Archive for October, 2009

Avoiding the Brain Sucker: limiting screen culture, more ghost stories, and notebook hacks.

Posted in blogging, ghost stories, Halloween, lifehacking, literature, old time radio, stationery lust, Uncategorized, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2009 by katekanno

Picture 10Avoiding the brain sucker.

I’ve been limiting my internet hours to the evening, having noticed that I’ve been becoming more and more frazzled and distracted, particularly when it comes to my writing. It’s a creepy experience when you go online to search for specific information only to forget what that was the second your browser appears. This has been scaring me as I’ve always had a steel trap memory, or so my partner complains.

Furthermore, it’s been harming my ability to focus on my writing, and so I’ve decided to stop.

My email can wait until after dinner, so can my podcasts, facebook, twitter, and other interests. It hasn’t been hard really. I get up, and rather than going for that cup of coffee that gives me limitless excuses to go online, I jump into the shower and get dressed. Twyla Tharp in her book The Creative Habit suggests adopting a mundane ritual — hers, is grabbing a taxi — to throw yourself into the right mindset for work. The shower’s worked for me so far.

The hardest part has been writing in longhand, a necessary part of the deal as typing would lure me right back online again. I find I’m more hesitant with a pen, more self-critical, and rather than twitter distracting me, it’s those mean old voices and a desire to snack. Apples have taken care of the latter, but the former, that’s just something you can’t avoid.

At the same time, my writing is less slapdash. I’m less likely to write crap because I know I can go back and fix it later, a mode of thinking that gets me into serious trouble at 10,000 words. I’m no climber, but if I see each word as one foot higher, I’d better damn well be prepared once I get high enough to break my neck. Today, I outlined a story, and although I’m not extremely thrilled with the outcome yet, it is progress.

I’ve also done more dishes, been more helpful to my partner, edited two articles (not mine) and finished reading another book. What’s been interesting and a little unnerving is how hard it was for me to focus on it, at least for a few hours. I had to stop myself, catch my mind wandering, and return to the same paragraph. Reassuring, however, was that I was able to knuckle down after awhile. Using my Piccadilly as a reading journal to jot down new vocabulary, quotations, and thoughts, also helps to keep me physically, if not mentally committed to the reading.

Anyway, one more day til Halloween.

Here is a favorite tale of the occult, Casting the Runes by M.R. James, adapted into an excellent radio program here, and a superb 1957 Val Lewton production with Dana Andrews.

The Thought is a 1950 radio presentation from the Haunting Hour. I don’t know who the writer is, but the Wurlitzer here is out of control. Seriously, I was harried not so much by the story, but by nervously anticipating each blast of the organ. Jeez guys, it’s just a telepath predicting a murder. Lighten up, will ya?

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31/31 28 Days Later

Posted in ghost stories, Halloween, movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2009 by katekanno

carmillaToday’s story “Squire Toby’s Will” takes on near Faulknerian proportions: the rotting old estate, the family dispute, implicational inbreeding, and loud hints of beastiality.

Then in his dream this semi-human brute would approach his face to his, crawling and crouching up his body, heavy as lead, till the face of the beast was laid on his, with the same odious caresses and stretchings and writhings which he had seen over the old Squire’s grave.


Yes, that’s right, folks. This story has a grave humping dog.

And you were worried about your leg.

At any rate, J.Sheridan Le Fanu was one of the main originators of the vampire in its modern incarnation, and more importantly, the lesbian vampire film genre. Le Fanu wrote Carmilla, which was partially based on Coleridge’s lesbian vampire poem “Christabel” and history was made. Or actually, Hammer Studios adapted it with Ingrid Pitt, and history was made.

The second story is an audio version of The Upper Berth, a classic sea story by Francis Marion Crawford. I have a copy of this in an audio version of Classic Tales of Ghosts and Vampires, but here’s a free version from Literal Systems, an incredibly cool site with quality readings of public domain works. Like Quiller-Couch’s story, this one combines ghosts and ships, and you can’t get better than that, John Carpenter’s The Fog being one of those most underrated horror films of the 1970s. I mean, come on! He followed up a seminal slasher film with an old-fashioned ghost story. That took a lot of guts, which was why there weren’t any visible in The Fog. Anyway, The Fog rules! I’ll shut up about it now.

At any rate, I believe that Southern California is behaving in oddly Halloween like ways. For example, it was actually cold tonight, and the leaves are actually brown. Here’s to seeing out my last Samhain here properly.

Posted in ghost stories, Halloween, Uncategorized, writing with tags , , , on October 26, 2009 by katekanno

edithnesbitTwo ghost stories tonight. The first is “Mansize in Marble,” a rather sad tale by children’s author Edith Nesbit. Nesbit, often mistaken for the girl-in-the-red-velvet swing, Evelyn Nesbit, was the original J.K. Rowling.

The second is a The Roll Call of the Reef by Arthur Quiller-Couch, very enjoyable mainly for the incredibly cool combination lock that serves as a major plot point. Quiller-Couch was a much emulated writer of his time, and wrote this essay on writing in 1916. He wrote under the name “Q” which is about as cool as you can get, was Alistair Cook’s teacher at Oxford, and was an all around eccentric known for purple prose.

At any rate, am getting sleepy, and need to get to bed and read more ghost stories. 6 more days till Halloween.

Blaming the Victim, American Style

Posted in education, narcissism, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2009 by katekanno

brightsidedLast year, while working in one of the roughest schools in one of the roughest districts of Orange County, I had a chance to see how the positive thinking/ self-help movement had slimed its way into public education. Each day at School X came with newly minted (and labeled) behavioral problems, expulsions, and cop cars, always cop cars. Many of the kids were flirting with, or had already taken on, gang membership, and during my last week a group of students caused a five car pile up by hurling rocks into passing traffic.

Despite the poverty and often abusive conditions under which many of these kids lived, the only remedy the principal could arrive with his fevered lack of imagination was chicken soup. Real soup might have been better considering the crap they were being fed at school, but no, I’m talking about Jack Canfield.

Yes, indeed. The school had made a deal with the Chicken Soup tripe spewing machine, and each week before their lessons for the day would commence, students were subjected to a three minute mini morals read in a cracked, schmarmy voice that made the After School Specials of the 70s seem weighty in comparison.

I remember standing in the classroom one post Christmas morning, the economy having just ground to a halt, when a story about a curtain salesman who screws up an order sprang forth from the loudspeaker – riveting, I know. The salesman, you see, had mistaken a customer’s order for Venetian blinds, but rather than owning up to it, he’d blamed the credit card company for his mistake.

I couldn’t help wondering what kind of loony, officious moron would think that a lie told by a terrified, eight-dollar-an-hour service rep, would be interesting to kids whose parents, in the age of deregulation, mostly like had one or more creditor’s hands at their throats. More likely, if they were listening at all, they would probably side — as I did — with the salesman whose foisting the blame on an industry responsible for so many of this country’s financial ills was less a character -damning lie than an act of resistance.

I tell this story, because it is exactly the kind of thing that Barbara Ehrenreich eviscerates in her book “Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America.” Ehrenreich’s book explores how our Calvinist work ethic mingled with the new thought of Mary Baker Eddy into a gallimaufry of blind optimism and a blame-the-victim mentality just ripe for corporate manipulation. If I have one complaint, it’s that she doesn’t cover the education system; her descriptions of laid-off employees being cheerfully browbeat into submission were certainly a larger version of what this principal was doing to these kids.

It’s not your poverty, or your “language arts” teacher whose interest in the spoken work stops at the Michael Jackson slogans she’s pasted to her podium; it’s not the lack of art or music available in your school because your test scores haven’t met state requirements; it’s not the standards peddling principal who won’t let even your good teachers enjoy some creative freedom; it’s not the fact that your parents must work two or sometimes three low-paying jobs in order to feed you, and often must take you with them while they work. It’s not the two or three shootings that happen weekly outside your house, or the fact that you live in a motel or share an apartment with three other families.

Nope.

It’s your attitude, see?

Now, click your heels.

31/31 Catching up. More Vernon Lee and Bram Stoker

Posted in ghost stories, Halloween, literature, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 23, 2009 by katekanno

stokerWhen beginning this blog, I intended to, however casually, add in my own illustrations for the stories rather than just grab a photo off of the internet. However, time, illness, and other constraints kept me from doing so consistently, so now I’m catching up. Here are two portraits I’ve drawn of Bram Stoker and Vernon Lee. They’ll be replacing the photos I had of the writers in vernonleeprevious posts, but I thought I’d post them here as well.

As for today’s story, having done these two illustrations, I’ll stick with Stoker and Lee. I was able to find a transcription of Lee’s Hauntings released in 1890.This isn’t just one story, but the entire book so if you can put it on your kindle, nook, iphone, whatever you have, it should do nicely.

Here’s another short story by Stoker: “In the Valley of the Shadow” available from P.M. Calduff’s informative site.

Apologies if I’ve not been accessing lesser known writers or those I haven’t covered yet. This second cold really took me down and I’ll be jumping back into the fray. One more week til Halloween!

Enjoy!

On Tarzan and gender stereotypes– it's not what you think.

Posted in academic speak, books, gender, genre wars, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2009 by katekanno

Picture 7Today is the 97th anniversary of the publication of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan of the Apes. In celebration, today’s L.A. Times has chosen to reprint Gore Vidal’s 1963 essay, which includes an accordingly Sterling Cooper style dismissal of the female genre fan.

“These books are clearly for men. I have yet to meet a woman who found Tarzan interesting: no identification, as they say in series-land.”

I’m not sure whether Mr. Vidal would still care to back up that statement, but as a female who’s read the books, and still keeps her supersized Joe Kubert comic adaptations in the closet, I’d like to have a word.

Sometime after I started elementary school my mother went back to college and enrolled in a survey on the adventure novel, lots of Tarzan, John Carter, and She Who Must Be Obeyed. She read them all to me, and while I’m thankful for every word, it was really the abandoned Lord Greystoke who provided my first model for discovery.

Strip Tarzan of its wild beasts and skimpy clothes, and it can no longer be reduced to a semi-pornographic tale of the colonial manly man, but rather a series of thrilling “aha!” moments: a boy realizing he’ll be a lot warmer in that panther’s pelt, teaching himself to read, learning French under Lieutenant D’Arnot, and finally immersing himself in an alien culture of starched collars and strictly observed tea times, only to reject that world and return to himself – a perfect metaphor for grad school and its discontents.

It was Edgar Rice Burroughs who first made me aware that the discovery one’s otherness can be a powerful catalyst for learning, and that, while we may encounter kindly French soldiers and beautiful women along the way, ultimately, we do it alone.

That Mr. Vidal thinks or thought that only men could identify with these novels is not surprising given the time period, but in dismissing the possibility of female identification, he also pooh-poohs the notion that women desire to learn, discover, and create. And while Vidal’s patrician background may have blindsided him, it is certain that, like Greystoke on his return to England, we all deal with those alienating signals from those who think learning is a class privilege.

What woman (or man) couldn’t identify with that?

31/31 "The Judge's House" by Bram Stoker and OTR adaptation

Posted in books, ghost stories, Halloween, literature, old time radio, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2009 by katekanno

This is the first time since starting this blog that I’ve missed a day. Was sick two weeks ago. I think, as I’ve had a fever for the last three days, that it’s probably a mild case of flu. And as I haven’t been given license to lie around in bed and read to my heart’s content, I’ve taken advantage of it.

I was able to take good chunk out of Project Guiltpile, finishing The Magic Mountain and Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided. More on those later when I’m a tad more lucid.

Today’s ghost story is “The Judge’s House” by Bram Stoker. This was one I didn’t care for: a first sentence introducing a protagonist named “Malcolm Malcolmsen” provides all the chilly foreshadowing of an Archie comic. There were rats, there were persnickety portraits, and a gloomy, old, unrentable house, but the end result was more meh-he-heh than Muh-hah-hah.

There’s a little more of the latter in this Old Time Radio adaptation from The Hall of Fantasy. This one is brought courtesy of mevio.com. Wait through the ten second ad, and you’ll get to it.

Now “He Who Follows Me”, also from the above is a spine tingling Scotch clog of a tale. You’ll never interpret footsteps in quite the same way again.