I will post new work as an actual post, leave it up for a week or so for interpretation/workshop/criticism, then give it its own page [see above]. First up, a poem I wrote this morning. Please feel free to read and give feedback.
Digging in the my folders for poems and plays to write and rework, I found a story I wrote for creative writing class, the one short story class I took before I changed my focus to poetry. It’s rather silly. It actually stemmed from a conversation I had with my brother, Kelly, about jazz song titles and how they don’t have to really mean anything. (Oh, and Kelly has asked me recently to name tunes on a CD he’s supposed to be working on. I’m excited.)
Dr. Beauchef, Penguin Dentist
by Sean R. Corbin
Dr. Beauchef took off his right mitt and reached into his pocket. He pulled from it a tube of procaine and inspected it as a stranger. The Ross Sea wind chilled his hand and he returned the tube and quickly redressed his hand. He was lanky, although one could not tell because of his parka. His hair was fashionably short, but his dress had changed drastically for the rough Antarctic weather he prepared for.
On the rusty deck of The Bowman, headed for Antarctica, Dr. Beauchef, for the first time since he had begun this venture four years before, questioned whether he was doing a smart thing. He thought of the millions of other people’s teeth he could clean and correct; the various love affairs with dental students that, until the week before his departure, he had sworn off; he thought of the tube of procaine in his pocket, the same he used to aid mothers in the street with teething children. But he remembered the three penguins he had met at the zoo, and thought of the others – the other penguins – who could use his help. He remembered also that, despite the gruff that now battled with his usually waxed moustache, he was still very young. He felt, as he had joked with those back home in Newark, that maybe he could still return home – to the humans and their teeth.
His mitt off again, Dr. Beauchef reached for the tube of procaine. Laughing, he rubbed the numbing grease on his gums.
◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦
Dr. Beauchef had established himself as a successful and even charismatic dentist, opening an office within a year of receiving his Doctorate of Dental Surgery, and retaining most of his savings for his retirement.
After his visit to a zoo in New York City, Dr. Beauchef approached John D. Rockefeller, who immediately put up the remainder of the expedition’s cost; without the help, he could have only made it to Brazil, about half the way. There was paperwork, something the dentist rarely had the chance to enjoy and he completed it with a sort of nostalgic liking. And, for “insurance purposes,” he was required to list the possessions he would be taking with him: his dentistry equipment, of course (all of which was itemized individually on an attached form); a weeks change of clothes; an extra week each of long johns, briefs and pairs of socks; toiletries; charcoal and six writing tablatures. All other items – provisions, the shelter, etc. – would not be listed.
◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦
The Bowman landed on the shore of Edward VII Land, near the Ross Ice Shelf. As she left for the dark horizon of the sea, Dr. Beauchef was sure he heard the same laughter that had mocked his adventure from its inception.
Once on the shelf, Dr. Beauchef realized just how alone he was: no one was there. A chill set in and, now more determined to find his true patients, he established camp and bedded early in hopes of finding the penguins the next day.
◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦
The first day was his most successful.
He awoke early and ate what breakfast he could (cold oatmeal and ham). He strapped his equipment to his back and started for the hill that was farther south. The crisp line of the hill was broken by a mass of black as a small group of penguins approached. His first thought was they had been excited, perhaps because of his camp commotion, maybe even just his arrival. He then reasoned with himself a bit more and knew they were simply coming for their first appointments.
He approached them, crouched down and slowly, and spoke in a tender voice.
◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦
Three months passed and his body was found on a small snow bank less than two hundred yards from camp. Most of his food was discovered to be uneaten and a journal entry revealed how disappointed he was to find that penguins, as he had been told, actually have no teeth.
I hit Borders with mom yesterday. If you’re worried about people spending money on things they don’t need (and just things they want) then don’t go to Borders in their last three days – cos you’ll see people spending money on things they don’t need or even want. Trust me – I bought an Eels CD cos I figured “What the hell.” But! I did want (need?) this book mom found: The Book of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks: A Celebration of Creative Punctuation.
With the new semester starting last week, I’m back at the COD library – just a few hours but great pay. Starting the week of the 19th I’ll be back tutoring as well, giving me a total of 60 hours a week, no days off. I’m used to working seven days a week so it’s okay. And there’s a lot of down time tutoring so I’ll spend this next week preparing what-to-read, what-to-write lists.
This is the only reason why I didn’t go out for the Fall show at COD (or at least, the only reason I won’t catch shit for). I have these two mentalities – art vs. money. I’ll either focus on going to school/doing productions or focusing on working as many as hours as possible. I once declined a stage manager “job”* at the La Quinta Playhouse because, at that time, I was about making money. Although they went defunct shortly after that, there are days that I wish I had taken it (for the experience, networking, etc.). The difference now is I am actually saving the money rather than just talking about it. (And I’ll be doing a third commercial with Adam Duplay next week, this time for LG’s Steakhouse. I really enjoy working with him and his crew (Go Steve!) regardless of being an extra or the pay… though a free steak would be savvy.)
Oh, and I am no longer on probation at work. It took over a year, but I did it. I did it. But thanks for the wake up calls those first few months.
*quotation marks necessary: they weren’t sure if they were going to pay me
(I’ve been digging through old emails and an old thumb drive, and I came across the booktalk I presented back in December for the YA job. I haven’t re-read this (cos re-reading my opener is making me cringe): if it’s good, I’ll take all the credit; if it sucks, whatever – read it (the book). Also, I’ve found a ton of old poems and sketch ideas. They’ve been nice to revisit.)
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
Paul Zindel’s The Pigman, published in 1968 by Harper & Row, is a character-driven novel that was the first to capture a sincere look at teenage life.
Zindel set out to write The Pigman after he realized that few books actually dealt with teens and their real world problems: alienation from their peers and families, their natural distaste for school, and the lengths they will go to get away from these issues. Zindel went straight to the source and found that teens were tired of reading – especially books that painted them simply as “troublemakers.” The result is Zindel’s classic story of two high school sophomores – John and Lorraine – who are so bored in modern America that when they’re not skipping school – or in John’s case, gluing his parent’s phone receiver down – they’re pranking innocent people and scheming them for their “charity,” The L & J Fund.
These after school pranks – in which the goal is to keep the victim on the phone as long as possible – brings Mr. Pignati into their lives. When they first talk to Mr. Pignati, John and Lorraine realize one thing quickly: he’s a lonely man. Since the story is written with John and Lorraine alternating narration each chapter, they approach this in two different ways: Lorraine, fulfilling the goal of the prank, decides they have disturbed him enough and they should leave him alone; but John, charismatic and rebellious, immediately sees a way to make a quick buck and asks for a donation to their fund, which Mr. Pignati gladly offers.
What’s key in this book is the narration. As Lorraine, in one chapter, tells the reader something about John or the Pigman, the reader will learn quickly to trust her. John… is another story: his ego beams in every paragraph of his narration, only to be muted by Lorraine’s rationality the following chapters.
The two teens meet Mr. Pignati the next day and rename him The Pigman. Mr. Pignati is pot-bellied, sad-faced, and the owner of countless knick knack pigs. He claims his wife – who he also claims is out of state – picks the pigs out, but his odd connection to them makes it clear to John and Lorraine that the Pigman is very much alone. John exploits this, while Lorraine inches the two of them closer to the door. They soon meet with the Pigman regularly – at his home, but often at the zoo – and develop relationships that each was searching for at home.
But, at what price? What does this odd relationship actually mean to the eccentric Mr. Pignati? Where does John end up after he’s spent so much time sneaking out of class to act like his parents, his poor role models? What does Lorraine find out about herself – and her relationship with John – when tragedy strikes this unlikely trio?
As they alternate narration each chapter, John and Lorraine paint different stories that are clear in the end as each realizes what the other friend means to them… and how the Pigman taught them the similarities between the young and the old.
Since wrapping A Flea in Her Ear in November, I’ve been working on getting a new job in the valley, one that would better fund my move to LA. I interviewed for the Young Adult Associate position at my branch, and presented 10 events in two brochures:
(WordPress thumbnails look like shit – okay, I don’t know how to use them – so just click on em already.)
(library scavenger hunt example: “Fifty points for a picture of the Oscar statue in the building; an additional 100 points for a picture with a team member holding the statue.”)
I interviewed well– actually, I was told later that I wowed them with my events, my outreach plans, and my book talk (Mr. Pigman). It took them almost three weeks to decide and ultimately went with someone with more experience. (And, unfortunately, I’m not allowed to say more. But just know I have reason to be proud.)
This whole process was new for me. And it all started with my father’s advice: to be able to walk away from it knowing I gave it everything. (Do all dads have that ability– to say something corny but not come off that way, or is it just mine?) Preparing for it not only required more networking than I had done before, but also brainstorming with friends and other folks in the industry (?), and just remaining positive. I was sure I had it, but since finding out I didn’t, I haven’t spent a second in regret. Instead, it taught me a lot about preparing for an interview (amazing, I’ve had more than a dozen jobs, and this was the first interview I’ve ever sweat), and really, that I need to be more active to get what I want.
As obvious as this may seem, it hasn’t always been for me. And you know what? That’s okay. (Who am talking to??)
I finally got my headshots taken care of, courtesy of my friend, the talented Tawni Fiamengo. Why “finally” is a matter of debate, depending if you ask her or me. But hey, they’re done, and I have a few places lined up to send them to. And we had fun:
Actually, we had a lot of fun:
(Look how fucking slimming that sweater is! And those cords are so… black! And the floor looks marvelous!)
I was given a part in a production of Golf: the Musical, to be performed the first two weekends in Banning. (I will post ticket info soon.) This is kind of an interesting experience (or maybe I just expect it to be?): I have less than a month with the material; I’ll be rehearsing in Palm Desert, one on one with the director, and I won’t meet the remaining cast until a week before the show; I don’t… like golf; and I haven’t been in a musical since high school – how is my voice outside of the shower? Or now that I smoke? And I haven’t been singing regularly now that my car is dead. What’s surprising is I’m really excited to do it – it’s work.
Auditions for COD’s Pride and Prejudice are in one week. Time to dust off Dr. Astrov’s opening monologue…
I’m working with another actor, Matt Chute, on some skits for an upcoming showcase that he is organizing at College of the Desert. In our first meeting I proposed a few ideas, and they got a few laughs, but the one he suggested started writing itself when we sat down with it. Things are a little slow right now, since Matt lost his phone, but we should be getting back into the swing of things soon.
In the meantime, one of the ideas I had – a one act about a couple dividing up one another’s body parts as they move out of their apartment – came back to me and I started outlining it. It looks pretty good so far. There are some body parts that are associated with memories (the pelvic area should be fun), some that are just worth exchanging (“I had to pay for most of the deposit, so… I want your arm,” etc), and there’s a box in the middle of the stage full of memories that each tries to keep. The play obviously draws from my breakups (some where I lived with her, some where I didn’t), but I’m doing my best not to make it so biased. After all, I certainly have had some asshole moments in my relationships. I want the play not only to exorcise some of the issues I have/had from breakups, the differences between just a breakup and having to actually leave someone, but also the moments that were not my best.
As usual, I have a number of poems bouncing around, but I haven’t visited them since completing “strays.” “strays” is a good example of my process: I had that opening image, of a parking lot (really, a town) full of stray cats, so I jotted it down; but it wasn’t until I had something to actually write about that it was used, and I finished it in one moment. It was just what I needed, both as a writer and as an individual. A year or two ago, I would be beating the poem out regardless. Now I’m more comfortable with letting it come to me. But I do wish I had these complete thoughts and incomplete poems better organized, and I think I’ll do that today.
Also, “The Late Greats” was published in a COD zine, The Common Good Press. I’m still waiting for my copy, and it’s not available online, but I got to read a scanned copy. It’s just a zine, but it’s nice to see my work printed.
A list of self-aware songs
An opinion on the state of hip hop for the last 15 years
Top 25 LA Albums
Top 25 Album Openers
Top 25 Album Closers
(My brother found this. The Bill Evans deck stands out.)
Two weeks ago I auditioned for the Palm Springs International Playwrights’ Festival. After spending the previous week searching for an audition piece through plays I own and plays I’ve never heard of, I was lamenting to a patron – one I often talk movies and Jewish culture with (yep) – that I couldn’t find a monologue after he’d asked me, “What’s new?” He beamed and told me about a play he was in 30 odd years ago, Moonchildren, and that its closing monologue might interest me. With little time left to prep for the audition, I asked him for his copy – which turned out to be his acting copy, full of notes and grime, when he was in the L.A. debut in the mid-70s. I photocopied the closing monologue, chopped it up a bit, and read the play in one sitting.
The play is incredible. It’s set in the late-60s, with eight college students shacking up in a strange yet workable arrangement of friendship, disgust, love, lust, and of course, “No, I haven’t touched your fucking hamburgers.” The play opens blacked-out, with the students – trickling in – waiting to catch the cat (that may or may not exist) give birth. This scene sets up that there’s something wrong with Bob, and most of his housemates are sure its the draft notice that he received recently. (The only thing Dick is sure about is that Bob is probably responsible for some 40 or so frozen hamburgers of his that he ate without putting them on the common stock.) The play covers a school year, with the winter break dividing the play in two. It’s a great play and I’d love to see it staged.
As for the actual monologue: it was my best audition yet. In the last year I’ve realized that it’s not about line memorization as it is about telling the story. That seems so obvious now, but “learning the lines” was how I was taught (and I bet the common way it’s taught). I learned it from Brian Raffi when we were working on Our Town, but it’s similar to how my father told me to tell jokes: just make it yours. And I made the Moonchildren monologue mine.
I was cast in a reading for Like Mother Like Hell, which, by title alone, sounds great. It’s a comedy so I’m looking forward to that change. I was glad to just be cast in anything for the festival, but just searching for it online didn’t return much, so maybe it won’t have the exposure as I had originally thought. But that’s okay; I’m just looking forward to working.
The festival is in late January and I will be posting dates, location, etc. soon – if anything, to advertise for the damn thing.
(Not sure who designed the poster but it came out great.)
CalState San Bernardino, Palm Desert Campus is finally releasing their latest Sketchbook, their third volume of PDC student work. It’s so overdue that I’m not sure when it was originally to be published or even what I submitted for consideration. I’m sure I sent “Capone’s” and maybe “Tiger, Tiger” or even “The Moon Is the Truth of the Night,” but I don’t know what they’ve picked. The editor, Heather Benes – who, regardless of how late the book is, I know has been working damn hard on it – last told me that they were probably going to select two. We’ll see.
The gala is Friday, October 23rd. Starts at 5PM. Free food, free music, free Sean.
I wouldn’t call the last month a total writing slump; it may have felt that way initially but it was classical Sean, the Poet: write something, ignore it, and return to it and blast it to hell in one night. The work in question are two poems: “The Late Greats,” and “The Moon Is the Truth of the Night.” Both deal with my lackluster motivation, but in two settings: the career choices of “The Late Greats,” and my struggles with myself as a capable lover in “The Moon Is the Truth of the Night.”
As usual, Jen was very helpful with this process and she cleaned up “The Late Greats” into the state it’s in now. When she suggested that I not use “DJ” in the poem (er, she deleted them), I first thought it was a rude pull – that’s what the poem’s about! But part of this process, the “ignoring,” is key in forgetting what isn’t important, and when I read her revised edition I found my true work. However, “The Moon Is the Truth of the Night” is a piece I had unfinished at the time I went to Jen with the other, and it may still need work, but when I punched out that second section – I found my true work there, too.
While this was supposed to be my year where I evoked George Oppen with the completion of “This City Anew,” it feels that I’m going more towards Anne Sexton in my honesty and Charles Bukowski in my dreary and anger – which I’m not sure I feel consistently, if not just at that moment. The next poem, “Casanova,” is even further Bukowski. As long as I not yell at cars driving too fast, and hopefully return to “This City Anew” the umpteenth time, I should be okay. Or maybe I could write a bitter poem about how I never finished my one “masterpiece” and bring it full circle. (Joking.)
Even outside of work, this month has been busy. Erica and I threw a party the day before she left for Los Angeles to start her internship at MGM. While the distance and the stress of her job has been taxing on us, we’re both handling it pretty well. I’ve visited her twice now (took her to the Wiltern Theater this last weekend), and it’s evident that we are using both the distance and the reunions wisely. This summer is our run up to moving to LA – how close and when is still in the works. Also, my friends Kim and Andrew are getting hitched in Hawai’i and we’re going on an almost all comped flight and staying at an incredibly reduced Marriott (it’s good to have United Airlines muff up Erica’s flight last year/friends that work at Marriott).
Lately I’ve revisited my atheism and existentialism. Rather than treating it as something that is just understood about me, I’m viewing it as something to consider daily. This doesn’t mean just arguing with believers and laughing with other non-believers (both as a jerk), but instead I’ve gotten my head back into the writings of John Perry and Richard Dawkins, I’m writing argument/response pieces to typical questions (the problems of evil, free will, Pascal’s Wager, etc.). My raising, equally Catholic and critical, has lent me the tools to approach the Universe and who we are my way. Oh, I need to reread the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy too. (Seriously.)
Again, the play. I need to treat this season alone as a grand opportunity to research and develop the Bill Evans project. This last week I’ve added a stronger comedic element, hopefully something that will take the play to deeper dramatic levels by suckering the audience in and sucker punching them. It’ll only work if both the comedy and the dramatic climax are equally genuine. I’m thinking of the success of Lars and the Real Girl.
I finished Thomas E. Ricks’ Fiasco and it’s hard to say it was “good” to go over the details of the first three years of the botched Iraq War, but it was. On my plate: Richard Dawkins, John Perry, Charles Bukowski; Uzodinma Iweala’s novel Beasts of No Nation; The Chirs Farley Show (an oral history collected by his brother and a Jim Belushi biographer); Al Tony Gilmore’s Bad Nigger!: The National Impact of Jack Johnson. “What to read?” all before getting to Ricks’ follow-up, The Gamble, about the past three years of the war. But, I’m sure there’s a Bill Evans biography out there waiting for me – or is that my and Kelly’s play?
I’m in a slump now; I’ve not written anything since “Car lights” two weeks ago and I’m not even fully happy with that. I used to get really discouraged, like I wasn’t really a writer if I didn’t write everyday, or at least weekly. But then I read Raymond Carver’s “Work” and “Drinking While Driving,” and like most of Ray’s work, I treated them like our dialogue.
for John Gardner, d. September 14, 1982
Love of work. The blood singing
in that. The fine high rise
of it into the work. A man says,
I’m working. Or, I worked today.
Or, I’m trying to make it work.
Him working seven days a week.
And being awakened in the morning
by his young wife, his head on the typewriter.
The fullness before work.
The amazed understanding after.
Fastening his helmet.
Climbing onto his motorcycle
and thinking about home.
And work. Yes, work. The going
to what lasts.
It’s been awhile since I’ve read “Work,” and this is my first reading after taking on a second job and working seven days a week. It has a different meaning tonight; I feel older. Yes, that has a good feeling, but I feel I’ve been too distracted or too excusing to work as hard as Carver did. But I still believe that I can only work (write) when it comes to me, and I know I’ve had some months in my life when all I did was work. It’s not any better or worse – it’s just “work.”
“Drinking While Driving”
It’s August and I have not
Read a book in six months
except something called The Retreat from Moscow
Nevertheless, I am happy
Riding in a car with my brother
and drinking from a pint of Old Crow.
We do not have any place in mind to go,
we are just driving.
If I closed my eyes for a minute
I would be lost, yet
I could gladly lie down and sleep forever
beside this road
My brother nudges me.
Any minute now, something will happen.
I mistakenly remembered this reading “I have not written anything in six months,” but that doesn’t matter: “Any minute now, something will happen.”
Jen worked on a poem, a new form that destroys one word and explores all of its possible meanings. It came out really well. Not to try and trump her, but it reminded me of a section for the epic form of “This City Anew” that I wrote last year – a new form I called “say say” (which left me with the Wings’ song stuck in my head for ages). “When the earth grinds the sky,” like all of the other sections of “This City Anew,” is meant to be possible on its own. I’ve always felt that it was the most standalone (apart from the titular section) of the pieces.
Oddly, the first “say say” I wrote was about Raymond Carver. I was flying back from Missouri with my family and I showed it to my brother. I remember his eyes lighting up. I need to hold on to that. When I dig it up, I will post it.