Tuesday, April 27, 2010
The chairman of the Scandinavian department looks sternly at me. We're at the annual conference for Scandinavians in America, SASS. This year it takes place in Seattle and I've become drunk from half a glass of Chardonnay.
"You aren't just a writer, Peter. You're also an academic," he says.
I sigh. Why does this nice man from University of Washington have to insult me? Couldn't he accuse me of something more innocent, like robbing banks? But no, the chairman is going for the throat.
I study him. Is this great scholar getting back at me because I borrowed his first name Terje in The Tsar's Dwarf? In my novel, Terje is a drunk and violent Norwegian who swallows his own vomit. But don't all Norwegians? What is so insulting about that?
"You teach at an American university, isn't that correct?" he continues relentlessly.
"Yes, but Portland State didn't hire me as ..."
"And you write historical novels that require scholarly research. So, Peter ..." He looks triumphantly at me. "You're a scholar and an academic."
I sigh but the chairman is right.
I'm in denial.
I'm an academic.
My problem is I don't like labels.
I can identify with novelist and human being (if the latter isn't bragging), but not academic or scholar. Actually, I take pride in the fact that I only have a B.A., not a Masters or a PhD.
I'm also proud that I've never read a single book on literary criticism in my life. And most important, I don't own a tweed jacket.
For the rest of the SASS conference I walk around in a daze.
I look at all my great colleagues presenting papers like "The Aesthetic of the Interface: Performativity and Pornographic Symbolism in the Poetry of Post Modern Sami Writers." I admire how the eyes of the college professors are glued to their profound manuscripts; how they drown their PhDs in exquisite red wine. And how they use words only known to scholars of the 11th Century.
"How can I compete with that?" I sigh. I've never read Tolstoy or Camus, James Joyce and James Conrad bore me to death, and Kierkegaard gives me the runs.
"So what am I doing here?" I shout to the mirror in the elevator, but the mirror doesn't respond. After all, mirrors aren't academics, they're useful.
The next day I return to Portland and decide I have to accept my cruel fate, so I enroll into the local chapter of Academics Anonymous.
At the first AA meeting I stand up. On my shoulder lies a blanket of dandruff. In my pocket, two midterm papers are sticking up begging for Cs.
"My name is Peter," I whisper. "I'm an academic."
"Hi, Peter," the crowd greets me.
I look at the janitors with Master Degrees, the award winning poets who teach Dan Brown: the adjuncts and novelists who have become curling instructors.
In a corner, a bearded man is shouting "tenure ... I want tenure". It's not a pretty sight. Getting in touch with your Inner Academic never is.
I sit down again. A few scholars of Icelandic pronouns embrace me warmly.
I'm going to pull through.
And tomorrow I'll buy that tweet jacket if it's the last thing I'll do.
Monday, April 19, 2010
I lost my virginity in the state of Washington.
After almost forty readings and book signings in the US for The Tsar's Dwarf, I was invited to a writers' conference to do two workshops.
This happened last weekend outside Seattle at Kiana Lodge in Poulsbo overlooking Bainbridge Island. What a gorgeous place. It reminded me of Scandinavia before it was buried in volcanic ash. 128 people and a cat met up to listen to a bunch of professional writers sharing their wisdom about everything from self publishing to writing through grief.
I was hired to do a workshop on tragicomedy, an apt choice since I think I'm funny and everybody else thinks I'm tragic. Thirty-five people showed up in a cabin with stuffed moose. No, I'm not referring to the nice folks in the audience but to the aura of beautiful native Indian kitsch.
But don't get me wrong. I loved it all. The local writers were great and laughed in all the right places, except for the time when I read a blog piece equating writing to masturbation. People looked at me as if they were shell shocked.
At first, I didn't understand why, but finally it dawned on me. People don't masturbate in Seattle. Maybe that's why they have such large families?
Writers' conferences are great, but sometimes they can be frustrating as well. You feel as if you're standing in front of a huge buffet where you want to taste everything, not just the cauliflower.
Field End's Writer Conference was loaded with talent. There were so many writers I wanted to talk to, among them Bruce Barcott who was the delightful keynote speaker, and Gloria Burgess who did the opening address. But the conference only lasted a day, then we all went back to our semi colons.
Before that happened I appeared in another workshop with Dickey Nesenger, a Seattle playwright. The workshop was called Page One. Participants were supposed to leave page one of their manuscripts, and we were forced to say something brilliant about them after they were read aloud to us.
When I teach writing, I always try to stay away from the American mode of "I Looooved It So Much But ..." I try to be honest and supportive, knowing that beginning writers don't need bland praise, just a loving headbutt. Maybe that's why people started to throw eggs at me?
In the evening I walked a last round at Kiana Lodge, admiring the tribal art work and the beautiful view of the sound. They do weddings here, and sometimes the odd coyote jogs through looking for a haiku poet to munch on.
Going back to Portland, I got a ride with Puerto Rican writer Carmen T. Bernier-Grand. Riding two in the same car is called car pooling in the US, so don't say the Yankees don't have a social conscious.
And hey, they read historical novels, too. The book store at the conference ran out of their pile of The Tsar's Dwarf.
God bless the state of Washington!
Monday, April 12, 2010
The next time the Pope comes to Legoland I promise I'll arrest him!
I got the idea from the two writers Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens who want to arrest Pope Benedict when he visits England. What for, you may ask? For his crimes against uncircumsized boys, of course.
According to Dawkins and Hitchens, the Pope is "arrestable". He doesn't represent a nation recognized by the UN, so the two atheists have asked British lawyers to produce a case against Pope Benedict XVI over his cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.
You see, Benedict is visiting Great Britain in the fall, and His Holiness might be in for a surprise. Instead of a warm hand shake he might be at the receiving end of a pair of pristine handcuffs. Just like Roman Polanski.
By the way, I'm not an atheist. I actually love the Catholic church.
For one, they know how to put on a good show. I adore their beautiful churches. And I admire the art that you find in those mansions of God. If I were Him, I'd much rather dwell in those than in the stern Protestant churches where the World of Mysticism has evaporated in the icy winds.
However, I also love the fact that these scandals are being unveiled.
Not because I'm a sadist, but because the Catholic Church has to change. So when the Cardinals feel they're being "persecuted", they should see their critics as Messengers of God, not the Devil.
And what are these Messengers of God telling all sects and religions? Something very simple - that "protecting" the reputation of any faith never can be one tenth as important as protecting the young from an un-divine blow job.
Having a God and a penis shouldn't necessarily be a marriage in Hell. But it probably will be as long as faiths of all kind are more concerned with power and control than with God Himself.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
I'm still in shock.
I'm still not over the fact that they took away The Little Mermaid.
She is after all the most famous tourist trap in Denmark. The Little Mermaid is a world famous statue inspired by one of Hans Christian Andersen's most beloved fairy tales. Still, they removed her from the harbor of Copenhagen and shipped her to EXPO 2010 in China.
Did The Little Mermaid put up a struggle, or did they gag her, you may want to ask?
"Come on, she's just a statue," the insensitive claim, but that isn't true. The Little Mermaid has feelings. I bet she screamed like a pig all the way to Shanghai. So would you if you had to fly economy.
But no, our heartless leaders have decided that The Little Mermaid is going to be part of EXPO 2010 until November. They think she is going to be a hit. What they forget is that our Mermaid only is interesting when someone tries to behead her.
Maybe the Danes should hire some Mandarin thugs to saw her head off, so we get some much needed more exposure?
Well, let's not get too emotional now. Let's look at the facts.
The Little Mermaid has never left Denmark before, and now she is going to sit at the Denmark Pavilion on the east bank of the Huangpu River in Shanghai until November. To make sure she doesn't get home sick she'll be resting in a pool of polluted water from the harbor of Copenhagen.
An estimated 70 million Chinese will glare at her the next months. Most of them will count her nipples and hear welfairytales about this country called Denmark where everybody rides their bikes and gets their appendixes removed for free, often at the same time.
And what does Denmark get in return for this unselfish act?
The Wall of China, of course. Rumors have it that the Chinese will send their wall to Denmark, so we can use it to keep foreigners out.
We have to protect our gene pool, you see.
So would you if you had a heart of stone.
Read Denmark for Dummies, A Superficial Introduction to the Happiest Country in the World.