Friday, September 15, 2006

I Stand Here iPodding - Part Two

Put Streaming RealMedia on your iPod

Perhaps you thought you couldn't do it, but you can. Streaming media can be captured and converted into formats that are iPod (or other portable device) friendly. Let's start with RealMedia. There are many freeware and shareware programs out there which can capture and convert these files.

The one I use most often is Rawavrecorder. It's free, it's small, it's simple and it works. This program converts media with files ending in .ra, .ram and .rm. To find the actual file your RealPlayer is playing (the link on the web page may be to a pointer file), click on the file name that appears in your RealPlayer window. Copy the address it reveals. Paste it into the Rawavrecorder. While the file downloads and streams, the program converts it to a .wav file. When complete, drag this new file into your iTunes library and then convert it, or, use Windows Media Player or other music software to convert the .wav file into an .mp3. Easy -- except that the first step, the conversion into .wav, is done in real time. Meaning if you have a lot of shows you want to convert, you need to line them up and run them in batch as you sleep or while you are at work. Rawavrecorder lets you batch them. But if you do this in the background while you are seated at the computer you won't be able to listen to anything else.

I use this program most with segments that are streamed in RealAudio from public radio websites, and with lectures or readings that appear as webcasts on univeristy sites.

Also, you can take RealVideo segments and Rawavrecorder will spit out just the audio. The only thing worse than talking heads on a big screen is talking heads on a 2½-inch one. So, okay, maybe I'll want to watch a video while waiting with a bunch of other women in pink gowns for my turn to be tortured on the mammography machine. But I'm more likely to be reading then. So usually what I'm interested in are programs I can listen to while doing some house or garden chore, or driving (using my car's aux jack). You don't want video then.

Still sound like too much trouble? Here is a sample of what's out there. It proves RealMedia content is worth finding, capturing and converting for your iPod:

Chicago Public Radio - Stories on Stage
A large archive of short stories, performed by actors from the Chicago area. Some old, some new. Featuring authors such as Lorrie Moore, Alan Gurganus, Bernard Malamud, Alice McDermott, and many more. Does having an actor read a writer's story change the experience of it? Yup. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. The series even includes, from 2005, a four-part reading of Jane Smiley's novella, The Age of Grief. Wow. How she draws the characters, how she explores and develops their joint lives! Compare the marriage depicted in Smiley's tale to that sketched out by Tobias Wolff, in Say Yes (scroll down). Granted, you can't do a whole lot in a 14-minute piece (I'm guessing it was under 2,000 words), but both of the characters and the relationship itself have cleverly executed arcs. All downloadable for free.

Exploratorium Webcast - Memory Lectures
Six lectures from San Francisco's Exploratorium. Lecturers include Lewis Hyde, Robert Sopolsky, Elizabeth Loftus, and others. If you are writing about a character's memory, particularly if that charater is very old or very young, or using memory in other ways as a creative writer, these are great resources. After listening to the Lewis Hyde lecture I went out and read a couple of his books, and also Frances Yates' the Art of Memory. I already had Robert Sapolsky's A Primate's Memoir, and he was fascinating also. Especially when he talked about his relationship with his aged, memory-impaired father. Knowing the science of memory helps you shape an accurate literary narrative.

Book-TV on C-SPAN2
Many of these programs become webcasts after they appear on television. Like this one from September 3, 2006, in which Gay Talese, author of A Writer's Life, talks about the importance of listening to the stories of ordinary people, and encourages writers to write about them It's nice to see him in his beautiful suit, but you don't really need the video. He doesn't do impersonations, draw pictures, or dance. He just talks. Perfect for .mp3.

Lannan Foundation Archives
The Lannan Foundation has an archive of its Bookworm interviews and its Readings & Conversations going back to 1998. Although Lannon's Bookworm podcast, with host Michael Silberblatt, can be subscribed to on iTunes and downloaded directly to your iPod, Lannan has a great deal more to offer on its website, in RealMedia format. Like this Reading and Conversation with Rikki Ducornet from 2005. I adore the sensuality of her language. I went out and bought Ducornet's The Fan Maker's Inquisition after listening to her read from it.

Meaningoflife is sponsored by Slate, and hosted by Robert Wright, author of Three Scientists and Their Gods, The Moral Animal and Nonzero. He interviews the English-speaking world's leading thinkers. Karen Armstrong. Edward O. Wilson. Daniel Dennett. Steven Pinker. And on and on. He's a bit nudgey, particularly with Karen Armstrong, and sometimes he tries to impress his guests too much with his cleverness. But by and large the interviews are great.

BBC4's In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg
Melvyn Bragg converses with the leading thinkers of our time, investigates the history of ideas, and debates their application in modern life. Although the past year's program are available by podcast, shows prior to that are available only as RealMedia archived on BBC4's website. Here's a good one about the nature of the human imagination.

Berkeley Webcast Archives
Berkeley has great podcasts and webcasts, but, once again, a lot of the archival material is not available in .mp3. Such as this RealVideo clip from the Graduate School of Jounalism, in which Michael Pollan talks about his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, as well as "the narrative laundry line," participatory journalism, and how to pitch a story about "agriculture." The video is not essential… but Pollan is a charming, entertaining guy. He also has a nice smile.

So what do you do if you want to put the video on your iPod? Well… you Google around for a converter. Like the ones Boilsoft sells.

Monday, September 11, 2006

I Stand Here iPodding - Part One

Or, a Playlist for Writers Who Have to Do Laundry

I bought my first iPod a few months ago. Not long after, I visited the iTunes Music Store directory and navigated towards Podcasts→Arts→Literature. There I found many offerings whose quality ranged from bad to dreadful, but also a surprising number of worthwhile programs. Not all of the good ones were on iTunes, though. I found them all over the web.

Here are the best podcasts that are of specific use to writers. (On another day I'll list podcasts for literature lovers generally.)

I've supplied links to the relevant websites so you can decide for yourself how and what to download.

I usually start my writing day with Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac. Don't you?

Then I may check for updates on these others:

The journal Creative Nonfiction offers a podcast, called PodLit. In this segment, CNF's founder and editor Lee Gutkind talks with Dinty W. Moore, founder and editor of Brevity, the journal of "extremely brief nonfiction." (I'm a Dinty fan, BTW. I have a piece featured in Brevity right now.) Gutkind has produced ten episodes so far. Some segments are lifted from writers' conferences, some are interviews, and some are creative nonfiction pieces read by actors.

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, author of Pen on Fire, hosts a weekly program on the writing craft and the business of writing. Writers on Writing can also be accessed from this blog and from the iTunes directory. Just yesterday, I listened to her interview of California writer Carolyn See, whose novel, There Will Never Be Another You, I just finished, and whose 2002 nonfiction book, Making a Literary Life, I read before that. (I've started corresponding with Ms. See, who is also the Friday book reviewer for the Washington Post, and she's delightful.)

The Writing Show is produced by Paula Berinstein ("Paula B"), author of a number of nonfiction books and a veteran researcher. Her show explores the craft of writing and sometimes she exposes her own foibles in a humorous way. She showcases the successes of those who have tried novel approaches to publishing. In fact, as soon as I finish writing this, I am going to find out how to make money on my blog. And then, I am going to listen to today's show, with Jean Tennant, which will tell me how to get published.

There's one from NPR, a podcast called On Words. It's culled from radio segments recorded by the late poet laureate John Ciardi. (A writer should be interested in etymology.)

Poets&Writers' podcast features readings and interviews, and the occasional group discussion. Don't miss it. Boy is this episode good: How to Publish Your Short Story: A Panel Discussion (2.01.06).

And then there are daily podcasts from The Poetry Foundation, featuring recordings of poems, interviews with poets, and poetry documentaries.

Finally, PEN American Center has a podcast. PEN is the world’s oldest international literary organization. Like other media hosts, PEN does not give you everything via the podcast. There's lots more audio to download, but you have to get it directly from the website.

Next time, I'll talk about audio and video formats that aren't iPod friendly, and what you can do about it. I'm no geek, mind you, but i have figured out a thing or two.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

I've Submitted to Third Coast!

I've just submitted a short (2:30) audio piece, entitled, "School Mothers," to the 2006 Third Coast International Audio Festival. The festival is sponsored by Chicago Public Radio. They've accepted it and posted it on their website! To listen to it, follow this link and scroll down to #43:

Contest criteria appear at the top of the page. I've submitted my piece in time for it to be selected as one of the four whose producers will be invited to Chicago (all expenses paid) to attend the TCF Conference in October and present work there. If it's chosen, my piece would also be featured separately on the Third Coast Festival website.

I've never produced an audio piece before, so the sound is amateurish. My lovely friend Bill Kaplan kindly gave me some sound clips to use as background, so I could meet the contest criteria, and I mixed it up myself using a program called Audacity, my home PC, and a hand-me-down mike. But I'm really hoping it's the writing that counts.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Veils and Scape Goats

Alas, I have not yet read Azar Nafisi's book, Reading Lolita in Tehran. (See this earlier post.) It is still on the table that is next to the table that is next to the bed. Shame on me. At least it should be on proximal table, not the distal one.

I seemed to go on a bender after reading Lolita last spring, delving into both fiction and nonfiction about cultures headed for self-destruction and people who themselves self-destruct and then maybe resurrect themselves. As in the novels of Michel Houellebecq, which my husband and I read, one after the other, during spring break. As in Rick Moody's The Black Veil. (I didn't care that Dale Peck didn't like it.)

Of course, I had to read the original story, The Minister's Black Veil, by Nathanial Hawthorne, which Moody kindly includes in the back of his book. Despite not having read Nafisi's book, I was developing, apparently, some sort of veil fetish. Which wasn't helped by suddenly deciding to re-read Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky, with its sexy blue-veiled Tuareg tribesman who carries Kit Moresby deep into the Sahara and ravishes her to the sound of camels braying (is that what they do?), next to piles of steaming camel dung.

And then I got all fixated on the Tuaregs, their matriarchal culture, which keeps the men but not the women veiled, and their written language, used only by the women, which resembles Phoenician, and is used by them to compose beautiful poetry, and on their legendary queen, Tin Hinan, whose remains were dug out of a cave in the southern Hoggar in the 1920s by Count Byron Kuhn de Prorok, who was looking for Atlantis. I read his dusty books. Discovered connections with Frenchman Pierre Benoit's novel, L'Atlantide, in which an adventurer is captured by the Tuaregs. Benoit also relies on legends about the lost kingdom of Atlantis. And I read of the controversy over Benoit's alleged theft of plot from a similar novel, H. Rider Haggard's She. I learned that Haggard's mythology "can also be seen as a precursor of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos stories."

Now we're having fun. Because Houellebecq wrote a book about Lovecraft. Co-winky-dink? No, no. There's a connection. In this translated extract from the book that appeared 4 June 2005 in The Guardian, Houellebecq writes:

From his journeys to the penumbral worlds of the unutterable, Lovecraft did not return to bring us good news. Perhaps, he confirmed, something is hiding behind the curtain of reality that at times allows itself to be perceived. Something truly vile, in fact.
(Emphasis supplied.) Veils again. I noted that Bowles' Moresby is herself a metaphor for a colonialist culture attracted to the sweet nothingness of self-destruction and that this culture, like Moresby, ignores myriad opportunities for retreat. Moresby effects her retreat by plunging forward, through the veil, into that sweet nothingness which her Turareg offers. And I wonder... perhaps this is the only way to proceed. Like Kali, the dark goddess of India, under whose command the world renews itself only by ghastly destruction. To keep the flame alive, must we as individuals continually propel ourselves straight forward into oblivion?

Does it turn out better if, as with the Tuaregs, and with Hawthorne's character, it is the men, rather than the women, who are veiled? I suspect not. It's the graven defining of otherness which gets folks into trouble, because of the misguided assumption that what we know of ourselves is as certain as the veils that we use to wall off the other. These veils achieve nothing but self deception.

Walling oneself off from the one who knows us most intimately is what Hanif Kureishi's flawed protagonist does in his novella, Intimacy. Somehow that book slipped into the reading pile ahead of Nafisi also. You see, walling himself off from someone who has intimate knowledge of him is what Humbert is trying to do in Lolita when he kills his rival, Quilty. But unlike the original scape goat ritual, which served to restore order in man's earliest troubled societies, Humbert's projection of his own flaws onto Quilty merely effectuates his own destruction. Otherwise he would have gotten away with his foul crimes against Lolita. It was Quilty -- the character who spent most of the novel veiling himself from Humbert -- who knew Humbert the best. And Humbert could not bear it.

So here's another lesson, courtesy of Kureishi and Nabokov: we erect veils between others and ourselves because we cannot bear to be known. Worse, we cannot bear to know ourselves.

Perhaps our preoccupation with this fellow Karr (getting back to the JonBenet thing) is just another version of Humbert's fixation on Quilty. It's the scapegoat reaction. But then, there's a whole nother reading list, about various Fall-guys, like Jesus, and Fall-women, like Eve, and before we know it we're back to Hawthorne, rereading The Scarlet Letter in the guest room, which is where we shelve the novels. And then onto a couple of the other books, like Rhawn Joseph's The Transmitter to God (see below), with, inter alia, its descriptions of the Catholic Church's sponsored torture and gender-cide of women in the 1400s. The amygdala. The limbic system. The reptile brain lurking inside us all, ready to connect us to murder and sex and fear and domination. And on, to the web to read more about mimetic desire. And on, to a couple of radio interviews with Rene Girard from last season, which you can still listen to online.

Along the way I also read The Call of Cthulhu, and some other Lovecraft stories. Hubby and I had a blast watching the movie Dagon, which is based on Lovecraft's tales. Lovecraft named his creature after the ancient Middle Eastern deity, Dagon. Dagon, once a god of grain, and before that a fish-god, is a sort of fall-guy, but he's also a projection of our own inner slithering god-demon. Our inner jailer. Our shadow selves.

All of these ideas are rolling around in Houellebecq's novels, whose characters are tormented up front and center by the worst aspects of their own makeup, and the worst aspects of their own culture. And yet there is some sweet precious thing lurking, just out of his characters' reach, beyond the curtain of Houellebecq's worst dystopias. The possibility of love. If only Houellebecq's character, Daniel, and Nabokov's Humbert, and Kureishi's Jay -- all middle-aged writers -- could go about it without fucking everything up.

Now it's time for a fresh look at the creature behind the veil. It's time for Nafisi.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Summer Reading List

We went last week to our timeshare at Massanutten, which is near Harrisonburg, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. I did little writing, but lots of reading, playing with Tarot cards, and cooking (I brought a big carton of tomatoes to can that would not wait a week until we returned).

In no particular order, and because it's now Labor Day, here is a list of the books I read during the Summer of 2006 (sorry for not providing links):

Making a Literary Life, by Carolyn See
There Will Never Be Another You, by Carolyn See
Crescent, by Diana Abu-Jabar
The Pillowman (a play), by Martin McDonagh
Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdon, by Rachel Pollack
The Forest of Souls, by Rachel Pollack
The Transmitter to God, by Rhawn Joseph
Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson
The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy
The Message in the Bottle (essays), by Walker Percy
I'm Not the New Me, by Wendy McClure
Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes
The Hole in the Universe, by K.C. Cole
Dancing in the Flames, by Marion Woodman and Elinor Dickson
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson
Essential Acker: The Selected Writings of Kathy Acker, ed. Amy Scholder and Dennis Cooper
The Serpent and the Rainbow, by Wade Davis
A Round-Heeled Woman, by Jane Juska (bought it twice by accident, and her new book has just come in the mail)

My favorite part of our yearly trip to Virginia is not viewing the scenery along Skyline Drive, or hiking, but visiting the Green Valley Book Fair. We even pack a lunch and picnic outdoors. We return home with crates of books. We use collapsable wheeled carts so we don't have to suffer shopping baskets with metal handles that dig into your arms.

I learned recently that there is such a thing as "bookstore tourism." So we are not the only loonies out there who go from book sale to book sale and buy more books than we possibly can read.

At a conference recently someone asked me what sites I use to find the lowest prices for new and used books online. Here's my list:

Daedalus (a new one's near me with coffee next door)
eBay - Books (often the cheapest for recent releases)
Powells (great website, why is the store so far away?!)
The Tattered Cover (this big independent bookseller successfully resisted gov't subpoena for customer records, yeah!)
Wonderbook (not far away - Frederick, MD - and it's huge. USA Today thinks it's one of the 10 best used bookstores in the country)

Notice I have not listed Barnes & Noble or Borders. I get emails from them all the time - and I read them. I do visit their stores. And even buy books there. But it's not where I go to find good used books or new ones cheap.

Then there's the download-it-for-free sites, e.g.:
World eBook Fair
Free Classic AudioBooks
Project Gutenberg

Of course every Baltimorian who loves to peruse stacks of used books in search of treasure needs to visit the annual Smith College Book Sale. We take our wheely carts there, too. And wear our comfortable shoes.