Wednesday 26 November
I Try My Hand at Writing a Script

Filed under Uncategorized

Last night we read the script for the 30 Rock pilot and then watched the actual episode. Many differences, many of them instructive. As my students have a script or sketch assignment coming up, I had to go over script formatting, which I’d long since forgotten. Plus I didn’t know the easiest way to go about it if one doesn’t have Final Cut. Do you use lots of tabs? Which margins do you set and when? I decided to practice. I think I’ve got the makings of something here.

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 1.22.15 PM

1 comment  ::  Discuss  ::  2014-11-26  ::  dave

Tuesday 25 November
Very Good Paragraph: Ian Frazier on Carp and Rednecks

Filed under Very Good Paragraphs

I downloaded an ebook app to my phone now that I’m not flipping through Twitter when I have toilet- and elsewhere-based downtime. These days I’m going through the Mary Roach Best American Essays anthology, and yesterday in my chiropractor’s office I came across this gem, about a carp-catching festival for avowed rednecks in Bath, Illinois:

Tall cottonwoods, ash trees, and maples shaded the shore, which was rutted black mud firmed up in places with heaps of new sand. Crushed blue-and-white Busch beer cans disappeared into the mud, crinkling underfoot. Aluminum johnboats, some camo, some not, lined the riverfront in fleets. Fishing costumes involved headgear: army helmets, football helmets with face guards or antlers or buffalo horns, octopus-tentacle hats, pirate bandannas, Viking helmets with horns and fur, devil hats with upward-pointing horns, a hat like a giant red-and-white fishing bobber, a Burger King crown. Competitors had their faces painted camo colors or gold or red or zebra-striped. Bath, Illinois, was first surveyed by Abraham Lincoln, and on August 16, 1858, while campaigning against Stephen Douglas in the race for the U.S. Senate, Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech to a large crowd in Bath. He took as his text the New Testament verse “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” One hundred and fifty-two years later, the Confederate-flag halter tops mingling with the American flags among the tournament crowd would have puzzled him; likewise, the pirate flags.

Would love to make research fire the reader’s mind up like this. And also be funny.

The whole story is here.

 ::  Discuss  ::  2014-11-25  ::  dave

Friday 21 November
Watch Me Steal My Students’ Ideas

Filed under Comedy + teaching

Tuesday night in Uses of Humor in Writing we talked about Larry Wilmore’s notion of dominance as a standup comic. You have to immediately show dominance in front of an audience, but you also need to be self-deprecating. How does this work? How does this translate to our jobs as writers? You show dominance formally—i.e., you establish authority through your skillful use of language, tone, voice, and such—and self-deprecation in your content—i.e., in what you say with that dominant pose.

The schlimazel is a good target persona to adopt, I suggested, and then gave a rundown on these classic vaudeville archetypes, which to render in the shortest of shorthands: the schlemiel spills the soup on the schlimazel, the schmendrik rushes to clean it up, and the schmuck stands back and laughs at them all.

The schlimazel is classic because s/he’s blameless, and because we so often feel as though the world is spilling all its shit on us. Relatable, so. And I mentioned that you see these figures all the time in sitcoms and such, but that the majority of standup comics play the schlimazel.

Then I, not any of my students, but me, there at the head of the classroom, pointed out how the original characters of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia map out precisely to these four:

  • Mac, as a general fuckup, is the schlemiel.
  • Dee, who always gets shit on and, like, her car ruined, is the schlimazel.
  • Charlie, the janitor, so often gladly the butt of jokes, is the schmendrik
  • And Dennis, being Dennis, is the schmuck.

It’s worth noting that Frank wasn’t originally on the show, and that this idea was my own.

For the first time in my 10 years of teaching I taught “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” to graduate students Wednesday night. Also, the first time I taught it in San Francisco. Most of the action of the essay takes place three blocks down the hill from our building. You’ll remember that the essay has a fractured, splintered structure. Lots of mini-vignettes of the hippie kids Didion finds to illustrate this culture they’re building in the Haight.

The question is how does Didion make the essay so engaging when her scenes are so choppy and minimal? I flipped through the pages and noted for the students, rather than the other way around, that practically every vignette opens with a person or people, a concrete place or object, and some immediate conflict. “Don and Max want to go out to dinner but Don is only eating macrobiotic so we end up in Japantown again.” “Arthur Lisch is on the telephone in his kitchen, trying to sell VISTA a program for the District.” It’s not every vignette, but pretty much all of them start this way, and another point I had to make to my students—and not that one of my students had to make to us all—was that this approach to economy never felt repetitive or simplistic.

Yeah, I know, I’m a great teacher. Ask Bria, say, or Robert. They’ll tell you.

 ::  Discuss  ::  2014-11-21  ::  dave

Thursday 20 November
Super Best Writing Advice from Spam

Filed under Reviews

There are 14,000+ comments to this blog in my spam queue. Yesterday I read them all. Some aren’t spam at all, but like good advice, right?

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Mention Zentai Suits

Okay I lied about reading all of them. These are only the highlights from two hours earlier this evening.

 ::  Discuss  ::  2014-11-20  ::  dave

Wednesday 19 November
Nonfiction: Unloved Ugly of the Genres

Filed under NF

Got an email recently about Disquiet-Lisbon, an international literary program put on by Dzanc Books. There’s a contest you can enter to get a scholarship to go: one each in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Here’s a paragraph from the email:

Guest judges are Aimee Bender (fiction) and Brenda Shaughnessy (poetry). The winning work in each genre will be published: the fiction winner in Guernica; the nonfiction winner on; the poetry winner in Fence Magazine.

No, nonfiction. You don’t need your own judge, because you’re pretty much just true fiction, or prose poetry. Take yer pick. Oh, and a print publication? Sorry, no. That’s for the big boys.

1 comment  ::  Discuss  ::  2014-11-19  ::  dave

Tuesday 18 November
Rappahannock Review is/are Good People

Filed under Announcements + NF

RappReview_FinalI’m from Virginia.

The first ever Virginia-based periodical I got published in was the Herndon Observer, where in high school I wrote an op-ed defending us students against something I’ve long since forgotten. My mom clipped it out. She might remember. That was in 1996. Then, nothing…until 2014, when Mary Washington College’s Rappahannock Review (named, in classic academic-journal fashion, for the river that goes through Fredericksburg, Va.) put out one of my Meme pieces. You can read it here.

Today, they also posted an interview with me, where I talk about the piece (about my first trip inside a gay bar as an out gay man), nonfiction more generally, and what if anything gives me the right to write about people I love.

I like doing interviews. It’s way easier to be on the answering side of them, except of course if you’re a politician, man on trial, or person recently cuffed by police. I haven’t been any of these, yet, so check back on me later about my cavalier attitude re answering questions.

 ::  Discuss  ::  2014-11-18  ::  dave

Monday 17 November
Very Good Paragraphs

Filed under Very Good Paragraphs

This paragraph showed up in Kiese Laymon’s title essay from his collection How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America precisely at the moment I needed it to:

This isn’t an essay or a woe-is-we narrative about how hard it is to be a black boy in America. This is a lame attempt at remembering the contours of slow death and life in America for one black American teenager under Central Mississippi skies. I wish I could get my Yoda on right now and sift all this into a clean sociopolitical pull-quote that shows supreme knowledge and absolute emotional transformation, but I don’t want to lie.

Would that every essay took such a step. You can read the whole essay here.

 ::  Discuss  ::  2014-11-17  ::  dave

Friday 14 November
Memorize Joan Didion — Check!

Filed under Announcements + NF + Very Good Paragraphs

Why would someone bother memorizing two paragraphs from an old Joan Didion essay? Answers here and here.

This is a post to say I’ve done it. Typed from memory, from what I like to think of as the center of Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”:

Of course the activists—not those whose thinking had become rigid, but those whose approach to revolution was imaginatively anarchic—had long ago grasped the reality which still eluded the press: we were seeing something important. We were seeing the desperate attempt of a handful of pathetically unequipped children to create a community in a social vacuum. Once we had seen these children, we could no longer overlook the vacuum, no longer pretend that the society’s atomization could be reversed. This was not a traditional generational rebellion. At some point between 1945 and 1967 we had somehow neglected to tell these children the rules of the game we happened to be playing. Maybe we no longer believed had stopped believing in the rules ourselves. Maybe we were having a failure of nerve about the game. Maybe there were just too few people around to do the telling. These were children who grew up cut loose from the web of cousins and great aunts and family doctors and lifelong neighbors who had traditionally suggested and enforced the society’s values. They are children who have moved around a lot—San Jose, Chula Vista, here. They are less in rebellion against the society than ignorant of it, able only to feed back certain of its most publicized self-doubts: Vietnam, Saran Wrap, diet pills, the bomb.

They feed back exactly what is given them. Because they do not believe in words—words are for typeheads, Chester Anderson tells them, and a thought which needs words is just one more of those ego trips—their only proficient vocabulary is in the society’s platitudes. As it happens, I am still committed to the idea that the ability to think for oneself depends upon one’s mastery of the language, and I am not optimistic about children who will settle for saying, to indicate that their mother and father do not live together, that they come from a “broken home.” They are sixteen, fifteen, fourteen years old, younger all the time, an army of children waiting to be given the words.

That strikeout bit always trips me up.

 ::  Discuss  ::  2014-11-14  ::  dave

Thursday 13 November
Well This Should Be a Treasure…

Filed under NF


Stay tuned, dear readers. I mean: Mom.

 ::  Discuss  ::  2014-11-13  ::  dave

Wednesday 12 November
Plagiarized! (Maybe.)

Filed under taxidermy

I’m working on an essay that’s mostly a revision and updating of my series of Taxidermy in Trouble posts from a while back. In doing some research on big-city taxidermy classes marketed to hipsters, I found this article on Here’s a bit from the second page:

The actual procedure of taxidermy varies from animal to animal, but it always starts the same: with a longitudinal incision down the animal’s midline — a great big cut from neck to nethers

A couple years back, I wrote a book on taxidermy. Here’s how it opens:

To skin an animal, you start with a single cut somewhere around the throat and draw the knife downward in a thin, straight line to the nethers. It’s a lot like unzipping a fly. The thrush. The tomcat. The tusker. The beginning is always the same: a single cut. After this beginning, every animal presents its own challenges, the idiosyncrasies of its own terrain.

So I had a taste for the florid. I had 75 thousand more words to write! At any rate, it’s not like the way to skin an animal is my idea, but reading the piece I saw a little piece of my work in it, which is the first time that’s happened.

Earlier in the article, the guy references “at least three full-length books [that] have documented the growing taxidermy subculture.” I wonder if I can get him to write a blurb: “The Authentic Animal is one of at least three full-length books I scanned the beginnings of to put an article together once.”

 ::  Discuss  ::  2014-11-12  ::  dave

teaching + Uncategorized
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Very Good Paragraphs
2014-09-18 :: dave