Random musings on a writer's life & times, with occasional input from acquaintances


Saturday, February 01, 2003

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.
-- Theodore Roosevelt

Friday, January 31, 2003

When I first began to write poetry, I read some sage who said a poem can be written about anything. I took his words to heart and produced several poems about Oregon cities. One of them was even published, in an Idaho magazine called Trestle Creek Review. Here it is:


Salem, you know, is a hotbed
of crooks and crazies.
It's got both state pen
and state loony bin.
Government's importing
warped and twisted
from all over Oregon
to keep Salem squirming.
Stroll down Center Street
on a Tuesday night and you're
sure to bump into
some walk-away psycho
from Ontario trying
to communicate with Saturn
through a metal plate in his skull,
while some work-release thief
from Gold Beach sidles up
to stick a sharpened screwdriver
into his back and demand
all the money
he hasn't had since 1986.
Me, I'll stick to Eugene.
It only has prehistoric hippies.

--by David Jordan

Thursday, January 30, 2003

I know a young woman, age 22, recent college grad, intelligent, articulate, assertive, attractive, planning to start law school in the fall. She has just one flaw: she likes the writing of Jane Austen.

Understand me -- this woman has a serious Jones for Jane. Her senior thesis at a big East Coast college was a gazillion pages on the topic of “Wedding-Proposal Scenes in the Novels of Jane Austen.” She mentioned this paper in my presence and was shocked when I burst out laughing.

“How,” I asked her, “could anyone endure enough Jane Austen to dredge up wedding-proposal scenes to analyze?”

She stared at me, her face first going pink with embarrassment, then pale with anger.

She just doesn’t know enough about my track record with Jane Austen to understand. I grew up bookish, but my books were by Mark Twain and Leon Uris. I read about rowdy kids and rough soldiers, not British country ladies who sat around their 19th Century parlors murmuring cryptic remarks to young dandies down from London.

When I was a freshman at the University of Oregon, though, I wandered into a course in English Literature. During winter term, the instructor, an ancient, white-haired Anglophile named Dr. Mundle (we called him Dr. Mumble, in reference to his halting, phlegm-clogged oratorical style, which seemed heavily influenced by the fact that our class met at 8 a.m.) assigned us to read “Emma,” by Jane Austen.

I bought a pink-covered paperback copy of the novel at the campus book store the first week of classes (or bought it from my friend who shoplifted textbooks from the store and sold them at half price, I forget which). I intended to read it forthwith. (See? Forthwith! I can write like Jane Austen!) But I couldn’t get into it. I carried that wimpy pink book around for weeks, until it was rain-wrinkled and dirt-stained, but I just couldn’t concentrate on the dazzling story of a headstrong young British woman who makes a habit of playing romantic matchmaker but can’t seem to grasp the nuances of male behavior, despite endless contemplation of it. “Emma” became a symbol to me of my academic shortcomings. How could I survive four years of college if I couldn’t read this silly book?

Very soon, it seemed, finals loomed. Dr. Mumble warned us a big part of the English Lit exam would deal with “Emma.”

The week before finals, I pumped myself up for a major cram shot. I would finish the book about Hitler’s last days for History of Western Civ. I would commit E. B. White’s “Elements of Style” to memory for English Comp (omit needless words). I would begin “Emma.”

But then I started to cough. And cough. I couldn’t quit barking coughs that rose from so deep in my chest they hurt my ribs. I couldn’t focus to study. I couldn’t even relax enough to enjoy my favorite non-studying activity, sleeping. I felt feverish, weak and exhausted. Finally, the Thursday before finals I went to the campus infirmary. A doctor told me I had viral pneumonia and slapped me into a bed in an isolation unit. Like a prisoner, I was allowed one phone call. I telephoned a buddy and asked him to bring my schoolbooks from the dorm. The nurse wouldn’t let him into the room because I was quarantined, so he turned my books over to her in the hallway, waved and disappeared. She lugged the books to my bed. Atop the pile was that pink, dog-eared copy of “Emma.”

I was stuck in the infirmary for a week. My mother drove fifty miles to see me, but they wouldn’t let her past the doorway. She stood twenty feet from my bed and tried to chat. I listened to the radio a lot. I took antibiotic shots. I took blood tests. And I read “Emma.” I never would have gotten through it if I hadn’t been locked away in isolation, bored half out of my skull. Jane Austen is no Leon Uris, and “Emma” is no “Battle Cry.”

By Tuesday, the quarantine had been lifted. The doctor let me out of the infirmary long enough to take my English Lit final, then made me check back in. True to his word, Dr. Mumble centered much of the test on Jane Austen and “Emma.” I received a B for the term, so I guess I absorbed enough to get by. To this day, I credit that semi-decent grade to the beneficial effects of viral pneumonia.

So I have this history with Jane Austen. I can’t believe anyone would willingly read scads of her books. But my “Wedding-Proposal Scenes” friend did just that, apparently. Oh, well. It probably was good training for law school. Perusing legal textbooks for three years should be a snap compared to wading through the novels of Jane Austen.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Okay, I gotta be honest about this. I jump on here and bitch about magazine editors and other gatekeepers of the lit biz jacking me around, so I need to confess when I do something negligent and/or dumb to one of them.

I received in the mail yesterday a poetry rejection from a magazine in Tennessee. It was a photocopied half-sheet of paper, one of those boilerplate forms that demean writers. I was appropriately ticked off.

I started to throw the manuscript away, because it had been wrinkled in the mail and I figured I needed to print fresh copies of the five poems before submitting them elsewhere. As the sheaf of papers settled into my recycling basket, however, I noted a flash of color. That seemed odd, because I print poems in black ink. Color would be undignified.

I fished the manuscript out of the basket and flipped through it. The second page, I discovered, was a list of 21 telephone numbers (my doctor, my sisters-in-law, my insurance agent, etc.), the first line printed in red ink and the last in green. The final page was blank, except for my name and address at the top.

Hmmmm. A little too much haste rushing to beat the 6:15 post office deadline? A bit of distraction from Phoebe Caulfield, the family cat who spends her life whining from the wrong side of every door? Terminal stupidity? I don’t know how to explain the bonus items I mailed to that magazine editor along with my poems. No wonder he didn’t accept anything.

He should have given serious consideration to the phone list, though. It was pretty well done, in a sort of colorful yet spare, post-modern way. Maybe I’ll try submitting it to the Paris Review.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Hey! Did you see those news stories the other day about the city of Bend, Oregon, adopting a law prohibiting defecating on public buses?

The city council also outlawed spitting, skateboarding and smoking on its buses. Plus, it banned anyone who emanates “a grossly repulsive odor” from riding the buses.

Damn straight! Having lived in Bend for six years before I moved to Portland, I can tell you it’s about time they cracked down on this stuff.

Bus defecation, for instance, is the kind of problem that’s always underfoot in Bend. Those backwoods mountain men all have perfectly good outhouses to defecate in, but they just can’t resist the temptation presented by a city bus. I suspect it’s because all their one-holers are unheated, and come winter a nice, warm bus seems mighty attractive. And winter is ten months long in Bend.

As to spitting, it would be okay if bus drivers emptied the spittoons once in a while. But they’ve got a union that says spittoon-emptying is hazardous duty that deserves time-and-a-half pay, and the city can’t afford it. So those little brass pots keep overflowing with chaw juice. Between the spitters and the defecators, a bus ride in Bend can be real hard on your Florsheims.

As to skateboarding on buses, I have to admit I never witnessed much of that. Most skateboarders seemed to be afraid they’d crash into a spittoon, fall and land in feces.

The ban on people who emit “a grossly repulsive odor” is a gamble on the city’s part, though. It could cut bus ridership in half.

On the other hand, outlawing smoking on buses puzzles me. Why bother? Nobody smokes these days.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Further adventures in the literary trade:

Last October, I submitted a story to a Seattle-area magazine. A couple of days ago I received a rejection notice. It began as a standard, pre-printed form letter: “This manuscript has had a careful and interested reading and we regret that it did not, finally, meet our requirements.” Then, in an attempt to be personal and polite, the responding editor added a handwritten note:

"Please except our apologies for the late response."

Except? EXcept? I find it difficult to accept the fact that people who write except when they mean accept are passing judgment on my art. Sigh.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

This being Sunday evening (my least favorite time of the week), I’m lacking energy and inspiration, so I’m going to fall back on information. I’m going to pose seven questions -- the Sunday Seven, get it? -- and answer them for your edification and my amusement.

1) What are you wearing?

A purple Kansas State University sweatshirt (Every Man A Wildcat!), fatboy blue jeans from Old Navy (I’ve GOTTA lose some weight), fleece-lined slippers I call my “sweatboots.”

2) What are you reading?

“December 6,” by Martin Cruz Smith.

3) What’s for dinner?

Baked potatoes with cheese, sour cream and chunks of bacon, plus something purple on the side (I think it’s slices of weird cabbage).

4) What’s the best thing that happened this week?

I heard George Plimpton speak as part of the Portland Arts & Lectures Series. He was just as droll as he used to be on Mousterpiece Theatre. Oh, if I could only have his accent.

5) What’s bugging you?

I need a new desk for my home office remodelers are sl-o-o-wly creating in our attic. I spent three hours shopping for one today, and most of what I saw looked like cast-offs from a third-world police station (Uruguay, perhaps). I hate remodeling. I hate shopping. I want a large, convenient, attractive, cheap desk to materialize magically in my finished attic.

6) Where in the world is Carmen San Diego?

Moose Jaw.

7) What’s it all about, Dave?

Money, honey.

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