I Am Big. It's the Pictures That Got Small

for those wonderful people out there in the dark

30 October 2006

Sanibel Island Writers Conference

Spent last Thursday through Sunday working at the first annual Sanibel Island Writers Conference. Just a tremendous weekend, with a wonderful set of writers, valiant and energetic participants, all in a perfect island and pefectly intimate setting. Tom DeMarchi, the Director of the Conference, did a stupendous job in getting writers to work for next-to-nothing, working through the joys of university bureaucracy, and making it all fly within ten months.

Above is Tom offering introductory remarks at the BIG Arts Auditorium.

John Dufresnes and Jonathan Ames Signing Books

A Rapt Audience

Unfortunately, I took only interior shots, which misses the entire charm of the BIG Arts faciltiy: a Key-West-ish style complex, with open breezeways and courtyards, all in a rough, native garden landscape, and less than five minutes from the beach itself. We also lucked out on the weather: dry, highs in the mid-80s, and perfect blue skies.

Yes, we had some kinks with the sound system, perhaps creating more break time between sessions, adding more agents and publishing representatives, and the like, but it was quite a success for the first go around. Lynne Barrett, a wonderful fiction writer, commented on how good of a start this program was, comparing it favorably with the very good FIU Seaside Writers Conference. For the participants, the highlight had to be the accessibility and availability of all the writers. We didn't have a prima donna in the group, and all gave so generously of their time and energy.

And for me, I got to hear two very fine "dress" stories that I can't wait to transform into poems: kisses to Colleen (and Caitlin) and Cristin! All those C's!

22 October 2006

Starbucks Aesthetics

In today's New York Times, there's an intriguing story on "The Starbucks Aesthetics" by Susan Dominus. The story partly dissects the Starbucks cultural experience, how the company has its own XM station, with forays into producing Indie films, books, and music cds.

Of course, it's about a canned "hip" experience for those of us NPR listeners (which I am). Recently Starbucks opened up a coffeeshop in downtown Fort Myers, which is in desperate need of active and sustaining businesses. It's located in the Kress building, a part of the redevelopment of some wonderful buildings downtown (for a number of years, Gerri and I lived in downtown Fort Myers, and Gerri continues to write of downtown Fort Myers in her history column in a tabloid weekly). So, in many respects, the presence of this Starbucks franchise is a very good thing.

And I do occasionally frequent that Starbucks, and yes, I like much of the canned hipness: the soft-toned mix of alternative rock and cool jazz and 40s standards, the terra cotta colored and 50's moderne themes, the employee-friendly and environmental-friendly ethics, and the very good coffee.

Of course, there's an absolute flatness to the whole experience, a most genial comfort. And this is evident in the corporation's first foray into book publishing, with Mitch Albom as the brand du jour. Okay, I haven't read For One More Day, but I suspect it's as far reaching of a venture as a re-issue of a Frank Sinatra album, or of a spoken word cd by Meryl Streep of The Veleveteen Rabbit. Yes, it's a good thing, but it's so friendly, so reassuring, and so empty.

Dominus includes a very telling statement by Nikkole Denson, who is the chain's director of business management, as she describes Starbucks' involvement in the production of Akeelah and the Bee:
“Starbucks is all about community and inspiration, and everything in that movie seemed aligned with that — it has that human connection,” Ms. Denson said. “It doesn’t have to be a family film, but it does have to be socially relevant.” As for the books she’s selecting — they won’t all be by name brands like Mr. Albom — she says she wants books that provide “almost an education without being preachy.” Yes, they should be inspiring, but also, she hopes, challenging: “not racy or dark, but thought-provoking.”
Now what's interesting here is the emphasis on producing and supporting works that are wholesome, affirming nuggets. Seeing that a Starbucks brand (whose "core customer" is a 42-year-old professional earning $90,000 per year) could have the cultural impact of Oprah Winfrey, at least among the NPR crowd, I find this news yet another dreary reminder that what Americans, even the ones I like a lot, want is the least bothersome of communities, the most convenient of inspirations.

And yes, I do worry about my coffee and its social relevance, whether it supports fair-trade, is organic, shade-grown. And yes, I also work at an institution (the American public university) that seeks to provide "almost an education," profferring ideas that are almost challenging, but certainly "not racy or dark, but thought provoking." What I hope for, then, is the proliferation of that wild coffee, those undrinkable kinds, that take root, flourish in the most acid of soils, the darkest and least accessible of forests. I like to think of my remains being spread in that kind of dirt, giving nourishment to those kinds of unbrandable and impolite varieties.

01 October 2006


Oh, I'll be taking perhaps another week or two off from the blogging. Just caught up in devoting myself to school work and faring off to Savannah for a conference this coming weekend. In 2008, dear January, I do plan to make it the Dodge. Honestly.

For those of you who've followed this blog realize that I've been posting regularly, about 2-4 times per week since I made the big leap last April. That leap? Oh, I changed the focus of the blog from Boise State football and Poetry to just mostly poetry and wayward thoughts. My little joke, initially, was to create the least read blog in the United States (I was up for about six months, with only six views of my profile, and one comment--not bad).

Anyway, I'm very happy that my Broncos are off to a 5-0 start, with a real likelihood of making it to a BCS bowl. And my PeaceJam-attending son and I will definitely go to that game, along with my brother and his son (perhaps the Fiesta Bowl), and so it would be a very manly weekend for the Brock men. Oh, but I detect that my more recent readers are likely tuning out at this paragraph, and I said I would keep the football talk to a minimum.

What I am looking forward to is the incredible Dame Helen Mirren (buy this week's New Yorker, just for her image) in her new role as Queen Elizabeth II. No, hardly her sexiest role, but I can't think of a more intelligent actress working today.

I'll be back, dear reader. A little refreshed, and no doubt still unbelievably appalled at something. Happy trails!