Not last Saturday but the Saturday before, I cleaned out my desk and workspace at the Powell's Burnside store. [I know, I'm very late in posting this - no time...] Going through my workspace was the kind of excavation you'd expect from a hoarder like me. Since I got the job of In-Store Merchandising and Promotions Coordinator in 2008, I've been hanging onto supplies and objects I figured might come in handy at some point in my work. Along with these things were souvenirs of these last five years of my life including favorite little signs or shelf talkers I'd made, a couple of the panels from my favorite window displays, a slip of packaging from when Harper Collins sent me a box of Chocodiles to thank me for a display I put together [which i wrote about here], shelf talkers from when Portland Noir was a New Favorite...
All of these souvenirs I put in a box to take home or over to my new desk in the Marketing Department. I took down everything I'd tacked to my cubicle walls, the pictures of Maxx and Zoë and Noni, promo postcards from Stephen's art shows, a page torn out of a film noir calendar. Walking down to the car after that Saturday's work day, carrying my box, I told Stephen, "I'm taking this stuff to another desk, but it still feels like I'm fired." Just the act of carrying a box.
Above: another of the souvenirs I took with me. Three sock monkeys made for me for a display by fellow Powell's merchandiser Christopher Johnson. [i wrote about it and showed off pictures here.]
Here's a list of things I hoarded to use again in merchandising but never did:
Various old signs with out-dated graphics we were never going to put up again.
A long [long] multicolored paper chain.
A string of paper ladybugs [tangled].
Garland I made out of cupcake cups [crumpled].
A box with gold gift wrap.
Replacement Christmas light bulbs [tell me you don't have those in your house].
Little suction cups that go to nothing.
A gazillion paper flowers I printed and cut out and laminated and cut out, back in probably 2007 for a spring display in the Red Room, which were in a file folder in my desk lo these five years.
Recently, I had the honor of learning that writer / professor Robert Arellano was including my story "Shanghaied," along with some other Portland Noir pieces, in his Noir Lit class at Southern Oregon University. When I remarked to him that it would be fun to be a fly on the wall as the students discuss the story, I threw out some comment like, "Don't look now, Bradley, but the author's hiding under your desk," and Robert said, "If you were in my class right now, I'd say run with that."
pretty gal discussing the story
So, I did. Now that the class has indeed read and discussed the story, I thought I'd honor the moment by posting the little flash fiction piece that came out of that impromptu prompt.
Noir Master Class
Good morning, students, and welcome to this semester’s
Master Class in Noir Fiction. We’ll be starting off with the modern noir short
story, “The Black Before” by Willem Morray.
the author is local, and he was quite pleased when I contacted him to say I’d
be including his piece. In fact, he said he would love to be a fly on the wall
and listen in on our discussion. In fact, don’t look now, Bradley, but he’s
hiding under your desk. Please try not to kick him.
I guess you
could say Mr. Morray got a little more than excited when I contacted him.
He claims he doesn’t get out much, which I find surprising since his story is
full of sizzling descriptions of the city at night and gripping interactions
between cool people, which you wouldn’t expect from a man who supposedly “has
no friends”—a fact that he has asked that I tell you. He says he hopes you
enjoy his story and that if you do, he’d like to invite you all out for drinks
afterward. He says to tell the class he does not like to drink in public but
would love to have you back to his house where, in his study, he has a desk
with a hidden bottle of whiskey and a library of every film Bogart ever made. He
also has a neon motel sign strategically bolted to his study window so that the
light blinks through the slats of Venetian blinds and creates a nice noir
pattern on the floor.
Bradley, didn’t I say “Don’t look now?” You’ve gone and looked. Please try to
refrain, as the author isn’t fond of being looked at. Although he has asked me
to tell you students who may be interested in that drink that he is, however,
fine with being looked at if you’re wearing a fedora—or, ladies, a hairdo similar
to Claire Trevor’s in the film Murder My
Sweet. Preferably blond.
now, Bradley—and I mean that, please don’t look—but Mr. Morray has found your
lunch bag and is eating your corn chips.
love of god, Bradley, didn’t I say, “Don’t look now?” Alright, you’d better put
your hands up. That gun in Mr. Morray’s hand isn’t only a replica from the 1950
film Gun Crazy—it’s also loaded.
Hands up. Good. Now, keep your eyes front—and everyone act like nothing’s going
on, and no one will get hurt.
Ah! This is
refreshing, isn’t it, having an author sit in on class! In fact, I was so
pleased with the idea that I’ve decided to book an appearance with every author
whose work we read. I apologize for the manner in which we must conduct these
little sit-ins. I know it gets crowded when you have an author under your desk,
but there just aren’t enough chairs.
get started, shall we? This morning we’ll be comparing and contrasting “The
Black Before” by Willem Morray with the short story “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot”
by the classic noir author Raymond Chandler.
Mr. Chandler died back in 1959, so he’ll be a bit less engaging as a guest—but,
Andrea, may I at least ask that you stop using his pelvis as a footrest?
Robert Arellano is the Edgar-nominated author of Havana Lunar. His most recent book is the incredibly taut thriller Curse the Names. You can check it out here.
Seriously? This is all I got from snapping away with my phone through the evening? OK, I'm not too surprised, but still. I tried with flash, I tried without flash. What I should have tried with, of course, is a camera.
Here's emcee Mark Saltveit, comedian and palindrome world champion. Seriously, he's a world champion. Somehow I thought he'd be introducing us all palindromically, so sort of on the spot before the reading started, he wrote one for me off the top of his head. It involves me as a singer opening up for Mark in one of his comedy shows: "Gigi Little, belt 'til I gig."
Mark kept things moving great throughout the night.
Here's JW Griffith. I was on the program following him. You don't want to follow JW Griffith. He's a brilliant writer and very smooth, very particular reader. He was the only one among us to read from his actual Frozen Moment piece: "How We Were, How We Are, How We'll Be."
Here's Kathleen Lane. She followed me. You don't want Kathleen Lane to follow you. She read one of my favorites from a collection of short stories she's been putting together. It's about normal stuff: chewing scabs, winding your hair around your finger and then licking your finger, stuff like that. Actually, it's about childhood and identity and the longing for connection. Beautiful.
Here's Michael Sage Ricci reading from his new novel in progress, a story about tattooing and murder. I was privileged to be the first person to hear the first chapter, when it was just written, so hearing him read it in public, I had a little bit of a 'that's my boy' reaction. Reading the opening to a novel at an event can be risky because there's so much setup that goes into that first chapter, but Sage's opener is totally riveting.
Next up in the parade of faceless photographs: our musical guest for the evening, Bradley Rosen. I didn't realize until we talked later that those were his own songs he played. Lovely. He closed the first half of the event.
Here's Liz Prato, who's a great teacher/workshopper as well as writer. I haven't taken her workshop, but friends of mine have and rave about it. As a writer, she's a quirky storyteller who crafts sentences with precision.
Here's Margaret Malone doing her lovely deadpan read of a short story I hadn't heard before. I always love Margaret's work, so deft, so elegant and full of dark wit. Sadly, if I haven't read a piece beforehand, after a reading the details of the story go out of my head and I'm just left with the enjoyment I felt and the longing to get that story back in me again - especially if I wait a few days to write it up. I was like that with both Margaret and Liz' pieces.
Closing the show: Tom Spanbauer, presenting a gorgeous psychedelic moment from his new novel I Loved You More. Two tidbits about Tom's reading. First, somewhere in the middle there, someone, maybe Someday Lounge staff, maybe Bigfoot, was making loud roaring sounds in the kitchen just off from the stage. Tom, with his lovely powder soft voice, kept reading, finished his piece, paused and then roared right back.
Secondly, I found out after the reading that Tom had actually lost the last page of his piece somewhere between the car and Someday Lounge. And he spent part of the early part of the reading rewriting it. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a remarkable man.
Spotlight is a yellow veil in front of my eyes, cheap net
hanging from a bad hat, a Tiffany lampshade on my head. I stand at the
podium reading to a good-sized audience at Someday Lounge, worrying that my
writing is cliché, worrying that I'm mixing my metaphors.
these new girly shoes with the high heels, I was afraid I'd trip coming
up to the mic, but it's my tongue that's been tripping. I keep reading. If I look confident, maybe no one will notice.
the sentence that does
its slip-on-a-banana-peel out of my mouth contains words that aren't
even on the page. My pronouns are the Three Stooges, running around, and
I is where you should be and you is where he should be, and maybe
that's more Abbot and Costello than the Three Stooges, but I keep
reading. If I look confident, maybe no one will notice.
I'm back on track, and things are going along fine. I read a line and
the audience laughs. But as I read, I'm thinking about the experiment I
decided to conduct prior to this event, where I would not let myself get
all over-the-top about practicing like I always do, how I'd just read
my piece through once or twice and then get up there and perform it,
like every other writer does - how this was not a successful experiment.
My dry tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
Now Shemp does that thing where he pokes the V of his fingers into my
eyes, and my words take a tumble again.
I've written in apartments and houses, in vans and motor homes, in hotel rooms and dressing rooms and circus tents [but not in coffee shops... i can't write in coffee shops], but this was the first time I've really given myself a writing retreat. It was only two days, but it was a wonderful change of pace and I got a lot of good work done and enjoyed myself immensely besides.
Here's where I went. Sellwood Sky.
front door with buddha and mona lisa
It's a vacation rental in Sellwood, so named because of its lovely rooftop deck that makes you feel like you're on top of Portland.
I got there about ten on Sunday morning. Started by going on a walk in the neighborhood and down to New Seasons for some provisions. Beautiful neighborhood.
dogwood plus spider
At the top, it says, "Please reach behind this sign and take a copy of the poem." The poem is by Paulann Petersen, Poet Laureate of Oregon.
window with hands
Back at the Sellwood Sky, I got myself set up in the sun room with the right writing implements and the right writing foods and got to work.
The sun room is a great place to work on a novel.
writing on the rooftop
So is the balcony.
So is the rooftop deck.
You can watch squirrels and hummingbirds as you think through your scenes. In the afternoon when you hit your usual lull you can take a nap on the incredibly comfy bed. Or sit on the floor in front of the TV and try to play some video game where you're a wise-cracking pirate tied to the crow's nest - and then give up when you can't figure out how you're supposed to get your hands untied. In the evening you can walk down to Gino's and eat half a huge plate of risotto and take the rest back in a doggy bag.
If you just couldn't figure out what to write and were frustrated and heart-broken and desperate and wanted to seek counsel from god, you could go to this church - or apparently Facebook - although I kept off the internet the whole two days, which probably helped with not ending up unable to figure out what to write in the first place.
Another thing I like about Sellwood Sky? The spiral staircase. [spiral staircase not shown in picture, just implied.]
Another thing I like about Sellwood Sky? This sign.
It was a lovely two days and a lovely place for a writing retreat. You can take a gander at Sellwood Sky here.