Friday, August 31, 2007

maximum smitage

smitage: n. the condition or experience of aesthetic/spiritual rapture, leading frequently to demolition. see: extasis. From the Old French smitolier, an archaic form of Whack-a-Mole performed with stale baguettes, a cow-hide tarpaulin, and six to eight members of the peasantry.

ex.: "Your workshop story, though technically proficient, evokes minimal smitage."

Poseidon to Zeus: "That right there was some smitage."

Acts of high to ridiculous smitage: Guy Davenport's essays, Witold Gombrowicz's Diary, Ronald Johnson's ARK.

Low smitage: Graham Greene. Any word in which "X" replaces "Christ." Unless you are referring to the guy who put gates up in Central Park, "Xo".

Maximum Smitage: unknown. Probably bright enough to see from space.

Finished a first draft of my "Dined with Goethe" story this morning. Diary form. First story I've finished in about a year, will probably stink like yesterday's diapers in about forty-five minutes.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Myth Mix

Dr. Mario came along later in the game and it appealed to a different sensibility. My father, for example, wouldn't waste his time playing Super Mario Brothers. To him, Super Mario was juvenile, ridiculous, and too hard. Perhaps it was the left to right motion of the game--my father grew up playing pinball and was probably more comfortable with the top to bottom motion of Dr. Mario.

As for me, even as a kid, I found Super Mario Brothers absurd and childish. Even then (I was ten years old) I considered the game a tremendous waste of time. Dr. Mario offered a way out: It actually seemed productive! Of course, this might have been the addiction talking.

Today, I find it hard to play any type of video game. I suppose I can't help but feel like Hemingway, who writes about wasting time in A Moveable Feast: "I felt the death loneliness that comes at the end of every day that is wasted in your life."

By the way, I too was what you might call a mythological kid. I was groomed on Clash of the Titans and a hardback book called Gods, Men, & Monsters from the Greek Myths. I loved the illustrations by Giovanni Caselli.

We'll have to talk about the myth thing because myth looms large in my life. Only thing, when I was younger I was attracted to Greek mythology because I loved the heroism of Hercules and Perseus. I wanted to be a hero. As an adult though I realize that what attracts me to the myths is the obvious weaknesses of the heroes. Today, I feel much closer to the fucked-up gods of Homer than Harry Hamlin's Perseus. (Although I still love Clash of the Titans...)

OK, I have the day off from work and I'm about to dive into a new story. I have no idea where I'm going...I'm a little worried.

(You never answered my question: What the hell is smitage?)

yeah Nofriendo!

I was hoping we wouldn't get to video games.

There is just too much to talk about. But in honor of Mr. Malozzi and my own Robust Soul...

As a writer, I can list about a handful of "influences" - in other words people I'd like to write like. Tolstoy, Gombrowicz, that guy who wrote The Perfect Storm (actually I just want his jawline and predatory butt-chin). However as a person, I have to admit that I am composed almost entirely of equal parts 1)The Simpsons 2)Bruce Springsteen and 3)Super Mario Brothers.

Like rings on a tree these three eras of my life co-exist comfortably - but the exact proportion each takes up will have to remain unknown until I am chopped into toothpicks. Suffice to say I was a satiric, romantic, and above all mythological kid. I memorized the Greek alphabet in order to combat my best friend/arch nemesis Tom Aquino's (real name!) incredible ability to spell the chemicals he got off the back of shampoo bottles. I read Edith Hamilton's Mythology and the Children's Illustrated Eddas and imagined myself splitting Jupiter open like a watermelon.

Why did I do this? We were living abroad at the time, my dad worked for the UN, and television in most developing countries is beyond shitty. Zambian TV consisted of a single channel, which showed Christian broadcasting all day and then two hours of pirated South African programming between 8 and 10 pm. For a while we could catch Fresh Prince, or - and my family got really excited about this - Dynasty. The episodes were shown out of order, frequently repeated, but none of us really cared. My parents were so ecstatic at being let back in the pearly gates of the American televisual paradise that they even let us eat dinner in their bedroom, where the TV was. They censored nothing, despite what I now recognize was the show's serious steaminess. Afterwards my brother and I spent hours discussing what, exactly, Heather Locklear had been doing in that hay bale.

So no TV - and for a long time, no other kids either. But a lot of strange scenery and interesting trees and animals. We had chameleons in our yard, tons of them - they were like squirrels - which we brought inside and put on different surfaces, to watch the way they changed color. One time, one of them turned a tarry black and crawled behind the couch and died. After that, no more chameleons in the house.

(I am talking about all this, by the by, partly in an attempt to one-up your Malozzi story, which reeked of swiftness)

Anyway, one day my father, brother and I returned from a long drive, during which my father had been describing The Empire Strikes Back to us (our favorite story despite the fact that we'd never seen it), to find my mother waiting on the porch with a huge smile on her face. Inside, we found out why: the Socrates had come. The long-promised Socrates, whose hand-carried delivery from the States had cost us three jars of Jiffy Peanut Butter (so it went in expatriate Africa), but which would now change our life. My mother promised: it would change our life.

No one remembers the Socrates these days, and for good reason: it was easily the most boring "video gaming" console available ever made. I say "video gaming" because, if there were actual games involved in its operation ("games" implying fun, or at least amusement), my brother and I couldn't find them. The thing could word process (awkwardly) and draw (an awesome, turquoise-blue mouse and mouse pad were included in the box). Maybe there was an Oregon-trail type cartridge, to improve "factual retention." But for the most part, the most fun thing about the Socrates was reading the instruction manual.

Needless to say, we were bored of the whole setup within a week; at which point my mother, to make herself feel better about our exorbitant purchase, or maybe in a little attempt at reverse psychology, became Socrates's only regular user (even she couldn't sit in front of its ugly pixellation for more than half an hour at a time).

Now skip ahead to that fateful moment, let's say a year and a half later, when I first saw Super Mario Brothers. Maybe it was at my cousin's house, maybe Tom Aquino's. Maybe it wasn't actually in Zambia at all - maybe it was in Papua New Guinea, when my parents bought a used Nintendo system from a family with a water-filled swimming pool (ours had grass in it). I must have watched whoever was playing (maybe it was me?) for four hours. Wha's a goomba? Who's Bowser? What can a Raccoon suit do that a Frog suit can't? There was an answer for everything; and each of these answers led, amazingly enough, to another question.

Eventually it was time to play outside; at which point the first thing I did was begin designing my own video game - which ended up taking up a whole three-ring binder and a year of my young life. It was called Metroplex. Metroplex, Metroplex: for a long time every little thing I saw or noticed went into that word.

I always liked watching other people play more than I liked playing. I liked the made-upness of the world, how it had its own rules that fit into one another like the pieces of a puzzle. When you were done, you could fold the whole thing up and put it in your pocket.

A question: what is the difference between a Dr. Mario fan and a Super Mario Bros. fan? I would suggest a lot. For example, your Malozzi story had a certain Doctoral verve: it seemed to fall down my screen, flipping manically and shuttling back and forth until finally it fit.

Help me figure this fucker out.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


What the hell is smitage? And how do I go about supplementing my lack of it?

“Seventh Draft” does sound like a nerdy video game—nerdy in the sense that the video game nerd themselves would look down upon it with scorn and pity, probably making fun of its lack of violence and/or dungeons and warlords.

I hear the great, violent game these days is Halo 3. Perhaps this blog is more Dr. Mario or Tetris. That's fine: I'm a dominant Dr. Mario player.

I’m not sure why the prospect of an audience stymied us. I’m more sure though that we probably don’t need to worry about too much of an audience. I have one, two stalkers at most and they seem to be satisfied stalking my Myspace profile. But come to think of it, there is danger. I have about ten or twelve on-line identities. My wife thinks I'm building a map for potential stalkers, leading them right to my doorstep, dropping clues here and there on my various profiles. Here, on this blog, I might not tell you I live in an apartment in Ambler. I will not tell you this elsewhere. But elsewhere, if you're attentive, I’ll tell you where I stash my jewel encrusted iPod.

We really don’t have an iPod. My wife wants to divert a portion of our income to the “Karen iPod fund.” I want to use the same money to somehow market myself as a Robust Soul. As a Robust Soul I will offer my service: Helping others become Robust Souls via super digestion and frequent outbursts of self-esteem!

But back to Dr. Mario: I swear on my wife's life that in my prime I was one of the top ten or so best Dr. Mario players in America. I was a senior in high school, I was utterly unbeatable, and I was so non-chalant about my primacy that my brother and father, avid Dr. Mario players themselves, probably considered plotting my murder.

At the time my brother had just graduated law school, my father had just retired from his job, and as far as I could tell they had both decided to take a year off to play Dr. Mario. And play they did, incessantly, all day and all night, in my room, on the weekends as I tried to court my future wife, and late into the weekday nights as I tried to rest up for school.

I never played but when I did I crushed them easily. I was so good I mystified them. To tell the truth I mystified myself too. How was I so good? I don't know. It might have been the drugs.

Anyway, that year I met my Dr. Mario match: Mr. Malozzi. Mr. Malozzi was the special education teacher at my school. In the second half of my senior year I devoted a portion of my time to hanging out with the special ed. kids. I went down into the bowels of the school once a day and hung out with the most lively, fun-loving, and chaotic group of kids I had ever met in my life. Most of the kids had Down's Syndrome, a few had severe Autism.

Mr. Malozzi was their task-master. He was also the center of their world and I entered his realm like an outsider, arousing suspicion and giggles. One day I merely mentioned Dr. Mario and Malozzi went off.

He pronounced: I am the greatest Dr. Mario player alive.

I have to admit, his gusto impressed me.

Still, I said: No way.

And so the stage was set. It must have been a Thursday because Malozzi set up a Grand Match for Friday afternoon. I skipped it as I skipped every Friday.

When I came back, Monday, the kids actually hissed and booed. I looked on the chalkboard. In bold letters it said: Malozzi winner--Seth Loser.

The kids thought I had wimped out. I was pissed. I loudly proclaimed a challenge, on the spot. Malozzi agreed with all the smitage he could muster. (Did I use "smitage" right?)

Long story short: I kicked Malozzi's motherfucking ass.

I have never, ever so fully dominated as I did that afternoon. Next day, I walked in and Ms. H, Malozzi's assitant teacher, handed me a bouquet of roses. The entire class cheered and hailed me, "The Winner."And of course, the chalkboard was amended. It said: Malozzi loser--Seth winner.

Wow, that's the first time I've wrote about Malozzi. I had no intention too, but it seemed necessary after mentioning Dr. Mario. I suppose I've accrued thirty years worth of shit like that, little experiences that still give me little moments of joy and pain. And I suppose that's how I deal with my inability to write in a flash. I consider all the times I've thought to myself: Holy Fuck, I have to write about that!

Only thing, Mr. Malozzi usually never comes out as Mr. Malozzi. Likely he shows up as a symptom, or a strong handshake, or a rose, or whatever. The thing is I pay service to him, and life, by writing.

Only thing, life will happen to you no matter what you do. But one thing I learned that won't just happen, like life, is teaching myself to write well, so, any time I spend doing that, can stand to spend—all that time that seems wasted and those rare moments that seem volcanic—is time I need to spend, or else I'll never become the writer I want to become. And there's two funny things about that, one is that I'll never become the writer I want to become because it's impossible to know exactly what kind of writer one wants to become, and two, I'll never be satisfied, never really know if I'm any good.

My own sense of my writing has always been what have I done lately? To me, it's the writing now-ness of it, and in this I think all writers are equals in the fog, each of us with a single flashlight with the batteries only lasting so long.

So really it seems to me that you just need to jump off the bridge.

Sooner or later you have to forget the sag.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sagging, what to do about it


Disappointed though I am by your lack of smitage, I like "Seventh Draft" as a name--although it does sound kind of like a video game. A very nerdy video game.

So, the difficulty both of us had in coming up with something passably witty seems like a good place to start. Why was this so hard?

Why, in other words, did the wave of semi-creative correspondence that we'd been riding up to this point in our e-mails begin to dry as soon as the promise of an audience loomed?

And how can we (I mean me here, but hopefully you can get something out of the question too) get back to writing good letters, fiction, or, failing that, blog names?

I've been thinking about this question a lot lately, mostly because of my own literary constipation. Maybe I'm being sentimental--but I seem to remember a time when writing a paragraph didn't feel like trying to shit Thanksgiving dinner out through a coffee stirrer. When there was a certain amount of swinging from the vines delight involved in it.

I'm not talking about writer's block, exactly--actually I'm not sure what I'm talking about. Weirdly enough, the things that have helped me focus the problem so far have been images (this is how I tend to think about abstract stuff). So sentences, which I used to write quickly, now appear in my mind like rope bridges, over which I'm slowly lining up a series of half-asleep pack mules. The bridge sags more and more until finally, there's no way to get across. You'd think it would break at this point; but it never breaks. It just sags there mule-loaded.

Good writing, on the other hand, is more and more a flash, a sort of bold, semi-risky slice: the kind of gesture I imagine sculptors using to excise, say, a nose they didn't like (probably sculptors don't do this).

To use a sports example, when I play embarrassingly bad tennis with my girlfriend, I set my feet and wind up, but then tend to hit balls so that they barely dribble over the net.

Why? Timidity. No topspin, no technique.

I suck, in other words. When I'm running after a really strong hit, on the other hand, I usually return pretty well, because I'm off balance, not thinking, and therefore allowing my body (which knows more about tennis than I do I guess) to take over.

Slow like a wall or swift like a knife. Not the most specific terms, but this is how I'm framing it right now. The Northern and Southern borders of Josh Can't Write Town.

Slow: my body, my stories, important things.

Swift (don't know why I'm not just using "fast" here, but I'm not): letters, diaries, marginalia, essays, unimportant things (the great river of "unofficial" literature, for example, which I'm just discovering and that we've got to talk about.)

An interesting irony in all this: that the stuff I enjoy most these days is painfully slow reading. For a long time I was all about the story, but now reading a snappy plot feels being shot out of a catapult to me. I like slowing down, feeling as if sentences have doors in them. Books like maps, and reading therefore more like exploring an island than shooting the luge.

Seventh Draft


I went for a run today and tried to think of a name for this blog. I fretted. I came home and started pulling books from my bookshelf. I considered: "Too Loud a Solitude" (It was taken.) Skimming Sebald's Austerlitz, I considered: "But the truth is that we do not know what the herring feels." (Probably too long.)

Then I went back to your recent e-mail and considered a few of your suggestions:

NeuRoman (because it's my favorite font and punny! And pretentious!)

dialoghorrea (we'd have to say that this is pronounced Eva Longorea)

guitarface (I like this one, but it may be misleading/taken)

To be honest, I wasn't smitten. In the end I signed up for the blog and under pressure offered "Rough draft" which of course was taken, then "First Draft", also taken, then "Second Draft" and so on, until I got to "Fifth Draft" which was not taken. But what special ring does "Fifth Draft" have? None, in my opinion. So I skipped all the way up to "Seventh Draft" and that's what we have, although even then I would have preferred "Seventh Rewrite" or "Seventh Substantial Rewrite" or "Vomit Mouth", which my wife nixed, although this is certainly not her blog.

Anyway, in the end, I suppose what you wrote in your last e-mail is right:

"I would suggest not worrying about it too much, though--that's actually going to be one of my big personal challenges on this: Tossing shit off as if it didn't matter."

Well, with a name like "Seventh Draft" there's one thing I think we can be sure of: It won't matter...