Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Theocratic-Anarchist Visits St. Joseph’s Oratory

I stand at the wall in the hallway at this wooden box where there are little envelopes and stubby pencils. These yellow pencils too short for a man’s hand with blunt tips best for a scrawl but not elegance of handwriting. If I take one of the envelopes and scribble on it my pledge, or my prayer, it will reveal my name as well as that this man who wrote this contact information is crude in the way say of a farm laborer, or a ditch digger, or the fellow that day-to-day drives the white metal machine that cleans the streets. Who will presume that is a lie?

This station is located around the corner from the stair leading up. It is as if a stopover on the way to the steps to god. It is alone in the hall against a bare wall. Or, it is a short way along in a sterile corridor that leads to the door that goes outside. There seems no reason to stop here other than the attraction of the wooden box. A slot in the top for acceptances of cash, coins, bills.

There are these little bitty cardboard cards printed with the visage of a deceased priest. Nobody I ever knew, nor that I have ever heard mentioned, having read in no books nothing about him. There is a comfortable anonymity between us in that I do not know of him and that by the separation of death on his part I presume he does not stand in some other alternate parallel consecrated hallway a poor soul stuck in the vicinity of this formality of a wooden box in order to watch over those who may linger here as if caught in a moth trap.

The back of the card has a green paper glued to it with a hole in the middle the size of a dwarfed pea that shows a blue dot. Étoffe ayant touché aux ossements du P. Moreau, fondateur. Filched and tucked in my shirt pocket as a reminder of this pause in the climb I turn quietly and with the deliberation to follow behind my wanderlust companions as I move toward the stair and on upward.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Intimations of Regionalism

Before you go any further read this story at Night Train: The Tree That Girdles Itself by Donna D. Vitucci. It has nothing to do with this blog post, but it might have something to do with a future blog post. Stay tuned and expect a test.

me in the workshop preparing my mobile housing unit

As people, as writers, when we present our faces to the world we often feel a need to fashion neat little simplified boxes in which to portray ourselves as something less than the complexity that we are… otherwise folks just feel a need to jump up running and screaming?

A fellow writer that I have been paying attention to recently opened a blog where he expresses that his growing up is from Northern Appalachia to which he assigns Tioga County, PA. Fried Chicken and Coffee.

So, often, particularly online in an e-zine, when you read a story there will be somewhere attached a small biographical snippet about the writer. These can either be literal and nearly true, or as false and misleading as anything Mark Twain would pretend in a lie. In my case, with my writer’s persona I pretend to be from Northern Appalachia… in fact I am from Tompkins County, NY which is the northernmost county in Appalachia (I checked with my geographer friend on this). I claim this origination despite my having fled that scene more than thirty years ago for the adventure of first Washington, DC and then NYC and now these past nearly 20 years commuting across Long Island from pseudo-rural south shore along the Atlantic to mega-urban workzone of the 5 Boroughs.

That said, Tompkins County is a schizoid place in comparison to 99.99% of the remainder of what is known as Appalachia, either Southern or Northern, and up until my friend placed his blog FLAG squarely in the Northern Appalachian geography I had sort of imagined to myself that nobody knows what Northern Appalachia is about as a culture and therefore it was, at least for me, fresh meat to barbie. But hold on here…

The reason Tompkins County is schizoid is that it has Cornell, an Ivy League University, as a sort of oasis in the midst of rolling hills with Cayuga Lake as an added bonus. Not to mention Ithaca College and the media studies or the amazing proliferation of music in the zone. So you have Ithaca as the predominant city of the county, and you have Cornell where there is this mass of buildings, but also a mass of human brain matter refined to a very high scale. Some of it is yearning to escape planet earth, some of it is yearning to get lost in the woods and some of it goes sailing on Sunday. The place has poetry, it has literature, and it had Nabokov, AR Ammons (the man needs an enema) etc. Ginsberg liked to read there and Kerouac shopped at the Brahman Bookstore. Madame Blavatsky even made visits to the town, and there have been many many writers brought up, exaggerated and spit out by the region. So to describe Northern Appalachia as a shed with a wood stove, sour mash and dueling banjoes just does not quite work for me, alone, I mean, there needs to be this radical contrast between the culture of totally geeked out brains and cabbage farmers or UFO nuts or rabbit hunting or the big yearly drug bust.

So I remember in the 70s you could go to town and watch Gary Snyder give a reading. You could meet other local poets and have arguments about who lost the post office box key. There was not hardly any book a poet would want to buy that you could not find in the local new or used bookstores. Get in the truck and drive up to Buffalo to wonder why Gary Snyder was drunk on his ass in midafternoon. Wander down to Binghamton to hob nob with Gil Williams at an open reading he sponsored. Drive through a blizzard to sit in a sweaty room with Robert Bly banging a drum. Or a quick cut up to Syracuse for a bit of Samizdat on the Syracuse University student radio station at 3 am. And it was called, proudly we called it, regionalism.

At the time Regionalism was like it was this new thing that we pushed around to claim our identity. A lot of good that it did. The most prolific example of product that I remember was a young woman that wrote a chapbook of poems about raccoons that centered on her emotional attachment to how cute their little black masked faces looked.

When I moved down to Maryland outside of DC I took advantage to spend days off at the Library of Congress. What I found out was that I could ask to see old books there and I went a bit wild asking for all of the books I could find from Central New York writers as far back as they would go with it. I found a lot more of them than I ever found at home (Brooktondale and/or Besemer to be exact, not all that far from Bullamanka).

There is a whole lot that happened in the Central NY region in the 19th century as far as writing went, and religion, and a whole lot of poetry. It was not only the basket birthing of the Women’s Movement that went on there. Catching on to this wealth of historic poetry, and picking up a bit on the rhythms of those agrarian tendencies toward empyrean heights of cornseed epiphany I approached my friend John Gill (then in Trumansburg with Crossing Press) and suggested to him an anthology of this older poetry. His comment was that it was bad poetry then, it is bad poetry now. At the time I took him at his word.

It is pretty bad poetry, but in lingering on the topic of regionalism I think there is some importance to our claim of a place as attached to our identity as either a human, or as a writer, or as any sort of artist that we have an historical consciousness of what that place has meant to be to the larger remaining portion of the world in the past. If that historic literature/art, despite it being bad, is inaccessible to us then we have no clue as to what the larger whole is of what we claim as our regional identity.

All this when brought together I suspect that I need to claim a different piece of outer space as it is that I see all those people from south of my spiritual center are so outlandishly staid in their back country hill and holler ways. I would almost rather be from Ohio.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Career of Work or Art?

This picture is of Rudy and Gabe. Check out more photos at Pamela Follett photography.

In a recent discussion with JB came up the topic if we had only spent more time at our art than at our business life would we be further along with our art?

What struck me mostly about the conversation was that we were both fairly serious about the topic, for each of us individually from the vantage of our own experience and perspective. We did not so much argue to convince each other as to compare notes. It is a question that I have to admit, has plagued me for many decades.

At a time in my life when I wanted nothing more than to write I made a deliberate choice NOT to go to college in order to study literature or creative writing. The sentiment then was, and continues to be, that a writer gains most from engagement with life and that the learning to write part comes of the persistence of desire to write.

I have always felt that what I really need to know in life is out and about to be shared by people that we meet, encounter, eat with, live and work with, if only we remember to pay attention. Which brings up that for me writing, art is mainly about paying attention, to be as fully conscious in life as we are able.

Too many years back a Snap-On tool salesman that we were building a fireplace for told me that when we need to know something we will figure out a way to know it. To me this is education by enlightenment, to seek the light of understanding and clarity. I want to know, therefore I will know.

Then another friend of mine, Jeff, who had gone on to college on to an MFA and eventually gained a position to teach art at a college, in a manner to recycle what they had learned, along their path told me that if I had gone to college I would be, as they said, 10 years further along in my writing. That was interesting, it caused me to stumble along for a while trying to parse it out. Ten years ahead of what?

They pointed at a particular Yale Younger Poet that was popular that year. “See, like her.” I followed Sylvia’s career that flamed down to Nicaragua or wherever the theme drove her passion then within like three years she vanished. I have never heard nor seen of her since. Ten years ahead of total obscurity? I am already quite comfortable in obscurity and see no reason for the expense of special training.

“Everyone puts their history into their work.” Erik Spiekermann, type designer quoted from the movie Helvetica.

This quote brings in a fold to my logic and I trust that you will make the leap to follow me. JB and I also share in that in our lives we do business, each to our own and at times we do business together, and for the most part what a majority of our network of friends and associates see us as is ‘in business’ and not necessarily first as artists and second as carpenters or stonemasons. Granted there are a few friends that know us only as artists and that we do ‘other stuff’ but for the most part people know us for our business.

When we are at a party, a social gathering, we do not say, “I am a painter.” Or “I am a poet.” In my case I fumble out, “I fix old buildings.” For the most part I cannot explain what I do in one or two sentences and I tend to give up quickly. Follow me and you will see what I do. If you cannot see it then I cannot particularly help you to see it.

The other night a charming young lady told me that I come across as lame, as if I had just fallen off a truck.

Regardless, there are folks who will come to a party and when you first up ask them what do they DO… they will tell you that they are a singer, or an actress, or a sculptor, whatever and when you hang with them long enough you find out what they do is laundry, or carpentry to ‘fill in’ until the big break, or their family owns a chain of cardboard box factories in Minnesota. I have always found this phenomena in part a ‘wanna be’ and I am delighted most when the person who introduces themselves as an auto mechanic when one day you discover, best if by accident, that they are making these fantastic off-the-wall sculptures out of dead bumpers in the alley behind the station. At heart I am an iconoclast.

So it comes to this, that though I share and admire the desire to be further along in our art, I do not quite understand what it means to be further along in life, short of acceleration along the route toward eventual termination and that it is the totality of our life experience that when we sit down to write, or paint or make a little movie, informs our craft, leastways if we are awake, paying attention, and conscious of our being alive.

So I cannot at heart separate out the hours, days, and months of busting stone with a sledge hammer as being some ‘other’ diversionary route to getting to here, where I am as I write this. I was very happy busting stone and it was in the moment of each strike of the sledge that I was conscious. As with some folks that like to freshen up their golf swing, I enjoy the occasion to go out and refresh my stone busting, if only for the reminiscence of ‘in the day’.

Shyness aside even the question as to what mask, poet or stonemason or foolish clown, that we will wear becomes folded into the work.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Living With the Truth -- summer reading, novel

In a mode of mythic comedy Jonathan Payne, a second-hand bookseller with a small shop at the seaside town of Rigby (we presume an imaginary Scotland seaside with Atlantic waters dashed against brisk stony cliffs and not along the flatness of Route 20 in Idaho, though Idaho would make an interesting second) is visited by Truth who undertakes to reveal his (Truth for each of us being manifested in the gender we see in ourselves) personality and quirks of taste insofar as what Truth considers that truth needs to be as it is revealed for Jonathan Payne.

There can be too much, or too little of truth in all our lives, and the author, my friend Jim Murdoch with great care, deliberation and crafted talent brings this range of truth for Jonathan Payne out into the open and on to the stage of our imaginations. This is brought about through fairly excellent characterization in such a manner that as the narrative progresses we increasingly share in the well-rounded portrayal of Jonathan Payne – he becomes infectious as he grasps our reading sympathy, with chuckles here and there -- and we are also caught up by the somewhat quirky and nearly trickster personality of Truth. Who would not enjoy Truth without a dash of the sardonic?

“Narrative allegory is distinguished from mythology as reality from symbol; it is, in short, the proper intermedium between person and personification. Where it is too strongly individualized, it ceases to be allegory; this is often felt in the Pilgrim's Progress, where the characters are real persons with nicknames.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge on the Art of Edmund Spenser

I quote that above from Coleridge on Spenser as the personification of Truth brings into range our consciousness of allegory, or sign and symbol as a character that is Truth is like a sign… in that an author could build a premise on the characterization of Stop Sign… a sort of neoPlatonic kind of post-modernism -- but more importantly that I like reading Edmund Spenser and Coleridge and at the risk of inflating Mr. Murdoch’s sense of his place (Scotland and not Idaho) it is against the backdrop of this literary context within which I read his novel.

I am not exactly sure, I figure when I look into it, if Living with the Truth is allegory or a parable or exactly what?

It is fun and it does cause one to pause and think. Mr. Payne, the protagonist, seems to have a peculiar fixation on the observation of women’s breasts. The truth revealed to me is that I cannot wander around nowadays looking about in the summer weather of Manhattan without reflecting on this character attribute. This offsets my general observation that the majority of people in the world, myself included, look really unfit for magazine covers.

It seems that though Truth may be present, and often bringing about disconcerting revelations to Jonathan about Jonathan, particularly in respect of his sexual proclivities, that truth is not necessarily overbearing and/or inclined to reveal more than a person can bear to handle.

In no manner does Living with the Truth go quite so far as the German author Charlotte Roche, “a headlong dash through every crevice and byproduct, physical and psychological, of its narrator’s body and mind” (courtesy of Nicholas Kulish in the NY Times 06/06/08). Truth in a very kindly manner spares us such physical intimacy.

Truth though often thought of as cold and dispassionate can be sweetly considerate and when not harassing the protagonist with revelations of previously unrevealed reality at times serves as a remarkable foil to reveal the authors sense of ironic humor, “And then she made the fatal mistake of looking him in the face. Oh, dear. It was an erotic work, whose author had greater aspirations for it than it rightly deserved. He was now working on a chicken farm days while the sequel lay in various stages of production on jotters around his lodgings.”

Considering that Jim Murdoch, a frequently erudite blogger on scenes literary (much about Beckett) does not, as far as I know, work on a chicken farm. So even with Truth present there is a hint of modest Dissimulation lurking in the outer hallway.

The comment on it being an erotic work that the spinster peruser of the bookshelves in the second-hand bookshop in her encounter with the eyes of Truth reminds me of an x-brother-in-law, a Brit who suddenly aspired one day to become a novelist, after having had a dab as a painter, and seemed to delight in talking out his most poignant scenes of bodice ripping ecstasy having to do something with the integration of coloured purses. Then he as suddenly moved away with another woman than any I am related with. This personal note regarding a known character all lends credence, in my estimation, to Mr. Murdoch’s ability to paint a fictional character with veracity.

A most difficult revelation it seems for Jonathan is that Truth personifies another person than Jonathan himself who knows exactly what Jonathan knows of himself and assumes is known only by him… with a dash here and there into things known or to be known as True or False in the world at large, mainly these objectives being delicate mirrors with which to further portray Jonathan’s personal insularity and narcissism in the distancing of and his self-imposed removal from personal relationships.

Jonathan is essentially a character who does not want his innermost secrets or secretions known not only to himself, but particularly not by another human, leastways, as human as Truth can be seen to be. Suddenly here in his life is this stranger who knows more of what Jonathan keeps to himself as secret, either to himself or to the world, than Jonathan is accustomed to share.

Purchase directly from the publisher: Living With the Truth, Jim Murdoch, Fandango Virtual

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Do we read what we wear?

“this war of ideas is no less bloody than the one being fought by our troops in the Middle East.” Norman Podhoretz

In our local 7-11 (chain convenience store) on Lung Island where sometimes I stop on a morning to buy coffee & buttered roll, there is a young woman clerk that made a disconcerting comment on my purchase of a NY Times some months ago. I immediately felt defensive and assumed she was being a bit snide about my reading habits. In some places in the US the thinking is that the NY Times is a liberal commie newspaper. I am always wary that I don't want to look more intelligent than a carpenter or plumber when I am out and about. I dress for the most part in an appropriate manner with a philosophical grounding in Thoreau -- that at least is why I continue to enjoy wearing work pants with paint on them and holes in inconvenient places. Carpenters and plumbers are not known to read the NY Times. In the exchange our skeptical clerk told me her boyfriend was rooting for Giuliani -- I said that I was waiting to see if he flunked out. I made some quip about a preference for McClain if it had to be. That was the day Giuliani did drop out. I find it difficult not to express on my face whenever his name is brought up that I believe Giuliani is a pompous ass.

Giuliani said in a New Yorker interview that he was reading Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism. Well, wanting to better understand the phenomena known as Rudy Giuliani, and actually being fairly open to whatever arguments the ‘conservatives’ have to put out, I read the book. Best I can say for the book is that it is not very long and thus fairly easy to carry around. Despite that Podhoretz advocates that we ream Iran a new butthole before the end of the current administration, which was dangerous enough to think that this is the intellectual influence that Giuliani cites… the book is not even good beach reading. Podhoretz does not much more for me than illustrate that at this point in his career that he is a muddle-brained intellectual imbecile. He may have been before this just that I never bothered to check. If this is an example of the brain not on drugs he should go back a few decades and start over?

Beware what you read into this sentence?

His arguments did convince me, though, that we are still playing in World War II and that to say otherwise is something of a political fallacy… kind of like when the president proclaims Mission Accomplished. Or when a former president claimed that the Cold War was over. It is convenient for the expediency to have these markers and milestones, like the War on Drugs, or the War on Terror…. I mean, does this crap ever stop?

Regardless, when I stopped in recently at the 7-11 I had forgot that I was wearing a sweat that said something to the effect, "Too many books, not enough time." It was under my coat that was unzipped open, so one had to actually try to read it. She liked what it said, and expressed to me that she likes to read what people wear. In the mornings she is faced with a constant flow of men and women making a stop on their rush to work, "Next!" It is not a particularly opportune time to strike up a conversation. Here up to this point I was worried she might take offense at my libertarian attitudes and spike my coffee with strychnine -- lightly brushed off her fingernails, of course. So the last visit, and with my coffee buttered roll and NY Times, I apologized to her that I had not thought to wear anything to read.

The place where I live, and enjoy for the very fact of it, is one where if a person is seen in public with a book it is comparable in social effect to a vampire killer walking around with a bible, a cross and gun with silver bullet. For me I feel it is a perfect place for a writer to hide.

But I like the idea that a person with a minimum wage job would be so turned on to reading that they would be conscious to read what is on the front of my chest. For that alone I want to go out and find something kool to read.

In consideration of how bloody the war of ideas is how about, “WWV Veteran, Read My Blog”

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Writer's Mark

The photo here is of mason’s marks that I recently found cut into the stone of a church in Kielce, Poland. I am not exactly sure of the year. Mason’s marks essentially identified the journeyman who had set the stone in order for their work to be quantified and paid. Compare this to Dickens, who did not have a computer or a typewriter being paid by the word and thus stretching out his word count by hand. Compare this to Richard Kostelanetz publishing a large X wherever large Xs will appear. In the case of the mason’s mark it was the cut of the stone set that required a chisel, along with physical effort to make their literary impression, as minimalist as it appears. This marking in stone is similar, but different, to marriage marks in timber framing.

I had a recent experience riding on the train and writing in my notebook a flash about the woman sitting next to me and made a point to write it out rather terribly lest she look and notice that I was writing about her. I later had trouble transcribing the text onto the computer. My eyesight and handwriting, particularly when I want to be illegible, and to be illegible to my neighbor I need to make sure that I am illegible to myself, seem to compete in their rate of deterioration.

I have multiple notebooks, and multiple pens... not fixated so much on any one of them but wanting to have them available to grab when needed. I follow a similar policy of at-hand to grab anywhere profusion of reading glasses scattered around the house. It is one thing to enjoy the physical process of writing by hand, another to be able to see it.

If I attend a meeting, or have a business phone call I tend to write notes during the entire communication process. I like to use different pads for different purposes and I identify them as objects associated with their use by their differences in shape, color, size, covers or weight. Currently for phone calls I like to use a small 5x8" pad with graph squares on it. I used to use letter size pads and it made a difference to me, to how I felt for as long as the pad would last, if I was using yellow, white or green. I have years of phone conversations writ down... I rarely if ever look at them after I have written them. I tend to remember what I have written down by hand, either long script or most often in a crude architectural block print. Choice of style does depend if I want to be able to later understand what I wrote. I have learned to have active conversations and write at the same time. These days I tend after a month or so to burn the notes. There is way too much paper behind me and it has become a life management problem to deal with not letting go of it. I push toward a paperless ideal and scan paper for filing on the computer. The effort to scan and file placing a practical value on what it is that I bother or get around to store. As I remarked recently, I store my older paperwork in the basement where it floods in spring and slowly the ink and the paper dissolves and floats away into the sump, into the earth beneath me.

My preference in pen is currently 0.5 mm needle tip ball liquid gel in black ink. I am extremely fussy about writing instruments though not fixated on having just one of one type, but multiples for multiple uses and intentions. A mechanical pencil, certainly for marking up construction drawings. And then all the fun color markers. And we need to keep in mind the special uses of red ink. I have never been one much for fountain pens. I have certainly played with them and quill pens dipped in the ink over the years. I would never, excepting for Jim Murdoch bringing it to my attention, consider to write a novel or a short story by long hand. I am used to not having the paper handy, not too easy to use a pad and pen while driving, and tend to compose in my head and then go direct to the computer. Then again, I can see that taking a text that I have put on the computer then writing it out in longhand may be a manner in which to by-pass blockages that occur where the brain goes dead.

I have been fascinated over the thinking as to if one should sign their name in black or blue ink. There seem to be arguments, some of them stridently held, as to either color being the most appropriate.

I am reading a book by Samuel Ray Delany, Jr., he has me caught, where in an essay on para-literary canon he remarks on the advent of typing that made possible more writers, combined with linotype that made access to publication more prevalent, and how the sudden surge of texts produced required that some literary genres be partitioned off into their own zones, such as sci-fi, romance, mystery, horror etc. and now we find ourselves in the midst of a blossoming of computer enabled text with internet distribution... it will be interesting for someone to see what compartmentalization occurs in an attempt to rationalize and manage a profusion of spontaneously generated text... many of them rather short and vapid.

Recently also I have been networking with two non-writer friends that know Wendell Berry with a vague idea on my part that I would like to eventually meet him. There are not too many writers that I actually want to go talk with in person, he is one of them. Usually I go and listen, sit in the corner and listen. There is an argument that writing is a separation from the human interface of dialog, of two humans taking the time to be in the same place on earth at the same time. In the case of Wendell Berry I would like to be able to say, “Hi.”

“I am not going to use a computer because I don't want to deny myself the pleasure of bodily involvement in my work. In using computers writers are flirting with a radical separation of mind and body, the elimination of the work of the body from the work of the mind. The text on the computer screen, and the computer printout too, has a sterile, untouched, factory made look... The body does not do work like that. The body characterizes everything it touches. What it makes it traces over with the marks of its pulses and breathings, its excitements, hesitations, flaws and mistakes... And to those of us who love and honor the life of the body in this world, these marks are precious things, necessities of life.”

Though I very much, with a stone masonry background, appreciate the tactile intelligence of hand to pen to paper I do believe that there is a transcendence of perspective that does not need to inhibit one as a writer from a quality and interest or depth of emotional context for text composed direct to computer.

What I do believe though is that if a writer is intent on slowing down, as seems to be a valid argument for not using a computer, then they should consider a habit to work their words in stone by hand, I mean, nowadays even stone masons fabricate with computer driven carving machines that tend to erase their involvement and identity as human individuals.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Flash in Human Scale

Flash fiction: extreme brevity?

I have a few close friends who have ADD. They are good readers, perceptive of their world, and fairly intelligent. They simply cannot pay attention to any specific focus for very long. What strikes me most about conversations with them is that though they literally cannot stay on any one topic, and their attention span seems to vary in duration for no discernible reason, my impression of their reality, if seen from my sloggy connected perspective, is a stroboscopic display of unrelated flashes of consciousness.

It is possible to have an extended conversation with them as long as one is willing and able to jump to a multiple number of unrelated topics then return to the background thread. Seems to me this provides a jump point for thoughts about a novel of aggregate flash. Many short segments, like postage stamps all intimate in their own contained frame of reference. Like with pudding stone, many pebbles conglomerate to make one stone.

Sometimes it is possible to capture the attention of flitters and they stay with the flow longer. Sometimes it is like you hit a wall where the conversation abruptly will not go any farther on that topic. This can be a sudden stop. The stop can be disconcerting, and often it looks as if the ADD participant is in actual pain if you do not jump with them swiftly. Quite often, for them in their reading experience an extended 'plot' is extraneous as they won't last that long to follow it. Or, the plot is well integrated to the writing and sustains the focus. How?

Though the disconnect between one topic of conversation and another seems just that, a disconnect, if one is inclined to try to see patterns in chaos then it comes to a constant wonder as to what relationships there are to the disparate topics. The refreshment is that in the conversation new constructions occur over and over. For the ADD afflicted individual their pleasure is to have someone that is willing to try to have a conversation with them on their terms. I also have friends who are functional schizophrenic. I like to talk with them too.

As what I bring up in conversation here applies to flash fiction, and the idea of flash as an end in itself, or as an extension to other modes of text, or as a direction of literature in general I think along the following lines:

For any individual, with ADD or not, as the volume of information increases that an individual is confronted with, as media pushes for the attention, there tends to be a survival mechanism that kicks in that even for the most fluent of any of us we begin to either reject information (we stop listening), or we push to absorb more information, and in many respects we take on behavior to process reception of information in a manner that is not ADD (rather than a neuro-biological issue it is one of defense against environment overload), but very much mimics ADD. This information afflicted individual, I presume, is the hard core audience for flash fiction.

I combine this with the number of people who complain to me that they do not want to get two page e-mails. Or that blog entries are best kept to extreme brevity. Flash is possibly connected with the restrictions of keeping an e-mail to a length that fits on one screen without need to scroll?

I am reading About Writing, Samuel R. Delany, and at one point he states that the functionally literate population is more than 50 times the size it was in 1814. That is really not all that long ago particularly if one reflects on the exploding star that was reported in the news yesterday... the furthest away visible object to the human eye. I told my wife I would jump up and go look before I fade out. I digress. An exploding star is a flash, no? If we can see it unaided then that distance of measure must be within human scale.

Regardless, if we consider the number of humans who are able to read English (not even to venture into the multiplicity of wonderful languages available to us or to discern the American sect from UK variants) it seems clear that the psychological make-up of readers would become more and more diverse. In this it seems to me that regardless of means of publication or media of distribution that there will be a dedicated readership for flash fiction.

As to if anyone can sustain a living wage out of that as a writer, or not, is yet to be seen.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Sex Talk - New York

In regard to the recent spate of sexual peccadilloes of Eliot Spitzer there was an article buried in the NY Times where parents were interviewed on how they were caught having to explain Spitzer to their children. So in another context came up the question as to how do you deliver the sex talk to your children, and/or how did we get the talk ourselves from a parental unit?

I was like ten when my stepfather took me aside in the kitchen and asked me if I ever felt funny down there.

I thought about it and said, yeah, when I slide down the wild grape vines in the woods.

See, wild grapevines can grow quite sturdy and we had a lot of them and pretended like Tarzan to climb on them then slide down. I imagine now as I am older that Tarzan probably had a woody most of the time from his vine interactions and that it was not always about Jane or fun with chimpanzees. Regardless, I had no clue what my stepfather was talking about.

So he went on to tell me about a carrot and a vase. The carrot goes in the vase. The carrot comes out of the vase. I have trouble eating carrots without remembering this talk. I suspect that is why at our house we tend to stick with baby carrots for snacks so that I don’t feel quite as challenged in that department, you know.

Then there was something about birds and bees. Bees stick their nose in flowers? Birds have their own rules of conduct? I had no clue what he was talking about.

By that time I had read segments of the Marquis de Sade that I found in the drawer next to his side of the bed. I did not understand that either. There was also the stuff that came in the mail in the brown envelopes. That was always curious. But it was not always enlightening as to biological functions.

He told my mother later when she asked how the talk went that I seemed to understand. I've got real good at acting like I know what the hell you are talking about when I don't know diddly. You all may have noticed?

I asked my younger brother (not exactly my parental unit) and he explained the whole thing. In anatomical detail.

So, w/ our recent governor's indiscretion my brother calls me up and asks me how many governors does it take to break up a prostitution ring?

That was the first zinger. Next he wants to know who in the world can afford $4,000 for sex? I imagine if money is no object. If you got it, blow it.

He says he could not get away with spending $400 without his wife figuring it out. I tell, him, make that $40 and I'm willing to advance a loan.

He lives in Texas... I tell him it is not fair Texan upstarts pick on NY governors. His quip, Texans export their morons.

I tell my brother if he ever wants to make it in politics he is going to have to figure out how to pay for sex, no, I mean, pay more for sex.

So then he wants to know was it like $1,200 per minute? His wife told him it was probably more like $2,000 per minute. She drives a hard bargain. As a family we are proud of our thriftiness and can-do-more-with-less attitude.

See, my conversation w/ my brother as to 'what is sex' continues into our post-sex later years.

I don't believe that repression of sexuality, or taboo of the subject, should be handled in such a rigid manner that when there is a revolt or a breaking out that the person feels compelled to go over the hill with it all.

Spitzer would be a whole lot better off as a human if he had been able to come home and say to his wife, "I'm going down to DC and get laid. Is that ok?" As it is -- though he may have had political power it seems he did not have any power over himself.

Willie has issues with himself too.

I do tend to wonder to what extent our cultural perceptions of individuality have to play in our perceptions of how these political folks are seen as individuals with problems, as opposed to units within a social network that is screwed up, as to if it is individual ambition or social structure that leads these folks to come to where they are in the political spectrum and to end up to do what they do sexually.

What did Spitzer's Daddy tell him?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

If God is the Word then Where are the Autographs?

I finished reading a biography of Ann Lee (1736 -1784), Mother of the Shakers yesterday morning while some guy in Starbucks tried to convince my son Doven to be Born Again in Jesus. I had a tall Earl Gray while we waited on a business associate to show up for us to attend a meeting.

An illiterate woman Ann Lee believed that as a woman that she was the 2nd coming of Christ. The premise was that since a woman, Eve, had brought humanity into a life of sin that it made sense to balance things out to bring humanity back into Paradise through the manifestation of God in the likes of a woman. It was at root this millennialist belief that all was to be made good in short order of a return to Paradise that the early Shakers rationalized that as sex is only justified for purpose of procreation and since there was not going to be any more need for an earthly existence there was therefore no need for sex, and thus they were celibate.

Not only that, but they actively separated husbands and wives and children when they were brought into the family of God under Mother Ann. This caused a problem when a husband who did not convert, but his wife did and ran off with the children and refused any connubial bliss to her husband who, in those times, thought pretty much of the wife as property to do with as they desired to be serviced. We need to keep in mind they did not have the Internet and Netflix back then. It was for this denial of service that they encouraged, plus their shaking themselves and dancing, they were very prolific dancers, and throwing themselves on the ground and acting out like crazed epileptics that the locals usually got pissed and did not want to have them around.

Oh, yeah, they were also highly suspicious characters as they were Brits that ran around acting crazy in New England during the American Revolution. This was way before the advent of flag burners.

Doven, unlike with me, has not needed to learn to hide the titles of his books in public. He was reading Christopher Hitchen's book God is Not Great. It lay there face up out on the little table at Starbucks. I had read it previously and said to myself, Doven would like this book. He has an interest in the politics of religious movements.

He kept asking the Born Againer if the Good Book had been writ and meddled with and translated several times over how anyone could trust that it was the actual Word of God? The Born Againer would not let Doven get in a word edgewise he was so intent to bring Joy and the everlasting loss of spiritual thirst into his life. Salvation shoved down the throat? He used the -- as you grow older and witness life you will mature into Christ -- line. Eventually, when the time was right, the Born Againer brought out a really thick book that did not look like any black bound Bible we had ever seen. Frankly, it looked like a medical textbook. It turned out to be a Bible transposed to common English/American language (Ohioan dialect?). An example itself of the sort of muddle Doven had been trying to get across. News FLASH - knowing Jesus in your heart does not replace lost brain cells.

Doven tried to bring up the discrepancies in the Book of Job. That was way over the Born Againer’s head. My response, if I had been affronted, would be to the extent that I had been born once and did not see any reason to blaspheme with a repeat of what promise I already had got. I mean, does God really want us to keep asking over and over? Or, I could have told him about the cosmologic premise that we are all actually a wet fart of God. God was tired, sat on the couch, blloooop, and there we are with nothing much to do in our little snug Eden of polyester stuffing but complain bitterly over the global warming.

My cell phone rang, our associate had arrived and we ran out into the rain on the sidewalk to escape the fervid grips of the Starbuck’s preacher.

On the subway up from Penn Station to the meeting I had to put up with another preacherly type who proclaimed for all of us assembled and captivated that he had found God through crack. I was not quite sure how to tell him that we all don’t need such dramatic issues to bring us to a state of contentment with our inner lives. Nor did I want to get on to share with him any of my personal torments lest by the time I got finished to share testimony with him he be of a mind to consign me to the care of his Satan side. For a small instant I felt like to shout out and shake and wave my hands and dance with my legs thrown up high on the train and scream, “Praise Jesus! Praise Jesus!” Then I thought that possibly these professionals know their bounds in public and that my amateur theatrics of ecstatic rapture may be misinterpreted by authority. Or I could fall down and get hurt.

The one thing I have learned is that if I suggest to Doven he read a book it won't happen. That is ok fine by me so I recommend and loan books to his wife and she does read them --- and she tells him about what is said in the books. He reads his own books, just not ones that I recommend. It has to do somewhat with his being raised in a house with too many books in it. The vicarious distance that he places between a book and me and me and a book and him is sort of how I deal with the neighbors with my wife (don't get any funny ideas here) who gets to know everyone then tells me stories about them. I come to feel that I know people that I have never met. So I was happy when I saw that Doven’s wife had bought the Hitchen’s for him without my involvement whatsoever. So it was cool for him to tell me about the book yesterday morning after the Born Again event. It is perfectly ok for him to tell me what I should read, that works. I did not tell him at first that I had already read Hitchen’s book. When I did, when we were back out onto the sidewalk and clear of the proselytizer, he thought he should stop telling me. In sort of the theory that one should not repeat the plot of a movie while they were in the midst of viewing it. I told him the truth that I can't remember the finer points of the book and it will give us something to talk about.

What we had been talking about previous to attempts at our conversion was to make a bumper sticker that would say, "Jesus is My Ass Clown." It will go right next to my NRA is Freedom's Front Line or the one that says, "Got Crabs?" It was brought to my attention that I might start to hear threats from above like "Got a vagina?" (I assume to the tune if Inda godda vagina sung by Madonna?)

The black helicopters usually say other things to me than that. But I would not put it past them that I suddenly hear, "Bend over and pray!"

The chances of my getting a bumper sticker like that are fairly slim as usually there is some sort of mysterious intervention that gets in the way of fulfillment... blasphemus interuptus?

The way I see it the insane preacher that chewed me out for someone else having writ FUCK in the dust on the window of my first car must have not been in very good contact with the upstairs otherwise he would have known that I had not done it. Up to then I really liked the old guy and I wanted to grow up to be just like him.

One of the books Doven reads without my encouragement is the King James Bible. His mother reads that too. I have read a whole lot of it over the years, but I so much more enjoy what they both tell me about it.

One time I was in jail and I had five Bibles. Whenever the preacher showed up all the other inmates would send him to go talk to me because obviously I was read in these weighty matters. I actually read Crime and Punishment and the Tibetan Book of the Dead while I was there, but my cell mates could not relate to that phenomenon at all. They did like when I faked up to tell their fortunes with the Tarot cards. Everyone was going to be out of jail very shortly and their girl friends and wives, both would see the Light and stop cheating on them.

When I got home yesterday I found my mother had sent me an envelope in the mail. In it was a cartoon clipped out of a newspaper. A father and son are sitting in a room with shelves of books. The line, “When I’m gone, son, I’d like you to take all these books back to the library.”

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Petrified of Chairs

I have a character named Buck in one of my stories who died in old age in his rocking chair while he sat out on the front porch of his rural Northern Appalachian mountain home. His children did not know quite what to do with him and they left him there on the porch through seasons. In time the body desiccated and dried out and the brother and sister determined in order to preserve the chair with Buck, as well as his memory for his grandchildren if any should ever come along, that they move him and the chair into the house. This was a delicate task and encumbered arguments between the siblings as to if they valued the chair or the deceased father more. Nevertheless, Buck and the rocking chair were in time sequestered near enough but not too near to the wood stove where the collection in time attracted dust and mismatched marbles in the eyes with one short stub of a #2 pencil wedged in the left nostril and spidery webs. With all neglect of housecleaning as occurred in that domicile eventually the corpse of Buck became inseparable from the chair.

Recently I have come across two likewise preservations of characters, one literary and one historical.

Zbigniew Herbert (1924-1998), Polish poet, from A Russian Tale:

“In the end the tsar our little father died for good. The bells rang and rang, yet they did not bring his body out. Our tsar had grown into the throne. The legs of the throne had become all mixed up with the legs of the tsar. His arm and the armrest were one. It was impossible to tear him loose. And to bury the tsar along with the golden throne — what a shame.”

Translated by: Czeslaw Milosz


The second account is a story associated with Ann Lee, Mother of the Shakers.

It was 1780 in Massachusetts, USA at a town midway in the state called Harvard (not the University but a small town) where there had come up a Christian sect called Perfectionists that was led by a fellow by the name of Shadrack Ireland. He was something of a David Koresh, Waco, Texas kind of guy that his followers called 'The Man'.

We recall this history every time someone jives at us, “Hey, you the man!”

Anyways, when the Man got it into his head that a transformation in his mortality was eminent he informed his followers that he was not to be buried because he would rise again on the 9th day. He figured it sincere, and they believed, when he said, “I will be back.”

Then he died.

“They barred the Square House against outsiders, and watched the body, still seated in its chair, day and night. Unfortunately it was the height of summer, and after a few days it became necessary to carry the corpse down into the cellar, where in due course it was placed in a coffin and then, in Edgar Allan Poe fashion, bricked up. Several months later all hope of resurrection was abandoned.”

“Two of the Perfectionists, Abijah Worster and David Hoar, eventually broke through into Ireland's cellar tomb, and took his body out into nearby field, just southerly from the wash-house (the precise recording of the location suggests a lingering wish that some good might still come of the tragedy), They buried him in a cornfield, and then, still in the grip of the paranoia that had taken hold of the cult, replanted all the corn afterwards so that the where­abouts of the body could not be determined.”

From: Ann The Word, The Story of Ann Lee, Female Messiah, Mother of the Shakers, The Woman Clothed with the Sun, by Richard Francis.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

An I for an Eye?

"Don't you think that modern authors are not willing to vanish--that they so desperately want to be part of the story. Yes? No? Maybe so?"

And my response:

There are different flavors of 'I'. The I that I like is the one wears a mask. That I that wrote that is no longer this I. What mask was that? This I reads that I and wonders who that I was. Though this I that pops up here so insistently likes to play with meta-bursts where the I mimics and pretends to evoke real time communication... as you read this I am writing this but no, actually, I am driving now in my truck to the fish market but you cannot see that because I left this message for you at the time it is marked and now it is not me here speaking my I to your I. The modernist technique of removal of the I from the narrative context of the text is as inauthentic as to push the author's I into your face... but my you is not you as your I is more you than it is me. Then there are those narrators who are simply liars like a trickster. I am not actually in my truck going to the fish market.

So the other day on the way to the fish market I could not remember Heidegger 's name and got it confused with Heisenberg... could remember there was an 'H' there somewhere.

But by the time we had completed the fish market run I remembered Heidegger and also vaguely remembered why I had got confused with Heisenberg.

The Heisenberg uncertainty principle is the statement that locating a particle in a small region of space makes the momentum of the particle uncertain; and conversely, that measuring the momentum of a particle precisely makes the position uncertain.

If 'I' is a particle then obviously it is confused whenever examined, particularly when self-examined as to where.

The Heisenberg uncertainty principle is often associated with the term 'observer effect' that refers to changes that the act of observing will make on the phenomenon being observed.

Then there was the entire question, "Why would anyone in their right mind worry about any of this on the way to and from the fish market?"

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Not Quite There

podcast, audio reading

You do not have to READ anything, you can listen. There are no swear words or obscene images used by me in this audio podcast.

Or if you are inclined you can read the words below and then download the podcast and listen --

Since Tuesday, September 13, 2005 my friend the novelist Paul A. Toth in Sanibel, Florida has been doing podcasts that feature readings, music and interviews of contemporary writers. I am very pleased to be featured on Saturday, February 9, 2008 as the guest author on Tothworld #122.

The piece that I am reading is a work-in-progress titled Not Quite There that centers on the main character of Stoney Quarry. The story is followed by a brief commentary.

Listening to the Podcast:

1. An I-Pod is not required. Any PC or Mac will do.

2. Go to:

3. On the main site, right-click the "Direct Download" link for the episode of your choice and save "file," "link" or "target" (label depends upon browser) to desktop.

4. Double-click the downloaded file. Listen using any media player.

5. I-Pod users should drag the file into their appropriate I-Tunes folder or subscribe via I-Tunes.

6. See the archive for older shows.

Toth's first novel, Fizz, and its successor, Fishnet, are available from retail outlets and major online bookstores. He has read in venues across the country. His short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best American Mystery Stories. Toth's story The Pop Lady Comes on Wednesdays received honorable mention in The Seventeenth Edition of the Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, ed. by Ellen Datlow. He has guest edited for Opium Magazine and Word Riot, worked as a fiction editor for Small Spiral Notebook, and is now a fiction editor for storySouth. Toth is currently working on his fifth novel. His audio work, which often combines story and music, has been widely published, and he produces tracks for Mad Hatters' Review. Two short films, Fizz and Knotted, have been based on his work. The latter was a semi-finalist on and an IFilm Plus Selection.

I first came across Paul's acquaintance several years ago when he was guest editor of Opium Magazine, an online e-zine that intended to feature humorous literate work. I must have met that muster as Paul selected my piece Assam bin Dork to publish... the ezine has changed format and there is no online archive. Since that initial foray Paul and I have bounced around as minor co-conspirators behind the scenes at Gator Springs Gazette.

I had dropped out for at least 2 years from paying any attention to creative writing and online relationships with writers, my writerly friends or otherwise, in focus on 'the business at hand.' Recently I have got back into that swing of my life; we will see how long it will be sustained before business calls again. Paul caught me in this open space long enough to ask if I would contribute to his podcast series.

I dusted off my computer audio equipment and fussed with it and recorded a poem dated from 1976 that had been published as a letterpress broadside by a friend, now long lost touch of, in Chicago, Roby Liscomb of Fathom Press. I was not exactly very happy with that audio recording. I had to get a new sound card (I went for a cheap one at WalMart as the very expensive one I bought when I built my last box fried itself within the first week of service), and my 'good' mike needed a bit of tuning.

A brown-cloth work glove wrapped over and held in place with a rubber band helps immensely on the mike to reduce the irritation of loud S noises... worse now since the front tooth that I broke when I was 19 by hitting myself in the face with a mortar trowel finally decided by 50% of its area – a noticeable chip -- to defenestrate my mouth into the bathroom sink and too quickly went down the drain. I could have gone after it, but I hate plumbing work.

And then there was the need to update my audio editing software. In the mean time I was listening to previous Tothworld podcasts and it got stuck with me to revisit an on-again, off-again project, Not Quite There. Despite the risk that some friends might assume that it is autobiographical; I sat down and wrote more, re-wrote, and then recorded and edited an audio recording that caused me to re-write more. And here we have it. All those years of commuting and listening to Tibetan gong music may be paying off?

And, once the podcast was broadcast my son and I discussed the story and I am off rewriting it again. I intend to kill off the protagonist in the first few pages, let him starve to death, and see what that feels like.

If you do happen to listen to the podcast then first sit back and enjoy the music (not mine), it is kool, I think, and then if you survive to the end please send me a quick note to let me know what you think.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


I was not raised to swear. Can't blame it on my mom. Actually rose in a fairly tight fundamental Methodist-Baptist religious environment. Though as a young adult and older adult my career has been close with the working construction trades and with them I learned to swear quite well... and I have no inhibition in doing so other than to be polite in public most of the time. I am sharply aware that what I would feel free to say at home or in the bathroom is something that I would not say in public. I am known as a polite person with quirks.

When the computer breaks I swear quite a bit and usually my wife comes along to ask me if I am ok or not. When I get to that point I am fighting the biorhythms of the physical world that cascade down into a seemingly endless rotation of dysfunction. I don’t particularly like it when my tools break and I let them know. I don’t see it as blasphemy as I’m not certain the connection of any particular suprarenal deity to our technological extensions. I usually see it as me against these damned toys.

In my environment of the vulgar working class I have often encountered quite foul talk that was either racially or sexually offensive and usually from folks who had no sense to think they were being offensive and when confronted would vociferously defend their right to free speech as if it equates with the right to bear arms... and in fact in most cases they were rather able to be creative in their use of words which for a word smith can be refreshing... but mainly what I found out was that the best way to shut these folks up was to take what they were saying and exaggerate it back at them 10 times over. From that they would think I was nuts, better than thinking other possible things (like wanting to beat the crap out of me for being a book reading sissy) and the next time they were inclined to sound off they would think to keep an eye on me and likely they would say less.

For example in reaction to the testosterone induced male penchant for talking about various oral sex practices I developed a story about my love to sneak into the Washington Zoo on Sunday nights to play with the hippos. A lot of detail about the scummy water and all of it delivered with a straight face. Rarely would I be asked to elaborate any more details when I finished with that riff.

I got onto this in part from one day on a rest break on a job site a few of us were joking about chickens and our colorful Sicilian friend went on quite seriously, and with absolutely no sense of self consciousness or embarrassment, telling us with great affection about his favorite chicken back home. She even had an affectionate name. He also had a way of driving that included hanging out the window and screaming at all the babes that we passed that he wanted to do it with them. His passionate chicken story though -- that shut us up.

And there was the mystery when I worked at the salt mine the day the otherwise inarticulate quiet guy whose job it was to load bags of salt onto the boxcars was arrested we were told for inappropriate intimacy with a local farmer’s cow. The farmer having made the complaint. It had never occurred to me up to then that such things happen and it seems to me in retrospect much less a sin to belch out a few offensive words here and there. What words does one use when one gets caught out in the night field doing that?

As to chickens I take note that the Ayatollah Khomeini put in writing strictures as to the edibility of chickens that one has had sex with. It seems you cannot eat the bird in your own house, neither in your next door neighbor’s house should they eat it, but it is ok for the house on the other side of your neighbor to do so. I suppose this is the Iranian equivalent of “No Chicken’s Behind Left.” So much for our modern global political climate. We should not be so much worried about what the Iranians are doing with nukes as with their chickens?

I also worked as a young adult for several years for a colorful stonemason, an avid white racist, who used some fairly original swear words and from that I got a desire not only to expand my foul vocabulary, but a lifelong ambition to improve upon it. When folks in my environment go for swearing... and the F word really does get kind of monotonous real fast (the image of eFing donuts is the one that always gets me laughing) I encourage them that I do not mind if they swear one bit as long as they make an effort to be creative and fresh about it.

I rarely use swear words in anger, though as I am in the construction business and in New York the old school of construction was to really tear into the other folks around, constant verbal whipping and as they say to tear everyone a new A-hole. I learned that art quite well and took to it with a hearty vengeance... enough to lose friends over it who did not understand the underlying violence and tension that drives one to build tall buildings. The gist of the practice is that when attacked, attack back harder and don’t hold tension, spread it around and make everyone be motivated out of a desire to get away from the BAD person as quickly as possible.

On the day that I quit smoking I threatened a hardware supplier’s life that I would come visit them with an axe and tear up their office, desk and furniture and whatever if they did not get the Effin hardware to the jobsite within the next week. He was an old man and I should not have done it, but I did. At that time and in that environment I was well rewarded for my efforts. It took me several years (like 20) to get over that and to get enough distance to understand it for the cultural environment that it is. [Watch out for the Effin upper West Side bred Irish in NY.]

I am reminded of a public television program about the building of a skyscraper in which the project manager tells one of the subcontractors that the subcontractor is his whore and will do what the effin project manager tells him to do. That abusive approach to the work environment in the construction industry is the tip of a very giant iceberg that looks very dark and brown underneath.

I was working on resetting the restored Carrara marble front of a fireplace at the oldest house in Hartford, Connecticut and as I fiddled with the pieces I was talking to them. I honestly do believe on a gut level that the stone hears what I am saying and that if I talk to them they will do what I want them to do. I was having a bit of a problem getting the very tight 1/16 to 1/8 inch tolerances on the joints that I wanted. The fireplace had been driven into by a young fellow who came to the T-intersection and jumped the curb and drove into the house shortly after it had undergone a full restoration. Hartford is the American capital of the insurance industry. The insurance companies paid for the first restoration campaign voluntarily, and they paid for the second involuntarily. To bad for them, they take it out of us all anyways which is a good reason to swear. The young fellow did not only not have a license he was not insured. Anyways, there I was telling the stone to EFFIN move over a bit would you sweet baby whatever when suddenly I realized that the pleasant female docent who was usually ensconced in another room was standing behind me. Oops. Nothing like getting into your work and blanking out the surrounding world.

Talking about young folks… I have a poem that uses the word shit in it – it is the only on-the-edge-word in the otherwise disgusting poem -- and a 16 year old poet has informed me that it is very difficult to say the word shit in a poem in public and that though he considers the poem an ok attempt that if I work at it a bit longer I might be able to get it shaped up into something worthy. His poems remind me of 18th century spinsters with the trots, but so be it. I suppose I could tell him if he works at it a bit he might be able to say shit in public without feeling any qualms about it.

For a few years I was working on a set of poems called The Crude Hymns of Neanthus. Neanthus is the dude stole Orpheus’ lyre and tried to play it but was so godawful bad at it that the dogs came and tore him to shreds. Too bad it is mythology and does not happen some days these days in reality which may say something to why poetry is not as socially relevant as it used to be... not quite as entertaining as a gasoline filled flaming tire around the neck while you run around in a football field to roars of applause at your demise. Yet, those poems are actually meant to be mildly unpleasant. Folks I find have trouble understanding this reversal and they tend to confuse the message with the personality of the speaker… as if I actually mean badly writ poetry unpleasant in contra pose to the stream of confessional poetry in our literature.

One of the more moderate of the collection:


Pouring out words,
barking spiders,
never thought to be safe,
forgetting to measure and weigh,
unguarded they clung
burrs, thistles, cacti spines
to the mitt of that bastard --
who backed off a safe distance,
porcupine breath that he is,
having less semen than his mother,
then suddenly struck a blow,
spit a fond kiss, out-of-sight,
from behind with a clump
of mud, stone, and swamp weed.


I have a situation currently where an architect on a project is in the habit of calling the ‘more sensitive’ parties to the project and using foul language to berate them into thinking that they are more stupid than him and should therefore obey his lesser stupidity. I seriously consider that he does not take to calling me as he may sense, and rightly so if it is the case, that he would get something much more difficult in biting words to deal with back at him. I am not adverse to sarcasm, something I was weaned on (best served cold and to the jugular), and cutting to the quick of the emotional bone. For me it is a joyous indulgence that can easily lead to an outright addiction. What do they say about the art of discourse? The strength of that technique of verbal abuse, though, is in that for all general appearance I am a person of more than usually good spoken vocabulary and modest of demeanor and word. A phone call would never be on the record, as it would if I wrote what I think, and it would be an odd situation for him to complain to anyone as to what I had said. I would counter this by being very friendly to him when next I see him in a meeting and ask him if he got his little problem worked out yet.

I once had a project where the owner hired the largest law firm they could get their hands on to write a custom construction contact that the large law firm passed down to the most junior idiot they had on staff. Now, in construction there is a long history of contracts and for the most part an AIA (American Institute of Architects) contract is more than sufficient, everyone knows what it means and the interpretations have been grilled over umpteen million times in the court of law. So the need for a ‘custom’ made construction contract is a bit daft, particularly if the lawyer drawing it up has no experience in either construction or in law.

Though I could very well have interfaced directly with this young whippersnapper I ended up paying our lawyer approximately $10,000 to be in the middle because quite frankly I was worried that I might actually come off and say what I thought and skunk the chance of our getting the project. I would tell my lawyer – an extremely competent and experienced specialist in construction contract law -- what I wanted in the contract, and they would do the polite talk with the younger compatriot in their profession (I like NLP). In the end we got a contract that was very much in our favor… we don’t do business out of charity. It was a large enough project, $600,000 range, to absorb the cost and I put legal fees into the cost so in the end the customer paid their lawyer, and my lawyer, both, for what could have been done just as well for $5.00. It was a cost they paid that kept me from swearing.

I have a business associate that I work with closely and every once in a while we start out our phone conversations by calling each other, shouting at each other, as vile a set of sexually and socially unpleasant epithets as we can muster... after a minute or so we end with, "Do you feel better now?"


Obviously we are laughing the entire time but I fear for those, in this day of the cell phone, who get to overhear our conversations. Not for this reason alone do I try not to use the cell phone on the train, in book stores or at libraries. This swearing at each other does take out a whole lot of tension from our working lives. We have this shared bonding experience of quality time. It gets us to the point of the business of the call a whole lot quicker than pleasantry over the weather. As my friend shows various symptoms of ADD (in him it is one of the qualities that I admire and aspire to emulate) it also helps to keep him and me on point.

Lastly, I have a short story about a pheasant hunt that I feel is one of the best that I have written that I suspect gets rejected over-and-over by ezine publishers because of the foul language the two brothers use against each other. It is this 'affectionate' vulgarity that is in essence the bond of tension between two brothers. It took me two years to write the story, and it is two years now that it keeps getting rejected. I have looked at it several times to try to figure out if the vulgarity can be removed and each time I come away stronger in the conclusion that the intimacy of the vulgarity -- it is actually how friends or brothers on a pheasant hunt do talk with each other -- that is inseparable from the heart of the story.

My desire to pheasant hunt, as well as the story, was inspired by Tolstoy. I am not a hunter by any means, but having read Tolstoy's Cossacks as a teenager I have always wanted to go on a pheasant hunt. As an adult, and through business I have done it several times. Eventually I got a nut in my head to write a story about it.

Out of curiosity I did write a story one time in which I substituted the word WAFFLE for every time the character would say F. It has an interesting appeal and always makes me feel hungry for breakfast.

Let it not be said that I do not think about what I say. Thinking never seems to have prevented me from saying anything that later I wish that I had not.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cuts from Stone Reveal Cat Skat

In the first half of the 20th century Ezra Pound expressed the concept of 'writing as the sculpture within the block of marble' in reference to the work of his sculptor friend Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891-1915).

Henri’s career as an artist was short, four years. He was killed in the French trenches during WWI. His influence on Ezra Pound, and also Wyndham Lewis was significant and in part can be seen as an underlying conceptual element of Pound’s later Cantos, which, if any literary work can be said to do so, relies heavily on collagist technique.

A great deal of Pounds technique was rather simply to take what came to him, digest it within his accumulated being, and then to distil out a response. It is one of the reasons that scholars of Pound speak so often of what Pound was reading or experiencing as an ‘antennae of the race’ at various times in the production of his life’s work.

Of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska's work:

“"It was done" (Pound remembering) "against the whole social system in the sense that it was done against poverty and the lack of materials." He used oddments of stone left over from other people's—for instance monument cutters'—hackings. The " Cat" emerges from one side of a broken chunk of marble, "of no shape" save that Gaudier saw the cat lying tensed in it.” Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era, 1971, p 250.

Under this methodology of 'writing as the sculpture within the block of marble' I imagine it is a process where the writer puts down on paper a whole lot of words and non-words, coinages and nonsense... not too different than monkeys on speed typing... and then spends the time to whittle away all of the extraneous words until the core of whatever could possibly have some value is revealed. I assume what ends as the final product is at least of value to the whittler.

Though I know that the technique is entirely manageable on shorter texts, say to take 1,000 words and pseudo-words and condense them down into 2-3 sentences in a longer work of fiction in the long run the approach vastly loses all semblance of efficiency. As well, after the whittler’s initial enthusiasm for adventure and exploration wears down to the tedium of ‘work’ the long text is more than likely to result in lengthy runs of total nonsensical and tediously drooling gibberish.

From personal experience I know that if there is no element of precognitive desire and sensibility introduced the process can lead to objects that more resemble splots of cat skat than elegance.

"A sea chord timer (eye at the foal lox wine sunk ripe), as the blight bulk riding us frogs the ad hoc icon, the bulb reset tinge amp mango their cop undresses, a shim elf stain dung on the grotto fund, wax chad by the ash elm bay, a shin elk cob mink oat from the treated spry, waft chef by the yak tongue moan — the yoke flute Utu exit endued his hog oily, ship fling rats downy frogs heave veins (1 ms. from Ur adds: holy, his bail liar acne ilk lump mien aped for him the moon tarn caviar), he bus towel themes on holy Lugalbanda in the moot tern cakewalk..." jim leftwich, Death Text Book 9, 2003

Machines, in fact, the development of the personal computer is good for producing these texts in prolific abundance though the human element of such mundane tasks such as rewriting, and rewriting, helps to ensure the sustenance of an audience of readers.

Reference to a technique of artistic composition that dates back nearly 100 years is not exactly modern, let alone post-modern.

So I will jump back in the discussion regarding artistic methodology at least 200 years with a reference to William Blake, who was a practitioner of relief etching and argued for a very strong focus on the demarcation of the ‘line’ both in graphic and in textual media.

One characteristic of modern technique is collage, another is distortion, and with cubism there is certainly a clear sense of a demarcating line. In many respects the visual image of the modern was a reaction to the fuzzy image of the romantic and impressionist movements. In the visual collage technique of the modernists, Dadaists, etc. it is fairly clear when one looks at the work that one is looking at a cut-out image. One can see lines between images most clearly.

One of my most favorite artists along these lines (no pun left unturned) is Joseph Cornell. I have seen his work in museums. I have seen his work sitting on the sofa tables of my business clients.

I am a practitioner of the philosophy of Manureism [pre-chicken, chicken, post-chicken, post-post-chicken] and as such see a methodology that incorporates 'writing as the sculpture within the block of marble' with a collagist technique (a mosaic of fragments) that takes a focus on looking at the characteristic of the lines between the disparate images. A few lines are heightened in effect, a few are blended together to force the images to seem more connected than they would otherwise be experienced.

In the exploration of a text that seeks the potential of exclusion from translation into other aesthetic media there is a tacit recognition that the goal is as impractical as the development of a character that grows and stands up off the page as a self-realized walking, talking homunculus. There may be no final salvation, but there is the lingering hope of it. But what is relevant to me, at the least, is the exploration of the discrete ‘line’ that is revealed in the mish-mush.

It also presents a challenge to the reader as how one learns to read, how one is sensitive to their skills as a reader, conditions how they perceive and interact with the lines of the work.

My experience with stone causes me when I look at Gaudier's Marble Cat to wonder just how the stone knew to contain such a poor rendition of a cat that Gaudier could even imagine to find it therein. More remarkable to me is how whole movements of aesthetic comprehension are built up on the figments of fragments of intellectual cat skat.

Sadly, or not so sadly, for me the perception of a linear text (one word to follow another) is at least three dimensional if not five. I say five in that there is a past and future to our comprehension that is recursive to our internal experience of any text.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The differences between creating visual art and writing fiction.

This subject line came up in my browsing through facebook.

I have several sides to my approach to the topic. On one hand I have a background as a stone mason, working with stone as both an industrial and aesthetic material of expression. On another I have been for a long time a writer, and for me that definition is someone who writes. I started with a desire to be a poet. I move on from there to short stories, flash fiction, novels, essays, magazine articles, list serves, e-mails, business correspondence, yada yada.

Too many years ago I was idle and had not much to do with myself and began doing paper cut collage. I was frustrated in my writing and was trying to figure out a different approach. Regardless, the collages caught on extremely quickly and before I knew where I was at I had a one-person show in a respectable book-art gallery. I sold work. It seemed fitting that combination of books and graphic arts. I got some interest in the collages from a curator at the Hirshhorn Museum. For various reasons I promptly quit doing collages. I did not quit writing, though, and what I learned from the collage work I incorporated into my writing techniques.
What I was working on with the cut paper collages was the delicate line between conjunction of disparate images that when placed next to each other create a narrative mirage... an idea that there is a narrative to be understood -- as you express it is this 'suggestion' of a meaning that in turn the reader of the text needs to fill in. Though an author composes a text, a linear progression for the most part, it is the reader of the text that needs to fill in the meaning. As it is people are hard wired in their nervous system to be either visually or linguistically oriented, and based on that hard wired tendency there is the opportunity for folks to learn to perceive higher levels of complication in the selected media.

For me at this stage in my life it takes me 1-2 years to construct a short story. I do not consider this a problem, particularly, as what I am interested in, starting with the assembly techniques of collage, is to explore the capabilities and characteristics of text that is not translatable to other media... to explore narrative form that by nature forces an exclusion from translation say into film, or music, or painting. I say an exploration of as there are fuzzy lines between what works, and what does not work. I am not so much intent on total exclusion, as to a developed sensitivity to where the boundaries between a word text and other media reside. This exploration I suspect is one of the reasons that for some readers my short stories can come across as inaccessible as in part I am trying to work patterns that break down, slow down, and fragment reading comprehension while at the same time providing an illusion of usually expected narrative techniques. I do not say that this is a good thing. I say that it is what interests me in the art media of text.

I know quite a few accomplished fine artists, sculptors and musicians and find myself moving in and out of their worlds. As a result in my stories I have characters that are artists, or want to be artists.

One character that I remember in particular was a fellow who was doing art by chewing on cucumbers then spitting them out. Most of his work was hopelessly obscure public installations. He was doing this predominantly in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He got two lesbian MFAs who had a front room apartment 'art gallery' to let him do a show with radishes but they all got drunk and ate his work then passed out. Eventually his GF talked him into getting a real job with airport security.