Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas ephemera

  • Ladies and gentleman, Worcester's own Mr. Billy Squier, and all those people I remember watching on MTV growing up. You know...the people who shaped my life while I waited for Motley Crue videos to come on.
  • So Mike Lowell is...back? Um. Awkward.
  • I'll admit: I don't mind wearing a Santa's hat around the house at Christmas time. It's warm and festive and gay (Am I punning? Can you pull off a Santa's hat and still look straight? Does it matter? Are you following me?)
  • I watched Santa's Slay, a slasher film in the darkly comedic vein of The Evil Dead. It was free On-Demand on Fear.net. I truly enjoy slasher films. Good or bad, they oddly relax me.
  • What the fuck is the deal with Billy Squier's sweater in this video clip? I know, it's the 80s, but is that a blanket excuse for wearing something that resembles visual vomit? I don't know. Maybe it does. Does that near-kiss with J.J. Jackson signify a type of Huck/Jim love affair? Do they wear Santa's hats? I'm confused.
  • If you sprinkle sugar on a piece of shit, will it taste like a cookie? Ask Senate Democrats.
  • Favorite Christmas song: "Carol of the Bells" (particularly Gary Hoey's version).
  • John's Lackey's wife, Krista is from Maine. She graduated from UNH. Great. But John Lackey is from Texas. Does any of this mean anything? Not unless you're desperate for copy.
  • Martha Quinn is not hot. Sorry. I'm sure she's a wonderful woman, but I always saw her as a babysitter, one who would let us stay up a half an hour later because she was cool. Maybe I'm dating myself.
  • Favorite Christmas movie: A Christmas Carol (1983, starring George C. Scott). It's still the best Christmas story ever told---Dicken's didn't dick with us.
  • We have a poster of Obama in our house, on the wall in our living room, and I'm not sure what to do with it. I'll keep it there. And "hope" it'll move.
  • If you've never seen this, you have to see it. Still one of the funniest SNL skits I've ever seen.
  • Whether you follow this blog or have stumbled upon it; whether I know you and love you, or whether you know me and hate me; whether you're a Sox fan or a Yankee fan (somewhere inside you, there is a soul), I wish you a Happy Holiday. You deserve it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Merry Christmas, Sox fans

After my last rant, which you can read below, it behooves me to respond to The Red Sox five year $85 million signing of former-Angel's ace John Lackey.

First, there's pie in my face. In fact, Theo has been holding his cards so close to his chest that I don't think anyone saw this acquisition coming. Am I happy about the signing? Of course. I'm fucking thrilled! Would any baseball fan bitch about their team having a starting rotation with three legitimate aces? Lester, Beckett, Lackey---the sound of that is musical, isn't it? If Theo can come up with a big bat---and, no, Mike Cameron is NOT the solution---then I can't see how The Sox would not be the favorites going into the 2010 season.

Next, I need to retract all of the terrible things I've said about John Lackey when he was pitching for Anaheim. For example, I will no longer call him "Lenny," which is a reference to the character in the Steinbeck novel, Of Mice and Man. I came up with the nickname two seasons ago when I decided that Lackey looked mildly retarded: it's his eyes. Now, I don't care if he IS mildly retarded; if he goes out and wins 18 games and shuts down The Bronx Boners, I don't care how well he scores on the SAT's.

I do, however, have to mention the fact that his contract, the money they're paying this guy, is obscene and obnoxious. Listen, if I were someone who takes the ethical high ground, I wouldn't be a baseball fan, or a professional sports fan in general. I would be sitting outside the labs where scientists are working on a cure for cancer and cheering them on, which, in all fairness, is what we should be doing. But every now and then, I have to take a step back and point out the obvious, especially during this holiday season in this economy, where decent, hard-working people are out of work, losing their houses, and unable to put presents beneath the tree for their kids this year. To think that these athletes make more in a game than most of us make in a year is truly a sad commentary on the misplaced priorities in our society. But, again, I watch baseball and buy merchandise; therefore, I'm part of the problem.

Finally, when I'm wrong, I'll admit it. Last week, when we were putting up our Christmas tree, my son Owen and I each put up one of the two Red Sox ornaments we have celebrating Sox 2004 and 2007 World Championships, respectively. As we were hanging them on the tree, I told Owen to "get used to these two bulbs because we'll never see another one. The freakin' bums have already tanked the season."

I was wrong. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lots of holes in our 2nd place Sox

I know a lot of Sox fans can't stand Dan Shaughnessy, but I happen to enjoy his column. While The Globe sports writers---or, sadly, soon to be ex-Globe writers if the newspaper folds---take a lot of flack from The Nation, it's my opinion that they're frequently spot-on when they're calling out the team. This article by Shaughnessy says it all, and far more eloquently than I can.

To summarize, the management---mainly, former-Boy Wonder Theo and the world's biggest creep-o-zoid John Henry---is all but conceding next season and calling it "a bridge" year for the Red Sox. Meaning: they realize they can't compete with the Yankees (especially after they signed Granderson) so they're going to use 2010 to give their prospects some time to mature, rather than trading them for a big name and going full-blast at dethroning the Spankboys in pinstripes. Fine. Despite the fact that John Henry is a billionaire who could afford to pay some big game players without clearing out the prospects, that's fine. It's a long-term investment in youth. It siphons all thunder and anticipation for fans going into next season, but fine. It's a plan, nonetheless.

But here's the thing that really irks me: they're still raising ticket prices to get into that crack den on Yawkey Way.

This harkens back to my inexorable loath for the goddamn Pink Hats, the clueless masses of assholes who will pay the money for overpriced tickets to watch a second place team rot in mediocrity just so they can sing "Sweet Caroline" in the 8th inning with the rest of the retards who believe they're taking part in some long-standing Fenway tradition.

Am I bitter? Hell yes, I'm bitter. But it's righteous indignation. The last time I could afford to go to a Red Sox game was in 2003---and even then I couldn't afford it, but my wife bought me tickets for my birthday. But for two of us to go to Fenway for a night now, we're looking at an easy two bills (not including the eight-dollar Dixie cups of Bud Light). When I was growing up, I went to Fenway Park with my father every year, and it was far more of a tradition than singing Neil Diamond with 36,000 other white people who couldn't tell you three other Neil Diamond songs. Granted, my family wasn't poor, but we were solidly middle-class; the same as my wife and I are today. And my son is getting to age where I would like nothing more than to take the boy to a Red Sox game, but it financially isn't going to happen. Why? Not because I couldn't save the money and take him anyway. It would be tight, but I probably could. But it's the principle of it. How can the Red Sox organization, in good conscience---yes, grumpy pants, I realize it's a business, but allow me to be slightly sentimental here---do this to their fans, the people who pay their salaries?

The answer is: they don't give a fuck. They're rich and getting richer. If The Crypt Keeper Henry is reading this right now and would like to send me two free tickets, I'll recant, but that's highly improbable.

So next year, the Sox are playing for second-place in the AL East. Here's the upside: maybe The Pink Hats, having grown so used to watching winners, will grow bored, stop going to the games, and soon, you'll have the real fans back in the park, giving hell to everyone who deserves it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Honeymoon" for the holidays

Here is a digital story of one of my most confessional and candid poems, "Cracker and Me." I've gotten a lot of mileage out of this piece. It originally appeared as a broadside by Hemispherical Press in 2003. Then it appeared again, in a slightly different form, in my 2005 chapbook Honey, I'm Home, which was published by sunnyoutside. Most recently, it appears, sans the Part VI, which I put back in for this movie, in my book After the Honeymoon.

Speaking of After the Honeymoon, if you're looking for a thoughtful gift for any newlyweds in your life, may I be so bold as to recommend it. In fact, if you buy a copy and can somehow get it to me before Christmas, I'll sign it whomever you'd like and do my best send it back to you. Just give me a heads up.

You can purchase the book from Amazon.com: here

Or directly from the publisher, sunnyoutside: here

Enough shameless self-promotion. I hope you enjoy the piece, and a special thanks to my good friend Dan Cray for allowing me to use his stellar tune "Every Bar."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

MFA musings

Tomorrow night I will read from a novel I've been tinkering with, off and on, for the past five years. This novel, titled When We Were Locusts, will also serve as my thesis for my MFA in fiction writing at The University of New Hampshire. The event is open to the public, so if you have an interest in hearing a woman named Shannon O'Neill, a nonfiction student, read from her memoir and me read from my novel, please come join us.

Seeing tomorrow night is, for all intents and purposes, the completion of my program, I figured I'd muse a little about MFA programs and share some of my opinions and experiences with anyone who might be interested in pursuing an MFA, possess an MFA, or hates MFA programs with every fiber of their literary being and believes the programs are elitist shams that produce cookie-cutter writing.

Let me start by admitting that, at one time, I belonged to the latter persuasion. When I first started publishing in the small presses, I was 23 years old, had just finished my undergraduate degree, and was beginning my career as a high school teacher. Quickly, I became immersed in a tiny pocket of the small press scene and started publishing my own zine called The Brown Bottle. At this point in my life, I figured that MFA programs were for people who either couldn't figure out how to write on their own, or had nothing to write about because they'd been living in that bombproof cocoon called "academia" their whole lives. Where's Kerouac's MFA? Or Hemingway's? Or Bukowski's? I'd smugly postulate. Of course, Kerouac and Hemingway were part of some of the earliest MFA programs, although they weren't called "MFA programs" at the time; they were called "writers' circles." And Bukowski? While many will argue that he never could write, I don't buy it, and I think he's a good example for why you don't need an MFA to be a writer.

Now, close to twelve years later, I'm finishing an MFA program. Did I need this program to become a writer? Absolutely not. Did it help me become a better writer? Absolutely.

I'd should preface this by saying my situation at UNH is a little unique. While most full-residency programs don't, to my knowledge, off many part-time slots, I was grandfathered into the program. I started at UNH, part-time, when it was still an MA. The next year, the English department switched the degree over to an MFA, and I was offered the option to changing programs and taking 16 more credits to get the terminal degree, so I did it. I mention this because one of the reasons many people believe MFA programs are for the privileged few is that it is simply impractical for someone with a family and financial responsibilities, especially in this economy, to quit their job and enter a writing program for three years. And it's equally absurd to assume that the minute you finish the program there will be a cushy college position waiting for you. Ask people who are currently in the market for those college teaching positions how competitive it is. They'll tell you.

However, there are many low-residency alternative MFA programs for people who simply can't drop everything and go to school full-time. Do candidates with their MFA's from full-residency programs have a competitive edge over people with diplomas from low-residency programs when it comes to hiring for college positions? I have no idea. Listen, if you write and publish an award-winning book, you'll going to have the competitive edge anywhere you go.

Currently, I'm not in the market for a teaching job---I teach in a high school, thank you very much---and, really, a discussion of MFA programs should center around writing. And as I said before, if you want to be writer, you don't need to get an MFA, but I do believe a program, if you choose a program that fits with you and your writing style, will serve you well in your endeavors and cut a lot of time off the learning curve.

At the very least, an MFA program will force you to finish, or push you in the direction of finishing a longer body of writing. And if you want to write books, this is invaluable practice. Also, you have the benefit of being around people who are just as passionate about writing as you fancy yourself to be, and you'll work with writers who are better than you, on both sides of the desk. This lesson in humility is also invaluable when it comes to publication and submitting your work for publication.

But what about the finances? How can you afford a program that doesn't guarantee you anything--- economically speaking--- when you finish? I don't have that answer. Many full-time programs have fellowships and tuition wavers for MFA students, but it still might leave you scrambling to live. I was fortunate that the high school where I teach will pay for one class per-semester for faculty. In other words, they want their teachers to be more educated and models of life-long learners: that makes sense to me. But I know a lot of districts can't afford it. I just don't have any answers. For some reason, I keep thinking back to Bob Dylan's line in "Like a Rolling Stone" that goes: "When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose." It goes a long way in explaining the quandary---of life.

If you're still reading this, congratulations. You have a hell of an attention-span. In short, the MFA program at UNH was well-worth it for me. I got to work with some incredible writers---Alex Parsons and Tom Paine and Ann Joslin Williams in the fiction department---and I've seen some of my classmates go on to publish books, like Tim Horvath and Jason Tandon.

Ultimately, and always, the important thing is the writing and getting the writing done; and as far as that's concerned, no one gives fuck how you do it. So stop reading this, and get it done.