"we ground troops still exist"

As some of you know, I was kind of devastated to miss Winter Soldier week before last. And the glimpse I got yesterday reminded me why, in the presence of a half-dozen members of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Some I’ve written about, like Garett Reppenhagen; some I’ve always wanted to meet, like Garett’s buddyContinue reading “"we ground troops still exist"”

…..the more they stay the same

Now we know for sure: military doublespeak has always sounded just like that. First, as the War of 1812 began and rumors surged through the military town of New-York that young men stationed at Staten Island would be deployed in the invasion of Canada, a pro-government newspaper scoffed: “We are authorized to state that no troops stationed on Governor’s Island have proceeded or are ordered to proceed to the North. The rumour that such an order is to be given is false and groundless.” Read that carefully for what it doesn’t say.

what writers block?

Last night we were hanging out with our  neighbors Mike and Betsy Fitelson  (a somewhat unprecedented event, despite the fact that he’s a fellow journo and they live in the apartment next to ours). Midway through,   Mike said something I’ve often tossed off just as easily:  “I don’t know what writers’  block means.” Given aContinue reading “what writers block?”

studying with e.l. doctorow

So when I came across a battered copy of his acclaimed historical fantasia Ragtime, the 1975 book so many of my colleagues at LAGCC used as the spine of entire composition classes, I thought: now’s the time. And like many readers before me, I first ate it up with a spoon, laughing and gaping as people I long knew in other contexts —Houdini, Emma Goldman, and Stanford White (who designed the late lamented Pennsylvania Station) — turned up as full-throated characters. I thought of Tony Kushner’s Ethel when I read of Emma, too – I want to ask him if he did.

And I was jealous, as always, of the ability of fiction writers to create composites, make up dialogue, and weave events whose plots match their themes. Of course, turns out he was jealous himself, as he told the New York Times in 2005: it was 1974, the world was abuzz with New Journalism, and “My feeling was ‘if they want facts, I’ll give ’em facts like they’ve never had before.’ ”

Now, I’m reading the book again, and wondering if there are lessons I can draw from it without crossing over into making shit up (as he acknowledges having done again in The March) or even crossing the line into “creative nonfiction,” a la John Edgar Wideman or Terry Tempest Williams (both of whom my admiration threatens to cross that borderline into worship).

grace and authority

As writers we always want both, and smile when someone we know displays both in their work. It’s especially useful when navigating the world of books — especially, perhaps, of those with any magical/SF element, where genius has to struggle for visibility amid blatant trash. I’m happy to report the arrival of my kid sister’s newContinue reading “grace and authority”

The non-belongers: George Packer's Betrayed

“To this moment, I dream about America.”As the last line of “Betrayed,” George Packer’s acclaimed 2007 New Yorker article about Iraqis working for Americans in Iraq, that sentence was moving and near-elegiac. But as Waleed Zulaiter speaks that line on the stage of the Culture Project, ending Packer’s play BETRAYED, the pain in his voiceContinue reading “The non-belongers: George Packer's Betrayed”

The non-belongers: George Packer's Betrayed

“To this moment, I dream about America.”As the last line of “Betrayed,” George Packer’s acclaimed 2007 New Yorker article about Iraqis working for Americans in Iraq, that sentence was moving and near-elegiac. But as Waleed Zulaiter speaks that line on the stage of the Culture Project, ending Packer’s play BETRAYED, the pain in his voiceContinue reading “The non-belongers: George Packer's Betrayed”

a chinese new year, poe and the spirits of the dead

….Ask yourself what Edgar Allen Poe, William Apess and William Lloyd Garrison have in common. I’m doing the same, while immersing myself in events as they unfold, whether it’s Winter Soldier, ongoing debates about veterans and PTSD, or the end/middle game of this particular war. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a poem by a writer I have always mildly detested, even though I’ve taught his work — written the year he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private.