Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holiday movie triple feature

A friend and I decided to catch up on movies, which is a difficult task now that there is no movie theater in downtown New Orleans. It is also difficult given the extra-long running time of most holiday films. So our triple feature was spread out over 24 hours. We began Sunday night with "It's Complicated" at the Prytania uptown. I wasn't expecting much--Nancy Myers seems to be the kind of writer-director who goes for big concepts rather than finding any real nuance or character. But the Prytania is a great, single screen theater with digital projection, so I'd go see almost anything there. The surprise was...I actually liked the movie. It made me laugh, and strangest of all, Alec Baldwin was terrific (although playing a creep). I went home and dreamt that Meryl Streep had to sign off on my dissertation.

Day 2 begain in the burbs at 3:05 for "Up in the Air." We were at the Elmwood AMC, and the place was packed with people trying to get into the IMAX screening of "Avatar," which made me cross that film from my list. I had high hopes for "Up in the Air" but it left me kind of flat. George Clooney was great. Vera Farmiga was even better. And there are some funny scenes. But the premise seemed foggy and unconvincing. There were scenes and plot twists that would only make sense to someone trying to self-consciously construct a meaningful narrative. I didn't buy it. And worse, what was there to buy? The lesson seemed to be: "Don't ever consider becoming sincere and entering the real world; anyone who seems real to you is actually faking it." I thought I was a cynic, but I guess I like if I'm going for cynicism I'll take in a less frothy form than "Up in the Air."

Technical problems (Elmwood is always having technical problems) delayed the start of "Up in the Air" by fifteen minutes, so we had to run out on the credits and take our seats at "The Young Victoria" which had already begun. This was a movie I really didn't expect much from, although it had some great reviews. And the first scenes were stiff and costume-y. UGH, why had I thought I wanted to see this? But then, scene by scene, it came to life. I've never been a big fan of Emily Blunt, but she's terrific. And the supporting cast has actors I either haven't seen in a while (Miranda Richardson) or never at all (Rupert Friend). By the end I found myself completely identifying with Queen Victoria--and that's pretty strange, but in a good way.

So now I'm looking this over seeing that I've allowed myself to break all of my own rules for criticism, including the annoying overuse of the first person. Maybe I'll come back later and correct that. Maybe while I'm at it I'll italicize the titles rather than putting them, incorrectly, in quotes. On the other hand, maybe not.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Did I mention I was mugged?

I keep meaning to return to more active blogging, but I've been so busy with teaching, The Sula Foundation and...well, being mugged, that I haven't had a chance to do much more than post on my Twitter and Facebook pages. So feel free to follow along there.

But, back to the mugging. On October 17th we were working a table at the Barkmarket edition of the Bywater Art Market. I had the proofs of the Pit Bulls of New Orleans calendar, and needed to get them to the graphic designer for some changes. Since she lived just a few blocks away, and it was only 2:30 in the afternoon, and the weather was gorgeous, I decided to walk them over to her house. On the way there, I ran into a friend outside of her house, someone I used to see regularly back when I still lived in the neighborhood and walked my dogs past her house everyday. We stood and talked for quite a while, and I remember thinking, "This is why I should have driven--I'll just keep talking to people and this simple errand will take forever." At this point, I was approaching the intersection of Dauphine and Press Streets, just a few blocks from NOCCA, where I teach. Ahead of me, on the other side of the intersection, there was a group of teenagers on bikes. They were spread out on both sides of the street, with their backs to me. It seemed they were waiting for someone to come down the street from the other direction. If I had been planning to walk that far, I would have found a way to bypass them, but I didn't worry about it, because I was already turning up Press.

In the green space along the train tracks, two stray dogs looked up from the distance and began charging at me. Then someone clubbed me on the right side of my head and I fell hard onto the middle of the street. Soon there were several kids on top of me, hands in my pockets, asking "What have you got?" They took my iPhone, and left as the dogs continued barking at them. The dogs turned out to belong to two additional former neighbors, and when they realized what had happened, they called the police. I, of course, continued on my errand, since there was little chance of a speedy response from the police. Then, after speaking briefly with the cops when they turned up, I returned to the market, then went onto the hospital for an MRI (I was bleeding from my ear), and stopped into a fundraiser hours later on my way home.

The police, of course, have done nothing. It took multiple calls and complaints before the detective would meet with me; she then took all of my time to tell me that it was a difficult job she had to do and she really didn't want to bother with a case involving teenagers. Meanwhile, I'd heard from people all over the neighborhood that this same group of kids had been causing trouble all over. Some people even knew where the kids lived. Others could identify them. She wasn't interested. In fact, she didn't even bother taking any of this information down.

A few days later, I noticed that the incident hadn't even been reported on our districts email alert system. After pointing this out, they sent an account that bore no factual relationship to the actual events. I sent a correction. They emailed a revised report that also had most of the facts wrong. I emailed again. They sent a third version that was, at least, closer to the truth but still incorrect. I gave up.

Now, more than two months later, I still have hearing loss in my right ear and will have to repair the eardrum with a skin graft procedure.

The crime, according to the NOPD, was not a violent one.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Brando begins therapy

Brando continues to get older, in spite of all my efforts. In fact, we'll be celebrating nine years together in January. But being a large dog with tall legs, he's started to have issues with his joints. In "Dogs I Have Met" I wrote about the success we had with Adequan injections. But three years later, we're augmenting that with some other therapies, including acupuncture and the use of an underwater treadmill (at Dag's House.)

In this video, Brando begins his first treadmill session. Remarkably, he got into the tank on his own, had no concerns as the water rose from the bottom and surrounded him, and hesitated only for a second when the treadmill began to roll. Still, you can see the look on his face which seems to be asking "Why?"

In the next clip, we get a side view, which looks a little like something from a science fiction movie. But you can also see how much range of motion he has while underwater. The idea is to maintain and redevelop atrophied muscles, so that the effects of the deteriorated joints will not be as severe.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Have you ordered your Sula calendar yet?

Babe was found wandering the Lower Ninth Ward last fall after we returned from a hurricane evacuation. (He had formed a pack with the English bulldogs Harold and Maude, who we also rescued.) Babe was fostered at Zeus' Place and there he fell in love with Charity and her beagle, Hubig Pie. So, of course, they're all living together now. In this shot from our 2010 Calendar, Babe makes a very confident first visit to a bar. (And somehow manages to look twice his actual size.)

If you haven't ordered your calendar yet, get on it! And pick up a few for your family and friends too.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

You can buy my childhood today, at auction

Brando has moved on from sniffing the boxes that arrived from Pennsylvania a little over a week ago. Now he has simply taken possession of an old blanket that I'd used in packing some of the items. Wherever the blanket is, Brando plants himself on top of it and refuses to move, which makes me wish I'd taken more from my parents' house before today's auction. I've been pouring over the items that will be on sale, and thinking "Wait, that's still there? I thought someone had taken it!" And yet, realistically, I have no need for cut glass or silver tea services.

I do wish I'd remembered to take my Italian Annie Hall poster, or the Andy Warhol coke bottles, or my Rembrandt reproduction etchings. Yet, I do not need them. And still it is strange to see them listed as part of the sale.

Things I did remember to take: My Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car; a green glass insulator collected from an old power line; my Keith Haring inflatable baby; our dog's obedience certificate.

A friend here in New Orleans asked if I had done a final walk through before leaving last month. I did not. At the time, I still hadn't decided whether I'd be coming back for the sale, and we were anticipating that the house itself would be on the market for quite a while before we found a buyer. But yesterday we were surprised with an offer, and accepted it. So, now it really is done, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Brando remembers my parents

When he was a puppy, Brando used to visit my parents house quite often. It was a nice break from the social pressures of a Manhattan dog park. Later, when we moved away, he would sniff any envelope or package that my mother sent, and run to the door or window to see if she was there. Today a truck arrived with furniture and art and books from my now deceased parents' house. And this is what happened:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I'll be speaking on a panel at Temple University on Wednesday October 28th

What: Temple Student Animal Legal Defense Fund presents a panel discussion on dog fighting in the city of Philadelphia. The discussion will highlight how the issue of dog fighting affects the city’s animals and people alike and what is being done to combat dog fighting in the city. Panelists will discuss the breeds commonly involved, what dog fighters typically breed for, misconceptions of the breed and owners, as well as commentary on the dog fighting bust involving Michael Vick and the rehabilitation of the recovered Vick dogs.

Temple SALDF seeks to raise awareness about the issue of dog fighting and discuss the impact it has on the community.

Who: Panelists include:

* Ken Foster, author of best-selling memoir “The Dogs Who Found Me” and founder of the Sula Foundation in New Orleans;
* Jim Gorant, Senior Editor at Sports Illustrated who reported on the seized Michael Vick Dogs which also inspired his upcoming book
* Marisa Scully, dog behaviorist and certified pet trainer
* Leigh Siegfried, a certified pet dog trainer and owner of Opportunity Barks Behavior & Training, who worked with eleven of the seized Michael Vick Dogs.
* George Bengal, PSPCA Animal Control Officer involved in dog fighting raids

Where: Moot Court Room, Klein Hall, Temple University, 1719 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, 19122

When: October 28, 2009 – 7pm
RSVP to: Samantha.Jones@temple.edu

Buy a calendar, help a pit bull

I spent the past few weekends working with two photographers to create the Sula Foundation's 2010 Pit Bulls of New Orleans Calendar. And my back is killing me from hunching over the keyboard with a designer all day Sunday. But the result is pretty fine--and its always fun dragging people around town with me as we scout models and locations.
Just $18 plus $4.95 postage, with proceeds going to continue The Sula Foundation's work. You can use the PayPal button below, or send a check to The Sula Foundation, PO Box 3780, New Orleans, LA 70117.

Calendar plus shipping

Friday, October 09, 2009

Sarah Vowell, New Orleans Film Festival, and a busy busy October

I keep meaning to find the time to write interesting posts on here. I really do. But my schedule has been so nuts that there's no time for it. None at all.

For example, last Friday my old classmate Meghan Daum came to town and visited my NOCCA students for a master class in the afternoon. That evening I ran uptown to a party hosted by Tom Beller for Meghan and others participating in a symposium on the personal essay. Also there: Phillip Lopate, Jonathan Ames, and many friends and colleagues. I ended up staying quite a bit later than I intended. I spent the next day working The Sula Foundation's vaccination clinic, where we had over 30 dogs come for low-cost shots, and signed up about ten for free spay/neuter.

Something happened Sunday, but I don't know what. Oh, I spent most of the say working on the pit bull calendar for 2010. Then, Monday and Tuesday, I switched my workout schedule so I'd have time later in the week, because last night was the kickoff for the New Orleans Film Festival, which runs for the next seven days, and today we have a visit from Sarah Vowell, who will also be speaking tonight at 8pm at NOCCA.

And yesterday, movers arrived at my parents' former house in PA to load up the things I'm taking. Now that seems very strange. I'll be living in a house with furniture and art from my childhood. Something to write about, when I get the time.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Help restore Shawn Hall's 500 small oil paintings

My friend and former neighbor Shawn Hall is raising money to restore a group of 500 small paintings that were damaged in storage. Her work is amazing, and if you help her out with a donation, you'll receive a print from the collection:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Vote for Doug in BAD RAP's My Dog is Family Photo Contest

My Doug is competing in Bad Rap's calendar contest. You can vote for him, or any of the other dogs in the running, by going to: My Dog is Family Photo Contest.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

"Albino": a new short story at Guernica Magazine

Four years ago in October, I returned to New Orleans and began volunteering every day at a warehouse on the Westbank that had been set up as a temporary shelter for the Louisiana SPCA. One of the many dogs that showed up was an albino Doberman that a man brought in after coaxing it into his car. The dog had been showing up at his house on a regular basis and wasn't very friendly, but the man gained his trust and brought him in, and then put a sign up along the Westbank Expressway to try to find his owner. Meanwhile, a young volunteer at the shelter recognized the dog--a friend of hers had a photo of the very same dog that had been given to her by a young man that came to clean her pool. I was fascinated by the fact that we had all of these clues to the origins of this dog, yet no one could make a connection. The dog itself was a bit wild; he seemed unpredictable, although one of the staff discovered that he had been taught with hand signals. It was possible that the dog was deaf, which would also explain why he was so freaked out at everything that had unfolded around him.

The owner was never found. The dog was sent to a sanctuary. And four years later, here is a totally fictionalized account inspired by the mysterious albino dog.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Annie from Oklahoma

Here's Annie from Oklahoma. She's dog #3 in the video posted earlier on this blog. She was transferred to the custody of The Sula Foundation last week, and arrived in New Orleans Saturday at midnight. Among many other neglected medical needs, she must have at least five teeth extracted due to fractures. We're taking small contributions toward this expense via Fundable.com.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Long Goodbye

Yesterday I finally booked a ticket back home for the internment of my parents' ashes and I was kicking and screaming the whole way. We've had the date set for quite a while, but I just could not get around to confirming a flight. Then, as I searched for fares the past few days, I became crabbier and crabbier, lost sleep at night, and yet could not pinpoint why I was feeling this way. Then it hit me--it was all about the ticket, and the ticket was all about this final step that I do not want to take.

The past month has been one in which I've really tried to snap out of it. My parents were both diagnosed in the summer of 2007. My mom passed away in March of 2008. We had a memorial for her in June of that year. My dad followed her this past March, and we hired the same tent, rented the same chairs and invited everyone back to the house again in June. So, in August, I started organizing my life, picking up unfinished errands that had stalled out two years ago. I framed some art that had been collecting dust in my spare room. I bought a scooter to get around town. And I started back to the gym, which has been more difficult, in some ways, than the rest of it. Last night, my trainer was trying to figure out the puzzle of my right arm, which doesn't want to lift in a straight line and instead goes off to the side every time. She wondered if I had an injury. No, I insisted. And then, in the middle of another set of reps, I burst out laughing. "I broke my right clavicle," I explained, wondering how I'd forgotten that painful injury. The mind plays powerful tricks on us.

Now we have this final ceremony, and on Halloween, we'll have the estate sale and the material part of this process will almost be over.

And here I am, blogging again, even if my parents are no longer here to read it. Or to scold me.

Meet the Oklahoma dozen

A few weeks ago, I spent 24 hours in Oklahoma, where I met up with Tim Racer from Bad Rap to help with assessments on a dozen dogs that were confiscated earlier this summer as part of a large federal investigation. We're still keeping most of the details under wraps until the dogs who passed arrive at their new foster destinations. But in this clip you can see the whole group of dogs, just after we arrived at the facility.

For more information, visit The Sula Foundation.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I'm fat--and other recent discoveries

My gosh. Didn't I say I would be blogging with more frequency rather than less? And then, in the blink of an eye, three weeks pass without a peep from me.

But it's been a busy three weeks. Today we start back again at NOCCA, where I'll be teaching full-time through October. And since my time will be filled up with all of that, I've been trying to get a few things settled at home. I even started going back to the gym, working with a trainer, trying to get into better shape because...well, I spent the summer getting fat. And it is the horrific kind of fat that sneaks up on you. I'd been doing well at the beginning of the year, running around with Doug/Buddy. But then my dad passed away in March, and my yard doubled in size in May and the combination allowed me to wallow in grief in my bedroom, or sit on the deck watching the dogs as they played. And I got fat.

And, of course, I've been busy with all the Sula Foundation foster dogs, many of whom have found their way to new homes in the past month. And last week I made a trip to the midwest to get a closer look at some of the dogs taken in during a massive federal dogfighting bust. But more on that later, as we're allowed to release more details.

So here I am, still in bed, making a list of the things I'll need to run home and finish at the end of the day--a revision due on a story, notes for my online students, laundry, laundry, laundry.

And probably a little more grief.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


This is how most of the day is spent now that Buddy has moved in. Brando can't get enough of him. My favorite moment in this clip is when Buddy looks up in the sky (following an insect, I think) and reveals his irresistible jowls.

There is a name change in the works; Buddy seems to prefer to be called Douglas.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Nearly 400 dogs seized in fighting ring

Nearly 400 dogs have been seized in a fighting ring in Missouri, Iowa and Illinois. This story broke earlier this week, and it seems the perfect topic to relaunch my blogging on a regular basis. This is the largest dog bust in US history--and the arrested individuals include a registered nurse, an employee of a school for the handicapped and a public school employee. In a way, this is great news--because it dispels the notion that dogfighters are only a "certain kind of person" or that it is limited to "urban" environments. There's no telling how long it will take for the trial to run its course. The dogs, meanwhile, will be held as evidence. PETA, of course, has come out with a statement urging that all of the dogs be euthanized without evaluation. But they will be evaluated. And they will try to find responsible organizations to take those we evaluate well. But I'm afraid that with that many dogs, it will be hard to find placement for all of them.

The Sula Foundation has already decided that when the time comes, we will take one or two dogs. Why, when there are so many dogs that we cannot take? Because the dogs deserve a chance, and up til now they haven't had one. And because saving a few of them will also offer the chance to educate people regarding the nature of dogs, and the nature of dogfighting. (And then, too, there is the example of Katrina, when many of these same organizations came together to save our New Orleans dogs.)

More important, The Humane Society of Missouri needs donations to help keep the dogs comfortable while they await their fate. Donations of sheets, towels, blankets, shredded newspapers and sturdy toys to its St. Louis headquarters, as well as donations to its fund for investigating animal cruelty. 1201 Macklind Avenue St. Louis, MO 63110

Here are some links to news of the bust:

St. Louis Today

Humane Society of Missouri
(with links to donate and more news links)

Friday, June 26, 2009

The new dog in the house

Okay, so Buddy is still here. Brando loves him and spends a good part of each day carefully kissing and grooming him. Sula likes to chase him around the yard. And Zephyr is happy to have anyone around. Of course, it doesn't hurt that I like him too. Here's a short video I took yesterday with a new Flip camera.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Another eight week online course at Mediabistro

I've been so busy this summer that I haven't had time to really post much of anything on this blog. But, in the meantime, if anyone is interested, another round of personal essay starts this week:


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tuesday July 7th: The Dollar Store Show comes to New Orleans

On Tuesday July 7th, the Dollar Store Show comes to New Orleans, and I'll be one of the featured writers. What is the Dollar Store Show? It started in Chicago, and all of my Chicago writer friends have been talking about it for years. Each of the evenings writers is sent an item from a Dollar store, and you have five minutes to tell a story that somehow springs from that item. (Or not.) I'll be joining New Orleans writers Pia Z. Earhardt and Michael Patrick Welch, along with a traveling troop of Dollar Store veterans: Aaron Burch, Blake Butler, Zach Dodson, Amelia Gray, Mary Hamilton, Jac Jemc, Caroline Picard.

Tuesday July 7th, 8pm
The Allways Lounge
2240 St. Claude Avenue

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The End of Whitney Bank

For me, anyway. I've been a Whitney customer since just after Hurricane Katrina, when my previous, friendly bank, Hibernia, was bought out by Capital One. I had a number of lost deposits and other strange incidents, so I moved everything to Whitney, because I wanted to support a local institution. I opened a savings account, and when the Sula Foundation was formed, the account was at Whitney as well. And I did all of this in spite of relatively small incidents that should have shaken my confidence, but for some reason did not. For example, the paperwork for the Sula account was filed incorrectly, then had to be redone. And the savings account was opened incorrectly and mistakenly given a checking account number instead of a savings number. Then there was trouble accessing the Sula account online, which required multiple phone calls and registrations and still doesn't work. In fact, there seemed to be a general lack of knowledge of exactly how to open any accounts.

But they were generally nice people. And it was local.

But this week, I deposited a fairly large check, and the following day discovered an erroneously negative balance in my account. In seemed that a hold had been placed on the entire amount of the check, and then the entire amount had been deducted from my balance. A double hold. So I called and the first person I spoke to thought that deducted the amount of a deposit made sense. I explained why it did not. Then I asked that someone call me back to correct the situation. No one called. Finally I got a hold of someone at a few minutes before 4pm on a Friday. Incredibly rude, the woman explained that a hold would remain on the deposit for eight days, and that no portion of the amount would released until then. I've never had a deposit in which no portion of the funds were available for nearly two weeks. But the rude woman explained that since the bank the check was drawn on was unfamiliar to them, they had no way of knowing if the amount would clear. This is nonsense. They do have access to this information, and the obscure bank she was dealing with was The Bank of New York. She suggested that I contact the Bank of New York myself, and obtain confirmation that the funds had cleared, and then they might credit my account. And I will do that. And then I'll withdraw all of my money, redirect my direct deposit, and do business somewhere else.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Luna, the latest foster dog

Luna came to The Sula Foundation after being held for four months as evidence in a court case. Now she's learning to play. To learn more about The Sula Foundation, go to www.sulafoundation.org. To see more adoptable Sula dogs, go to sula.petfinder.com.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The High Cost of Breed Discriminatory Legislation

Last week, our friends at Best Friends launched a new campaign and a new tool to fight misguided breed specific legislation. The highlight is a link to an online database that provides charts, graphs, and figures regarding how much it would cost to enforce a pit bull ban in your city.

New Orleans comes in at 750,000 dollars a year, but I think that estimate is low. Other cities: NYC would cost nearly 13 million annually; even Abbeville, AL comes in at over $4,000 for less than 3000 residents. Wouldn't this money be more useful if it was spent enforcing existing laws regarding responsible pet ownership? And maybe even some education? Or...how about free spay/neuter service?

You can check out the online calculator here.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A new yard, a new set of trees...a new security system

I keep thinking that I'll get back to posting more frequently but things have been hectic since the semester ended almost two weeks ago. First I went home to sort through some things with my family and then I returned to a bunch of projects that I'm trying to get done in the few weeks I have before summer school begins.

So first I had Green Bean come and spray closed cell foam beneath the house to close off all the air that was sinking out of the house in summer and blowing up through the floor in winter. The difference is remarkable, and once I made the commitment to get it done, the process was only about two hours, with little to no fumes.

Then came the BIG project: moving our eight-foot high side fence (about 110 feet long), which was built less than two years ago, to our new property line, about thirty-five feet away. This involved dismantling the whole thing and carefully reconstructing it piece by piece. Good thing someone else was doing the work. But there were unexpected complications: the cement that had been put down to keep the poles in place required quit a bit of jackhammering, and the enormous trees along the rear property line made it impossible to build the fence there. So we brought the fence in about eight-feet, creating a little storage area between it and the existing chain-link fence that is now part of the trees.

Meanwhile, I was frantically trying to plant some trees while I could still, technically, claim to have come in under the May deadline for getting things in the ground. So, I added three new crepe myrtles, a mulberry tree, an avocado, and few others, digging every morning before eight, when it became too hot to continue.

Sula, of course, wanted no part of any of this, and has been defiantly camped out in my bedroom through all of this work. Last night and again this morning, she finally stepped outside and ran and ran and ran around the huge new yard, stopping only to roll on her back and then start over again. See, I told her, it is a good thing.

And now we'll be installing a seven camera surveillance system before taking a renovation break for the rest of the summer.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Brando and Zephyr get their DNA analyzed

We've been selling DNA tests as a fundraiser for The Sula Foundation, so of course I had to break down and test my Brando. For years I have called him a pit bull/Dane mix, but I really have no idea, and I am pretty sure that an actual pit bull/Dane would be somewhat different than my mysterious Brando. The test (www.canineheritage.com) uses a swab inside the mouth and tests 100 breeds. Brando was very patient has I swabbed his cheek, but he had that look on his face that says, "I have no idea why you are doing this, but it must be important."

The test results can be tricky. If the dog is truly a mutt, it is possible that there is no primary or even secondary breed. Also, they don't release any results for "American Pit Bull Terrier" because they say the term is applied to too many different types of dog and also because they don't want the test used against a dog in court. (They do test for Bulldog, Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and some other related dogs.) I also uploaded a photo of Brando for them to print on his certificate. I had seem some skepticism online regarding the submission of photos. Did they look at the photos and guess the breed, rather than actually testing the DNA? So I swabbed Zephyr as well, and submitted the sample without a photo. Between the two of them, Zephyr was the dog with a more obvious ancestry, so she made a great blind test.

The results:

Brando has not had a pure breed in his family for at least three generations, but there were traces of Mastiff, Bullmastiff and English Coonhound.

Zephyr has no primary breed, but has Rottweiler as a secondary breed, with some German Shepherd and German Shorthaired Pointer.

We still have a few DNA kits available at $99.95--a discount from the retail price of $120. If you are interested, email sulafoundation@gmail.com

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Yes, I'm on Twitter

I'm still trying to figure out what to blog, what to Facebook and what to Twitter. But if you Twitter (or even if you don't) you can follow me there.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

More Dog Day on Julia

Here's video from our Dog Day on Julia Street. The gallery will be open tonight from 6-8pm, and the show runs through May 23rd. Robert Tannen will be donating 50% of sales of his ball portraits to The Sula Foundation!

And yes, I do look awful. But doesn't Gus look great?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dog Day on Julia Street: Friday May 1st

Friday May 1st
527 Julia Street

Celebrate the life of Rocky with your four-legged friends. Attend the first-ever dog-friendly art show on Julia Street. See Robert Tannen’s “A Show of Balls,” sure to be a hit with Fido. Also visit “Rocky’s Ballroom.” Low-hanging art, water, and lots of balls. Treats for dogs and their humans.

Rocky was a 65 pound pit/lab mix. Twenty percent of the proceeds from art sales during the show will benefit the Sula Foundation for local rescue pits.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Still here

Last weekend I went home to go through things--to begin to go through things--with my brother and sister at my parents house. I was gone for three days. It felt like months, and I'm still feeling discombobulated and off-kilter.

Meanwhile, Buddy is still here, and as you can see, he has managed to sneak his way into the bed. Brando cleans his ears morning and night, and I have to say, its pretty good having him around. But my back is killing me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Advanced Personal Essay Writing with Ken Foster at Mediabistro.com

Beginning April 28th, an eight week online course "for experienced essayists who want to dig deeper."

Readers and editors seem to love the personal essay -- so why is writing them sometimes such a challenge? How can we expand on the personal aspects to achieve something with a more universal meaning? And what can we do when the well seems to have run dry?

This intensive 8-week online class is for experienced students who are ready to dig deeper and demand more from themselves and each other. We'll be looking at examples of published work in magazines and anthologies and discussing how they succeed. Students will generate and workshop short drafts of new ideas -- and work on revising longer work that has you stuck.

In this class, you will learn:

How to identify what makes your experience compelling for others
How to explore the hidden narratives that can and should shape your work
How to use "ordinary" details and events to create extraordinary insights
How to reshape your tale using the techniques of fiction while retaining the integrity of the truth
How to approach editors and submit your work
By the end of the course, you will have:
Five short pieces with notes on how to expand them into essays and at least one complete and salable personal essay

Students who have taken this class have been published in:
The New York Times, Modern Love, Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Self, Runner's World, the San Francisco Chronicle, and more

Sign up at http://www.mediabistro.com/courses/cache/crs4511.asp?c=mbsoccrs

Monday, April 06, 2009

Marley and Me film features "The Kind I'm Likely to Get"

About a year ago, I signed a release for the use of my book of stories, The Kind I'm Likely to Get, in the film of Marley and Me. This amused me, since there are no dogs in the book that I can remember, but my own dog books weren't the proper time period for the film, so they picked the stories. If nothing else, this guaranteed that I would buy a ticket to the film, just to see if my book made it onto the screen. So, last December, I drove out to the suburbs for a matinee, and once the movie started I remembered that, even if the movie was no good at all, it was bound to make me sob like a baby. I began to panic.

The film, it turned out, wasn't bad at all. And I sobbed at least three times, beginning with a montage of how the dog and the character's lives blur together over the course of a year. Of course, it isn't perfect either, and I found myself missing the dog an awful lot during some of the scenes in the later part of the film. And that's when "The Kind I'm Likely to Get" popped up. Jennifer Aniston suffers from post-partum depression and orders Owen Wilson to take the dog to live somewhere else. Later, when he comes home from dropping the dog with a friend, he finds Aniston asleep on the couch with my book in her lap. She wakes up, suddenly recovered from her condition, and announces that the dog can come home.

So there you have it--my stories are a cure-all.

The movie is available on DVD now.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

For anyone who doubts that the media misreports dog bites

From NBCBayArea.com:

Subhead: Small wound wouldn't stop bleeding

So, the woman was bitten by a Rottweiler and then bled to death? Well, no, neither of those things is true:

An 80-year-old Alameda woman died at a hospital this week several days after she was bitten in the hand by a dog while feeding it a dog biscuit, an Alameda police sergeant said. McNiff said it appears a neighborhood dog nipped Newell's index finger as she fed it a biscuit in the area of the Harbor Bay Landing Shopping Center.
Dolly Newell, who had lived in the city for more than 40 years, was walking her 3-year-old Rottweiler between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday when the incident occurred, police Sgt. Kevin McNiff said. Newell, who lives on Garden Road on Bay Farm Island, knows many other dogs in the neighborhood and often greets them. McNiff said it appears a neighborhood dog nipped Newell's index finger as she fed it a biscuit in the area of the Harbor Bay Landing Shopping Center. The wound would not stop bleeding and Newell got a ride from a neighbor to a local hospital, McNiff said. However, she initially told both her neighbor and hospital staff she injured her finger while gardening.
Newell was released from the hospital after receiving a stitch and later confided in her neighbor, saying she had been bitten by a dog, McNiff said. She told the neighbor that the dog had all its shots but would not describe the animal.
"She told her friend she didn't want the dog to get in trouble," McNiff said. On Monday, friends of Newell found her in serious condition on the bathroom floor of her home. She was taken to the hospital where she died Tuesday of an aggressive bacterial infection, McNiff said.
He said police were notified of the incident Tuesday and have since interviewed family and friends of Newell.
Anyone who may have witnessed the Saturday incident is asked to call Sgt. Don Owyang at 510-337-8319. McNiff said police are seeking the dog and its owner to confirm certain details of the case and that the owner is not in trouble.

Friday, April 03, 2009

I am... The Dogfather!!

The current issue of Gambit features a story on the Sula Foundation. This photo, by reporter Noah Bonaparte Pais, shows me cradling little (but full grown) Roosevelt. Thank you Gambit!

Friday, March 20, 2009

William Hepler Foster, 1932-2009

My father passed away last night, one day short of the anniversary of my mother's death last year and two days short of what would have been their fiftieth anniversary. He had been diagnosed with emphysema in 2007, shortly before my mother's own diagnosis of aplastic anemia, which took her life.

The past year was difficult for him, and for all of us. He learned to use a checkbook--something my mother always took care of--and he acquired a cat, who he named Rex. But a few weeks ago he began to have trouble breathing, and entered extended care with plans to move back home once homecare had been arranged. I was due to fly up to Pennsylvania next week, and spoke to him by phone yesterday afternoon. He was having a lot of difficulty with his voice, and apologized for not being able to speak for long. I told him not to worry--that we would see each other next week and that would make it easier, even if his voice wasn't strong. And I sensed that this could be our last conversation.

More later...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Five years ago...

myadorablesula, originally uploaded by kfoz.

I found Sula March 17th, 2004. And it has been pure drama ever since. But look at that face.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

How many times have you been asked: “What kind of dog is that?”

Now you can answer.

With the Canine Heritage DNA test, your mixed breed is scientifically identified against over 100 breeds. The test retails for $120.00, but through a special arrangement, The Sula Foundation is offering the test for $99.95, with 25% of the proceeds going to support the Sula Foundation’s medical fund for treating stray pit bulls and supporting free spay/neuter services and low-cost vaccination clinics. The test kits are available beginning March 20th at Canine Culture and Canine Connection, and also at these upcoming “Swab-a-thon” events:

Saturday March 21st, Bywater “Barkmarket” 9am-4pm

Sunday March 29th, Dog Day Afternoon, City Park

Saturday April 4th, Freret Market

For more information, contact sulafoundation@gmail.com or go to www.sulafoundation.org

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Adopt Guinness at the Louisiana SPCA

Brindle dogs don't have it easy. In fact, they are the second most difficult type of dog to place. (The first being any black dog.) But Guinness is a wonderful striped boy who made it to adoption row at the Louisiana SPCA. Now, after ten days, he may be running out of time. So go pay him some attention!

UPDATE: Guinness is now a Sula foster dog.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Love is in the air...

I've been trying to get a shot of Brando and Buddy kissing, but whenever I get my camera ready, the action deteriorates to something like this.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

New Orleans writing workshop starts March 9th

Narrative Truth
A workshop with Ken Foster
Mondays, 6pm-8pm; March 9-April 27
8 sessions; $200

Whether working in fiction or nonfiction, the challenge all writers face is in creating narratives that ring true to the reader. This workshop will allow students to dip into both genres--short story and creative non-fiction--and measure their work against the same literary standards: character, conflict, detail and use of language. Each student will be able to workshop at least two full-length stories or essays during the course. In addition, students will be given short, focused, weekly assignments designed to break them out of their comfort zone.

Ken Foster is the author of a memoir, The Dogs Who Found Me; a collection of stories, The Kind I'm Likely to Get; and a collection of essays, Dogs I Have Met. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Salon, Fence, Bomb, McSweeney's, The Believer, The New York Times, Bark, The San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Yaddo, the New York Foundation of the Arts, and The Sewanee Writers Conference. Ken received an MFA in Writing from Columbia University and has taught at The New School, Florida State University, Tulane University and UNO.

To apply to the class, send an email and writing sample, with a list previous workshop experience, to kenfosterworkshop@gmail.com.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

My Mardi Gras Houseguest

This is Buddy, and as you can see, he's sort of a pit bull, but really not. Still, he looks enough like what some people think a pit bull is that his chances are pretty much shot if he ever ends up in a shelter (or a North Carolina court room, but that's another story.) He was found just after the last evacuation in September, and for six months he was being fostered with another rambunctious dog and a very bossy cat. But time ran out at that home, so last Tuesday he moved in with me and my three completely intolerant dogs. But, it turns out Buddy is so agreeable that even my grumpy dogs don't mind having him around. The biggest problem has been my inability to shake the idea that I'm walking around the neighborhood with a Dr. Suess drawing on a leash.

In an effort to find him a home, I took him all over yesterday: to the Bywater Art Market, to a couple of cafes, etc. It was surprising to see how new this experience was to him. He's never been around that many people at once, but when he realized that everyone wanted to pet him and sneak him french fries, he decided it was quite good. This morning I even took him by the dog park, where he played for a long time with several different dogs before coming home good and tired.

For more information on adopting Buddy, email sulafoundation@gmail.com.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More on the North Carolina mess

Apparently the HSUS sent out a press release saying that they were disappointed with the media hungry rescuers who had tried to suggest the North Carolina pit bulls be properly assessed before any decisions were made. I always love it when someone sends out a press release to alert the media that those other people are just trying to get attention.

Meanwhile, here's the note we sent out today from The Sula Foundation:

Dear Friends,

We had a great time at our Barkus booth on Sunday, and it was wonderful to meet so many of you as you stopped by to say hello, pick up a bumper sticker, and sign up to join us at future events.

We also had a successful week of adoptions, with Rosanne, Lucinda and Foxy Brown all finding their permanent homes. Particular thanks go out to Pit Stop Rescue and Pits Pounding the Pavement in Tampa for helping us with a home check in Lakeland, FL.

Unfortunately, most pit bulls aren’t that lucky. Yesterday in North Carolina, over 140 pit bulls were euthanized following testimony from representatives of the Humane Society of the United States. The dogs had been taken in a dogfighting/breeding raid in December. The HSUS argued that the dogs should be put down without any evaluation, including over 50 puppies, some born since the raid. They took this same stand in the Michael Vick case, in which all but two dogs were proven to be sound. In fact, many of the dogs are now in homes and working as therapy dogs. I spent a good part of Tuesday morning on the phone and email with our friends at Bad Rap, Best Friends, and Animal Farm Foundation, as well as with a few reporters and eventually HSUS itself.

I asked HSUS what, specifically, their policy is regarding pit bulls. They told me they were drafting a statement as we spoke. (Later in the day, at 5pm, someone else I know called, independent of me, and was told they were still working on it.) But in my conversation with their representative, I was told several contradictory things: they favored euthanasia because law enforcement would be reluctant to conduct raids if the dogs were required to be evaluated; the breeder bragged about his dog’s “gameness” and game dogs can never be trusted (this is, in fact, not true); street-bred dogs are more readily rehabilitated (again, not true); and, most incredibly, they claimed that the Vick dogs were easy to rehab because the breeders sold their worst (i.e., least game) dogs to Vick. I told them I would trust a temperament test before the word of a breeder.

It will be interesting to see what they actually say when they do release a statement.

Of course, we all know that the overpopulation of pit bulls makes euthanasia an unfortunate reality. But in a case like this, evaluating the animals as individuals is vital. If the animals are, in fact, so poorly bred and so abused, wouldn’t a written evaluation be helpful, even if they are beyond help? Yet, the HSUS continues to send the dangerous message that dogs can be judged by their breed, which unfortunately leads people to believe that the people involved are somehow less responsible than the dogs themselves. This doesn’t make anyone safer.

On a much brighter note, the LA-SPCA Dog Day Afternoon is coming up on March 29th. We’ve set up a fundraising page to show how much support the pit bull community can give. You can make a donation, join our fundraising team, or register to participate in the walk by going to http://www.active.com/donate/dogday09/sula

We will be updating our blog with news about the NC case, and hope to soon have a new website in the works.


The Sula Foundation

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Humane Society and pit bulls

Yesterday a judge in North Carolina ordered 127 pit bulls (nearly half were puppies) euthanized after hearing testimony from two representatives of the Humane Society of the United States. On hearing this, a logical person might assume that the Humane Society was urging them to evaluate the dogs before making any decision. Yet the opposite is true; the Humane Society was once again suggesting that these dogs should be put down without evaluation--that there was no way they could be redeemed. The Humane Society also campaigned for the euthanization for Micheal Vick's dogs without evaluation--while at the same time running a fundraiser on their website suggesting that money would be used for the dogs' care. All but two of Vick's dogs were saved, and most are now celebrities, featured on TV shows, in Sports Illustrated, etc.

Why would they take this stand, which seems at odds with their normally extreme support of animals in even the most unlikely cases? I'm guessing it has to do with their efforts to end animal fighting--legislation would be easier to pass if people believe that the damage done to the animals cannot be reversed. Or, perhaps even more cynically, they haven't figured out a way to make money off of pit bulls, so they aren't interested in promoting them. (They do have huge success raising money on the puppy mill issue, which actually only affects 8% of the dog population, while pit bulls make up perhaps 20%).

I put a call in to their media rep this morning, and asked for a statement on exactly what their position is regarding pit bulls. I haven't heard anything yet, but it'll certainly make an interesting story.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Louisiana SPCA's Dog Day Afternoon is coming...

On March 29th, the Louisiana SPCA's Dog Day Afternoon will take place in City Park. This is the first time that City Park has been the location for the event--in the past, it has always been held at Audubon Park.

You can make a contribution to my fundraising efforts my following this link. Or you can join me as part of The Sula Foundation's team. We're hoping to raise at least $1,500 for the SPCA.

Monday, February 09, 2009

James Reiss remembers Ellen Miller

In 1999, Ellen Miller and I did a West Coast tour; her novel was newly in paperback. My collection of stories was just out. In San Francisco we did a number of readings, and at one event, we hitched a ride with an old friend of mine from New Orleans (Derek McCollough). Derek brought a carload of friends along, and then we ran into my former classmate Crystal Reiss, who had just moved to the Bay Area. Crystal eventually married one of Derek's friends (who is, just to confuse things more, named Ken), and she also told her father about Ellen's work. I just received this email from him:

My daughter Crystal just told me about Ellen’s death. I’m hugely distressed by the news.

Nearly ten years ago I read Like Being Killed. I thought it was one of the best first novels I ever read. I assigned it as required reading in an undergraduate Contemporary American Fiction and Poetry course I was teaching at Miami University in Ohio. I worried about whether my mainly Midwestern students would go for the novel’s New Yorky, Lower East Sidey ambience. I no longer remember how they answered the question to my pop quiz, “Does Like Being Killed have a happy ending? Briefly explain why or why not.” But I sure recall kids from Chicago and Cleveland to Chillicothe and Cincinnati finishing all 352 of its gritty pages and telling me they preferred it over other required fiction by Ron Hansen, Siri Hustvedt, Elizabeth McCracken and George Saunders. In English 310’s popularity contest back in spring 2000 only Paul Auster’s Moon Palace grabbed second place after Like Being Killed.

I liked Ellen’s novel so much that I joined with a colleague and helped bring her to Miami University for a weeklong sprint course she taught, including a reading from Like Being Killed. She was such a hit in Oxford, Ohio that we invited her to conduct a second sprint course—unprecedented for us—and read from her novel in progress. Again, she brought down the house, and we invited her to apply for a position on our faculty; she politely declined our offer. Tempted as she was by the notion of living in our small college town, she couldn’t leave her friends or her apartment in the Big Apple. Thereafter, for a few years every November I continued to nominate her for a Pushcart Award—until we lost touch.

My Bay Area daughter Crystal, who initially turned me on to Ellen, joins me and a large number of Millerites who would like to see her second novel published electronically, unfinished as it is. May the genius of Ellen Miller—and Ilyana Meyerovich—shine forth in what I’m certain will be a brilliant second act.

Jim Reiss

Cry constipation...courtesy of Ellen Miller

I keep waiting for the moment when I'll feel capable of crafting some insightful, eloquent account of this thing, but in the meantime I just keep tossing up a few paragraphs at a time.

Yesterday morning I left my house at about 4:30 am and headed to the airport for a flight to NYC. Earlier in the week I'd been completely felled by a fever for two days, and last weekend I was bit by a dog (after I stuck my hand in its mouth), and then at the end of the week Sula was having anxiety over the construction next door, so I began to think I couldn't do it. But I woke up at about 3am and knew it was time to go, and that I had to, and that I wanted to.

On the train from JFK, I looked at the map and realized we were passing Canarsie, where Ellen Miller grew up. Then, when I got to Manhattan, I met a few friends for brunch at a place where, as I had predicted, they served miniature servings of food. I had the tiniest little eggs benedict I'd ever seen. Then I walked back from Union Square to my old neighborhood in the East Village, where Ellen had lived just a few blocks away. I stopped in and visited a friend's new pit bull, then headed to the dog park, and at some point realized that it was the first time in years that I had been in New York and the sun was out. It was a beautiful day.

T Cooper and I headed over to the memorial to help out ahead of time. Hannah Tinti had arranged for a beautiful spot in the Lillian Vernon Writers House. There were a lot of people there: Dani Shapiro, whose first workshop as a teacher was where I met Ellen; Ben Schrank, Rebecca Donner, Johnny Temple, and others who were familiar from my old days in the old school literary world of New York. But there were also people who I knew exclusively through Ellen: her old boyfriend Frank, who few up from Key West; her friends who lived across from me on 7th Street; her old friend Stephanie Foster, whose last name I could never recall; etc. T opened the memorial by reading from the first three paragraphs of Like Being Killed; Johnny read a series of terrible puns about how much Ellen like puns; someone else read from a very Ellen email exchange; I read from the plumber section of the novel, and from the end. People laughed and cried and hugged each other. And then I got into a cab, few home, and collapsed in bed with my dogs at 10:30pm. Today I'm still in bed, in a jittery stupor, like when you have an accident, but it doesn't hit you until after you walk away from it.

"Cry constipation" was one of the terms someone mentioned Ellen inventing, for when you want to cry, need to cry, can even feel the pressure of a good cry pressing against the back of your eyes, but nothing comes. That's where I am now.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A class action against the city of New Orleans?

I don't know how these things work, or if it is even possible, but I do know that I've heard a lot of talk in the past month or so that perhaps there will be a class action lawsuit filed against the city in response to their inability to effectively police their citizens. Certainly, it makes sense. In the past two years, in spite of increasing crime and unrest, virtually no action has been taken. The police are rarely seen outside of their cars. Records are not kept and not released. Police ignore calls or dispatch never bothers delivering the information. An independent report was commissioned and ignored. And so on...

But, given the level of inertia in city hall, would even filing a class action inspire anything other than a vigorous defense?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Memorial scheduled for Ellen Miller, February 8th

A memorial for Ellen Miller
Sunday February 8th, 2009
Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House
58 West 10th Street
New York, New York

I posted a few weeks ago about the death of my friend Ellen, who had a heart attack on December 17th and died on the 22nd. She and I had met in a writing workshop at the Westside Y in 1994--although actually we met for the first time in a workshop in 1992. In the first workshop, Ellen called me after the first week to ask if I would turn something in in her place the following week. It was a strange, dramatic phone call, and she kept talking to me long after the issue of turning something in was resolved. She never returned to the class, and there really is no reason that either of should have remembered such a brief encounter, but two years later we were sitting around another room at the Y, with another teacher, and Ellen arrived for the first class with a 30 page short story that was passed around the room for discussion the following week. The story was called "Water Sports" and when I saw the title, I looked back down the table to see who had written it. She smiled this wicked little smile that she deployed on a regular basis with friends, and later she said, "You know, we met before." But I remembered.

I went to Columbia. She went to NYU. I would take the train to meet her or we would talk on the phone late at night. She wrote big, long, heady scenes. I wrote short, clipped, minimalist stuff. But often what we were writing about was essentially the same. Later, when my collection came out and her novel was released in paperback, we toured the west coast together. She had cats. I had dogs. When we disagreed, we did it in extremes, but we were still friends. Once, when I visited her apartment, I found books exploded everywhere throughout the living room. In the middle of the night, the shelves had pulled away from the wall and deposited books across every surface. And it stayed like that for a while, so you couldn't ever sit down to talk to her without rearranging books. But that's what her life was about, after all.

Are pit bulls now acceptable in the publishing world

After The Dogs Who Found Me came out three years ago, I mentioned that I wanted to write a social history of the American Pit Bull. No one was interested. My book, with a pit bull on the cover, went on to sell over 50,000 copies and my publisher wanted another book. I suggested a social history of the American Pit Bull. They weren't interested. I met with another publisher, suggested an approach, almost agreed to compromise, and yet it was made clear that there was little support for the book, and I decided to wait til someone really understood what I wanted to do, and that there was an audience for it. A few months ago I started working on a new proposal on the same subject, and then, suddenly, pit bulls were on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Now comes the news that the Sports Illustrated author has signed a deal to write "The Lost Dogs"--an account of the the Vick dogs and their lives after being rescued.

Is there still room for another pit bull book on the shelf?

I've disappeared into Facebook

It has happened. After months, even years, of people telling me I should be on Facebook, I broke down and signed up, and I haven't been seen since. It is a great tool for keeping old friends at your fingertips and engaging in passing conversation as if you still live in the same neighborhood. And, they make it very easy to share news stories and videos. So, you can find a page there for me, and a page for fans of my books who might want to receive updates or discuss my work, or for people who want to be involved with The Sula Foundation.

And, now that I've gotten over my first wave of infatuation with Facebook, you'll see me posting more often back here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ken Foster Online Writing Course starts next week

I'll be teaching a workshop in New Orleans beginning next week, but if you aren't in the area, you can still take a class with me via Mediabistro. My advanced personal essay course starts next Tuesday. You can learn more by clicking here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Workshop in New Orleans beginning Jan. 26!

Narrative Truth
A workshop with Ken Foster
Mondays, 6pm-8pm; January 26-April 6
10 sessions; $250
Room 220 at the Colton School Studio

Whether working in fiction or nonfiction, the challenge all writers face is in creating narratives that ring true to the reader. This workshop will allow students to dip into both genres--short story and creative non-fiction--and measure their work against the same literary standards: character, conflict, detail and use of language. Each student will be able to workshop at least two full-length stories or essays during the course. In addition, students will be given short, focused, weekly assignments designed to break them out of their comfort zone.

Ken Foster is the author of a memoir, The Dogs Who Found Me; a collection of stories, The Kind I'm Likely to Get; and a collection of essays, Dogs I Have Met. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Salon, Fence, Bomb, McSweeney's, The Believer, The New York Times, Bark, The San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Yaddo, the New York Foundation of the Arts, and The Sewanee Writers Conference.

To apply to the class, send an email and writing sample, with a list previous workshop experience, to kenfosterworkshop@gmail.com.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Post-strike update

When we came up with the idea of a "strike against crime" for this year's anniversary of the march to city hall, we really thought an actual strike, with the entire city staying home, would be the only thing that might get the city leaders' attention. Of course, we also knew it would be impossible to pull off. So we began playing with the idea of a strike. People could strike parts of their day. People could wear red wherever they are. Yard signs would mark crime scenes with the message "Crime Happened Here." Activities would be organized all over town to memorialize victims and also to offer examples of the kinds of recreation programs that can keep kids off the street. Etc.

The one thing we were certain of is that we didn't want to bother with city hall. It would be a waste of time. But the news media kept reporting that there would be a rally, so earlier this week, with just a few days to go, we gave in and decided to read the names of the victims in front of city hall following a motorcade to recent crime scenes. And then some of the media coverage reported that few people participated in these activities, as if numbers were essentially the point.

The crowd at city hall was actually significantly larger than it was last year, when we also read names. And it was mostly made up of family of victims, in some cases people who are still waiting for their cases to go forward in any way. Also there: Councilmen Fielkow and Carter, and our new district attorney. Suspiciously absent: Mayor Nagin, the NOPD, Councilmembers Head, Clarkson, Willard-Lewis, Hedge-Morrell and Midura. (Of course, part of our plan in reading the names at city hall last year was actually that we knew Nagin would show his disrespect for the dead once again.)

Predictably, after the bulk of the day's events were done, people began posting online about how disappointing the turnout was. Of course, these same people didn't turn out either. Nor did they offer to plan a better event. But that's how it goes. And it is unfortunate that they can't see the photos we're getting from schools all over the city who asked their students to wear red and had discussions about violence and crime and making the right decisions.

Nor did they see the people who were flagging me down everywhere I went in town, asking for stickers or commenting on the news. Even at my bank, the manager waived to me from her office and the teller said she wished she could wear a strike sticker. So our idea worked after all--because people were thinking about the problem wherever they were during the day, and in many cases, they were joining in the projects that had been planned along the way.

But then, of course, there are people like Curtis Doss, who took the time to write: "All of the names you read of the murdered. You should have also listed the past criminal record of most of them so that we will know how much safer the streets are with them dead. It is not a bad thing when criminals are killed. I am sorry for those who are not in that life but for those who have records, thank you to the shooter. Hope they are next."

Friday, January 09, 2009

Wear Red Today, Wherever You Are

Today marks the second anniversary of our march to city hall, and things have not gotten better. As a show of unity, we are asking that everyone wear red today. For more information on events today and tomorrow, go to www.silenceisviolence.org.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Now that the new year has started, you probably find yourself wishing you had a Pit Bulls of New Orleans calendar

Who better to keep your appoints for you? And now, the more you buy, the cheaper they get. So you may want to stock up for everyone in your office!

The calendar is yours for a $20 donation, payable by check to The Sula Foundation, PO Box 3780, New Orleans, LA 70117. You can also order via paypal by directing your donation to sulafoundation@gmail.com. It is also available on Amazon, although we make less money that way. Or, for multiple copies try this link:

Price includes shipping

Sunday, January 04, 2009

In memory of Ellen Miller

I just learned that Ellen passed away on 12/22 after suffering a heart attack on 12/17. I first met her in 1993 at a workshop at the Westside Y in NYC. In 1999 we toured together with our books. We lived just a few blocks from each other when I lived in New York City. I'm sure I'll have more to say eventually, but not now.

From the opening of Like Being Killed:

We crowded around the rickety kitchen table, predicting how each of us would die.

Six of us sat under a naked lighbulb that hung like an interrogation lamp from a thin wire over Margarita’s chipped wooden table. We squinted and leaned phototropically into the empty center, noses almost touching, eyelashes fluttering against the force of the light like the wings of hovering moths. We were checking the count, raising each small, discreet, translucent envelope up to the stark whiteness of the blank bulb. Everything else disappeared. The count was good. The count was the only thing in the world. It was lonely. It was scary. It was fun. It was what I did now, without Susannah.

But before I could even finish thinking the words—with Susannah or Susannah is gone—she was no longer gone. She had materialized into language, inside my head, where it mattered.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

January 9th: Strike Against Crime

This is what the inside of my Element looks like when the seats are removed and 1000 yard signs put in. These "CRIME HAPPENED HERE" signs are set to be put out across New Orleans next week as part of our "Strike Against Crime". More signs, and stickers, arrive this week.

In a nutshell, here's what the plan entails:
1. On January 9th, everyone wear something red.
2. Organize an activity or memorial among your neighbors or community group.
3. If you are a business, consider pledging 5% to a local charity that contributes in some way toward solving the problem of crime.
4. Be creative.
5. Help distribute signs--use ours, or make your own.

Note: When Baty and I went to pick up the signs at a shipping depot yesterday, we had a no idea that they had been delivered on a palate, with no packing material or boxes. So we had to first unload the palate into our two cars, and then unload it again into the cafe, the office, etc. That knocked me out for the rest of the day, although it may have been the fumes rising from the freshly manufactured signs.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

On the other hand...

Just before my entry into the New Orleans of awful service, I had a great night out. I went with friends to Judith Owen and Harry Shearer's Christmas Sing A Long at the CAC. I had missed last year's show, so this year I bought tickets early, and still when the day came, I felt like I could take it or leave it. I'd been out selling pit bull calendars all day. I was pooped. But I went anyway and it was fantastic. They had a great lineup of musicians sing two songs a piece, including a hip hop number by Leah Chase, and then for the second half, it was a sing a long with required audience participation. The climax was a rendition of twelve days of Christmas in which we were divided into twelve groups and had a to collaborate on a pantomime to accompany our section of the song. I was in the "four calling birds" section, and I'm proud to say that I came up with the hand signal we used to represent "birds." Judith found it quite shocking--and then awarded us a small plastic toy called "Flip Off Santa."

But, what was really remarkable was this: The night before Judith broke her nose, spent the wee hours in ER, and still performed, sang and joked like nothing had happened.

Now that's service.