One of the Greats

During my first semester at Florida State University–and impossible 24 years ago–I took a creative writing class from a professor named Jerome Stern.  I had no idea at the time that he had a nationally-syndicated NPR show, that publications like Harper’s and Playboy sought out his work, or that he was, in general, a big-time guy.  I had no concept of what it took to get where he was.  I had the vague sense that professors got their jobs like K-12 teachers get their jobs: they get a degree and apply at the local school.  I didn’t know that things like terminal degrees and publications and contributions to the overall body of knowledge were just the minimum requirements.Jerome Stern

I did recognize immediately, though, that he was an incredible teacher.  I’ve had other classes, other teachers who were as influential, as meaningful, but I’ve never had class or teachers who were more so.

Jerome was the first professor I had who showed me how to take this jumbled mass of raw words and start to put shape to them.  For that reason, he is one of the three FSU professors to whom I dedicated Madhouse Fog.

I bring him up now because, at the beginning of every fall semester, I reread his story “University.”  I’ve been doing this for five or six years now.  Every year, it becomes more meaningful.  Every year, it breaks my heart all over again.

Now, I’m sharing the story with you.   Click the link at the end of this sentence to read it: Stern_University

Though I was still blond and kinda heavy when I hit my early thirties, though I did spend ten post-college years wandering around the country and doing wild things, I’m not the returning student in the story.  Jerome died before I made it into my early thirties and was able to visit him again.  If I’m not mistaken, he’d been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at the time when he wrote this story.  He was heading into his final school year, one that he wouldn’t live through.   Part of the power of the story lies in knowing that he made this kind of sense out of his life while facing an imminent death.  Part of the power comes from me personally missing they guy.

I’m thankful that he left at least this legacy.




My latest Razorcake column was all about my choice to not have kids.  Typically, my columns only run in the print magazine.  Razorcake editor Todd Taylor wanted to put this one online, too.  I think he wanted to encourage some people to send me hate mail (which I always welcome).  You can read the column here.

Shortly after my column ran, Time Magazine got the idea to dedicate their cover story to the issue of being childfree.  I just want to point out that I scooped them.

(Also: if you clicked the above link thinking it would send you to Time Magazine, you don’t know me at all.  I’m not going to link to Time Magazine.)



I write a column for the Flagstaff, Arizona weekly Flag Live.  It’s called Words That Work.  I split the writing duties with poets James Jay and Mark Gibbons.  This means that I only have to write my contribution once every three months.  The other two months, I get to dig what James and Mark have to say.

The latest installment is about Oakley Hall’s book Warlock You can read the column here.  Hopefully, it’ll convince you to read the book.  It’s one of my favorites.


London BridgeI’m in England right now for International Pynchon Week.  Because, strange as it sounds (to me, at least), I’m a scholar of the author Thomas Pynchon.  I’m presenting a paper today on Thomas Pynchon and his ukulele.  Don’t laugh at me.  The ukulele has revolutionary possibilities in Pynchon’s novels.

On second thought, it’s okay to laugh at me.

Anyway, this is my first time in England.  I’m way up here in the north, but I’m hoping to go down to London to see the London Bridge.  I hope it’s as pretty in real life as it is in the picture above.  I hope it hasn’t fallen down.  Seems like it’s been falling down since I was kid singing about that.