Warning: Reader Crossing

Originally written for Open Books’ Read All About It blog, September 13, 2011. Re-posted with permission. Support literacy in Chicago by supporting Open Books.

reader crossing

I bought this post card about 11 years ago at a bookstore in Paris (jealous?!).  Speaking no French at all–and really only surviving that leg of my trip with the help of my dear friend Erwan–I looked for things that were either in English or had no words at all.  This little piece of art work speaks many-a-word in all languages. The road itself, the urban street-scape of varying opportunities for bustle, the little indie bookstore. The red and white triangular crossing sign.  We know it.

And I am totally that guy in the street sign.  I am a street reader.  I even often dress like him–especially come this time of year. Brimmed snap hat, a blazer or flannel jacket. All that.

I moved to Chicago in 1998, away from the car culture of various Michigan cities and towns.  And I discovered this brilliant thing: Commute Reading!  A valuable resource of time in my increasingly adult world–and increasing computer staring habits.  In addition to home, Caribou Coffee, and the Golden Apple diner, I could read on the El platform, at the bus stop, in the public transport vehicle of choice.  And even, the walking portions of journeys connecting my various apartments with my office and restaurant jobs! I was totally that guy with his head down in his book, walking the side walk and cross streets, looking up occasionally from Wicked, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I Know This Much is True, or my Joe Orton plays anthology to make sure I didn’t smack into fire hydrants, sign posts, and other non-reading pedestrians.  Once, shortly after emerging from the Grand Avenue Red Line station, a gaggle of tween girls passed me on the opposite sidewalk.  I looked up just as one snapped my photo with her disposable Kodak–the single muted flash of the throw-away Paparazzi made me wonder who she thought I was.  A reader in the wild.


Viggo Vagnby’s Wonderful Copenhagen (1958)

Since buying this card two years after my move, it has been a constant companion, taped up for easy inspiration in every bedroom or home office since. It evokes a world of possibility in which we readers are just as municipally protected as deer and children in our quest to get to the other side!  Where cars and pedestrians alike brake for us, where children laugh with us instead of at us.  Imagine a world where the ducks of the iconic Wonderful Copenhagen poster are replaced by a  line of readers of various shapes, sizes, and ages crossing the road with a police officer holding back a happy crowd of onlookers (and a palace guard?) cheering for them, turning the person next to them saying. “Look, they’re reading! We can do that too!  We can be that important and revered!” We don’t have to be ashamed or make excuses or feel like we’re getting in the way.

When my partner Ernie and I moved to South Bend, Indiana in 2006, we had to buy our first car together as we had returned to urban-suburban-rural car culture.  No more Commute Reading for us (we would see South Bend buses rumble down our little street but were never quite sure where they came from or where they were going.)  Even the four and a half minute walk from our house to my restaurant job wasn’t substantial enough for street reading, and I drove to the area IU campuses for class (both teaching and as a student). I felt the loss of my valuable resource right away and had to readjust my reading  habits–or else.

Back in Chicago since 2009, I found another restaurant job right away whose commute is a 15 minute tops bike ride–and barring a major blizzard, I pretty much exclusively take advantage of not having to wait for late night buses.  So my Commute Reading didn’t return to its full glory.  Now that I’m at Open Books regularly for these late summer and fall months–and now that I have class in DePaul’s Loop campus–I am once again able to enjoy my train reading.  Sure, I’ll text Ernie that I’m on my way home, or if I’m feeling a little brain dead I’ll try to beat that level of Angry Birds I just cannot get past, but more likely my time will be spent with whatever real life paper book (or classwork…) I have in the queue.  And I’ll keeping going on the walks between by day- or street-light.  And in a world where people think it’s okay to text and drive, maybe folks will give me–a fading relic slipping into the nostalgia of a golden age–safe passage.

It’s a Book! It’s a Miniseries! It’s…History!

The following was originally written for Open Books’ Read All About It blog, August 23, 2011. Re-posted with permission. Support literacy in Chicago by supporting Open Books.

Band of Brothers ~ The Book

Band of Brothers ~ The Book

One of our getting-to-know you questions we sometimes answer around the room during Open Books writing field trips is “What’s your favorite kind of book.” Depending on the age of the students, we’ll get an array of genres, titles, series, authors, etc.  “Scary books” and “funny books” are popular amongst the younger ones.  Harry Potter, Junie B. Jones, fiction, non-fiction, and adventure books are all cited.  When I’m feeling a little sassy and want to get a reaction, I’ll stray from the more conventional “literary fiction” and answer “World War II Memoirs.” Yeah, that’s my field trip trump card.

I blame Stephen Ambrose.  In 2006, I finally got around to watching the HBO-Spielberg-Hanks-produced 2001 Miniseries Band of Brothers based on Ambrose’s book, when I borrowed the DVDs from my brother.  A long time history fan, particularly that era that’s still (barely) within our grasp, I hunkered down in my and my partner Ernie’s house in South Bend, Indiana and followed the story of Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne. And sobbed. And became a little obsessed. And found fan sites and official sites.  Looked up all the actors on IMDd, found photos of the real guys, found out who was still alive and who wasn’t. Wanted more, more, MORE. I bought my own DVDs in 2009, and have re-watched it in its entirety every summer since. And I’m still a sobbing mess at the end of each episode.

The Real Band of Brothers

The Real Band of Brothers

Of course, it started the book. Actually, it started with Hitler and that whole reality of WWII thing. But it started with the book.  Which I finally read (my brother’s copy again) last year (and since picked up my own at the Open Books store) and retraced the story, getting a different perspective and more behind the scenes.  I’ve also read (SPOILER ALERT) books by Easy Company vets, Easy Company Soldier by Donald Malarkey and Parachute Infantry by David Kenyon Webster (published posthumously and a major source for Ambrose and the screenwriters). Again, different and deeper perspectives.

When Hanks and company produced last year’s follow up series, The Pacific (also very good, though I don’t yet have the DVDs), I rushed out to pick up its source books, E.B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed and Robert Leckie’s Helmet for My Pillow (with an eye out for their other books, both fairly prolific writers).  I recently picked up a book by Gene Garrison, a veteran of Patton’s Third Army, entitled Unless Victory Comes, which will give me another in to the Battle of the Bulge.  Band of Brothers as a whole has served as a sort of gate-way drug to further reading, just as Harry Potter and the Twilight series (or Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary depending on one’s age…) have gotten even more books into young readers’ hands.  And all that’s a good thing.

Band of Brothers ~ The Actors

Band of Brothers ~ The Actors

There are more books by and about other veterans of both series, which I’d like to eventually pick up. Band of Brothers has really launched an entire niche industry of publications, artwork, lectures, and official tours to Normandy and other sites. It’s inspired a whole legion of fans from history and military die-hards to younger fan girls and boys (not that these groups are exclusive…) who post animated photos on Tumblr.com, write fan fiction portraying the “characters” in less than chaste situations, and edit film clips to rock and pop songs on YouTube. There is also an ongoing series of actor interviews that’s been celebrating the series’ 10 year anniversary since June of last year.  Their Jumping For Heroes event to raise money for a memorial in Normandy took place on August 21 of this year.

Thinking about this fandom is fascinating–there is a sort of falling in love with these guys—the real guys, their personas and relationships as filtered through art, the actors who played them, what they did.  There is borderline fetish, hero worship, pride, and gratitude.  There is a trying to make sense of our own lives through them.  It is a connection to our own family histories. With that, I feel in some ways I know more about these guys than I do either of my own grandfathers.  I didn’t have all the conversations about these things that grandfathers and grandsons should have before it’s too late. I’ve since been going through my dad’s dad’s Army photos and learning more through my grandmother, and just working with what I have.


My grandfather, Frank Van Kerckhove (kneeling, 2nd from right), with his own band of brothers. He trained for the Pacific, but remained States-side working the Signal Corp and weapons inspection.

My grandfather, Frank Van Kerckhove (kneeling, 2nd from right), with his own band of brothers. He trained for the Pacific, but remained States-side working the Signal Corp and weapons inspection.

During Ernie and my recent trip to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, one of the Band of Brothers actors was in attendance at the play his fiancé directed.  I happened to know he was going to be there because of his recent interview.  I saw him come in and sit in his seat. My heart pounded and I squealed inside like the fan boy that I am. But I was cool, yo.  And I didn’t end up talking to him, which I’m totally (I think ) at peace with.  But it’s like–You’re here, and despite all the other work you’ve done you are still Webster—Webster whose book I’ve read!  What would I say?  Maybe just a Thank you.  That would’ve been good.  But I remained calm….

In an essay of mine entitled Playing Guns where I tackle my youthful war games with brothers and friends, my family’s own military past, and my interest in war stories, I write: “Give me one soldier’s memoir over a dry shot-by-shot account.  While the places and triumphs and losses in each tug at me, I ultimately prefer legends over maps.”

(Mostly) Literacy Related Flashes (Mostly) From Kindergarten

This post was originally written for Open Books’ Read All About It blog, August 11, 2011. Reposted with permission. Support literacy in Chicago by supporting Open Books.

Me, 1979

Me, 1979

I attended Christ the King elementary school in Detroit from K-6th grade.

My teacher’s name was Ms. Beasley, like the doll on Family Affair, though she looked nothing like her.

On an orientation day of sorts with parents, I wrote my name on the blackboard.  I was more of a “Mike” then.  I capitalized the E. This was eventually (figuratively) shaken out of me.

I think seeing my last name-Van Kerckhove–in all its 12 letter glory–printed out in perfectly formed letters on my desk’s name tag kind of freaked me out.

For a long time, I thought of different, more accessible, stage names. But my real name is way cooler than anything else I came up with.

That fall, thanks to our classroom calendar, I remember distinctly knowing the year (1979) for the first time.

From there it was all about following the adventures in my dad’s Lord of the Rings calendars.

I did a series of plot re-telling book reports on The Hobbit in 4th grade.

I also did one on the novel adaptation of E.T.

I didn’t read the rest of LOTR until my early twenties.

One day, Ms. Beasley sat me down at her desk in the corner of our classroom. 

Bilbo writes his memoirs.

Bilbo writes his memoirs.

She asked me, “Do you want to learn to read?”

I said, “Yes.”

That she trusted us to decide on our own is actually pretty cool.

I’m glad I didn’t say, “No.” I mean, I would’ve learned eventually, right? Or maybe I would’ve been ignored. Or put in some sort of “special” class with all the other kids who said “No.”

I’m glad I didn’t say “No.”

One day, Ms. Beasley fell backwards off her desk chair.  My class totally lost it! Ms. Beasley informed us that it wasn’t funny.

The classroom rug we all sat on to do class reading was gold.  Of course it was gold–it was 1979!

Those were some big fat words!

And by big I mean “cat” taking up half a gorgeous page.

Okay, maybe not half.

I had that same classroom (Room 101)  for 2nd grade with Mrs. Nixon.  I felt a sense of warmth and comfort–nostalgia for my olden days.

Would You Ban These Books?

Cover of "Going Rogue: An American Life"

Cover of Going Rogue: An American Life

An unofficial exhibitor set up shop this past Sunday at Chicago’s Printers Row Lit Fest with a white poster board filled with covers of provocative books traveling the political spectrum from the Communist Manifesto to Mein Kampf, and everything in between. He asked passers by if they would be interested in trying to ban any of these books.  Participants could pick three and mark tally with a red Sharpie.

I happened to hit his time there when I had some time to kill before a reading event I wanted to check out.  I stopped by the Independent Publishers table and met the guys at Knee-Jerk MagazineI also won a solid round of Rocks-Paper-Scissors to score a $2 discount off their print edition.  Definitely the coolest round of the classic game I ever played.  Thanks, guys!

Our Guy with the Poster Board was set up along the curb across from the tent.  I definitely experienced my own knee-jerk reaction of amusement, especially after seeing the wide range of choices.  My first reaction to things like that is often Observe and Move On.  Which sometimes leads me to Participate and Do.  And I wanted my brief time this weekend at the Fest (where I also helped out at the NewTown Writers table) to involve some participation.  So I took the Sharpie, and made my marks under Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue, Glen Beck’s Broke, and Ann Coulter’s Guilty. Even though I have not read any of them.  Other choices in addition to to aforementioned political manifestos included Bill Clinton’s My Life and books by President Obama, Michael Moore, Ayn Rand, and others. I haven’t read any of those books either, though that’s not to say that I wouldn’t.  My political-historical non-fiction reading tends to fall more under WWII memoirs and books by Sarah Vowell.

Then I noticed the little video camera and was like Great.

Because honestly, I would never actually seek to ban the books I chose–or any of the ones I didn’t choose.  Though my default setting for the three I chose is that I’d really like them all to just shut up and go away.  Then I move on from there to more intelligent thinking. I’d be pretty pissed if any books of mine were ever banned.  I was also riled up by my recent trip to Denmark whose way of life is more socialist than this country would ever have the balls to try.  And also I’m in the homestretch of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna which finds its main character brushing up against the post-WWII HUAC investigations.

After the reading, I headed back over to see what the final results were.  My picks definitely had to the most marks. Though all choices were marked–one older guy have all three marks to Michael Moore.  The Knee-Jerk guys told me that security and other nearby official exhibitors were giving him trouble.  I’d heard our friend with the poster board say that he was conducting “research.”  Okay, so since I participated and was caught on video, I wanted to know more about what was up.   By this time, he’d moved off to the side and was talking to someone.  I approached, listened some, and joined in.  Our researcher (whose name I didn’t get) basically wanted to conduct a social experiment to see how many people would actually, at a Literary Festival FULL of books, would seek to actually ban books.  The correct answer, which many people gave him, which I should have given, which my Ernie would’ve given was “Sorry, no books should be banned.”  Later, over vodka pineapple martinis on our back patio and dinner from the grill, a friend suggested that instead of banning particular books, we should ban book contracts.  Which is also funny in that knee-jerk kind of way, but still has serious undertones and sends my brain spinning toward the business side of things, but that’s a whole nother, if related, topic.  The other guy talking to our researcher–who expressed more regret with his participation than my little bout of paranoia had given me–said that the experiment was less about banning books and more about banning people, which is where I myself immediately went.

So this project, our researcher plans to put together a YouTube video and sending it to the world (which two days later, I have not found).  After learning that our researcher professed that he was “as far right as you could get” the suspicion felt by the other guy is that the project aimed to expose some sort of left wing hypocrisy by way of duping us with tongue-in-cheek humor (he also suggested that while his range of books was varied, the 3 books I chose and that “won” were all on the top line along with one other–that the arrangement was skewed to prove some point).  Ernie was like You fell into their trap!  Though I don’t think it was a trap.  It’s a rather interesting idea for a–shall we call it a stunt?  And he ran with it.

The other guy asked that he not be included in the video.  And since he went there, I asked to not be included as well.  Our researcher said that his intent was not to unravel us in any way, and that he’d respect our wishes since we took the time to talk to him, and that we’d just have to take his word.  Not that I really feel that my participation in this, as a writer and a reader and a person, will be my undoing.  But hey, just in case, right?  I could not talk about it–or write a blog post about it.  Heck, maybe this post will be more of an undoing than being “caught on video.”  Maybe this post is a sort of preemptive “damage control” strategy.  Actually, it’s just writing about an experience that went from lighthearted to heady.  And maybe it’ll strike up a conversation if people find it and are inspired.

Actually, can we just talk about banning leaf blowers instead of books?  As I finish this, my building’s maintenance is polluting the air with noise and gas fumes just to blow some tree droppings and dust to another part of the grounds, something a broom would just as effectively take care of, thank you.  Seriously, in my daily life, leaf blowers rile me up more than the State of the Union.

UPDATE 7-11-11: So, the video is up and running!  Went live today and is already all over the “red” side of the interweb. I had to stop reading the comments on YouTube and other sites I found it on.  Just had to. True to his word, I was not featured. Having trouble posting the video, so I’ll just include the link, if only for the sake of context and completion. Here’s the link: http://youtu.be/OCcYSRACwx0.

Off The Rocks 14 Released!

NewTown Writers is proud to present the 14th volume in our on-going print anthology, Off The Rocks.  It also coordinates with  the group’s 30th anniversary this year.  This edition includes my piece, The PB Club, which I’ve previously presented to audiences of Solo Homo and Story Club.

For this time around, we’ve set up shop at Lulu.com to handle printing and world wide distribution. Seriously, we’re going to take over the world. 🙂  Copies will also be available at future NTW events.

Click HERE to order you copy!


Update of an Artist in August

It’s almost the middle of August, and summer is definitely trucking along.  We had a delightfully cool July but are definitely feeling some dog days this month.  A hot summer makes the relief of Autumn even more special.  For those who know me, Autumn is high holy season around here.  It’s my first back in the city.  I’ll definitely miss Indiana for it’s Autumness, but will seek out the city’s delights–but that’s a nerdy post for later.

To follow up on my Band of Brothers Revisited post, shortly after I posted it, a fellow WordPresser lead me to Alan Sepinwall’s blog, What’s Alan Watching?  He’s the TV critic for the New Jersey Star-Ledger.  This summer, he did an amazing series on Band of Brothers. I recently finished going through his posts and many of the comments.  Had I known about it (we were watching it at the same time!), I would’ve definitely joined in the conversation.  Alas, he wrote his last post about the same time I wrote my own BoB post.  I still want to comment on his final entry.  The whole thing is a wonderful in depth conversation for BoB nerds everywhere!

I’ve spent part of the last month haunting neighborhood used book stores (plus my indie bookstore down the street) looking for Malarkey’s and other related books. I think I want to read at least Malarkey’s before I borrow my brother’s copy of the BoB book, which I still haven’t read.  I want to despite the gnawing voices of the Ambrose haters on Amazon (which does have everything I want…).  I should stop reading things like that.  Just upsets me. 😛  I’m also interested in reading E.B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed, which is one of the sources for the upcoming The Pacific film.  How exciting that Sidney Philips will be a character in the new project!

I’ll save my WWII reading for the Fall, as I’m trying to focus on other reading this summer. My “To Read” list is growing with older and newer books (like, I still need to get to Sarah Vowell’s latest!), recent acquisitions, and books on Ernie’s shelf.  I’ve taken a couple times to sit outside–even go to the lake–and read my Walt Whitman collection. Perfect for summer on a blanket on the grass with the lake’s breeze.  Definitely won’t finish it this summer, but it’s good to have at my side when I’m inspired.  I also have the Best American Short Stories 2008 collection at my side when a dose of short fiction is in order.  I finally finished the 3rd (with six more to go!) Sookie Stackhouse book, Club Dead, and totally loving the new season of True Blood!  My current non-fiction reading is Michael Davis’ Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street. What a joy!  And it had me in tears in the first paragraph of the prologue for real.  I’m three chapters in, which is a fascinating account of the history of children’s television in general.  The Captain Kangaroo stuff is cool.  I’m trying to make more time to read actual books.  Less sitting in front of this computer and more reading, yo!  But the computer is good too.

On the writerly front, I’ve been focusing on two short stories this past month or so.  I’ve also been working to organize all my works in progress.  I’ll always be adding ideas, but I’m trying to focus on further developing my most developed work so I can start taking it to the next level.  One story is inspired by my neighborhood in South Bend.  I really love this piece (which I started in November for my short story edition of NaNoWriMo) and am getting more and more into it.  It’s also been good to harness my Indiana experience creatively–something I want to continue.  Another story is more fantastical and quirky and inspired by an Indiana friend of mine.  That’s all I’ll say for now. 🙂  These stories are written in 1st and 3rd person respectively, and if I’m going to flip flop between strories, I like that variety.  On the CNF front, I made it through the first draft of a story about Truman’s bar in Indiana.  I’ve also rebounded from Playing Guns rejection and am preparing it for another submission–to a place that’s perhaps a better fit.

I’ve also typed out my grandfather’s journal like I said I wanted to.  Very cool.  With that, I’ve registered another WordPress site which will be more family oriented.  Not sure how public it will be, but it will definitely be a cool place for family and friends hopefully.

With all this Indiana talk, I did take the time to reflect on my time there.  Here’s an excerpt from my Friends Only blog:

It was this random, amazing, frustrating, weird, beautiful, creative, inspiring, annoying experience in our lives. While we can definitely tell our “Indiana stories” boiled down to some laughable cocktail party tales, I get a little Stockard Channing at the end of Six Degrees of Separation where she seeks to make sure her experience truly becomes a meaningful part of her life. I know I will continue to do this myself in my work–whether in short stories, solo pieces, journal entries, or what have you. Just like I try to do with everything else. I can’t deny the new perspective our time there offered.

All the wonderful people I met along the way–those I’m still in touch with and those I’m not–will not be forgotten. 🙂

Finally, in NewTown Writers news, after a successful Solo Homo 7, the Fall 2009 event is in the works.  We wanted to do some sort of short plays event, and it looks to be gearing toward a Reading event with some brand new works.  I’m currently working with a number of members on developing their pieces–and looking to include a few more.  I’m wearing my producer & director hats on this one so I can focus my writerly energies on other things.  We’re looking to go up mid-October.  Will post more later!  I’ve also started attending the bi-weekly literary meetings.  I’d never done that before, mostly because of my old work schedule and not living in the city for a few years.  It’s been fun–I’ve been able to workshop one of my current stories as well as hear some of the work in progress for the fall.  And now that meetings are looking to be at the Center on Halsted, that’s a bonus since I can walk there.  Awesome!

Upcoming fun things are in the works. Looking forward to them and to getting more work done.  Will tell  you all about it….


All Kinds of Stuff


So, much going on in the past month. First off, Ernie and I finished our semesters at IUSB on May 7.  My class presented their awesomely creative group projects–their productions of Oedipus Rex.  We had one set at Woodstock, a sci-fi production set into the future, a production set in the world of LA gangs.  And a Greek tragedy meets Dr. Seuss.  The parallels are actually quite fascinating with that last one. 🙂  I had another solid group and I felt things went well even as my focus was split there for a while between packing and everything else.  I received my last pay check from the university last Friday, so now it’s really over.  The teaching, my coursework, the experience was an amazing (if sometimes bumpy) ride that I’m feeling will be better served in more private reflection.  Whatever the ups and downs, I don’t regret our time in “the SB” one bit.  I’m glad we did it, and I’m beyond glad we’re back.  Sometimes I’ll be riding my bike home from work and think Wow, I live here again.  And the last 3 years feel like a dream.  Like that season on Dallas when Pam walked into the bathroom and Bobby was in the shower and he wasn’t dead after all–and the next season they had to pick up from the one before.  Crazy!  Like I almost have to pick up  my Chicago life from 2006.  And then there’s the finale of Newhart when Bob wakes up with this previous series’ wife.  That whole Vermont thing was just a whacky dream.  Yeah, I feel like that sometimes.  But I know I contributed for real.  For real.

Both Fiction and Creative Nonfiction/Solo Performance work inspired by my time has a Hoosier has already begun….

“Operation Chicago Re-Boot” is going well. I’m actually looking forward to what I’m referring to as “Operation 2nd Wave.” A friend is buying my futon which used to be in the guest bedroom at the Country House.  It currently lives in our storage unit.  Once she is able to take it to her new place, we’ll be able to tidy up around here–put some stuff downstairs.  And do some cleaning.  That’ll be good.  I’ll feel more settled then.

I’m figuring out my post-South Bend masage.  Grad school, teaching, both moves, etc.  It’s all in my neck and shoulders and the rest of me can use a tune up too!

I’ve been focusing on two stories this past month.  First, Playing Guns, a piece about childhood play, friends, family, war, stories, etc.  I made a recent submission deadline.  Yay!  I won’t say who or what cos I’m supersticious like that.  *Fingers crossed* just in case.  I’m not really focusing on Is Jimmy Stackpool Singing Too? for Solo Homo 7. We open in just shy of 3 weeks!  Click on the link for more, though I know I’ll be giving it its own post soon.  I’m also co-producing/co-directing as well.  That’s been a lot of good behind the scenes grunt work.  Love that I have the opportunity to do it.  It fits peachily into “Operation Chicago Re-Boot.”  It’s been fun and we have an awesome group.  Can’t wait to see the culmination of all our work!

Finally, I recently finished reading Kevin Wilson’s short story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. I got a copy in my Easter basket from the in-laws.  I love it!  I appreciate the quirkiness that to me does not slide into ridiculousness.  Many of his characters have–unique–occupations and I love how he explores them and connects them to their lives.  His fantastical elements are grounded in reality and sense, a balance I work to achieve as well.  I wish I’d written some of them!  One of his stories, “The Museum of Whatnot,” deals with similar themes to one of my works in progress–our relationship with objects–but they’re still, you know, different.  🙂  While all the stories are different, you can definitely sense Kevin’s sense of humor, his voice, etc.  If I had to pick a favorite, I’d go with “Mortal Kombat,” which interestingly is one of the less “quirky” ones.  It’s an honest and raw piece about two high school friends in the early ’90’s and their relationship and discoveries.  A looked forward to event is the release of the home version the Mortal Kombat video game.  What an amazing cultural phenominon to connect to their lives.  That one got me reaching for some tissue.  I look forward to reading more of his work down the road….

Other reading material this summer will include the 3rd book onward in the Sookie Stackhouse novels.  Can’t wait for the 2nd season of True Blood to start!  I also have my Walt Whitman to read, other story collections.  Etc.

When I’m finished with working on my current Creative Nonfiction, I’m looking forward to diving into some of my own fiction.  I want to make stuff up again.

It’s fun. 🙂

Happy Holidays!

53/365 ~ Glow

Happy Holidays, everyone!  This isn’t necessarily the prettiest picture of me, but it’s handy.  It’s one of my Oh crap, I almost forgot to take a photo today for my 365 day project.  It is festive, though, and the slightly bedraggled look matches my world.  Still coming down from a crazy wonderful challenging semester.

I’ve definitely grown as an instructor and theatre guy.  Hope everyone in my class had an overall good time and have grown in their own ways.  Not everyone could appreciate Ernie’s production of Holding the Man, an Australian gay AIDS play.  I wanted to link to the South Bend Tribune article, but it’s now only accessible by subscription.  Meh! 🙁   It’s a provocative play and personal reaction ran the full spectrum. I mean, the FULL spectrum.  So navigating through my responses to some of them was challenging, but character building.  I stand by all of my decisions here.  I know I might be a little vague here on this very public forum, but I’m just not going to get into specifics right now.  I’ll just say that not everyone thought such work should be produced in this more conservative area, and I strongly disagree.  So there. 🙂 Grades are in,  my next semester’s class is full, and I’m on holiday.  Yay!

I finally finished the collection of Tobias Wolff stories, In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, that I’ve been working on for a couple months, I’d guess.  SO good.  I pretty much read the last three stories back to back, and was like Damn.  I know that’s not the most thoughtful review.  But his stories are inspiring and are worth revisiting.  Late last night I cracked open my brand new copy of A Lion Among Men, Gregory Maguire’s latest Wicked book.  So excited to read an actual novel.  And to read something that’s not a student paper or anything theatre related.  That’s what holiday breaks are for!  I do also have an issue and a half of  Poets & Writers to read through.  Thank Zeus it’s a bimonthly publication.  I think they know their audience well. 🙂

Have some writerly things at the tips of my fingers and brain as well….

Much to do and people to see.  Be well and merry and warm and bright!

Status Report

I am currently:

~ Enjoying October–or High Holy Month as I call it.  My fruit chutney has been made.  Pumpkin bread is in the works.  Fall decorations are out.  The bike ride to school along the river is amazing–even in the rain.

~ Working to make an upcoming submission deadline.  If I don’t make it, I suck, right?

~ Enjoying the new Dar Williams and Shawn Mullins albums–and basking in the afterglow of their concert last month in September.  I’d like to post about all that and some other music related items some day.

~ Looking forward to the new Cure and Killers albums!  Awaiting the Teddy Thompson album I ordered from Amazon.

~ Working on the Mid-Term exam for my classes.

~ Trying to get through the Raymond Carver collection I picked up in August while visiting my nephew in North Carolina.  SO good–it’s just taking me forever to read non-school stuff this semester.

~ Looking forward to eventually reading the new Sarah Vowell book, The Wordy Shipmate.  I caught her on Talk of the Nation and The Daily Show yesterday. (Click to watch the clip, seriously!)  Tried to get through to NPR, but failed. 🙁  I love her.

~ Preparing for NaNoWriMo 2008!

~ Listening to the Greatest American Hero theme.

~ Going to see The Mushroom Picker at Notre Dame tonight.  It has two of my favorite things–solo performance and World War II.

~ Surviving Notre Dame home football weekends at the restaurant.

~ Being annoying by the obnoxious neighbors across the street.

~ Slightly bored with the Election.  Can we just get it over with already?  Though I am enjoying the Tina Fey as Palin bits.  Amazing.

~ Still going through Australia photos!

~ Trying to keep up with everything else.

~ Thinking that should about cover it for now. 🙂

Punkins for Sale!

The War

Quentin C. Aanenson

One of my goals for the summer was to finish watching Ken Burns’ World War II documentary, The War. Last night, I reached that goal. I DVR’ed the film this past fall when it premiered. I was able to watch the first 3 or 4 parts (out of 7) over Christmas break. Then the new semester started and my time was shot out of the sky. So, after our trip down under, I started over. While I remembered much, it was still a good refresher and would help me with the through lines into the remaining parts.

SO good.

I’ve had a slight obsession of late with WWII. My family’s always been particularly interested in history. My brother, Steve, was a history major, and is a bit of a Civil War nerd (while others wrote song lyrics in their notebooks while bored in high school, he wrote out the battles of the Civil War. In order. And I think circled who won. 🙂 ) A few years ago, borrowed Burns’ Civil War documentary from my brother, which he has on VHS. I also borrowed his DVD’s of the amazing Band of Brothers film, which I adore. Watching that inspired me to purchase David Kenyon Webster’s Parachute Infantry memoir, which I read last summer. I realize it’s nothing that extraordinary to be interested in WWII. There are some hardcore–I don’t think “fans” is quite the right word. Hardcore enthusiasts–there, that’s better. And everyone has their reasons and niche interests.

One of my works-in-progress, the Creative Nonfiction/Solo Performance piece, Playing Guns, addresses this obsession as I try to figure it all out and make personal connections. In it, I write about my childhood friend, Danny, whose dad was in Viet Nam, about his attitude about playing guns, a staple of kids’ play. I write about my dad and his dad and their involvements (however indirect). I’ve written extensively about this piece in my post, Workshopping “Guns”, so I’ll not repeat myself too much here, and refer you to that entry.

Watching the film has gotten me thinking about the piece again, and I may even pull up the file once I post this. Lots of “family projects” to think about. Listening to the interviewees made me think about my own grandparents, especially my grandfather who’s no longer with us, and how I do regret not talking to him more about things. All is not totally lost, though. So I just need to work with what I have.

The film totally achieves what it set out to do–take a look at the war from the “bottom up,” focusing on the people who fought it along with their families. The bigger picture was a part of it, but not the main focus. The nitty-gritty political nuances and controversies and all that were not part of it. Those things are for other works. Burns and his right-hand-woman, Lynn Novick, found amazing people you just fall in love with. Especially Katharine Phillips, who’s kind of like a southern version of my grandmother. A segment with her brother, Sidney, is the only one where we hear the interviewer (Lynn herself perhaps?) ask a question. Sidney talked about returning home and re-learning how to speak with people, because in the middle of things, they mostly kept to verbs and nouns–and few adjectives. When (Lynn) asks her what adjectives, he smiles and says something like “Oh, I can’t say. My wife would reach down from Heaven and twap me on the head.” So funny! 🙂 Quentin Aanenson as pictured above is very eloquent and soft spoken in a way you’d expect someone from a Norwegian gentleman from Luverne, Minnesota to be. Such chilling and amazing insights. And dare I say, I had a little crush on him.

Which hopefully doesn’t make me sound pervy, or anything. But there’s something so romantic–in all the word’s various connotations–of the old pictures of the guys in their uniforms and all. Makes me think of Evan Bachner’s At Ease photography books, which depict (mostly Navy) men of the time being natural, peaceful, and innocent. I remember reading one review (maybe it was even on the display card at UnAbridged bookstore) which talked about how the photos remind us that our fathers and grandfathers were once young, good-looking guys at time when they probably didn’t really think about how good looking they were, which gives them that innocence. Especially in their interaction with their friends. I think it’s also that these guys are men becoming men and we are witness to it with these photographs and stories. And we think about when we became men and how the generation gap presents similarities and differences. Which is a “whole nother” level I could incorporate into my piece. Or not. Or at least let it influence it indirectly. Now I’m overwhelming myself. 😛

So now, I need to burn the film onto DVD’s, though I did lose a few minutes of a couple episodes when the DVR “burped” for some reason. I can always check them out from the library to see if I missed anything major, and to check out the bonus features–though PBS did air a couple behind-the-scenes bits which were cool. I have both soundtracks already. And if I can get a discounted copy of the book, that’d be good too.

I’ve learned, I’m inspired, and so we’ll see what happens….

Katherine and Sidney Phillops

Katharine and Sidney Phillips