Sunday, May 06, 2012

An extremely exciting week

So, last year I recorded a piece for a This American Life episode about adventure. It's a little memoir about adventures, and how I mostly don't have them.

It wasn't the piece I originally wrote, though, which was a short story. Or rather, it was the piece I originally wrote. Ira Glass wasn't sure about the personal one, when I sent it over, and wanted a short story, so I wrote a short story instead, but the producers preferred the personal memoir, and outvoted him, so that was what I recorded.

Ira Glass still liked the short story, and mentioned to Dave Eggars that I had a short story that he liked that nobody had read, and Dave Eggars wrote to my agent and asked if he could read it for McSweeneys, and I was happy that it wasn't going to be completely forgotten forever (I'd already forgotten it existed, and hadn't given it to anyone or submitted it anywhere, so it was just sitting getting dusty on a hard drive somewhere). I wasn't sure if it was any good, and had to be nudged by Dave several times to send it. It was called Adventure Story.

Having emailled it to Dave I forgot about it again. And then, in the post, this arrived:

I opened it. And I thought, I've got  story in McSweeneys!

I read the story, a little nervously, now it was printed, and thought, and it's good.

It's a great issue of McSweeney's. The Jason Jagel comic insert, Topsy Turvy, is wonderful, the collected writing is, as always, excellent, varied, powerful (the book 2 account of a week in Rwanda; the writing that inspired the Egyptian uprising...). Beautiful production values.

You can get a copy of it at McSweeneys:

I'm really happy and proud and thrilled to be in it. Thank you, Ira Glass.


The New York Times has a page of me talking about books and what I'm reading and suchlike on it.  (The blue picture is Jillian Tamaki's wonderful picture of me from it.) (They edited out the bit where I had President Obama talking about a hooker eating a man with her nether bits, which in retrospect might have been wise, but made that section less funny.)

Do you prefer a book that makes you laugh or makes you cry? One that teaches you something or one that distracts you?
Wait, do you think those things are exclusive? That books can only be one or the other? I would rather read a book with all of those things in it: a laughing, crying, educating, distracting book. And I would like more than that, the kind of book where the pages groan under the weight of keeping all such opposites apart.

You can read the rest of it at

Amanda's Kickstarter has been an enormous success -- currently it's the most successful music Kickstarter ever. In six days it has got over 10,000 supporters and has raised over $555,000 towards putting out the CD and book and taking the band on a world tour.

She wrote about it on techdirt..

There's a great story about how bamboo grows. A farmer plants a bamboo shoot underground, and waters and tends it for about three years. Nothing grows that's visible, but the farmer trots out there, tending to this invisible thing with a certain amount of faith that things are going to work out. When the bamboo finally appears above ground, it can shoot up to thirty feet in a month. This is like my kickstarter campaign. The numbers aren't shocking to me, not at all. I set the goal for the kickstarter at $100,000 hoping we'd make it quickly, and hoping we'd surpass it by a long-shot. 
 I've been tending this bamboo forest of fans for years and years, ever since leaving roadrunner records in 2009. Every person I talk to at a signing, every exchange I have online (sometimes dozens a day), every random music video or art gallery link sent to me by a fan that i curiously follow, every strange bed I've crashed on...all of that real human connecting has led to this moment, where I came back around, asking for direct help with a record. Asking EVERYBODY. Asking my poor fans to give a dollar, or if nothing else, to spread the link; asking my rich fans to loan me money at whatever level they can afford to miss it for a while.
 And they help because they know I'm good for it. Because they KNOW me.

I went to Chicago and delivered this year's annual Zena Sutherland lecture. Zena was an editor, a reviewer and an influential figure in the world of children's books. I wish I'd known her - everyone who had known her described her as "a pistol!" and they all talked about her in ways that made me so very proud to be this year's lecturer. (Here's an online obituary.)

(The first Zena Sutherland lecture was delivered by Maurice Sendak. The second by Lloyd Alexander. Yes, I was very intimidated.)

My lecture was called

“What the @#$%&*! Is a Children's Book, Anyway?”

which I mostly pronounced "What the [very bad swearword] is a children's book anyway?" when I read it onstage. I got to say things like...

Children are a relatively powerless minority, and, like all oppressed people, they know more about their oppressors than their oppressors know about them. Information is currency, and information that will allow you to decode the language, motivations and behaviour of the occupying forces, on whom you are uniquely dependent for food, for warmth, for happiness, is the most valuable information of all.

Children are extremely interested in adult behaviour. They want to know about us.

Their interest in the precise mechanics of peculiarly adult behaviour is limited. All too often it seems repellent, or dull. A drunk on the pavement is something you do not need to see, and part of a world you do not wish to be part of, so you look away.

Children are very good at looking away.

...along with the story of how I was very nearly expelled from school, at the age of eight, for telling a classmate a dirty joke I'd heard from some kids on the walk home, and a lot of pondering about what children read and why and how authors can figure out whether or not they are writing a book for children or adults.

It'll be published in The Horn Book in the autumn.


And by now you are undoubtedly thinking, what an exciting week. And you would be right. This was the most exciting week ever. Because...

I hived a swarm!

I walked the dogs in the woods. I heard something buzzing gently, and it seemed to be a tree. I looked closer... It was a swarm of bees high in a buckthorn tree...

Now, when a hive gets overcrowded, or just feels the time has come, the bees swarm. Three quarters of the hive, along with the queen, take off to find a new home, leaving the remaining bees behind to raise a new queen in the old location.

Swarms of bees are scary. You've probably seen one. They are also relatively harmless -- bees in swarming mode are not grumpy, not out to sting you, they've filled up on honey which actually makes it physically difficult for them to sting anyway, and mostly they just want to find somewhere new to live.

I prepared an empty hive. I put a couple of frames of honey into it from a hive that could afford to lost them.

Then, with two friends (Hans, who cut down the tree, after we decided it was just too high for ladders, and author Kelly McCullough, who saw me tweeting about it and decided that giving a swarm a home would be more fun than writing or revising that afternoon) we made it happen.

(This is Hans, He is like a midwestern, less Jewish, less orange-rocky Ben Grimm.) 

Hans cut down the tree (a good thing, because Buckthorn is a bad thing). Kelly helped and suggested I sing the Winnie the Pooh "I'm just a little black rain cloud" song, in case it helped. I did. It did. . I caught the swarm in a cardboard box as it fell, and Kelly and I transported it to its new home, poured in the bees.

While I was fairly certain we had not lost the queen when the tree fell, I also put a frame of brood from the Russian hive in, with a couple of queen cells (they are much bigger than usual bee-larva cells, and look like peanuts) ready to hatch on it. If a queen in a hive hears another queen about to hatch, she simply heads over and stings it. If she's not there to sting it, it hatches and the hive has a new queen.)

(Panoramic photo magic: here is Kelly on both sides of the swarm's new home at once.)

The dogs sat the whole thing out. They've had experiences with bees in the past. 

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