Stumptown: The Book


Through a series of intricate "small world" connections, we discovered that our neighbor is from Forest Park. Did we know there's a book about Forest Park? she asked. No we did not. She let us borrow her copy. It was a thrill to find it in our mailbox. It's official! I thought, Our story!

The book is from Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series. It was published for the 150th birthday of our hometown.

I was impressed by the production quality– perfect bound, matte finish, stately colors and slick design throughout. The book has lots of great old photos and follows the history of a few original Clayton County families who kept good records. The writing seemed vaguely promotional and focused on the heyday of white Forest Park. The final chapter is called "The Final Chapter," as if the city itself had a beginning, middle and end.

It didn't take me long to figure out that this was a publishing template, written by proud locals. And while I found the history exciting, this doesn't seem to be the final word. There was nothing about the encroaching airport and white exodus. I didn't really see my story anywhere in there... the book I want to read about Forest Park is still unwritten.

Oxford_arcadia InmanPark_arcadia GLAtlanta_arcadia

Now I'm seeing these books everywhere. The Oxford & Ole Miss edition at Square Books. The Inman Park edition for sale at a coffee shop. And last night, at a special table at Barnes & Noble, one called Gay and Lesbian Atlanta.

It made me think this would be a funny way to tell the story of Mountain View. There is something magical about book making– the finished thing in your hands feels timeless and legitimate. Like, if there's a book about it, it must be real.

The big guns


Last summer I listened to the French Kicks on my headphones all the time, feeling bright and powerful. Like I could stay up all night writing and never be alone.

Then we went and saw them live and the performance was a total letdown. The lanky lead singer hid behind a mop of curly hair. They looked sloppy. They played sloppy. I kept waiting for them to get it together and sound like they sound in my head, buzzing and hot like July. Shawn said they were probably on drugs. Why didn’t I think of that? Am I naïve? Is that why they made me feel high?

I’m sick of everything that used to turn me on.
I wanted everything but it took too long.

It’s summer again and I have avoided last year’s music. I thought it would be foolhardy, maybe even depressing, to play that soundtrack again. However. “One More Time” just came on my iPod and I feel like a fool, A FOOL, for not bringing out the big guns sooner. French Kicks, I still love you.

One More Time mp3

The worst story I ever wrote


The worst story I ever wrote was for Mrs. Massey in 5th Grade. It was about the lights of downtown Atlanta. I think it was my first piece of nonfiction. Up until that point, I had been submitting fantasy stories about talking animals. She liked those kinds of stories better and encouraged me to go back to fairy tales. She was right, and the criticism stung my little 9-year-old ego.

(My experience with the lights of downtown Atlanta would’ve come from weekend visits to see my mother. The drive to her house was like going to Disney World. So it was fantasy, sorta.)

Now everything I write turns into that story. They all turn out dark and serious. They are all about home. Mrs. Massey would be disappointed, but I can’t stop trying to get it right.

Book Prescription

So I’m at the School of Letters, surrounded by books and book lovers, readers and writers and critics. Everyday, I hang out in this old gothic library for a couple hours. I feel like that guy in the Twilight Zone who has all the time in the world to read and then breaks his glasses. My days are packed with references to books that I ought to read. I am keeping a running list:


Geography of the Imagination
by Guy Davenport
This collection of essays has come up in my Modern Poetry and Creative Nonfiction class. I remember lying about having read it in an interview when I was about 15. I have no idea what it’s about.


The ABC of Reading
by Ezra Pound
Because his essays are way more fun than his poetry. Because it was first printed in 1934 in these cute little pocket editions with the title typeset in Futura. It’s a classic “writer on writing” manifesto that is surprisingly funny and handy.


The Middle Passage
by Paul Metcalf
More “essays.” I actually read this in an afternoon, but I need to read more by Paul Metcalf and more that was published by The Jargon Society and the other Bauhaus émigrés hiding out in North Carolina. His nonfiction pieces are more like collages of news clippings, interviews, poetry and prose. He should’ve been a blogger.


The Habit of Rivers
by Ted Leeson
He writes about fly fishing, but not really about fly fishing. This guy did a short reading for our group yesterday and I was impressed with the way he weaves nerdy information into his personal observations in a way that’s compelling to someone who doesn’t care about fly fishing.


Young Men and Fire
by Norman Maclean
This is also the guy who wrote A River Runs Through It. I know, more fly fishing. This one is crafted around the oral histories of smokejumpers at the Mann Gulch forest fire. Maclean was 74 when he started writing it and died before it was “finished.”


Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta

By Ronald H. Bayor
More historical research to beef up my paper on Moreland Avenue. Still trying to get my mind around modern nomads and short-sighted visions of community and southern identity. I am thinking of creating a map of the migratory movements of generations who have left Stumptown.


Like Something Flying Backwards
By C.D. Wright
Because I love it when people recommend living poets.

Persuasive writing


File this under future assignments for my future writing students: Write a profanity-laced flyer persuading me that your dog is magnificent.

Someone brilliant or someone overwhelmed with heartfelt emotion wrote this. I can't tell which. Maybe both. Either way, behold Xerxes! This is another internet parody that makes me laugh in wonder. I just wish I could've experienced this flyer on a telephone pole instead of a blog.

Why its hard to get into Poetry around here.


I’m taking baby steps into the magical world of Poetry, right? Trying to convince myself that its relevant and substantial and not just for angsty teens or the overeducated NPR crowd (I qualify for both categories). I don’t have these issues with music and visual art, I guess because I know what I like. But poetry is such a struggle. I just haven’t found a literary scene around here that appeals to me on all aesthetic levels.

So I’m trying to fit more poetry into my days. And that means reading more poet’s blogs. Attending readings. Supporting local writers. Not immediately cussing and changing the channel when some poet starts over-annunciating on the radio.

To this lofty end, I was excited to stumble upon Poetry Atlanta and the Atlanta Review today. And then mystified by the utter disregard for design. The above "pond" is what greets you on the homepage. Despite this design philosophy, this is no amateur organization. They have grants from city, county, state and national arts foundations. These people are published, highly educated and acclaimed poets. And they’ve compiled loads of valuable information here.

But I couldn’t get past those spirograph-looking things. I couldn’t even bring myself to read the guidelines. And the red sperm? Is this a joke? I feel that I risk invoking some seriously bad Poetry karma for airing my grievances this way. But this is why the thought of sitting through an open mic night at Java Monkey just fills me with dread.

There is no excuse for bad design. Any design student would do this job for FREE just to have a major arts publication in their portfolio. Do poets think that design is irrelevant or unsubstantial? Something for the corporate world or visually obsessed? Sometimes good design makes words and writing unnecessary, but never, ever vice versa.

Copywriting as Poetry


Maybe it was the fact that we’d been on the road for over 8 hours when we finally stopped last night at the Steak ‘n Shake off I-85 in Gastonia, but I couldn’t stop laughing at this menu. The waitress told me I could keep it.

Some favorite lines included:
"Well, look what the north wind blew in." (Holiday Milkshakes)
"A beloved old tradition that we just now came up with."
"Thinking of a hand-dipped Milk Shake? You are now."
"It's like a steak dinner in a convenient burger form."
"There many directions a meal might take. Here are some likely options. Focus. Be sure to think this thing through. Order with confidence. You've made the right decision."

The cheeky tone kind of reinvents what a menu is supposed to do for a restaurant. And suddenly, Steak ‘n Shake is like some bitchy friend that I want to hang out with. Writing witty copy about fast food is unbelievably hard. Getting it approved as part of a campaign is even harder.

Also, try this for a poem:


"Crispety, Crunchety, Peanut-Buttery"

Captivating! Who’s idea was it to add those extra syllables, Dr. Seuss style? Those aren’t even words, but they’re fun to say. What makes it work so well as a tagline? Meter!

If I actually read that book on poetic meter over the summer, I would be able to point out that those dactyls (CRISP-et-y, CRUNCH-et-y) ratchet up the tension, which dallies with the spondee (PEA-NUT) and then waltzes to climax with another triplet, this one a satisfyingly real word (BUTT-er-y). All that wordplay has me chewing and drooling on the words. You think I’m kidding but I’m not. Writing ad copy is a serious art form and my extra $12,000 MFA in Creative Writing is so gonna be worth it.


I steal most of my creative material from dreams- visual mashups, juicy memories, entire storylines, etc. In fact, I bet 90% of what I write is generated in those pixilated moments of resisting the alarm clock. So I felt all tingly as I read this NYTimes piece today: In the Dreamscape of Nightmares, Clues to Why We Dream at All

"Ordinary bad dreams rarely recapitulate unpleasant events from real life but instead cannibalize them for props and spare parts, and through that reinvention, Dr. Nielsen explained, the fears are defanged."

That makes it sound just like the process of writing and storytelling! Re-read that awesome sentence and substitute the word “stories” for “bad dreams.” Maybe dream-ology has some clues to why we write at all, or create. Plus, its not often you get to use the words "cannibalize" and "defanged" in one statement.

Inside Joke


Someone oughtta write a paper on what makes lolcats so violently funny. A linguist or a pissy language arts teacher. Or me! Taken alone, these deceptively innocent jokes work on so many levels, so instantly. But as a whole, they're a weird social phenomenon. I actually look at them sometimes, sitting at my desk with tears running down my cheeks and say, gawd, why do they make me laugh so hard?

This question has been bothering me. Because I think they are really funny and beneath the innocent parody there seems to be some casual racist, classist mocking going on. Its like an inside joke, and the more you read them, the more you're gratified by your own sense of humor, by being "in" on the joke. I recently subscribed to the RSS feed for I Can Has Cheezburger, and I actually feel kind of dirty about it. I have to end it.

Last week, I tried making a few of my own lolcats to send to my sister on her birthday. They aren't so simple. I started wondering, what is the formula?

Wikipedia cracked me up. Here's how they broke it down:
Common themes include jokes of the form "Im in ur noun, verb-ing ur related noun." "I haz a noun" pictures show a cat in possession of an object while "Invisible noun" show pictures of cats interacting with said invisible object. Another common lolcat displays a cat with a specific look, which is described by X, and the text, "Xcat is not amused" or "Your offering pleases Xcat."

But there's more to it than that. On the first level, lolCats are a familiar joke. We grew up seeing stuff like this in every public institution:


They take aim at what I consider to be a fair game- cat lovers- while acknowledging that we all indulge a bit of pet sentimentality ourselves. I roll my eyes at my cousin who's always sending annoying forwards of puppy photos, but I have to admit that I look at them and say awww. The truth is, the photos are often unbelievably cute, even before they get captions. With lolcats I get to mock stupid internet-using pet lovers, and look at cute animals at the same time. Savvy!

We know that baby-talking for animals is silly, but we do it anyways. Lolcats take anthorpomorphism to an absurd and very specific white collar world- cats doing not just people things, but really technical, mundane people things, like say, editing a Wikipedia entry or talking to tech support. What do these activities reveal about the audience?

And you don't have to be a smug graphic designer to laugh at the shitty typography. The homemade-internet look is part of the joke too. Ah, the plebes with their low-budget digital cameras and photoshop knockoffs. ha ha.

So even with these elements, we could make a cute greeting card. But that wouldn't be funny enough.

Its the broken grammar that makes them so twisted. The really hilarious lolcats take the punchline, and say it with a speech impediment (i suk mah fum), or in myspace slang (kthnxbai!) or with a southern accent (Mah mortgage dun readjusted!) or in ebonics (they be stealin' my blanket).


And wow, we are now making fun of so many things I can hardly keep track! As a southerner, I can't help but notice that, as usual, the voice of ignorance has a southern accent. I hate to kill the joke, believe me. Does laughing make me a yankee racist snob? By pointing out these impressions, am I just revealing my own linguistic stereotypes here?