Monthly Archives: August 2008

Excerpt from Commissioner Gordon’s Forthcoming Parenting Manual

Excepted, with permission, from Stumpers: When Your Kids Ask the Tough Questions

Gotham’s a tough place to raise a family. You bust your ass all day trying to take down a killer with a haunting inner madness who licks his lips in this wonderfully creepy way and then, at the end of the day, your kid yammers on about some manner of stilted crap like, “Dad, why are the police chasing after Batman? He didn’t do anything!”

So you could give the boy a long answer about the complexities of good and evil, how difficult it can be to parse out anyone’s motives and how common it is for “good guys” to oppose each other. Or, if you just want the kid to shut his blond, precocious trap, you could say something like this:

“Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now… and so we’ll hunt him because he can take it. Because he’s not a hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector… a dark knight.”

This response is called a shut him up speech. Take a look at how the shut him up speech can be adapted to all sorts of stumpers:

“Dad, why do you drink so much Guinness?”
Because coffee is the beverage I deserve but not the one I need right now… and so beer hurts my liver because it can take it. Because Guinness takes the edge off. It’s a silent relaxer, a watchful enabler… a dark brew.

“Dad, I’ve been having these… feelings?”
Son, that’s not a question but I see where you’re going with this. Sex is a pleasure you deserve but not the one you need right now because you’re only 12… and so one day you will stick it to a girl because she wants to take it. Because you turn her on. After all, the men in this family are silent lovers, watchful of a woman’s needs… in the dark of the night.

Starting to pick up on a formula? That means you’re on your way!

Now if you haven’t guessed it already, the delivery is everything. When giving a shut him up speech, it’s crucial that you speak in a dramatic, scenery-chewing tone of voice in which no man would ever naturally talk to his son. This is technique, called the epic voice, is a great way to speak with authority on a subject, yet discourage follow-up questions.

On the next couple of examples, read the text out loud in your own best epic voice (and remember to treat each ellipsis like a dramatic pause):

“Dad, why’d you and mom split up?”
Because I’m the husband your mother deserves but not the one she needs right now… and so she hurts me because I can take it. Because she’s a bad person. She’s a silent judge, a watchful sulk… a dark bitch. Also because I faked my death and didn’t tell her about it.

“Dad, is there a form of matter that doesn’t interact with electromagnetic force?”
Yes. Visible matter is the form the universe deserves but not the one it needs right now… and so we’ll believe in this other substance because its presence can be inferred from gravitational effects on visible matter. Because it accounts for 22% of universal substance. It’s a silent force, a watchful rotator of galaxies… a dark matter.

The most important thing is that after you deliver a shut him up speech in your epic voice, give the kid a quick but meaningful hug and then leave the room. If you let enough time pass between speech and exit, your kid is going to realize how confused he still is, what a bad parent you are, etc. Then he’ll ask another question and all your work will have been for nothing.

If you like Stumpers: When Your Kids Ask the Tough Questions, order Commissioner Gordon’s new manual, Gray Area: The Pros and Cons of Informing Your Wife About Plans to Fake Your Death While in Pursuit of Chilling, Oscar-Worthy Criminals.

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Two Big Readings


Thursday Night:

The variety show was a hit. Attendance exceeded expectations. Thanks to everybody for coming. I got to meet/have a drink with new UMassers Ann, Louis, David and Jensen.

I knew the performers had it in them and they brought it. (Actually, I’d only read one good but very short piece by Ben Stein, so I only suspected he had it in him, but he went and blew expectations out of some sort of liquid. Water? Maybe…) Jeannie was in top form. Chris Bachelder honored us with a reading that involved taking off his professor hat. All music was great. If Ari or Hanuman + Tina made records, I would buy them.

I sneaked myself into the program and read this. Suckers!

One person said it made her feel like school was starting in a good way.

Friday Night:

Went to NYC with Mike this weekend and attended the reading/launch party for NO COLONY, a new magazine edited by Blake Butler and Ken Baumann, and saw these fine people read:

Nick Antosca, Robert Lopez, Tao Lin, Giancarlo DiTrapano, Justin Taylor, Mike Young, Shane Jones. A lot of good writers in the same room.

I also met Leigh Stein (who shares a NOO Journal with me) and Catherine Lacey and some others, whose full names I forget. I asked Catherine to trade chapbooks and she graciously accepted. We took advantage of Kendra Grant Malone’s hospitality/futon.

Other people wrote about the reading here and here.

I did other great stuff in New York, too (saw Joanna, Richdale, Ash & Clay, multiple smoothies, Vietnamese food, racial tension, subway impersonation, 24-hour Mexican food, and so on), but this is not that kind of website.

Variety Show, Now with Hyperlinks

This is tonight:

The Gather Round Children Variety Show.
A Lively Night of Lit and Music For Kids 18 and Up

Featuring Chris Bachelder (author of U.S.!, Bear v. Shark), Jeannie Hoag, Ari Feld (of the Handsome Truants), Sara Blaylock, Ben Stein, Hanuman Goleman and Tina Antolini (of NPR).

Amerst Books, 8 pm, Thursday, August 21
Hosted by Gabe Durham

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Because of a dog, I spent last week in a house with lots of good books in it. I picked up a handful of short story collections and read the first story in each. Here are the ones I liked:

“Escapes” by Joy Williams – from Escapes – Magicians, alcoholic Mom, daughter learning to close herself off out of self-defense. This is my first Joy Williams story. There has been a lot of Joy Williams buzz in my life this year. I want to read a novel of hers.

“I Dream of Microwves” by Imad Rahman – from I Dream of Microwaves – It’s hilarious and original and grounded in desperation. But then this review made me think that maybe it’s good that I only read the opener. But it sounded like the reviewer’s tastes are pretty different from mine, so I don’t know.

The Faerie Handbag by Kelly Link – from Magical Thinking – I found it online for you! Link edits Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and lives where I live. I want to submit to LCRW now.

Sickos by Deb Olin Unferth – This one I read online.

“The Great Divide” by Charles D’Ambrosio – from The Dead Fish Museum

“The Disappearance of Elaine Coleman” by Steven Millhauser – from Dangerous Laughter – I liked the “struggling to remember her” stuff more than the “we made her disappear by ignoring her” stuff.

And then I read the “New Stories” section of Raymond Carver’s Where I’m Calling From. It’s great. It’s like an extension of Cathedral. Except for that last story, “Errand,” which reads mostly like a solid New Journalism piece on Chekhov and makes no sense at the end of the book that sums up the man’s career.

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New Story: Eight Times in the Everywhere

Matt at Thieves Jargon accepted my story, Eight Times in the Everywhere, hours after I submitted it. And now it’s online. You can’t beat that with a billy club.

Update: I just re-read the story and feel the urge to issue a disclaimer, but I’m not sure what it should say. “Not for kids.” That’s a possibility. But I’m leaning towards, “The narrator in this story is a terrible, terrible person.” Or how about replacing one of those terribles with “cartoonishly”? But then people who think all stories should end with the terrible people getting what’s coming to them (objectivists) won’t want to read it. So maybe the disclaimer should read, “The narrator in this story is a cartoonishly terrible person who dies and goes to Hell at the end.” But objectivists won’t like that I put Hell/Devil into the story and now my disclaimer is getting dangerously close to summary. So I’ll cut “goes to Hell at the end.” Or maybe I should just go back to, “Not for kids.” Or maybe my disclaimer should be, “You should listen to Donald Antrim reading ‘I Bought a Little City.’” But that takes the focus off of me.

Update: Tim made me remember that disclaimers are for dummies. Here’s the new one, nice and short.

Disclaimer: F it.

Lovely Sparrows / Bowerbirds

Many parallels here. I like both of these songs/videos:

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Variety Show! Amerst Books – Thursday, August 21 – 8 pm

I’m excited to announce another installment of…

The Gather Round Children Variety Show.
A Lively Night of Lit and Music For Kids 18 and Up

Featuring Chris Bachelder (author of U.S.!, Bear v. Shark), Jeannie Hoag, Ari Feld (of the Handsome Truants), Sara Blaylock, Ben Stein, Hanuman Goleman and Tina Antolini (of NPR).

Amerst Books, 8 pm, Thursday, August 21
Hosted by Gabe Durham