Saturday, July 31, 2010

It's good to be back

Whenever I read Steinbeck, or Robert Penn Warren’s “All The King’s Men,” or “The Professional” by W.C. Heinz, or when I read John Lofflin’s post about the death of his beloved cat Moses, for a few minutes I feel like giving up as a writer, because I know I’ll never be that good.

The feeling doesn’t last too long, though. Sometimes I snap out of it by reading something poorly written, like the dreadful “Sons of Fortune” by Jeffrey Archer, which I just suffered through on AudioBook. Other times I can circle back and draw inspiration from great writing.

Either way, it’s good to be back. And it’s great to read my friend John’s posts again.

Just like John, I have a lot to talk about. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this blog is a lot different than it was before.

I’ll be posting more soon.

-- Matt Kelsey

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Something more on the personal side -- tune out if it makes you goosey


I'm not sure I want to go here with this blog but with some trepidation, I'm going to dip a toe into the really personal.

Something happened to me this summer. I've changed. I have nothing left to accomplish for myself. No desire to accomplish anything. It has always been wonderful to see a student do something she has not been able to do before. The desire for that remains. But I have lost the desire, the drive, for anything for me.

I am not going to make more money than I am making now. The university has been clear about what it intends to expend for teachers. What’s more, the likelihood of students flocking to higher education diminishes with every new gadget. Moreover, the possibility of students flocking to journalism programs when every day they hear journalism is doomed is even more remote. We will never have the computer lab we have needed for 10 years, at least. I give. I will just use what I have and teach as well as I can for now. The program will just be what it is. Which, in my opinion, is darn good, if gadget impoverished.

I am not going to write the great American novel. Even if I had the idea – which I don’t – I would not have energy for it. I will just continue to scribble in my notebooks whatever comes to mind. Sex and the sensual come to mind often, so the notebooks will be lethal with them. It is, after all, what I write best.

I would love time to read, but I am not going to get it. Might as well bide my time until the day I retire, then start reading like mad. No sense beating on myself about it now, eh?

I can fill my days perfectly well staring out the window, watching for the chipmunk, the humming birds, the gold finches, the molting cardinals, the maddening squirrels, the butterflies, and the creature. The view is limited in scope – no Pacific Ocean out there – but unlimited in interest and excitement, precisely because it is alive and always in motion.

I have learned these things this summer. And now it is as if I had always known then.

--Lofflin... BTW: I suspected but did not know the video was fake. Thanks for ruining my day.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Henry weighs in on Soria's stand... and how insurance will make you free

Dear fans, clucks and keyboard jockeys:

I noticed recently a story in your newspaper about one of your regular ball players, a pitcher, I think, who said he would not play in the All Star game if it was played in Arizona. And a lot of you clucks and keyboard jockeys got yourselves all worked up about it.

Now, in my day we never got as far west at Arizona until near the end of my career when I was in the twilight, so to speak. So, I do not know about playing out there in the desert except for I think it might be awful hot and maybe take a little off your fastball and you may want to go easy on the false pep before the game if you pitch.

But I know there comes a time when a ball player has to be a man, too. There comes a time when he has to make a stand. Red Traphagen never showed up for the Star Spangled Banner until it was near over because he was taking a stand against something -- he was never clear about what. It might have been the wars we was always in or maybe he just did not like to see everybody cheering the same thing just to be cheering something with everybody else. Red was like that.

I took a stand, too, now and then, and I always felt better for it. Now if you think baseball is not about your real stuff that happens in the world then you might not be paying attention. In my day it was a lot about some of the players we had on the Mammoths who were not your regular white players and how they would be treated on the field and in the club house. It was also about our Jewish players. And it was about our players that needed a translator to talk to you until they got settled and learned how to swear in English, which always come first.

It was also about big money, as any cluck could see. Not the big money your regular ball players made but the big money that owned the game. In those days, the big money was in cars -- unlike today -- and the owners of the Mammoths made cars and give some of them away to ball players now and then. But they kept you under contract, too, and that gave them some leverage to keep your mouth shut, unless you could pitch like me and it did not matter to you. Which is another good reason to keep your insurance up to date because that is the kind of investment that can let you say what is on your mind at contract time. See me about that.

So I will just say to your relief pitcher to not listen a-tall to the clucks and keyboard jockeys and be a man. If you do not want to pitch out there in the desert, do not. And, if you do, do not forget to bring your papers.

-- Henry

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Another update you didn't know you wanted and an unbelievable minor league video you must see

First the update:

Tony Pena Jr., has been called up to Triple A Fresno from Double A Richmond but the results so far haven't been encouraging. The former Royals' shortstop posted a 2.53 era at Richmond with impressive numbers to boot. But pitching for the Grizzlies he has surrendered 20 runs in 11 innings and change.

Last night he came in for the seventh, gave up a double, a walk, and struck out one -- but no runs. Maybe that's good news. As I said before, you can't help but cheer for the kid.

But you have to see the catch the ball girl made at Chukchan's Park in Fresno. You just won't believe it. Everybody in the park must have been yelling "Sign her up!" ...and they should.

And thanks for the indulgence on my last post. Writing about Moses seemed to help.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

We're baaaaaaaaaaack.

Matt and I have not been very consistent posting to the blog this spring and summer but, as Charlie Parker wrote in song, now's the time.

We're baaaaaaaaaaack.

Posting hasn't been easy this summer. My laptop went tornado, afflicted with every disease you could identify and some unidentified ghosts in the cogs. And I spent much of the summer in annual magazine hell. The magazine will be out next week -- thank god. And thank god for a couple of dedicated students who rose to the occasion like seasoned professionals. A shout out to Jordan and Richard is in order.

I have a lot of pent up stuff to get off my chest. My god the world has turned nasty right in front of our eyes, hasn't it? It's almost too much to write about. So, I'll make this pledge: I'll only comment on the state of the world when I think I actually have something to add to the discussion / argument.

And I'll write some lighter stuff about the Royals and baseball in general when I feel it. I got involved in an interesting exchange on the Star's Web site recently over a nice story by Sam Mellinger about our reliever's discomfort with Arizona's anti-illegal immigration law. I'll go into some of that soon because I think it is a lightning rod topic in sports.

Today, I'll share something personal with you.

Here's the title for a novel: The Man who loved cats and baseball.

There is such a man. And he lost one of his beloved cats two weeks ago, which has placed a wet wool blanket over his world since. His sturdy, healthy, Moses had a heart attack and died at his very feet. The moment was a kick to the belly. He was standing at the mirror upstairs admiring a new pair of tennis shoes when the boy came racing around the corner as he had done a million times in his eight years. Racing around like that was his best way to start a good scrap with his less boisterous sister.

This time he spun out on the hardwood floor the way cats do in cartoons but something was wrong. He didn't get back up. His top half was motionless while his powerful back legs kept pumping, sending him around in circles. After about two turns the man grabbed him up thinking he had lost balance or was stunned, put him on his feet, and Moses collapsed again, sending terror down the man's spine. He ran to the back room, got a cat carrier and came back to put him in it. But the truth is, Moses was already gone.

Just like that. Gone.

The veterinarians made a valiant effort to bring him back, but Moses was gone. That's the only way to put it.

In three days, he would have curled up on the man's lap like a big hot rock and watched Home Run Derby all the way through. The man called him "little son" and liked to pat his athletic flanks the way you pat a dog. He had never taken a pill, never been sick, never had a problem. Until that moment.

At that moment, his heart gave out. That's all there is to it. And, of course, for the rest of us there is a message. Nothing is promised. Not one day. Not one hour. Not one minute.

A few mornings later, I was sitting on the front porch before dawn, watching the trees in the valley to the east sway in the wind. I shut my eyes for a moment then I opened them. The sun had breached the tops of the trees. And right in front of me all along was a huge, intricate spider web. I couldn't see it until the sun lit the threads. In grief, I thought about the spider and web, how the spider has to build the same damned web every day and how the spider lives a year or so to eat and die. Life, it seemed to me then, is not much different. I was thinking my life has no more meaning than this spider's life, no more permanence than her web.

Which might be one reason to start writing again. To at least leave something behind in the light.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

How to write a novel

If you're a novel writer struggling with how to open your story, here's a perfect example of the way to do it:

Read the first five pages of Richard Wright's "Native Son."

As a matter of fact, read the whole book. It's a significant piece of American literature, for it made Richard Wright the "Father of American Black literature."

But that opening scene... it's simply amazing. In the scene, the main character, Bigger Thomas, chases and kills a huge rat in his scuzzy Chicago tenement apartment, then makes his sister faint by dangling it in front of her face. The scene is solid action, and the language is breathtaking.

So there it is - if you don't know how to open your novel, start with a great action sequence. It's a surefire way to make sure your readers are hooked.

-- Matt Kelsey