Mysteries of the Bicycle Explained #7 “Pedaling Toward the End of History” (Podcast link)

“Pedaling Toward the End of History” (Podcast mp3 link).

Published in: on April 12, 2007 at 5:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mysteries of the Bicycle Explained #6: “The Cyclo-Pimpernel in the Adventure of the Free French-Munchie Ambush” (Link)

Here’s the podcast link: MOBE #6 “The Cyclo-Pimpernel in the Adventure of the Free French-Munchie Ambush”

I’ll post commentary, and alternative links later this week.

“Pedaling Through the Paleolithic” Podcast Commentary (+ New Links)

Podshow Mp3 podcast link Pedaling Through the Paleolithic. Odeo MP3 podcast link: Pedaling Through the Paleolithic .

This is another story I wrote while suffering from Reality during our slowly evaporating (maybe) era of Unreality. I’m not just being cute about it; I know that I had to see a doctor to address my symptoms (insomnia), and the doctor mentioned the number of patients he was then seeing expressing similar symptoms and causes. Humor does help; a sense of incongruity, omnipresent among many, lends half a joke already. But, an absurd Colossus of Rhodes, our incongruity’s ungainly straddle has its other foot planted in the surreal. Weird times! Weird times.

This story, “Pedaling through the Paleolithic”, took many drafts to write. I was trying to make a magazine deadline, and kept sending drafts to the illustrator, my colleague and friend Neal Skorpen. And then a little later I’d send him a heavily changed draft, saying, “Sorry, bud!” I did this several times, cringing. Finally I just asked him to illustrate the general idea until I figured out how I wanted to treat it.

The story is a few years old. It’s already clearly dated by the reference to canceled TV shows.

One influence on the story is Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. In that story, the narrator learns that people are turning into Rhinos. This surreal story seems to catch at an element theme, as broad and potent as Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. However, Ionesco’s work has humor, a big difference. (The movie version is readily available, starring Gene Wilder.) I don’t know that Rhinoceros is ‘about’ anything. A lot of 20th century events could have generally inspired it, such the experience between French citizens in Vichy France. The idea “everyone is changing but me” may attack some kind of primal survival fear. Dream paranoia is a major force behind a lot of surrealism. You can see it quietly suggested in the long shadows of De Chirico‘s paintings. A more direct example of potent surrealist paranoia is the 1955 movie Les Diaboliques. There are a lot of movies with this sort of paranoid transformation, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. A version of this is the common paranoid plot “something is happening and I’m the only one who knows”.

In addition to Rhinosaurus, another influence on my “Pedaling/Paleolithic” is the story “Pkhentz” by Abram Tertz (Andrei Sinyavsky). Tertz was a Russian fabulist in the tradition going back to ETA Hoffmann. From Hoffmann to Gogol, to Zamyatin, Bulgakov, to Sinyavsky-Tertz, and now, a writer one year older than me, Pelevin. There are others, but these are the ones I think of the most, and influence me. I am not trying to inflate myself by association with these celebrated writers, but to explain my thoughts.

I had trouble drafting my “Pedaling/Paleolithic” story as I tried to find the balance between humorous incongruity and surreal incongruity. Usually I seek the humor and stay away from the surreal. But I wanted this one to be different.

In Zamyatin’s story “Pkhentz”, we slowly learn that the narrator, an ailing, depressed Soviet citizen, is actually an alien who crash-landed in Russia, who adopted rudimentary human disguise to live a dreary Soviet life. The creature is slowly dying, and always afraid of discovery. Soon, exhausted by the dreary, basic efforts to survive, he decides to give up his efforts. I take this as an inspired, albeit depressing, description, of life as an independent-minded literary intellectual . Tertz-Sinyavksy passed samizdat literature to the West, and went to the gulag for it in a landmark case helping mark the close of the Kruschev era’s hints of openness. On they marched toward bold Breshnev stagnation; eventually Tertz survived the gulag and emigrated to France.

It’s quite strange to go through this era of official Unreality, falsehoods defended by power and tribal emotions. This normality is not normal, and we suffer for it in many ways…

It’s a potent subject to examine with art. It’s an opportunity to try to write about using the surreal and humor to record our bizarre bad times and try to keep hold of health and sanity.

If you listen to my podcast, maybe you can tell–I enjoyed my pseudo-Neanderthal grunting, and it comes naturally.

Incidentally, in the late 1980s, maybe 1988, I met a Soviet poet on an official anti-nuke cultural tour of the USA. I found out about it because I was a member of the National Writers’ Union, although certainly its most pathetic and ridiculous member. Anyway, I met her (I don’t recall her name, unfortunately) at a beautiful house facing one of the small lakes in Minneapolis, perhaps it was Lake of the Isles. She spoke some English. It was the amazing era of glosnost… imagine, a totalitarian society opening itself up! I asked this official poet if the Soviet authorities had started publishing Zamyatin yet. She hesitated several times, and answered quite reluctantly, with her mouth close to my ear, in the faintest faintest whisper that was yet comprehensible, “Leetle beet”. I somehow felt it was my duty as a writer to put her on the spot. I figured that her success had some element of toadyism to power. Later, I realized it was cruel. It might have been risky to her health to even whisper “Leetle beet” to me. And it gives me shivers to remember a Soviet citizen touching me with that barely perceptible whisper of her fears.

Mysteries of the Bicycle #5. Pedaling Through the Paleolithic (postcast link)

This is the MP3 link: Pedaling Through the Paleolithic
I’ll add commentary on the story later today… after I lift weights (my fans demand that I maintain my iron physic) and run some errands.

Mysteries of the Bicycle Explained #4. (Podcast Link + Commentary)

Mysteries of the Bicycle Explained #4: Coffeebike

I’ve tried to write about what it’s been like to live in the USA in 2003, or , say, some time between 2002 and 2004. I’ve found our times have been quite stressful, not just because of 9/11 itself, not just because of the Iraq War, but the reality problem that suffocated our public culture. I’m not the only one who observed it. It made me physically ill for awhile. This strange form of mental oppression began to fade in the latter half of 2004, although the other problems, as you know, continue. And they were made worse, possibly insoluble, by the climate of insanity that ruled public discourse.

“Mysteries of the Bicycle Explained” #4 is a story called “Coffeebike”. A magazine here in Oregon published it in 2003. I think it was that year. It tries to use humor to examine the civilian stresses of our time of war.

I’ve written about the more subtle, psychic oppressive feelings in a graphic novel in collaboration with Portland cartoonist Neal Skorpen. It’s not quite finished yet. Poor Neal has a ton of work to do! I’m excited about that project.

I think we live in radically unusual times worth trying to understand and record through art.

Tangentially, one part of life that may not be obvious, which I enjoy a lot, is the sense of history sweeping around us. It astounds me over and over.

Humor, satire, comedy are excellent ways to try to understand what is happening.

Things I Wrote About Recently, & Things I Yet Want To…

Recently I wrote about organic food, recruitment of engineers, steel containers, and the architecture of the “man : machine” interface. I also wrote about investment strategies, insurance software, and card transaction readers. The list goes on. I’m quite happy to have that work. It helps pay the mortgage. It’s excellent idea-factory work. The guinea pigs and I want to keep doing it.

But I did not yet write in this blog about “Guns, Germs, Steel, and Guinea Pigs”. Nor “The Sound of Color: Autistic Savants & Bely’s St. Petersburg“, nor “Tolstoy’s Ability to Capture Vague but Palpable Awareness of Interconnected Patterns of Life’s Self-Purported Significance in War & Peace Vol.2″, nor the provocative “The Increasingly Banal Roster of Novelists: Some Hung, Some Felons, All Rascals Or Worse”. I also didn’t finish writing my latest absurdly-heroic bicycle story. And I didn’t record any new podcasts, from my list of available scripts…

Meanwhile, here is another responsive link where you can download the 11 MP3 files of “Skull of the Robot”.

I have to earn money. Meanwhile, I’m almost done with War & Peace, Vol. 2.

Published in: on March 8, 2007 at 5:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

My “Punk Rock Novel” Audiobook: New MP3 Link

Click here to go to the audiobook mp3s

This is a new, additional way you can download the 11 mp3 files that make up the “Skull of the Robot” audiobook (free of charge). It sends you to Podcast Alley, which lists the 11 installments of the novel. These links are more peppy and responsive than some of the other ones I’ve posted.

Skull of the Robot #1 (Intro + Chapter 1 & 2)
A punk rock romantic novel by Peter Gelman. Narrated by Scott Hirschberg. Passion, philosophy, fisticuffs and word ferment among American youth at the end of the cold war. Set in Minneapolis, Minnesota during the 1980s. The old cassette tapes recently found and converted to MP3 for this podcast. The audiobook consists of twenty-one chapters in eleven mp3 installments. This first installment contains an introduction by Peter Gelman. Contains original music by Peter Gelman.

Published in: on February 24, 2007 at 6:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Minimalism Returns By Gloom of Night, Doomed To Walk a Certain Period On Earth


I haven’t thought about it in maybe 12 years. But it’s starting to come back to me.

One reason I wrote in the energetic style of Skull of the Robot was that I was, indeed, extremely energetic. Another reason is taste. One aspect of that taste grew larger because I didn’t like the hopeless, minimalist storytelling that was prominent and celebrated at the time….

Okay… This isn’t going to be a scholarly literary analysis of 1980s minimalism; this is from my older, still-cranky memory of my youthfully cranky feelings of the time.

I liked the works of Raymond Carver. He was quite popular among my peers as I graded from college in 1986. It was easy to put down your Hemingway and pick up your Carver, and I think Carver appealed more to my women peers then Hemingway did. As you know, Carver wrote a lot of good stories about alcoholics, failed marriages, failed dreams, and sometimes, common American darkness. Some of them were funny as well as despairing.

Over time, I became aware of other writers’ work that were somehow minimal, like his, but maybe more minimal. As a literary trend, minimalism seemed to go hand in hand with despair, smart despair, even smarty-pants precious despair, and, making minimal of humanity. I don’t know if this was a reaction to the stupid, fatuous Reagean Era (our current one is even more fatuous, by the way) and the years immediately following. The culmination of the “making the human minimal” literary enterprise, as I took it at the time, was a story called “Is It Dog, Or Is It Human” (I don’t know the name of the author), which seemed to reduce the human difference to the stain our species’ urine made (as contrasted to a dog). In other words, literary minimalism seemed to follow the equation, “less is less”.

It was very annoying to me. Iran-Contra scandal was going on at the time, pissing me off, briefly investigated, and gently swept away with generous pardons. And I was just starting my adult life. I had huge energy. I saw romantic lightning in the clouds. There was a wave of liberation going across Eastern Europe and even Russia. More importantly, I was young, I had health, I had a mind, and there were things I wanted to do that I thought I actually could do. And I had an interest in literature.

I wasn’t the only one. It bothered Raymond Carver. At least, to the extent, that he admitted he didn’t like being called a minimalist. It bothered him, not just because of it being a label. As a result, he changed his style in his later book “Cathedral”. It was more expansive in prose. And the title store shows the narrator in the end helping a blind man understand what a cathedral is by tracing his fingers on the picture of a cathedral in a book. It’s expansive.

In the January 11, 2007, “The New York Review of Books” (p. 34-35), Cathleen Schine reviews a new collection of Amy Hempel’s works. Amy Hempel falls under the minimal school of the sort that I don’t have a taste for. I don’t have a quarrel with her, nor would I likely win a quarrel with her; she should write however she wants to, of course, and she’s doing quite well without asking for my advice (including that she’s a Professor at Bennington College for Underprivileged American Youth). Likewise, Schine is another successful fiction writer.

I guess my problem is more with Schine’s review, and it’s unrestrained praise of things that bother me in Hempel’s work.

Here are some excerpts from Schine’s review…, “In the Space Between Words”…

“The humor, the lightness of the dialogue in this story–so beautifully balanced–together create Hempel’s easygoing mood of desperation, and that is one of her most endearing, magical sleights of hand. Doom may be everywhere, but it hovers as light as a cloud, as ephemeral as life.”

Aside from the gushy praise of this promotional piece that passes for review, Schline’s point is stray, in my opinion, and wrong in a kooky way that is annoying… Doom… “As ephemeral as life”… Come…on… That is so annoying, so pretentious! I can’t say it without mocking it.

As ephemeral as what? As… as…as life. As life. Yes, as I think about it, as ephermal… as life… Yes, as ephemeral as life. That’s how profound I am. You can hear it in my voice.

By the way, if we’re making grand statements about Life, allow me to observe, from the grandest point of view, that Life has been around no less than 3 billion years, so the depressing, defeatest, minimalist way of assessing Life is not the only way available.

What in the story makes the doom ephemeral? No, it’s the narrator’s spirit, shown by humor, in the face of background, oppressive doom that is the strong point in a style that I don’t care for. Is there really a message of ephemeral doom in there. Show us the manifest of that interesting idea of doom’s ephermality. No, we have to take her word for it. Schine’s last words in that paragraph are, “The story is the language of grief.”

By the way, I’m crying already–and that’s why I buy and read books, to cry and feel despair.

Schline: In ‘Housewife,’ a story that is only one sentence long, Hempel uses the punch line ending to evoke an entire cultural outlook as well as a wonderfully full and exact glimpse of one woman’s personal, moral, and cultural calculations…

Hempel’s story: “She would always sleep with her husband and with another man in the course of the same day, and then the rest of the day, for whatever was left to her of that day, she would exploit by incanting, “French film, French film.”

How can anyone describe that mildly funny sentence to be a “wonderfully full and exact glimpse”? What does “full” mean, let alone “wonderfully full” ? Fill-in some of that fullness for me. Count them down. Now. How many items does that make? Is that a fullness for the character? Forget it, let’s move on.

Please tell us what “entire” means in the claim that it can “evoke an entire cultural outlook”? Maybe “entire cultural outlook” means “a few limited aspects of cultural outlook”? Or maybe it’s human “culture” itself that is so minimalistically limited in scope?

More quotes:

Schline: “Here people drift, amiable and aimless, in an almost cocky despair…”

Doesn’t that sound super? Okay, it bugs me.

Now, listen to me–if the despair was cocky, that might be something I’d like. But note that it’s not. Cocky despair? No, that would not be minimalist. She said it’s ALMOST cocky, but not quite at that level of willful, energetic achievement. The arm lifts from the chair, and then falls, wearily.

Schline: “Hempel often likes to refine general ennui through the filter of more general ennui…”

Notice those are lopped-off quotes… Schine seems trying to do her duty as a reviewer and mention some things which some readers might see as limitations, but she won’t develop any of these observations in her rush to make a positive observation. For example, in the above quote, Schline goes on to talk about an exception. Why not talk about the generality? What is the experience for the reader to read about general ennui filtered through more general ennui?

Anyway, Schine seems to quietly indicate that Hempel is moving away from classic minimalism: “Timing, then, might also be considered the secret of tragedy [??sounds grand, but huh?? from what does that follow??], but for Hempel, tragedy is too big a word, too grand a concept, an ending, rather than a pause in the middle. Sadness on the other hand, and hope are what exist in the middle, and it is sadness and hope that show up in the later stories.”

And then she gives a quote from Hempel’s story which illustrates the defeat of hope.

“…This story is animated by a new vigor, absent from the occassionally effette early Hempel stories…. it has dogs. [The review then quotes Hempel.] In this story, it is only when the dogs come into the room that we glimpse, just for a moment, the terrible loss behind the clever wordplay, the intense hope behind the alienation…”

I haven’t read the story, so maybe this is new. Maybe this is something a little bit like Carver’s “Cathedral”. But–a guess–I don’t think it’s quite that. It’s a change, but maybe it’s the dogs that carry the hope, the humans in the story still in a state of ennui.

Schline: “…Her dogs… unlike almost any human character in the stories, feel real and solid… ”

Why didn’t you ever discuss about the unreal and unsolid characterization in her work? Given Hempel’s long-established literary success, why only the praise-angle? Why not some cons to go with all the pros?

Schline: “This is the brilliance of Amy Hempel, to find and occupy the space between words, fraught with contradiction, even when the words mean the same thing, the space between optimistic and hopeful.”

That’s really pushing it, don’t you think? Come on, the schmaltz meter is hitting the red! All that gushy-wushy critical adulation for such despairing, shrinking work made with sensitive intelligence and some shards of humor.


I guess I don’t understand. But reading this review reminded me why I took an El Opposito, maximalist approach in Skull of the Robot. Even the title has some VIGOR OF LIFE in it. And later, I pursued satire and comic writing.

But, seriously, I don’t have the final say on this.


Schine and Hempel, and their publishers, own the rights to their words.

Published in: on January 3, 2007 at 3:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

A note on the MOBE #3 podcast

[Update on 1/3/07: A kind developer at Twango contacted me, and addressed my concern. This enabled me to change the MOBE #3 post; the audio link works now as before. You can download the file to your computer if you wish. Thanks, Twango, for your help!]

I used a different method for posting the audio file, but it works… The reason for the change is that the web site service changed some of their methods. I presume the reason is to make it fancier, more up to date, while at the same time giving them more control. The link will open twango’s page (see, control) for the one of my channels on twango, currently set for only one episode, #3. It should automatically start loading and playing–at least it does when I try it.

I have a lot to learn about podcasting logistics, web page coding, RSS feeds… I also have a lot of material ready for recording. Recording takes time. Editing takes even more time. I’m trying to limp along here while taking care of everyday business… I think the technical aspects of this project will become easier over the course of 2007. The artistic aspects will not.

MOBE Podcast #3

MOBE03: A Brief Encounter with the Surly Shakespearean Insult-Quoting Bicycle

Published in: on December 22, 2006 at 3:47 pm  Comments Off on MOBE Podcast #3