Friday, November 30, 2012

Remembering Don Rothman, a voice for writers and writing

                                                   photo by Scott Rappaport

I just spoke with Don on Tuesday afternoon at some length. During our phone conversation,  we talked about the importance of writing and composition courses and how they teach students to engage not only with the academy but with the wider world. I've taught composition at San Jose State and Columbia, but I've rarely met a professor who articulated the goals and potentials of writing so elegantly. He will be missed. The full story is right here, and here is a lively discussion between Professor Rothman and his old friend and colleague Herman Blake. If you would like to hear about Don Rothman in his own words, here is a link to his website.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Catamaran Literary Reader's launch party at the Salz Tannery: and welcome to the new website

The URL address may be the same, but Catamaran Literary Reader's website is now full-service and turbocharged as you will see. Take off your shoes and visit for a while.  And I know I keep saying this, but I so appreciate your messages and feedback -- a real boost for me every week. And it is great to see  the magazine is 'making the rounds.' Also, a huge 'thank you' to those of you who have taken out subscriptions, and in many cases, multiyear subscriptions. 

We are grateful for your support. In case you missed it, here are a couple of photos from our launch party at the historic Salz tannery. 

Our book table featured publications from Catamaran contributors and editors.

The crowd was large and spirited. 

Editor Catherine Segurson was master of ceremonies. 

That is me on the left, and to the right is Elizabeth McKenzie, who is both the managing editor and the fiction editor

And here is a picture of me 'performing' part of my interview with T.C. Boyle during the Catamaran launch party some weeks back.  Photos courtesy of Catamaran. See you all soon.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Our bookstore!

Just the other day I met an author I've admired for a long while, Ann Packer, who wrote a lovely appreciation of the Capitola Book Cafe. Her essay appears in a newly released anthology, My Bookstore, in which more than 75 authors pen tributes to their favorite booksellers. Someone was kind enough to videotape the entire "Our Bookstore" presentation at the Book Cafe, highlighting the work of  several writers who spend lots of time at the Book Cafe, including me. As far as I know, it is the only video of me reading anything anywhere. Check in later this week -- I'll try to get that link up on the blog just as soon as I am able. And thank you for the latest round of messages about the "Shoebox Man" essay in P & W.  I appreciate each and every one of your emails.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Catamaran Literary Reader in the news!

Thanks to the generous readers who let me know about this lovely article about Catamaran in the Santa Cruz Patch and another one about Peggy Townsend's recent publishing triumph, as written by Christa Martin in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. And thanks for the kind mentions of my work in these stories.  I truly appreciate it.

He's your man: Leonard Cohen concert review, San Jose, California, November 7, 2012

"Old age isn't a battle: old age is a massacre."

So said Philip Roth, but Leonard Cohen is not about to concede defeat.

There was something graceful and defiant about that magisterial voice, the dancing, the sexual posturing.

 He made every song, even the ones that referred to the inevitability of death and decay, boom out through the HP Pavillion last night, and when he blessed the audience at the end, hoping for safety and peace for those with families, and those who found themselves alone, he added a lovely touch of high holidays to the proceedings. 

The man is 78, and he often referred to his advanced years in a funny, rueful way:

My friends are gone
And my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play. 

And yet he addressed the audience, sang his songs and recited "A Thousand Kisses Deep" with such vigor and authority that I expected him keep going all night long.  When he announced, with apparent sadness in his voice, "we're running up against a curfew," it was 11:30 p.m., and he showed no sign of flagging.  "Lazy Bastard In A Suit"? Hardly. 

His set took the audience on a 45-year journey from the "Songs of Leonard Cohen"  in 1967 to his current status as the "poet laureate of pessimism." The set  included a stomping, jaw-harp-driven rendition of "Democracy," and a rendition of "Hallelujah" that left a woman sitting to the left of me in tears. And he didn't just sing these songs. He sang them while dancing, he sang them on his knees, he sang them with his hat to his chest. After watching him perform (but not in this order) "Dance Me To The End of Love,"  "In My Secret Life," "Famous Blue Raincoat," "Suzanne,"  "Sisters of Mercy," "Tower of Song," "The Future," "Bird on a Wire," Who By Fire," "I'm Your Man," "Everybody Knows" and several others, I kept expecting his focus to drift. Never happened, although it must be said that this intense performance left his vocals a little bit wobbly by the time he launched into the encore of "So Long Marianne" and the set closer, the Drifters' "Save the Last Dance For Me."  I find something so comforting in that impossibly low voice. Cohen must be aware of his oversize reputation, and he took the air out of it from time to time on purpose with his cheeky references to his "golden voice," and his gently sardonic response when the audience roared its approval for his hesitant, touch-type-style keyboard flourishes on "Tower of Song."

He's like that cool grandfather we all want to visit, the one who secludes himself for long stretches of time, then gives you all his attention when you finally see him, hands you souvenirs from his travels, and tells you only the best stories when you get together.  

And it looks like we might see him again very soon? 

"I suppose we will meet again sometime," said Cohen, who assured that he would "keep doing this" (touring the world) for at least a couple more years. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Trick or ... TREAT!!!!

I started the evening, believing that everything was going to the dogs. Then the polls started perking up, and everything changed. Then I went to sleep believing Proposition 30 was going to the dogs. Then I woke up and was in for a big surprise. What a relief. It could just as easily have been a "TRICK."


Enough said. Instead of emigrating to Canada, I am going to mark this grand occasion by going to a concert by a grand Canadian: the great Leonard Cohen, appearing tonight in San Jose. Actually attending the concert will be quite a logistical challenge for me, but I am going to do this by hook or crook ...

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Memories of a hurricane: our Sandy-whacked New York City adventures

On this busy election day, I thought you might take a moment out of watching those polls (relentlessly, joylessly, fruitlessly) and take a look at this brief travelogue. The bottom line is, I got off extremely easy. No power loss in my part of the city, and no flooding. Yes, I saw some harrowing things -- gas rationing, traffic lights bopping and pitching in the gusts, awnings blowing down, and bits of brownstone falling off various buildings. But the bottom line is, I ended up in NYC for three additional unscheduled days, which is  kind of like throwing Br'er Rabbit in the briar patch. The hard part was knowing that a number of my friends were either in harm's way or undergoing severe hardships ranging from electrical outages to flooding and gas rationing.

Walking out of our temporary residence, we saw some scenes of devastation including downed trees in front of the American Museum of Natural History. In fact, there was so much tree-carnage that we could barely get from one place to the other, as you can see below.

We checked in on friends and colleagues to make sure we were OK. Unable to leave home for Santa Cruz in time for Halloween, we decided to improvise, making an on-the-spot costume for my daughter, J., and hitting the streets for some candy. Remarkably, most folks seemed enthusiastic about the holiday, even though they had every reason to hide out in their apartments and not answer the door.  We even stopped by Obama's headquarters for some Halloween candy, although, as you can see, the president was a bit too busy to go trick-or-treating with us on this particular day. He was calling people up, household by household, trying to get the vote, and had no time to partake of waxy fangs, lime Lifesavers, banana Laffy Taffy or any of that other nonsense.

Walking around New York City shortly after the storm, I noticed that many businesses were still closed, while quite a few die-hards (or at least a few die-hards located in some of the more mildly or lightly affected areas of the city) soldiered on and stayed open, including the Ding Dong Lounge, which posted this hopeful, rain-washed message in chalk outside its main entrance: it reads: "Ding Dong Lounge: You don't have to work tomorrow. Get drunk."

Tentatively exploring the city the next day, I ran headlong into that crazy scene with the giant crane hanging off the side of a building.(crane photo courtesy of ABC's online news site)

We finally left on Thursday. On the way to the airport, we saw a line on the Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel, the traffic backed up as long as I could see. Many of the cars had just a single passenger; without power in their homes, the drivers did not get the message about the three-passenger minimum, so many of those people must have gotten turned away at the tunnel. I also saw a ridiculously long gas line, going on for blocks and blocks and blocks, with a single nervous-looking police officer standing by at the pumps.

Hoping to return to New York very soon, under easier and happier circumstances for the city. It will be a long time before I forget the patience, calm and good humor of all the people we met during that strange and rainy week. And in case you are wondering, that is a poster of Obama, not Obama himself, lurking in the background of that photograph. (We did not actually get to meet him, nor was he in NYC on that particular night)

Monday, November 05, 2012

The Man in the Shoebox in Poets & Writers Magazine

hi everyone. I just wanted to say thank you very much for your thoughtful and encouraging responses to my "Shoebox" essay in the latest P & W (the one with Chris Ware's artwork on the cover.)  I guess I hit a nerve with this one? Anyways, I hope you continue to soldier on with your projects. There is every reason not to continue with your books and your stories -- every reason except for the fact that you want to write them, which is reason enough to keep plugging away as far as I'm concerned. And if you think a home-made desk-bound artifact will help keep you on task, you might consider making one for yourself. Remember, it doesn't have to be anything fancy to get the job done so get out those glue sticks and those cardboard boxes and shipping containers right now. By the way, there wasn't quite enough space in the article to list a few extra ingredients in my shoebox man recreation. I also used a generic knock-off version of Fun-Tak Reusable Adhesive, a swatch of discarded wallpaper and a bit of foam rubber for texture.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Tonight's big Catamaran party at the Salz Tannery

See you there? Read the story right here by the talented Wallace Baine.

Back from our Hurricane Sandy adventure

I couldn't have picked a more interesting time for our New York City family vacation. I will tell you all about it once my brain is a bit less fried from the entire experience. Stay tuned. Meanwhile I wanted you to know we are back in Santa Cruz -- it's pretty amazing that we got a flight out of Newark yesterday (many were cancelled all around us, and I felt terrible for the families who were waiting around, in some cases for days, to get out.) I have a longer report coming your way, but I just want to say that the New Yorkers were incredibly good-humored and patient during a difficult time for their city.