Thursday, July 31, 2008

Novel checklist #1: Messud on Trevor

In order to obtain a good review from Clair Messud, please be prepared to answer the following questions.

I don't know if this is a series, but I'll call it #1 just in case. These are 53 questions for me to mull with respect to my novel. The questions are adapted from Clair Messud's Feb. 14, 2008, review, titled "Signs of Struggle," of William Trevor's recent short-story collection Cheating at Canasta.

1. Is it complex?
2. Is it fragile?
3. Does it breathe?
4. Is it strong?
5. Is it memorable?
6. Is it haunting?
7. Is it capable of irony?
8. Of melancholy tenderness?
9. Does it exercise apparently brutal restraint?
10. Is it capable of being contrived?
11. Of being melodramatic?
12. Is it lyrical?
13. Does it embark on broad, apparently undirected swathes of life?
14. Does it convey a line of emotion, or the arc of a relationship, moment, or strand of human existence?
15. Does it have cracking lines?
16. Does it resolve, like music, into a chord – major or minor, depending on the section – that seeks to distill the significance of what has come before?
17. Is this unabashedly moral fiction?
18. Is it subtle, even at times deliberately oblique?
19. Does it have clarifying closing paragraphs that can take the form of a nod to the future?
20. Does its clarification involve an illumination of the self, or of the world, or of the past? Or all of these?
21. Are lives described with subtlety and deftness? And are they both familiar and unique?
22. Does it have all-changing but ineffable moments?
23. Do its life-shattering revelations require elucidation on the part of the author?
24. Is the novel’s darkness, as well as its risk of stereotype, tempered, even transformed, by the narrator’s understanding of the antihero’s death?
25. Are its epiphanies tidy?
26. Does it indulge in and transcend melodrama? Are these transcendences always fully achieved?
27. Are its human choices accurate?
28. Does it make gentling, faintly sentimental gestures without which it would be a novel of Beckettian bleakness?
29. Are its economy and restraint remarkable? (Are they existent?) And do they impart to the novel the quality, almost, of a Christian parable? Do they involve a manipulation of stereotype and sentiment?
30. Does it deftly and truly convey the banality and insouciance of childhood wrongdoing, the capricious state of semi-innocence in which the narrator is at once aware and not aware of wrongdoing’s consequences?
31. Will any reader recognize his youthful self in the young narrator’s dangerous flippancy?
32. Does it display mastery of free indirect style, osmotically imbuing the reader with the narrator’s (and the antihero’s) consciousness through syntax and diction?
33. In articulating awareness of lifelong penance, is it exceptionally beautiful rhythmically in its tone and in its sad import?
34. Do the sentences reverberate like bars of glorious, melancholy music?
35. Is it struggling with a deeply human – and simultaneously God-like – impulse to ease the burden of its characters? Or to ennoble them, even if in so doing it blurs the outlines of what is, by allowing instead what might be? Does it want us to see the flaws of its creations while it grants them a measure of grace?
36. Does it leave ‘em to lie where Jesus flang ‘em?
37. Do closing lines reverberate back through the story, not closing down and specifying its import?
38. Does it reveal shame to be an honorable state?
39. Does it have need of guile or alteration of moral instruction?
40. By rendering small and perhaps futile gestures, does it evoke a complex melancholy and the transcendence of melancholy that are the opposite of smallness and futility?
41. Does it grant grace upon its characters without willing it on them?
42. Is it frank and uncompromising; does it reveal a cold eye?
43. Is it lyric, rather than narrative, living in a moment?
44. Do we find greater cynicism and human failure ironically in a victim, having expected it in a victimizer?
45. Does the story sweep, bird-like, though various points of view before settling upon the narrator’s shoulder?
46. Do months flash by between words?
47. Are significant events given their due proportion of time?
48. Is the novel structurally and technically ambitious and slightly strange?
49. Is its artifice so artful that neither manipulation nor contrivance can be discerned?
50. Is there a fable-like quality, a sense that events take place out of time, or in some unspecified time that is neither now nor very long ago?
51. Does the novel know its characters intimately? And its own writerly tendencies?
52. Does it have marvelous observations, and is its literary contrivance rather persistently showing?
53. Does it push, sometimes awkwardly, for its characters’ redemption? Or at least for their moral worth? And is that an exhilarating sign of struggle, of life itself?

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

CNN on George W. Bush Sewage Plant - Willie Brown's voting yes!

CNN has this great piece on our ballot initiative to change the name of the Oceanside Wastewater Pollution Control Plant to the George W. Bush Sewage Treatment Plant. Highlight: former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown endorsing the measure:

"I wouldn't be caught voting any other way. You think I want to be run out of this town?"

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

June diary entry


Earplugs are silver-tipped, just as the street listener said my violin bow should be.
Familiarity, that overactive gland, is reliably embarrassing.
I get caught staring – I utter transparent pick-up lines, am wrong about what they mean.
Our paradox: loneliness propels us into the void.
Sound bounces from the single wall of the blindness chamber and makes such a racket you see images, films, a diaspora of big-screen television sets, a civilization of mongrel and bastard illusions, some familiar to Orlando under her oak tree.
As for the others - how do we endure them?
“You look so familiar – did you go to Yale with Heather?”
That woman looks like she stepped out of Women’s Wear Daily fashion ad, circa 1958. She overshares with her beautician. Her clothes match the purple of her color-coded LIFE section header in USA Today. She looks like she just smelled shit. She always does. Age has such a sly sense of humor.
“Not if you moisturize,” as Eric Glaser would say, or did.
Miss Kansas 1951 doesn’t realize I’ve been staring at her the last several minutes. Am I invisible? If I were invisible, what would I look like? “The people are my people” said the Duke.
Who are my people? Not Miss Kansas, not the gruff looking fallen hippie scrawling intently in his own notebook (a kindred spirit among the not-my-people), not the hyperactive Filipino kids, not anyone reading USA Today, not the cute guy whose sleeping head is lolling around in a calm surf, not any of these people chained to their laptops, tuning out the void –
My sense of humor: a flashpoint tonight, earlier, a spur of insecurity. I tell myself: you honor your instincts by taming them. I respond: what a risible lie!
My flight is delayed; the silver has fallen from my ears.


A marching band infiltrates the house party. In the kitchen, I dance with my fingers in my ears while the neighbors call the cops.

Itamar, Portia, Hysterika, Suzan Revah, Michael Smith, Joanna, Metal Patricia, Sister Mae Joy B. in full regalia, Bryan Harrelson. Are these my people? I have Williams Syndrome, I am always happy to see everyone. Jupiter fixes me with a cold correction – the evil eye! I like being popular but I’ve learned to live with this other thing. At 38 I have so much experience – with drunkenness and sobriety, freedom and captivity, love and the void. James urges moderation. Aretha advises: “Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.” Celebrating the vaudevillian, e.e.c. extolled that imprecision that creates movement. Mr. In-Between dozes in an airport lounge: his head bobs and jerks in slow-motion. He is the only fuckable person in Terminal 1.

Jason Fleetwood-Bolt, Jon Bentley – Boy Bar. Dolores Park at 4 a.m. – my congeniality falters when I make a nasty remark about the Bar on Castro. My parting shot, directed at Itamar, comes off wrong - one too many jokes about catching his cold. My sense of humor is a cause for concern. A friend gets laid with a 19 year-old Puerto Rican boy (“Is this going to hurt?”) and has no complaints about the evening. I make some vaguely off-color jokes to middle-aged Midwestern ladies and they seem to love me. Am I endearing only to them and offensive and obscure to everyone else? Women’s Wear Daily is waiting for her row to be called. My row is next. I smell shit.


Deterioration, wear & tear. Weird weather and the relief we get from disasters. A Politico blogger thanks me for pointing out his loath/loathe confusion. Colors of the Celestial City. Honey, that’s really colorful – paint hits the canvas as though applied with the tip of a lightning bolt. Is color more like God or orgasm? From the invisible island we watched the planes line up to land - three slowly falling planets, ablaze, endless renewal.

I could not rouse my sense of humor (that problem child) to defend against the depredations of the talkative New Age Faerie, his endless assault on Big Topics with the weaponry of small thoughts. Now I know that the sun needs our love, needs to be loved and – oh, let that stand for the whole depressing gospel, told in European accents and punctuated by trills of the tongue and other sound effects and frequent references to Buddhism, or Hinduism – wait, which is which? Either one will do, just remember that the sun is counting on your saving it a space in the void, where we can all wait holding hands until it inhales, puffs out its belly and fries us to a nice ghost of ash. My coordinates: row 11, seat F. Will anyone watch this planet rise? I ring the call button. Bring me trombones, the bass drum, the exotic dancer.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Flush with pride - we're on the ballot!

The Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco today put out the following statement:



San Francisco (July 17th) - Officials at the Department of Elections announced today that the citizens' initiative to rename the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant the George W. Bush Sewage Plant has qualified for the November 4th San Francisco ballot. Voters will decide on the measure in the general election alongside the presidential election, numerous statewide initiatives, and an expected 20 to 30 local measures.

"We want to thank the dozens of people who volunteered to campaign throughout the city, and the thousands of San Franciscans who lined up to sign this petition to pay tribute to our President," said initiative co-author Brian McConnell. "With over 100 volunteers, we were able to run a citywide campaign with no donations, no paid signature gatherers - it was a 100% grassroots voter movement."

The Presidential Memorial Commission is planning a creative, art-driven general election campaign, and is putting out a general call for support from artists who want to design flyers, billboards and other attention-getting devices. "We're hoping for an election campaign like no other," said Mr. McConnell.

While the measure is only being presented to San Francisco voters, voters worldwide can contribute to the general election campaign by donating artwork and funds at

CONTACT: T. Wayne Pickering -


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

legally wed, part V - married by the mayor

Thanks to our family friend John Cronin, there is this video clip of the wedding ceremony in the mayor's office.

After the ceremony, we went out on the mayor's balcony (where he claimed, somewhat incredibly, never to have set foot). We had a champagne toast, I played something for James on the violin, and then we posed for pictures:

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

George W. Bush Sewage Treatment Plant - signature submission, media coverage

Presidential Memorial Commission founder Brian McConnell, PMC historian Paul Festa and San Francisco Department of Elections Campaign Services Manager Rachel Gosiengfiao as the PMC submits 12,000 signatures (photo credit: Associated Press)

I woke at dawn Monday so I could get into town in time to videotape the submission to the San Francisco Dept. of Elections of about 12,000 signatures in support of the Presidential Memorial Commission's ballot initiative to change the name of the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant to the George W. Bush Sewage Treatment Plant.

The submission brought a flurry of press coverage, including a BBC story that ran with the AP photo above, the AP's own story, and coverage from San Francisco to Tehran to Cape Town.

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