Written in Chicago. But now in San Francisco.

Apr 21

The Angle of Repose - Wallace Stegner

The awesome used bookstore near my apartment is deep on California-centric fiction. And so I’ve been jamming on Wallace Stegner.

There is a small, lingering controversy about this book, about whether it was a fair use of a family’s history (and in my reading of it, Stegner did everything above board), but don’t let that distract you from the glorious, glorious prose. 

Her heart was thudding from the momentary alarm of the snagging skip; she quivered from the unexpectedness of that encounter. It was as if a shutter had opened and a wild face looked in for an awful moment and then been shut back into its blackness. It terrified her to think that the whole riddled mountain crawled with men like that one. Under her feet as she walked in sunshine, under her stool and umbrella as she sat sketching, under the piazza as she rocked the baby in his cradle, creatures like that one were swinging picks, drilling holes, pushing ore carts, sinking in cages to ever deeper levels, groping along black tunnels with the energy of ants. It raised the gooseflesh on her arms; it was as if she had suddenly discovered that the conduits of her blood teemed with tiny, busy, visible vermin.

Apr 9

refrain; refrain

This morning I noticed that refrain seemed to be an auto-antonym, where it meant both to not do something and to do something repeated

To the dictionary!

refrain: stop oneself from doing something; Middle English (in the sense ‘restrain (a thought or feeling)’): from Old French refrener, from Latin refrenare, from re- (expressing intensive force) + frenum ‘bridle.

refrain: a repeated line or number of lines in a poem or song, typically at the end of each verse; late Middle English: from Old French, from refraindre ‘break,’ based on Latin refringere ‘break up’ (because the refrain “broke” the sequence).
So that’s kind of neat, right? Two different words with different (although possibly related?) origins? Eh? Eh?
Maybe if you’d had more coffee you’d think this was cool.

Mar 13

Short Thoughts on Short Plays

Whelp. Apparently doing the Neo-Futurists destroys all time for updating this site. UNTIL NOW

Behold, a blurry picture of me after getting hit in the face with a pie. 


But so, quick synopsis of what I’ve learned on two-minute plays vs. writing fiction. 

- Normally, I write in the mornings before work and on the weekends. These pesky plays, what with the need for new ones every week, cannot be as coddled. And so I’ve pleasantly discovered that I am in fact able to write in the evenings, after work.

- Same for drinking! I can write a draft of a play with a beer (or two) keeping me company at the desk. Not so with fiction. The stage direction says glug glug glug!

- Ceremony. This one is a bit harder to explain, but… When writing fiction, I think I waste a lot of time writing the things that feel like they need to be written. For example, imagine a short story about a game show. I could see myself working up a description of how the cameraman pans across the studio before focusing on the tweedy jacket of the host, about the stage lights, about the credit card dreams of the audience, and etc and so forth. But if you’ve only got two minutes, you start with, “Who want’s to win a dollar!” and boom, that’s everything you really need. 

- Lyrical writing. It is hard to take lyrical fiction (whatever that means, but I think it means the type of writing I love) and make it something play-like. This is My Current Struggle.

- Props. Are fun. And so far, I’ve been amazed how a single prop (like an enormous paper airplane) can achieve so much more than the description of a similar object. 

- Writing as a task. With deadlines and a narrow format, I’ve started to try to think of writing as a task. Here is what the page looks like



[Two minutes of play goes here.]


And it is my job to fill in that middle space. This makes it less of a creative-existential-crisis and more of a job. A job of making play words get on the page.

Okay, that is all for now. As I am due at my desk. 

Feb 9

I’m in starting February 14th

Guys! Guys! It’s finally here! It’s Neo-futurist time! I finally rotate into the ensemble! Look at this ridiculous picture of me!

The show: Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

What? It’s 30 plays! It’s 60 minutes long! 

When: Every friday and saturday night at 9:00 at the Boxcar Theatre.

Tickets? Tickets!

Are you saying, “Wait. Remind me what that is again?” Well, here’s a great review

Are you saying, “That is too many words?” Then here is a choice block: 

In their hands, theater is the future, and the future is now.

Jan 9

Jan 1

Write Club vs. (or combined with) Neo-Futurists

All the things I do in public have been combined into one thing I will do in public! Neo-Futurists and Write Club are fighting and merging and performing and doing glorious things! 

Full Description: 

The Neo-Futurists have been experimenting with performing 30 plays in 60 minutes for 25 years now, but the San Francisco Neo-Futurists are brand new.

We like that. We were brand new once, too, and like them we’re the second franchise of a Chicago outfit.

Let’s make them feel welcome with a little brotherly bloodsport the WC way:

3 rounds of
2 writers with
2 opposing ideas for
7 minutes each

You decide the winner!
Winner’s charity gets some $$$!

6 Neo-Futurists. 3 winners. 3 losers. The math does itself.

The bouts:

— Adam Smith with FUTURE vs. Will Caldwell with PAST
— Megan Cohen with LONG vs. Matt Pine with SHORT
— Steven Westdahl with REAL vs. Ryan Good with FAKE

$10 [$5 off with iTunes podcast review]
21+ cash bar, ATM available
Doors at 7pm
Show at 8pm
Music and dancing by 9:30pm

The Make-Out Room
3225 22nd St., San Francisco, CA, 94110

Hey, why not Facebook?

Dec 24

Light While There is Light - Keith Waldrop

A family history that is labeled as a novel. A memoir that does not talk about the narrator. A religious fundamentalism of the midwest that is non-evangelical, but is instead a religion of pamphlets, a religion of acceptable poverty and modest, one that seems to both give and to deny comfort. Also, some pretty damn beautiful writing. 


And a passage: 

I was often afraid in those days, more than a little sometimes: afraid that there was no truth, or that there was one truth, only one, and that I had it. It was not the same terror I had felt at the age of ten, trembling in the night, too scared to sleep – afraid that the Lord would come before morning to tear the dark apart, cutting off suddenly the mercy of time. Older now, my fears were more indistinct and meaningful, coming as vague unease, but also in roundabout yet concrete forms. There were several voices in me, not all with my accent, and the most distant of them, which hardly used words at all, told me that a few more years and I would not be the same person, would not have the same hopes, fears, attachments. Reduced to statement, this is the most banal of insights, but it was inexpressibly troubling.

Dec 19

The Lost Weekend - Charles Jackson

Oh man - this book! Never before have I thought that I have a drinking problem, but this book - This Book! - it makes you want to pour yourself a double rye and it makes you want to never drink again. Both feelings. Emphatically.

What is most terrifying is the psychological realism. In an early scene, the narrator describes drunk-dreaming of writing a novel. Every single word - the inspiration and the remorse - is accurate.

Suddenly, sickeningly, the whole thing was so much eyewash. How could he have been seduced, fooled, into dreaming up such a ridiculous piece; in perpetuating, even in his imagination, anything so pat, so contrived, so cheap, so phoney, so adolescent, so (crowning offense) sentimental? Euphoria! Faithless muse! What crimes are committed in thy – There was a line he might use; and oh, another: the ending! – the ending sprang to his mind clear and true as if he had seen it in print. 

At the risk of killing this passage through too close a reading, I love how in the middle of hating on his own work, he can’t help but (arrogantly, naively) admire it once again.

Nov 19

San Francisco Neo-Futurists

I’ve been a bit slow to announce this, but friends, I’ve joined the newly born San Francisco branch of the Neo-Futurists

If you’re unfamiliar with the Neo-Futurists, well then damn, you’re in for a treat.

This year, they’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind. Created by Greg Allen, it is written, directed, and performed by the Neo-Futurists. In each show, we perform 30 plays in 60 minutes. There is honesty! There is nudity and messiness! There is surrealism and there is movement! Best of all, there is a bar!

Our sneaky sneak preview show is on December 2nd and 3rd and then in January we return for an open run.  FB invite here. Or buy tickets here.

Eat it, novel writing! Hello two-minute plays!

Nov 1

The Architecture of Happiness - Alain de Botton

One of the things I miss most about Chicago is Revolution Brewing. There is nothing finer to do on a grey Sunday than to sit in their brew pub with a Eugene Porter. Except… the building across the street has always bothered me. Not the old taqueria, but the new condos underneath the El tracks. Each time I look at that building I feel some mixture of sorrow, depression, nausea, and anger. Why? Because this is a new neighborhood, just now developing. And instead of sizing it’s lots for possible beauty, they put in bland cubes priced to sell. Matte yellow brick to look like stucco. Small windows. A flat, grey door. It will never age into a wise building. It is commodity space. And this is so, so much like Chicago, to make a comfortable condo indoors and given no thought to how a neighborhood coheres. It’s glib mediocrity, empty of ambition. And usually, I feel like a snob, and worse, an inarticulate snob, every time I hate on that building. 

I think I have started to find a solution to the ‘inarticulate’ part of the problem. 


A passage: 

To describe a building as beautiful therefore suggests more than a mere aesthetic fondness; it implies an attraction to the particular way of life this structure is promoting through its roof, door handles, window frames, staircases and furnishings. A feeling of beauty is a sign that we have come upon a material articulation of certain of our ideas of a good life. 

Similarly, buildings will strike us as offensive not because they violate a private and mysterious visual preference but because they conflict with our understanding of the rightful sense of existence - which helps to explain the seriousness and viciousness with which disputes about fitting architecture tend to unfold. 

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