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?