Saturday, December 31, 2011
--WE'RE WELL ON OUR WAY
...Hey, I really hope you have a magical New Year's Eve and a fantastic new year in 2012.
…Before I forget, I had a couple of things published recently:
“Just Do What I Do” at Pipe Dream
“Together” at Rusty Truck
Both are here under “Words In Print.”
…They’re all important, of course, but a year like 2011 felt especially important in the scheme of things, in the scheme of learning and growing and fucking up.
As usual, I pushed myself to be productive, but what was even more important was meeting people, doing things and going places that took me well out of my comfort zone.
(Being uncomfortable is often a really good idea if you find yourself in a rut.)
(Being uncomfortable is important provided there’s a potential happy ending in the outcome.)
At AWP, I was completely overwhelmed.
I felt like a little kid peeking through a cracked door, listening to adults discuss classical music or quantum physics.
Even with snow storms that disallowed many from attending, there were still 9,000 writers there.
I felt very small and insignificant. For a good part of the time I felt lonely.
However, I did meet some of my favorite internet writers/people, thereby making them real--Roxane Gay, xTx, Aubrey Hirsch, Heather Fowler, Nicole Monaghan, Matt Bell, Rae Bryant, Randall Brown, Steve Himmer, Mel Bosworth, Tim Jones-Yelvington and many others….
…I saw Junot Diaz, listened to Mary Gaitskill read.
I stood in line for coffee behind a frail, bug-eyed Joyce Carol Oates.
…I did my first readings ever—at The Cell Theater in New York City, for Housefire in Portland, OR, and twice at Iowa City, Iowa.
I read for two audio podcasts/radio shows.
I did ten or so interviews…
The Summer Writers Workshop was a thrill.
Being in Iowa is the opposite of being in New York, yet for a writer, Iowa City is hallowed ground.
You’re walking where Carver walked. Where Robert Frost and John Berryman walked.
I had stories accepted. I had stories rejected. I ended the year with just under 600 acceptances in the last two and a half years. Once I hit 500, something odd happened. I felt deflated and uninspired. I slowed way down. I got introspective. Roxane G. helped set me straight about quantity versus quality.
I did not get an agent for my novel this year, nor did I get a publisher for my story collection(s). So those goals will swing into the New Year.
My mother died this year. She’d been in ill health for quite some time and her death was not sudden nor a surprise.
Still, I didn’t expect it to affect me the way it did. She was a complex woman, a pivotal figure who shows up in the majority of my writing and who perhaps is the main reason why so much of my writing is dark.
My father asked me to write her eulogy, which was extremely difficult for several reasons, chief being the challenge of portraying her honestly without denigrating her.
But I did, I wrote it and read it.
A writer friend posted the eulogy on her wall (which was perfectly fine by me) and a huge number of people commented. Most of them misread what I wrote, thinking I'd made her superhuman when what I was really trying to do was make her "humane." That difference of perception really caught me off guard. It made me wonder how much of my writing is misinterpreted. It made me question my ability to make a poignant point that is clear enough to be understood.
I've got my New Year's Resolutions done for 2012. If you want, I can share them with you.
As I've said, there are some carry-over goals from 2011.
A lot of them are statistical.
Taken as a whole, it sort of makes me look like a "human doer" again, as opposed to a human being.
But I need that--landmarks in the sand. Lots of stakes in the ground. I can't wait for a muse to show up. Otherwise I get lazy. Life really is short. I'm more than half way through mine. I wanted to be a writer at age nine and waited almost forty years to finally do so.
I've got a lot of catching up to do.
Friday, December 30, 2011
--I'M A RAGDOLL BOY
…As we approach the new year, here are some things I recently happened upon that have meaning for me:
"There's a line in Don McLean's 'American Pie' that goes, 'Do you believe in rock 'n' roll?/Can music save your mortal soul?' and I say, no. I don't believe in rock 'n' roll. There's always a great side to it, and there's also a phony, bullshit side, which is a lot of guys selling sex, and this sort of all-American confidence, and selfishness and getting wasted, and all that is a way of life that transcends all others, and I don't believe in that. But can music save my mortal soul? yes. I write when I'm falling apart. For some reaon that's when the songs come. I never sit down to write a song. It happens on its own. And I allow it to. Then why do I feel the need to record and be in a band and all that? I don't know. There's an element of this that I don't want to figure out."
--Christopher Owens, of the band "Girls"
"Peace and love is all good, but it's nothing without forgiveness."
"Negative self-talk is toxic to a person's self-esteem, sense of efficacy and, ultimately, their self-confidence. We start to buy into our own negative press and begin to believe that just because we think and feel something negative, that that must be the truth of the situation. All of this poison feeds a generalized sense of helplessness, which saps our motivation and energy to be proactive and try new things, and undermines our ability to be creative.
The good news is we can break the cycle at any point…We have the choice to believe in the good or the bad about ourselves. It's never too late to change the direction of your thinking and start the journey to a more optimistic, happier and healthier version of you."
--Arlene Cook, clinical psychologist
"The journey from the head to the hand is perilous and lined with bodies."
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
--I THINK THEY CAN GIVE YOU SOMETHING FOR THAT
…I never read "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" or the other two in the series, but I did see the film yesterday.
Then I saw it again today.
Saw it twice in two days. I've never done that.
The film sizzles. Holy Hell, does it ever.
Rooney Mara is mesmerizing. She needn't even speak to convey her strength and fear, her complexity and vulnerability. There's never been a character on screen like the one Ms. Mara plays. Someone please throw an Oscar nod her way.
The score, written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, is superb. It takes the heartbeat out of your chest and stuffs it inside your eardrums, ratcheting up the tension (of which there is mounds and mounds) through the entire film. At 2 hours 40 minutes, the movies ends in a blink.
There is a fair amount of candid sex.
There are several brutal scenes, including two gruesome rapes.
Many people die, or are shown to have died.
But this is as fine a film as I've seen in a while. It's got it all--tension, spot on acting and casting, wonderful cinematography, action, drama and it never talks down to the audience.
It's a must-see movie.
…There's a new site called Wish Tank @ deathwishing.com where you can post what you would want to have happen on your death bed. It's kind of a cool idea.
…I got side-tracked trying to write a love poem for a site today doing a themed issue. Usually pieces just jump out of me, but this one, like the last couple of stories, has been a bit constipated.
…There might not be a more romantic song than "18th Floor Balcony" by Blue October. Please see for yourself.
…Something that makes me very happy is hearing children laugh or giggle. That's the sad thing about getting older--you spend less time around kids.
…Studies show the most common birthdate is September 16th, exactly nine months from now. It has to do with a combination of the rainy season colliding with the holidays.
Get some rest tonight.
…I like these a lot:
“The first product of self-knowledge is humility.” Flannery O’Connor
“She sat and thought of only one thing, of her mother holding and holding onto their hands.” Eudora Welty
"Fifteen years old is the middle of my life, regardless of when I die." Edouard Levé
"Your Jesus is my mother is someone else’s turtle." Sugar
Monday, December 26, 2011
--YOU ARE MY SWEETEST DOWNFALL
…Yesterday I woke before anyone.
The house was quiet although you could hear the wind pressing in against the windows, sort of eavesdropping. I read some. I turned on the fire. It was nice and peaceful.
…After present opening, I colored with my two kids. That was peaceful, too. It takes a lot of patience to color.
…I got a lot of music in the mail from Amazon: The Civil Wars, Fences, Mayer Hawthorne, City in Colour, new Cold Play. It’s all good.
Oh, and Christina Perri. I’m not a big tattoo fan, but she’s kind of hot with hers. And “Jar of Hearts” may be the greatest female FU song since Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.“
Sample: “Who do you think you are? You’re gonna catch a cold from the ice inside your soul. So don’t come back for me.”
…There’s a lot of writing online. Massive amounts. Quite a bit of it is mediocre. A fair amount is just plain bad. It makes me wonder if mine is any good. Perhaps I just think it is.
…I love pens. I have a bad habit of filching the ones I like when I’m at a restaurant or doctor’s office. I prefer the fine point kind that make your penmanship middle school sharp.
…The day before yesterday I wrote a story called “Hominy” about a poor kid raised by a cruel German grandmother.
Yesterday I wrote a story called “Tiny” about a bus driver named Tiny who is actually 400 pounds. I kind of fell in love with the guy.
…The other day I made a list of my new year’s resolutions and after I was finished something weird happened so that when I clicked on the document the words crumped into the black messy cluster, the way a spider folds in on itself it if gets too wet.
So I’ll have to make a new list.
People have accused me of being too goal-oriented, too fixated on numbers.
One person said I should try being a “human being” instead of “human doing.” That particular person wasn’t being cruel when they said that particular thing about me.
I’ve tried that person’s advice. I tried it most of the last half of 2011. It made me feel lazy. I was lazy. I got very little done. I wasted a lot of life.
So in 2012 I’m going to be a “human doing.” I’m going to get shit-tons done.
Just watch me.
…”My favorite sexual position is long division.” Madison Langston
Saturday, December 24, 2011
--IT HELPS IF YOU LEAN INTO THE FALL
…I’m back after five days down south in Mexico.
For whatever reason, while I was gone I got quite a few responses from queries:
--one rejection on a story collection I’d sent a publisher
--two rejections on my novel from agents, both form letters
--and, one request for material (the first 50 pages) of the novel.
I’ll count that last one as a win. Just getting over the query hump is a feat in and of itself.
A body’s got to start somewhere, right?
…I didn’t read as much on vacation as is my habit. In the past I’d plough through a dozen or more books.
This time it was just two…
…One was about finding God in unexpected places.
In the book, I learned lots of random yet fascinating things.
--In it, I learned that half the world’s citizens still get by on less than two dollars a day.
--In it, I was reminded that there are more stars than grains of sand on earth i.e., there are over 100 billion galaxies, each containing in excess of 400 million stars.
--Polar bears aren’t really white, but there hairs are actually transparent, acting like fiber-optic tubes that trap in heat, making them seem white.
--On their trips south, some geese maintain a speed of 50 miles per hour and fly 1,000 miles before making their first stop for rest.
--In the book, I learned that 2 weeks after 9/11 only five percent of the missing bodies had been found. Rescue dogs got so discouraged that their handlers had to play games with them to keep their interest up. The dogs searched all day and found maybe a piece of clothing or an elbow or scrap of skin. They cut their paws on the sharp edges of steel and whine in frustration because, like the human rescuers, they had so little to show for their efforts…
--In the book was a wonderful excerpt from Phillip Roth’s, “The Ghost Writer”:
“I turn sentences around. That’s my life. I write a sentence, then I turn it around. Then I look at it and turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning.”
…The other book I read a fantastic collection of non-fiction feature pieces written by two time Pulitzer Prize winner Gene Weingarten.
The book is called “The Fiddler in the Subway” and it has some terrific true life stories, many of which seem to entwine the impossible with reality.
The title story is about an experiment The Washington Post undertook by having Joshua Bell—who received The Avery Prize, recognizing him as the finest classical musician in the world—play violin at a busy bus station in affluent, erudite Washington D.C.
…Here are some excerpts:
--“The idea was to discover if in a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”
…It was January 12th, in the middle of rush hour. In the next forty-three minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Only three stopped to listen, while 27 gave money for a total of $32 and change.
Bell, a child prodigy, had the night before filled Boston’s stately Symphony Hall. His talent commands $1,000 an hour.
Bell, whom Interview magazine once said of his playing ‘does nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live…’
So some of the obvious retorts are:
-- What was he doing in a busy bus station? People probably grouped him with other street musicians.
-- It was rush hour. People were on their way to work. Who has time to stop and listen?
…But some people did stop and listen, if only for a few minutes. They caught the magic. Art transcended the banal.
…What I wish for you this Christmas and Holiday Season is a childlike sense of wonder. I hope you can be entirely present in the moment.
…”What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.” W.H. Davies
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
--I AM A LOT LIKE YOU
...Iḿ in Mexico typing on the hotel keyboard staring at a gigantic flat screen TV where everything is connected--phone, computer, cable television, you name it.
This hotel is the fanciest place I have ever stayed in.
They have many pools here. Some of the rooms open up to pools so you can open up your patio door and dive in straight from there.
Not many people are reading books.
There are a lot of very bad tattoos. I mean, really bad. I have (Iḿ not using many contractions because this keyboard is giving them the Hispanic umlott you see in the word Iḿ) become a fan of tattoos, but these here are really awfully. It is as if every person here had one or more appendages dipped into a vat of ink and then it sort of whorled around on their skin.
I ran five miles this morning. At one juncture, I came to this cove with a sandbar surrounded on both sides by water, shallow water, and Iḿ pretty sure I saws an alligator lurking topside of the water surface, just waiting to have me for breakfast, so I turned around and sprinted the other direction.
The last few months of this year have been lazy ones for me. Relatively speaking, they have.
I have been taking it easy, not writing or reading much.
I have been doing a lot of thinking, though, contemplating why I write, what I want to achieve and why I want to achieve those things. Iḿ almost to the point where I have answers for myself, conclusions to the questions Iḿ asking.
When Iḿ all the way there, I will share them with you.
My goal is 1-1-12.
...I hope youŕe having a good week. It is strange to be in another country this time of year, to be hanging out in shorts and a t shirt while back home it is parka weather.
People are fond of saying how small the world is, especially now with technology being what it is, but really, the world is quite large.
I hope you are having a splendid week wherever you are in the world and I will write more Saturday.
Monday, December 19, 2011
--NOBODY KNOWS IT, BUT YOU'VE GOT A SECRET SMILE AND YOU USE IT ONLY FOR ME
--By year, average number of Christmas gifts people said they would buy:
2007 -- 23
2009 -- 18
2011 -- 15
--On Average, how many holiday cards do you usually receive?
0 to 10 -- 33%
11 to 25 -- 35%
26 to 50 -- 23 %
51 to 75 -- 6%
75+ -- 4%
--Have you ever re-gifted an item?
46% -- never
29% -- a few times
18% -- once
7% -- many times
…This was kind of interesting and surprising:
Psychologists at the University of British Columbia and the University of Oregon say that their study demonstrates that anti-atheist prejudice stems from moral distrust, not dislike, of nonbelievers.
"It's pretty remarkable," said Azim Shariff, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon and a co-author of the study, which appears in the current issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The study, conducted among 350 Americans adults and 420 Canadian college students, asked participants to decide if a fictional driver damaged a parked car and left the scene, then found a wallet and took the money, was the driver more likely to be a teacher, an atheist teacher, or a rapist teacher?
The participants, who were from religious and nonreligious backgrounds, most often chose the atheist teacher.
--Here are some disturbing findings:
The military divorce rate is at its highest level.
In 1999 30,000 military marriages ended
--Nearly 1 in 5 women report being raped in their lifetime.
30% report being first raped when they were between 11 and 17 years old
12% were 10 or younger
Nearly 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men experienced sexual violence other than rape at some point in their lives
…This is good to know:
The act of smiling alone makes you happier. The muscles in your mouth send a signal to your brain to produce a drug that makes you happier and helps you live longer.
…I like these to start a new week:
"If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than
because he was he, and I was I." Michel de Montaigne
"The idea is to write it so that people hear it & it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.” Maya Angelou
"I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn
how to do it." Pablo Picasso
Sunday, December 18, 2011
--YOU ARE THE BRIGHTEST STAR OUT THERE
...I have a new poem, "Lipstick" up at Word Riot and also here under "Words in Print."
...Last night I was at a party and I drank a lot and ate a lot (for me) and laughed quite a bit, too. It was fun. My time was spent 80/20. Eighty percent of the time I was with women, twenty percent of the time with men.
I got into political discussions but was mostly able to hold my tongue.
We talked about abortion.
I admit, at one point, I tuned out because I thought the other person was more or less inane.
I need to be less opinionated or not cling so tightly to those opinions I have.
...I am going to Mexico tomorrow. It will be interesting to look the sun in the eye, to say, "Where the hell have you been hiding yourself?"
...I wish I was the kind of person who didn't need to be liked. I wish I was stronger.
...There was a stretch of time this year where I wrote a massive amount of poetry. I am just realizing now that a lot of it was bad.
Much of it was nonsensical gibberish.
One of the worst feelings is reading an old piece of writing and not liking it.
One of the best feelings in the world is reading an old piece of writing and thinking, "This is not so bad."
...Here is something I wrote that was published in a print journal. My son said the first line when we were watching a movie. I wrote it down and then later on that night wrote the piece:
You can learn a lot about a person from where they sit on the bus.
He always takes the same seat, middle row window and keeps his face flush to the glass the entire ride. When there isn’t too much sun I can find his reflection in the pane, his regretful eyes, sullen and swollen and so pulpy I want to suck them dry.
What makes it worse is his brooding cheekbones and rooster tail James Dean hair, so much like my ex it is heart-stopping.
Give me air, give me space. I need a man who knows better.
This one could be it. I’m not fishing, but sometimes fate finds you askance.
I saw him help a grandma with her shopping bag. Once he accepted a slice of gum from a cute blonde girl even though I could tell his breath was just fine. And then there’s the stance he takes as he stands, a familiar body yawn stretch, subtle enough to go unnoticed if you don’t look for it.
This one is beauty.
After he steps off I change positions. He has left the faux-leather warm for me. I squeeze my thighs and stare out the window and wave, watch him walk off, a queer, confounded twist on his face.
In a world of perpetual pity parties, a boy like that needs not a thing.
Tomorrow I will get off at his stop. The next day I will follow close behind. Another day and I will make a move. If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s easily fooled.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
--YOU SAID YOU’D BREAK FOR ME
…I have a new poem, “Lipstick” up at Word Riot and here under “Words in Print.”
…This morning while running I listened to “Better Than This,” John Mellencamp’s latest album.
I like John a lot.
I used want to start smoking so I could have his gravelly voice.
I thought that would make me sound tough because I certainly don’t look very tough. If anything, I look the opposite.
I listened to John and ran hard until I was quite sweaty. I stopped a couple times to replay a certain song that is quite catchy.
Now my butt is sore from using too much incline on the treadmill. I suppose that’s a good thing--having a tender rear end because of exercise as opposed to something else.
…It’s almost Christmas. How are you doing? Are you ready? I am.
..Here’s my favorite ditty off the new album.
“It’s not my nature to be nostalgic at all.
I sat by the phone last night waiting for you to call.
It’s been decades since I spoke to you.
I just wanted to say I’ve been thinking about you.
Did you get my message I left the other afternoon?
Your young girl’s voice said, I’ll call you back real soon.
I bet that your daughter sounds exactly like you used to.
I just wanted to say I’ve been thinking about you.
So long ago, those summer afternoons.
I bet they tore that playground down where I first met you.
Don’t mean no trouble, don’t want to cause alarm.
Ain’t looking for nothing, just wondering about your song.
If you ain’t got time to return this call
I’ll understand that you’re busy and all.
Thanks for the memories when the world didn’t seem so small.
I just wanted to say I’ve been thinking about you.
--John Mellencamp, “Thinking About You”
Thursday, December 15, 2011
--EVERY NEW BEGINNING COMES FROM SOME OTHER BEGINNING'S END
…Last year I had three pieces published in a print anthology from 6S edited by the legendary Lydia Davis.
6S is short for Six Sentences, which means each story--in order to be considered for publication--can be no longer than six sentences.
Writing in a truncated format like that is a challenge I like. I've done 20 word stories, 12 word stories, pieces that were so-called "Twitter" fiction with no more than 124 characters…
Anyway, this one is about 9/11.
I think about 9/11 a lot. Sometimes it hits me at the oddest moments. "Timing" is about that…
Sometimes it happens this way, with him driving 1-90 to work, seeing a plane floating low over Union Bay, toggling between buildings and it’ll catch him unaware and he’ll remember stopping at Starbucks that September morning, the newscaster’s baritone tremulous and uncertain, him and everyone thinking hoax, thinking Orson Wells, and then later that night, thinking Armageddon and Satan.
Many days afterward there was a Robert Deniro documentary and he thought this could be a teaching moment for Hailey, his young daughter, with whom he had custody on weekends.
He made cocoa with mini marshmallows and once they became soupy Lilly pads Hailey plucked their white guts with her little girl fingers and drew letters across his cheeks.
On the television the buildings simmered and smoldered, sirens shrieked, people leapt and bodies thumped. They’d left none of the horror or death out, and while he knew he should have switched the channel, he couldn’t, riveted as he was.
When the program finished, his daughter turned to him with a yawn and asked if he could read her a story.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
--I DON'T KNOW WHICH ROAD TO TAKE, HOLDING ON FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE
…Yesterday I wrote a story while taking a bath.
It's a freaky piece called, "Pets."
The first line is, "Seated next to him, the girl keeps herself busy drawing pictures of dismembered pets--dogs, cats, rodents with collars."
I actually really like it.
What's even stranger is I wrote this in the tub longhand, dried off, typed it up, read it out loud, made some edits, submitted it to a site and got it accepted all in a three hour span.
Now that's freaky.
The story is at Airplane Reads and also here under "Words in Print."
…Also about yesterday--"Slut" came in the mail.
It's an anthology produced by Matt Potter of Pure Slush. I have a piece a piece in it called "Sex in the Time of Now" which is actually a parody of America's obsession with sex.
I would share the story here, but it's probably too long for a blog.
Here's the line Matt quoted: "He could no longer tell the difference between lust and love, sex or sweetness."
…It's nice to have words in print, on paper, in books, anthologies. But you have to wonder how many people ever see these small literary journals.
You have to wonder.
…I did an interview for Crack the Spine. They're going to be publishing a poem and a story. I tried to answer the questions different from all the other interviews. I tried to be honest.
One question was, "Why do you write?"
I hate that question.
And, No, I didn't reply, "Because I have to."
…Do you think I'll ever get a fucking agent? Do you think I'll ever get a story collection in print?
(Sorry-- I just had to get that out. Don't worry, I'm still fighting the good fight, going through the paces one must go through.)
…I've been obsessed with this Linkin Park song called, "Waiting for the End."
This morning, however, I listened to The Airborne Toxic Event's new album.
There's a song on it about Iraq with the lyric, "The kids are lined up on the wall and they're ready to die."
It's just a damn good album all around.
…Here are a couple things I like on Wednesdays:
“Laughter is the language of the soul.” Pablo Neruda
"You have a choice. Live or die. Every breath is a choice. Every minute is a choice. To be or not to be." – Chucky P.
"People say friends don't destroy one another, but what do they know about friends?" The Mountain Goats
"Come - I'll trace you one final autumn,
and you can trace your last homecoming
into the snow or the sun."
~ Annie Finch
Monday, December 12, 2011
--I COULD LIE OF COURSE, BUT WHAT GOOD WOULD THAT DO?
…On the treadmill this morning I listened to “Live Through This,” by Hole.
You either hate Courtney Love or you love Ms. Love. I’m sort of on the “love” side.
I like that particular album anyway.
It has some great lyrics: “I am doll eyes
Doll mouth, doll legs.
I am doll arms, big veins, dog bait.
I want to be the girl with the most cake.
I love him so much it just turns to hate…”
…I went to a wine tasting last night with two other couples, so six of us, right? I spent the majority of the night huddled with the three wives (one being mine.) Why is it I always feel most comfortable talking to women? Why is it I feel out of place, as if I’m acting when I’m with men I don’t know very well?
Is it because I’m not mechanical? Because I don’t know anything about cars? Because I can’t fix anything? Because I have approximately 30 tools, six of which are screw drivers and five of which are hammers?
..I was thinking about how hard it is to be a great listener, about the amount concentration it takes to stay completely focused. It’s actually pretty hard to do for any extended period.
Next time you’re with someone, shut up and let them speak and try not to let your mind wander, focus on what they’re saying and keep doing it and see how long you can last before you’ve unconsciously broken away into your own thought pattern.
“Listening is an Act of Love.” Dave Isay
Love, I think, is about being voraciously present.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
--YOU HAVE ONE HELL OF A TEMPER
I am running to you
in the rain
a deluge of blue frozen stain,
a scratched-off signature or promissory note of the pain
I have caused you,
no different than trampled on trust,
a violation of every promise I ever made.
I feel like a villain
because the truth is
you should lift your head high
toward the sun.
It loves you so much.
It has its arms encircling your waist,
its fingers in your hair.
It is breathing bright light
across your cheeks at this very moment.
Be well, my loveliest.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
--YOU CAN'T TELL ME YOU'VE NEVER FELT THIS WAY
…Is there a better song than Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah”? No, there really isn’t.
…I have a new poem, “I Can Be Your Sweat-stained Shirts” and two short pieces up at UCity Review. They're also here under “Words In Print.”
…Yesterday I actually accepted two stories for publication in Metazen. It’s been a long stretch where I’ve rejected about 30 pieces. But that’s about the average: one acceptance for every ten rejections.
…Yesterday, Dark Chaos, another online literary journal, called it quits. That usually seems to happen around this time of year. The pressure of normal life, the holidays and then editing a journal—well, I guess it all becomes a little much.
…Yesterday I stopped in the middle of things and I wrote a piece I really end up liking, written in that free form punctuation-devoid style I’ve been working with. It’s about a guy who falls in love with his wife’s sister at his wife’s sister’s wedding and then, years and years later, the man’s wife dies and the man finally has a chance to be with his dead wife’s sister and…
…Yesterday I had my 575th acceptance since May of 2009.
…Yesterday I ate too much so this morning I slept in.
…Yesterday I thought about you.
“It ought to make us feel ashamed when we talk like we know what we're talking about when we talk about love.” Raymond Carver
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
--I CAN'T BELIEVE HOW PHOTOGENIC YOU ARE
…How’s your week going?
What’s the best thing that’s happened to you so far?
If you can, you should go see “The Descendants” with George Clooney. It’s supposed to be fabulous.
Also, go see “Shame.” This film is a lot more raw, an indie film about sex addiction, but the best cinema of the year. Michael Fassbender should win an Oscar but the Academy hasn’t had any testicles since “Last Tango In Paris,” so he won’t and Adam Sandler will. Nevertheless, treat yourself to some fine acting.
…A moment ago there was a flock of fifty beautiful geese eating grass outside my window. Geese are prettiest in flight or bobbing on the surface of the lake. When they come to one’s yard, the aftermath they leave behind is not so pretty.
That’s why I had to get up and pound on the window until the scattered back into the water.
…The other day I read in the paper where a man who held a Kansas couple hostage while fleeing police is suing said couple, claiming they broke an oral contract made when he promised them money in exchange for hiding him.
"Jesse Dimmick is serving an 11-year sentence after bursting into Jared and Lindsay Rowley's Topeka home in 2009 and offering them money to help him hide from police. When he fell asleep, they stepped out and turned Dimmick in. Dimmick filed his lawsuit in response to a suit by the Rowleys seeking $75,000 for emotional distress…
Unbelievable on several fronts.
…Aside from smartphones and flat screens, one of the hottest items for 2011 on Black Friday was…
wait for it…
I don't know about you, but that's a little freaky to me.
There are a lot of unbalanced people out there that should not be toting a pistol in their purse or man purse.
Quite frankly, I'm not a fan of guns at all. Yeah, I know, I know--it's a Constitutional right.
But I'd like to amend that.
Maybe we could just hold the shooting range, and you check them out there for target practice, then check them back into the squinty-eyed guy when you leave.
It's a thought.
…The other day I saw the top 10 online searches for 2011. I thought there were some typical ones, but also a couple that caught me off guard like numbers 9 and 10.
Here they are:
10. Osama bin Laden
9. Japan earthquake
8. Jennifer Aniston
7. American Idol
6. Lindsay Lohan
5. Jennifer Lopez
4. Katy Perry
3. Kim Kardashian
2. Casey Anthony
…Today I was on the phone with my financial advisor who shared that ten years ago there were 10 workers for every retired person.
Today it is one for one.
In 2025, in American, we will have 10 retirees for every working person.
So much for Social Security…
…I like this a lot:
"We’ve all seen beauty face to face, one time or other and said 'oh, my god, of course, so that’s what it’s all about, no wonder I was born and had all those secret weird feelings!'" Allen Ginsberg
Sunday, December 4, 2011
--IF THERE'S NOTHING MORE TO SAY, THEN WHY ARE WE STILL DOING THIS?
…It’s foggy out this morning. I can scarcely see the lake. The lake looks like a see through cloud with a bit of a belly.
I like the fog. It’s mysterious and soothing in a spooky sort of way.
It reminds me of George Washington crossing the Delaware River on Christmas Eve.
It reminds me of my favorite TV show when I was a kid, one called, “Dark Shadows” a soap opera well ahead it’s time about vampires and werewolves and witched, soon to be major motion picture starring Johnny Depp.
Fog reminds me of secrets and journeys.
I have some secrets. Don’t we all?
And in a couple of hours I will be going on a journey midway across the state. Perhaps I’ll tell you about it when I return. If not, I’ll keep it a secret.
...For now, here are some things to enjoy on a Sunday:
"In art, one idea is as good as another." Wilem de Kooning
"It makes me so sad to be happy." Spalding Gray
"A heart in love with beauty never grows old." Turkish Proverb
"To the weight of our affliction will be the weight of our reward." T.D. Jakes
"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." Michael Jordan
“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it's true I'm here, and I'm just as strange as you.” Frida Kahlo
"There is only one success - to be able to spend your life in your own
way." Christopher Darlington Morley
"The idea is to write it so that people hear it & it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.” Maya Angelou
"There is no great genius without some touch of madness" Lucius Annaeus Seneca
"It's better to be hated for what you are, than to be loved for what you're not..." Kurt Cobain
"Slowly it dawned on me that they saw what I saw and that we are all alike and that I've had some investment in being special and now I have to face the fear and realization that I am basically like all the rest; a lost confused human being." Spalding Gray
"The only thing worth writing about is the conflict in the human heart." William Faulkner
Friday, December 2, 2011
--I CAN'T BELIEVE HOW PHOTOGENIC YOU ARE
…I live in the boonies.
Really, I do.
People here raise horses and goats and (for some reason) lamas. Some chuckleheads even have Confederate flags. (Seriously, they do.)
We still have telephone poles in these parts, too. Because of that, power outages are commonplace.
This morning, an hour ago, was the third outage in as many weeks. It’s funny how easily one can take things for granted. Even though the power was out and even though I knew it, I kept flicking light switches and at one point I even thought I’d make myself a cup of coffee.
It made me think that there's likely thousands of things in my life that I take for granted.
It made me feel arrogant and selfish.
Just a little bit, it did.
…On the treadmill before the blackout, I listened to Mona. They’re likeable rockers from Nashville and quite good. Check them out.
I wrote two poems and a story yesterday. The poem I liked least got accepted and the one I liked most got passed on.
When I clerked for a law firm in downtown Seattle I’d always see this homeless woman wrapped in plastic with a shopping cart. On really cold days she’d hover over the steam grate outside the old Nordstrom store. Then one day she was just gone and I never saw her again.
Whenever it gets really frigid out, as it has been of late, I think of her and all those like her who have no warm place to go.
Anyway, this is the poem that got passed over, the one she inspired:
The winds are laced with blades,
arctic air thick blankets,
bruised blue even at night,
well, we sit at a round table
in a warm building smelling of nutmeg lattes,
loud voices tearing dust off the rafters,
our laughter rattling newsprint
Through the window outside
I catch a glimpse of a woman wearing a tattered blanket,
hunkered over the steaming heat grate,
her thighs splayed as if giving birth
sending her fetus straight to hell,
saving it from her hell.
Behind, a shopping cart holds
the woman’s house
her bookshelves and bed.
Something like a lottery ticket
is taped to a cardboard sign saying
I AM The oNe
and then unreadable scribble.
As it starts to snow,
two suits and a pair of lovers pass by,
giving the woman wide berth,
winter air smoking from their nostrils
I watch the couple kiss.
I watch a hydraulic Santa pick up a package in the store front window.
I watch the ragged woman start to tell herself a story,
praying that she gives it a happy ending.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
--WHAT ARE YOU WEARING?
…Yesterday was a bit of a thrill.
My story, “Mouthwash” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. It’s my first nomination.
These days a lot of people get nominated for the Pushcart because there are so many online lit journals, but it still means a great deal to me. I even have the 2008 Pushcart Anthology on a bookshelf right behind me.
I feel as if I have always lagged behind my writer peers. Most have novels out or story collections out or maybe even several collections. I know I shouldn’t compare myself, but having grown up in a family with seven brothers, well, I’m competitive.
Competitive and insecure.
These are a couple of things I wish I could change about myself, although to a large degree, they have served me well in many ways.
They’ve driven me to be productive. I guess it’s about finding more of a balance, moderation.
Sara Lippmann, a friend of mine, wrote a column in Used Laundry about the subject of striving versus enjoying. She talked about simply doing your best work. Always doing your best work, no matter what others do or say. That’s pretty good advice.
…My office smells like Aqua Di Gio, my favorite fragrance. I save the scent strip ads in magazines and open one up every now and then. It’s a good trick.
I’m listening to Sufjan Stevens. I’m not sure why artists need to use such bizarre ambient noises in their songs. All they do is take you out of the music.
The new Drake disc got four stars in Rolling Stone magazine. The new Drake disc is like listening to the first Drake disc, but maybe on vicodin.
…Today I have to put up the Christmas tree and Christmas decorations, but I am going to write. I feel like there are a lot of creative words inside of me today.
…The other day I watched Pete the eagle swoop and dive bomb a scattered gaggle of ducklings on the lake. It was oddly terrifying. I’m a fan of Pete’s, but I was definitely rooting for the ducks in this case. The fowl kept going under and then finally they went under for a long time and never came up, or if they did, I never saw them.
Right now there are a group of ducks outside my window by the dock bobbing underwater, plucking out fish and eating them. Why do I not care so much about them gobbling fish when I feared for the ducks as Pete made his assaults?
…Here are a couple of things I like on a Wednesday:
“Sometimes," said Pooh, "the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” A.A. Milne
"I'm losing faith in humanity one faked orgasm at a time." Summer Robinson
"What kind of beast would turn its life into words? What atonement is this all about?" Adrienne Rich
"Given the choice between grief and nothing, I choose grief." Faulkner
"There are a lot more cannibals in this country than people think." Dexter
"I need you to give my heart an erection." Parenthood
Monday, November 28, 2011
--I GUESS YOU WEREN’T REALLY WHO YOU THOUGHT YOU WERE, WERE YOU?
…I have a new story, “We Only Do This On A Tuesday” up at In Between Altered States and here under “Words in Print.”
…It’s chilly on this side of the country, in this little patch of the globe. Thus, I have the small fireplace going in my office. Plus I’m listening to “The Smiths.” I’m not a huge fan of theirs, but I do like a few songs, especially, “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want.”
I have the new Drake but I am waiting until I get in my car to play it.
…This weekend was festive. I ate too much and drank too much and didn’t exercise or do anything productive, though I did laugh a lot.
I had fun.
…I keep realizing that it’s pretty important to have friends, a least a few who are active in your life. Without them, things wouldn’t be as hopeful. One night we stayed up until 2:30 am. I think a lot of humorous things were shared, although I can’t for the life of me remember any of them now.
It’s good to have people you feel comfortable and unguarded with.
…Along with 67,000 other fans, my friends and I went to watch our state’s two rival college football teams clash at mammoth Century Link Stadium.
What a place—with cliffs of cement, five billion slanted seats and a hole cracked through the center seam roof so that smoky gray sky can show through, rain or shine.
After all these years, I’m still not used to crowds.
I felt small and insignificant quite a bit of the time I was there, or while walking around the nearby neighborhoods.
It’s hard not to feel inconsequential among throngs like that, gigantic buildings like that with their towering advertising and shimmering squad car bright lights.
When you’re standing in line with two hundred other people waiting to use the restroom or buy a beer, you start to feeling a bit like an animal being herded here and there, at the whims of the crowd’s discretion.
At least I did.
A person can even start to understand the mob mentality that ends up rioting.
I’m not saying I would ever riot or loot because I wouldn’t, but I can kind of see how people could very easily get wound up, how a bonfire could burn pretty tall and for quite a long time.
On Saturday, one guy was lying on the parking lot ground trying to fend off policemen.
Another guy was wobbling down the road, barely being held together with help from his friend.
Others were shouting slurs and slanders against opposing teams.
And this was all before the game started.
It wasn’t totally out of control, however. Not at all. You can’t really maneuver that many people without order.
Still, I found myself being consumed by the magnitude, the scale of everything. It was intense, daunting and exhilarating.
Actually, I felt like an eight year old.
I kept thinking: People really take their sports seriously.
I kept thinking: This is very fun, but it’s not like it means anything all that important.
And then, inside the stadium, the guy behind me started shouting at the other team’s fan and I thought, Well, for whatever reason, this is quite important to him. His allegiance and this game carries meaning for him.
…We all have our biases, our passions.
On Facebook this morning I read a post from a writer I admire (who’s also somewhat renown in the virtual world) saying something such as: “I detest football in every form and don’t want to have anything to do with it. I despised being made to feel I have to like sports simply because I am a male in America.”
I get what he’s saying. But why so vitriolic? It’s almost no different than the boisterous fan at the stadium who is spewing his views at anyone close enough to hear it.
…I guess we all wear costumes and manifest who think we are by the way we play out our lives, who we engage with, where our minds take us in times of fruition or despair.
I guess there are lots and lots and lots of us and we are very much alike while being distinct and different, too.
Friday, November 25, 2011
--SOMEONE HAS TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE, SO IT MIGHT AS WELL BE ME
…I've got a story, "Mixed Breed" up at Troubadour 21 and another story, "The Loss of All Things Tame" up at Housefire. Both are also here under "Words in Print."
The latter story was one I was queried for and given that title. I like being queried. It's one of my favorite things. It's like being asked to dance. Like being asked to Tolo.
…A new favorite thing of mine is "Words With Friends" which is an app on your phone. It's basically Scrabble and you can play with anyone anywhere.
Yesterday I got it on with a dozen people. One was Dorianne Laux. Dorianne Laux!! She's like one of the most famous poets around. I have three of her books.
If you play "Words With Friends" shoot me an invite and we'll have it out.
..Another thing I like is laughing. I like that a lot. I laugh loud and freely. I'm not afraid to cackle in a theater. Many times I laugh at things other people don't think are funny. Most of the time I laugh a second or two before the crowd does. I don't think that makes me any smarter at all, but I think I am a little more receptive to getting the joke. I think I want it more--to be happy. Maybe it's because I am more lonely than most folks.
Shows like "Get Him To The Greek" make me laugh. So does "Arrested Development" and "Saturday Night Live" and all of the "Scary Movies," especially #3.
Kristen Wiig really makes me bust a gut.
Ellen does, too. She's very witty.
And comedy shows.
Here's are the best bits from the recent (well it was three months ago) Charlie Sheen roast.
--"Charlie is the reason a dick with cocaine on it is called a “Sheenish.”
--Mike Tyson has beaten every opponent he’s gone up against except the letter “S.” So please be patient as he sounds out his jokes.
--Mike Tyson, here’s something you’ll never hear in your life: “Nice tattoo.” I mean, come on, you’ve got a tramp stamp on your face. I don’t know whether to be appalled or just finish on it.
--Charlie Sheen, you’ve convinced more women to have abortions than the prenatal test for Downs Syndrome.
--William Shatner, look at your skin. I can’t tell whether you’ve had a face lift or a vagina rejuvenation.
--William Shatner, I've seen men more bloated that were dragged out of a river.
--(from Mike Tyson) If you don't shut up, I'm gonna bite my own ears off.
--Is that Seth McFarland or Chaz Bono with guyliner?
--Charlie’s nostrils are so snotty and filled with cocaine that he calls them the Hilton Sisters.
--Charlie, if you’re "winning," you’re obviously not at a child custody hearing.
--Charlie’s meltdown was so epic that Al Gore is doing a documentary on it.
--There’s Brooke Mueller, Charlie’s ex. Brooke’s not very bright, unless Charlie’s throwing a lamp at her."
My friends make me laugh, too.
…Today I am going to spend the afternoon and evening playing shuffleboard with my best friend who lives in Portland.
This is the kind of shuffleboard that has a salted table and you toss metal pucks down one end trying to get your pucks closest to the edge to score.
It's the kindof shuffleboard that's hard to find, that is usually only available in dive bars with bail bondsman phone numbers posted on the ratty walls in front of rank-smelling urinals.
But we both love the game.
We can play for hours.
We usually turn into kids, punching each other and swearing a lot and coming up with pithy things to say.
I'm sure we're going to laugh a lot.
Just imagine that.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
--YOU WOULD BE SO PROUD OF ME
…Good morning/afternoon/evening where you are.
I hope you are happy today.
I hope you are feeling inspired.
I hope you are grateful.
It's raining here. Last night/yesterday I spent ten hours in a car driving or stopped or going five miles per hour in snow with flakes the size of paper plates.
When I got home--after passing fallen trees and mounds of leaves on the street--my power was out.
There's something about an outage that forces you to be grateful. It has a way of stripping off the husk of extravagance and the unnecessary.
We played card games with a lantern.
…I went ahead and culled the best bits out of Lidia Yuknavich's memoir, "The Chronology of Water." Even if you're not a writer, even if you don't like to read, I think there will be a least a few things here that will resonate with you. If not, let me know…
"I am a woman who talks to herself and lies.
There are many ways to drown.
So here's the deal. About family, you have to make it up.
I believe in art the way other people believe in God.
In water, like books, you can leave your life.
Maybe forgiveness is just that. The ability to admit someone else's story. To give it to them. To let it be enunciated in your presence. It's your job not to flinch.
It is possible to carry life and death in the same sentence. In the same body.
When the thing you are living for dies right in front of you, why go on?
It's a sadness that enters us all, just differently I suppose.
There are so many stories to tell about what we do to our bodies.
We've always burned witches.
I think my mother was just trying to drown a sadness which wouldn't lift.
I've never met anyone who hasn't fucked up in their life a time or tow. Royally. I'm pretty sure that's what keeps us connected to one another.
The other thing I'd say is that if we didn’t' have drugs and alcohol, we wouldn't have art.
You see it is important to understand how damaged people don't know how to say yes, or to choose the big thing, even when it is right in front of them. It's a shame we carry. The shame of wanting something good. The shame of feeling something good. The same of not believing we deserve to stand in the same room in the same way as all those we admire. Big red A's on our chests.
Let the top of your head lift. See? There are spaces between things. What you thought was nothingness carries the life of it.
Addicts have a problem comprehending gravitas.
The more you describe a memory, the more likely it is that you are making a story that fits your life, resolves the past, creates a fiction you can live with. It's what writers do. Once you open your mouth, you are moving away from the truth of things.
I don't need anyone to explain to me why people join gangs. We do it to replace the frame of family. We do it to erase and remake our origins in their own images. To say, I too was here.
This is something I know: damaged women? We don't think we deserve kindness. In fact, when kindness happens to us, we go a little beserk. It's threatening. Deeply. Becauseif I have to admit how profoundly I need kindness? I have to admit that I hid the me who deserves it down in a sadness well. Serioulsly. Like abandoning a child at the bottom of a well because it's better than the life she is facing. Not quite killing my little girl me, but damn close.
Rehab and relapse and remember all start with the letter R.
Sometimes I think my voice arrived on paper.
My very skin knew the tyranny of speaking.
Big enough to fit the rage of a girl.
I didn't know yet that sexuality is an entire continet. I didn't know yet how many times a person can be born.
Women live their lives secretly wanting their lives to become movies.
People are often asking me if the things in my short stories really happened to me. I always think this is the same question to ask of a life--did this really happen to me? The body doesn't lie. But when we bring language to the body, isn't it always already an act of fiction?
There are many ways to love boys and men. Or to let them love you.
Language! What a thunderous mercy, huh?"
Monday, November 21, 2011
--IF YOU SWING, DON’T MISS
…I have a poem, “Alchemy” and story, “Jackknife” up at A Minor Magazine as well as a poem, “New Shoes” up at Steel Toe Review.
All are also here under “Words In Print.”
…In college some years ago, I majored in Poli Sci.
I also majored in English.
I knew I wanted to be a writer but thought I would be a lawyer instead because that seemed smart and practical.
Growing up, a movie that had a big impact on me was “The Paper Chase.” It was about a young buck going to Harvard Law School in the 70’s. Back then, Harvard Law School had the highest suicide rate of any school—law school, normal college, what have you—in the nation. Few people could handle the intense grind necessary for survival.
The main protagonist-“James Hart,” played by Timothy Bottoms--soon discerns that there are three types of students at Harvard:
1.) There are those that will not be able to handle the pressure and so, in a matter of six months or so, they will flunk out, drop out or commit suicide.
2.) The second group will make it, but they will graduate toward the middle or bottom of the class, having done the required work but nothing outside of requisite scope of assignments. They will become lawyers in time, but at small, nondescript firms.
3.) The third group is an elite one. These are the people who do everything required and then some, always tackling the tough projects, always volunteering, never afraid of putting themselves at risk or in jeopardy of embarrassment. This is the group that will get jobs at the top firms. These are the lawyers who will go on to become judges and super successful attorneys. They are the ones who will even end up shaping our judicial system.
I tend to think life is like that—that all people can be divided into three similar stratas.
In the film, James Hart realizes he’s been coasting mid-level and so he decides he’s going to move into the top tier. He’s very serious about making it, too, so serious in fact that he drops his smoking hot girlfriend (Lindsay Wagner! from “The Bionic Woman” fame) because sex with her is too draining. (!!)
That’s how committed he is. He does the work. He makes some blunders. He graduates top of his class. He gets back with Lindsay (of course he does) and the film ends in one of those soaring crescendos that makes the tiny hairs on your scalp prickle.
So out of college, I got a job clerking at a law firm in Seattle. I did that for a year.
What I realized was I’d romanticized the law. It was nothing like what I’d seen on TV. It was nothing like “The Paper Chase.” No one really cared about truth and justice. Their concern was only about how many hours got billed. They only cared about winning cases regardless if their client/position was the right one. And they would win those cases by hook or by crook, let me tell you.
It made me sick.
It made me sick not only for obvious moral reasons, but also because I thought I’d thrown my whole college education in the crapper…
Four years of college…
A year sewing unemployed old men and old grannies…
I thought I was doomed.
And yet, I survived.
I found a job in fashion, which is funny because I never had any money growing up to be fashionable with.
But I gave the job and the industry and the company everything I had. I pushed myself into that third group.
I sold sweaters. I sold neck ties and argyle vests. I unloaded freight and folded shirts and dusted fixtures and set up sales.
I worked hard and did okay.
Over the years, however, I continued to follow politics and government, both, international and national.
I kept myself educated and up to date on current political affairs.
To me, that’s important. And I try not to be cynical when it comes to government. Lord knows there are enough people to take on that task.
I try to think politicians can do good things, make wise decisions, serve the people, drive the nation toward sustainable prosperity…
But I will say, it’s getting harder and harder to believe in government. Every other day provides another reason to think the cynics are correct.
Today is one of those.
After three months of talks, the twelve members of the specially appointed Debt Relief Committee have concluded they can’t come to an agreement on how to ease the financial knot choking our country’s throat.
There’s no solution? No compromise?
Good Lord, are we really doomed?
…Sorry. I just had to rant. I feel better now. Sorry for vomiting all over this page.
Here. Here are a few things to make up for it.
You thought that drinking all weekend would make us go away but we're still here. Happy Monday!
"Mental fight means thinking against the current, not with it. It is our business to puncture gas bags and discover the seeds of truth." Virginia Woolf
"I only require three things of a man: he must be handsome, ruthless and stupid." Dorothy Parker
"Good manners and bad breath will get you nowhere." Elvis Costello
Saturday, November 19, 2011
--AND YOUR FRIENDS SAY, "WHAT IS IT? YOU LOOK LIKE YOU'VE SEEN A GHOST."
...I have two new poems, "Holes" and "A Fortress For Teens" up at Verse Wisconsin for their Earthworks theme. Both are also here under "Words in Print."
…It snowed yesterday. White spikes, spittle, toothpicks, confetti, sand shower, spears salting the sky. It looked pretty and then it didn’t. It reminded me how, if you are brave enough to really examine it, life can be one thing then another.
My favorite snow is big sloppy white Labrador flakes. Maybe it’s something about the way that type of snow coats and hides everything beneath it that makes me feel safe.
…Here is the conclusion of “Reasons I Should Be Dead.”
The bathroom is the warmest pace the heat vent pours out air holding back holding down holding apart some of the noise it’s not my favorite room because of the smell but I go there when they start to yell this time someone kissed someone else you cheating sonofabitch you bitch you bastard and there’s hell to pay I’m a boy supposed to be a man already so I open the door in time to see his oiled obsidian hair glinting open in time to see him shoot an arrow into the closed kitchen window glass shattering breaking apart like angry glaciers and when he turns the bow to me I say to myself “be brave don’t duck don’t run don’t hide we are done here.”
I was too loud in church or not paying enough attention to the pastor or my room was dirty or my thoughts were dirty or I missed “Please” or wasn’t grateful enough or just because because I say so because I’m in charge because this is my house because of some reason or other whatever reason any reason the belt swings and slashes wuuuh wuuuh wuuuh through the air leather helicopter blades that bite and sting but then it stops to be adjusted so the buckle is the end that rains metal teeth bronze nails hail hitting my head my shoulders my arms here’s my heart cut it open go ahead make a mess of things get it over with I won’t hate you if you are quick.
This guy can drink drinks like a fish a whale get him the funnel holy hell man how’re you still standing he’s my hero whatever you do don’t crash on your back man sleep on your stomach remember Janice Joplin and Jimmie H if they say anything else to me it is oatmeal in my ears the stairs reach right up and slap me the halls hit me someone’s got one arm someone the other and I fall a final time until there’s light everything white but not heaven the nurse saying good morning young man I hope you know how lucky you are.
Hey bogart you got a death wish or what? that wasn’t a line more like an avalanche yeah yeah I say wanting to say more but my face is numb down to the roots of my molars eyes jittery ice cubes nose runny or bleeding hair 4th of July sparklers twitching my scalp but none of that matters as much as my heart sprinting up and down the gym shoe stomps booming in my ears bouncing off one wall then the next make it stop make it stop no wait don’t make it stop that’s called dead just slow the pounding please what am I doing here anyway that guy has a thin hockey stick thingy with a boomerang end scraping green felt saying “seven seven out craps” and there are men around me my friends and strangers comic book patches 12 the hard way other numbers and squares dice die my friends my heart my friend what happens here stays here.
Blood taste like licking a rock when I open my eyes I see my eyes staring back at me in the rearview how did I get here why is my car stopped stalled hit something a curb lip swollen star fruit jaw sore must have hit the steering wheel hard no airbag should be dead what time is it I keep cheating time or it keeps throwing me a life line or maybe this is how it tortures me by keeping me alive why does everyone else want it so bad life?
This is not the same as the other times the other times death came for me now I am searching for it at five am in the pitch dark running miles getting in mileage before the marathon is the rationale I tell my wife here it comes sixty five going seventy speeding semi on my side of the road just a hitch a little jump is all it takes and SLAM SPLAT we’re done here finally but that driver he has a wife too or a mom maybe maybe even one that loves him got to be fair play fair don’t fuck it up for other people for other people death is what they run from not to.
The box is white a cream-colored coffin some irony there who called for an open casket is this somebody’s idea of a joke we tell jokes my brothers and I in hushed tones out in the sober foyer us older almost too old to take no longer skinny barefoot boys but men with bellies bald heads grudges and our own bags of sins we shuffle inside no different than dust ourselves sit on the stone hard wooden pews settle unsettle cough spit fidget fart silently “she is with God” the man in glasses says is he a liar we sing about grace “when we’ve been here ten thousand years bright shining as the sun” and then I stand because I am called called the name I was given the one she gave me I walk down an aisle dip my head at the podium I speak do not slur do not tarry I tell the tarnished and the true I don’t use bullets or blades but something falls away something dies inside of me a molting ghost carcass floating through stained glass as I inhale my first breath in this new skin.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
--PEOPLE SHOULD SMILE MORE
…It’s funny how the mind works. Or how mine does, I should say.
Mine jumps around a lot. It goes weird places. It ends up at odd junctures. It talks me out of things and into tight tunnels.
Sometimes it says, “You should really think about getting better at ______.”
Every once in a while it will say, “Remember that time when you could have done ______, but you did _______ instead? Me, too,” it will say. My mind will go on to postulate, “Life would be different if you’d done ______. I’m not sure if it’d be better, but it’d sure as hell be a lot different.”
On the treadmill this morning, I listened to Newton Faulkner (if you’ve never heard Newton, please do yourself a favor and find “Dream Catch Me” on YouTube. you won’t be sorry. cross my heart.)
While I was running and panting and sweating and singing along (“There’s a place I go when I’m alone. Be anyone I wanna be…”) my mind started to play a film reel of my past, not a life-flashing-in-front-of-my-eyes type thing, but more of a selective-moments-of-my-life-flashing-in-front-of-my-eyes situation.
For some reason, I don’t know why, my mind was trying to use my past misdeeds as a way of getting me to grasp a certain concept, one that is spelled:
And it didn't mean that I should be grateful for material things or friends or any of that.
My mind said, “Hey, I was just thinking.”
So I said, “Oh oh.”
To wit, my mind replied, “Yeah, man, I was thinking that you’re one luckiest dudes I know.”
And I replied with, “Is that right?”
“Mos def,” my mind said. “Let me show you what I mean.”
And then we did this kind of Ebenezer stroll through my life, highlighting a number of times where, quite honestly, I should have been killed.
A rafting trip gone awry.
Stupid adolescent experimentation.
Stupid adult experimentation…
In all, I came up with 11 (yikes!) different times that I should have died, been killed, terminated, done in.
Funny thing is I wasn’t even trying very hard and I came up with 11 Johnny on the spot.
But I did get off the treadmill, shower, and sit down and write an experimental version of those eleven called, “Reasons I Should Be Dead”
Here are the first four parts of what I wrote, before I get to adulthood…
Reasons I Should Be Dead
Before I was or am death comes for me rambunctious sloppy drunk death knocking over a headboard a mirror breaking a lamp or plate black blast to the ribs to her back belly uppercut that shakes the planet the lake the ocean the soup that I swim and float in becoming a typhoon while I bob like an upended boat but do not drown.
Before I am fully me death returns again sneaky bastard while I’m sleeping slumbering dreaming not snoring death and death’s hand stabbing a thin metal rod into the milky cloud where I am hiding hibernating death poking and jabbing at the juice and fleshy walls tearing red gashes into this embryonic tent angling aiming for me a slippery fish who will not be so easily aborted.
After I am born the woman driving the car takes long pulls on her cigarette as if she’s french kissing a snake made of smoke touching a finger to the edge of her white cat-eyed glasses “have I seen you before?” I say only saliva slips out over my lips like goo she is sad is annoyed she sneers down at me on the seat and says “what?” I recognize the voice I want to say “it’s you isn’t it? you’re my mother?” but my words my thoughts are gurgles Gerber baby food the thunderbird trundles over some tracks then shuts off even though Charlie Pride goes on singing does my ring hurt your finger when you go out at night I want to ask “why are we stopping?” but bubbles—two or three floaters—slide out of my mouth instead this is where grandmother died not necessarily here but on a set of railroad tracks somewhere in the middle of the night no one knowing if it was an accident or on purpose I heard them talking—the one time they were civil instead of two angry attack dogs—making funeral arrangements maybe we will go like gran “mom we’d better move a train might come” those are the words in my constipated head that become nothing but soapsuds and blue breath on the way out of my mouth “I can tell I can just tell” mother says “you’re going to be like all the rest a useless piece of shit.”
I am in another car and the man who is my new dad who is not my real dad my blood dad he has the convertible caddie going very fast the car black as evening long like a parade float but sleek I wish the wind weren’t so rough I wish I wasn’t freezing I wish my brothers would stop saying “faster! faster!” I wish my mom would stop holding onto her head scarf and use it for a parachute a homemade airlift cape that could get us out of here but instead we go over a hill leaping the crest like a slow motion trout and I think this is where death will get me right here all of us together a bunch of broken bones bloody bits or a burnt out car nothing to do but scream and pray my soul escapes somehow.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
--TELL ME ANYTHING YOU WANT, ANY OLD LIE WILL DO
…I have a new story, “The Drunk” up at Troubadour 21 and here under “Words in Print.”
This was one of the twenty or so "label" pieces ("Daughter," "Brother," "Son," "The Fan," "The Prosecutor") that I wrote for a chapbook (which never came out) called, "People You Know By Heart."
…Yesterday I sent some stories out to people who had queried me and I got the fastest acceptance of my life. I sent the piece out at 11:01 am and got a reply accepting it for publication at 11:09.
Now that's greased lightning.
…I thought this news was encouraging, or somewhat anyway:
When asked by CBS News, “Have you read a book in the last month?” these were the answers:
Yes –68% 74% of those were women, 65% under 30 years of age)
Yes –62% Men
…I thought this was discouraging:
73% of critics gave last week’s #1 grossing film (“Immortals”) an unfavorable rating.
3% of all critics gave Adam Sandler’s new film a favorable rating versus the 61% of audience-goers who liked it.
That seems to be a big disconnect. The message is: Dumb down you movies. Go ahead, make inane films because people will not only pay to watch them, but afterward they will say bizarre things such as, “That was a really good motion picture. I think I’ll recommend this to my friends!”
I’m not a snob berating family-friendly fare, but when theaters are saturated with week after week of horrid films it gets discouraging. Film is an art form. They are print stories brought to life.
Just makes me a little sad.
…Did you know that there are now 7 billion people on the planet?
Did you know that the world consumes 1.7 cans of Coke every day?
That’s a lot of folks.
That’s a lot of soda.
…How do you feel about airports?
I had never flow on a real airplane until I was 24. I was terrified. Not only am I afraid of heights, but I was frightened by airports, not knowing how they functioned, where to go, what to do, etc.
My very first flight on a plane was from Seattle to Hong Kong. Yikes. And then three days later Tokyo. A month later it was New York City. Within a year it was Scotland, Italy, England and NY again.
I was a clothing buyer and that’s what buyers did—they flew to places and bought merchandise from vendors so as to resell it to intrigued customers.
Since then I’ve flown scads and scads of miles. Even still, airports still make me nervous and agitated. I always feel like I’m doing it wrong, that I’m going to make a mistake and get in the B lane instead of the D lane, miss my flight, miss my connecting flight, arrive at my destination hours late, thereby screwing things up for my waiting ride.
Mostly, though, when I’m in an airport I feel very small and insignificant. I especially feel that way in any airport that is not SeaTac.
To be surrounded by thousands of people and not know a single person is, to me, very daunting. Watching all those people with their lives and cell phones and packs and bags, purses and ear buds going wherever it is they’re going—it all sort of turns me inside out.
Shit starts to get deep for me sometime.
Questions can start to fly:
“Who are all these people?”
“Where are they going?”
“Why do they all seem so busy, focused and full of direction?”
“Why am I here?”
“What the hell am I doing?”
“What’s my purpose?”
“Am I sure I’m going in the right direction?”
Inside airports, the world seems both big and compressed. Inside airports, you can hide but not really ever get lost. Everyone inside an airport is a little like a convict looking to get out, eager to get on with their lives.
I don’t know about you, but it kind of fascinates me.
…More wind today. Right now. Bold and belligerent as hell, it comes right at me, right at my windows, spitting cedar spikes, clawing at the glass like an unleashed animal, a hungry demon with razor tipped paws, a rabid Doberman that might actually crack through no different than one of the Darkseekers from I Am Legend.
Behind and beneath is the black old man water wrinkled foaming without foam ridge after ridge lapping slapping turbulent black tea green tea no duck or gull brave enough to sit there no eagle or hawk flying overhead. Even the sky looks worried, as if there’s not enough light getting through the patchy areas, as if this place on the planet has decided to play a different game, using its own rules, having turned Mother Nature against herself.
All I can do is watch and listen and write. My defense is that weak. If I’m taken captured or swallowed up into the vortex, tell them there’s nothing to worry about. Tell them I am writing a better story from all the way up there.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
--AND THAT WHITE DRESS YOU’RE WEARING, HAVEN'T SEEN IT FOR A WHILE
…Yesterday I had three stories accepted. The day before, I spent an hour or so submitting. It had been a while.
Getting work accepted is sort of addicting. It’s addicting if you have an addictive-type personality, which I have.
Clearly, the compulsion has to do with needing to feel valued. So I guess there are a lot of times when I feel valueless. Is that just me? Or do you ever find yourself in that place?
…On the treadmill I pulled out The Airborne Toxic Event. The first album. They’re very good. You should check them out. Make sure to get the album with “Sometime Around Midnight” on it. That song is pretty brilliant for a lot of reasons.
…I’ve started watching “The Wire.” I’m six episodes in. I’d give it a solid B. When you don’t have a unique premise like “Dexter” (vigilante serial killer kills rampant murders that the justice system can’t apprehend) or “The Sopranos” (present day New Jersey mob boss battles with duality and sees a psychiatrist), the acting and characters become even more important than the actual plot.
I’m going to give it a few more turns.
…It’s possible to be lonely in a crowded room. It’s possible to be huddled in the midst of a lot of other people, to be the center of attention in that particular huddle, to be the one speaking while everyone else is listening, somewhat rapt, and feel very alone.
…I wrote these a while ago:
The vapor of your ghost
hangs like gossamer.
Was there always this much space?
Were the walls once red?
How about that chair?
I remember you leaning over the bed post
dripping sweat and eating a meaty chunk
of strawberry that bled juice down your chin.
You snarled and
curled your finger,
claimed you wanted to feed me.
Now we are too old to turn back.
I have no reserves.
One thing is not like the other
and fingerprints are only useful for felonies.
So I step out onto the sun porch,
blinded by bright white glare.
as they stripe the lake surface with their shadows.
A fish twists in midair.
two kids squeal about the icy water.
All around me life pushes on,
--not even pushing, really,
rather simply moving without effort.
without you anywhere in it.
I have spent the day
considering the archeology of your kiss
wondering about the line of your lipstick,
where it’s going,
if there is thirst involved,
who’s going along for the ride
Kant and Proust push through,
slinging blades and barbs,
You join in with coiffed curls
and a fingertip answer
about sexual duality
and gender inconsistencies.
Sometimes I could just puke.
Friday, November 11, 2011
--I'VE BEEN YOUNG AND I'VE BEEN OLD BUT I HAVE NEVER SEEN THE RIGHTEOUS FORSAKEN
…I have two interviews up at Scribophile that had somehow slipped by me. They were posted late October. Anyway, they’re here listed as “Scribophile Interview, Part 1” and “Scribophile Interview, Part 2” under “Words in Print.”
…Today is Veteran’s Day. 11/11.
Veteran’s Day is an important occasion in my family. Four of my brothers went into the miltary. One is still serving.
Their experiences changed their lives. You can see the way it’s been worked into the fabric of who they are. Sometimes it’s very obvious—a broke down body, a flag tattoo spread across the entire expanse of a back. Other times it’s a subtle hitch of the eye when a certain word is said.
My oldest brother got sent to Vietnam when I was ten. I remember watching the news, Walter Cronkite, reporting on various battles, showing the black body sacks being lifted, airborne into helicopters. You could tell Walter didn’t approve. A small film camouflaged the fact that he was more than a little bit fed up and disgusted with the war. News people were supposed to be unbiased when reporting, but Walter was always like that gentle Grandfather who was strong yet not afraid to cry in front of you.
I wrote a paper called, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again, or Does He?” I was in 7th Grade and the teacher made a big fuss over it. At first she questioned whether I really wrote it. She told me I was saying things adults said. She asked how I could write something without having experienced it firsthand (which is what people would continue to ask me to this day.)
My brother, Charlie, served on the demilitarized zone, the line drawn between North and South Vietnam. However, it was anything but “demilitarized.”
His squad came under attack the first week they were there and a buddy of my brother’s got hit with a missile while in a trench. (CAUTION: READ THE NEXT LINE AT YOUR OWN RISK). The explosion blew my brother’s buddy’s body apart, his head flew through the air, through smoke and haze, dirt and splattered blood, before landing my brother’s lap like some horrifying fruit.
That’s one of a few stories my brother told. There were others that were worse. I know, how can there be worse? But there were.
Eventually my brother won The Bronze Star. It’s the fourth highest award a service man or woman can receive for distinguished bravery, heroism and meritorious participation. My brother carried a severely wounded solider over five miles on his back. Every day since then, he’s paid for that act physically. He walks with a cane and some mornings—all these years later--the pain is so severe that he doesn’t get out of bed.
Last week when I was home for my mother’s funeral, I asked if he’d do it over again knowing what he knows now and without hesitation, he said, “I’d do it in a second.”
I am not that brave. In fact, it’s difficult for me to comprehend that kind of daring and courage.
--When I was a boy, my parents somehow got a hold of a stash of military rations. They felt it important that we know what our brother was feasting on each day in the muggy jungles of Nam, so they pried open the tins and sliced up the coagulated globs. Everything came out of a can and was a combination of pasty and dry, like Elmer’s glue rolled in sawdust, like dog food dusted with someone’s cremated ashes.
That night I studied the only picture we had of him in Nam. In it, he’s stacking mortar shells into a massive pyramid taller than himself. Each copper-colored shell looked double the size of a king Salmon. My brother was smiling and shirtless.
It was raining that night, and after dinner I felt very strange—proud of my brother yet guilty for not being in the service myself, even if I was only 10 at the time. I remember (and this is going to sound really stupid, but it’s the truth) taking my shirt off, going into the rocky hills behind out trailer and walking bare-chested in the icy rain for several hours until I could no longer stand it. I guess I thought by doing so, I was somehow proving I could sacrifice as well as my brother, that I had gumption and moxie.
--When I lived in Virginia, my brothers all came back for a reunion. It was a touching time. At dinner I heard them tell raucous tales. They spoke a common language, employing some terms that meant nothing to me unless I asked for clarification.
I heard some heart-searing stories about the Vietnam War, ones I’d never heard before, ones I’m sure I will never hear again, stories I won’t ever forget.
The second day we went to the Mall, to the Vietnam Memorial. It’s a long black marble wall built into the ground, sort of like a retaining wall. The names of every dead service man and woman, plus those still missing, are etched into the stone. No one spoke. Not my brothers and not any of the other dozens of people. Most touched their fingers against the names carved there. Some had tracing paper and would pencil a reverse stencil and lift a name off. There was a book on a pedestal there were a person could look up someone. My oldest brother spent a lot of time flipping through the pages, his breath catching every so often. He cried but didn’t speak a word.
5,604 Americans have died fighting in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars since November 3, 2011.
58,794 Americans died fighting in Vietnam.
My third oldest brother is a Colonel. While we were in DC that time, I got to see him in full uniform. Everywhere we went that day, if a soldier was passing, they stopped at once, pivoted, clicked their heels and saluted. It was a startling thing to witness.
When I was in the corporate world, I more or less gave up my life for my job. I sacrificed time with my kids and special events. But I wasn’t literally sacrificing my life. I was just walking in the rain, without a shirt, getting very cold and frost-bitten.
…Obviously I’m a bit in awe of my brothers, just as I am any service person. I hope we do right by them. I hope we get out of the wars soon. I hope we don’t cut their benefits. I hope we help them find jobs and transition back into society. Those things seem like the bare minimum.
Here are three poems I wrote that were published last year at Rusty Truck. Each is more or less nonfiction:
We went as brothers
from different towns to this one,
meeting at the memorial,
our pasts broken down by
slab after slab of gray granite.
People moved like solemn shapes
no one speaking.
Black rain pecked our skins
but those were tears on Charlie’s face.
There might have been a million names.
There might have been but one.
War is an unscrupulous host.
A young boy my son’s age
Dragged his fingers across rows of engraved letters
I thought my brothers might be angered by the child’s act
but instead my eldest grinned and said,
“That’s why I went.
For those born later
they would only know it as the bad war
the one they made so many movies about.
At the time, protesters received more attention
and history may never right that wrong
or the ignorance of a new generation
but to the men
to the women
to the souls who went there,
I bow down
and I say,
“God bless you.”
His brother took him to a pool hall,
bought him tequila and beer chasers,
farted out loud and
commented over the texture and vibrato of each.
His brother laughed at anything—
his own jokes,
the old geezer with a chin stuck inside his mug,
the skipping juke box saying, “You give love a bad naye-naye-naye-naye.”
This place had the classic arcade games—Pac Man and Space Invaders.
Around 2:00 am,
Stucky threw them the keys and said to close up,
as if it was something he’d done a lot of times before.
He studied the homemade tattoos on his brother’s forearms.
Everything was short, choppy and to the point,
no word or ink mark wasting time on being clever:
Old Glory Hole
The little gray bug men
marched across the screen in neat rows.
His brother shot them down with his finger beating the sweaty red button.
He killed as many as he could.
He seemed happy.