Singing in the Dead of Night

No Telling

I spend my Monday nights at Blackbird Academy. It’s a non-profit arts school here in town dreamed up by Jennie McNulty Strange offering dance, music, visual art, theater, and creative writing. I teach creative writing workshops to high school students and adults there.

It’s magical, really. all that creative energy in one place. Week after week I’m audience to these amazing writers who, having found a safe haven, literally pour the words out each week.

Next week my two classes will meet at the local coffee shop to give a public reading. What does this mean? Group poems as well as individual readings of poetry and prose. They are everyone of them nervous and excited because we’re moving a few blocks out of our nest and into the world. Writing does that. It makes us brave in increments until we’re standing on top of some picnic table shouting fresh poems scribbled on paper napkins.

While all of my students are trying their hands at online public writing right now, the high school folk are the most eager to find an audience. They’re fearless, I tell you. At their request, you are cordially invited to read their summer scribblings. You all know the importance of encouragement, so do please drop by their blogs, enjoy a read, and leave an inspirational note here and there.

Just imagine – they’re launching their writing lives and you’re here to watch. It’s like the moon landing, only more important. Enjoy!

List-Making as Art


Ding Ren has the perfect gig: Typing as performance art. She just held an exhibition yesterday, but will perform \”Observations with a Typewriter\” again on August 20th as part of two-month \”Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.\” Here\’s a description of Ren\’s exhibition/performance:

\”Ren will sit at a desk in the gallery space generating lists with a typewriter. The content of the lists will be gathered through an on-the-spot observation of visitors in the gallery space that is akin to an ethnographer performing a field study. These observations may include, but are not limited to: what visitors are holding in their hands, untied shoelaces, bits of overheard conversations, and the color of visitors’ shirts. The observed content will be recorded through typewritten pages that will spill out onto the floor of the gallery for visitors to read. Like the lists already on display, the lists Ren creates in real-time are meant to highlight potential patterns and find meaning in the easily overlooked, near-nothings of everyday life. Past records kept by Ren include an observation of falling objects, red dots, stray pennies on the street, and other people’s reading material on public transportation.\” ~ The Pinkline Project

Part one in this series began February 5th, and it looks like the whole collection might be available through September. Fascinating business, actually. Take a look at Smithsonian\’s online exhibit HERE, or order the companion book, Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists, although I\’m sure neither will come close to that live performance. If anyone is handy to DC and can make that trip, be sure to let us know.

As a side note, that folded printer paper is for the birds. Clearly Ren hasn\’t yet experienced a fine BAROP.

In honor of all things Smithsonian and list-y, I\’m proposing we all typecast a list or two to celebrate the everydayness of common writing. Besides, it\’s an excuse to make lists I don\’t have to follow.

List on, typosphere!

This is Not a Book Review: John Fergus Ryan and The Redneck Bride

No Telling

I‘m sorry. I really am. I’m about to tell you not to live another hour without reading this novel, and you’re never going to find it. The Redneck Bride by John Fergus Ryan is pure southern Gothic, out of print and mighty scarce.

I got lucky. This book (literally) lept off the shelf and into my hands in the used book basement at the Cox Creative Center the other day. I caught it before it hit the floor and – call me crazy – I’m convinced Ryan’s rapscallion ghost was responsible. Probably smoking contraband cigars in the afterlife, right there in the basement. I don’t blame the haint – the book was misshelved in with the general fiction population rather than the special “Southern Lit” or “Arkansas” shelves. Five dollars later, I had a first edition hardback filled with illustrations and wearing a pristine dust jacket.

Don’t look for this to be Faulknerian. The Redneck Bride‘s narrator has poetic Attention Deficit Disorder, with a healthy dose of descriptive OCD – that’s part of its charm. But the one-liners hit hard. Sometimes hard enough to put the book down and walk away for a minute just to catch your breath.

Some years ago, Billy Bob Thornton attempted to produce a movie based on the book. No amount of research has turned up what happened to the project, and Billy Bob hasn’t yet returned my call/tweet. Ryan’s novel The Little Brothers of St. Mortimer did make it, but straight to DVD. It’s called The White River Kid and has quite a cast of stars. His novel Watching came out in 1998 and it looks like I’m going to have one hell of a time finding any copies of that one.

Sadly, John Fergus Ryan died in 2003. His obituary in the Memphis Flyer, eloquently written by Jackson Baker, is worth reading start to finish, especially the section on his writing process. In fact, someone out there needs to write Ryan’s life. His son, John Jr., illustrated The Redneck Bride, and I understand makes his living as an artist. Strangely enough, both father and son appeared in the film The People vs. Larry Flynt. Ryan Sr. was a firecracker for sure.

You know, I might just head to President Clinton Avenue and crawl back down into the used book basement again. Maybe ol’ John will sling another one out of the shelf for me. It could happen.

Nearly Vintage Fountain Pens


For something to be truly vintage, it has to be at least 30 years old. I\’m not sure if that\’s a hard and fast rule or if I just made that up, but there\’s something distasteful about using \”vintage\” to describe anything made after, say, the year I graduated from high school. These pens are nearly vintage, meaning they don\’t make them anymore and probably haven\’t for a while.

That hefty monster in the middle is the Monteverde Regatta. Made from pig iron or something like it, it\’s definitely a fountain pen you want to use unposted. The shame of it is that the cap screws neatly onto the end. This fountain pen is surprisingly easy to move, though. It\’s a sweet medium nib that\’s smooth even in the Moleskine. I found this one on closeout at Office Depot for $14. They\’re getting rid of all their pricey pens at OD, so hit the store soon.

My adorable blue Sheaffer Fashion Rings pen is a throwback to the early 80s when most fountain pens went skinny. The broad nib is decisive – almost a bit much for my thin-lined Moleskine paper, but I don\’t care. There is no pen faster. It came with a lovely matching ballpoint via Ebay  – I think the seller has a few more sets, one in orange.

Ah, the Parker Rialto. I\’m addicted to Rialto ballpoints, with their snappy caps and perfect weight. Again, thinnish and 80s to mid 90s, but the prices can be tragic. I was lucky with this red Rialto, which somehow rode under the Ebay radar due to misspellings in the listing. Smooth medium nib even on the Moleskine.

All of these pens came with converters. While I\’d love to go crazy buying bottled inks in dazzling colors, there\’s a three year-old boy in this house and I know better. I\’ll stick to cartridges for a while.When you see the train coming, it\’s best to avoid the tracks, is all I\’m saying.

Any skittishness in the pencast above is the sole responsibility of this Frost Parch stationery I found yesterday while milling around Little Rock. Pretty parchment, fails to drink the ink for some reason. It\’s pretty held up to the light, though. At the end of the day all that matters to me is how fast and well these pens write on ruled Moleskine paper, because it\’s all about actually using the pen. A lot.

Scribbling a River

No Telling

Table at the Cox Creative Center

The Great Bear Writing Project made its yearly trek to Little Rock yesterday. An all-day writing marathon, a gaggle of teachers, and damn near perfect weather – it doesn’t get much better than this.

We met at the River Market, then then headed out with notebooks on the ready to wander and scribble. I’ve written about these marathons here before – the County Line Barn Sale marathon and the Harmony Grove/El Dorado marathon are two on-the-road examples. Last year’s Little Rock marathon was a little bittersweet, as our local Micheal Jackson street mime found himself a little lost. Sadly, he wasn’t there this year.

During the Great Bear Writing Project summer institute, we always head to the River Market District in Little Rock. On one small stretch of road, writers can walk and scribble from the Bill Clinton Library to the Capitol (if they’re ambitious). In between there are art galleries, museums, shops, food, crazy southern people, and a river runs through it. Literally.

I spent my time scribbling on the edge of the Arkansas River and in the Cox Creative Center – the water because I’ve always suffered from River Rapture, and the CCC because because they have thousands of cheap books in the basement. And because John Malkovich sat there. Once. I’ll post some of these pieces as soon as I can make out my handwriting.

The day ended in the basement at the Flying Saucer, a local joint known for interesting beer and waitresses who need to cover themselves. I love it in that basement. It’s dank and dark, full of couches and pool tables. Why there’s even an honest-to-God functioning cigarette machine down there. Ah, memories…

The basement is where we meet back up and take turns reading the day’s scribbling out loud. With their backs to the pool tables, these school teachers threw down some serious writing. Earlier in the day, my compadre Stephanie said marathon writing works because we’ve given ourselves permission to do it. She’s right about that. A little permission and these Arkansas teachers wrote fearlessly.

This is why I live for our writing marathons. If I ever win the lottery, I’ll give myself permission to throw one of these every single day of my life.

(Update: Debra Hale-Shelton at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wrote a lovely piece on our writing marathon. The Great Bear Writing Project enjoyed having her along for the ride.)

Kindles and Nooks and iPads. Oh my.

No Telling

Before I start getting all middle-aged-scrappy, let me fess up about my level of techno-intelligence. Like many Generation Jonesers (1955 to 1965), I know enough to be moderately tech-cool, but not enough to keep those damn Gen Y kids from making fun of me.

Well, they won’t be laughing at me here, because I’m about to launch into a full-blown I Told You So about e-readers. Everyone knows Gen Y isn’t reading anything that doesn’t flash through on their cell phones. That’s a shame, too, because they could save a fortune on textbooks.

E-readers were never meant for them anyway. Kindle, Nook, and the Sony E-Reader were meant for geezers like us who still read books and who can’t see well enough to read Eat, Pray, Love on a tiny iPhone screen without two pairs of reading glasses.

Then the iPad happened and sent all those overpriced e-readers scrambling. Prices are dropping like mad. Rumor has it they’ll be giving them away with book-bundle purchases soon. How many times did you look at your Kindle and say, Hey. I wish I could get online with this thing -?

Not me. I’ve got a laptop and a Blackberry-like phone and about two thousand real books. I’ll only consider an e-reader if, 1) the price drops down below fifty bucks, or 2) someone gives me one as a gift. After Christmas #1 might make it easier for #2 to happen. I can wait.

And the iPad? Well, it doesn’t have any actual keys, so probably not. I might be willing to play fast and loose with my tactile reading experience, but not with the punch and click of writing. The price ($499-$899) is too dear for just trolling the internet. I’d rather use a laptop or one of my old manual typewriters anyway. Don’t judge.

The problem is that technology is changing so quickly it’s tripping all over itself. No one wants to believe the $300 e-reader they bought last Christmas will be obsolete before the next one. Gamers are used to this sort of nonsense, but book buyers aren’t.

Which reminds me of my last trip to Barnes & Noble in west Little Rock. The joint was filled to the gills with folks strolling through the shelves, drinking coffee, flipping through magazines, and generally having a fine literary afternoon. Inside the front door was a Nook kiosk complete with a smiling and knowledgeable B&N employee.

Everyone walked right past him. Just sayin’.

Like Lazarus…


Well, the old blog layout finally self-destructed. Not like I didn\’t see it coming. I\’ll miss those tea-stained boxes and funky page-switches, but not enough to build it back. So, the new Fresh Ribbon is a little cleaner, a little more functional.

To put me in the typecasting mood, I\’ve whipped up a page on Facebook. Those of you addicted to FB (and you know who you are) will find this an easy way to keep up. I\’ve slung up a few oddities on there already, so drop in and say hello.