Friday, July 4, 2008

Bowling for Narrative

Dear Friends,

On this day where we celebrate the great working of Will that brought a secular Order to this land. I give three things, a little essay, some notes on writing, and some community service links.


Getting Drilled.

It was my first ball.

I hadn’t got into bowling until I was thirty-eight. When I was growing up I was a sickly child, more of a slug than a human being. I compensated for my mucusy life by being vastly well-read, and developing several snobbish opinions. Bowling was considered a low sport, and my only venture onto the lanes was during a Navy ROTC tournament in Tascosa High School, where I earned the “Most Gutter Balls” trophy. (If you took ROTC you didn’t have to take gym, and you got to mount a virtual amphibious assault against France -- beating the frogs at their own game as it were).

When a group of friends took to me to the Dart Bowl, I expected an evening of tedium, and (of course) gutter balls. I met a young grad student and we discussed Heidegger between rolls. I went away with two strikes, four gutter balls and a much better understanding of Being and Time. The Dart Bowl in those days was a great hold-over of 60s architecture. I felt like I was on the set of Lost in Space. The sounds, the equipment, the air filled with an inaudible vibration all took me back to an imagined future.

Much to my surprise I found myself urging us to return. It wasn’t hard to convince them. Some of them were “intellectuals” like myself hypnotized by the rolling black balls. The ambiance had changed, now it was all new millennium. There were fancy displays that gave you animations when you bowled. I hated it until one cartoon congratulated me on getting a spare. I found myself liking the little bowling pin that lifted weights when I got an eight, or wrestled with a gorilla when I got a spare – and dreading the one pin that became two pins when I got a split, with its terrible reminder of the Sorceror’s Apprentice of Lucian (and Goethe and Disney). Each alley had a radar detector that told you the speed of your ball.

I was back in school at this point, finishing up my BA in English after a twenty-year hiatus. The Sigma Tau Delta, which is the national English Honor Society, had a bowling tournament for Honor chords. Papers about Joyce and J. Frank Dobie and the Book of Thousand Nights had had to come into being, for this honor. I had been bowling for about a year and was able to win my cords. I marched through gym at UT wearing them in May of 2002, the second oldest graduate at the ceremony. Thank god, I thought, bowling and good handle of post-modernism have brought me here.

Christmas came and Guiniviere, my lovely wife, asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I said, “my own ball.” I was tired of looking through the scratched black public balls, trying to find the fourteen pound wonder for the night. I wanted a ball with pizzazz, style, magic. Sure enough on Christmas there was the gaily wrapped box with my fourteen pound beauty all red and orange and black like a comet. I was suspired that it had no holes. I didn’t know that new balls are drilled for the user.

I had (and have) a tough schedule. In those days, before they canned me, I work at the Writer’s League, I teach, I write. I couldn’t go to the Pro Shop until the day before the Super Bowl. Also it is psychologically hard for a man to go to his ball drilled. The nice lady with the big drill massaged my right hand and had me try various grips and gestures – I felt that I was being inducted into a strange Masonic order with a dozen secret handshakes. She made many notes and told me to come back in a hour.

There it was all red and black and orange and beautiful. I picked it up and it caressed my fingers. Surely I was some male Cinderella invited to a ball. I even got a free game coupon.

So I have my big moment. I bowled with the new ball. The flame pattern made the ball look slow, but the radar detector on the alley told me that my ball was flying faster than ever. I got strikes, picked up spares, even dealt with the four pen split. I had been initiated into a secret and wonderful society.

I know then that God bowled. The shiny balls of dirty ice we call comets are God’s bowling balls. My revelation was deep and profound certainly no Zen monk had had such enlightenment. I had a mission that I would take to all of Austin – the highest use of human being is bowling, all of our civilization reached toward this moment.

My games over, I put my palantir, my scrying ball, my holy bowler in its red bag and strode to return my rented green-and-red shoes. My cell phone rang, playing its strains of Beethoven. My friends wanted to play pool at Slick Willies.

Pool’s pretty good too, I thought.


A friend of mine wanted to take up the non-lucrative art of short story writing. He went to a site that told he had to read about forty stories to get started. Here is my Short Course in the Short Story:

In some perfect world we get to read everything we want.

In our world however I'd stick to a few stories. Read them and answer the questions for yourself. or do the follow-up reading. That's step one.

James Joyce's The Dead

A. By the end of the story, we feel what Gabriel feels -- a really complex mixture of sadness, acceptance, growing old, regrets, and a sense of the Bigness of the Universe. Joyce never tells us to feel these things, how does he set it up?

B. How does Joyce make us identify with Gabriel?


Shirley Jackson's The Lottery

C. Shirley never tells us that this is a story about women being oppressed by men, and we read every word as a suspense tale. What are a few of the ways she tells our subconscious?

D. When this surprisingly brief tale was in the New Yorker, it attracted hate mail and caused many people to cancel their subscriptions. How could you (like Shirley) use the idea of the Shadow in a story?


H. P. Lovecraft's The Colour Out Of Space

E. The "monster" of this piece is a color we have never seen before. Lovecraft prepares us for that by the visuals in the first few paragraphs. What "head games" does he play on the reader?

F. How does the use of the multiple voices change the effect of the story -- smart young man, shaky old man, and the farmer talking about his wife and son?


K. A. Porter's The Jilting of Grandmother Weatherall

G. How does Porter lets us know what is objectively going on in the room, yet still keep Grandmother Weatherall's point of view?

H. How does Porter tell us the big story, the story of the Jilting, with almost no details? The jilting happens in three or four sentences, yet we know it is the Shaping point of Grandmother Weatherall.


Step Two:

After you have given thought to the above, take stories that you know, or hear or watch and try telling them with any techniques you've thought about above. See what works for you and what doesn't. Feel free to draw from anything in you -- a Shakespeare play, the Jerry Springer show, awkward time when someone told a joke at a party and nobody got it.


Step Three

Just start writing. Pick a time everyday and pick a word goal and make it every day.


Community Service

How to make a natural Viagra using Watermelons

The Best Link You'll read on Cyrptolingusitics and Rubik's Cube

The best link on pork levitation:



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the bowling story. I've only done it rarely, but have an "At least I tried" trophy.

Watermelon as a natural viagra? Now which Egyptian god do we know that is associated with watermelon? Heh heh...