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May. 11th, 2009

Great Scott!

40 Poems in 40 Days!

At the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February I went to a poetry workshop where two poet-professors from Davis, Brad Henderson and Andy Jones described their semi-annual ritual/challenge of doing 40 poems in 40 days. The idea is, regardless of quality of result, to write a poem a day every day for forty days as a way of kicking your poetic muse into gear. They do this a couple times a year, although typically only a handful of the resulting poems go on to be used elsewhere. They even provided a list of daily prompts to guide your efforts if you need direction.


This whole venture sounded like fun, and fit nicely with my own intention for the year to re-connect with my muse. I knew I would be busy in March and April with my film project, so I decided I’d give it a try starting in May. And here we are! Being a confessionalist in my writing, I’ve decided to share the process with you, my hapless victims. The first ten day’s worth are below, more to follow…


Warning: These are meant to be exercises, and some of the prompts that inspired them are intentionally nonsensical. Proceed at your own risk…


Hot Water(for Robert Frost, “Fire and Ice”)


Some said fire, some said icebut Frost (great seer)got it right on both counts:the lineamentsof our slaughterare even nowbeing tracedby the drip, drip, dripof hot water


A Truth Beyond All Truths(owing something to Wallace Stevens’ “Landscape with Boat”)


Anti-matter, florid, eccentric


Meets its opposite and wipes out all thingsLeaving behind the scintillating blue arrayOf particle trailsRushing out from a point that is no pointPrimeval blank vacuum field


In the Night before all nightsSomething erupted there, Or nothing,Whichever, kept expanding Into all the things that now are


The truth, even now,Is that these things are still the nothingThey once were,Even we are that nothingWhich is to say something


We, all, the empty spaceFrom which pours infinite creation


untitledI would lie theretwelve years oldon the sandbetween the dusty spread legsof two oak covered hillsyearning for somethingthat stirredlike the slit-eyed leopard sharksin the crusted saltbrackish tangand sinuous twist of the slough before me


Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie FluAll 200 patientsof the Denton Regional Medical Centerin Denton, Texas have custom headphonesbuilt into their bedsthat play every Aerosmith songever recordedon demand


Since most of the patients are olderclassics are popularIn Cardiology, Radiation Oncology and Geriatric Neurologyit’s strictly“Sweet Emotion”, “Dream On” and “Mama Kin”


Even down in Progressive Careand the Adolescent Unit they still have the good senseto pick it up with the Run-DMC remixof “Walk This Way” and cut it off circa 1994with “Cryin’”


Only in the Psych Wardin the basementdoes anybody have thebad taste, or derangementto listen to“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”


Nightmare of myself given childhood encouragement and high school confidenceHe feels nothing but satisfaction,a kind of ownership,as he slaps the behind of the lithe young blondelounging in satinon his way to the shower.More of the same in the streamlined gleamof his sports utility vehicle gliding down LA freeways.The feeling reaches a peakin the glass-walled officewhere all eyes at the trading deskbehold him with nervous regardwhile his viewsweeps the city that the electronic millions he commandscourses throughas he confidently ignorestheir expected reverence.


ellipsisOf all the…I have ever…the onethat endures is…Even now… risesat the memory of… …lying… on the…as we… the widthand breadth of…until…ran its courseand…took its weary toll


It’s Surprising to Me TooLegions of menstruating grandmothers for ObamaWill have their final battleWith the spider monkeys of doomOn the caldera of an Icelandic volcanoOn July 4, 1876For reasons that are yet obscureBut will one day be the subjectOf Applied Chronametrics term papersFlashed through cerebral upload academiesBy eight year olds


600 MontgomeryIt squats at the bottomlike a giant marble bullfrogThe functionless top scratches heavenwith its ornamental cement pylonsIn-betweenstack upon stackof white stone, black windowoptions narrow


Question to the Taiwanese birders I met at the Explorer’s Inn, Tambomachay, PeruDo grebes floatIn the Rio Tambobo?Venturers through a fluidic spacewhose muddy bottomis as bone-litteredas the Chauchilla Cemetery,do they brave caiman,giant river ottersand threats whose taxonomy I can’t even nameand then emergeto build nestsin green junglesabutting sandy riverbanks?


I began to seek the way out long beforeWe lived in Salinas, I was only six or seven. I was not allowed to go to the 7-11 by myself. I snuck there anyway with my next-door neighbor. On the way back we cut through an abandoned lot. We got away with it! Home, no evidence, parents never even knew—“What happened to your foot?” I looked down to find my right foot covered in blood. I must have cut it on broken glass in the lot. I didn’t feel it before, but as soon as I saw it, I screamed and cried. Pain? Yes. But almost as bad— Caught! Lying, guilt, doing what I wasn’t supposed to. My foot throbbed and pumped out crimson. The blood shooting up the dropper’s neck, in my system even then. It left behind a triangular scar that remains to this day.

May. 4th, 2009

Great Scott!

Independence Day

I think it’s quite as important to have private holidays as public ones.


Thanksgiving, Easter, Memorial Day and their kin can, perhaps, bring us together as a community and help us remember important things. But there are also private dates of remembrance that can bring us together with ourselves. These dates of ritual observance can remind us about where we’ve been and give us occasion to think about where we’re going.


Yesterday, for example, was my Independence Day.


On May 3, 2002 I went to stay with friends for the weekend while my wife moved out of our apartment. Regarding the specifics, I’ll only say that she had her reasons, she did it after two and a half years of trying to get me to do it, and nothing we did to try to hold it together in the interim had worked.


At the time I was melancholy, and vaguely terrified, but looking back it was a profound gift. Within a few months, things that I had put on hold for years had reawakened. I was writing again, buying new music, getting out in the town to try a hundred new things. Our separation lengthened into divorce and I began the baffling process of learning to love again.


Other things reawakened to, old demons of depression and compulsion, and the past seven years have had their share of heartbreak and turmoil. But I grew through them, and, looking back, everything that I think of now as who I am- the people I know, the things I do, what’s most important to me in life, came about after this date. I’m so grateful that life (and to be fair, her) gave me the kick in the butt I needed to start to become a whole person.


I treasure this wholeness now, and want to use this seven-year anniversary to reaffirm my commitment to continue to pursue it no matter what.

Apr. 26th, 2009

Great Scott!

Men's Stories

Last night I went to a performance in Berkeley put on by a group called the Men’s Story Project. Like most good ideas, the MSP’s is pretty simple: Patriarchy is as harmful to men as it is to women, and, in the course of its operation squeezes out voices that don’t fit. The way these voices are silenced is part and parcel of how heterosexism, racism, gender bias etc. silence the voices of gay people, non-white people, women, etc. So a part of those liberation movements is that men liberate themselves from restrictive ideas of masculinity, and get in dialogue with each other and with others about their unspoken truths.

The MSP aims to gather these voices together and give them a place to be heard. So far they’ve made a short film, produced several public events and even put together a training manual so new groups can be started in various locales. And put together this event in Berkeley where sixteen men presented their stories in spoken work, performance art, dance and monologue on issues including overcoming a life of violence, surviving testicular cancer, struggling with how being gay or disabled fits with being a “black man”, and fear of peeing in public.

I can hardly tell you how moved I was by this.

As a child who was soft-spoken, sensitive and couldn’t catch a ball to save my life, I never felt like I belonged with the other boys. Plenty of them felt the same way and made sure I got the message through exclusion, taunting and bullying. Years of being lost in the woods of drugs, alcohol and sexual and romantic obsession were all ways of trying to bridge this gap internally, but it still never quite felt “right”. To this day I have zero interest in sports, no mechanical aptitude and otherwise frequently feel alienated from my own internalized idea of being a “real man”. Despite being straight, I prefer the company of women and gay men and am as likely as not to identify with their concerns socially and politically.

To see a group of men onstage exploring there own experiences of mismatch and struggle with the traditional idea of masculinity was tremendously affirming. It underscored for me the right and need to define what being a man is on my own terms. Making space for the creation and affirmation of one’s own identity is what freedom movements are all about after all, and men (even straight ones (even white ones)) are as in need of it as anyone else. At least I am!

Apr. 14th, 2009

Great Scott!

Man has invented his doom…

Those of you who know me well know that I am a follower of the prophet Bob Dylan. He, of course, hates to be thought of in those terms, and I can entirely see his point vis-à-vis never intending that status for himself or wanting others to see him that way. As any devotee of the Old Testament can tell you, though, prophets are always reluctant. The initial response to the prophetic call (cf. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc.) can be summarized as, “Whoa, hey, wait a minute, I think you’ve got the wrong guy.”


The marker of prophethood is really more the quality of the revelation that demands to be expressed through the prophet rather than the prophet’s giving assent to bear that message. In that sense, I will go ahead and consider Dylan a prophet, and will proceed to cite one of the passages from his 1983 song “License to Kill”:


Man has invented his doom,The first step was touching the moon.


I always found this refrain to be particularly evocative. It brings to mind a consistent theme in classical apocalyptic literature, that a fundamental rearrangement in human affairs is at hand, and that it is augured in by signs in the heavens. It also features one of the motifs of post-modern apocalypticism, that our own technological overreaching is responsible for the setting the final sequence of events in motion.


This is more or less what I think is already occurring: between advances in computers, human-machine interactions and genetic engineering, the seeds are being laid for the creation of a post-human state that will fundamentally change our existence as we know it. Before the end of the century, we will give birth to (or become (or both, simultaneously)) a new species that will exceed us. Our “doom”, if not necessarily in the sense of destruction, then in the sense of “destined end”. And new beginning…


So, inspired by Dylan and in honor of the recent end of Battlestar Galactica, which itself explored this idea of the consequences of a technological apotheosis and riffed off of Dylan, I’d like to share some links I’ve collected from the first quarter of this year that perhaps show our future, even now, taking form:


Brain-computer interface for gaming http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/science/09/08/Futureofgaming/index.html


Quantum releportation over 1 meter distance http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090122141137.htm


Breakthrough makes human cloning more likely http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/02/human-clones-ap.html


FDA approves first drugs from genetically altered animals http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090206/ap_on_he_me/gene_drug_altered_animals


Contact lens TV http://tech.yahoo.com/blogs/null/121134


Picture overview of robot developments http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/03/robots.html#photo26


Man sees with bionic eye http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7919645.stm


Quick charging batteries could revolutionize world http://www.engadget.com/2009/03/12/mits-quick-charging-batteries-could-revolutionize-the-world-ma/


Brain Scans Can Read Minds http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20090313/sc_livescience/brainscanscanreadmemories


Sugar-coated nanoparticles find hidden tumors http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/03/30/nanoparticles-cancer.html


Robot scientists can think for themselves http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20090402/sc_nm/us_science_robots

Apr. 5th, 2009

Great Scott!

April Writing News

Hard to believe that the year is now 25% over! As a constant generator of internalized time-pressure, this of course fills me with a vague sense of unease about my progress year-to-date. Fortunately, I have these monthly updates, so I can now replace that vague feeling with a very concrete unease about exactly where I am, and share it with all of you!


Film- I’m now fully into the swing of producing the short film that I’ve written, “Three Conversations About No Thing”, for Scary Cow, the independent film-making co-op that I’m part of. It’s looking to be about twenty minutes, and the crew and I just completed the first week of filming, and will shoot more next week. Then follows several weeks of post-production, and a screening at the Victoria Theatre on June 7th. I’m super-excited about the great director, crew and actors working on it, and looking forward to seeing the final, which you can bet I’ll be pushing tickets for on all of you when the time comes.


Publication- My pledge to submit something somewhere every week in 2009 is still in pretty good shape, minus a week here and there. Acceptance and rejection rates are tied at 10% each, with 80% “the sound of one hand clapping”. I currently seem to be on hiatus with the online culture magazine The Rumpus, but if they come back begging me for more and I deign to accept, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, I continue to write for LEGENDmag, an online and offline publication covering the progressive urban independent lifestyle. You can read my March 4th discovery of my identity here: http://legendmag.net/thelegendonline/2009/03/04/quisp-like-me-the-queer-identified-straight-person/


Performance- Okay, okay, see, work and movie-making both got crazy in March. So I didn’t end up reading anywhere. I’ll get back to it this month, I promise! Let’s say the last Friday of the month, April 24th, at the Café International open mic (Haight & Fillmore)? I’ll see you there…


Novel- I’m taking the plunge and submitting the manuscript of my novel, Out In The Neon Night, to a freelance editor I met at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February. She’s going to help me evaluate its readiness to be submitted to agents and publishers, and possibly also target a select list of them. In the meantime, you can read the first chapter on my blog here: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/2009/02/first-chapter-of-my-novel-in-neon-night.html


Blog- Speaking of my blog, see my desperate excuse making in the “Performance” section above. I may not have posted much there is the past month, but what I have you can find here: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/


I’ll get back in touch with you at the beginning of May, at which point the year will be 1/3 over. Egads!

Mar. 4th, 2009

Great Scott!

March Writing News

February was a short month, but I figure it is nonetheless good practice to keep current with regular updates on my creative doings. Even though I still wish we had the leap-day this year. Here’s the latest:

Film- I’ve taken the plunge, and am producing a short film that I wrote for Scary Cow, the independent film-making co-op that I’m part of. The working title is “Three Conversations About No Thing”, and it depicts three conversations about relationship-centered topics that take place in and around a restaurant at the same time. We’re having our first production team meeting this week, and beginning casting this weekend. Assuming we finish, it will show at the Castro on June 7th as part of the Scary Cow screening there. I’ll keep you posted on the latest production news between now and then.

Publication- So far for 2009 I’m doing pretty good keeping up my pledge to submit on a weekly basis. I’m at 7 submissions, with a 14% acceptance rate. That also equals 1 for those of you mathematically inclined, and that one has led to my semi-regular gig with the new online culture magazine The Rumpus.net: http://therumpus.net/author/chris-west/. I continue to write for LEGENDmag, an online and offline publication covering the progressive urban independent lifestyle. You can read my February 12th musing on Hipsters that I wrote for them here: http://legendmag.net/thelegendonline/2009/02/12/hipsters-hipster/ .

Performance- I’m good through February on my commitment to read in public at least once a month, since I read three poems at Sacred Grounds weekly Thursday night poetry reading last week. It was good clean fun, and I think I was the second youngest reader there that night, which is a nice treat at 38. For March I have my eye on Brainwash Café, I’ll let you know the date when I settle on it.

Novel- I speed-dated my novel Out in the Neon Night with agents at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference last month. While nothing concrete came of it, it gave me an opportunity to develop and sharpen a pitch; I met some great writers from all over the country, and was totally inspired in general. One person I met there was a former editor now freelance agent who I’m going to have provide a professional evaluation of the manuscript, which hopefully will help me target agents and publishers. In the mean time, I’ve put the first chapter online, in case anybody wants to see a sample: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/2009/02/first-chapter-of-my-novel-in-neon-night.html

Blog- My blog gathers steam, with two entries in January and three in February. Perhaps we’ll see four in March? If so, you’ll find them here: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/

I’ll be back with more in April!

Feb. 17th, 2009

Great Scott!

First chapter of my novel, "Out in the Neon Night"

Still all jazzed from the San Francisco Writing Conference, I thought it might be fun to post a sample chapter of my novel that I'm currently seeking an agent for, "Out in the Neon night" here. To give you the quick lowdown:

The novel is set in California, Japan and Hong Kong during a fifteen year period from the late 80s through the early 2000s and tells the story of Carl, a young man who descends into a life of romantic and sexual obsession in his teens and twenties, and then has a painful spiritual emergence from it in his thirties. It's made up of five story arcs that take place at discrete points during the fifteen year period, and interweave with each other as they unfold. It's also surprisingly funny in places despite the subject matter, and informed throughout by the rock music of the era.

This is the first chapter, in which Carl is just starting out on the downward spiral...


***********************************************************************************
1. Shot Right Through With a Bolt of Blue

Coming to the Welcome Dance was a mistake.

Carl felt sure of that even before the guy knocked over the table behind him and hit him in the back.
To begin with, wasn’t it a mistake to come out at all? Out into the night where the air waited like a hungry ghost to suck out his breath and suspend it in an icy cloud before him. A cloud that pointed out into the bright and hollow sky, under which he searched, yearned, churned, for…

What? Carl didn’t know. When had the search ever worked for him? What made him think it would work tonight? What explosion would finally happen at the end of the fuse lit by this night if it didn’t fizzle out?

He ran a hand through his long blonde hair, pulled it together behind his head, and surveyed the dance. Nothing but a fizzle seemed likely here in this big box of a room. What could happen among the guys with short haircuts in sweats and shirts bearing names of sports teams, and lean and blonde girls likely straight out of Southern California? He stood there among them in a torn punk-rock t-shirt, baggy pants, and black leather shoes with buckles and shiny steel tips.

This was just as bad as the minimum-security prison masquerading as a high school that he came from. My God, the room even looked like a gym converted into the site of a high school dance! Berkeley should not be like this. Here in the land of the Free Speech Movement, People’s Park and the Third World Strike there should be freedom from the syndicate of jocks, politburo of the popular and oligarchy of rich kids who bought all the right clothes.

Carl shifted his weight from foot to foot. He found it hard to stand up straight so long with no support. But maybe he didn’t look manly enough with his hip out to one side. He shifted, back and forth, back and forth. Should he try to talk to people? Ask someone to dance despite the awful boom-boom-boom of the vapid dance music? All ew baby baby without a single real feeling in any of the songs. Without a person in the whole room who loved the rainyday music of English moors and pale windswept Northumberland towns. Or at least knew the words to a few Depeche Mode songs. Come on already!

If only there were people here he could relate to, then he could move out into the room. Instead he backed away from the crowd and further into the stricture inside his chest. His thoughts twisted tighter and tighter, wrapping him away from the world. A wallflower indeed and he would actually be up against the wall in a moment, with just another step or two backwards—

Which is when the small square brown table tumbled over and hit his back with a glancing blow.

“Fuck this shit!”

As shock staggered Carl forward, the guy who’d knocked over the table continued to curse and wave his arms around in inarticulate rage.

It was hard to see in the dim light, but the guy didn’t look that big. It was a lean frame that poked through his sweatshirt. He was intimidating nonetheless, as he shook his head and seethed disapproval of something. Carl stood rooted to the spot. Maybe he should get out of there; the guy could still be dangerous. Two friends tried to drag the irate table-tosser back, but he jerked his shoulders around and threw them off.

One friend stood in front of him and talked softly with a hand on his chest. Seeing the whole group was black, the thought flashed through Carl’s mind— did the guy throw the table at him because he was white? The group succeeded at last in calming their friend down enough that they could lead him away toward the glow of the exit sign.

Carl stood there for some time afterward. An image of himself flashed through his mind— long hair, dressed funny, and standing with his hip out to one side. Did the guy think he was gay because of the long hair? His bruised back throbbed in time to the music. Boom-boom-boom. Why did this shit always happen to him? Same old high school bully crap— he tried to be okay around people and what did he get for it? Whacked in the back with a table. Fuck this shit indeed.

He wandered back out into the main body of the dance, away from the table-flipping corner of danger. Some movement in the corner of his field of vision caught his eye. A girl.

Not just any girl.

She dressed differently now. A thin white blouse highlighted with green, yellow and orange flowers. A shiny black short skirt. Combat boots. A ghostly gossamer scarf around her neck. Her hair in a bob, buzzed short in the back and long in front, angled downwards to a point on each side of her face. But the round cherubic face framed by her rich dark hair was the same.

Gina Onizuka. Gina, who Carl had a crush on since freshman year of high school. Gina, who, resplendent in long braided pigtails and thick horn-rimmed glasses, sat in the seat in front of him for the duration of the English honor students’ bus trip to the Ashland Shakespeare festival. Fueled by the Vivarin he took in high school to be able speak to people without freezing up, he talked with her non-stop for 17 hours on the way to Oregon. Gina had— that’s right, she had! — come to Berkeley for college. And she was here now, a few feet away. It was perfect, because—

Crap! No, it was not perfect. At least he didn’t think Keisha, the girlfriend mired in junior year of high school back in his hometown at this very moment, would think it was perfect. Keisha, dumbshit, remember? The one he wrote the eighteen-page letter to earlier today? The one he was going to call tomorrow, as soon as the phone was hooked up. Probably before he even called his parents. No, definitely before he called his parents.

Yes, he remembered.

But. But the letter to Keisha was comfortable homesickness. Keisha herself represented pent up pages of love built up over years of never having a girl like him as more than a friend. It had to go to somebody, anybody, and Keisha was the anybody who finally said yes. His feelings for her had grown, by and by, into the hearts and flowers of wholesome first love and awkward innocent sex.

Gina, though, was last year’s Homecoming Dance. He went to every high school dance, just in case the thing that was supposed to happen finally happened that night. She went for reasons unknown to him, perhaps simply because freshman in college are supposed to go back to their high school Homecoming Dance.

Carl remembered the shock when she asked him to dance. This college woman, a whole year older than him, asked him to dance. She, the angel all dressed in black, the very essence of antidote to the obvious unattainable cheerful blondes he didn’t even dare to yearn for. She was not a sweet training-wheel girlfriend like Keisha. No, she was the real thing.

At the end of their dance he grabbed her hand, her perfectly soft hand, impelled by what, he didn’t even know, and squeezed it.

As the throb in his back returned him to the current dance, he could almost feel the warmth of her hand from a year ago. He glanced around the room and saw Gina headed for the exit. Dwarfed against the aircraft hanger ceilings, she was a tiny figure, almost at the door and moving fast. Too fast for him to take time with thoughts of Keisha, shyness or pain from recent airborne table injury. Too fast for anything but the electric impulse that launched him across the room after her.

He dodged near collisions with legions of bright young revelers on the way to the door and out into the dark, cold clarity of night. He found her leaning on the metal railing and staring out in the direction of the elephantine marble pillars of Sproul Hall. With a stealth borne of years of escaping the notice of bullies, he stood beside her without her even realizing.

“Excuse me, miss?”

She turned, her face set with a hard plastic ‘Who is this jerk?’ preparation for dismissal. Then her demeanor shifted and her girlish cheeks dimpled into a smile. She threw herself on him for a hug. As they parted, the softness of her nicely rounded body and the flower-sweet yet sweat-sharp tang of her scent clung to him in cottony ribbons.

“Carl! Hey! You’re at Berkeley now too?”

“I am! I’m glad I ran into you. I heard you were going here.”

“Yeah! Were you at the dance just now?”

“Yeah. Pretty lame music, huh?”

“Yeah.” Her nose wrinkled up and her full coral lips narrowed. He’d seen the same face once on a cat that had eaten a moth.

“So what are you up to?” He stared at her as he asked. Even the breath that shimmered into cold white clouds in front of her seemed beautiful.

“Oh, I don’t know. Hanging out, waiting for classes to start. Going to a lot of shows. Hey, have you been to Gilman Street?”

“Uh, no, I don’t think so.” What the hell was Gilman Street?

“It’s this club; all these local punk bands play there. I’ve gone a lot this summer.”

“Oh cool. Hey, do you still read comics?” That should bring him onto firmer ground. Their common love of comics had animated the discussion on the Oregon bus trip, after all.

“Yeah I do, but not so much Marvel stuff anymore. I tried to keep reading New Mutants, but it sucks dick now. I’m really into Love and Rockets. How about you?”

Man, Love and Rockets. That was one of those alternative, underground comics, wasn’t it? He felt off-balance, even more so because it was the first time he had ever heard a girl use the phrase “sucks dick”. On top of that, here he still read the X-Men and Spider-man. Kids stuff. It took him a second to compose his answer, and he thought it still sounded far too lame.

“Oh, you know, different things, I read different things.”

From inside the dance, an orchestral flourish followed by a regular mechanical computer simulation of an empty tin can beat signaled the start of New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle.

“They’re finally playing something decent!”

“Yeah. Hey, want to dance?” He flashed back to high school as she looked at him for his answer, and then nodded.

Back through the double doors they found a space in the midst of the dance floor. Which wasn’t too hard, the music had sent much of the crowd off to the sidelines. This was no song for bland perfect people. This was a song that Top 40 radio would never play. This was their song.

Every time I think of you
I feel shot right through with a bolt of blue


Shot he was. He let the sway into his body, unsure of how to catch the dit-de-duh-dit-duh-duh-dit of the beat. Utterly unlike Gina, a perfection of motion to the music, with none of the sweet young shallow sexuality that Keisha wore like an old pair of leggings. Gina’s curved hips and small round breasts, snug in her floral print blouse, rolled and flowed like water. This shocked first awareness of sinuous womanhood that seemed to course with the very power of the Universe stuck in Carl’s mind for years to come.

The lights of the dance swirled across her face. It seemed set and impassive now, a formal beauty made even more insistent and present by its distance. The stillness in her face seemed to hint at a whole world of feeling underneath, a direct electric connection to the tragedy of life. His tragedy, and she knew it too. She must know it too. But he felt a faint tickle of unease.

I’m not sure what this could mean
I don’t think you’re what you seem
I do admit to myself
That if I hurt someone else
Then I’ll never see just what we’re meant to be


Carl mouthed the words, but missed the point entirely.

As the Buddhists that he had just begun to read said, by your thoughts you make the world. That night he forged the first link in a chain of co-dependent origination. The wheel of dharma began to spin.

All he knew is that this was surely it, the moment he had waited for through years of being unloved, unlovable. All to be recouped in one fell stroke by Gina, who was punk rock, cool comics, a dangerous roll and tumble of curves. She could inhabit the space inside, the empty space that had been there for as long as he knew. She could fill it.

As the song reached its crescendo through the peaks and troughs of synthesizer waves, he wondered, doubted, felt sure:

She was the reason he came out into the night.

Feb. 15th, 2009

Great Scott!

I’m in Decompression from the San Francisco Writer’s Conference!

I just spent two and a half days at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, at the Mark Hopkins Hotel perilously high atop California Street. For those of you not familiar, it’s an annual event started by local literary agents Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada to allow writers, often as-yet unpublished, to meet and hear from agents, editors and publishers. This is the first time I’ve been, and it was huge! While currently exhausted and in a bit of postpartum withdrawal, I found it to be really inspiring. I have tons of leads about various journals and contests and editorias and publishers to follow up on, I met some really cool writers from all around the country, and I’ve become encouraged about continuing to pitch my novel and working more on my new novel. Most of all it’s just really nice to be around so many people excited about writing, and to hear that publishing remains alive and well and will continue to look for good new authors despite much dire industry news of late. Carry on writing!
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Feb. 4th, 2009

Great Scott!

February 2009 Writing News

It seems I haven’t sent one of these out since September- Egad! Was I caught up in a pre-election tizzy? Knocked for a loop by the holidays? In one of those periodic funks about what my writing efforts were adding up to that we all get from time to time? All of the above! But now I’m back, full of New Year’s fervor, to unleash the latest updates about my creative efforts on you, my hapless victims:

Film- I’ve been low activity in the last two rounds of Scary Cow, the independent film-making co-op that I’m part of. But I was script supervisor and production assistant on a video for a song by local musician Tony Maddox, “The Waiting Game”, which will air at their screening this Saturday (February 7th) at the Castro Theatre. It’s always worth checking out, you can get tickets here: http://scarycow.com/news_pages/2008-12-round7Screening.html . I am approaching 90% likelihood of writing and producing my own short film in their upcoming round, I’ll keep you posted.

Publication- Through the second half of last year I made a pledge to myself to submit something somewhere on a weekly basis, which I kept to pretty well. I am hereby extending that into 2009! For those of you interested in statistics, the 2008 effort has so far led to a 14% acceptance rate, 25% rejection rate and 61% eerie whistling silence rate. 2009 is still in its infancy, but has already yielded one might-become semi-regular outing blogging on music for the ‘around the web” section of the new online culture magazine The Rumpus: http://therumpus.net/sections/music/ . And I’m continuing to write for LEGENDmag, an online and offline publication covering the progressive urban independent lifestyle, where I’ve just become a regular Thursday contributor. You can read my January 9th grouchy musical New Year’s resolution column for them here: http://legendmag.net/thelegendonline/2009/01/09/musical-years-resolutions-san-francisco-09

Performance- I’m making a commitment to read in public at least once a month this year. My first outing was an open mic at the Bazaar Café this past Thursday. My February installment will likely be at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference (for more about which, see below). I’ll update you on where I’ll be in March and going forward. If anybody has some good venue suggestions, let me know!

Novel- After a year of working together, things with my agent seem to be winding down. So, despite the fact that the publishing industry is collapsing along with the rest of the economy, I’ll be trying various new means to find a publisher for my novel Out In The Neon Night this coming year. The first of these is attending the San Francisco Writer’s Conference this month (http://www.sfwriters.org/ ), which includes “speed dating” events with agents and publishers. If nothing else, it should make for a fun story…

Blog- Forty one blog entires in 2008, and two so far in 2009, for better or for worse. You can read them in any or all of the following three locations: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/, http://chrisw-insf.livejournal.com/, http://www.myspace.com/chriswest_writerinsf

That’s it for now, see you in March!

Jan. 19th, 2009

Great Scott!

Three Intentions for 2009

For New Year’s 2007, I was on a retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains which had a New Year’s Eve ritual inviting us to form and share three general intentions for the year. I went to the same retreat again this New Year’s for several days, but I was back in the city for New Year’s Eve itself, so I didn’t do the ritual this time. I can’t be more specific about the reason, except that it involved my girlfriend, some close friends, and Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit. In any case, the ritual was such a valuable thing for me in 2008, not to mention which my intentions also largely came to pass, that even though I didn’t do it there, I’d like to do it again for this year, and share it with you. Here are my intentions for 2009:

1. To invest more in myself physically- I’ve always done gangbusters investing in my mental life, and the last few years I’ve been getting much better with doing the same emotionally and spiritually. My physical life has always been the least developed- sometimes I’ve even thought fondly about being a brain in a jar hooked up to a supercomputer. So, I think this is a year to work on that. What does that mean? Beats me, it’s just a general intention! Seriously, I imagine it will mean all kinds of things about diet, about exercise, about consciously investing in clothes and wardrobe, and about trying new physical activities. Maybe yoga wind surfing?

2. To reconnect with my Muse- While I’ve done a lot of writing in the last two years, and even started and completed some brand new stories, I haven’t really felt the fire (as one example, I haven’t written any new poetry) since going in to rehab at the end of 2006. I think that’s a pretty natural result of having to focus on recovery first these last two years, and I mostly have patience with it as part of a natural ebb and flow. But I do think this is my year to get back in touch with it, while staying safe and sober. So, I’m re-reading old journals to see what’s there that I can connect with, starting to learn music, reading new poetry, creating more time for writing in my weekly schedule and just generally inviting the Muse to alight. Tell her if you see her!

3. To be a little less self-obsessed and a little more connected to other people- Recovery literature regularly talks about most of our problems coming back to self-obsessed suffering, and for me this is definitely true. My external life has really gotten to be pretty darn good these last two years, and the only things I really suffer from these days are old patterns of thinking and feeling that still unspool in my head. So the solution, I have heard, is to spend a little less time there and a little more focusing on other people. Not to mention I might do something nice for others in the process. So tell me, what’s going on with you? Maybe I can take you out to lunch soon…

Those are my intentions for 2009. How about you?

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