Friday, March 9, 2012

The Bike in Balance!

Check this out: new blog on It will run weekly till the end of May.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Some non-bike writing: Just to prove it can be done!

Yeah, that's a picture of me after a cyclocross race in which I spent about as much time on the ground as I did pedaling the bike. I did not pedal too quickly, either. Oh well. There's more to life than bikes, right?

The link below is to the piece I mentioned on my Friday news update. I hope you like it and pass the link along to your friends! :)

Hope the rest of your weekend is great.

Friday, February 10, 2012

News and Schmooze (and blues) #2

An old item. One that never leaves my mind. When I was kid in Menomonee Falls, which is on the northwest corner of Milwaukee, I used to stay up late quite a few nights a week and listen to Ron Kuzner’s jazz show, The Dark Side, on WFMR. The show came on at midnight, and I wasn’t supposed to stay up late, obviously, because I was a kid who had to attend school the next morning. In order to avoid detection, I would curl at the end of my bed, near the clock radio, and listen to Ron Kuzner with very low volume, volume so low I sometimes had to hold the clock radio to my ear to hear it. I loved the jazz he played, sure, but listening to Ron? What a unique radio announcer he was. He had a way of speaking as if his voice were a trombone sliding through the registers, pausing at unexpected places, and he would speak profound truth without ever saying too much. When he did the sports on his show, sometimes he would just say, “Milwaukee defeated Minnesota. Kansas City defeated Detroit. Boston and New York (huge pause) did not play.” Perfect! And he always started his news segment with this: “And now for the news, or the blues, depending on your perspective.” In that spirit, therefore, here is my news for the week.

Steak’s cheap this week at Beck’s Meats on Main Street in Oshkosh. Just FYI. It’s cheap every week, actually, and even though New York strip is bad for the heart and the soul or whatever, I walk the dog over there once or twice a week and see what’s on sale. Nothing like acquiring meat from an old-school butcher shop. This joy, however, is about to come to an end. End of this month, I’m moving from Oshkosh to Appleton – that’s twenty miles north – and either I will need to find a new source of meat or I will have to do the right thing and cut steak out of my diet for cycling season. ßIs that the right thing? I’m looking forward to life in Appleton, though. Should be an adventure because isn’t everything?

On Monday or Tuesday next week, The Massachusetts Review will run a longish piece of mine in their online edition. The piece is called “This Problem of Taste,” and I wrote it as a sort of oddball speech to give on the last day of the Pacific University Brief-Residency (that’s the term, I guess) MFA residency in January. It’s about writing and art and some other high-minded stuff of the sort I usually don’t write about and present to an audience. So I’m nervous and happy to let it loose in the wilds. Obviously, I would like this piece to spread far and wide like a disease of truth over the internet, but who knows? I will post the link here then moment it becomes available, of course. In advance, I thank you for telling people how wonderful and insightful you think my piece is! J

And in two weeks, maybe ten days, I will begin writing a regular blog, once a week, at For now, the blog will be called “The Bike in Balance,” but this may change before it goes live. The subject matter will focus on how I want to ride fairly seriously and do some races and such but at the same time I want to find a way live a normal life (not possible for me, really, I know), one where I can do stuff like not obsess about bikes all the time and where I can hang out with noncyclist friends on weekends, and so on. To people who don’t ride bikes, this may not make sense, but to cyclists, the idea of balancing training and doing events and having positive relationships with human beings away from the bike – well, it’s tough to manage. So that’s what I’m going to try – not only to manage riding and living but to write about it, too.

And for at least two more weeks, I’ll be leading early-morning spin classes at the downtown YMCA. That’s 5:30 a.m. We have a great group every morning, and we’d love to see you there. My Thursday night classes – 5:30 p.m. – will run every week till the end of April. I’m leading the 8:00 a.m. Saturday class at the downtown Y this week, too, and the 1 p.m. Sunday class, and it’s snowing like crazy today in Oshkosh, and the temps are about to tank into the zero-Fahrenheit range. So what’s your excuse for not showing up for class again?

Okay then. Keep on writing and riding and being groovy people. I close with a link to some classic Ron Kuzner. The guy was one of a kind. No doubt. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


I obsess. I admit it. This week, I’m obsessing over the new Van Halen album, A Different Kind of Truth, which I’ll tell you right now is damn good, amazingly awesomely good, and I know what I’m saying because I downloaded it yesterday and have been playing it essentially nonstop ever since. I am completely blowing the roof off my life with this album. This probably won’t last, but for the moment, wow.

Or whatever.

Just to keep this as objective as possible, allow me to state for the record that I am an expert on blowing the roof off my life with music. [Dog’s note: without music, too.] On purpose, with all my conscious energy, I try to live my life as a serial music-obsessive who gets hold of new music and listens to it nonstop till something else pops up, music new to me or familiar music I suddenly hear with a new mindset, then I start listening nonstop to that, for days and days, till the next thing pops up, and on and on. I never feel bored living this way. That’s why I live this way.

So yeah. I’ve had lots of Van Halen periods over the years and am especially fond of Fair Warning and Van Halen I and Van Halen II and 1984 and the other albums with David Lee Roth because I guess that’s how I roll. I dig the sound. It’s just so, so totally happy. Not one time, ever, have I heard a Van Halen tune recorded with that lineup and not felt happy to the point where I knew the world was truly a good place and that countless wonderful things would forever be possible in it. This happiness happens in me, I believe, because, much in the manner that happy cheese comes from happy cows in California, Van Halen is music created in the spirit of happiness. Listen to Eddie play. Maybe his life away from the guitar isn’t perfect – whose is? – but when he plays guitar, he is most definitely and undeniably a happy camper. You can’t help hearing him and breaking into a smile. So when I hear Eddie ripping it up and playing with such pure joy on A Different Kind of Truth, fuck yeah, I’m happy.

Turns out maybe I shouldn’t be.

Check out this ungenerous observation made by Shawn Hammond in Premier Guitar:

“Other legendary players (Jeff Beck, Brian Setzer, and Sonny Landreth come to mind) continually evolve and blow minds with their willingness to explore new sonic territory without regard for commercial success, but Van Halen seems either too unambitious, too beholden to fans’ nostalgia, or too coldly calculating to put out something other that tunes they know die-hard fans have been listening to on bootlegs such as those from their 1976 gigs at the Goldenwest Ballroom and their pre-deal demos with Gene Simmons.”

Here is Shawn Hammond’s review of Schlitz (currently on come-back tour in Wisconsin).*

There are plenty of reasons not to like this beer. For one thing, it’s Schlitz. For another thing, they’re making Schlitz with the original formula and selling it packaged to look the same way it always has. In other words, it’s the same old Schlitz. Damn. Why couldn’t Schlitz have gone the way of Lowenbrau and evolved into Delirium Tremens Belgian Strong Pale Ale?

*Possibly not authored by Shawn Hammond. J

Friday, January 27, 2012

News and Schmooze #1

I wish I could make an arrow instead of the subject of this sentence. The arrow would point to the white space above, how it spreads from the corner toward the blur beyond.

Or whatever.

I fucking hate schmooze. I hate it so much I can’t do it without affecting Advanced Poet’s Disease. I vomit when I think about schmooze. I have attacks of explosive diarrhea when I think about schmooze. Sometimes, this happens all at once. I hate that, too. Nevertheless.

I have few news items today.

First, I’ve been posting the track lists for my indoor cycling classes on Facebook. If you’re in Oshkosh one day when I’m leading a class, stop by the Downtown Oshkosh Y and check it out. Next week, my classes are 5:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday and 5:30 p.m. Thursday evening. Each class runs for a full hour, with a roughly three minute break in the middle. The music selection is always cool, naturally, even though some of my jazz selections have annoyed the participants more than a time or two, and Devo’s “Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy” isn’t the class favorite I’ve always dreamed it would be, but alas, you have to understand I attend EVERY indoor cycling class I teach. I am there with my monolithic ass in the saddle and giving ‘er for all she’s worth every goddam time! And I don’t wanna keep hearing the same music over and over! I’d get bored, which is exactly why we have music in spin class in the first place: to prevent boredom while pedaling nowhere. Because pedaling nowhere, by definition, is a drag. Of course, it’s damn hard to break your collarbone crashing in an indoor cycling class.

Bike Tribes, A Field Guide to North American Cyclists is available for preorder at the usual places, and it will go on sale nationwide on May 22. Soon, soon, soon, I’ll post a picture of the cover and some blurbs and some other amusing/schmoozing stuff thereunto appertaining. The book’s sort of funny – maybe even really funny at some points – and I’m interested to hear what folks have to say once they can read it. About half of the cyclists in the audience will bitch about it. That goes without saying on account of that’s what we cyclists do best. The literary folks in the small crowd will bitch, too, because that’s what the literary crowd does best. I am so fucking happy. Let me tell you. J

And I’m tentatively expected to make an announcement about a remote possibility that, if all things in the universe align and everybody for once is happy, I will be blogging sort of regularly at actual website maintained by a print publication. Obviously, I will link to it here when it goes live.

Finally, the drink pictured above is Diet Sierra Mist on the rocks with a splash of Diet Blueberry/Pomegranate juice and a wedge of lime. Yuck.

Have a nice weekend!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Four Coded Messages About Writing

I don’t know if Nero really did once upon a time say, “What a pretty thing fire is.” I remember hearing an actor playing Nero saying “What a pretty thing fire is” in the classic BBC Television production of the Richard Graves novel I, Claudius. This was at the very end of the story, after Claudius was dead [you did know that Claudius died, right? because he totally did], and what better way to cap off a depressing ending, what finer way to put a positive twist on tragedy than to let your viewers know that the bullshit in Rome is about to get a whole lot worse? The TV Nero is right, anyway. Fire is pretty. I wonder why that’s a mystery, why fire’s draw is a mystery, since everybody knows about it already. Nero is a mystery, too, mostly because he was crazy, and even though each of us has had extensive dealings with crazy people throughout our lives, we still find crazy people, especially famous ones, to be much more interesting than people who aren’t. I do, too, but I don’t think crazy people are a mystery. They’re just crazy.

A good friend of mine – Ben Percy – made that fire pictured above. Or I should say he created it. We were on a beach in Oregon and had some dry firewood, and Ben dug a hole in the sand with his hands, in the process of which he looked a great deal like 5’11’’ crab digging a defensive position to ward off a seagull invasion. Then he arranged some firewood into a little teepee, crumpled some newspaper and stuffed it under the teepee, lit a match, lit the paper, and within a few minutes, we had a mystery to stare into. A number of people we knew arrived to stare into the mystery, too. This was tons of fun, naturally.

I mean to address the way we think about writing, I guess. We think when we’re writing that we’re creating not a mystery in the genre sense but something mysterious, something intangible, something about which people can discuss and ponder and hazard guesses with respect to its ultimate meaning. Sure, if we’re lucky, people may talk about our poems and stories and novels and nifty books of nonfiction or whatever, but really, deep down, all we’re doing is trying to light a fire. AND if you light a phony gas fire in a bar, you want people to show up and buy drinks, too.

You’re not following me, are you?

Above is a picture of my career in literature. We have your Yankee grits, your Gringo Mexican food, and your plastic bag keeping this shit from spilling over the garbage can top and making a mess. To me, the metaphor should be obvious. So I’ll give you a few moments to ponder its significance.

Sometimes we have to contemplate matters for no reason other than necessity. Sometimes, in other words, we just can’t help thinking too much. This is a picture of The Mag’s Sentence Contemplative Center. Note the “weighty” literature we’re studying, particularly The Backroads European Vacation catalogue. I like to read that catalogue a lot, and I count that as one of my supreme acts of regular imagination because do you think I’m going on a European Vacation anytime soon? I used to have a book about Gandhi in the Contemplative Center, but that required way more than imagination to understand. That required intelligence.

Intelligence is what we need.

After that, we’re just sitting and thinking.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Near Death, Same Old Life

Do we have to dance to the routine about how if the sun sets spectacularly in one place it rises thoughtfully somewhere else? Or is the earth merely rotating the way it always has and all the metaphors about things ending and things beginning are a bunch of horsepucky in service of positive-thinking peanutheads? I don’t know. That sort of speculation doesn't really matter to me, I guess, because endings, and dwelling on endings, that’s not my thing – not these days, anyway. I live in Wisconsin now, state of my birth and place of my intellectual formation, et cetera, and our state motto is Forward. True enough, my respect for authority and for motivational slogans has been traditionally low enough to occupy a position at the earth’s molten core, but Forward? I like that. That’s where I’m going.

That lovely sunset, anyway, happened last week in Seaside, Oregon. [Editor’s note: Didn't Mag just say he was all about moving forward? But now he’s moving backward? Is it possible to trust this guy?] I was out there on the coast teaching in Pacific University’s Low-residency MFA Program in Creative Writing, and that was the view of the ocean from my fourth-floor balcony. Awesome, no? Anyway, I was there for ten days and performing the usual academic function involving hanging out with old friends and meeting new friends and discussing literature on about six-hundred levels with students and faculty and even the hotel staff, one of whom told me, in confidence, naturally, “You writers are really strange.” I said, “Those people are strange. Me, I’m completely normal.” The staff person said, “I’ll bet.”

The whole ten days I was in Seaside, the sun shone. Sometimes not a cloud besmirched the sky. And in Seaside, Oregon, in January, rain always falls and wind blows it sideways. The day we (all of us from the MFA program) were leaving, the bad weather (or maybe it’s the good weather because rain is supposed to fall in Seaside in January) returned, and the temperature dropped, which meant we took a bus over the coastal mountains toward Portland in a snowstorm. The driver coughed nonstop, with epic violence that caused him to jerk at the steering wheel, and he drove way, way too fast. I believed my end was indeed about to come. That kind of end – bus crash at high speed descending a coastal mountain road – does not engender a new beginning. I was scared. Too scared to shit myself, really. I took this cell-phone picture and texted it to my girlfriend and told her she’s awesome because 1) she is and 2) the drama of the situation required a dramatic gesture, don’t you think? Oh well. I lived. I can tell another story, as the saying goes, and here I am again, telling more stories and meandering in a blog about nothing in particular.

This is to say, at any rate, that the Mag’s Sentence blog hereby returns to regular duty, or maybe limited regular duty. Some of the upcoming posts will appear in Podcast form, too – with music and interviews and the like – once I get the equipment to run satisfactorily, which should be soon. Most of the upcoming posts will be a lot shorter than this, too, for which I am anticipating you will be grateful, whoever you are.

I've got a bunch of businesslike information to pass on in the next few weeks. It’s not really in my nature to pass on businesslike information, but I’m going to do it anyway. Please forgive me for self-promotion. As always, gripe in the comments section if you have gripes.

So yeah, in May 2012, Rodale Press will publish my new book Bike Tribes: A Field Guide to North American Cyclists, with illustrations by Danica Novgorodoff. I will post some cool pictures of the book (and maybe some short excerpts) throughout the spring, as well as keep you up to date with some appearances I will be making in support of the book. A couple of my essays will also appear in the Best of Bicycling ebook, which is scheduled for release I think in May, too, but I don’t know the exact date. Count on hearing about it here.

AND I’ve started a cool new business called, unimaginatively enough, Mag’s Sentence: Editorial Services and Coaching for Writers. For now, you can find all the information about this on the Mag’s Sentence: Editorial Services and Coaching for Writers Facebook page, but eventually, I will have a website for the business. This is to say if you’re looking to hire an editor or proofreader or someone who can coach your writing up to a professional level, find me and hire me. You will be happy you did! J

Last, here is a picture of a seagull in Seaside, Oregon. I have been writing a novel that concerns, at least obliquely, legions of his cousins in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He wanted to say hello. I have wanted to say hello, too. So now we have that out of the way, don’t we?