Friday, July 24, 2009

So Long, Pap

There have been a lot of things this past week that I've wanted to write about. The 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and how Buzz Aldrin's rallying cry to push onward to Mars is a gleaming rocket of hope to outer space dreamers like myself. The collapse of DC's last free-form/guy talk station and how it very oddly relates to a short story I've been working on the past month. Or how it looks like I'll be finally moving into a new position at work.

But I shoved everything else to the side when I got the word that my grandpa passed away. His health has been heading downward for a long while now, and he's been in hospice care for the last six months. Although it wasn't a surprise, exactly, it still stung a good bit.

My dad ask me to write an "appreciation page" to handout at his memorial gathering later today. I was happy to, although I was somewhat mystified about how to sum up his life in 500 words or less. Do I write about my memories, and how much I appreciate his willingness to raise me when my own parents weren't able? That I loved the fact that the sweet smell of pipe tobacco clung to him years after he quit smoking? Or that I was always amazed by the magical way he seemed to make friends everywhere he went? My first draft was over six pages and I felt like I was holding back. In the end I just stuck to the bare facts and came up with something that I hope people will like.

He wasn't a war hero. He didn't create great art. He didn't start his own company----in fact, his father's business fell apart when he took over. But he was, and always will be, the measure of what makes a great man in my mind. I know in a rational sense that he was in pain and that death at this point was probably the best thing for him. But I have an aching spot inside me that misses him and I know that spot will ache the the rest of my life.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

New Thoughts on the Avant Garde

I recently finished Tracy Daugherty's wonderful book Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme. While I am still digging through my notes and marked passages, one particular quote of Don B keeps coming up:

the function of the advance to protect the main body, which translates as the status quo

At least for me, this is a different way of thinking about the avant garde side of arts. Blame my binary brain but I often think of the avant garde as an antagonistic force, a side of the arts that seeks to lay waste to everything that came before and define its age through a new style or new philosophy. A session on reading difficult writers I went to at this year's Balticon solidified it for me: when people around the room took turns announcing their favorite authors nearly everyone groaned when one brave man pledged his allegiance to Thomas Pynchon.

But this small line of Bartheleme's hints at more of a symbiosis. Constantly pulling on each other to go one way or another, the two sides need each other to define themselves. Even more, it's the avant garde that steps out to try new forms and new ideas, to take the blasts venomous criticism so more mainstream lit can (possibly) borrow and modify what they do years later.

As a writer who took chances by playing with the form but still managed to publish work in mainstream mags, I can't think of anyone else at a better vantage point than Barthelme to make a statement like this. While this idea is still very fresh in my head----and thus about as firmed up as a pile of silly putt----I'm hoping to mull on it for awhile and start seeing connections the more I read. We'll see.

I'll have more of a formal review of the bio later this week, after I finish going through my note. Until then....


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Assateague Island

This past week Miss L and I ventured east to Assateague Island. It's quite a wonderful place. It's a barrier island just off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia that operates largely as a National and State park, but does have the small beach town of Chincoteague on the Virginia side.

What makes it most unique are the wild ponies. No one is really sure where they came from. Anyone who read Marguerite Henry's book Misty of Chincoteague as a child probably knows the popularized theory that they came from a Spanish galleon that crashed against the island during a vicious thunderstorm. But the more historically accepted version is that the wild ponies descend from domesticated stock; apparently it was quite common for farmers in the 17th century to let their livestock roam free so they could avoid taxes imposed upon fences.

Most people visiting Assateague Island will either stay in nearby Ocean City, Md or the town of Chincoteague, which features a number of hotels, B&B's, eateries and antique shops. We decided to do it on the cheap and camp out. This was Miss L's first time camping in a tent and my first time in several years. Here's a shot of our campsite:


It was a great place to camp. Not much in the way of firewood, so you have to either buy wood or charcoal and bring it with you. The other bad thing were the mosquitos. Although not too bad during the day, they descend upon you like a plague once the sun goes down. After dinner much of our night-time activities revolved around battling the little buggers, everything from intense repellent to candles to the ye' old slap-and-sqaush technique.

We were definitely on the low-end of technology as far as the campers went. Most people were either in RV's or tents so large you could fit an entire village in them. A number of groups arrived with full-sized stoves and gas-powered generators so they could watch t.v. while they camped. Kind of defeats the purpose of camping in my mind, but to each their own.

Much of the island is marshy, as you can see from this photo here:


But if you go towards the center of the island there are some nice hiking trails. The water between the island and the Md/Va shore is a very calm sound, making it ideal for anyone like us who enjoys a leisurely canoe ride. There are some nice beaches as well, and beaches that aren't anywhere near as crowded as Ocean City or Rehobeth.


And, of course, there were ponies. We wondered how hard it would be to find them, but they were pretty much everywhere: on the beach, walking along the roads, in the water. We even saw some piles of "evidence" that some horses wandered through our campsite, although we never actually saw them there.


By far the most memorable, though, was the stallion we saw in the parking lot of the visitors center. He was just hanging out taking a nap behind someone's car, without a care in the world. If you look carefully at his *ahem* undercarriage you might notice something to indicate that he was having a particularly nice dream.


While the kids didn't seem to notice at all nearly every adult burst into laughter. Miss L and I decided he was a wee bit of an exhibitionist. We came back a few minutes later after checking out the visitor center, and our friend was awake and no longer exhibiting.

But now it's back to work and real life, at least until we venture up to Alaska later this summer. Until next time....