The Writing Life: reflections by a working writer. The Writing Life

Reflections of a working writer, a university screenwriting professor, and the editor of Oregon Literary Review.

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Online Free Book Catalog (classics, world lit, etc.)

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A free online guide to 2000+ lit mags and publishers.

Everyone Who's Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing and Tinseltown Too
Extraordinary free info useful to writers when marketing.

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A guide to publishers and publishing services for serious writers, including info on scam agents.

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Cinergy, a script editor, free from Mindstar Productions. Easily write your screenplay in correct format.

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Some important reading for serious students.

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Charles Deemer

Oregon Literary Review

MFA, Playwriting, University of Oregon

Writing faculty, Portland State University (part-time)

Retired playwright and screenwriter.
Active novelist, librettist and teacher.

Email: cdeemer(at)yahoo(dot)com

The eagle flies!


Literary archive

The Sextant Press

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Electronic screenwriting tutorial



Finalist, Oregon Book Award

Practical Screenwriting

Love At Ground Zero


More books.

Blogs by (mostly) creative writers:

"Can We Talk About Me For A Change?"
Playwright Debra Neff Nathans

Debbie Ridpath Ohi, a weblog for writers (resources)

Silliman's Blog
Ron Silliman, contemporary poetry and poetics

Maud Newton
literary links, amusements, politics, rants

Darren Barefoot
Technical and creative writing, theatre, Dublin

Rob's Writing Pains
Journey of a struggling writer.

Mad, Mad World
Cara Swann, fiction writer, journalist, "reflections on humanity, random news & my life."

Random musings on a writer's life and times.

Barbara Flaska's compilation of the best online articles about music and culture.

Write Of Way
Samantha Blackmon's written musings on writing (composition and rhetoric).

Alexander b. Craghead: blog
Writing, photography, and watercolors.

Rodney's Painted Pen
Rodney Bohen's daily commentary "on the wondrous two legged beast we fondly refer to as mankind." His pen runneth over.

Frustrated Writer
This one named Nicole.

scribble, scribble, scribble
Journalist Dale Keiger teaches nonfiction scribbling to undergraduate and graduate students at Johns Hopkins University.

The Unofficial Dave Barry Blog
The very one.

The Hive
The official blog of science fiction / horror author Terence West.

William Gibson Blog
Famed author of Neuromancer and Johnny Mnemonic: The Screenplay.

The Word Foundry
Joe Clifford Faust's "blog of a working writer: tracking writing projects, musings on the creative process, occasional side trips into music, media, politics, religion, etc."

A Writer's Diary
By Cynthia Harrison, who has the good sense to quote Virginia Woolf: "The truth is that writing is the profound pleasure and being read the superficial."

Bow. James Bow.
The journal of James Bow and his writing.

Michael Montoure's weblog about writing, primarily horror and speculative fiction.

By David Henry, "a poet's weblog from Aberdeen, Scotland."

Modem Noise
By Adrian Bedford, a "fledgling Pro SF Writer, living in Perth, Australia."

"A wry writerly blog named in honour of a minor character in a minor Shirley Temple film."

Real Writers Bounce
Holly Lisle's blog, "a novelist's roadmap through the art and ordeal of finding the damned words."

2020 Hindsight
By Susan.

downWrite creative
Phil Houtz's notes on the writing life.

Vivid: pieces from a writer's notebook
Blog of Canadian poet Erin Noteboom.

The Literary Saloon
The literary weblog at the complete review.

Rabbit Blog
The rabbit writes on popular culture.

This Girl's Calendar
Momoka writes short stories.

Twists & Turns
Musings by writer Michael Gates.

Plays and Musicals -- A Writer's Introspective
A blog by John D. Nugent - Composer, Playwright, and Artistic Director of the Johnson City Independent Theatre Company

The American Sentimentalist
"Never has any people endured its own tragedy with so little sense of the tragic." Essays by Mark W. Anderson.

Screenwriting By Blog
David C. Daniel writes a screenplay online. "I've decided to publish the process as a way to push myself through it. From concept to completion, it'll be here."
Official site of occult fiction author Sean-Alonzo, exploring symbolism, alternative history, philosophy, secret societies and other areas of the esoteric tradition.

Crafty Screenwriting
Maunderings of Alex Epstein, tv scribe, about life, politics, and the tv show I'm co-creating.

Letters From The Home Front
The life of a writer, 21, home schooled, rural living.

Venal Scene
The blog of bite-sized plays inspired by the news (by Dan Trujillo).

'Plaint of the Playwright
Rob Matsushita, a playwright from Wisconsin, "whines a lot."

I Pity Da Fool!
Glenn's adventures in screenwriting.

Time In Tel-Aviv
Hebrew modern literature at its best, by Corinna Hasofferett.

Big Window
Robin Reagler's poetry blog.

John Baker's Blog
Author of the Sam Turner and Stone Lewis novels.

The Writing Life With Dorothy Thompson
What goes on during a writer's busy day?

The Rebel Housewife
Not just a housewife!

Barry's Personal Blog
A running commentary on writing and the writing life.

Bonnie Blog
Maintained by Bonnie Burton of

Writer's Blog.
By easywriter. "From the walls of caves to cyberspace."

Flogging the Quill
Pursuing the art and craft of compelling storytelling, by an editor, Ray Rhamey.

Man Bytes Hollywood
Sharing tools, strategies and resources for the screenwriter's journey.

Mad for the smell of paper
A writing journal.

The Writing Life
A blog by Katey Schultz.

It Beats Working 9-5
A screenwriting blog by a young Canadian screenwriter.

Stealing Heaven From The Lips Of God
Writer & Artist, Dee Rimbaud reflects upon politics, religion, art, poetry, the meaning of life, the nature of God and why toast always lands butter side down on carpets.

Robert Peake
Heart and Mind, Fully Engage ... a poet's website.

Sidestepping Real
By Ren Powell, poet, children’s writer, essayist and editor.

Suggest a writer's blog

plagiarism blog

The Writing Life...
"An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's."
J.D. Salinger

"All my best friends are writers and are dead."
A friend over beer, Berkeley, winter, 1959

"And it came to pass that all the stars in the firmament had ceased to shine. But how was anyone to know?"
The Half-Life Conspiracy

After October 31, 2006,
new posts are published at

The Writing Life II

(Posts archived here are from 01/10/03 - 10/31/06)

Saturday, May 31, 2003  
No Crueler Tyrannies
Reviews of Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist Dorothy Rabinowitz's important new book.

"No Crueler Tyrannies is a truly frightening book, documenting how a single anonymous phone call could bring to bear an army of recovered-memory therapists, venal and ambitious prosecutors, and hypocritical judges -- an army that jailed hundreds of innocent Americans. With details that never appeared in Raboniwitz's Wall Street Journal articles -- and with every story updated -- it will remind every reader of Montesquieu's observation that, "There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice." More.

"This book is about one of my worst nightmares, being falsely accused of a terrible crime, being railroaded by the police, being found guilty, going to jail for many years, and having my life ruined. This book is hard for me to read, for the nightmare has happened over and over again, to many innocent people. The book is about the child sex abuse witch hunts in daycare centers of just a few years ago. It is about daycare workers accused of dozens or hundreds of crimes that were never committed. It is about well-meaning people who could bring out children's "repressed memories" of crimes that were never committed. It is about judges, police, and prosecutors who bent the law to convict those they "knew" to be guilty. It can't happen, can it? It did happen, over and over and over." More.

"No Crueler Tyrannies is at once a truly frightening and at the same time inspiring book, documenting how these citizens, who became targets of the justice system in which they had so much faith, came to comprehend that their lives could be destroyed, that they could be sent to prison for years -- even decades. "No Crueler Tyrannies" shows the complicity of the courts, their hypocrisy and indifference to the claims of justice, but also the courage of those willing to challenge the runaway prosecutors and the strength of those who have endured their depredations." More.

The self-righteous moral outrage about sexual child abuse that led to such hysteria and its resulting tragic injustices reflected an historical moment when political zeal ran amuck (headed, it must be said, by well-meaning liberals like Janet Reno). We seem to be in one of those historical moments again in our zeal to lock up terrorists. We never seem to learn from history. The history of the species appears to be equivalent to the generational reinvention of the wheel. Our history is a sad black comedy.

5/31/2003 08:44:00 AM | 0 comments

The limits of knowledge
"Kurt Godel discovered, to everyone's shock, that some statements in mathematics can be neither proved nor disproved. And physicists showed that the laws of quantum mechanics prevent us from knowing simultaneously both the position and the momentum of a subatomic particle. Will the world continue to yield to man's curiosity, or will we encounter evermore Godelian limits?" Article by Sharon Begley. Access now.

5/31/2003 06:43:00 AM | 0 comments

Poetry and the Politics of Self-Expression
"Some years ago, a mentor of mine put forth the argument: 'Would you try to build a cabinet when you did not posses even the rudimentary woodworking skills or knowledge of the tools necessary to build the cabinet? Of course not, then why do so many people think they can write poetry without an iota of preparation?'" An article by Barney F. McClelland. Access now.

5/31/2003 06:40:00 AM | 0 comments

Joe Bianco
[from a memoir in progress, which began on 4/13/03]
Every writer has an editor to whom he is indebted. My writer’s debt goes to Joe Bianco.

Bianco was the long-time editor of the Portland newspaper’s Sunday supplement, Northwest Magazine. Under his leadership, the magazine became something you saved and read through the week, a magazine filled with good, serious writing, often organized around a single topic. Joe had given me my first break when I was struggling in north Portland to become a professional writer. Now, back in the city and needing writing income so I could quit working for Shaw, where the job had become less about writing and more about being Tom’s executive secretary, I went to Bianco again. He gave me writing assignments and kept me busy enough to survive until I had the opportunity to work full time at another magazine.

Over the years, I did a number of writing projects for Bianco of which I’m still proud. I was the guest editor of the supplement for an issue dedicated to the movie Easy Rider. I wrote a long piece on Pacific Coast League baseball, focusing on the Portland Beavers, called “The Last Slow Dance.” This second time around, writing for Bianco as I weaned myself from Shaw, I focused on writing about the theater community in Portland.

I wrote profiles of theater companies and local theater artists. This proved to be the best way possible for an outsider like myself to become tight with the artistic directors I soon would be asking to read my scripts. Everyone wanted to get on my good side so I’d have nice things to say about them in print.

Gathered together, my writing about Portland theater presents a history of a thriving and growing arts community through the 1980s. Portland was moving into position to become one of the more vibrant theater cities on the west coast. Unfortunately, it would make the same mistake many communities make and do something that decimated its local theater stages (more about this later).

I loved writing regularly for Northwest Magazine but the stress of surviving as a freelance writer began to take its toll. I looked around for more secure writing work. One day I saw an advertisement for an editor for a start-up statewide business magazine. I didn’t know much about business but I knew a lot about putting together a periodical from scratch, thanks to my experience at the Northwest Mobile Home News. I sent in my application letter and resume.

5/31/2003 06:31:00 AM | 0 comments

Friday, May 30, 2003  
Learning from the British
"Since President Bush (news - web sites) declared an end to major combat one month ago, seven U.S. troops have died in escalating attacks -- five since Sunday. Anti-U.S. anger also is erupting into the kind of hostile demonstrations that forced U.S. troops to withdraw from the town of Hit on Wednesday. Down south, by contrast, the atmosphere in Basra is more relaxed. The British forces that run the city have restored water and electricity to pre-war levels and have won the locals' trust. Soldiers are barely noticed: Unlike the armored convoys rumbling through Baghdad, an occasional jeep carries one or two soldiers sporting berets instead of combat helmets. British and Iraqi police conduct joint foot patrols. Often, a British officer is seen gossiping with a local sheikh or fixing the plumbing in a hospital. Some looting persists at night, but chaos and shortages are far less than in Baghdad." Access now.

5/30/2003 07:36:00 AM | 0 comments

In contempt of courtship
"Why is dating today so stressful? The answer is simple: Sex. I know. That sounds perilously like those counter-feminist conservatives who rail at modern woman for coldheartedly indulging her lustful desires instead of saving her precious flower for the lucky man who will someday lift her bridal veil. But my argument is based not on morality but on sheer utility: The way it's been done lately, courtship isn't any fun." Elizabeth Austin on the changing rituals of dating. Access now.

5/30/2003 06:55:00 AM | 0 comments

[from a memoir in progress, which began on 4/13/03]
By the time Faye’s graduation approached, I had my own apartment. Brats on the Mountain was in the can but contained too many technical mistakes to be commercial. The most serious were failures to control consistency, such as making sure the kids all wore the same clothing from shoot to shoot, day to day, when the logic of the story required this. The bed-bike sequence, however, in which the kids send the bad guys down the mountain highway on a wild ride, was spectacular and professional looking.

I invited Faye to come to Oregon and live with me after she graduated. As mistakes go in a life filled with them, this one ranks fairly high. We barely knew one another. We’d had a brief, scandalous affair at the college, then dozens of coast-to-coast phone conversations in which at least one of us, usually yours truly, had had too much to drink. But Faye was nothing if not adventurous. She said she’d come check out Oregon, and we’d go from there.

We tried living together three times in the next year or so, lasting no more than a few months at a time. We were incompatible. Faye, however, did not rush back to Maryland because she fell in love with Oregon. She quickly got acting work in Portland, made some close girl friends, and got a job. A few years later she married a local actor, had a quick kid, and followed it with a quicker divorce.

In classical Greek’s three-pronged approach to love, Faye and I really only ever shared Eros together. She liked oral sex as much as any woman I’ve known, whether as the active or passive participant. This isn’t the worst way to retain the interest of a man.

Some time later I was in a biker bar in Seattle and met a leather-clad couple celebrating their twentieth year of riding together. I asked them the secret of maintaining a long relationship. Without skipping a beat, the woman blurted out, “Give good head.”

This reminded me of something my brother had written: The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach – and due south.

Sometimes even bikers and poets agree. Biology rules.

5/30/2003 06:40:00 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, May 29, 2003  
The Cook's Thesaurus
A cooking encyclopedia that covers thousands of ingredients and kitchen tools. Entries include pictures, descriptions, synonyms, pronunciations, and suggested substitutions. Access now.

5/29/2003 06:54:00 AM | 0 comments

What makes you who you are?
"Only now is it dawning on scientists what a big and general idea it implies: that learning itself consists of nothing more than switching genes on and off. The more we lift the lid on the genome, the more vulnerable to experience genes appear to be. This is not some namby-pamby, middle-of-the-road compromise. This is a new understanding of the fundamental building blocks of life based on the discovery that genes are not immutable things handed down from our parents like Moses' stone tablets but are active participants in our lives, designed to take their cues from everything that happens to us from the moment of our conception." Access now.

5/29/2003 06:50:00 AM | 0 comments

A talk with biologist E.O. Wilson
"Today no one personifies traditional biology more than E. O. Wilson. For more than 45 years he has fought to unify it, revitalize it, and keep it in the public eye. The public may think of "ecology" as a romantic movement to save charismatic mammals, but it was Wilson's pioneering studies of island biogeography that helped to make it a rigorous science. Most people today consider it obvious that humans have a nature as well as a history, and that the study of our species cannot be conducted in ignorance of evolutionary biology. But it was far from obvious when Wilson first advocated that idea in 1975, at considerable personal cost." Access now.

5/29/2003 06:45:00 AM | 0 comments

Tom Shaw
[from a memoir in progress, which began on 4/13/03]
Tom Shaw has never gotten his due in Portland, Oregon. From the late 1970s through the 1980s, Shaw was a kind of Godfather to a fringe film community through which later film artists passed, including future director Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting), future cinematographer Eric Edwards (My Own Private Idaho), future filmmaker and writer Penny Allen (Property), myself, and many others, especially actors. Shaw loaned out his film equipment to budding filmmakers, let budding scriptwriters use his office copy machine and laser printer, gave budding actors movie roles, and filled up anybody who stopped by to talk film with great quantities of free booze and food.

Tom himself was a frustrated director. He threw money around like he was a Hollywood bigshot, which of course he wasn’t. He’d made his money in the pornography industry, first as the inventor of the machinery that let coin machines loop their girlie flicks, later as the owner of a number of porno stores throughout the Pacific Northwest. His occasional attempt to produce and direct a porno movie himself always turned into a comedy of errors. An acquaintance who used to work for Shaw as a cameraman is working on a screenplay about one such adventure, and if he does it right, it will be a very funny movie.

By trade Shaw was a machinist and sometimes inventor. Most of his movie ideas were excuses to build and use one of his inventions. For example, the kid flick that I was hired to work on became Brats on the Mountain. The story line was simple: a group of kids run across two robbers on the run in a mountain cabin and torment them. In the end, they tie them down on a roller bed and send them on a wild ride down the mountain highway. Designing and building this bed, figuring out how to pull it down the highway without endangering the actors, as well as how to film it so it looked like a roller bed on the loose – these were the problems that Shaw liked to solve. Unfortunately, he was a man who, for all his generosity, could not delegate power or responsibility on his own projects, so he ended up doing things for which he had little talent, such as rewriting scripts and directing actors.

Tom was a big drinker, which is another reason we got along. Off and on, I worked for him for ten years as a writer, gofer, bookkeeper, gofer, drinking companion, gofer, driver, gofer, production assistant, gofer, acting coach, gofer, script reader, gofer, script consultant, gofer, secretary, gofter, bartender, gofer, janitor, gofer, party planner, gofer, and traveling companion when Shaw needed someone to accompany him when he flew his Cessna to Seattle to a film conference or to Montana to check on his porno stores. He was generous to a fault. He was stubborn to a fault. I’ve never met anyone quite like him.

Tom got emphysema and died, I’m told, by unplugging himself from his oxygen tank one night. He deserved a big write up in the paper about his support of Portland’s fledgling film industry but he didn’t get it. Earlier the alternative weekly newspaper in town had profiled him but Tom didn’t like the story because the reporter dug too deeply into his porno business. He longed to be accepted as a legitimate producer and director.

When I left Maryland, I traveled light, bringing clothes, a few books, and boxes of manuscripts. Most of what I owned was my writing. What I couldn’t carry onto the plane, I’d shipped to Crooks’ ranch in Oregon.

Coming to Portland to begin work for Shaw, I traveled even lighter. Crooks let me store my many boxes of manuscripts until I got settled. He gave me a ride to Portland, and I brought only my sleeping bag, portable typewriter, clothes and toiletries.

Since I didn’t have a place to stay, Shaw let me crash in his new “movie studio.” He’d purchased a small building near his home, the kind of place that might have been an auto parts store, and was in the process of turning it into the home of Tom Shaw Productions, complete with a front reception area, his own plush office, a work area filled with computers and copy machines, an editing room and a large basement where he could build sets and film interiors. I slept on the floor of the studio for my first several months in Portland.

My first task was to rewrite the script. While I was doing this, Tom began auditions for half-a-dozen child actors and two adult actors. I was learning many new skills on the job, such as using a computer and a video camera. One day a week, Tom and I drove to Mt. Hood and started scouting locations, the most important being a mountain cabin where much of the story would take place. We found a perfect A-frame but the owners wouldn’t rent it to us. We settled for a smaller log cabin, which Tom secured for six consecutive weekends. We had twelve shooting days in which to make our movie.

My job during the shoot turned out to be a nightmare. The kids were scattered all over the Portland metropolitan area, and it was my job the round them up in Tom’s car each Saturday and Sunday morning. In order to get everybody to the studio in time for everyone to leave in Tom’s van and get to the mountain to begin work by eight in the morning, I had to start my pickup service before five in the morning. This was the easy part. The hard part was driving the kids home after a day of stressful shooting. I usually didn’t finish up until around nine at night. Then I’d treat myself to a steak dinner and a few martinis and crash in my sleeping bag at the studio, with an alarm clock set Saturday night so I could get up at four-thirty and start the routine over again.

The shoot itself was usually chaotic. Only Eric Edwards, the cinematographer and cameraman, had any real experience. Tom, a Rhode Island Yankee of few words, most of which sounded like a grunt, was not good with kids in the best of circumstances, which trying to get them to act natural in a movie was not. Each scene had many, many takes with Tom getting more frustrated by the minute. Sometimes he would blame everything on the screenwriter, who now was yours truly. Some nights he had me revising script pages at night after I got back to the studio from returning the kids.

But I was mostly enjoying myself because so much was new to me. The movie actually got made, and we began an even longer process of post-production.

During my stay at the studio, there were nights when I got lonely and horny enough to phone the only woman I felt involved with at the time, who was Faye in Maryland. Usually it would be so late on the east coast I’d wake her up. I figured out it was a better idea to call her early in the morning my time, catching her in a better mood as she got ready to go to classes. I made the Shaw movie sound like a bigger deal than it was, and Faye was impressed that I already was “making movies” way out in Oregon. She’d never been west of D.C. before. I suggested she come out for a visit after she graduated. Oregon was God’s country, I told her.

5/29/2003 06:29:00 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, May 28, 2003  
Author's picks
Someone asked -- so here are my personal favorites in my body of work.

5/28/2003 05:54:00 PM | 0 comments

Macho or feminist?
Two recent books support warrior culture, on the one hand, and maleness as the second sex, on the other. See below.

5/28/2003 07:10:00 AM | 0 comments

Defending warrior culture
"If the course of history is so clearly visible, today's foreign policy, in Hanson's view, is a no-brainer: Terrorism can be crushed by the same military means that defeated Japan and Germany in World War II. To oppose that strategy is lunacy or cowardice. And the entire Muslim world, he has written in The National Review Online, can be viewed as a single bloc, no more variegated than the Soviet-controlled Warsaw Pact." A book review by Laura Secor. Access now.

5/28/2003 07:00:00 AM | 0 comments

The Descent of Men
"Males are, in many ways, parasites upon their partners," Jones notes. "Their interests are to persuade the other party to invest in reproduction, while doing as little as they can themselves. Like all vermin, from viruses to tapeworms, they force their reluctant landlady to adapt or to be overwhelmed." A book review by Carl T. Hall. Access now.

5/28/2003 06:54:00 AM | 0 comments

The Bunkhouse
[from a memoir in progress, which began on 4/13/03]
Dick Crooks knew about my marital problems step by step from my letters and phone calls. When I decided to return west, he invited me to stay in “the bunkhouse” at his ranch in Central Oregon. He’d been doing very well in the real estate business in the Bend area. He was a millionaire on paper. He, Bev and the boys lived on a ranch out of town, and Crooks said I could stay there as long as I liked while I got my shit together.

On the flight west, it occurred to me that for the first time in my adult life I didn’t possess a key to anything. No apartment key, no car key, no office key, not even a padlock or bike key. I felt like a man without a country. When I told Dick this story after my arrival, he surprised me the following night with a present: a key chain filled with all the unknown keys he could round up.

The bunkhouse was perfect, a separate building with its own toilet, a small house behind the big house on the ranch. I figured I’d stay there for a month or two, check out the job market in Portland, and try to get a little writing done.

Bev apparently had other plans for me. She knew the influence Dick and I had on one another: together, we’d both be partying more heavily than either would alone, and I can’t blame her for making sure my visit ended up being short and sweet. Or maybe she was just trying to be helpful. At any rate, on my first Sunday morning there she passed me the want ads of the paper and pointed out a job advertisement, saying, “This looks right up your alley.”

In fact, it was. A movie producer in Portland was looking for a scriptwriter and assistant director to help with a kid’s film about to go into production at Mt. Hood. I knew nothing about making movies, but I was a decent playwright. I really wasn’t eager to go to work this soon, especially with the opportunity to finish a play I’d started in Maryland, but to please Bev I threw together a letter, added my resume, and mailed both to the movie producer in Portland.

To my utter shock, I received a phone call from him only a few days later. He must have read my letter and called me immediately. Later I would learn that what he loved in my letter was the way I closed it: “Have typewriter, will travel.”

The producer was Tom Shaw, and he wanted me to drive to Portland immediately and meet with him. He actually meant that night! I got off the phone a minute and brought Dick up to speed. I didn’t have wheels, but Dick said I could borrow his pickup the next day. I made an appointment to meet Mr. Shaw in Portland for lunch.

Our lunch date was in the basement of his house, which was a combination business office, bar and pool hall. Shaw gave me the details of what he was looking for. He had a script for an hour-long children’s video about the encounter between some kids and two criminals, which he wanted to be along the lines of an Our Gang comedy. He didn’t like the script he’d hired a woman to write. He was looking for a writer who could rewrite it, then act as an assistant in the production while they cast the kids and shot the film in a cabin they would rent on nearby Mt. Hood.

Shaw asked for no writing samples. My M.F.A. in playwriting apparently was credentials enough. When lunch and the interview was over, I assumed he was going to tell me he’d be in touch. I assumed he had other writers to interview. Instead he told me what he’d pay me and asked me if I could start tomorrow. I didn’t know what to say. The money was decent but I wasn’t mentally prepared to start a job so soon. Shaw sensed my hesitation and said, okay, how about you do a couple things for me this afternoon, then spend a few days in Bend to settle your affairs, and we’ll start on Friday and work through the weekend.

He waited for my decision. I finally told him it’s a deal.

Shaw took out his wallet and handed me one thousand dollars in cash. He told me to go to such-and-such a bank at such-and-such a location and deposit this into an account called Tom Shaw Productions.

Back in the pickup, driving away with one thousand dollars in my pocket, I realized I was working for a very interesting and eccentric man indeed. Later I learned this was Tom’s way of testing if I was honest.

5/28/2003 06:44:00 AM | 0 comments

Tuesday, May 27, 2003  
Summertime blues
Another tease of a day, climbing into the 80s. I definitely am ready for summer. First, though, two more weeks to get through, including the huge stack of reading/grading that comes at term's end. Then summer really begins! Can't wait. Onward.

5/27/2003 03:15:00 PM | 0 comments

UCLA 1, Cal 0
The championship game yesterday in the NCAA women's college world series lived up to expectations. The UCLA pitcher threw a no-hitter for the 9 inning game (2 extra innings). Unfortunately ESPN bumped live coverage after a Yankees game was rain-delayed -- can't they get their priorities straight? Read about this great game.

5/27/2003 10:52:00 AM | 0 comments

Emerson at 200
"Born on May 25, 1803, Emerson is closer to us than ever on his 200th birthday. In America, we continue to have Emersonians of the left (the post-pragmatist Richard Rorty) and of the right (a swarm of libertarian Republicans, who exalt President Bush the second)." Article by Harold Bloom. Access now.

And another article by Lawrence Buell: "Emerson's self-reliance did not mean a narrowly personal or economic self-interestedness. The kind of individualism that mattered to him, and that he himself lived out, was independence of thought or action undertaken not in arrogance but within, despite, and against an acute self-consciousness of one's perennial susceptibility to group-think." Access now.

5/27/2003 06:34:00 AM | 0 comments

Ninth Step
[from a memoir in progress, which began on 4/13/03]
Twenty years after our divorce, I received a remarkable letter from Carol. I was sober by then and learned that she was, too. She was very active in A.A. and in going through her 12-step program had finished step eight and was about to begin step nine. Her letter to me was part of doing her ninth step.

The eighth and ninth steps are as follows:

"8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became
willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible,
except when to do so would injure them or others."

I leaped to the conclusion that Carol wanted to be friends again. Wrong. What she wanted to do was apologize for having kept within herself for so long the knowledge of the exact moment when she had lost respect for me, which had made her unable to respond sexually as she had before.

This moment had occurred near the end of our stay in Portland. We already had moved out of the black neighborhood but from time to time still dropped by the Overlook Tavern to visit with the owner and other friends we’d made. On one such occasion, I excused myself to go to the men’s room. While I was gone, a black man approached Carol, thinking she was a prostitute. I forget exactly what he said to her. Maybe he wanted to know how much a blow job cost.

When I returned, Carol leaned close and whispered that a man, the one sitting right over there, had approached her as a prostitute. She felt humiliated. She wanted me to confront him.

We were the only white people in a crowded black bar. Granted, we were friends of the owner, but I said, and I would say again today, that for a white man to confront a black man in a black bar was asking for trouble. I suggested we simply leave, which was what we did.

This incident changed everything. Because I had not defended her honor, Carol no longer was able to respond to me sexually in the same, swept-away mode that had been born in the blue tent when she’d reached new levels of sexual experience. She lost respect for me. Somehow I wasn’t man enough for her any more.

This clearly had been an extraordinary moment in Carol’s perception of our relationship. It had changed how she felt about me. Yet she had kept this inside her for twenty years. Now, as part of her twelve-step program, she was telling me – apologizing, in fact, for not telling me sooner. Why didn’t I feel like celebrating? As a matter of fact, I felt like I’d just read a letter from a complete stranger. And I’d once regarded this person as a soul mate? Had our entire relationship been my hallucination?

I’m not sure I understand what really happened to this day. Carol was a feminist even then, as a lesbian activist I presume even more so today, and I would think that the notion of a man defending a maiden when she’s been insulted would be a tad too patriarchal for her sensibilities. But this is what Carol explained to me in the letter, right before she told me not to presume her communication meant she wanted to hear from me again because she didn’t.

My mother had a saying that she repeated often: “People are more interesting than anybody.” Bill and I usually would quip, “More than cats, dogs, horses …” when she did, but my mother was correct in her understanding. People are going to fool you every time and do something, or say something, that makes so little sense that all you can do is shake your head in wonder. If you’re smart, you’ll smile as well. If you can’t see the human condition as comic, you’re just setting yourself up for the loony bin.

5/27/2003 06:26:00 AM | 0 comments

Monday, May 26, 2003  
The Neoconservatives in power
"The problems in a postwar Iraq were always going to be difficult, but they have been made worse as a result of several factors: the administration's zeal—particularly on the part of the neocons and their allies—to remove Saddam Hussein from power while failing to plan for the peace; Bush's pretense that he hadn't decided to go to war long after he apparently had in fact decided to; the administration's relative lack of interest in peacekeeping and belief that such efforts are politically unpopular (a carryover from the 2000 campaign that is also proving destructive in Afghanistan); and Rumsfeld's determination to hold down the number of troops in Iraq after the war—at whatever cost." An article by Elizabeth Drew. Access now.

5/26/2003 07:32:00 AM | 0 comments

Michael Moore: Politics as Entertainment
An essay on the confrontational journalistic style of Michael Moore: "It rarely produces deliberation or reform. The historian Christopher Lasch argued that Abbie Hoffman's guerrilla theater 'imprisoned the left in a politics of. . .dramatic gestures, or style without substance-a mirror image of the politics of unreality which it should have been the purpose of the left to unmask.' Aimed at Moore's predecessor, this critique hits Moore too. Generating a humorous buzz doesn't shake things up so much as symbolize powerlessness." Criticism by a "left" history professor. Access now.

5/26/2003 07:27:00 AM | 0 comments

Artists and critics
"The relationship between artist and critic is an age-old battle between process and product, actor and observer, status quo and innovation. To an artist, a critic can feel like a thorn in the side, an impartial evaluator, a necessary evil to be rationalized accordingly — or one of the malicious, impotent little men and women with nothing better to do than play God with their destinies." An article by Kristin Hohenadel. Access now.

5/26/2003 07:20:00 AM | 0 comments

Real sports
Sick of spoiled millionaires in professional sports (and here in the home of the Portland Jail Blazers, it's easy to get sick of professional sports)? Check out some of the NCAA college sports finals going on now. Over the past several days, the women's softball finals have been electric, no game more exciting than UCLA's bottom of the seventh comeback against Texas last night. Although UCLA is my alma mater, I was half-rooting for Texas, who never has reached the finals and whose pitcher, sophomore Cat Osterman, was spectacular -- until the last inning when she fell apart. Osterman is the softball player of the year -- but has lost all 3 of her outings against the Bruins. Experience won out, and UCLA, the most honored program in the sport, goes on the meet Cal in the final today, an all Pac-10 final. Indeed, in the last 17 years, either UCLA or Arizona has been in the final. Read about yesterday's game.

5/26/2003 07:02:00 AM | 0 comments

Breakup, or the Problem of the Chicken and the Egg
[from a memoir in progress, which began 4/13/03]
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when I realized that my marriage to Carol was over. In fact, Carol and I have never agreed on when and how this happened. What is clear to me is this: I knew we were drifting apart. I knew my writing had become more private, less a partnership, as I moved from fiction to drama and as Carol became more focused on her own career. I knew we were making love less often, partially because of the increasing bodily effects of our habitual heavy drinking. I knew I felt like a failure. I knew I felt more and more lonely.

And then, one day, I realized something else. My wife was a lesbian.

In Carol’s mind, as I understand her own interpretation of our breakup, she herself did not know this yet, so how could I? She was merely curious about same sex relationships. If I was making a wild guess, I was dead on because she’s been a lesbian activist for a long time now. But at the time, early in her career at Chesapeake College, I apparently was more certain about her direction than she was.

It’s like the classic problem of which came first, the chicken or the egg. Did Carol become a lesbian, after which we split up, or did we split up, after which she became a lesbian?

It really doesn’t matter whose interpretation is correct. What matters is that my world crumbled the moment I realized, decided, or guessed that my wife, my soul mate, was a lesbian. I was used to the surprises of the gods but nothing like this. I responded to the news badly, recklessly, and rudely.

Carol sometimes sang a tragic English ballad about a man who murders his “gay young wife.” I embraced the song with a satisfying sense of irony, a metaphor for my revengeful plan.

In A View from the Bridge and later in Our Town, playing Editor Webb, I hung out with the theater crowd, which was comprised primarily of students. A theater student I’ll call “Faye” and I had been flirting with one another in a harmless kind of way through both rehearsals and productions. She also was taking classes from Carol. I decided that the perfect response to having a lesbian for a wife was to sleep with one of her students, and with Faye I’d already put down the groundwork.

The seduction took no time at all. As if needing still more scandal to complete my revenge, I next did something to make sure our affair became public. What’s the point of sleeping with your wife’s student if she doesn’t know about it? When Carol went out of town to a conference for a week, I invited Faye to the farmhouse, and we all but shacked up. It didn’t take long for the doctor’s wife to come over and find her and make the obvious conclusion. To a good southern lady, I was acting like a Yankee reprobate, and it’s hard not to agree with her.

Carol and I finally had our confrontation after she returned, and I decided to move back to Oregon. Divorce was obvious.

I regret this behavior more than anything I’ve done, even more than the thoughtless way I treated Dee and our new baby. If I had acted less recklessly, I think I could have salvaged something with Carol.

In my play The Half-Life Conspiracy, I rewrite my personal history so that a similar couple manages to salvage a relationship after breaking up. In this story, an alcoholic playwright wins a one-act play contest. At the premier, he discovers the play is being directed by his ex-wife, who left him for a woman. Now she is splitting up with her lover, and the playwright offers to help her move out.

OLSON: You're breaking up, aren't you? Well, I have prior service. A real vet at breaking up. Not only you, I've lived with three ladies since us and broke up with every one of them. I've got experience. Know what I learned?
CYNTHIA: What did you learn?
OLSON: If you're the one being left, it's best to leave town. If you're the one moving out, it's best to throw the whole damn mess, I mean the actual labor of moving, into the lap of a good friend. Which are you?
CYNTHIA: I've been wanting to move closer in for some time now.
OLSON: How much furniture do you have? I'll help you move out.
CYNTHIA: Be serious.
OLSON: I am serious. I'll rent a damn truck and move you wherever you want to go. Into storage if you have no place to stay.
CYNTHIA: I thought you were flying right back.
OLSON: I'll get a later flight. Two hours sleep and I'm raring to go. What do you say? I'm one hell of a truck driver.
CYNTHIA: Why do you want to get involved?
OLSON: We used to be married, for Christ's sake. We had some good times.
CYNTHIA: Yes, there were some good times.

(A car drives away below, ANN going home alone. CYNTHIA is about to lose it..)

OLSON: Don't worry about it. Ann has to live her life. You have to live yours. Discretion has its place.
CYNTHIA: (bittersweet) Discretion . . .
OLSON: It's the best I can do on such short notice. I also think it's the truth.
CYNTHIA: I hated it in San Francisco. Every time we went into a gay bar, I sat in terror, worrying that one of our clients would walk in. Then one night one did — a woman whose PR we handled. The way she looked at me, so . . . so knowingly. I didn't want her to know anything about me. I didn't want to make a statement about my sexuality. Why does sexuality have to be political? It's so — personal. Maybe sex belongs in the closet, like a special part of the wardrobe saved for special occasions.

In classical Greek there are three words for love: Eros, Fidelia and Agape, roughly translated as sex, friendship and spiritual love. At one time Carol and I had had it all. In struggling with being a lesbian, Carol was putting only the Eros part of the relationship in jeopardy, and if I were the man I should have been, a man who cared for her deeply, I would have helped her through this transition in such a way that kept us friends and maybe even soul mates.

Maybe this is a pipe dream. We already had other problems as well, stemming largely from our progressive alcoholism. But maybe we even could have helped one another there, too.

All of this is idle speculation. Once I accepted that Carol was a lesbian, I seemed hell bent on hurting her, and hurt her I did. I caused a local scandal, embarrassing her in front of her colleagues. Later Carol would think I told her family she was a lesbian before she was ready to come out, but this is not true. If they learned this, they learned it from someone else.

To this day, Carol will not talk to me. I miss her more than I miss my daughter.

5/26/2003 06:52:00 AM | 0 comments

Sunday, May 25, 2003  
Doting husbands and sugar daddies
Female writers need muses, too. An article by Anne Roiphe. Access now.

5/25/2003 06:35:00 AM | 0 comments

[from a memoir in progress, which began on 4/13/03]
The job market was tight when Carol finished work on her Ph.D. We both jumped into the employment fray with the understanding that I’d take a teaching job only if Carol got no offers. As it turned out, we both received job offers, and we accepted Carol’s opportunity at Chesapeake College on the Delmarva peninsula between Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

We thought we were moving east. In fact, we were moving south. We learned this very dramatically shortly after our arrival.

We rented a huge, sprawling farmhouse from a local doctor, whose brick mansion was half a mile away, our nearest neighbor. The house was two-storied with four bedrooms and a large formal dining room. A screened back porch faced a barn. Set a hundred yards off the highway, the farmhouse was surrounded by fields the doctor leased to farmers, property that was criss-crossed by dirt roads. Down the way was a pond, home to migrating geese in season. This, our first home in Chesapeake, was a writer’s dream.

On our first morning in the farmhouse, we were woken by singing. We’d picked the largest bedroom as our own, two others as our separate offices, and the third as a guest room. I got up and looked out the window. I remember thinking I was on a movie set. Below, spread across a large field of string beans, were dozens of black workers, the men in coveralls, the women wearing red bandanas over their hair. They looked like extras in Gone With the Wind. I swear to God they were singing a spiritual.

My first reaction was that this was an elaborate joke, a kind of welcome-to-Chesapeake-College ritual arranged by the English Department for newly hired Prof. Carol Deemer and her writer-husband. I was wrong. They were field hands doing their job. We had moved into the closest thing to the plantation south left in the country.

Carol jumped into preparing for her courses, and I looked around for a writing job to supplement our income. This is how I thought about it, though we easily could have lived on Carol’s salary alone. My male ego needed to feel like I wasn’t a kept man, a house husband. Finally I picked up a great gig with The Washington Post, writing short 500-word book reviews for their daily arts pages.

I’d written only several plays by this time but aggressively tried to market them in New York. I knew this is where reputations were made. In Eugene, one of my first plays had garnered considerable interest from a New York producer before finally falling through. It was a reckless story about the Black Panthers overthrowing a production of Our Town and forcing the actors at gunpoint to read through a new script called My Town, Your Town. I felt I was close to a major score.

But I wasn’t. As Carol immersed herself in teaching, I collected more and more rejection slips. I no longer added them to my collage, which, after all, had been the ritual of a beginning writer. I was a pro now. I’d written stories that made the “Roll of Honor” in Best American Short Stories. I was publishing short book reviews in The Washington Post at $100 a pop. By this time I also had published reviews in The New Leader, The Progressive and The New Republic. I was a pro.

English Department parties were frequent. The booze flowed freely, which made me feel right at home. We both were drinking as heavily as usual but now we paid more for it with morning hangovers and drunken arguments. It was clear we were drifting apart.

Chesapeake College had a small theater department headed by Leland Starnes, a former professor at the Yale Drama School, the best program in the country. Learning that I was a playwright, he cornered me to play Alfieri, the narrator, in an upcoming production of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge. The trouble was, I had never been on stage before. Starnes couldn’t believe it. How could I call myself a playwright if I’d never acted in a play? It was like calling yourself a driver if you’d never ridden in a vehicle. He shamed me into trying out, and I got the part.

Now I had a diversion. Before I got interested in theater, alone all day in the sprawling farmhouse with only our four cats for company, struggling to write, anxiously awaiting the mail to see if someone in New York might respond positively to my work for a change, I felt increasingly useless, increasingly like a failure. Acting was just the activity I needed – and under Starnes’ tutelage I learned about stagecraft and the actor’s art, things that improved my playwriting immensely. Maybe New York producers weren’t accepting my plays because I wasn’t writing at a high enough level yet. Although I had an M.F.A. in playwriting, I had come to the craft from fiction, not theater. I still had a lot to learn, and finally, thanks to Starnes, I began learning it.

5/25/2003 06:21:00 AM | 0 comments

Saturday, May 24, 2003  
Norway: Solar eclipse on May 31

5/24/2003 08:22:00 AM | 0 comments

Which dictator are you?
Take a test ... now.

5/24/2003 08:14:00 AM | 0 comments

The Perils of Lite Anti-Americanism
An article by Moisés Naím. Access now.

5/24/2003 08:08:00 AM | 0 comments

Travels with Ruby
[from a memoir in progress, which began on 4/13/03]
We were bright, talented, functional alcoholics, and I at least remained more secure and happy than I thought possible in a relationship. Our summer trip had no formal or even informal itinerary. We had only one place we had to be, in Virden, Manitoba near the end of the summer so I could be the best man at the wedding of my university office mate, Jack. Without an itinerary, we drove east one day at a time, often taking side trips on the spur of the moment. One of the more interesting diversions was to the Ichthyosaur National Monument in Nevada, where we found a bar and whore house next to a small landing field onto which business men flew to party with prostitutes. The place was run by a tough, no-nonsense bartender and madam named Stella, which became the name of my bartender in Christmas at the Juniper Tavern.

The summer days were hot, so we often sipped cold beer as we drove. This was an era in which alcohol consumption was more widespread and acceptable than it is now. In the Midwest we even found a drive-in bar off the highway, where we ordered two double gin-and-tonics each, received a tray filled with plastic glasses, and were off on our way, driving and drinking.

In New Jersey, we visited relatives on my father’s side of the family, good blue-collar working folks who raised large families and helped one another out in lean times. I wore a long beard then, and Carol wore her signature single pigtail and no makeup. One afternoon a little boy approached me and asked if I were a hippy. My relatives must have thought so.

In Shreveport, Louisiana, we visited Brad, my bro from the Army. We were welcomed like family. Later I learned a remarkable thing: when talking about me to friends, Brad never had mentioned my race. His friends were shocked to learn that I was white.
We made the wedding in Manitoba just in time, though Jack was so nervous that he’d arranged for a substitute best man in case I didn’t show up. I got drunk with the father of the bride at the Canadian Legion and later lay stretched out on my back in the middle of a road, staring up in wonder at the blazing dance of the Northern Lights.

Visiting Carol’s parents was always a trip. She came from Utah pioneer stock, with a waterfall named after an early relative, and the family still owned land in the Wasatch mountains, part of which they ended up selling to Robert Redford for his Sundance development.

I found many things remarkable about Carol’s extended family. The clan was formally led by a patriarch, her father, and social gatherings had the air of a family business meeting. I’ll never forget how younger members of the large clan sat in a circle in the family A-frame and reported to Carol’s father one by one about their accomplishments over the past year.

This was a family with an inherited charge to be professionally successful. Many of Carol’s female relatives had earned law degrees – and then married, without practicing a day of law. A professional degree was expected of them. Carol, of course, was right on track toward professional success, a folklore scholar being as valuable a profession as any. Only Carol’s younger sister seemed to rebel against this tradition. She ended up running off to Ireland and marrying a farmer.

When Carol’s father learned I was studying to be a playwright, he gave me the same smile Dee used to give me, as if to say, That’s nice, but what are you going to do for a living?

Later I learned that Carol’s father was gay. I learned this before the night he made a move on me, and I was able to withdraw without causing discomfort or scandal. I liked him. He was a lawyer prone to taking up losing social causes, a “Jack Mormon” who’d been excommunicated from the church. He also was an alcoholic, which meant we spent a lot of time drinking together.

At the end of our coast-to-coast trip I wrote an article that became a cover story for Northwest Magazine, called “Travels with Ruby.” It was one of the best things I ever wrote for the magazine, a travelogue of discovery and social commentary, along the lines of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, from which I stole my title.

I got my M.F.A. and continued teaching part-time while Carol finished up the work for her Ph.D. Getting my Master of Fine Arts was empowering. I kept reminding myself that M.F.A. stood for … Mother Fucking Artist!

But I still had no clue that Carol was changing until the day she cut her hair short.

I loved her hair. It was long, fine, delicate, silky blonde hair, and I loved to watch her unbraid her signature pigtail so I could rub her soft hair over her breasts. I didn’t understand how she could destroy something so important to my erotic life, presumably to our erotic life, without consulting me.

It seemed as if Carol were making a statement. Over a year would pass before I began to understand what my wife, my soul mate, was trying to say.

5/24/2003 07:52:00 AM | 0 comments

Friday, May 23, 2003  
One of those it's-almost-summer days, into the 80s. (Be back into the 60s day after tomorrow). Did a lot of yard work. We got our Mariner tickets for a summer game. Not a thought about writing or teaching today. Or maybe tomorrow either. Then back to the grind on Sunday. Ah, caught a sale and replaced the 15 y/o radio/tape player in the office, got a CD/tape/radio for a great price, been listening to a CD of Gerry Mulligan while doing grunt computer things. Cranking up the BBQ tonight, steaks on the grill. The end of school is very close now. Onward.

5/23/2003 04:48:00 PM | 0 comments

[from a memoir in progress, which began on 4/13/03]
After a year in Portland, we knew it was time to go back to school. We’d accomplished what we came to Portland to do – I now was a published writer, sometimes getting paid well, sometimes not so well or even not at all. But I was being published regularly and making some money at it. I had reason to call myself a writer.

We had no idea if the University of Oregon would readmit us or not. To our delight, we both remained in good standing. The chair of the English Department, who had died from cancer while we were in Portland, had put a letter in my file, urging the department to accept me and reinstate my teaching assistantship if ever I applied again. We moved back to Eugene.

Carol picked up her studies where she had left off, but I made a change in my direction. I abandoned Ph.D. studies and returned instead as an M.F.A. candidate, working toward a creative writing degree in fiction.

Once again, I was happy and euphoric. Carol continued to go through changes, which I either didn’t notice or didn’t give significance to. An example of the latter was a change in our lovemaking.

In our first year together, our erotic bonding grew and intensified. Carol had what she described as “a vaginal orgasm” for the first time in her life. This had happened in our blue tent while we were camping at the beach. One night she had become so mesmerized by the roar of the ocean while we made love that the rhythm of waves seemed to infiltrate her bodily pulses until her erotic being was moving in the same rhythm as the sea, carrying her off to sensual sensations she’d never experienced before. For months afterward she could come to a similar orgasm almost without effort. Her new pleasure intensified my own, and we seemed erotically connected as never before.

Then she changed again. Our pattern of lovemaking returned to its earlier mode when Carol was less submissive, less carried off by forces beyond her control and more in control herself, more consciously attentive to her own needs. I didn’t mind the difference enough to worry that something was wrong. From my point of view, sex with Carol was never disappointing. At least not yet.

But our lives were changing. We always had worked hard and played hard, we always drank heavily, but now we seemed to be hosting parties more than ever, surrounding ourselves with friends, which gave us less time alone together. One reason we hosted parties was that we could afford to. Unlike most graduate students, who struggle to make ends meet, we found ourselves rolling in dough. I had my teaching assistantship and a writing income. Carol got her old fellowship back. Soon the Cold War G.I. Bill was initiated, which paid me to go to school. Then I received a lucrative Shubert Playwriting Fellowship.

I switched my M.F.A. program from fiction to playwriting for two reasons. The first was that I was struggling with the novel that was to be my thesis. I learned that my weakness was in writing descriptive prose, a failing that didn’t matter as much in short fiction as in the novel. I had a hard time creating a strong sense of place with language.

The second reason was that the first one-act play I wrote won a national competition. I was flown across the country for the premier, wined and dined, and treated like a bigshot, an important artist. I liked the feeling of being successful. When I later learned about the Shubert fellowship competition, I entered it and finished second. The next year I won.

Carol was less interested in scriptwriting than in prose. She stopped being my editor, which drew us further apart. This movement was like the subtext of our lives, changing the foundations of our relationship before either of us became consciously aware of what was happening. I was still living in the belief that I was deliriously happy with my soul mate. Carol was keeping her own feelings to herself but I saw nothing threatening or worrisome in her behavior. We worked hard and we played hard. We made progress on our degrees.

Summer came and we discovered that we had thousands of dollars in our savings account. We decided to camp from the west coast to the east coast and back again.

5/23/2003 06:24:00 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, May 22, 2003  
The New Gender Gap
Down with boys! "Some boy champions go so far as to contend that schools have become boy-bashing laboratories. Christina Hoff Sommers, author of The War Against Boys, says the AAUW report, coupled with zero-tolerance sexual harassment laws, have hijacked schools by overly feminizing classrooms and attempting to engineer androgyny." An article by Michelle Conlin. Access now.

5/22/2003 07:04:00 AM | 0 comments

[from a memoir in progress, which began 4/13/03]
In Portland Carol and I rented an apartment on Mississippi Avenue in North Portland, the city’s black community. Neither of us had lived in a black neighborhood before, which only increased our sense of adventure. As good liberals, we assumed we’d be fine.

Carol quickly found a shit job as a secretary. We’d decided that she would work full-time, I part-time, in order to give me leisure in which to learn my craft as a writer. I signed up with a temporary employment agency and soon was sent to interview for a writing job.

The job was to work on a biweekly trade newspaper for the mobile home industry, called The Northwest Mobile Home News. The publisher was a short, fat, graying, cigar-smoking character named Mel. We hit it off immediately, well enough that Mel suggested a deal. He would not offer me the job through the temp. agency. Instead he would hire me privately on his own at more salary than my share from the agency but less than what he would have had to pay them. We both would benefit. This sounded good to me.

As it turned out, Mel had doubled his staff. He had been the publisher, writer, editor and salesman all by himself. He wanted me to be the writer and editor so he could concentrate on sales.

Mel gave me a crash course in laying out and publishing a newspaper. I loved the job because I was learning so many useful new skills. I was a quick study, which pleased him. He gave me a raise and hit the road, traveling through the Northwest to sell ads for the newspaper, leaving me in Portland to assemble news releases, write stories, design and edit the paper, and deliver it to the printer. In the beginning this turned into a full-time job but I didn’t care. I was getting paid to write and learning a lot doing it.

I started writing under a variety of bylines. I created a column on mobile home living under one byline and a humorous column under another. Under a third name, I started writing a serial with a new installment each issue, several illustrated by Carol, a mystery in which the detective worked out of a mobile home. I started writing a feature page-one story under my own name, wanting to establish my writing credentials, and for these stories I interviewed major figures in the local mobile home business community. The paper gained respect, which attracted more readers, which sold more ads, which pleased Mel. He gave me another raise.

I was traveling across town to our office on 82nd avenue. After I had my work routine down, I suggested to Mel that we give up the office and let me assemble the paper in our apartment. I’d save traveling time, and he’d save rent. He loved the idea and split the savings with me with another raise.

In the meantime, we were hanging out at the local watering hole, The Overlook Tavern. Except for the white woman who owned the place, we usually were the only white customers there. We were accepted as neighbors by all the regulars.

As putting out the paper became more of a routine, I had time to write other things. I focused on writing short stories and articles for the Sunday supplement of the newspaper. Carol, as my editor, would read each manuscript carefully, marking small “x’s” in pencil in the margins, and we would go over my work meticulously, line by line. As time went on, I embraced fewer of Carol’s suggestions as I learned to defend my own voice and my own style of writing.

I started receiving so many rejection slips that I became depressed. A writer friend told me to do something positive with them. I began assembling a large collage of rejection slips. I still have it today.

Finally editors began accepting my work. Northwest Review accepted a short story, then The Colorado Quarterly, then The Literary Review. After a dozen rejections, Joe Bianco at Northwest, the Sunday supplement, accepted a piece about being on jury duty, paying me well. Moreover, he invited me to his office, and I walked out with an assignment. I was a professional writer! Soon I was a regular contributor to the supplement, eventually publishing over a hundred articles there.

I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven. Unfortunately, the euphoria wasn’t mutual. Without me being aware of it, Carol was going through changes. The better part of a decade would pass before these changes rose to the surface and altered our lives forever.

Before the changes, however, when even Carol must have thought she’d found her soul mate, we got married. We were going to drive to Salt Lake City, where I would meet her parents for the first time. At the last minute Carol decided she would be more comfortable introducing me as her husband rather than her live-in boyfriend. We went across the river to Vancouver, Washington, where we didn’t have to wait for the results of blood tests, and got married in an office while two secretaries looked on as witnesses. No one who knew us was there.

It wasn’t much of a wedding but it didn’t have to be. I already felt married in the deepest meaning of the term. I had found my soul mate.

5/22/2003 06:54:00 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, May 21, 2003  
Have the Dorothy Parker script in good shape, I think. Still need to time it ... might have to cut it for time. Know where to do that if I have to, won't hurt it very much.

Got a call from Brad today. I'd sent him some sections of the memoir about Dick, his father, and he had a hard time reading them, he said, brought up a lot of grief still hanging around.

Finally having some extended good weather. May hit 80 on Friday! I can't wait. Onward.

5/21/2003 08:02:00 PM | 0 comments
"The aim of is to eventually be the best resource for practical information and advice about technical theatre techniques for theatre folk at any level." Access now.

5/21/2003 07:31:00 AM | 0 comments

Castro and the Intellectuals
"Initially, Latin American intellectuals were drawn to the Cuban revolution in part because Mr. Castro, unlike leaders of their own countries, was willing to stand up to the United States. He also promised an egalitarian society, in direct contrast to the seemingly ineradicable class divisions and social injustices that bedevil most Latin American societies." An article by Larry Rohter. Access now.

5/21/2003 07:27:00 AM | 0 comments

[from a memoir in progress, which began 4/13/03]
I’m not sure when my obsession about my daughter began. I was waiting for divorce papers, but as I waited I began to feel guilty for abandoning my daughter. If I divorced, with Dee a thousand miles away, even farther if work took me out of the west, would my daughter even know who I was? I became obsessed with seeing her. I became obsessed with becoming a part of her life.

Like many obsessions, mine reached the breaking point. I was teaching my Comp class one morning when I suddenly had the urge to drive to Southern California and see my daughter. It was as if I were possessed by a demon, telling me to drop everything and go. So I did. I cancelled the rest of the class without explanation. I got in my car and started taking the freeway south directly from campus.

Hours later, I felt guilty again – now for leaving without telling Carol, without canceling the rest of my classes for the week. I made phone calls and did both.

Dee was naturally shocked to see me. Worse, she thought my distraught presence meant I’d come to my senses and wanted her back, wanted to be a family again. She must have still loved me because she behaved as if I were there on a mission of reconciliation.

I saw my daughter – and felt a wave of sadness stronger than anything I’d felt before. I immediately knew that it was not going to be possible to raise her, not in the way a full-time father did. This was surely a romantic notion. I was still too selfish to make any of the sacrifices required of parenthood. I was infatuated with the idea of being a father but knew nothing about its responsibilities. All the same, I felt sad to realize that once again I had to leave my daughter and Dee. As soon as I arrived, I understood I had to leave them. It had been a mistake to come.

Needless to say, Dee didn’t think much of my decision. She must have thought I was crazy, and in a sense I was. I didn’t know what to do next, only what I shouldn’t do. I could not reconcile with Dee under any circumstances.

I stayed in Southern California in a campground for a few days. I mailed a letter to the chair of the English Department, telling him that for personal reasons I had to resign my teaching assistantship. I wrote Carol that I loved her and that I was coming back – eventually. I stayed in the campground with my guitar and wrote several talking blues about the mixed-up, sorry state of my life, managing to infuse each song with ironic humor and self-parody. I was learning how to turn my most painful and mismanaged experiences into art. I was learning how to make myself the butt of my own jokes.

The Andersons and Crawfords came to visit me in the campground. They must have thought I’d gone nuts, too.

When I returned to Eugene, Carol welcomed me with open arms. It was if the last barrier between us had been removed. The divorce papers arrived, and I signed them. Dee was very gracious in her terms, asking for no alimony and little child support. I always paid it.

Carol wanted to know what I wanted to do. Be with you, I said – and become a writer. I was thinking of moving to Portland for a while, where maybe I could get a job writing for a newspaper. I felt like I’d caused a scandal in Eugene and needed to get away until things cooled down. To my astonishment, Carol said she would drop out of school, which meant giving up her fellowship, and come with me. I felt like we were a team, true soul mates.

We packed up and drove my VW to Portland, to find work and to begin the serious process of turning me into a writer. It felt like a team effort.

5/21/2003 07:18:00 AM | 0 comments

Tuesday, May 20, 2003  
The memoir draft done and sitting so I can get distance from it; the novel on hold but should be back on it soon; and front burner this week is my Dorothy Parker project, which I'm directing for a July 27th performance at the UU church. One more rewrite should have the script ready, except for changes in rehearsal. Meanwhile, at the university, passed out the take-home final today. A pile of books waiting for my summer attention -- will be doing a lot of reading about Greek tragedy. Onward.

5/20/2003 10:05:00 PM | 0 comments

Einstein Archives Online
Here is an example of the Internet at its best, making Einstein's vast writing available to all. Includes scientific, non-scientific, and autobiographical writing. Access now.

5/20/2003 12:12:00 PM | 0 comments

[from a memoir in progress, which began 4/13/03]
I knew Carol by reputation because she, too, was a folksinger. Sometimes we would be booked at the same clubs. Her folksong background was much more extensive than mine. In Salt Lake City, where she was from, she was the Carol in “Carol and the Valley Boys,” a folk group that featured her and Utah Philips, who would go on to become an underground legend. In Eugene she was the lead vocalist of a new jug band that was the most popular folk act in town.

So I was somewhat intimidated when I was introduced to Carol, and she sat down to join me at a table at Maxie’s. I learned later that our mutual friend had set us up because he’d overheard Carol brag that she’d never met a man who could drink her under the table. My friend figured I could give her a run for her money, and he was right.

Carol was tall and slender, with long blonde hair she wore in a single pigtail that dropped to her waist. She chain-smoked unfiltered Camels and wore little makeup. She was very bright and articulate, in graduate school on a fellowship to study folklore. I’d never met a woman like her in my life.

Our first meeting must have been a surprise to her. She wasn’t drinking me under the table – not at Maxie’s Tavern, which we closed down, nor at the hard liquor bar we went to in order to drink on for as long as legally possible. My drinking ability must have impressed her, for she invited me to her apartment.

In bed Carol was also different from any woman I had been with – with one exception. I’d been intimate with very few women at this point in my life – Shirley, Dee, a few prostitutes in the Army. On the same leave in Spain that I mentioned earlier, I’d been picked up by a woman twenty years older than I, who taught me more about sex in a few days than I’d learned in the several years of my limited experience. This older woman taught me that there were many more ways to make love to a woman than getting on top of her in the missionary position. And there also were ways for a woman to make love to a man. No woman had ever made love to me before.

Carol was different still, as if continuing the brief erotic education that had been started by the older woman in Spain. Carol was the first woman I’d been with who clearly considered her own sexual pleasure more important than mine. She made it clear from the beginning that she was perfectly capable of satisfying herself, so if I wasn’t interested in doing what she wanted to do, fine, I could just watch. But I wanted to participate, and Carol led me on erotic adventures not even the older woman had shared.

The next morning Carol gave me some money and told me to go buy some beer. Maybe she was still testing my capacity. We spent the morning, a Saturday, in bed, alternately drinking and making love, and I was hooked. So was Carol. We seemed perfectly right for one another. Within weeks we rented a house together.

By this time I’d told her I was married but getting divorced – and that I had a daughter. Neither threatened our relationship. In our house away from campus, we continued to bond both sexually and intellectually. Unlike Dee, who never took my dreams of becoming a writer seriously, Carol admired them and asked to see my work. Moreover, she made suggestions in a positive way that wasn’t threatening, earning my trust and soon becoming my editor. Far from being an enemy of my writing, she became intimately involved in it.

I’d started teaching by this time, a class of English Composition each term. My life finally seemed to be on track. I was in love with Carol, considering her a true soul mate, my lover, my friend, my editor, a woman who was smart and talented and sexy. I wanted to live like this forever.

5/20/2003 06:33:00 AM | 0 comments

Monday, May 19, 2003  
The Cultural Meaning of Suicide
A book review. Access now.

5/19/2003 10:42:00 AM | 0 comments

Brane Theory: A New Slice on Physics
"Is the world we see trapped on a thin membrane separating us from vast other realms? Some scientists say that would explain a lot." An article by K.C. Cole. Access now.

5/19/2003 10:38:00 AM | 0 comments

The Daughter
[from a memoir in progress, which began 4/13/03]
Through much of the summer of 1966, Dee and I house-sat my parents' home in southern Oregon while they visited relatives in New Jersey. This was the summer I edited all of my father's home movies, a project that became great fun. When I decided to edit a special film starring my brother, calling it "The Death of Artie Rainbow," Dee volunteered to make title cards to give it some class. We were working together. We were happy.

The family home in Medford was on almost an acre of land outside of town, and there was a large vegetable garden to tend. When the Albertsons and Crawfords visited from Los Angeles, staying with us for a week, their kids argued over who got to weed the garden. They'd never been this far out in the country before. We let them all get out there.

The Albertsons and Crawfords were hoping Dee would deliver the baby early, while they were there. Everyone was excited about the future. These were the happiest weeks in our marriage.

Then everything changed in a matter of months. Summer in Medford seemed to be the proverbial calm before the storm.

It didn't take long after starting graduate studies for me to realize how much I'd missed by being a commuting student in Southern California. Suddenly I was meeting people who were bright and articulate and passionately interested in literature - and some of them were women, attractive women. Why wasn't I married to a woman like this, who shared my passion for the literary life?

At home Dee and I never talked about books or ideas. In Maxie's Tavern near campus, a hangout for graduate students, that's all people talked about. Not since arriving in Berkeley had I been this excited about the intellectual environment around me. I knew immediately that I was going to love graduate school - but I also knew that Dee didn't fit in, that these were not her kind of people. I began to regret that she was pregnant. I began to regret saying yes to all those questions she had asked me.

The birth of our daughter only reinforced my doubts. What should have been a glorious moment became a terrifying one. When I looked at my daughter, I didn't see a beautiful living baby - I saw the very embodiment, the very personification, of the trap that was my marriage. I'd made a great mistake, a terrible mistake that was going to ruin my life, by saying yes to Dee. I still didn't know who I was, whether I was going to become a scholar or a writer, but I knew I belonged with people like those in my graduate classes, like those hanging out at Maxie's Tavern, like those who enjoyed nothing more than talking about ideas and literature.

I began acting as badly, as thoughtlessly, as I've ever acted in my life. As a teaching assistant, I had an office on campus. I began to study there, not at home. Under the excuse that we needed more income now that we had a child, I found a job singing folk music one night a week, which was another excuse to stay away from Dee. Typically I left for school early in the morning and returned late at night, usually directly from Maxie's Tavern, where I'd drink and bullshit with my fellow graduate students, male and female. I was not acting like a husband or a father. I was acting like a single, male graduate student, which is exactly how I came to feel.

I wasn't chasing after another woman. I was staying away from home. It was as if by ignoring everything there, I could make it all go away. I created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Dee was no dummy. Dee was no wimp. She only took this behavior for about a month. We lived in married student housing west of campus, and one night I staggered home from Maxie's to enter a bare apartment. All the furniture was gone, everything. On the floor were stacks of my books and personal belongings and a sleeping bag. On the sleeping bag was a note. During the long day when she and the baby were alone, abandoned by me, Dee had called her mother for help, hired a moving van, packed up, and returned to Southern California.

I think I felt relieved. The grief didn't come until later, in an unannounced explosion of emotion that may have been a nervous breakdown. But that first night I must have done no more than roll out the sleeping bag and hit the sack.

I remember camping out in the bare apartment for weeks, continuing on as if nothing had happened. I went to classes, I played my folk music gigs, and I hung out at Maxie's Tavern. I didn't tell anyone that my wife had left me, taking my daughter with her. I made no effort to contact Dee. I just went on, doing pretty much what I had done when Dee was there. I lived in the bare apartment for weeks - and then for months.

Eventually I received a letter from Dee, asking if I wanted a divorce. I replied yes. This seemed to be the end of it. After all, I'd become divorced in my mind the moment I entered graduate school and realized all the possibilities it offered.

One of these possibilities was meeting a woman as passionate about literature as I was. I had my eye out now but made no connection until a Maxie's regular brought by a woman for me to meet.

5/19/2003 04:30:00 AM | 0 comments

Sunday, May 18, 2003  
Sunday drive
We took back roads down to Eugene to see my Wayne Morse play. Gorgeous day, great 3 hr leisurely drive (half that on the Interstate). And the play was magnificent! A one-man show totally depends on the actor, of course, and they found a man who owned the part and became Morse. I couldn't be more pleased. Now they want to tour the show around the state, and I hope they do. Moreover, twice the audience showed up that they were prepared for, and the actor -- Claude Offenbacher -- gave them a great reincarnation of the maverick senator from Oregon. I was even asked to sign a few programs afterwards, which I haven't done in a while. I did -- then sent them to get the actor's autograph. He turned the show into his own, as he should. The director, Judith Roberts, brought everything together very nicely. Well, I was delighted. Now they need to take this show out to the folks.

5/18/2003 08:46:00 PM | 0 comments

University of Oregon
[from a memoir in progress, which began 4/13/03]
The timing couldn’t have been better for me when I arrived on campus at the University of Oregon. The current issue of The New Republic magazine contained a book review by me, and the first thing the chair of the English Department said after shaking my hand was, “Very nice to see your article in the New Republic, Mr. Deemer!” I walked onto campus like a golden boy. What I didn’t realize was that, after an entrance like this, there was nowhere to go but down.

My first disappointment happened early on. By this time I had decided to write my Ph.D. thesis on Melville’s Pierre, arguing that the book was as good as Moby Dick, an opinion that no critic had offered before. Doing research in the library one afternoon, I learned that a recent Ph.D. thesis from the University of Michigan had made the same argument. Now my “original” interpretation was going to look derivative.

I was devastated. My advisor tried to call me down, telling me this was par for the course in graduate school. All I had to do was pick another subject matter for my thesis. He suggested something about the Transcendentalists, who in the cycle of literary fashion were due to become popular again just about the time I would get my doctorate. But I had come to Oregon to write about Melville’s Pierre, nothing else, and I began to question my entire motivation for being there. Should I really become a professor of literature? Or should I become a writer? This old, nagging question was far from being resolved.

If this weren’t enough complication in my life, there was another challenge ahead. Dee was eight months pregnant when we arrived in Eugene. Here the timing was good, too, because at least she hadn’t delivered early, at least I didn’t come onto campus burdened by the stress of fatherhood.

Dee’s pregnancy had not been an accident, however untimely it might seem to start a family at the beginning of graduate school studies. We’d decided that it was now or never for us. By having a child, we would solve all the problems in our marriage.
During my last year at UCLA, Dee had decided I was having an affair with the pretty wife of our apartment manager. In fact, I wasn’t – but we were flirting with one another rather outrageously. In fact, we might well have begun an affair had Dee not intervened. She put her foot down and informed me in no uncertain terms that it was time to have a real marriage or no marriage at all. She was sick and tired of living the way we were.

I can’t remember whose idea it was to have a child. I suspect it was Dee’s. I’m sure she wanted a family, and I’m sure this was the farthest thing from my mind since I had so many other issues to resolve, such as what to do with my life.

I don’t have any memory of alcohol being an issue at this time, although it clearly was. But Dee made no demands that I quit drinking (maybe she knew I would have left her if she had). What she wanted to know was whether or not I loved her, whether or not we were going to have a marriage, and whether or not we were going to have a family.

I answered yes to everything. I think I did this because I was scared to leave her at this time in my life when so many other things were unresolved. I’m sure I thought that I loved her, despite our differences. I don’t have a memory of being unhappily married until later when in the world of graduate school I met, for the first time, people who shared my passion for literature. At PCC and UCLA I was a commuting student, and my social life was with Dee and our circle of friends, none of whom were interested in literature. But we all were interested in folk music and in eating and drinking well, so it didn’t seem to matter that I had no literary friends. Only when I made such friends in graduate school would I realize how much I had been missing and how important these new friends were to me.

In my own mind at the time, I said yes to Dee to make the marriage work. For the summer before we moved to Eugene, it looked like the decision had been the right one.

5/18/2003 07:41:00 AM | 0 comments

Saturday, May 17, 2003  
Making Life Worth Living
There's a scene in a Woody Allen movie in which the Allen character asks himself, what makes life worth living? And he goes on to list books and songs that answer the question. Here is my list.
  • Ramblin’ Jack Elliott singing Woody Guthrie.
  • Little Walter playing and singing the blues.
  • Doc Watson picking guitar.
  • The Weill/Brecht opera, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.
  • Frank Sinatra singing “Angel Eyes,” “It Was A Very Good Year,” and so many others.
  • Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker playing "My Funny Valentine."
  • Graham Greene’s novels, The Quiet American and The Human Factor.
  • Evan S. Connell’s novel, Mrs. Bridge.
  • John Steinbeck’s short novel, Of Mice and Men.
  • Gilbert Sorrentino’s short story, “The Moon In Its Flight.”
  • Friedrich Durrenmatt’s play, The Physicists.
  • Edward Albee’s play, A Delicate Balance.
  • Peter Weiss’ musical play, Marat/Sade.
  • John Guare’s screenplay, Atlantic City.
  • And so much more!
Any of these on anyone else's list?

5/17/2003 09:30:00 AM | 0 comments

The Innocents
When innocent people get accused -- and convicted ... "She based her unwavering claim in large part on a mug shot shown to her by police. She was wrong. As the book title suggests, he was cleared of the crime — but only after he had served 10 and a half years of hard time. Thompson’s account of her mistake, which appears in the book alongside the portrait of the pair, is a chilling testament to the frailty of memory and the power of a photograph to supplant it." Access now.

5/17/2003 04:28:00 AM | 0 comments

[from a memoir in progress, which began 4/13/03]
I was older than most undergraduates at UCLA and also a commuter. I had no campus life, nor did I want any. I wanted to graduate as quickly as I could, to which end I always took an overload. Some courses, like “History of the Opera” and “Chinese Literature,” I took for the discipline of their reading lists and the credits, working no harder than to earn a C in them. I also took advantage of university policy and petitioned to take courses by examination. I would be given a reading list, I’d read the books, I’d take the exam, and I’d move on.

But a wonderful accident happened to me at UCLA, too. I still needed a semester of language to satisfy a requirement because UCLA greatly undervalued the worth of studying Russian in the Army. I enrolled in a Russian class at PCC, thinking this would take care of the difference. It didn’t. I felt guilty taking beginning Russian after being a linguist, even if my Russian was stale from several years of neglect. I volunteered as a Russian tutor to make myself feel better.

I was sitting next to one of my tutoring students when the classroom door flew open and a passing teacher yelled that President Kennedy had been shot. The student beside me was Sirhan Sirhan, the future assassin of Robert Kennedy. Yes, it’s all material all right – but I’ve never figured out how to use this strange, cosmic accident in my work.

At UCLA I decided to take a semester of German to satisfy my language requirement once and for all. Registration was in person in the gym, in a crowded setting of near chaos. The line for enrolling in German was very long but next to it was an empty table. Classical Greek. I’ve always hated standing in line. I thought, why not?

I loved Classical Greek. The class was very small, less than ten students. Natural Greek syntax sounded like the convoluted syntax in a Cummings poem (“with up so floating many bells down”). I became the best student in the class.

Two years later, at the University of Oregon, I learned the surprise consequences of being the best Classical Greek student in the class. I received a letter inviting me to march with the graduating undergraduates for belated admission into Phi Beta Kappa, the honor society.

Surely this was a mistake. My grade point average (GPA) at UCLA was not much above 3.0, not nearly high enough for Phi Beta Kappa. I had no idea what was going on – until I marched and received my membership certificate. It was signed by the current President of the honor society, who happened to be my Classical Greek teacher.

I learned later that she was so surprised that the computer had not kicked me out for consideration for the honor society that she took it upon herself to look up my records. She successfully argued that I should be admitted despite a GPA lower than usual because of the overload I always took and my strong average in my core classes. I was a proud inductee, too, and for years I wore my Phi Beta Kappa pin proudly on my baseball cap.

5/17/2003 04:16:00 AM | 0 comments

Friday, May 16, 2003  
On being politically correct
A Seattle teacher gets in trouble for using the n-word, even though he used it to make a valid point about intolerance. Read the story. This reminds me of a similar situation that happened to me in the 1960s.

I was teaching English Composition at the University of Oregon. I had a dozen Black Panthers in my class. There were a formidable bunch, marching into class in military formation, all in their black leather jackets and berets. During one discussion, a female student made a comment to which a Panther quickly asked, "Do you really believe that mother-fucking bullshit?" A silence fell over the room with all the students looking at me to see how I would react. I asked the girl, "Did you hear the question?" She said, "I'm not sure." The Panther cried out, "I said it's mother-fucking bullshit!" I clarified to the girl, "He actually asked if you really believe that mother-fucking bullshit."

The class looked stunned that I had used the m-f word in class. But it had an interesting effect. Suddenly everyone wanted to say it! Sweet girls who wanted to be airline stewardesses, upright jocks, all variety of students raised their hands so they could say mother-fucking something-or-other in class. Now I was shocked. What was going on here? I turned the discussion to what was happening, and we talked about the magic of language, and the feeling of release when one does not feel censored. It was a good discussion.

Six months later the chair of the English Department called me into his office. There were pending charges against me of "moral turpitude." The first thing I thought of was some disgruntled student claimed I'd had sex with her or something. It turned out I was being accused of saying "mother-fucking" in class. It took me a moment to remember the Black Panther incident but when I did, I quickly admitted what had happened -- and explained why it had happened. To make a long story short, I was slapped on the wrist and told never to do it again.

But I found out what had happened to cause the accusation. One of the students who had jumped at the opportunity to say the m-f word in class once it was allowed later used the word in front of her mother. Asked where she learned such a thing, she said, "Well, Mr. Deemer used it in his English class."

I don't like the present atmosphere of political correctness with everyone so "sensitive" and "uptight" about what we say and what we wear and what we check out of the library. Meaning is always contextual. The Seattle teacher was making a legitimate point in my opinion, and he himself defined the context in which he was using the n-word. What kind of education do we get when we are afraid of language?

5/16/2003 09:53:00 AM | 0 comments

TV and Truth
Did Israeli soldiers shoot and kill an Arab boy -- or not? A fascinating case of TV images and reality. "The significance of this case from the American perspective involves the increasingly chaotic ecology of truth around the world. In Arab and Islamic societies the widespread belief that Israeli soldiers shot this boy has political consequences. So does the belief among some Israelis and Zionists in Israel and abroad that Palestinians will go to any lengths to smear them." Access now.

5/16/2003 04:00:00 AM | 0 comments

Pasadena City College
[from a memoir in progress, which began 4/13/03]
My life has been filled with serendipity. I remind myself of this often. Despite having a dirty laundry list of drunken escapades, in the balance sheet of my life I feel lucky. More often than not, things happening to me that seemed unfortunate at the time have proved to be the opposite.

When I returned to school, I planned to enroll at UCLA – but there was a problem. Because Cal. Tech. was on the quarter system and UCLA on the semester system, my credits for the fall quarter of my sophomore year transferred at 2 credits, not the 3 that were the standard UCLA course (I had no credits from Berkeley). In other words, I had to take all my sophomore classes over again. Since this would be expensive, I decided to attend Pasadena City College for a year, where I could make up the work at considerably less expense, and go on to UCLA from there.

This was another one of those fortunate accidents. At PCC three things happened that had important consequences: I learned how to analyze and write about literature; I met a teacher who encouraged me to write (but prose, not poetry); and I published in the college literary magazine.

I was nervous about majoring in literature because at Cal. Tech. I showed no talent for writing about it. In a World Drama class I was lucky to get a C. In another survey course, I wrote an embarrassing analysis of E. A. Robinson’s poem, “Mr. Flood’s Party.” You may remember that in the poem “old Eben Flood” climbs a hill overlooking his town, drinks from a jug and reflects in self-dialogue on the failures of his life:

For soon amid the silver loneliness
Of night he lifted up his voice and sang,
Secure, with only two moons listening,
Until the whole harmonious landscape rang --

"For auld lang syne." The weary throat gave out,
The last word wavered; and the song being done,
He raised again the jug regretfully
And shook his head, and was again alone.

In my interpretation of this poem on a quiz, I was stumped by the image of “with only two moons listening” until I remembered … are you ready for this? … Mars had two moons! Believe it or not, I set my interpretation on the planet Mars. It never occurred to me that, being drunk, old Flood was seeing double. My professor told me it was the most unusual and creative reading of the poem he’d ever encountered. This response does not suggest a future in interpreting literature.

At PCC, thanks to excellent and encouraging teachers, I learned how to write about literature without making a fool of myself. One teacher, in particular, influenced me in several ways.

Bob Trevor began every class by reading a poem aloud. There was no discussion of it. He just told us to listen carefully. This was the first time I understood the importance of the lyrical line in poetry. In learning to analyze and discuss literature, I followed Trevor’s example, emulating the methodology he used in class. He approached literary interpretation as a marriage between mind and heart, moving from the mind’s understanding of the logic of the text to the heart’s understanding of the emotional meaning of the poem. The two always had to pull in the same direction.

Trevor encouraged my writing in several ways. First, he encouraged my critical writing and showed me how to improve it. Once he saw my creative writing, he discouraged me to pursue poetry and encouraged me to focus on fiction instead. My poems during this period, although better than the doggerel in my journals, still were too contrived and safe. My early talent in creative writing was in creating character and writing realistic dialogue. It would be some time yet before I discovered playwriting, so I used these skills in short stories.

The college literary magazine was called Pipes of Pan, and I contributed to several issues while I was at PCC. I published poems, a short story based on one of my hitchhiking adventures, and a critical essay about E. E. Cummings, to whose work Trevor introduced me.

I was a published writer! I think Dee felt relief, hoping that this might end my impossible quest to become a professional writer. Now I could settle down to becoming a literature professor. But seeing my name and work in print only whetted my appetite for more. I would take a growing internal conflict between creative writing and critical writing with me to UCLA.

5/16/2003 03:43:00 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, May 15, 2003  
Grits and Scrapple
Mention breakfast, and I think of grits and scrapple. Both are hard to find out here in the west, especially scrapple. But I found some easy recipes.

5/15/2003 10:37:00 AM | 0 comments

American Masters: Group Theatre
"In the summer of 1931, three young idealists, Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg, were inspired by a passionate dream of transforming the American theater. They recruited 28 actors to form a permanent ensemble dedicated to dramatizing the life of their times." Access now.

5/15/2003 07:38:00 AM | 0 comments

Brother Bill
[from a memoir in progress, which begins 4/13/03]
My brother lived with Dee and me for a short time, sleeping in a tent behind a cottage we rented in Altadena. Bill reminded me of myself at Berkeley, lost and searching. He’d already had more adventures than I’d had at his age, living in Denmark and Mexico for a while, experimenting with drugs I’d never tried, and all the while learning his craft as a poet.

There’s an undated entry in my journal between July and August, 1964, when Bill was 19, that is one of his poems written in his own hand. It begins:

Blood is the worst gyre
Curtis William—
Deemer is the terrible carnage
given again unto the sons;
the seed is focus,
the parent’s face & hour, the inheritance is familial,
a lobe the blood is surfaced & fed in to,
the children.
Who are encircled by ancestral ghosts.

To compare these lines to what I was writing at 19 is to understand the difference between adolescent and sentimental doggerel – and the rough birth of a genuine poetic voice.

My brother and I, being six years apart, were never close in the sense of doing lots of things together as kids. Bill, however, has a strong memory of my playing guitar and singing cowboy songs to him, one of which (it must have been “The Cowboy’s Lament”) always brought him to tears. Bill was asthmatic and spent a lot of his youth sick, missing more than his share of school. At home he watched lots of movies, especially westerns, and became a great film buff and amateur movie historian.

I first learned of how seriously he was taking poetry in a distressed letter from my mother. Bill wanted to drop out of high school in order to become a full time poet. He may have been a junior. What could they do to convince him he should stay in school? My parents wanted my advice.

I knew my brother had genuine literary talent. I wrote back what my parents may not have wanted to hear, that school was something Bill could always make up later if he needed it and, at any rate, he wasn’t going to get much out of it if he didn’t want to be there. Maybe they should support him in his quest to become a poet.

Apparently they took my advice. Bill dropped out of school, and my parents bought him a mimeograph machine. He and a friend started publishing a poetry journal of their work called The Mushroom Flower. I believe several issues came out before greater ambitions led Bill elsewhere.

Bill left home. I recommended an international high school in Denmark I’d learned about, and my folks agreed to send him there. Bill didn’t like it and didn’t stay long. He spent some time in Mexico in a community of American expatriates, then ended up in San Francisco.

Before he was old enough to vote, Bill had earned the credentials of a professional poet. Several of his poems appeared in Poetry magazine, perhaps the country’s most prestigious place to publish at the time, and the small, independent and very respected publishing house, Auerhahn Press in San Francisco, came out with his first collection of poems. In San Francisco, Bill became friends with Lew Welch and other legends from the Beat era. And he met his mate, Toby.

Bill’s wedding just after his twenty-first birthday is captured on home movies. He is tall and dark with black hair falling to his shoulders, strutting in front of the camera in his cape, looking like a twin of Oscar Wilde. From the time he could walk, Bill strutted before Dad’s camera. He was a born ham.

One summer I edited the family home movies, making reels organized by subject matter, and I put together a “silent movie” of Bill’s antics before the camera. Called The Death of Artie Rainbow (a takeoff on Arthur Rimbaud), the short film captures the quest of a budding poet for a mythological Polynesian princess, Diana (the title of Bill’s second book).

Bill’s common antic as a child was to race to the camera as soon as he saw it, and to see this action repeated from the time Bill can barely walk to the time he is a teenager was one of those family images that brought a smile to your face. I cut in images from Dad’s Guam movies to represent the princess, who at first is seen as a beautiful bare-breasted teenager, smiling at the camera in her grass skirt, but who near the end of the quest becomes a fat woman walking with a cane, her bare breasts falling almost to her waist. Dee, who had artistic talent, made title and subtitle cards for the film, which gave it a professional look. I even played taped music to accompany it. This was my sole adventure in film editing, and I loved every minute of it.

Bill and I did one joint project during the short period he lived with us. We published a single issue of a literary magazine called Potpourri. The volume contains Bill’s poems, some verse and a literary essay by me, and a children’s story by Dee, who also designed the magazine. We gave the magazine to a few friends, and that was the end of that.

Despite his auspicious beginnings as a prodigy, Bill soon discovered that poetry reputations are controlled by the academy. He was still a high school dropout. Although he later passed his G.E.D., Bill never got on the university poetry circuit or accepted into the university literary magazines, which kept him out of contention for the major literary prizes in this country. At the same time, he received one of the first national grants for poetry at the recommendation of a poet-friend, and small presses continued to publish his work. In 2000 his book Variations was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award in poetry.

Not long ago Bill told me he no longer wrote poetry. When I asked him if he had retired, he replied no, he had resigned.

The remark captures Bill’s wit and intelligence perfectly. To me he’ll always be the poet in the family, an artist of great integrity and talent. He and Toby have been married for over 35 years, an accomplishment regarded with awe by someone like myself, with four marriages and half-a-dozen failed relationships. Sometimes it’s the big brother who looks up to the little brother.

5/15/2003 07:29:00 AM | 0 comments


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