Sunday, January 31, 2010

Following Up On The Underside

This week’s been hard for me, as you know, on account of some soft-tissue issues that are either going to sort themselves out or they aren’t. In the meantime, I’m saddling up and taking the tissues for a test ride, just to see how things are progressing, and when I get back from my ride – if I get back, that is – I’m spending the rest of the day on a super-secret and ultra-pointless writing project, which is the kind of writing project I like best.

I’ll be back with new Mag’s Sentence stuff tomorrow.

For the moment, I’ll close with a ridiculous motivational quote a number of cyclists have been passing around this week: “Success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work…concentrate on the work and allow the rewards to come, or not come.” I guess a genuine joy-bundle named S. Pressfield wrote that or said that or whatever.

Please don’t take heed to that kind of Pure-D bullshit, people. Be happy first, then worry about your work.

Happy riding and writing, everyone.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Life Sentences #5

One curious aspect of language is that even when you’re in no mood to be amused by it, even when your life is broken down and stranded along the cluttered, infomercial-lined roadside on the highway to happiness, you’ll hear a particular word, catch a particular phrase, and something about it will take the droop right out of your demeanor and you will no longer give a hootski that your circumstances aren’t perfect. When I was a boy, for instance, I was prone to feeling oppressed most of the time, which meant I was perfectly normal and perfectly inclined to sink into the mopes when I had been sentenced to a week’s solitary confinement in my room after I had committed an atrocity like shitting on a ham sandwich and placing it in my piano teacher’s mailbox or taking it upon myself to urinate on the Jane Austen section at the Thomas Jefferson Middle School Library [Ed. Note: despite psychological evidence to the contrary, Mag is not, nor has he ever been, a serial killer. Also, Mag tries to keep the scatological references to a minimum – he’s even in therapy to prevent this sort of subject from continually gurgling to the surface of his writing – but he apparently isn’t trying hard enough]. Particular offense notwithstanding, we can all remember those moments of youthful confinement, how Proustian in scope they were, alone in the early evening, gazing out the window, a few hours left of daylight, the neighborhood children frolicking hither and thither in their back yards, their world a delight, our world a wasteland of proportions as vastly desolate as the mindsets of the adults who banished us to our rooms. Then we’d hear a kid say something, maybe ‘hippopotamus,’ or ‘weiner schnitzel,’ or ‘Diaper Man,’ and we couldn’t prevent the grin from widening our lips into joy!

Hmm. I just totally forgot what I was talking about, hey. This happens once you starting advancing past a certain age, I guess. I think I was thinking about being happy. And maybe if you think about being happy long enough you can become happy? Nah. Fuck that.

Oh yeah: that’s the cliff I was driving toward: Today’s sentence.

One of the most joyful sentences in English is the implied-subject sentence, or the command sentence, or the imperative – any of these terms merit a Grade-A rating in my opinion. In the imperative, we address our subject in a complete sentence but we do not include our subject as the subject of the sentence because the subject of the sentence is implied and with luck the subject of this sentence has the wit to catch the implication.

The sentence of the day:

Fuck that.


(You, unstated, implied subject) fuck (transitive verb) that (direct object).

Further analysis:

Wasn’t that fun? Didn’t that make you happy?

Analysis of further analysis:

Fuck that.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Case Of The Ass

Fellow Cyclists and Cycling Enthusiasts:

Perhaps I need a better picture than the one above to illustrate the problem I have down below, and by ‘down below,’ I mean my moral epicenter, the heart of my stern, as it were, the entrance to my Mines of Moria (and please cover your earballs if you find this line of inquiry offensive): Yes, my anus hurts. Not my ass. My anus. I do not mean this in a figurative way, either.

Since I was a boy I’ve had periodic bouts with a disease called celiac, which is an intolerance to gluten, the symptoms of which are lovely things like long-term depression, unpredictable weight gain and weight loss, and, most severely in me, painful digestive troubles. True enough, I could eliminate all these problems entirely by being smart – something rather alien to me – and dispensing with gluten in my life: no more bread, pasta, bagels, schnitzel, pancakes, Tombstone Pizza, and so on. I have eliminated the most profound source of gluten from my diet, Miller High Life, the absence of which has created a sort of long-term depression of its own. But I haven’t eliminated the other fun forms of gluten, namely pasta and bread, my two favorite foods in the world besides nachos (gluten-free!).

What does celiac have to do with my current anus woes? Some forms of gluten fuck me up more than others – oddly enough, cheap, low-quality, processed-flour products don’t faze me one iota – but this last week, owing to a spirited stock-up session at Costco, I have found myself in possession of numerous loaves of excellent, high-quality La Brea bread. First, it tastes great. Second, it really tastes great. Third, I’ve been eating La Brea toast breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Happy times, right? I don’t know the exactly chemical formulation of La Brea bread, but there is clearly some significant, possibly world-threatening quantities of gluten in that stuff. I would count myself lucky if I had simply gotten a bout of good old explosive diarrhea from this bread. Instead – and I apologize for being clinical – I can’t seem to get a clean pinch. That’s right. I can’t finish the job! And I’m feeling rather raw, shall we say. Now, this would be horrible enough for a person whose chief recreational activity is playing bridge with little old ladies in Massachusetts, but for a cyclist on a nine-month epic quest to return to regular cyclocross racing, for a man who needs to place his anus on a thin strip of Italian saddle leather for a minimum of two hours a day? To have Unclean Pinch Syndrome?

Needless to say, I went out for a ride yesterday afternoon on the L.A. River Trail, heading west along the 5 toward Griffith Park, and the anus pain and misery were so horrific, so searingly unbearable, that I literally rolled my bike down the embankment to the raging river and placed my ass in the water for relief.

I was not relieved.

A homeless guy saw me in the water and said, “Something wrong?"

He was shell-shocked-looking after being outside all last week in the El Nino rains, and if anybody were expert in things going wrong, it had to have been him. But he kept his distance from me and waited for my response.

I said, “My anus hurts.”

He stared downriver and shook his head.

“Whose doesn’t?” he said. And he walked away.

I called after him: “You want six loaves of La Brea bread? Come on over to my place.” But he didn’t hear me.

The moral of this story is simple.


Ponder that.

And have a nice ride today.

Respectfully submitted,

Mike ‘Raw Anus” Magnuson

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rules Nobody Can Live By #3

Rule: Don’t be a Kissass.

Used to be if you were cool, if you maintained the appropriate level of dignity, you would never, under any circumstances, brown-nose or ass-kiss or bend over backwards to light the boss’s cigarette or send flowers to anyone for any purposes other than acknowledging a death in the family or establishing the proper preconditions for a weekend of wild, semi-committal sex in, say, Wisconsin Dells, because is there a better place in the world for semi-committal sex than Wisconsin Dells? I think not. Asskissing, in any case, simply was not done. Ever. If it were done, if one of your coworkers were to be seen near the tool crib, with the foreman, cutting up and laughing at shit that clearly had no possibility of being funny, people would say, “Look at Kissass over there. Another minute and he’ll be unzipping the foreman’s pants.” Minutes later, when this coworker had reassumed the position at his machine, everybody would make simulated-oral-sex gestures at this person, and after work, this person would have to buy beers for everybody and promise never to brown-nose the foreman again or else face the very real possibility of death by muck-muck in the tavern’s parking lot.

Of course, we were factory workers in Wisconsin, functioning in a professional environment where advancement up the ladder, at best, meant you could move from second shift to first shift or maybe you could finally take your one-week vacation on the dates you requested. Still, the standard was solid: If you wanted something from somebody, you asked for it. If they said no, they said no and that was that.

I’m trying very hard to avoid picking on university English professors again here, as you might guess, and dammit, I’m going to fail to avoid it.

You should see these motherfuckers on Facebook!

Whew, that felt good to write. If I still were a smoker, I would definitely torch up a ciggie butt right now.

So we already know about the writer/professor game. You’re a minor writer at a minor university (or even a major university: why not?), and you have 2000+ Facebook friends, and you say nice things to everybody, even to the people you hate, and it’s possible, after years of saying so many nice things to so many people, you may have completely lost the capacity to hate, which means, not surprisingly, that when people in a room shout out “Jesus fucking Christ!” you turn your head to see what they want from you. It goes without saying, if you have networked to this extent and have become this endlessly friendly, that you have absolutely no edge to a word you write, because I’m sorry, friends and brethren, significant art cannot be generated from the moral equivalent of a bowl of cream of wheat! Yet this guy, because he’s nice to everybody, because he sends people little thank you cards and writes on their Facebook walls shit like “I really appreciate you and everything you do,” ends up publishing his benign material in every wonderful little low-paying venue available.

I hereby, and for all time, make simulated-oral-sex gestures at this person and at the system of literature he represents.

I guess I’m not gonna publish my angry tripe anytime soon.

I’m happy, though.

Say, can I get you anything? I really enjoyed that essay on Artistic Satisfaction you wrote in the latest Shriveled Nut Review.

Monday, January 25, 2010


When you get right down to it – and why in the fuck should we not get right down to it? – the corporate types who are motivated by pictures and slogans and so forth are probably more busy kissing ass and giving the appearance of being motivated than they are actually being motivated by the posters in their office halls. My view: nobody is stupid enough to look at a picture of a bald eagle paired with the word STRENGTH and then decide to have a great day on the telephones at work. Or a picture of a tall tree paired with the word POWER. Or a picture of a mouse ass-reaming a dead mouse in a trap paired with the word WEALTH. Or maybe this has nothing to do with intelligence. Maybe we’re looking at a different-strokes-for-different folks situation. Maybe a certain type of person needs a simple word, something on which to focus, in order find courage to suffer through yet another long day endeavoring to make somebody else rich. I don’t know. One word never motivates me. One word means too many things.

CHICKEN, for instance.

Think about it.

See what I mean? Maybe you don’t. Sorry.

Today, CONSISTENCY rankles me in some way – in the as-a-concept way, of course. When I started Mag’s Sentence, I did so by establishing a couple of parameters, chief of which was that I would avoid confining myself within parameters, which meant that I would steadfastly refuse to confine myself within one identity, one area of interest. Most blogs by writers are in some way centered around selling the books of the writer or, worse, they are exclusively about writing, and if you’re not a writer, writerly matters are as boring as attending three straight performances of Madame Butterfly by the University of Northern Northwest North Dakota Amateur Opera Society. And cycling blogs? You’d think the authors of these things really do have nothing on their minds but things with two wheels, which is capital-B Boring. Odd note: The other day, Lance Armstrong said in an interview that all Alberto Contador thinks about, from the moment he wakes till the moment he falls asleep, is cycling, and when I read that I couldn’t help thinking that Contador must easily be the dullest person in the entire world, even duller than the 18th Century British Literature Faculty at UNNND. Who cares if Contador is fast? We’ve got life to live over here!

Oh yeah. CONSISTENCY. Fuck it. I don’t want to fall into that shithole of the mind.

Speaking of which, look at that beautiful terrain in the picture above. Is that occasion for poetry or for cycling or for maybe cracking a bottle of wine and contemplating the meaning of things?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Life Sentences #4

Okay, check this out for grammatical material you can stuff in your pipes and smoke it. Now, it’s true that the written form of the English language is not all that difficult to master, at least in terms of spelling the words correctly and placing nifty punctuation marks correctly between phrases and clauses and items in a series and all that happy horseshit. Studies by prominent scholars have in fact demonstrated that even at the University of Northern Northwest North Dakota, one of the roughest collegiate environments in the entire world, students can learn how to write error-free sentences. Here in Southern California, however, where Harvard-educated people write TV and movie scripts and earn enough money from these scripts to buy fancy houses on hillsides in the sun, overlooking the ocean – ah, forget it. Someday, O ye citizens who appreciate a comma placed in a correct place, take the time to find some professional movie scripts online and see if you’re not reduced to tears at the slop. Oh well, I guess audiences don’t go to the movies to read – that would be like going to the bookstore to play football.

A week or so ago, I heard a writer (non-Hollywood) telling other writers never ever to write “But I digress.” Sage advice, no doubt. But I have to ignore it. For I have digressed. And I must write it. But I digress.

Back to pipes and smoking them:

Here is one of the coolest forms of sentences in the English language, something called the “Matrix Sentence,” which doesn’t have squat to do with the movie franchise. A matrix sentence is a sentence with one sentence imbedded inside another sentence. The embedded sentence often appears in the form of a restricted relative clause for which we have deleted the restrictive pronoun.

Okay. Got your pipes out?

The sentence of the day:

I am tired of hearing Tommy was the guy called in sick yesterday.


First, we have to isolate the independent clauses.

1) I am tired.

2) Tommy was the guy.

3) Tommy called in sick yesterday.

Then we have to recognize that we have omitted the restrictive pronoun ‘that’ after ‘Tommy’ and that we have omitted the restrictive pronoun ‘who’ before ‘called.’ The omissions are common in speech and not always so common in writing.

You still with me?

I (subject) am (verb) tired (subject complement) of hearing (adverbial modifying ‘hearing) Tommy (subject of second independent clause: clause in restriction to the first clause) was (verb) the guy (subject complement) called (intransitive verb, forming the predicate for ‘Tommy’; also, verb in restrictive clause with omitted ‘who’) in sick yesterday (adverbial modifying ‘called’).

Further analysis:

They ain’t making a movie out of that.

Additional comment:

Have you lost your mind, Magnuson?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Rain Nontraining

Dammit! I should be racing at the Tour Down Under right now, spanking the collective tails of the pro peloton, accepting accolades in Adelaide, et cetera, and at the conclusion of the race, I should spend a week wrestling with crocodiles – to improve my scant upper-body strength, of course. But I’ve been spending the week training in Los Angeles instead, which has been brutal indeed, since LA is experiencing its biggest weeklong rain event since Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo discovered California in 1542. My way of dealing with the rain: watch the Food Network and ride the trainer. This may sound like a pussy’s way out of a manly, ride-in-the-rain world, but you wouldn’t believe the wonderful new recipe ideas I’ve gotten this week, not to mention various really smart ways to decorate the table before plating dinner for my guests because you know what? Cooking for other people is all about improving life for your friends, or at least that’s what the cooking-show ladies have been saying all week, and why not believe them? I’m sitting for a couple of hours indoors, on a trainer, in Southern California, hiding from the rain when the temperature is 55 degrees; it doesn’t take much to imagine a better life under these circumstances. Probably this very second, as the legend goes, there are people out motorpacing in Northern Wisconsin, in a windchill of 25 degrees below zero, and I guess when we hit the first cobbled stretch at the Tour of Flanders in April, those people are going to drop me. That’s cool with me, I guess: I’m setting my sights on races farther along in the calendar.

On the cross-training front, however, everything’s right on track. My new neighborhood is famous for its incredibly steep streets and for its amazingly long staircases that rise up and over the sharp hills. The dog and I have been taking forced daily, hourlong forced marches in the rain, and while I have found the 20 flights of stairs near Earl Street to be rather painful taking them two at a time, the dog has said to me, “Them stairs ain’t nothing the way you’re runnin em.” She’s right. I have to pick it up.

Anyway, the weather’s clearing tomorrow, and I’m riding outside. Thinking about dusting off the road bike and seeing what life is like on 23 cc tires: I’ve forgotten.

I’m thinking about lamb chops with a rosemary lemon sauce, too.

Happy riding.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Rules Nobody Can Live By #2

Rule: Don’t Boast

If whining tops the list of verboten behaviors in the cool-person code of ethics, bragging has definitely got to be second in line. Nobody wants to listen to some asshole say how great he is or how great she is (many assholes are shes, of course), and there’s nothing that ruins a fine afternoon more thoroughly than standing in line at the grocery store behind two 25-year-old NASCAR fans bragging about how expertly they service the ladies in their lives, which of course begs the question how the hell could dicks like that have ladies in their lives? Let us not ponder the answer.

It’s a fact, in any case, that when anybody announces to a group of people that they’re great at something, they in fact aren’t great at that something or they need attention because their mothers didn’t give them enough with they were little (attention, that is). It’s also a fact that the humble, self-effacing, aw-shucks type of person is the person we all like best.

I must mention Facebook. I enjoy it, I guess, especially the keeping-up-with-old-friends aspect, but then again, because I’m a writer, I seem to have a number of writer Facebook friends, most of whom asked me to be friends because they are trying to be Facebook friends with as many writers as possible, because if you’re a writer on Facebook, your objective must be to network, to be connected, to be recognized, to be revered, and consequently you can either sell pre-existing published books to a hungry Facebook reading audience or you can make connections with other writers who can help you get something published or maybe, if things work out perfectly, the other Facebook writers might invite you to give a reading of your work at a university or a fancy summer writing conference. The writers with this mindset, with the Facebook-as-tool-to-get-ahead-and-get-some-head modus operandi, will almost constantly find a way to promote themselves in their status updates.

Let’s invent a phony male writer to illustrate. Call him Dick Head. Here are few of his recent status updates:

Dick Head is printing out his new novel.

Dick Head just got two flash fictions accepted at the Bearded Clam Bake Quarterly.

Dick Head spent five hours rewriting a short story this morning, and he thinks he nailed it this time.

Dick Head has won the Northern Northwest North Dakota Council for the Arts Grand Prize for Small Fiction.

Dick Head has figured out how to blow himself and write a magazine article and a screenplay and a novel at the same time.

Obviously, whenever Dick posts these things, his thousand-plus friends will click the Like button, and Dick’s life will be validated for at least a few more hours, and he will be one self-actualized Dick.

I’m coming down hard on Dick [Ed. Note: Holy Shit!] and I shouldn’t. See, Dick is responding to the basic human need to feel appreciated, to feel like he’s not wasting his life, and if the son of a bitch has won the Grand Prize for Small Fiction, what’s the harm in him telling the world about it? Probably nothing.

You know what’s funny? I spend countless hours of my life in a not-good-tasting stew over this stuff. I have to let it go one of these years. So hey, if you want to brag about your accomplishments great and small, what the hell: go ahead. But maybe consider not doing it in line at the grocery store.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Something’s gone all corporate and motivationally haywire in me today. I loathe the idea of resorting to slogans, to power words, to pictures with profound metaphorical weight in order to get my butt squared in the writing chair and to get my mind organized enough to put words down and try forcing them into coherence. But today, I look at this picture of the waves in Oregon and think of a word to keep me going: Drive.

Ultimately, for me, writing isn’t a very joyful act. Riding bicycles: fun. Cooking and eating and shooting the shit with my friends: fun. Watching sports on TV: fun. Playing fetch with my dog (she tosses the ball and I run for it): fun. But writing? Seriously? True enough, I’ve heard writers going on about how much joy they take in their work, how they can’t wait for their time alone with words each day, but usually, I dismiss that kind of talk as either 1) lies spoken by writing teachers who think they have to be superpositive about writing in order to be good writing teachers; 2) truths spoken by loser-ass humans who wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if they weren’t immersed in the desk-bound, dust-covered life in the arts; or 3) a combination of the aforementioned. I admit to feeling occasional joy spending time alone with another writer’s words – Dostoyevsky comes to mind, or Sylvia Plath, or Elmore Leonard – and this joy owes probably to the work already being done for me. I relax in my chair, open the book, and it’s that simple: the words are great. But to sit at the desk and contrive new words, of my own, words that have to measure up in some way with the masters throughout the ages? Fuck that. It can’t be done.

So the answer is to quit writing altogether, right?

Obviously, that’s the wrong answer. I reminded, incidentally, of an arrogant colleague in lifetimes past who believed exactly that: a new short story must be conceived and executed with the idea of entering the pantheon of all great short stories. I believe it’s wrong to think that way. I believe it’s the height of egomania to think that way. I know, for an absolute fact – and you certainly will agree with me – that I am never going to produce something on the level of the great literary masters: Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Mann, Grass, Bolano, et al. Even if could, even if my brain and talent could combine to pull off such a feat, I would never achieve that if I believed I could achieve that, because to believe such a thing is to put the ego before the work, and when the ego controls the work, the work is about the person who made it, not about the broader humanity that makes the work art in the first place.

Holy shit. Did I just get lost in space, or what? Sorry. I had a really bad acid trip twenty years ago, and sometimes my brain can’t pull out of a dive.

Still, there’s the dilemma all writers face: You can’t measure up to Shakespeare. He’ll kick your ass up and down the block every goddam time. Guaranteed. In fact, you really can’t measure up to anybody, simply because other people aren’t you.

So why write? It’s not because you have to; it’s because you want to use your way of channeling experience into words to form an organized, calculated record of your brain’s activity on earth. Maybe it doesn’t mean much in the long run, the work, the unhappy hours trying to wring metaphorical blood from the metaphorical rock of the language. By the same token, the waves don’t mean to destroy the beach they slam into, but they keep coming nonetheless. The sand grains become smaller and smaller.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

Life Sentences #3

During one of my unhappier periods – a while back, not long enough back – I knew somebody who kept telling me I was repetitive, that I had like three things I talked about, that’s it, and that everyone was complaining about my repetition problem behind my back. “Everyone” wasn’t really the word, of course; the word was “people,” which, when a person says this in a needling context, has a tad more acid to it. Now, this person was correct: I was, and still am, prone to dwelling intellectually on a narrow range of items, perhaps more than three things but still, I keep it simple because goddamit I’m not a genius and consequently have to take comfort in the familiar: food, music, cycling, sports on TV, and, um, that’s about it, I guess. Probably I could attempt wrapping my peabrain around some other subjects, but then again, even if I could figure out quantum mechanics or additive number theory or the nature of the sixteen cases in the Finnish language, why in the fuck would I want to spend my free time discussing this shit? And what would it say about me if I actually had friends who did? Maybe it would be nice to have smart friends. Check that: I do have smart friends but we remain friends by keeping the standard of conversation nice and low: we never tire of discussing the merits of medium-rare steak or of room-temperature cheese or of the opening speech in Patton, which never fails to stir the heart into an ironic slurry of American military-industrial shame. The point is, if you’re going to be friends with another human being – and I’m talking about being friends for a long time, for the duration – you must accept that human beings, deep down, are creatures of comfort and of habit. To wit, if you are bored by your friends, you are either 1) not meant to be their friend or 2) you are an asshole. If you are bored by people in general, sorry, there’s no hope for you whatsoever. Find a hole, place your head in it, and keep it there.

This leads into our wonderfully poetic sentence of the day, a sort of trick sentence for the minus-eight percent of the population who enjoy sentence diagramming. The trick will be that ‘shit’ is not actually the object of the sentence because we’re going to use ‘the same,’ normally an adjective, as a pronoun.

The sentence of the day:

Mike says the same shit.


Mike (a noun, also the subject of the sentence) says (transitive verb) the same (a pronoun substituting for any of the three or four things Mike might say) shit (while this is a noun, we can see if we were to eliminate ‘shit’ from the sentence, the sentence would retain its meaning, albeit losing a bit of its charming tone, because we’re not really saying that Mike says ‘shit,’ we’re saying that Mike says ‘the same’).

Further analysis:

What’s for lunch?

Further further analysis:

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe 'same shit' really is an adjective-noun combo expressing the essential truth to living, and I simply prefer not to think of it that way.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Closed for Renovation

Finishing up my time here in Oregon, where I've been teaching in the low-residency MFA Program at Pacific University. This is a great program with a lot of first-rate writers teaching here and studying here. So what if rain falls all day, every day?

Meantime, I'm traveling back to Los Angeles tomorrow, where obviously sun shines all day most every day, and I will resume routine daily Mag's Sentence madness on Monday.

Get out and ride your bikes, write something, eat something good, and be happy.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mag's 2010 Racing Season: The Announcement!

I’ve been in Oregon for over a week now, bikeless but at the same time oddly happy. True, my exercise regimen here has resembled the kind of midget-size political and military power Napoleon had when he was exiled to Elba. To run, I have decided, is to beat one’s joints into an irreversible trash-heap state, so instead of running, now I’m just walking. If I had to stay here for another full week, I would be crawling. A month, and I would turn into a mushroom that not even a starving animal would want to eat. Ah, the tragedy.

So what does a cyclist do in a ten-day period off the bike? He plots out an ambitious training program, sets a plan for the upcoming season, and decides on a number of equipment purchases to make this training program a success. Fuck yeah! I’m going to buy a new Trek Madone and a shiny new Radio Shack uniform and a bunch of Nike undergarments, and I’m going to race in the goddam Tour de France this summer. No shit. I think this is a reasonable season goal, not only from a financial and physical standpoint but from a mental standpoint because that’s key, having your mind in the game before your put your ass in the saddle. So I’ve been studying the Tour’s route fairly carefully and targeting a few stages for stage wins, which is embarrassing because I would prefer to compete for victory in the general classification, but at this point I’m going to be realistic: take a few wins in the first week of the tour, enjoy a few moments of glory, and hey, if opportunity presents itself, I might go for the whole shebang. Why not?

See you in France this summer!

Allez, my friends.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Not Possible

Something’s going wrong. Incredibly wrong. I can’t think of one snarky, cranky, bitchy, pissy thing to say about the writing life today. Must be that writing’s going good? No. It’s going like shit. I’m away from my desk. I just moved. I just read over a bunch of material I’ve written recently and have decided the binary code on which it’s stored should be vaporized. And what else? Most books still stuck. There’s about no hope in the world for a writer like me, with a mentality and sensibility like mine, to publish anything of significance, in book form, on a national scale, and expect anybody to read it. And, um, fuckin-A, you should hand me a goddam diaper bag, people, because I’m totally filling my Jockey shorts with self-pity here today. But still – or but fuck – I’m a happy camper.

To make things worse, I know the reason why I’m a happy camper, and somehow I can’t manage to choke my happiness back into the sort of old-fashioned piston-fisted beat-off session at which professional whiners like me excel. So the reason I’m happy? I’ve been hanging out with a bunch of writers since Thursday, and despite how much I have been dreading the prospect and despite how much of my freetime I spend stewing over things like the horrors of university-professor/writer types, well, shit, it turns out I’m a writer; these people I’ve been hanging around with are writers; and we’ve got lots in common; and we’re having lots of fun!

I’m gonna puke pretty soon.

So I’ll stop with the mush.

Stay tuned for a new animation tomorrow.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Just A Stem Away

You might not believe this, but I’m sitting here and looking at this fuzzy picture of my cyclocross stem and, hell, I’m getting all weepy. That stem is at least 800 miles from me right now, possibly pining away for me as much as I’m pining away for it. Well, probably not. Bikes don’t pine when they’re separated from their owners; they rust; and their owners get fat.

So yeah, I’m out of town for a ten-day stretch, which is a good thing professionally because I’m not out of town on vacation – well, that’s not entirely true: I’m doing some teaching in Oregon (teaching creative writing) and as any non-teacher will tell you, teaching creative writing is a form of vacation from reality. Anyway, owing to travel and to the rainy location where I’m holed up and to the daily schedule at the place where I’m teaching, it wasn’t reasonable to bring a bike. To boot, there aren’t facilities hereabouts with stuff like quality Spinning bikes or bike rentals that aren’t of the beach-cruiser-for-50-bucks-an-hour variety. For a normal person, a non-biker, this would be no biggie. But for cyclists, who are the heroin addicts of exercise freaks, the prospect of ten days without a top tube between the legs is almost unthinkable. In my case, since I had wandered away from serious cycling and now have finally gotten into a great routine with at least two hours at a day on the bike, this 10 day break is literally too much for me to bear.

What are my choices? Buy a case of bourbon and get fucked up? Hang out in the hotel bar and say stupid shit to people? Order pizza three times a day? These seem like wonderful alternatives to what I have been doing. Running. Or really trotting. Or stumbling forward. I’ve been heading outside at six in the morning and trying something my father used to do, when he first started running several million years ago, which is walk to the next light pole and then run to the next light pole and so on. Oddly, I like this, even though the pain is horrific and I’m pleased nobody is around to see.

Nevertheless, my goal for this spring is to find a way to jog a few miles without stopping and when I can do that, I’m going to sign up for a fun run or whatever. Might be nice to join up with the millions of people who run instead of the hundreds of freaks who ride bikes.

Maybe I should just fetch that case of bourbon.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Life Sentences #2

Today’s sentence is some easy shit, people. It’s in fact one of the simplest, most valuable sentences in the language, the one without which we’d really have no occasion to elaborate on stuff like why we like cycling, sirloin steak, French wine, Frank Zappa, and many other items that somehow aren’t managing to cross my mind right now. See, in order to elaborate, we must first say what something is. We must first say, This is good. Then we can say why it’s good!

The type of sentence to which I refer (ain’t it amazing I can to that to-which shit?) is what we call the subject/subject-complement pattern. How it works: The subject of the sentence is a noun or a pronoun (a thing) then we have a nifty to be verb and then a noun or an adjective that defines the meaning of the subject, thus ‘complementing’ the subject.

Hold on, Magnuson. What the fuck you talking that fancy shit for?

Let’s make it easier. If I write, Frank Zappa is a God, quite clearly and quite correctly I am according Godlike status to Frank Zappa. The word God is a noun but because it clarifies my view of Frank Zappa, because it further defines Frank Zappa, we consider God to be an adjective.

So the sentence of the day:

Mike Magnuson is a dipstick.


Mike Magnuson (a noun, the subject of the sentence) is (to be verb) an dipstick (a noun used as an adjective that excellent describes Mike Magnuson).

Further Analysis:

You want me to explain why?

Friday, January 8, 2010


Photograph by Seth Townsend (not posed)

She knew how to listen. She had to. She worked at Walmart, in the Optical Department, fitting people with nice new frames at reasonable prices. If her ears weren’t open to the customer’s needs – that’s how her manager explained it – her customers might complain and consequently she might return to cash-register duty quicker than she could say two-for-the-price-of-one margaritas at Don Pablo’s. Her manager was in his forties, on the lean side of chubby, on the friendly side of angry, on the divorced side of married. He had been a Walmart Associate since Walmart came to town, sixteen years ago, and he understood what it took to succeed with the company. Commitment. Understanding. Joy. She liked her manager. Her boyfriend insisted the manager was full of shit. Her boyfriend said a profound difference existed between knowing how to listen to people in a simple employment setting and how to listen to people in the context of a complicated, socially stratified environment beyond the world of white-trash retail. Her boyfriend was smart. He taught World Literature at the Community College and encouraged his students to dig deeper, to translate the nearly impenetrable language of the universe into something they could use at their jobs, with their families, with their friends. His life, he said, made other people’s lives better.

She worked most weekends because that’s when the bulk of the Optical Department’s traffic would come in. Her boyfriend worked most weeknights because that’s when the best students from town were able to attend the courses he taught. When she was off work, during the week, she liked putting on something nice and going out for drinks and dinner with her girlfriends and chatting about this and that. When her boyfriend was off work, in the daytime and on weekends, he liked staying home and reading novels by foreign writers and having long telephone conversations with people he knew in graduate school, miles away, lifetimes away, he said, back when life had purpose beyond mere self-sustenance. Occasionally, in their apartment, she would watch him running his hands through his hair and sighing into the telephone. He would say, This town is just so mentally dead. She had been born and raised here. She had always been happy here.

One Monday afternoon, she was off work and her boyfriend didn’t have any classes to teach and she asked him, point blank, why he loved her. He thought about this for a while, seemed like a few minutes, and finally he said, Space. She was supposed to guess what that meant. She took her keys and went for an afternoon drive instead. Everything looked about the same as it always had, maybe a few more chain stores, maybe the trees had gotten bigger.

When she become bored with driving, with reassessing, she called her manager and asked if he felt like meeting her for happy hour at Don Pablo’s. Don Pablo’s used to be a Country Kitchen and before that it was an A & W Root Beer stand and before that it was a pizza place named Riggli-something-or-other but that was a long time ago. She remembered that the guy who owned the pizza place died and a lot of people in town were sad.

Her manager had a blue Chevy S10, clean, shiny in the late-afternoon sun. He backed into a spot and stepped on the parking-lot asphalt and hiked up his pants and made his way toward her car like an animal might to a block of feed. No matter how much exercise he might do, for the rest of his life, he would always have a double chin. He would always be a Walmart Associate. He had gone as far as he was going to go. So had she. She opened her door and looked up into his eyes, a milky gray, and smiled a smile that wasn’t true, that wasn’t human need, that wasn’t love, that wasn’t why life is worth living through, not yet, not this afternoon, not in this town, but it was the only smile she had left.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Life Sentences #1

I can guarantee you that none of my former students have ever said to me, “Magnuson, I sure would like you to write down a few of your amazing ideas on grammar and sentence structure.” They undoubtedly know I have thoughts on the subject because I about used to go into Scanners-style head-explosion fits in every writing class I taught – usually over stupid, run-of-the-mill mistakes even my graduate students couldn’t avoid making: stuff like don’t put commas betwixt the subject and the predicate; or its is already a goddam possessive pronoun, which means you don’t have to put an apostrophe after it; or if you don’t put the comma in Suck my dick, Sammy, ‘suck my dick’ becomes an adjective implying Sammy has been working in Social Services for quite a long time; and so forth. True, I cussed and threw tantrums in the process of explaining simple grammatical rules that my college students should have learned originally in the fourth grade, and it’s possible my classroom methods might have been off-putting to my weaker, more sensitive pupils, who most certainly desired encouragement in their expensive educations instead of sharp reminders that they didn’t know shit and would never know shit and therefore should save themselves a couple hundred thousand dollars and promptly drop out of college and consider a career in Burger King drive-thru management.

Fuck it. Nobody ever listened.

A few did.

The following feels like an aside after that short, purgative rant, but here is today’s sentence, a classic example of the intransitive, meaning that the independent clause has no object.


This shit sucks.


This (a demonstrative pronoun, a pronoun that points toward a noun) shit (a noun, also the subject of this sentence) sucks (the predicate of the sentence, the verb that completes the independent clause in the same way that mustard completes a Ball Park Frank).

Further analysis:

This shit sucks.