent of Argentina is. It is a beautiful, stately four star configuration (technically five star but the key cross figure is the four points you’d expect to form a t shape). It was not small but it was rather compact, so the entire effect of it hits the eye at once and with startling force. That was the evening of our first night in the country, after eleven days in the city, Buenos Aires.

Most of the people in our group knew cities, and Buenos Aires is beautiful and European in flavor, but it's a typical city in more ways than not. While Argentina is big in square miles, almost half of its 36 million people live in the city and province of Buenos Aires. Suffice it to say, it was good to get out of town.

Like Bali, probably like the US, too, if I think about it, in some sense Argentina has become an attraction, a tourist stop-off, and when you go there, there are, as they say, places to go, things to see, and like a good tourist, you check them off one by one. The result is seeing the Argentina someone has fashioned for you to see, like a photograph of it instead of the thing itself. In fact, progress has taken the country beyond gauchos and the tango, and, as in the US, the new generations are making their own new Argentina, but part of that new Argentina is that many people are employed to show these artifacts of Argentina's past to those who come visit and to represent them as Argentina. The Buenos Aires tourist literature tells you where to go for tango lessons and to see "real" gauchos. In Bali, you can read in similar literature where to go to see quaint villages, and when you get to them, there they are being professionally quaint and performing the Bali version of quaintness. It's okay. There is a real Bali, with amazingly beautiful people, but they know new money when they see it and are lithe enough to go for it. Somewhere there is a statistic about the money being made in Bali, and at the top of the list of activities that make it, you won't find rice farming. If that's how human beings worked, there would still be a lot of Americans interested in 4-H and running a hardware store in Kansas. No, there's a lot of money to be made on the story of America. There's a whole town in South Dakota that exists on the historical concept of Wild Bill Hickock, promoting the myth and selling U. S. Marshal's badges with a Colt .45 sized hole in them, nevermind Bill was shot in the back. Nevermind Argentina is past gauchos, the Balinese don’t love poverty more than they love tourists, and we in the new Americana are past cowboys and Indians. As Bali is willing to risk rapid deterioration of its beauty in order to sell its beauty to a withering stream of tourists, the US is willing to forgive the ruination of the gorgeous waters of the Gulf to keep the oil flowing in its veins. I digress again....

But do I? If I really went out into that pasture to see the Southern Cross for the first time, what was even more awesome than that constellation was the night sky itself. We’d been in Buenos Aires quite a while and the sky, as above all modern big cities, was dulled out and muted by ambient light in polluted air. Out in the country, away from lights, the sky was sparkling and pristine. I’d been terribly worked up by the Gulf oil spill, and I didn’t realize how much so. I think I began to believe nothing was clean and bright anymore. When was the last time you looked at the Milky Way, our galaxy? The pasture gave us a big flat gentle winter breeze, the great smell of the land, earth, like we remember it, a sky so vivid you could almost imagine we hadn’t yet ruined everything for ourselves. The irony. If word were to get out about the beauty of the sky at the edge of this beautiful pasture somewhere in Argentina, the inevitable would happen again – we’d go there in droves, stomp it, pave it, buy postcards of it.

I'd go back to Argentina. I'd try to find a writing place there, far enough from the city that ambient light wouldn't snuff my hope, close enough so I could get into town and see the art. The only way to get through the skrim of self-conscious promotion of an image of real Argentina (or anyplace) is to live there a while. I am curious and want to see Argentina's really real life, its day to day people and work and art and stories. You and I know there are great stories there -- in fact, though the lens will be different, we probably even know what those stories are. Half the fun is knowing they're half universal, half so specific to this beautiful country they could take place nowhere else.

I’ve been writing stories set in these places I’m visiting. As with the Bali story, I'm finding myself writing an ex-patriot fiction (I can’t get myself to presume to write from the point of view of a store-keeper in Ubud or a young person from the pampas now living in a suburb of Buenos Aires, so the ex-pat gambit is on again), and even so there's research to be done so that the story is organic to Argentina. Research. The core lesson of writing (for me) always elbows its way forward as I'm industriously making notecards and loving "information." It is: write the story while researching. The story can't be mulled and figured out in advance, and thus what well-targeted research is needed can't be predicted -- in novels this is, or could be, different. In stories, the story itself will arise from the writing of it. I'm sure there's a metaphor for this in the tango. In the metaphor, one of the dancing partners is the writer, the other is the writing on the page. And, you know, it switches back and forth. :-)

Sunday, June 6, 2010


I've been working on a story set in Ubud, a sort of artists' community in the southern center of the island. Many expatriots have flocked to Bali, and Ubud is the place of choice for most who do. The challenge of my story is to fully realize the little I know and the lot I feel about Bali. We say in writing that often "place" is a character, influencing the goings on of a story in its unique way, such that the blend of place and people and "what happens next" makes a unique potion that would be fundamentally different in all ways if you simply changed the place. In theory this is obvious, of course. Place changes everything. But once in a while, as on this trip, the idea hits with force. My challenge is to make Bali organic to the story.

The religion of the island is key to all things there. It is lived and breathed. The island is not diverse. The Balinese are 92 percent the same as each other. Among their many challenges, one is not having to deal with competing interests from immigrants. They do have to deal with progress and development, as tourists storm the island, but the Balinese have to a large extent changed themselves to grow their incomes and their island economy -- have changed themselves from poor rice farmers to entrepreneurs finding ways to cash in on world interest in their island. Of course big development is there, in the south central part of the island, Denpasar and environs. The environment in the tourist places is being spoiled by litter and high demands for water and land.

Inland however the burgeoning population is focused on work, family, prayer, and community. People have motorbikes for transportation, and they have their cell phones and their ipods and their blackberries and the flat screen TVs. Their villages are very old, many of them, and some are new and fairly modern. As progress arrives, it is religion and family that enables the culture of Bali to hold steady. The women are strong; the men are resourceful.

Cooperation and togetherness, a respect for others, is real and apparent. If someone on the crowded streets (motorbikes by the thousands, not many cars) happens to pass a car and on-coming traffic is close, the driver being passed slows down and the passing vehicle is allowed to duck into the left lane. If that vehicle couldn't get in in time, the oncoming vehicle simply moves over so all three cars can pass each other three abreast, no problem, happens all the time. The slow down and stop for pedestrians as well as dogs and chickens and motorbikes parked with their rear ends on the right of way. No one gets annoyed. They simply watch out for each other and yield to one another appropriate to the situation.

In my very few days in Bali I witnessed the famous Balinese generosity, smartness, and goodness. That's the big news I got from being there. I might have begun to think those qualities were disappearing from the earth, and they aren't. I know exactly how this will work in my Bali story.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

My Workshop in Melbourne is June 7 - 9

See the poster above. FIT's energetic new workshop is drawing in a lot of the region's writers, and by region I mean Central Florida. The ocean's close by. Come on over and let's write a story.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Let's Crank for Dzanc

To benefit Dzanc Books, the celebrated new independent publisher that brought us Laura van den Berg's debut volume of short stories, I'm offering an electronic version of the workshop described in the poster above. Simply sign up following the process described there, then drop me a note at

to let me know you're in. Sign up right away, and over the next two weeks (two weeks from sign-up) I'll get you going writing a new story, then in early April, after the story exists in draft, will provide you ideas on how to improve and finish it. Your registration fee goes as a contribution to this publisher of exciting emerging writers, and four weeks later there's a story where there wasn't one before. I'll write one, too. It's Spring -- let's crank out a new story for Dzanc Books.

Any questions about the idea, please drop me a note at the email address above.