Straight from the Underground, by Nitro Microphone Underground

I think I was only in Japan for a few weeks before I found myself venturing out to media stores alone, trying to figure out what was all around me. So much of what we in America know of Japan isn’t contemporary Japan. Most books present Japan at various stages of its history, and seem to always have a geisha featured in them. Same with movies, except for Lost in Translation, which I watched last night when I wanted to ‘visit’ Tokyo again for a couple of hours. This trend is also one that we follow with Japanese music. Before I went to Japan, I thought it was all bamboo flutes and three-stringed bone harps (or some other fantastically old instruments). What I found when I got there, though, was a music scene (and many other kinds of scenes) that felt much more global and diverse than what we have here (or at least what we have making itself to a wide audience). I was absolutely floored to hear, for example, this group, The Nitro Microphone Underground, rapping in Japanese.

What I heard

What I heard on a walk around my neighborhood tonight:

“Bush said the entire economy’s in danger.  He sayin’ it like it’s our fault.”

“Brother still won’t own up to bein’ a straight-up mofo loser takin’ us down with him.”

“Shit.  We still ain’t ownin’ up to puttin’ the mofo in office either.”

I didn’t put that man in office!”

“You ain’t done nothin’ but complain to me about him either.  Why don’t you go protest or somethin’!?”

“Yeah, I suppose I should do that.”

“Yeah, I suppose I should, too.”


First Review

Looks like the first review is in on The Love We Share Without Knowing, this one from Publishers Weekly.  I’ll be posting these, for better or worse (ala Jeff Ford), as they come in.  I’m pretty pleased with this one.

The Love We Share Without Knowing Christopher Barzak. Bantam, $12 paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-553-38564-9
Barzak’s accomplished novel-in-stories dwells on people dealing with life’s sorrows through somewhat tenuous connections. Set in Japan, the narratives focus on protagonists from the country and travelers in search of a new life, as in “Realer Than You,” in which 16-year-old Elijah Fulton longs for his native America while struggling to fit into his new surroundings outside of Tokyo. “The Suicide Club” is made up of four young adults on the fringe of Japanese society attempting to make sense of their lives, while “Sleeping Beauties” concerns, albeit sappily, an American teacher and his Japanese lover; the narrator loses his identity through total immersion in his lover’s life, yet it’s the slow return to self that is even more devastating. “If You Can Read This You’re Too Close” centers on a disillusioned, selfish young man whose life is changed after a blind man sees him. Barzak’s perceptive writing evinces the fragile and overwhelming desire for meaning and love. (Nov.)

YSU-Ytown Reading Series

Just a brief announcement that I, along with my assistant Mona Lisi (yes, it’s her real name, and it’s awesome, isn’t it?), have been doing the work to start promoting awareness of a new YSU-Ytown Reading Series, a new monthly event (during the college school year) I’ve created to bridge university activities with the community that hosts the university.  Here’s a look at the who/what/where/when/why of the series.  I hope if you’re in the region, you’ll help spread the word on your own blogs, Facebooks, Myspace sites, or by any other means.  Word of mouth is always good.  But more importantly, I hope to see you at our first event, which will feature Cleveland author Catherynne Valente on October 6th.  And our second reader, David Giffels, from Akron, will be coming in November to read from his memoir, All the Way Home, published by HarperCollins (read this awesome article in the New York Times about him and his new book!). Read ahead to get all the pertinent info, and please friend us on Myspace and Facebook.

Welcome to the new YSU-Ytown Reading Series. Held at 7PM at Cedars Cafe in Downtown Youngstown on the first Monday of the month (September through December and February through April), we will be bringing you authors from the Youngstown/Cleveland/Pittsburgh corridor as well as the rest of the nation (and the world on occasion) hopefully for a long time to come.

And on top of that, after each featured reader, the mic will be open for our local poets and writers to share their words as well. But to do that, we need an audience to make it happen, meaning YOU.

So please check out the blog entries at this site to find out more about our upcoming readers, and pass the word around about this new community series to anyone you think might be interested in listening to and meeting authors, as well as interested in bringing their own words into awareness in our town, Ytown.

As Bukowski wrote, “a poem is a city” Not to mention short stories, novels and memoirs.  Bring your city and make it part of ours.

Our first reader will be Catherynne M. Valente, on October 6th at 7 PM.

Born in the Pacific Northwest in 1979, Catherynne M. Valente is the author of the Orphan’s Tales series, as well as The Labyrinth, Yume no Hon: The Book of Dreams, The Grass-Cutting Sword, and four books of poetry, Music of a Proto-Suicide, Apocrypha, The Descent of Inanna, and Oracles. She is the winner of the Tiptree Award, the Mythopoeic Award, the Rhysling Award, and the Million Writers Award. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Spectrum Award. She currently lives in Cleveland with her partner and two dogs.

This is going to be a great new reading series complete with open mic after the featured reader so we hope to see you all there. Come show your support for local writers, and bring your own work to share!

The second reader has been announced! The reading and open mic will be held the first Monday, November 3rd, at 7:00, Cedars Restaurant and Lounge in downtown Youngstown.

Former Beavis and Butt-Head writer David Giffels is a columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal and the author of All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-down House, a memoir about coming of age as a father in a ramshackle mansion reclaimed from termites, belligerent squirrels and decades of neglect. The book will be published May 27, 2008.

He is the co-author of two other books: the rock biography Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! (SAF Publishing, 2003), and Wheels of Fortune: The Story of Rubber in Akron, a 1998 history of his hometown that is the best-selling title in University of Akron Press history.

His essays appear in The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia (Indiana University Press, 2006) and The Appalachians: America’s First and Last Frontier (Random House, 2004), and he received a “Notable Essay” citation in Da Capo Best Music Writing 2004. He has written the introduction to a West Point Market cookbook, to be published by the University of Akron Press this fall. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times Magazine.

He is a contributing commentator and essayist on National Public Radio station WKSU in Kent, Ohio. In a 16-year career, he has won dozens of journalism awards, including the 2006 national award for commentary from the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors. He has been nominated five times for the Pulitzer Prize.

Giffels has bachelor’s degrees in English and mass media and a master’s degree in English/creative writing from the University of Akron. He writes in the former servant’s quarters of a semi-rehabilitated Tudor Revival home in Akron, where he lives with his wife, two children, and a large but uncounted number of bats.

All that glitters…

What I would like to elucidate as the main difference between the vice-president selections from my last post is that Obama’s choice of running mate (a choice of someone he perceives will fill in gaps he himself may have as president, thus aiding him) is a decision made from wisdom and a genuine intention to create an administration that is capable, experienced, and knowledgeable.

McCain’s selection of Palin, on the other hand, is a decision made from cleverness, of knowing how to manipulate people by placing images of themselves onstage.  In Sara Palin, he has selected the mother, the righteous believer in Christ, the hunter, the regionally ignored, the female who has grown tired of her own gender being excluded to a great extent from the center of the political process throughout our history.  It is a decision made to garner votes for the Republican party, not a decision made with goodwill and authentic intention to form an administration that has the skills, know-how, experience, and savvy to actually do good for a nation (and for the world, since we are so inextricably connected with the rest of the world).  It is a decision to create an illusion, to hypnotize with a figure whose multi-faceted identity refracts and reflects a large population of people who feel disenfranchised (whether they are or not–I would argue that the fundamentalist Christian population he is courting is not disenfranchised enough, and have made far too many in-roads into a political process that by the very constitution of this government should not have the involvement that it does at this juncture in our history, yet it is a population that declares itself disenfranchised anyway, and in doing so, garners a sort of victim’s power in the socio-political landscape).

McCain’s choice in Palin is what we call hand-waving in science fiction and fantasy writing circles.  It’s a term used to “refer to a plot device (e.g. a scientific discovery, a political development, or rules governing the behavior of a fictional creature) that is left unexplained or sloppily explained because it is convenient to the story, with the implication that the writer is aware of the logical weakness but hopes the reader will not notice.” McCain’s choice in Palin is hand-waving.  There is no explanation for why she is his running mate,  what she can really do as a vice president of a nation.  McCain and the Republican party hope that we will be dazzled and hypnotized by her glamour, her sparkling facets that seems so much like so many of us, but in fact are none of us at all.  She is a distraction.  A desparate distraction.  Will the American people be distracted by her in the end?  Will we choose to endure another four years of our public and common properties being siphoned into the hands of the few?  I don’t know.  We have that history of looking where someone points, instead of “keeping our eyes on the ball,” as my father would say.  We have a history of falling for snake oil salesmen.

Different powers

When I watch video of Republican speeches since Sarah Palin has been introduced, I can’t help but notice the strange relationship or dynamics that exists between her and the party that has pulled her onstage.  I see Sarah Palin, and this lead or leash, held by the Republican party, walking her around, showing her off, knowing that she is a Democrats worst nightmare–the figure that reminds the average, “ordinary” American of themselves, the kind politicians constantly refer to in their speeches, the figure that the average, “ordinary” American looks at and thinks, “She’s like me, and because of that, I’ll vote for her.”  It is the same figure that won George Bush his elections in part–playing himself off like he’s just another good old boy American, just like you and me, right?

The thing is, no one the Democrats put forth are just like you and me either, but they don’t spend time patronizing us with their idea of who we are as much either.  When Obama picked Biden, he didn’t pick a running mate that spoke to the masses and reflected their character in his own in some way.  He picked someone who he felt would compliment him and perhaps fill out some of the experience and knowledge that he lacks.  McCain, on the other hand, selected someone for her image, not her capabilities, solely for the image she projects just by being herself: the average, “ordinary” American that politicians speak of so often. He did not pick a candidate to compliment his abilities.  He picked a candidate whose very person will magnetize the unaware of this country, and pull them toward her by the sheer power of her similarity to them.

Where the Wild Things Are

Just a couple of weeks ago, when the semester started, I was taking roll in one of my classes, trying to get to know students’ names, and came across a young woman with the last name of Sendak.  “Like the writer,” I said, to which she replied, “Huh?”

“You know,” I said, “the writer, Maurice Sendak?”

Blank stare.

Where the Wild Things Are?” I said.

“Oh!  Oh, yeah, that guy,” she said, and I let it drop after that.

Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are was one of my favorite books as a child.  I admired many of his others as a kid, too, but that was always my favorite.  To put on that wolf suit like Max does and venture into the world of fabulous monsters–oh, what I would have given to be able to do that in real life, not just in my imagination.  But I did get to do it through Max, as close as anyone could have brought me to that experience of magic as a child.  Sometimes, when someone asks me, “Who’s your favorite writer?” I’ll reply, “Maurice Sendak,” because he was my first.  Second is Dr. Seuss, whose stories opened up the possibilities and play of language for me.  But Sendak is first.

I’ve never written a children’s book, but it’s on my list of Dreams to Make Happen in Life, and my only hope is that, when I do write one, I’ll be able to make one that will transport children by mere words and pictures alone to another world, the way Sendak was able to do for me.

Today, reading the New York Times, I came across this article about him celebrating his eightieth birthday, and the very difficult past year he’s spent since the loss of his partner, and indeed the difficult life he has led.  Discovering the dreariness and darkness in his past, and indeed in his present, has made me admire his writing even more.  It takes a beautiful mind to make light in this often dark world, and he’s done that, whether he’s aware of it or not, and despite his feeling that he has yet to make something that will rouse a great passion in some reader one day.