Just back from the Fort Worth Bookfest’s Books ‘n Boots Soiree at Lou’s Place on the Texas Wesleyan Universitycampus, where I learned the following:
“They say Fort Worth is where the West begins, but the fact of the matter is that Dallas is where the East just kind of peters out.”
I also got the impression that this is going to be a fun weekend.
Three writers with ties to Texas Wesleyan read from their works. Dr. Jeffrey DeLotto read from his novel A Caddo’s Way; Marjorie Herra Lewis read from her novel When the Men Were Gone; and Michelle Hartman read poems from her Disenchanted and Disgruntled(in which we learn what happened to the “eighth and most annoying dwarf, Gropey.”)
So there are three more titles on my To Be Read list.
Click hereto see authors who will appear at the festival, and the covers of their books. Click through the pictures and you’ll eventually see my head shot and the cover of Murder on Wheels. They’re the same pictures you’ve seen before, and I don’t advocate covering old territory, but it’s a heady experience for me to be included with real writers.
I’m not supposed to engage in such defeatist talk, but after listening to the authors read tonight, I did look around the room and wonder what I’m doing here.
No matter. I’m here.
This is going to be a fantastic book festival.
Citations: Here’s a picture of my notes. I like to get things right, and since I had nothing to write on but a napkin . . .
Lester Hessenpfeffer awakens on a bath rug stuffed into the corner of a gigantic cage and stares into the open eyes of the bull mastiff. The dog wags his tail once, twice, and Lester feels his chest tighten with joy. Just before he fell asleep, he’d been preparing a speech for the dog’s owners about how he’d done his best, how he’d tried everything, but . . . Samson had ingested a few Legos the day before, which the owners’ great-grandchildren had left lying about. One had perforated his intestine. By the time he was brought to Lester’s clinic, the dog was in shock and the prospects for saving him were almost nil. Lester had slept in the cage with him to provide comfort not so much for the dog as to himself. He’d known Samson since he was a puppy, and he was very fond of the owners, an elderly couple who thought Samson hung the moon. They’d wanted to spend the night at the clinic, but after Lester told them he’d be literally right beside the dog, they reluctantly went home. Lester had hoped they’d get some sleep, so that they could more easily bear the news he was pretty certain he’d have to deliver in the morning. This is always the worst part of his job, telling people their pet has died. Sometimes they know it, at least empirically; on more than one occasion someone has brought a dead animal into the office hoping against hope that Lester can revive it. And when he can’t, he must say those awful words: I’m so sorry. He’s noticed a certain posture many people assume on hearing those words. They step back and cross their arms, as though guarding themselves against any more pain, or as though holding on more time the animal they loved as truly as any other family member, if not more. Oftentimes, they nod, too, their heads saying yes to what their hearts cannot accept.
But here Samson is, alive and well enough to give Lester’s face a good washing with a tongue the size of a giant oven mitt. “Hey, pal,” Lester says, “you made it. Let’s have a look at that dressing.” He rises to his knees and very gently turns the dog slightly onto his side. Samson whimpers and holds overly still, the way that dogs often do when they’re frightened. There’s a lot of drainage, but nothing leaking through. He’ll give Stan something for pain and then call Stan and Betty. By the time he’s done talking to them–he can anticipate at least a few of the questions they’ll have–he’ll be able to change the dressing without causing the dog undue distress. He thinks Samson will be able to stand and move about a little this afternoon, and imagines him lifting his leg with great dignity against the portable fireplug his staff uses for cage-bound male dogs (the girls get Astroturf). The portable bathrooms had been Jeanine’s idea; she was always coming up with good ideas. She had the idea for Pet Airways before they came up with Pet Airways, although her suggestion was that owners and pets fly together–cages would be installed next to seats so that an owner could reach down and scratch behind an ear, or speak reassuringly, or offer a snack. This was a much better idea for alleviating the stress caused to animals when they fly, and Lester advised Jeanine to write to Pet Airways suggesting it. She said she’d rather keep the idea for herself, because she wanted to start Dog Airways, as it is her belief that only dogs really care when their owners are gone. She is by her own admission a dog chauvinist, but she’s good to all animals who come to the clinic, even the hamster whose hysterical owner brought her in because she was gobbling up her babies as soon as she gave birth to them.
Jeanine also had the idea that Lester should attend his high school reunion. When the invitation had come to the clinic, Jeanine had opened it, and then immediately begun a campaign to get her boss to go. Lester knew what she had in mind–she wanted him to find a woman. . . .
“As onetime classmates meet up over the course of a weekend for their fortieth high school reunion, they discover things that will irrevocably affect the rest of their lives. For newly divorced Dorothy, the reunion brings with it the possibility of finally attracting the attention of the class heartthrob. For the ever self-reliant, ever left out Mary Alice, it’s a chance to reexamine a painful past. For Lester, a veterinarian and widower, it is the hope of talking shop with a fellow vet–or at least that’s what he tells himself. For Candy, the class beauty, it’s the hope of finding friendship before it’s too late. As these and other classmates converge for the reunion dinner, four decades melt away; desires and personalities from their youth reemerge, and new discoveries are made. For so much has happened to them all. And so much can still happen.”
“For the delightful hours it takes to read this novel, it seems that the characters jumped off the page and joined the crowd for a casual family supper.” — Chicago Tribune
“Marvelous . . . plenty of pathos and can’t-stop-laughing moments . . . readers will care about every character. — The Oklahoman
“Book groups are clamoring for upbeat yet significant works that are entertaining as well as enlightening; Berg’s latest novel satisfies and succeeds on both counts.” — Booklist
It is 3:30 a.m. I stayed up working on a website for a friend. Then I replied to some emails. Then I wrote several more emails to the same people, as if I thought they were awake and waiting for them. In fact, one of them was awake, and she read my email and replied, so I replied to her.
Then I checked out a page of Shakespearean insults. Earlier in the evening I had found a blog with a title very like the one at the top of this page, so it’s obvious I need a new one–the fact that I’m down to a cow as header is another clue things here are wearing thin; I love cows, but I don’t consider them header material–and before I can do anything else, I must have a title, and the title must be literary. And since Lewis Carroll is pretty well taken up, I turned to Shakespeare. Why I chose insults, I don’t know, except that a while back I found a perfect title there–Guts and Midriff. It’s from Henry IV Part I: Act 3, Scene 3. The entire quotation goes this way:
There’s no room for faith, truth, nor honesty in this bosom of thine. It is all filled up with guts and midriff.
For vivid imagery, there’s no one better than Shakespeare.
Except for Mark Twain. Finding no insult that seemed appropriate, I turned to a site of Twain quotations and, of course, ended up on the cat page. Twain liked cats. A lot. And his family had a passel of them. Put Mark Twain and cats together, and I’ll read quotations all night without a thought of a blog title.
I think my love of Twain comes from growing up among men who talked like Twain wrote. My father and his Woodward uncles, one of whom lived next door, had the same–I don’t know what, but they had it. If a stenographer had followed them around, the transcripts would have had a lot of Huck Finn in them. When Huck says that Pap has a couple of his toes leaking out the front end of his boot–I can hear my dad saying it. One of my greatest regrets is that the last time he and his three brothers were together, I sat there for three or four hours listening to them remember but didn’t get up and go into the next room for the tape recorder. Well, spilt milk.
Anyway, in my moseying through the Twain and cats page, I discovered the quotation at the first of this post–not something Twain wrote, but something he said to his secretary about the cat that was shredding her dress–and thought it would make a decent post. But when I got it on the page, it looked so small all by itself, so I decided to add a few words of my own. And now I have, so I without further ado, I shall sign off.
We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to.—Somerset Maugham
After two days of letting A. A. Milne and Mark Twain do my thinking for me, I buckled down this evening and composed an essay about my experiences teaching high school English.
Actually, I wrote about half of a draft in which I said that all except three of my students hated writing, and that when I became a better teacher about a dozen showed slight enthusiasm for writing, and that after the library (to which I had fled in search of a job that would allow me to buy books with other people’s money) connected to the Internet and let students open e-mail accounts, those who had formerly resisted picking up a pen skipped lunch to park themselves at my computers and e-mail students sitting less than a foot away when they could have just turned their heads and spoken face-to-face.
Of course, I said that in shorter sentences, but a lot more of them.
I was planning to say that kids who’d been telling their composition teachers, “But I don’t have anything to say,” suddenly found plenty to say. I was going remark that the novelty of the technology contributed to the verbal onslaught. I was going to mention that the definite sense of aim, mode, and audience also promoted fluency.
I was going to expand the discussion from students with e-mail to adults with blogs. I was going to say that two weeks ago I joined the NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) network and, following its dictates, have posted on two blog sites every blessed day for thirteen days straight, even when I haven’t had anything worth saying.
I was going to say I’m running out of pictures of my cats, and there are only so many poses they’re willing to strike, and I’d prefer not be pigeonholed as a chronicler of cute.
I was going to say that more than 12,000 other people are blogging at NaBloPoMo–poetry, journals, photographs, devotionals, stories, recipes, a plethora of words, words, words. I was going to marvel at what appears to be a compulsion among people who, like my students (and I was going to admit I had once shared feeling), would once have found it difficult or foreign or unimaginable to put pen to paper.
I was going to wonder about this desire to create, to share, to vent, to communicate, to play, to do whatever we’re doing when we contribute to the sentences flooding cyberspace.
I was going to say that some people tat or make doilies or whittle, and we write.
Then I was going to draw a lesson, wise and well-phrased, from all the foregoing, and end with a nod to novelist Somerset Maugham, whose words precede mine on this page.
That’s what I said and what I was going to say.
Unfortunately, about three hundred words in, I touched an alien key and deleted everything except the HTML for font, and I couldn’t find the Undo icon because I’d composed on a new blog I’d set up on a rival blog site and hadn’t read all the instructions and found out I’d have to undo with a keystroke rather than an icon.
So now, instead of referring to Maugham, I shall end by paraphrasing Blaise Pascal, Mark Twain, T. S. Eliot, and any others to whom the line has been attributed, and say that this post would have been shorter but I didn’t have time.*
*It would have had better sentence structure, too. But it’s a lot less pompous, ponderous, and moralistic in this who-cares version.
Reposted from Whiskertips, July 23, 2009
Image by Julitofranco (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons