The year that was: a blog-by-blog review

Getting this weblog up was one of my New Year's resolutions for 2003.


One of my first blogs, on January 2 was about the turmoil in Venezuela. I still think I was right then, about the general lines of the conflict. One of my resolutions for 2004 is to analyze that situation in greater depth. (You can view the original if you click on "Archive" on the left and go to 2003/01/02. See also Hugo Chávez' triple struggle).

World literature

Another of my 2004 resolutions is to learn more poetry "by heart" (which is much better than learning it "by head") -- if not a poem a day, as close as I can manage. It's a wonderful exercise -- even if I later forget a line or a stanza, the process of repeating it and listening to the poem's music and its several meanings helps me understand it, and in the longer run may build my confidence to commit poetry myself. I started a couple of weeks ago with Robert Frost's "Birches" -- a joyous poem about, I think, mortality and bouncing back. Then I picked up a book I had looked into many times but never before tried to read with care, seeking something that sang to me so that I would want to learn it: Pablo Neruda's Canto general (1949), which is a whole history of Latin America in verse. Then T. S. Eliot (so far, about half of "The Lovesong of J. Allen Prufrock," which is delicious), William Carlos Williams, "The Poor" -- not my favorite of his, but I had only a scanty selection available in an anthology on my shelves. Next I turned to one of the most famous voices of the late 19th century, Nicaragua's (and the world's) Rubén Darío. I'm sure every second adult and school child in Nicaragua has learned by heart much more of Darío than I aspire to, but when next I'm there I'll be able to join in on the choruses of "Juventud, divino tesoro,/ ¡Ya te vas para no volver!/Cuando quiero llorar no lloro,/ y a veces lloro sin querer." (Venezuelan writer Miguel Otero Silva assumed everybody would get the reference when he titled a novel Cuando quiero llorar no lloro -- I didn't get it in 1987, when I read the novel.)

For 2004, I resolve to include more fiction and poetry in Spanish in my reading. In 2003, I commented on Gabriel García Márquez' memoir, Vivir para contarla (in "Archive," 2003/01/04). In English, you can find my blogs on Richard Powers, Three Farmers On Their Way to a Dance (01/13); Stephen Crane, Red Badge of Courage (01/20), and several others -- but just go to my Fiction Readings page for a compendium.


During the year, I made brief comments on several movies. You can find them all gathered at Film & Theater Notes.

Ecological disaster

Horrible oil spill in Galicia noted 01/07; we were in Spain (though on the opposite coast) when it happened.

Wars on terror (or to promote it?

I first "blogged" against the then-pending war on Iraq on 01/12. I'm still agin it.

Ground Zero, memorial, reconstruction

See Susana Torre's entry in the memorial contest, and my blog of 2003/12/10.

My fiction

I started the year with great expectations for publishing my novel, A Gift for the Sultan; for a description and how I came to write about Constantinople in 1402, check out blog for 01/08. I did give a reading from it in Brooklyn, and published two chapters as stories in Copperfield Review. Several agents asked to see sections, and one requested and eagerly read the whole thing -- but she was disappointed by the ending. I now think she was right, and I'm planning to add a 4th section before sending it out again. (That's another of my 2004 resolutions.) Meanwhile, besides the two publications in Copperfield, I have unrelated stories in Small Spiral Notebook and forthcoming in InkPot, and a couple of others submitted and pending response at other journals. An addendum to my novel-finishing resolution, I also want to revise or write and send out more stories to more journals in 2004.

My journalism and analysis

I don't believe there is any such thing as "nonfiction." All writing is fashioned deliberately by an artist or artisan of words (fiction derives from the past participle of Latin fingere, "to touch, form, mold").The difference is that when I present my work as journalism or analysis, I'm claiming that I didn't make the whole thing up (even though I did make up the form, the emphasis, the structure of the article). But to the matter: I began the year with an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, blog 01/24. Later in the year, I also landed a contract to write articles for Monster.com; the first one is due Jan. 7, 2004, so I'd better get busy. However by far the biggest "analysis" writing project that I have going is the book on Latin American architecture and urbanism, co-written with architect Susana Torre and to be published by W. W. Norton. It's a very challenging, wide-ranging book touching on many disciplines, many centuries (I start with the Olmecs of A. D. 500 and we go on to the present day and beyond), over an enormous territory with two dozen countries. I made less progress on it than I'd planned; my resolution for 2004 is to finish the drafts of my parts of the book and help Susana edit her parts (as she will help me).