Friday, May 20, 2005

Look at him!

Originally uploaded by kfoz.
I just found this photo while researching my dog rescue book. This is Brando, in the photo I first spotted him in, on in January 2001. He was in a no kill shelter in Brooklyn called BARC and I visited him every day for a week before I couldn't stand it anymore and had to grab him. Actually, the night before I adopted him, I went to an Aimee Mann show at Berklee in Boston, which brings this blog full circle.

Amy Hempel on training dogs and writers

A few months ago I sat down with Amy Hempel, to talk about her new collection The Dog of the Marriage. As might be expected, we talked mostly about dogs. “It’s crucial for me to have a life outside of writing,” she said. And for quite a while, that life has included training seeing eye dogs. She talks about training dogs and teaching writers in the following excerpt from the piece I wrote for the Westchester Journal News:

“In the stories,” she adds, “there’s the one story that has a lot of the guide dog training in it, but I hadn’t started the training with the intention of writing about it.” Part of the power of Hempel’s deceptively simple work on the page is that the details of her character’s lives seem so casual and familiar, it’s hard not to believe that every word is utterly true. But Hempel never loses track of the boundaries between life and art.

“I know where one ends and the other begins. I use a lot of real places to literally ground the work,” she explains. “I use a lot of things I know, that have happened to me or to friends. There’s also a huge element of each story that is imagined. The only thing I worry about—which is what I’ve worried about since the beginning—is ‘Is the writing good?’ I don’t worry about ‘revealing’ something personal because there’s nothing I could write about that would not be familiar to a million other people. The concern really is just ‘Is the writing good?’”

It’s a lesson she shares with students at The New School, Bennington and, for the spring semester, Columbia University. Asked if there are any comparisons to be made teaching writing and training dogs, Hempel pauses for just a moment, considering her words. “With dog training, you’re never supposed to issue a command until you’ve gotten the dog’s full attention. I think that my human students come in with their attention more focused than puppy students.” Hempel considers herself a late bloomer in the writing game—“I was thirty-three, I think, when my first book came out”—and actually suffered the humiliation of being cut from an anthology of writers under thirty when it was discovered she had just passed the qualifying age. No regrets. “It’s not a bad thing, is it,” she asks, “to have done a few things—and then write?”

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Me and My Brando

Originally uploaded by kfoz.
Who has a bigger head?

Monday, May 16, 2005

Class Dissection Of Live Dog Outrages Parents, Students

(Note: I've been going back and forth about posting this, because it is so disgusting. But I've added the contact info for the school principal and superintendent at the end, so write to them if this turns your stomach too.)

A biology class lesson in Gunnison, Utah involving the dissection of a live dog has outraged some parents and students, according to a report.

"I thought that it would be just really a good experience if they could see the digestive system in the living animal," Biology teacher Doug Bierregaard said. Biology teacher Doug Bjerregaard, who is a substitute teacher at Gunnison Valley High School, wanted his students to see how the digestive system of a dog worked. Bjerregaard made arrangements for his students to be a part of a dissection of a dog that was still alive.

The dog was still alive, but the teacher said it was sedated before the dissection began. With the students watching, the sedated dog's digestive system was removed. "It just makes me sick and I don't think this should go on anywhere and nobody's learning from it," student Sierra Sears said. The teacher said the lesson would allow students to see the organs actually working. "I thought that it would be just really a good experience if they could see the digestive system in the living animal," Bierregaard said.

The school's principal, Kirk Anderson, said notifications went to parents explaining the dog was going to be euthanized and that the experiment would be done with the dog's organs still functioning. The teacher is standing by his decision and calls it the ultimate educational experience. Principal Anderson said he supports the lesson and it will be allowed to continue because the students are learning. The dog used in the experiment was going to be euthanized despite the class project.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Here's the contact info to give them your 2-cents:

Gunnison Valley High School
35 East 600 S
Gunnison UT 84934

Principal Kirk Anderson:


School Board members e-mails here:

Joyce Wadler's Fiction

Joyce Wadler--who was until recently the official New York Times gossip columnist--has turned her hand to fiction. What's most surprising is that it is the kind of work--like that of E.L. Doctorow or Caleb Carr, whose apartment she recently profiled--that cleverly mixes real people and real events with her own wacked-out imagination. Even wackier, she's convinced the Times to run these little short stories as if they were actual news items.

Her most recent piece, ”A Tale of Diamonds and Mud”, takes the form of a sympathy plea from Dede Wilsey, who feels she isn't treated nicely in her stepson Sean Wilsey's hilarious book Oh The Glory of It All, which will be published this week by Penguin Press.

My favorite moment comes when Dede channels Dynasty-era Joan Collins to answer a question about how close she is to Sean: "We have seen each other constantly since Sean got out of his last lockup school," she says. How charming.

Or this tidbit regarding how she's saving every clipping regarding the book's publication: "I'm saving these Chronicles for my new puppy's bathroom, so they're becoming very valuable to me. Little Twinkle is going to tinkle on this." Classy!

She's certainly not portrayed as a heroine in the book, but at least her stepson makes her entertaining.

Wadler, meanwhile, seems bitter at having not been allowed access to what she describes as Sean Wilsey's "TriBeCa loft, a very handsome loft according to those who have seen it." I actually have seen it, and it isn't located anywhere near TriBeCa. Oddly, Wadler's slippery grip on reality doesn't stop her from questioning the truth of Wilsey's memoir.

Oh, those gals! Dede and Joyce, what a pair. I can't wait to invite them to my next gala party!!

Salon Online Classes

I keep saying that I'm not going to be doing much this summer, but apparently I am lying. I'm also teaching two courses via this summer: a fiction course (due to start at the end of the week, but possibly moving a bit later due the holiday) and a Personal Essay course beginning in June. I taught with Salon for the first time this past Spring and had an interesting group of students. One of them got a story accepted for publication within two weeks of finishing the class!

You can see the whole list of Salon summer writing classes here.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Call for submissions: Location/Dislocation

This summer I'll be guest editing a special issue of the Mississippi Review. The theme is Location/Dislocation and the issue will now appear in two versions: an online edition in July, followed by a print edtion in September. I've always been a sucker for stories with a strong sense of place, where the location becomes a character or a force that the characters have to respond to in some way. I'm still working out the plans for how much the work will overlap in the two editions, but meanwhile, if you are interested in submitting, more details can be found at the Mississippi Review website.

Aimee Mann and F. Scott Fitzgerald

Aimee Mann has always been one of my favorite songwriters, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that she is also far better read than I am. I got a chance to talk to her about a month ago for a long feature piece in the summer issue of Playlist, an iPod oriented magazine from the people behind MacWorld. Her new disc, The Forgotten Arm, is, as usual, fantastic, although I'm worried that the idea of it being a concept album might needlessly scare people away.

While the Playlist piece is more about musical craft and technology, today I review the disc on the book page of The Westchester Journal News. They aren't posting my contributions on their website lately, so you have to buy the paper to get whole thing, but here are a few excerpts.

"With her just released disc “The Forgotten Arm” Mann pushes into new territory, stripping things down on the production end, and setting up the twelve song cycle as a “novella in stories.” As a package, everything is gorgeous and gritty, much like the music contained inside. You won’t find Mann’s image on the front cover, which instead features two men boxing in a ruddy-hued drawing reminiscent of an old dime store novel. Inside, the lyrics are reprinted in an elaborate, illustrated chapter book. “If I expect people to buy it,” Mann says, “ I don’t want them to have to deal with a crappy jewel box.” And since founding Untied Musicians with husband Michael Penn and manager Michael Hausman, she can deliver her music to fans in exactly the format she wants...

“F. Scott Fitzgerald,” Mann admits when asked about literary influences. "The Basil and Josephine Stories . Those stories are connected through character, but there isn’t a cohesive plot line that comes through the whole thing. Also, Pat Hobby Stories.” But don’t expect Mann to ever write a book. “It’s a skill,” she says with a degree of awe. “To impart information in a certain way with a certain style that’s invisible. I’ve known people who write fantastic letters that are cohesive and entertaining and then they try their hand at fiction and it all falls apart. I can’t even write an email. It’s too hard, putting paragraphs together. I don’t know how people do it. My mind works best in the three-minute form. I’m good at boiling stories down to short sentences, but I’m really bad at expanding them beyond that point.”

The influence may be Fitzgerald, but the effect is more like the late Raymond Carver on songs like “I Can’t Get My Head Around It” and “I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up For Christmas,” in which John first confesses his skepticism about love and twelve-step programs, and later offers to get clean for a few weeks as a parting gift to Caroline. “Four more weeks that couldn’t make any difference,” he says. “Except maybe to you.”

(The whole piece runs 1000 words, so if you want more and live in the NYC area, you can go find it today...)