Tag Archives: Atlantic

#AmtrakResidency Politics Makes Me Laugh

19 Mar

Amtrak-01-800x482-235x141

During my lunchtime reads, this headline, via Poets & Writers, made me laugh:

“Republicans Denounce Amtrak Residency”

The link round-up led to The Atlantic’s article “Shocker: Conservative Republicans Hate the Amtrak Writer Residency.

I’m not one to blog politics, but I will talk copywriting: these two headlines grabbed my attention and made me actually laugh out loud. It sounded like an Onion article! I kind of love the fact that they’re so outlandish and made me think about politics and the media.

Are some Republicans seriously against writers getting to use a seat that would’ve otherwise gone empty on a train? Of all the things going on in the world, is Amtrak’s residency really worth the political hubbub? Did the “liberal media” exaggerate and twist what Republican senators actually said? Are the senators’ concerns that the taxpaying public has subsidized Amtrak services with $1.5 billion and yet are giving away free tickets legitimate? Should the government help fund writers and those in the arts as a means toward furthering our cultural heritage?

When the Amtrak Writers Residency was announced a few weeks ago, friends came out of the wood works to urge me to apply. After all, writing and being on the road is my literary jam.

Then the official application was released. Thousands of people applied. And, I started hearing murmurs about the fine print.

No matter what your politics are and your stance on copyright, Amtrak’s certainly made headlines. Someone in their marketing department is doing something right!

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Friday Links: …Punctuation!

27 Sep

In honor of it being National Punctuation Day earlier this week (the 24th, to be exact), here are some punctuation-related links:::

Mary Norris’ delightful piece on National Punctuation Day in The New Yorker

Literary agent Sterling Lord talks about how deeply Jack Kerouac thought about punctuation in his recent memoir Lord of Publishing

“Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition,” said Kerouac in his “30 Beliefs and Techniques for Prose and Life

Alexis C. Madrigal gets to the bottom of William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac duking it out over the Oxford comma in The Atlantic

I suggest The Atlantic is creating their own fauxlore in their beatnik punctuation story

Thoughts on punctuation in haiku, with references to Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, Jack Kerouac, R. H. Blyth, Sora, Yaha, Richard Wright, James Hackett, Choshu, Hashin, L. A. Davison, David Coomler, and e. e. cummings

e. e. cumming’s liked to play with punctuation in poems like r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r

Roi Tartakovsky considers this topic in E. E. Cumming’s Parentheses: Punctuation as Poetic Device

“There are some punctuations that are interesting and there are some punctuations that are not,” says Gertrude Stein in Poetry and Grammar

Poet Bob Holman explains how to read a crossed out word out loud in The Brooklyn Rail

David Foster Wallace used endnotes to capture fractured reality

Check out “the greatest literary project of all time“: The punctuation-named lit journal The Ampersand Review

Punctuation impacts how readers perceive a work, I argue in this Writing Wednesday post

Which punctuation tattoo would you get?

Grammar Girl is the best go-to guide for “quick and dirty tips” on punctuation

Want exclamations in bed?! Check out the punctuation pillows from PB Teen

The Great Valhouli Fauxlore: Atlantic Uncovers Truth Behind Kerouac-Burroughs Fight

9 Aug

No5

Those of us who devote our time studying the life and work of Jack Kerouac and yet who simultaneously spend a lot of our time on Facebook already called “hoax” on that photograph that was being circulated around about a plaque on how Kerouac and William S. Burroughs got into a drunken fight over the Oxford comma. I assumed it was a digitally manipulated photograph. As it turns out, though, it has a fascinating back story. Alexis C. Madrigal uncovered the truth behind the plaque — which actually exists — in the story “Facebook Fauxlore: Kerouac, Burroughs, and a Fight Over the Oxford Comma That Never Was” in The Atlantic.

It’s a great piece — minus the odd portrayal of the Greek American behind the plaque. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Hot on the trail of something fishy, Madrigal contacted sources Paul Marion; The Morgan Center; Martha Mayo, head of the Center for Lowell History; and Tony Sampas. Marion, author and employee at UMass Lowell Center for Arts and Ideas, had seen the plaque and knew that it was created to promote Mill No. 5 at 250 Jackson Street in Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts.

Marion referred Madrigal to Ted Siefer’s article “Mill No. 5 brings transformation to Lowell” in The Boston Globe, which explained that developer Constantine Valhouli, with business partner Jim Lichoulas III, was transforming the former textile mill into an office building:

with a kind of fun-house brio to attract the eclectic, off-beat, and hip: boutique movie theater, yoga studio, farm-to-table restaurant, a lounge/library in the style of an English manor — the whole thing decorated with architectural materials salvaged from the likes of Dr. Seuss’ house.

It would appear that Valhouli ascribes to the same Beat philosophy of improvisation as Kerouac. Siefer says:

Valhouli likens the development of the project to how jazz musicians build a song. “We’ve not built from a plan,” he said. “You play a theme, and you just keep playing improvisations over it.”

Madrigal points to the pivotal paragraph in The Globe story for proving the plaque is a fake:

And there, in the 13th paragraph, was proof that we were looked at a false sign: “Inside the entry hall will be a reconstructed early 19th-century New England schoolhouse,” the Globe wrote, “an exhibit that will be part of what Valhouli calls the Lowell Atheneum [AHA!], which will also feature a collection of hand-painted pseudo-historical plaques from New England history [DOUBLE AHA!].”

Madrigal, who went on to interview Valhouli, then explained that Valhouli and Lichoulas thought up the idea of creating “a series of plaques commemorating events that never happened” to support Mill No. 5. They hired Ould Colony Artisans‘ Robert and Judy Leonard to paint the plaque by hand. The artists had created many other historical signs in the Massachusetts area.

I found Madigral’s investigative reporting enthralling.

Still, I was put off by this aside:

I had to get in touch with this Valhouli character, who was, no doubt, swirling his mustache near some railroad tracks looking for damsels.

Okay, I’ll concede that Constantine Valhouli certainly sounded like a “character” for faking people out — although I’m not sure we generally refer to conceptual artists or those who come up with brilliant marketing schemes as “characters.” Instead, I think we tend to use terms like “inspired” and “business-savvy” to describe people who manage to get others talking about their work. A quick look at Mill No. 5’s Facebook page, and the tongue-in-cheek branding is evident:

We’re working on the bathrooms at Mill No. 5 today. Which made us think of the central question of paleontology:
Q: Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl go to the bathroom?
A: Because the P is silent.

Brilliant Subway Panhandling Prank Flips the Script

Hahahahahaha. This. Oh this. The Hipster Logo Design Guide.

But there was “no doubt” in Madrigal’s mind that Valhouli had a mustache and that he swirled it, like some sort of old-timey Western villain? Is the mustache assumption because he’s Greek American or because The Boston Globe article referred to his work as “Disneyland for hipsters”? Where did the leap from real-estate developer to someone who hung out at a train station get made? Was this supposed to tie him closer to Kerouac — or make him sound like some sort of train-hopping hobo? He was out “looking for damsels”? What??

With today’s access to personal information on the Internet, it took only seconds to find Valhouli’s LinkedIn page, and — unless it too is a hoax — discover he (fittingly) received his BA in English and fine art from Georgetown University, where he went on to get his MA in interactive technology. From there, he got his MBA from Columbia University’s Business School. He received the Charles G. Koch Fellowship and was a Peter Agris Fellow. He did equity research for Morgan Stanley and was director of business development for Incogniti before becoming principal at The Hammersmith Group, which describes itself as “a boutique strategy consulting firm with concentrations in real estate and technology.” His LinkedIn summary reads, in part:

Constantine has been featured in the BBC, Businessweek, CNN, Forbes, Fortune, Newsweek, and the Wall Street Journal. He has guest lectured at Columbia Business School, MIT, New York University, and has served as a panelist on internet industry events and at the U.S. Department of State.

There wasn’t a profile picture to verify him peeking out of a train tunnel to leer at women. The Atlantic has created its own “fauxlore” about Constantine Valhouli. Oh, how the tables have turned.

* * *

This post has been updated to correct the publication to The Atlantic.

Clip: On the Highway of Love, Jack Kerouac Divides Men and Women

16 Aug

The Millions published my essay “On the Highway of Love, Jack Kerouac Divides Men and Women.”

The article made the headline in the Page-Turner section of The New Yorker.

It also made it into the On the Shelf section of The Paris Review.

The article was mentioned in The Atlantic Wire.

Poets & Writers mentioned the article in their Daily News on 8/14/12 … and then again on 8/15/12 to note the response the article has gotten.

That second P&W write up was mentioning Slate‘s response.

Jezebel also devoted a whole article to my article.

Guy Librarian referenced the discussion.

The article was also mentioned on The Daily Beast.

The Huffington Post added commentary to the discussion.

8/19/12; 8/22/12: This post was updated to include additional mentions.