Tuesday, January 29, 2008
For fear of reprisals, I will say only that some Anonymous people have watched a little too much V for Vendetta. Granted Scientology seems like a cult created by a bad science fiction writer, but it's a cult with a lot of money and lots of lawyers. So as much as Anonymous excites the geeky warrior in me, I'm going to have to refrain from writing about my support of such nonsense. But what geeky goodness it really is.
Oops. I went and embedded that in my blog. First let me apologize to Scientologists everywhere. That's not good enough, you say? You want to take me where? I don't know what a Testing Center is, but I don't want to go there. Okay, okay. I give. Derek stole your signs in London. They're in the flat behind the bookcase. I had nothing to do with it.
Long live the resistance.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
So Wednesday, I’ll be in
With three or so days to go, I’m finally thinking about the program. Heather (as per #3) informs me that she’s had her schedule planned for days with her first and second choice of sessions in case they fill up. She’s also penciled in time for off site activities like dinner out and a trip to MoMA. Derek calls and I try to make fun of Heather’s anal tendencies until he informs me that he’s already got his days mapped out, too.
So I'm going through the program with a highlighter. Circle, circle.
So I’m working on THE NOVEL, and I decided that I was tired of coming up with the words and that it would be much easier to steal them from someone else. But that would be wrong, I thought. I tried desperately to kill my superego but only rendered it quiet with the compromise that I would find something the character could quote to another character. And then, I remembered the Limerick book. I had until the Limerick book thought that limericks were light entertainment except for The man from
There was a young fellow named DaveHa, ha. See the reason that's funny is that most people wouldn't have intercourse with another person who is deceased, regardless the discount.
Who kept a dead whore in a cave.
He said, "I admit
I'm a bit of a shit,
But think of the money I save!"
Thursday, January 24, 2008
I am an incorrigible bibliophile and collect virtually any book, but I have a special soft spot for antiquated books on etiquette or self-help. I find them to be lost resources to combat the barbarism of today’s impolite world.
Today’s advice is from:
Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’s Cook Book 1909 (The Success Company)
Under Toilet Preparations for Men
Eyebrows and Eyelashes.—In general the less attention paid to these features the better The practice of attempting to deepen the color of the eyes by darkening the lids or lashes is a dangerous one…. Clipping the eyelashes is, on the whole, a dangerous practice, as it tends to thicken them and cause them to become stiff like bristles.
Beware the eyebrow and eyelash maintenance. This has been your etiquette advice from some old books I found.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
So if you haven’t seen Cloverfield—you know, that movie that didn’t have a title and then people gave it one so the filmmakers just stuck to that one—and you want to see it at some later date, don’t read this.
Still reading? Yes? No? I’ll give you a minute. I saw the Abrams flick last Friday. It was afternoon with a moderate crowd. At the end, a guy behind me, stood and shouted, “What the fuck was that! Did any of you enjoy that? What the fuck?” Several snickers but no serious responses later, we left. My response was more post-traumatic stress syndrome and motion sickness (I was dehydrated, hungry, and had work-related depression), but I’m more interested in the What-the-fuck Guy’s response than mine.
I wonder if the problem is point of view. POV.
Before I get to that, I can see Cloverfield’s DNA better than I got to see the monster. Pitch meeting:
Once upon a time, I saw Blair Witch in a crowded theater that ended in people yelling obscenities at the screen. Like the Witch, Cloverfield embeds you in a handheld camera POV, a point of view that is more personal, intimate, and limited than the objective classic Hollywood POV. Limited to only what the characters can film, some of the audience can feel claustrophobic. And some filmmakers feel this also means you can’t know more than the characters and that the less they know the more realistic the experience.
I wonder at how angry the What-the-fuck Guy got over what I expect is not knowing, not knowing enough about the monster—primarily, where did it come from? I wonder at his anger at so silly a desire to know and at the creator’s choice not to tell. In Night of the Living Dead, Romero simply had the characters watch a news program that interviewed government and military officials who basically said that because of our space exploration = zombies. That’s all it took, and I feel certain What-the-fuck Guy could’ve been placated with a simple news break (of which the characters saw plenty) that said they saw a meteor hit near the Statue of Liberty. Presto! Silly putty Godzilla-esque alien monster. I’ve read (but did not catch myself) that a satellite fell in the last scene of the movie—which was actually before the “present” action of the film and disturbed the monster that was hibernating on the bottom of the sea.
Now, I could comment on the silly 9/11 verses nuclear age themes of this modern NYC Godzilla. But why, why must the monsters and the witches be explained away?
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Speaking of Strunk and White, they make a great starting point for a regular feature: Other People’s Writerly Advice. The Elements of Style was, of course, the result of E. B. White revising and adding to a book by his professor William Strunk, Jr. It’s very short (my edition has 105 pages). Here is a piece of advice that I find particularly pertinent:
9. Do not affect a breezy manner
The volume of writing is enormous, these days, and much of it has a sort of windiness about it, almost as though the author were in a state of euphoria. "Spontaneous me," sang Whitman, and, in his innocence, let loose the hordes of uninspired scribblers who would one day confuse spontaneity with genius.
The breezy style is often the work of an egocentric, the person who imagines that everything that comes to mind is of general interest and that uninhibited prose creates high spirits and carries the day. Open any alumni magazine, turn to the class notes, and you are quite likely to encounter old Spontaneous Me at work — an aging collegian who writes something like this:
Well, guys, here I am again dishing the dirt about your disorderly classmates, after pa$$ing a weekend in the Big Apple trying to catch the Columbia hoops tilt and then a cab-ride from hell through the West Side casbah. And speaking of news, howzabout tossing a few primo items this way?
This is an extreme example, but the same wind blows, at lesser velocities, across vast expanses of journalistic prose. The author in this case has managed in two sentences to commit most of the unpardonable sins: he obviously has nothing to say, he is showing off and directing the attention of the reader to himself, he is using slang with neither provocation nor ingenuity, he adopts a patronizing air by throwing in the word primo, he is humorless (though full of fun), dull, and empty. He has not done his work. Compare his opening remarks with the following — a plunge directly into the news:
Clyde Crawford, who stroked the varsity shell in 1958, is swinging an oar again after a lapse of forty years. Clyde resigned last spring as executive sales manager of the Indiana Flotex Company and is now a gondolier in
This, although conventional, is compact, informative, unpretentious. The writer has dug up an item of news and presented it in a straightforward manner. What the first writer tried to accomplish by cutting rhetorical capers and by breeziness, the second writer managed to achieve by good reporting, by keeping a tight rein on his material, and by staying out of the act.
Is there a breeze in here? I fear Strunk & White might not like my blog.
So I’ve mentioned my girlfriend Heather, but I haven’t blogged at length about her. And as she’s sitting serenely across from me at the coffee shop believing that I am diligently working away on THE NOVEL, I feel the urge to riff on her. She is not a constant reader of the blog, so I think I can get away with this for a few days at least. But I'm not suicidal—thus, the close-up pic instead of a picture that would make her make my life unspeakably uncomfortable. Doesn’t she have pretty eyes? Aside from her eye color, here are a few things you should know about her:
- She’s a poet. I try not to hold this against her. Though I have published some poetry (a whole chapbook even), I would self-identify as a fiction writer. As such, I find we get along splendidly having common interests, but not too common. She loves those words, and I love those characters. To learn more, go to your local library or read this essay about poet/fiction writer couples.
- She’s younger than I am. Which has caused me much consternation. Both in terms of the age gap (she doesn’t remember The Electric Company!) and in that I am living the cliché. But love can’t help love. I dated the cougars in my youth. I dated and dated but just couldn’t relax in a relationship until her.
- She is type A. She is proud of this. To an extent. She stopped ironing her jeans after I kept making fun of her, for example.
- She randomly makes cute noises.
- She does a spot-on imitation of Louis Armstrong.
- We just had an extended conversation on three points from Strunk & White.
- She is a sterling person all the way around who you should get to know (I know sappy, sappy). And there’s more, but frankly that’s none of your business.
- Also, I need to wrap this up because she’s giving me suspicious looks…
Sunday, January 20, 2008
So everyone’s heard by now that clowns are out. This article about how kids hate clowns says that 100% of the kids surveyed disliked—I’m sorry, “universally disliked,” or my favorite: found clowns “unknowable.” Truer words never spoken or written or bubbled in on a survey. Who can really “know” a clown? I do, however, find the idea that kids don’t love clowns hard to believe. After all, in response to this study some clowns have pointed out that this study only included 250 children. Probably scaredy-cat children. Clowns are the bedrock of childhood. Clowns are the bedrock of our economy. Surely we see the connection with lack of love for clowns and the subprime debacle.
As further evidence, there’s one of my favorite movies Killer Klowns from Outer Space. What could say kid bait more than clowns, science fiction, and cocooning people in cotton candy? If you ask me it’s kids these days that are creepy and not clowns.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Friday, January 18, 2008
Thursday, January 17, 2008
You can tell that Brad and I are not closely related because his cowardly ancestors dropped the “e” off the end of his name. As fate would have it, my brother is named Brad Renfroe and has suffered as so many others who share a name with a celebrity (surely there should be a word for that by now). My brother is almost the exact same age as Renfro and was forced to follow the star’s career through jokes. “Hey,” his friends would say, “I heard you tried to steal a boat this weekend.” I imagine my brother Brad will now be dealing with rumors of his own death that are greatly exaggerated.
But here's to you Brad Renfro, another in a long line of troubled Renfro(e)s.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Now, I tried to make snow angels, but it turned out to be more dirt angels or really just me getting dirty.
Okay, maybe not death, but I could really use the snow day. Or two.
If you’ve read some…any?...of this blog you know that I have a TV addiction and that addiction began way back in my underprivileged childhood when we didn’t (and my parents still don’t) have cable. We had the rabbit ears and the five stations. Count’em 5. Watching the double feature Kung-fu Theater and Big Monster movies on Saturday afternoon. My point being that the unfortunate side-effect of this lifestyle was an unhealthy diet of commercials.
But flashing forward to today the way I do through commercials using my DVR, I have almost eliminated the horrid thirty-second torments. But occasionally Heather will demand we watch “real time” TV instead of what I have recorded or a DVD like any right-thinking 21st century person. No matter how many times I hit or how hard I push that fast-forward button, I’m trapped. Last night amid a Futurama and between brainwashing plugs for sugarcoated sugar cereal puffs with sugar-filled marshmallows and pre-broken, lead-paint-enhanced action figures was an unexpected ad for the Mantis tiller.
It threw me back to the useless garden tool ads of my childhood and to the lord of them all: the Garden Weasel. It had that perfect blend of PBS reality and TV glamour to appeal to my rural upbringing and every time they dug into those pre-loosened patches of dirt, I dreamed of this gadget making my chores so much easier—dare I say, fun. But it wasn’t just the pitch that I bought into. It was the absurdity. Here was someone in the outside world that had created a business empire and had the sense of humor or audacity to call their tool a weasel. A weasel, for godsake. Clearly these people had never even seen a weasel. I imagine them sitting around an oak boardroom table wondering aloud about names and someone going: “Weasel, that’s an animal, right?” And there it was, perfect. A tool that you can weasel out of things. That will give you the power to slip between the lines in life.
Long live the Weasel!
Monday, January 14, 2008
So I’m working on THE NOVEL. God I hate this thing. And I’m beginning to hate the person I was in grad school. Today, I revised a section where one character compares another character to Ishtar. Not the much maligned but magnificent ‘80s movie starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman—all right I’ve never actually seen that film because of all that much maligning but now I feel honor bound to. No, not that Ishtar, but rather the Babylonian goddess of sex and war. I had one character in dialogue tell another character she was just like Ishtar…at length, as in pages. What was wrong with me? Most of my grad school buddies were writing hardcore sex scenes and the older Southern lady novelists were crying over it and I was writing about Ishtar. Okay, I probably just imagined all the sex writing. But Ishtar…really?
Sunday, January 13, 2008
My good friend Melody Clayton was disappointed that my story about the Renfroe name did not also include my run-in with Mr. House of Sand and Fog Andre Dubus III. And as she is half of my target audience, here it is:
Once upon a time, in the wilds of Florence, SC, at an afterparty for a literary reading (one of the primary reasons I go to readings), I got in a conversation with Dubus. He was holding court. He'd been the main reader that day and did a great job. He's worked as an actor, and you can tell--he has that natural but worked on charisma. So he was blitzed on moonshine (no joke) and ranting on about being disappointed that Speilberg had tamped down the depressing end to Sand & Fog. He got on to how he hated the irony of current fiction and how it's played for laughs. When he asked me about my writing, I told him I play it for laughs. He laughed because he didn't believe me. Our little group seemed to get on well with him and as he was heading to the bathroom and to remingle, he asked our names. Craig, I said. Last name, he asked. Renfroe. Renfroe? he said. I confirmed it. With a look that held no distaste but only concerned confusion, he said, Renfroe's a black name. And wandered off to pee.
Probably this isn't a fair story to tell since he was wasted. And I don't think he was being racist. But it hits home when I think of that bastard Stephen Renfroe leading the Ku Klux Klan in his town. I'm not playing this for laughs.
After, there was an informal end of residency party at the hotel bar. I have no affiliation with the program. I teach undergrads at Queens, but my girlfriend Heather is getting her poetry MFA, so I ended up in hotel bar with an overpriced Jack & Coke and after explaining that no, I wasn't in the program, I had two extended conversations. Conversation one was about Flight of the Conchords, Six Feet Under, The Wire, and Lost (I should stop watching TV). Then, a more literate conversation was about our shared respect for Blood Meridian and Smonk and ended in a recommendation for William Gay's Twilight. And I got to chat with Heather's friends, one of whom inadvertently gives me ideas for titles that have stories bubbling out of them every time I'm around her--sometimes it feels like stealing, but then I am related to a horse-thief, so what can you do? This time it was "The Meat Tank." Beautiful. I want to follow her around with a notepad, but fear that might be disconcerting. Though several residences ago there was a bar fight, this night ended sadly violence-free.
Friday, January 11, 2008
As I mentioned, but have not bitched about nearly enough, the semester has started. The first week is buried. When I teach the first day, I do one of those lame ice breakers so we can get to know one another (and so I can try to get their names…which I still haven’t). This time I had them tell a story about their name. My story is that Renfroe is commonly misspelled by pretenders to the Renfroe moniker as Renfro or Renfrow. I tell my students that my aunt did genealogical research after marrying into a family that came over on the Pinto or something. My aunt eventually gave up in despair (finding only drunks and nobodies), but not before discovering Stephen Renfroe in a book called Stars Fell on
I’ve told this story many times, but this time I happened to Google him to find the book again and ran across this magazine article in Alabama Heritage. So I ordered it.
And then, I found this other book. Which I haven't ordered yet.My father is named Stephen Craig Renfroe. I am Stephen Craig Renfroe, Jr. I have always believed and will always believe it is coincidence. And what’s in a name, blah, blah, blah. It’s hard, though, not to worry about the sins of the fathers, genetic dispositions, and Calvin’s Elect. I’ve always feared I was doomed from the start.
This is where Stephen Renfroe met his doom. At the end of a rope, swinging from a chinaberry tree.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
To assuage this feeling of guilt, I'm working again on THE NOVEL. The novel I wrote in grad school between D&D marathons with Brad Land and Derek Nikitas. It was my thesis. I wrote two novels after that, but who's counting (here's a hint...it's me). So as of right now since yesterday I've written 959 words. That's a lot for revision. I'm basically gutting it and rewriting from the inside. Keep some of the frame. Over here's where I'll put the walk-in closet.
Let me back up and say that 959 words is a lot for me. For many of my writerly friends, they could have that knocked out in an hour, and that's the ones that have to stare at the keyboard and use the hunt-n-peck typing method. I am mind numbingly slow at writing. I fear other writers spill words down a page as easily as I spill my drink at parties. I belabor each word. Except for here, though I'm sure you can't tell. With me dropping any ole word here or there. Turnip
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
I went to yet another reading tonight. That’s right, for those of you keeping count at home, that’s three readings in a row. Three. That’s more times than I’ve seen movies in a movie theater in months. Now, I’m just depressing myself.
This go-around was not so exciting, but Jenny Offill did read an excellent essay from a music blog about motherhood and songs about space and Rite Aid. Here just read it for yourselves, you lazy bastards.
Monday, January 7, 2008
Went to another reading tonight. This for the release of Press 53’s Surreal South edited by Laura and Pinckney Benedict (yep, him again). The book is filled with some great writers. The Press 53 people Sheryl Monks and Kevin Watson talked about being an upstart press and how they found their way into publishing. Benedict had a long…very long…very, very long, but fun, intro in which he assured everyone in the audience (of which there were shamefully few) that
The anthology looks great and has scads of my favorite writers. Scads, I say.
Sunday, January 6, 2008
I went to a reading tonight. I am always a little wary of literary readings—which makes me an avid fan compared to the common guy. But I was looking forward to this one for one reason: Pinckney Benedict. I’ve seen him several times before, and it’s always a pleasure.
Suzannah Lessard read first. She said that nonfiction writers must take life whole. And I couldn’t help to think fiction writers must eat life whole.
Then, Pinckney Benedict got up after an insider introduction from Fred Leebron (an old friend of his), and said he loved reading here because most literary readings reminded him of his Episcopalian upbringing where everyone was staid, tried hard to show no emotion, and “didn’t want to talk about Jesus.” Benedict said he was more for evangelical religion where the congregation can yell and scream about Jesus, which he proceeded to do. He said that reading here was like that—“the evangelical church of literature.” And then, he read a disturbing story called “Pig Helmet and the Wall of Life.”
Benedict blogged about the event and even included a picture slide show with action shots of him reading.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
You’re probably wondering what this is a picture of. I can tell. You can barely stand it. What could it be? And though I can remember precisely, not exactly, I know it’s an unnecessarily close-up of some plant in the botanical gardens in
D&D is, of course, Dungeons and Dragons and with fear and trepidation I admit to having played it. No, no, with pride I admit not only to having played it, but to having been the Dungeon Master on most of those occasions. Actually we rarely even played the official AD&D (that’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons for you losers who may not know) but other lesser known RPGs (role-playing games). What gets me is that I may have just alienated loads of people from this admission because few things are unanimously acknowledged as pathetic as role-playing games. It is the quickest pop culture shortcut to geek characterization. Twenty-sided dice=Loser! Yet, it’s the very people who were rolling these 20Ds that are writing these clichés today, having bought into their socially constructed past identities of dateless teens gathered around a table in a friend’s basement, or in my case, a free-standing garage. But despite my aunt’s fear that I was involved in a Satanic cult and my parent’s fear that I would end up like Tom Hanks in Monsters and Mazes, I look back on my role-playing days as formative to my writing, grappling with a story with the audience right there pushing back, demanding to be entertained. And though I’d never play today (why play D&D when I can write?), a friend of mine told me he runs games for his wife and her friends. When he told me, I was a little condescending (who has the time?), but now I think what’s the difference in that and my obsessive TV watching, my marathons of The Wire and Extras? Am I spending my time any wiser?
To those around me, I admit to DMing with more fear than I do confessing that I was a fairly big guy—I guess I still am, but it has little to do with my life now, but back in those teenage wastelands it was my ticket to avoiding the bullies. But I was a violent big guy. And as things happen, I at times became the bully. I used to punch one of my friends from the bus till he was black and blue. His arm eventually turned green. To this day when he sees me, every single time he sees me, he retells that story about his green arm and having to account for its color to his dad. I’ve apologized, and, of course, what does it matter now? He manages a comic book store. I’m a professor. We both survived. But its one of those things that bruised me longer than his arm. I hate the person that did that. I hate that I could’ve ever been that person. And I try never to talk about it and the other times when I fell into violence. But inevitably when I do, no one reacts, no one is particular scandalized. The women I’ve dated are shocked when I reveal my geeky past—I can see their fear that they’ve made a mistake. But when I less forthcomingly admit to savagely beating a guy half my size to the floor, they jokingly chastise me, their eyes bright with what I fear is admiration.
Is sin also in the eye of the beholder?
Friday, January 4, 2008
You would think I’d be all for a guy named “Huckabee”…think of the linguist possibilities even beyond the simple dropping of the H for an F (already well used in I Heart Huckabees). It’s just a nice name to roll around in your mouth. And it’s not that he’s a Baptist preacher (well, maybe it is…because I have had a fraught past with the Baptists…they tried to drown me once). So anyway, the real reason I can’t get behind this man is his loss…his weight loss. Never trust someone who has lost the equivalent of another person. Mark my words it’s not his rampant religious evangelicalism you should be worried about—it’s his evangelical dieting you should fear. A rice cake and carrot juice in every pot!
Thursday, January 3, 2008
I am in love. It is glorious. It would be even better were it not almost completely full, and I haven't even gotten all the books off the floor yet. There's always some boards and cinder blocks, I suppose.
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Welcome, reader, to my various yappings and meanderings and predilections. Though that last thing sounds sordid. Maybe it is sordid. You don’t know. None of us ever knows.
So I’m glad we’ve had this little chat. You and me. Let’s not call it the beginning. Let’s call it the end and start from there and go backwards.
P.S. don’t call me during the day…I won’t pick up.