Dog Bites

Can Dog Bites achieve a creative breakthrough under the tutelage of a Sylvia Plath-lookin' chick?

"I think you need to be more vulnerable," said Madison.

Rattled, we were even more thrown off by her next question: "Who are your favorite writers?" Before we could stop ourselves, we'd blurted, "Hunter S. Thompson."

Oh no. Not that. Professional self-immolation. Our reputation linked to that shameful scrap heap of self-indulgent hacks who dream of finding literary fame through the use of heavy psychedelics and the first-person singular. We quickly threw in "Tolstoy!" in a wild attempt to distract her. But Madison had already written down, "Hunter S. Thompson." We turned white as she underlined it, twice.

Madison ended the meeting by warning that the actual writers' studio would be "like AA."

"We get really touchy-feely," she said.

Nevertheless, the next evening, Dog Bites entered the inner sanctum of the Red Room Writers Society -- an Alamo Square mansion-turned-hotel -- and sat down at the long dining-room table wearing our personal Power Suit, a brown cashmere turtleneck from Saks with a hole in the shoulder. About 10 other white people -- median age about 34 -- trickled in, filling mugs of tea and munching on butter cookies, until Madison called the group to order.

The room was not actually red, by the way, but pink. And strangely enough, it didn't resemble the room from the Web site. But no matter -- Dog Bites was determined to get touchy-feely, vulnerable, to "go there."

Madison started with a half-hour pep talk, culled from a mishmash of "how to write"-type books, with the inevitable comparison of writing to Zen Buddhism -- specifically, to Buddha having to carry sticks and water around, just the way we were going to have to suffer under the literary yoke if we wanted to become Writers. We bit into a cookie.

"Any good advice about writing is going to be good advice about life," Madison opined. "Risk taking, being vulnerable ..."

(We took special note of this comment, as it seemed to apply to Writers. The tactics to which Dog Bites routinely resorts as a journeyman journalist -- manipulation, wheedling, bullying -- would assuredly get the shit kicked out of us if we employed them after-hours.)

Then we were all asked to introduce ourselves and divulge what we "are feeling about our writing right now." After which we'd be required to say the words "I am a GREAT WRITER," and everybody would cheer and clap. A few participants tittered appreciatively, while others looked panicked.

Slowly, we moved through this Promise Keepers scenario. One returning member, a woman in her late 30s wearing purple, who was one of the few with a journal rather than a laptop, admitted to suffering a serious setback.

"I've always fantasized about having a dedicated but obscure international following one day," she said. "Nothing too big, but definitely international." (Supportive chuckles from the room.) But she'd recently read an article that said Czech students didn't think much of American fiction. "It made me unable to write over the entire holidays," she lamented.

Soon it was time to get down to business. Madison declared the session open, and the room immediately filled with the soft clicking of people typing furiously on their laptops. Dog Bites devoured four mini chocolate bars in quick succession. One woman -- with the well-scrubbed face and stringy hair of a hippie-in-transition literary type -- started crying. On closer inspection, however, she appeared merely to have the sniffles.

A few minutes passed, but it seemed like an eternity. Maybe it was the chocolate, or the green tea, or the once-elegant but now slightly flyspecked surroundings, but Dog Bites suddenly felt deeply embarrassed. Was this the "vulnerability" that Madison had tried to prepare us for? It felt like a niacin rush! Maybe this was the start of something truly literary. Time to "make it happen." But a terrible thought suddenly occurred to us, and our creative juices turned to ice.

What's our reputation in the great land that produced Kafka, Milan Kundera, and that guy who did those posters they sell in head shops? What do the Czechs think of Dog Bites? No, wait. Don't tell us. Our literary career depends on it. -- Lessley Anderson

A Not-So-Exclusive Exclusive

On Jan. 22, a reporter in the San Francisco Chronicle's Washington bureau treated the newspaper's readers to what appeared to be an exclusive interview with Secretary of State Colin Powell. Edward Epstein wrote: "In an interview with the Chronicle, Powell also expressed the administration's irritation with France ... Powell, in his interview, said he had 'a candid, forthright, honest exchange of views' with the French Foreign Minister."

Was it possible that Epstein -- late of the San Francisco City Hall beat -- had scored a major professional coup? A give-and-take session about vital foreign policy issues with a master of the universe?

Well, not exactly.

"Epstein did not get an interview by himself," said State Department spokeswoman Brenda Greenberg. "He was one of several reporters attending a press briefing for regional newspapers."

Indeed, the Baltimore Sun reporter who attended did not try to exaggerate his role. His story noted that Powell had spoken with reporters for "several newspapers, including the Sun." Ditto the reporter for Agence France Presse, the French news service, who wrote, "Powell told reporters from major US regional newspapers in a Tuesday interview ... ."

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