Showing posts with label art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art. Show all posts

07 November, 2017

Just yesterday morning, Part 3

All things are made bitter, words even / are made to taste like paper, wars gets tossed up / like soldiers used to be/ (in a child's attic) lined up / to be knocked down, as I am... ~ Charles Olson
The life of reality is confused, disorderly, almost always without apparent purpose, whereas in the artist's imaginative life there is purpose. ~ Sherwood Anderson 
Daylight Savings Time, Marriage, Art
Give it about 30 years and no one will even talk about Daylight Savings Time anymore.

Seriously. As annoying as it is, as pointless as it is, and as completely illogical as it is, it will cease to be the topic any real discussion.  
This won't happen because the powers-that-be will suddenly come to their senses and realize that moving the hour hand backwards or forwards doesn't actually extend or shorten the day. As a matter of fact, if anyone talks about hour hands, it will be in the sense of a quaint curiosity. Like jewelry made out of the hair of a dead loved one or the concept of privacy. All things fall into the dust of quaint curiosity shops of the mind -- including curiosity shops -- so seriously, don't put too much stock in the illusion that you're getting an extra hour sleep when we  FALL BACK IN THE FALL.

Don't worry about it. The Internet of Things will do it for us. We won't have to think about Daylight Savings Time because the ability to think about anything -- like the ability to read a clock or have a private thought that can't be described by a meme -- will have disappeared and we will have the IOT (Internet of Things, or, as we'll maybe call it NetStuf) heft the apparent burden of consciousness for us.

But if this Internet of Things... I mean, NetStuf... is so damn dandy, why can't it fix the hole in my ceiling? It can, apparently, predict what kind of advertising I'll respond to based on (really, very) random keyword searches. It can tell me who I was in a past life. It can tell me how I'm probably going to die and -- based just on my Facebook profile picture -- tell me where my ancestors came from. This Internet of Things assures that I'm instantly and permanently connected to countless facts, factoids, fake news, friend updates, new business connections, and scores for everything from the little league game (in languid immobile Summer, anyway) to World Cup Soccer.

But it can't crawl up into the very small and sort of claustrophobic space under the ceiling awning off the attic and repair a hole. It can't climb up on the roof and make any necessary repairs. It's 2017 and there are robots that can vacuum your house while you're gone... not that we can afford one or could even make use of one with three dogs and two cats to either hunt it, stalk it, or asphyxiate it with the endless trails of shed fur.

Ok, I know. I signed up for this life on the margin, right? Making Art out your life isn't easy, nor, I suppose, should it be. Though I'm still unsure of why. And I feel like I've been asking that question a really, really long time.




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24 October, 2017

Just yesterday morning, Part 1

You can't fix the weather - you just have to get on with it. - Douglas Adams

home repair fail
Buster Keaton & Virginia Fox. The Electric House (1922)
Sometimes I think I'm cursed by crumbling ceilings. I wake up early in the morning to write and read, to meditate and pray, while the house is silent. At that time of day, before the time-tracking part of my brain, before the you've-got-too-much-shit-to-get-done-today part of my brain, before the mark-my-obligations-off-the-never-ending-list part of my brain kicks in, I swim outside of the clockwork world. Even in the technological age I find there are mechanical underpinnings. This touch and go techno gratification stuff is just a thin skin for Descartes' bastard son -- a wholly mechanical model universe created by monkeys with bigger brains who also think God is monkey but with a machine heart.

And in this swim of mental time space, before the machines clang and the digital clock face on my cell phone reminds me that I'm simply not allowed to exist outside the artificial time loop, I take in the whole of my surroundings. The silence. The sound the dog's paws make on the linoleum floor. The sound of the cat jumping on top of the garbage can by the backdoor to be let out. The feel of the ceiling fan blades cutting the air. The sound of rain outside as the sun starts to come into view.

The leaking roof in the corner of the dining room.

I used to love the sound of the rain. Especially early in the morning or at night when it was time to (finally) sleep. When I was living in a friend's cabin out in Eastern Kentucky, I loved the sound of rain on the tin A-frame roof. The sound was hypnotic. The cadence was meditative. 

Now when I hear the sound of rain, my first thought is: "FUCK! Where will the house leak today?"

I once heard a man wiser than me say that it was a mistake to own anything you have to paint or feed. Most of the time I take that statement with a grain of salt. It's not that I'm all about ownership. Actually, I'm pretty certain my dog only tolerates me because I feed her most of the time, and as such I've never really thought of myself as a "dog owner" as much as I have a "dog person."

The same goes with home ownership. I tend not to think of myself as a homeowner as much as the
dog man
person helping pay the mortgage on a house that will, by and by,be someone else's responsibility. It's better than paying rent, in theory, because someday -- if Amanda and I are very very lucky -- we'll only have to pay property taxes to a municipality that has done nothing in regards to the care or upkeep of this house we call a home.  The bank doesn't help out either, come to think of it. All I do is live here and I'm bound and obligated to keep the yard mowed, see to basic repairs, try not to let it be too much of an eyesore, and take care of the place until the "mort*" part of the "mortgage" kicks in.

That's the deal. And most of the time -- like 88-90 percent of the time -- I'm perfectly fine with this. Life is about impermanence after all, and all we're doing is trying to figure out our purpose and find meaning in what mostly seems like a futile attempt to avoid being the target of rush hour road rage -- someone else's or, God help us, our own.

And I was still ok... until I heard the not so subtle drip of water from the corner of where, when it rains a little too much, water leaks in. We're prepared, of course. We have a bucket there, and towel.  But it is only a short-term fix. The leak is sufficiently bad that I will probably have to find the wherewithal to climb up on the roof -- something I don't excel at. OK, I'm pretty decent at the up part. It's the down part that almost always gives me trouble. It's not that I'm scared of heights. It's that I'm far too aware that Murphy's Law kicks in to triple time whenever I'm doing anything like, say, climbing a ladder, or working under a car, crawling into the creepy space under the ceiling to repair a hole (causing me my first and heretofore only panic attack.)

When Amanda got up a couple of hours later, I was annoyed at the ceiling, annoyed at my inability to either repair it or pay someone on better terms with Murphy to repair it. I'm not entirely sure I've tried to ever explain to her why I feel haunted by leaky roofs.

And I wasn't entirely sure I felt like explaining it then, either.
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* In trying to find the etymological root of the word mortgage, I made the mistake of just typing the word  "mort" into Google. Apparently "mort" does not mean death, but instead is "the note sounded on a horn when the quarry is killed." Now, I know I'm not much of an expert on the sound that horns make while hunters are hunting, but I'm not entirely sure I trust Google Dictionary. 

The good news is that after I went to the trouble of typing in, Boolean style, the words "etymological" and "mortgage", I finally found the proper definition... just in case some of you good looking and clearly intelligent folks didn't know it already.

mortgage (n.)
late 14c., morgage, "conveyance of property as security for a loan or agreement," from Old French morgage (13c.), mort gaige, literally "dead pledge" (replaced in modern French by hypothèque), from mort "dead" (see mortal (adj.)) + gage "pledge" (see wage (n.)). So called because the deal dies either when the debt is paid or when payment fails. Old French mort is from Vulgar Latin *mortus "dead," from Latin mortuus, past participle of mori "to die" (from PIE root *mer- "to rub away, harm," also "to die" and forming words referring to death and to beings subject to death). The -t- restored in English based on Latin.


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17 October, 2017

Perpetual pilgrim, Part 2: exile amor fati

 I am an exile's book. He sent me. ~Ovid

Exile is more than a geographical concept. You can be an exile in your homeland, in your own house, in a room. ~ Mahmoud Darwish 


home and exile
Although I haven't lived in my hometown for better than several years and I rarely go back, I do follow some of the comings and goings there. There's an insatiable fascination about the place for me, in spite of the fact that there's nothing there for me but cemetery stones and geographically bound nostalgia. Think of it as something akin to voyeurism.

Recently on the Facebook page for my hometown's historical society I noticed an event. Five local authors were going to converge on the historical society... the old Grant Building where the library was housed when I was a kid ... to talk about how they became writers.

Each of them, I suppose, had written and published books. I only knew one of the names because other than random and terrible violence and the odd billboard paid for by a local church  proclaiming that Satan had taken over the school board, the only thing my hometown ever made the news for was the fame of the The World Walker. No one remembered him leaving on his trip, but everyone was there for the return, including a parade, a key to the village, and an invitation to speak to high school students about his experience.

Now, although I've made my home a few hours south and on the other side of the dirty, sacred river, the fact is that as much as I have no place or purpose in the place I'm from, I'm a transplant everywhere else. I guess it's fair to say that I haven't made The Big Time. There are no parades or keys to the town with ubiquitous invites to talk to ungrateful high school kids about my accomplishments.

Probably one of the most challenging parts of being a writer isn't actually the writing. That's always been the easier part. I don't believe in writer's block and I reject the idea that creative energy fizzles. It changes channel and sometimes doesn't march with popular tastes and trends, but generally the writers who chase trends end up burning themselves out -- not because their creativity fizzles but because they cut themselves off from it a long time ago and decided to sustain themselves on praise and marketability.

The biggest challenge for me has always been the subject of tradition... literary or otherwise. Although I don't remember much from when my thesis defense*, I do remember Dr. Glenn Colburn asking me where I would place myself in the canon of American Literary Tradition. I don't even remember exactly what I said because I was a bit taken aback by the question. I managed to write a collection of integrated (hopefully) poems and short stories. It was probably incredibly abstract and most likely total failure. My graduate advisor asked me once if I thought it would end up being publishable. My answer was that it probably was not at all publishable, because there was no way to categorize it in any way that literary agents and the publishing world would or could understand, or in such a way that agents and publishers could excise their percentages from sales.

I'm still pretty good with that. And I'm still pretty good with probably being a little too left of center for poets and a little to right of center for fiction writers. But it does sometimes nag at me that I grew up in  place that so assiduously tried to erase its history that I've been running all over the place for 30 years or more trying to find one, only to keep running into one inescapable fact: there is no such thing as adopting a literary root. Either you're born with one, or you cobble your own from the flotsam and jetsam of experience. It's that or it's creative death.

I guess it's OK that they didn't invite me, being as I'm not as news worthy as a guy who tried to rob a bank with a pocket knife (in my graduating class.) I suppose it's OK that I still can't answer the question of where I am in the scope of American letters because I'm not a Louisville writer or a Kentucky writer or, really, an Ohio writer... or even a Bethel, Ohio writer.

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10 October, 2017

Perpetual pilgrim, Part 1: introduction to the off-the-road edition

God is at home, it's we who have gone out for a walk.~ Meister Eckhart

Home life is no more natural to us than a cage is natural to a cockatoo. ~ George Bernard Shaw

Lately my goal has been to try and apply the basic rules of the road to my everyday life.

It's not that I'm going to be out and about anytime soon... work and other responsibilities make this impossible... but it occurs to me that I've been living like the things I did out on the road had no relation to how I was living my life now. The problem is that in my most natural state, my mindset is that of a permanent traveler. It's not that I don't love the home I have with Amanda and Stella and Will; but I also know that as much as I love home... home as family, home as a place I'm comfortable... I'm not, in my natural state, much of a homebody. Yes, I like to maintain my space a certain way. When I travel I'm a tediously organized packer, too. So really, it's less about being domesticated and more about the aforementioned particularness ... whether home is on my back or four walls and a roof that needs to be re-shingled.

But I think part of my problem has been that I've still been trying to tackle this domestic bliss stuff the way I was socialized to by small town culture, by television, by mentors and heroes -- none of whom ever suggested, even remotely, that I orta do things the way they do things.**

In trying to figure out how to do this stuff  My Way, the only conclusion I've come to is that I have to live at home the way I live out on the road. Certainly there are some modifications. But overall, it's more about spacial awareness than a shift in awareness. Or, that's what I'm going with now.

My road rules went through multiple drafts and notions, but they boil down to something like this:

  1. Read and write everyday.
  2. Be aware of your surroundings.
  3. Leave things as nice or nicer than you found them.
  4. Etiquette makes society, not the other way around.
  5. Be grateful when things are good. They won't always be.
  6. Keep your head up when things are bad. They will be more often than not.Show appreciation and articulate love. Daily.
This isn't always easy, though I often think it should be. With four adults, three dogs, and two cats living under one roof, sometimes it feels like it's a little hard breathe. And I LOVE these people. But generally, if I keep my art at the center*** and tether myself to being essentially humane and focus on trying to be the best husband, father, and father-in-law that I can be, I believe I'm doing my part in helping maintain our conglomerated family unit.

Even if it's not altogether natural feeling sometimes.


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* No less than every girlfriend I've ever had and two ex-wives have pointed out/accused that I have an antagonistic relationship with the world. But clearly, the world started it.
**All of them actually said the contrary, on multiple times. A wise mentor will never tell you to do what they do, exactly how they do it. That's how you tell the difference between a mentor who has your best interests at heart and a megalomaniac who's interested in feeding his ego.
*** There's a reason why "Read and write everyday" is the first rule.


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03 October, 2017

Junktique Memory Palace, part 2: a place for everything and everything everywhere

 Do not encumber your mind with useless thoughts. What good does it do to brood on the past or anticipate the future? Remain in the simplicity of the present moment. ~ Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already I am. ~Thomas Merton


In his 20's a smart man -- if he learns anything at all -- learns to embrace failure as an educational experience as well as the importance of reflection. During his 30's, a smart man ... if he's paying any attention at all ... begins to understand the space -- physically, metaphysically, spiritually, and ontologically --  he takes up in the world.

By the time he reaches his mid-40's -- whether he's smart or not -- a man stumbles upon who he is in the world, regardless of whether he's aware of the space(s) he occupies or not.

And if there is anything about me that's true, it's this: I've always been particular about how I inhabit my living space.

It's not that I'm a neat freak. At least, I don't think I'm a neat freak. I mean... no. No, I am NOT a neat freak.

But I DO tend to think of it as working really hard in order to be lazy. I always put my keys in the same place. I always put glasses in the same place. I recognize two basic categories of things:

  1. stuff, and 
  2. stuff-without-a-home. 

As I wrote about in a previous blog, my spaces -- mental or otherwise -- are filled with things from which I derive a certain amount of comfort. The way I do things and how I organize things makes total and complete sense to me. By way of an example -

We own this lovely fruit bowl. I believe it was a wedding gift. I won't describe it, so, for the sake of illustration, picture a fruit bowl you would find lovely. Because we tend to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, we have a small table in the kitchen that has become the Spot Where Produce Lives. After we go shopping, the table sort of looks like one of those Thanksgiving cornucopias exploded. We're very fortunate that we're able to eat healthy in spite of eternally operating on a feast and famine budget.  But because of our sometimes bountiful amount of fruits and veggies -- and because my daughter is a vegan and so we tend to have a lot of rabbit lettuce type things on hand -- that lovely bowl was buried, never to be seen.

Yes, I knew it was there. But I didn't like that a lovely little bowl -- a very thoughtful wedding present at that -- wasn't in a place where I could see it at a glance.

So I moved the bowl. I moved it next to the toaster on the short side of the kitchen sink.

This created no small amount of controversy with my daughter, who -- like me -- is someone who likes to have things organized and in place... 

for the most part.

I'm certain she often looks at it and ponders moving back to the exploded cornucopia table. My wife, who has the wisdom to stay out of such odd and ultimately pointless conundrums, simply says "Well, that's where it lives now."


Lately I've come around to embracing the notion that my need for a certain amount order is simply who I am rather than something I ought to try and subvert. I do think sharing a home with others makes me more thoughtful about the impact my home-for-everything attitude has on other people, because the truth is, there are times when things need to be out of order. If things never change, if things don't move, then sometimes I don't see the need for something to change. And since the only constant in the universe IS change, it's good to be able to roll with it, too.

Just don't move the fruit bowl.

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29 September, 2017

Junktique Memory Palace: The solace of certain things / Essay on the Eight of Swords (Draft)

It is not down in any map; true places never are. ~ Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Is it possible to become ecstatic amid destruction, rejuvenate oneself through cruelty?” ~ Arthur Rimbaud, Illuminations


My memory palace is one, giant flea market.

Which is to say, it's entirely possible that one of the reasons why I tend towards a certain precision -- what my daughter sometimes calls "picky" and my wife lovingly refers to as "being particular" -- about certain things:  like where I leave my keys, how I organize the house, where I'd prefer things are stored and how, and how clean I try to be, is because a large portion of my mental landscape is an odd mix of old stuff, bric-a-brac, used books, dated movies, music, oddly random and seemingly pointed connections between disparate things, several rabbit holes of useless information, and picture memories... a long with a massive card catalog in which I file every useless piece of datum ranging from historical dates to my chili recipe.

NOTE: the greenscape has long since been ruined by cement.
If it helps you imagine, once upon a time I conjured my memory palace as a large library, not unlike the interior of the Camden-Carroll library at Morehead State University.

Which is to say, my memory palace probably resembles the library in that episode of The Twilight Zone in which the poor bastard that just wanted more time to read after the apocalypse ended up breaking his reading glasses.




But, it's my mess, dammit, and I like it that way. Besides, no one rummages around there besides me.

This mess does bleed out into my life in certain ways. While I am, admittedly, particular about the condition of my living space, that's not to say that I'm much of minimalist. It's true, I've whittled down things to what I think I need. But this includes a lot books, random rocks, various mementos and, yes, bric-a-brac, that helps make our house a home.

Every once in a while The Kid will ask if I've actually read all the books in the house, to which I usually replay something to the effect of " Most of them." Truthfully, I never want to run out of books on hand that I haven't read. That way if I owe the public library too much in late fees (which is as inevitable as the sunrise), I can lean on a few books on our shelves until the drought passes.

So why, you may ask, do I keep the books I've already read?

Well let me ask you: Do you never talk to old friends just because you've already talked to them and only make new friends?

The books I've read are old friends and fine company. And I like being able to go back and read them, revisit, 

My writing area in the basement -- that I affectionately refer to as The Bunker -- is similarly organized. I have hard and digital files and old journals dating back to the early 90's, when I started journaling. I have records -- the kind that go on record players -- cassettes, CD's books, a shiny brass compass that was a gift from my brother, a skull shaped candle I got for Christmas from my niece. There's a little silver bell with no ringer. A pink magic wand that is the only thing left from my teaching -- a prop from a teacher in-service. A beech wood candle stick I turned on a lathe in Menifee County, Kentucky.

All of these things -- and the others I haven't listed here -- I keep because they, in some way, embody an important memory. It's true I can live without most of them. It's true that I still have the memories even if everything is lost, locked up in my cluttered but somehow manageable by me memory flea market.

The solace of certain things helps when the world leaves me feeling daunted. It's important for me to be able to get lost sometimes, maybe even hide. I don't get out and about like I used to -- which is usually what I'd do if I need to get some mental breathing space. Now I either retreat to The Bunker and write or find some other way to tilt at windmills using the weapon I've been granted -- words

And lately, there's a lot that leaves me daunted. If I draw any comfort from these, the days of Trumplandia, the days of the yoke and the bit, the days of democracy's death rattle, it is in the fact that it will go on whether I take notice or not, that change is perpetual and inevitable. I also draw comfort and strength from the faith I have that even if all I'm doing is taking care of my house full of people, books, and animals and writing like a madman in basement, that maybe it does help bring some measure of grace to the world. If that's all I ever do, then at least it's time well-spent. Art is created in such ways. If I'm lucky.

Essay on the Eight of Swords (Draft)

Transitional dreams portend a seasonal shift:
like the tarot, not all is as they appear.
There is wisdom in The Hanged Man.
Escalators and hotel employees suggest
it will be a long autumn.
Train stations do not suggest travel,
but it’s better to be prepared anyway.
There are signs, and rumors of signs.
You will meet a beautiful hitchhiker.
Do not trust her.
The raggedy man will bring you a message.
Offer him beanie weenies and bottled water.
He will ask for wine, but it’s only a test.
There are no wrong answers,
only more appropriate ones.
But they do offer varying degrees of detail.
Do not be afraid to drink beer with the devil.
He wants your soul, but does not know
you have been spoken for.
The Eight of Swords is still your card.
But you are not bound to that narrative.


 











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11 September, 2017

Sacred Moments in Profane Times: dads, daughters, remembrance as practice / practice as activism

We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.~ Thomas Merton

We often think of peace as the absence of war, that if powerful countries would reduce their weapon arsenals, we could have peace. But if we look deeply into the weapons, we see our own minds- our own prejudices, fears and ignorance. Even if we transport all the bombs to the moon, the roots of war and the roots of bombs are still there, in our hearts and minds, and sooner or later we will make new bombs. To work for peace is to uproot war from ourselves and from the hearts of men and women. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

My daughter came home one evening after work last week and told me she watched a man get stabbed at the bus stop.

She said a man walked up to another man standing next to her at the bus stop, stabbed him, and ran away. Stabbed him like he was just looking for a place to put his knife away. The police were called. The ambulance came. She told me she thought the man died because when the ambulance left, the lights weren't on and it wasn't in a hurry.

The week started with celebrating her birthday. She turned 23 this year. Most days I'm amazed that I have a child who's old enough to drink. I'm also daily amazed by the way she's choosing to walk through the world.

We celebrated her birthday with a short hike near this waterfall where Amanda and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Actually, we celebrated her birthday over the entire long weekend -- her birthday fell on Labor Day this year -- with a vegan chocolate raspberry tart and a meal at a Morels Cafe, a local vegan restaurant known for its "Farby" Sandwich... which is a surprisingly accurate vegan version of an Arby's roast beef sandwich.

Amanda and I aren't vegan, but my daughter is. We end up eating a largely vegetarian diet, but we would do that anyway.

I always enjoy my daughter's birthdays. Because I wasn't the custodial parent when she was growing up, I take special joy in spending them with her now.  I was glad we spent it as a family. When we were at the waterfall, I mostly watched her from a bit of a distance, watched her taking everything in and soaking in her happiness and satisfaction. I enjoy watching her explore and grow into the beautiful person she is -- striving to find the path of her best possible self.

Even if it means eating a (surprisingly convincing and delicious ) vegan roast beef sandwich.

I enjoy the moments with my daughter -- or sometimes, just around her -- as she reaches out, tries to grow in spite of all in the world that would drag her backwards. When she came home from watching a man get stabbed, it was all I could do not to hug her forever. The world is a dangerous place. It's good that she knows this. I just wish she didn't have to.

Remembrance is such a heavy word. When I think of it, the word is burdened with religious connotation... which isn't surprising for a rural small town boy.  Lately, though, I've come to think of remembrance as something more akin to what Buddhists and monks and other Religious have described as practice. This means not limiting my acts of remembrance... my practice... to one day or to specific times. Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton describes the contemplative life as one in which a person works to make each moment a prayer, each moment a moment in the presence of God. In Sign of Jonas he refers to a monk's life as full of hard work, but also one of peace. A peace that is earned by daily work and by daily devotion.

I'm no monk, and thank Christ for that. I'd be a lousy one. But as I work to keep my writing central -- and what is writing but one form a contemplative life takes in the physical world -- I remind myself that I need to strive in each part of my day, in every aspect of my life, to make each action a kind of prayer. The world isn't designed for this kind of thing, of course. I'm supposed to be about the business of making money and doing my part in the great capitalist machine that's been built up around us. A machine that's choking out the very sound and light of God in the name of power and money.

When I think about how to mediate the world... in the current state of the world... I'm reminded of Thich Nhat Hanh's statement in Living Buddha, Living Christ that it's not simply a matter of choosing whether to be engaged with the world or to have a contemplative life, but deciding how to engage and still have a contemplative life. I've met a lot of people who are engaged.
The tree remembers the shape of the ground.

I tend to struggle, though, when their insistence on engagement -- usually limited by adherence to concepts rather than a clearer reality -- cuts into my contemplative life.  I'm always struggling with where I ought to be -- especially in these days when the New Wave Fascists are in the news, running over protestors, claiming to defend history without realizing -- or caring -- that they are on the wrong side of it.

And while I feel like I've been clear on this point, I'll keep on it for another short paragraph:

If you aren't Antifa, you aren't paying attention. Being Antifa doesn't mean you need to join a group. You don't need to dress in black. You don't need to be a socialist. Or a communist. Or an anarchist. You just need to understand that fascism is bad and is a threat to America and to the Democratic experiment. There's historic precedence for it.

And once you understand that, make it part of your daily practice. Like prayer. Like meditation. Like breathing. Like an old sycamore tree that remembers the shape of the ground washed away by the ebb and flow of water, hold to what matters.

Do this in remembrance of your children. Do this in remembrance of the sacrifices your grandparents made. Do this in remembrance of the remembered and forgotten dead. Do this in remembrance of a world where knives are not sheathed in people at bus stops. Do this in remembrance of the living who should not have to bleed so the war machine can keep spinning. Do this in remembrance of the radical idea that all people are equal.

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20 June, 2017

Some musings on the absence of the 13th floor

It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea. – Dylan Thomas

My brother lives on the 15th floor of a very tall building with a view of Lake Erie. The view is gorgeous. Cleveland is a nice town and I always enjoy my visits there.

We grew up not really talking much. I've come to think of it as an indication that we lived in two very different worlds. Or rather, we each created very different worlds to inhabit buried in the same basic reality as everyone else -- where gravity and girls were inevitable and occasionally painful forces of nature, where our small town was, in many ways, the wrong kind of small for us to stick around and flourish, and where without our respective self-created realities, we probably would not have made it out as clearly well adjusted as we are.

Once, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, we went to this bar near where my mom lives that's no longer there. It was called "The London Bridge Piano Bar." The only piano was on the sign hanging above the door. Both the sign and the door had seen better days. I don't know if he'd been to many truly divey dive bars before then. I've spent a lot of time in them, especially back in those days. I still had my long hair and biker leather. He's always been more aware of fashion labels and professional couture. After a few drinks, one of the two or three people who were day drinking there asked if we were cops.

At the time, I thought the lousy drunk probably got most of his notions about under cover cops from prime time television. In hindsight, having watched the ridiculous -- and obvious -- links my state trooper ex-brother-in-law went to in order to try and look like an unsavory criminal type in a massive sting attempt to get people stripping copper out of houses left empty thanks to Bush II's subprime mortgage crisis -- I wish I could go back and buy that barfly a drink.*

Another time -- also around 10 or 15 years ago -- we were in a grocery store line. I don't remember what we were buying. The woman working the check out -- who was cute, as I recall -- asked if he was my parole officer. At the time, I may have remarked (or maybe I just thought) that I must be moving up in the world, going from a presumed undercover cop to a parole.

Both events stuck us both as funny, though maybe for different reasons. His sense of humor tends to be a little drier than mine, but we both appreciate absurdity. Most humor is based on mistaken assumptions and basic human absurdity.

One of the things I like about visiting my brother is that more than maybe anyone other than my wife, he gets me. And I think I get him, too. We're both creative in our ways, introspective in our ways. And we've both gone about creating our worlds in seemingly very different ways. But for both of us have build our worlds around our respective work.  It's a difficult thing to explain when people focus on the surface differences between us. A lot of people have made that mistake, and probably will continue to. It doesn't matter. A man with one brother in the world who understands him is never alone.

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*The sum total of his "cover" was to grow a beard that looked entirely unnatural on his face, wear wrinkled t-shirts, and sport a backwards ball cap. He also pulled down his Facebook Page... but of course, his wife didn't.






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24 March, 2017

Letters from Trumplandia 6: Clockwork Eternity and Daylight Savings Time (Delayed)

 Certainly, it seems true enough that there's a good deal of irony in the world... I mean, if you live in a world full of politicians and advertising, there's obviously a lot of deception. -- Kenneth Koch

Nations are born in the hearts of poets, they prosper and die in the hands of politicians. -- Muhammad Iqbal



Digital watches were all the rage when I was in second grade.  They were new. They were Clunky. And they were completely modern. However, in order to get one, I had to learn to tell time.

In spite of my clear articulation of the argument that old fashioned watches were going the way of the dinosaur, The Old Man insisted that I learn to read a clock.

"But someday no one will know what they are!"

"You will," he said. And there was no arguing.

I don't know if my obsession with time pieces started there. But I still know what a clock is, even as each generation forgets how to read them just like they're forgetting cursive writing.Clocks are funny extensions of an abstraction. Man's attempt to not only own the world but to control how it moves through the universe, and by extension, how we move through the world.

The thing about writing is there's always something that needs doing that will inevitably take you away from your desk. In these, the dark days of Babylon under the mighty Trumplandian flag, there is more so.

There are days to be lived and ways to go about it, and always ... and always... there is something to distract you from the things you really ought to be doing. When they are things we embrace and decide they're worthwhile, we call them obligations. When they are things we'd rather not be doing, we call them duty.

When they are things that are forced upon us under the guess of personal choice, we call it a career.

And it is always this career business that ends up defining us -- by how we choose it, or by it how it chooses us , or by how we choose not to choose it.

Daylight savings time is another one of those fake ideas that we give credence to out of habit. There are places in the world -- in the country, as a matter of fact -- that live without having to turn the clock forward one hour in the spring, only to have to turn it back one hour in fall. Arizona, with everything it does wrong (and there is an epic list) does that one thing right. Not changing the clock twice a year has absolutely no impact on daily life except the absence of jet lag.

Yes, yes. The story goes that the government instituted Daylight Savings Time to help farmers. It's supposed to help because it gives them more daylight in the winter. Never mind the fact that the sun is still in the same spot in relation to the Earth, the days get shorter until Winter Solstice and then begin to get longer as the the Earth spins and the sun is, as a result, in a different position in relation to equator.  Never mind that the length or lack or available sunlight doesn't really change what a farmer has to get done.

As a matter of fact, I haven't met a farmer yet who gave a good gawd damn about the length of daylight in relation to the chores that have to get done. Those people are some of the most rock-hard people I've ever met, precisely because they work regardless of the season, regardless of the weather, and regardless of what time the clock says in relation to where the sun in in the sky.

Daylight savings time is nothing more than an absurd delusion that we can control the time. We can't. Time is the current that carries us. The only difference is that we can choose whether we're going to sink or swim.

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14 February, 2017

Letter from Trumplandia 3: art as memory/ memory as subversion

 Life is subversive. - Ernesto Cardenal

When you are forced by circumstance to focus on survival, it can be difficult to remember that it's as important to nourish your soul as it is to feed your stomach.  Arts-based organizations are poised for a fight that they may very well lose simply because the numbers are against them. Grant money is already being squeezed and if the past budgetary actions of the Republican Party are any indication, the arts will have to find other revenue streams in order to survive.

The squeeze has already been felt here in Kentucky, where our tin pot little fascista Governor Matt Bevin cut money to the Kentucky Arts Council (and everything else) in his first budget. Granted, he did not, as was widely feared, eliminate funding for the KAC entirely... for which they puckered up and kissed his New England ass. There will most likely be another budget cut next year, too. Bevin, like every fascista before him, refers to the arts and things like it* as "nonessential services."

And most likely, when he does, the folks still remaining at the KAC will again express gratitude for Herr Governor's

As Trump's overblown inauguration began to loom as an inevitable reality, The Hill reported that undisclosed sources within his transition team said some of his budget cuts included privatizing NPR and eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts .Naturally, that would be catastrophic for many arts organizations, including educational arts organizations.

Though really, part of me suspects that the announcement was leaked, not so much as a statement of
intention but as a misdirection. 45 has time and time again proven to be a master at misdirection. His entire professional life up to and including his 2016 POTUS election win has been nothing more than an extended game of 3 Card Monte.

The biggest danger to the arts, though, really isn't coming from Trump (yet) or Bevin (yet.) The biggest danger to the arts comes from inside an arts community that has gotten so comfortable that it has forgotten how to innovate.

Without the arts, there is no such thing as civilization. I've said before that society rests not on laws, but on the arts and simple etiquette. In these, the rising days of the new wave, this is especially true. Art is more than entertainment. The arts are our collective memory. And it's been nice to have a government that acknowledges -- albeit grudgingly and not without malice** -- the arts.

It's been nice. But we need to start deciding what to do if it ends.

Over the weekend I listened to David Marcus -- Sr. Contributor to The Federalist and Artistic Director of Blue Box World in Brooklyn -- on NPR's Saturday morning journal show talk about why the death of the NEA would be good for art in America.

His essential argument is that the arts existed before government and don't really need the government, and that the arts need to be competitive in a free market. I'll deconstruct the problem of commodifying art and how free markets are a myth in another post.***

Part of what feeds his argument and gives it validity is the strain of elitism in the arts and how arts organizations go about doing what they do. There was a time when you preserved the arts by opening a gallery, or a theater, or creating a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving a particular art form. These organizations operate on membership dues, donations, patronage, partnerships, and grant money. In the absence of grant money, non-profits have a really difficult time sustaining themselves -- or, if they don't have trouble sustaining, no one knows they exist, their membership stagnates, and eventually the organization disappears because most of the membership dies.

In order to survive, artists and arts organizations have to reinvent themselves, not to try and break into or maintain a market, but to remain the living memory of a civilization at risk. There's more at stake than ticket sales. Democracy is at stake. In addition to the obligation to speak out against the tyrannical new wave, artists are obliged to be the memory of what is happening. We record. We remember. We are the storytellers, the bards, the players. The job is ours, because if we leave it to the historians, the narrative will be an extension of the same manifest destiny bullshit they still teach kids.

In order to survive, artists have to understand that even they haven't declared war, even if they don't like the language of war, even if they believe it has nothing to do with them, that war has been declared on them. In order to survive arts organizations have stop thinking like bureaucratic machines and start being strategizing like a guerrilla army.

In other words, start thinking like a tagger and not the cops who arrest taggers.


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* literature, foreign languages, health care, social services, public education, roads, bridges, and clean rivers.
**GOP deity Ronald Reagan wanted to start phasing out the NEA in 1981, but he was advised by no less than gun and 'MURICA lover Charlton Heston that it would be a really bad idea
*** To prepare, if you haven't already, bone up on Karl Marx. 

31 January, 2017

Letters from Trumplandia: laying the groundwork

Self-erasure is a harsh religion. - from travel journal


I have to remind myself sometimes that in spite of what I think of my general sense of discontent, my own life is pretty good.

When I was younger, and probably smarter though not as wise*, I told myself that my sense of discontent was what drove my writing.  I blamed a small town childhood filled with social isolation and religion. I blamed the death of my father. I eventually cast wider nets and blamed my discontent on the state of the world, the sense of decay I saw in everything around me. I blamed my high school guidance counselor for the Three Card Monte fashion in which she preached about the importance of a college degree to achieving the American Dream. I blamed the American Dream for being fake.

Something in me when I was younger insisted on seeing the worst in things, and I would silently condemn my elders for acting as though nothing was wrong when everything seemed ravaged, burned, and abandoned. I wrapped myself in anger and discontent and I wrote about it. When I was writing about how angry and discontent I was, I would drink and think about how I'd somehow missed the train that every American boy was supposed to catch. At times, I blamed my father for having the audacity to die before imparting any of the wisdom I thought I was entitled to before being pushed into the world.

Yes, pushed. I was pushed. 

Because left to my own devices, I would have cloistered myself off years ago, wrapped in my self-righteous blanket of anger and discontent, ranting to the silence for its own sake. I would not have faced the world on my own because I'd drawn such a dim view of it that it I would have dismissed it out of hand.

Next month I turn 44 years old, and the world has become the world of monsters I imagined it was when I was young.  The culture wars are on fire, thanks to the gasoline poured on by our Fascist-in-Chief.  His supporters are loving him now because he has moved on pretty much every single campaign promise he made. To be fair, I don't know if he's signing more executive orders in the first 100 days than any of his predecessors or if he just signs them in front of television cameras. But I do know that politics is a three ring circus and Trump is the Ringmaster of all Ringmasters; and whatever is going on, I feel like making him roll up his sleeves to check for an arm full of aces.

The art of the deal is pretty much the same thing as the art of the con. It's all slight of hand and misdirection. And while Trump and his lackeys embolden the Proud Boys and Alt-Reich Evangelists to do the dirty work of cultural purification, he is slowly whitewashing America with one hand and jerking off with the other.

In spite of all this, however, I think it's important to remind myself that even as monsters walk the earth in human skin suits, that my life is pretty good. My primary goals have pretty much always been the same since I was 19 or 20:

  • write,
  • reject workaday time clocks and the masters behind them,
  • walk through the world at my own rhythm,
  • try to be useful,
  • work to be honorable, and
  • stand up for what I believe.

Along the way I've also found the love of my life and figured out how to be an ok father.

One of the most challenging parts of it all is to accept that while I could easily cloister myself and ignore the world, that my desire to do so is fueled by ego. To turn away and dismiss everything would mean that I have it all figured out. There's an arrogance to that notion which is toxic to not only the world, but to myself and to the life I am continuing to build.

The internal workings of my life are actually pretty good, and I'm grateful for that. I am lucky to be married to someone who loves me as I am and who I adore with all my strength and the marrow in my bones. I'm still writing.  I have clients and deadlines, but these are things I establish and set for myself. I am trying to be useful and I work to be live an honorable life (although it's more challenging for me than maybe for some other people I know).  Because the internal workings of my life are what they are, I have the ability to stand up for what I believe and do what I think is right.

These are the rights and privileges of a free person, and I have taken my freedom back from those who would take it from me -- bosses, politicians, punks, thugs, and lackeys of powermongers. And it's only because I understand that freedom is something we must take back -- not something that is conferred upon by the high offices of human institutions -- that I know it's not just about me, and never has been.

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*Not that I'm all that wise now. Most days I vacillate
between feeling incredibly stupid and three steps behind enlightenment.

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20 January, 2017

Il est Trumplandia: No quarter given

With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost.  -- William Lloyd Garrison

I should have taken that bet with Kenny Rose, a former colleague at U of L who I shared office space with in the basement. I should have taken the bet, but I didn't want some messed karmic consequence for calling the election a year ahead.

I should have that kind of luck with the horses.

Back when people -- mainly centrist liberals and conservatives --  were insisting that Donald Trump could never win a presidential election I pointed out that national elections are, for the most part, popularity contests. I also pointed out that Trump had made a career of selling everything from overpriced real estate to himself.

Still, I was told: it would never happen.

Well, we're here now, working on how to move forward in this, the Grand Republic of Trumplandia.

I have friends, comrades, and former colleagues who have taken to the streets today in Washington,
From Reuters
D.C. I wonder why I'm not there with them. When I'm being honest, I'm not sure I have much faith in the actual impact of street protests. I do believe that direct action works best, and sometimes that many require taking to the streets.  For me, though, the work is here. I don't know what kind of impact I could have on the street in D.C.  I do know what kind of things there are here in River City to do. We have our own little fascistas here. We have people who will be targeted by them after being emboldened by a new President who cares nothing for already targeted communities. We have mountains and trees and already polluted rivers that will need stewardship in the wake of President Trump's disdain for climate change science.

We have the poor. We have the homeless. There are battles here.

And if the early reports are true and Trump intends to eliminate The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, then I really have work to do.

And so does everyone else who writes, who plays music, who creates art of any kind. The work is wherever you are.

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10 January, 2017

A question of faith and the problem of a proportional response

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. - John Adams

When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be! - Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

 

Lately I've been thinking about my father, and what he would say if he were still alive to see the state of the world... or if he would say anything at all.

He was a retired Air Force Master Sargent. When I talk to people about him, I most often begin with that detail. This sometimes gives people the impression that I grew up a military brat. But I did not. It would be incorrect to assume, however, that just because the old man managed to get his walking papers* that his 20 years of military service had no impact on him or his family.

He was also 16 years older than my mother. He was born in 1935, and grew up in a very different America than the America most of the parents of most of my school mates grew up in. He grew up during the end of the Great Depression World War II. He entered the military -- the Navy first -- when he was 17 years old, during the Korean War.** He entered the Air Force in time for Vietnam.

The Old Man never really talked about his military experience, except for a few funny stories. He didn't talk about a lot of things. He was waiting for his sons to be older, I think.

He never said much about his politics, either. I did ask him once about how he voted and he told me he was a Republican but didn't always vote that way. Another time, during an intensely religious phase of my life***, we spoke about abortion. He posed a question to me that has continued to inform my thoughts on the matter. That question was "How many women AND children died from back alley abortions?"

My father believed in a nation of laws. He believed that democracy meant something and it was worth defending. He believed that you didn't have to be the loudest in order to stand up for what is right. And even though he took a very practical approach to the world, he believed that some things were right and some things were wrong.

I try very hard not to paint him into what I would prefer him to be. He was not, in a way, a radical. He was not a simple man, either, because he understood that life could be very complex. He strove to be a simple man, I think. He lived based on a set of ideals, and he lived quietly in as much as his large personality and his considerable vanity would allow. He loved his family. He did what he thought was right.

The most difficult part of being a son is forging yourself away from your father's shadow.  As a son, I want to live in such a way that were he still alive, he would be proud of me. This takes me down some interesting paths. I may never know if the Old Man would like who I am now and the ideals I strive to live my life by. Like him, I strive to be a simple man. A man of substance. A man of use. A man who holds certain principles as absolute, but is willing to embrace the idea that life is rarely as absolute as our ideals.

I find myself looking the America I am living in now and I cannot help but think the core ideas my father lived by have no place here. I live in a state where its elected officials have proven they have no regard for people's lives, people's safety, or people's health. I live in a country that has embraced a cynical lack of faith in democracy and our natural rights by electing a egotistical megalomaniac that has set his sights on fighting personal vendettas, fueling hate, and pushing people on with pyrite delusions and calling them the golden future.

I find myself in place where I am worried about my family, my community, and my country.  If I were a solider, I would fight. But I am not a soldier. I am an artist and a a dreamer.

These are fronts I understand.

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* It took him a long time to get released from the reserves after he left active service. 1975, if  I am remembering from his records correctly. Apparently the military didn't want to let him go.
** He was "asked" by his high school principle to leave.
*** To paraphrase, I was far more interested in the letter of the law than the spirit of it. 


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06 January, 2017

A word about Patreon -- thanks for your support!



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05 January, 2017

Beauty is a monster, but it's still worth the search

Let the beauty you seek be what you do. -Rumi

Left to my own devices, I am a baboon wandering the wilderness. I would rather be either 1) at my desk writing or 2) on a barstool drinking than engaged in any other activity.  These two truths about me have been constant for roughly 20 years. I don't expect either of those things to change any time soon.  Both of those predilections have led me have both a ceaseless need to wander and a deep-rooted desire for love and stability. If all of these things seem to be contradictions, then you are correct. This is nothing more than a condensed explanation of the human condition. In spite of our desire to be utterly, drudgingly consistent through and through, human beings are driven by natural and contradictory needs.

A man who does not recognize he is beast with a thin veneer of manufactured civility is lying to himself. I've come around to the idea over the last few years that even admitting this falls short of enough. It's not enough to simply identify the beast. If the focus of a life is to embrace beauty, to seek enlightenment, to live as one with a higher ethic and moral conscious -- indeed, to eventually return to God -- a man has to, to a certain degree, accept and embrace the beast. If we accept Keats' poetic dictum: Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty'*, we must also accept that beauty is not always a comforting or comfortable thing. Beauty can be terrifying.

The weight on the other end of the fulcrum are my obligations -- to those I love, to those who love me, and to that short list of people whose opinions matter.

Lately I've been writing about the Grand Experiment -- my attempt to both hold down a job and pursue Beauty.  Like every other round of the Grand Experiment, this last round ended in failure. I allowed myself to get absorbed into the work I was doing, scribbling along the way, but ultimately I was chasing something other beauty, other than art. Something other. When this happens, the beast that is me gets surly. My temper -- which I have managed to meticulously starve and bury in the back of my psyche -- starts to taste the air.

I've decided to stop trying to restrain my temper as much as work it like hot steel. It's not so much that I want to fly off the handle, but I want to stop feeling guilty because I sometimes do. Anger, like any other emotion, can have justified roots. Anger, like any other impulse, will be misused and abused if I don't get used to it.





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* "Ode to a Grecian Urn"
 
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29 December, 2016

Resurrecting dead machines, new year resolutions, and other powerfully mixed cocktails

Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man. -- Benjamin Franklin
 

Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut. -- Ernest Hemingway

Last night over dinner with my father and mother-in-law, the topic of new years resolutions came up. I am, not uncharacteristically, close to the chest about those kinds of things. It's not that I don't want to share; it has more to do with my lagging cynicism about them. Most people make resolutions they have very little chance of fulfilling. This isn't because of a lack or absence of resoluteness, fortitude, or good intention.

Generally, people box themselves in when they make resolutions. My wife pointed out the other night when we were talking about this very same topic at home that a large part of why people tend to fail at resolutions is because they word them in a punitive way.

  • People proclaim their need to get a bikini body before warm weather (in spite of never having a bikini body by the usual unrealistic and self-loathing driven standards) and swear they will undertake a strict dietary and workout regiment. 
  • More than one member of the midnight choir has proclaimed that THIS YEAR, BY GAWD will be the year they stop drinking and act like an adult.* 
  • Some people swear off destructive relationships before running off into the night with their heretofore nameless NYE fuck buddy.
The last time I made any NYE resolutions and actually SPOKE them aloud on NYE, I believe I was three quarters of a case of beer and a bottle of cheap rye** into a night that I still, to this day, don't really remember. For all I know, I promised to quit drinking and join the Hari Krishna's.***

I am grateful to this day that social media didn't exist 20 years ago.


And while that annoying cynical voice keeps telling me that resolutions are ridiculous, that it's nothing more than setting myself up for an inevitable feeling of failure and dissolution at the end of 2017, the optimistic part of me that has been resurrected over the last few years**** reminds me that setting goals is a form of forward thinking. It helps to have a general direction you want to go before setting off on the road, and if that tired old cliche about life being a journey has any validity at all... which it probably does, or it wouldn't be a tired old cliche... then I need to set goals for 2017.

A couple of those things are in process. Thanks to my amazing wife, I received a punching bag and gloves for Christmas. Over the last year, I've had to come to terms again with the fact that I do, actually, in spite my best intentions, have a bit of a temper and a few anger issues that aren't all that easy to resolve. So, rather than turning all that anger internally -- which will hurt me -- or externally without focus -- which hurts other people, usually people I love -- I will direct it at a punching bag. I'll never be a boxer, but that doesn't mean I can't feed the pugilist in my soul.

I also decided to resurrect my old manual typewriter. It's a 1957 portable Olympia, which was Sears' market answer to the Smith Corona. It was a gift from my brother and now-ex-sister-in-law. I used it when I lived in New Orleans in a "reconditioned" crack house^. I hammered out two complete drafts of my master's thesis in graduate school. I've written more on that typewriter than I have ever shown the world. And while it will never replace this blog, or my various projects in the digital world, there is something about coming back to the machine that makes me feel good. And if feeling good is wrong for a resolution, I don't want to be right.

I'm also reaching an important mile marker in that I will turn 44 in February. I've considered every year since 27 dumb luck and every year after 33 an undeserved blessing. So here's mud in yer eye, 44.  In spite of myself and a short list of people with questionable taste, I'm still alive and kicking. Ninny- ninny-boo-boo.

2016 has been an up and down year for me. I finally and officially was divorced from higher education. I spent 6 months trying to find another gig, only to find one that, while the pay was decent, the hours took me away from all the things I was working to maintain. I lost friends. I pissed people off. I stepped back from my obligations to speak out and agitate. I hope to spend 2017 building bridges and repairing relationships, spending more time writing and creating and speaking truth to power in these, the waning days of Babylon.

I'd also like to take a dancing class. So there.

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* "Adult" is a subjective term. Hence, most underage drinking is the result of cultural taboo and the notion that it's so fucking grown up to chase oblivion.
**Yes, there was cheap rye once upon a time... before the Hipsters got a hold of it and wanted to be all ironic and annoying.
***At least one of those was a prediction in my high school graduation yearbook. If you've known me that long, you know which one it was.
**** Life has been pretty great to me, actually. I'm luckier than I deserve.
^ When trying to picture this in your mind, use the word "reconditioned" liberally.  In theory the rooming house was supposed to be renovated. In reality... well, let me put this way. I had roommate. His name was Gregor. He was a cockroach. He was there first. He was there when I moved out.

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21 December, 2016

The Saturday night special: 3 movies writers should watch

Writing can be a lonely business. You spend a lot of time by yourself. You struggle with digital age distractions. You count words, you count line lines. You spend time lost in thought, hunched over a keyboard or with pen in hand over the bottomless pit of a blank piece of paper.

But at some point, you have to pull yourself away and do something else. It's good to have other interests. My brother, who earns his nut in the as one of the architects of the digital world, calls these kinds of activities "analog." He says it's important to unplug and do something else. It helps him relax, and helps keep him fresh for his work.

The same is true for writers. Although you may always be in some stage of the writing process -- even when you're not sitting at your desk working in words* -- it's important to pull away. Take a walk. Read a book. Go have a drink.

I like to watch movies. Sometimes I watch movies for pure entertainment value; movies I have some sentimental attachment to, or movies that fall under the category my wife calls "boy-man movies."** I also like watching movies that help me think about writing in different ways. I'm going to list three here and explain why

Pulp Fiction (1994)
 
Either you love Tarantino movies or you hate them; this one was his second movie after he made a critical and cult sensation splash with Reservoir Dogs (1992).   One of the biggest mistakes that inexperienced writers make is in how they approach time. A good story doesn't have to operate on strictly realistic chronological line. Sometimes a story benefits from not unfolding how an objective narrator might recount, but in a way that the writer can play with ideas and concepts. For all of the critics that railed against this movie's themes (drug abuse, violence, rape, murder), there is a moral core at its center. Jewels gets to live because he changed paths at a pivotal moment. Vincent pays the price for not changing his life in that same moment. Butch and Marcellus both pay for their violence in varying degrees.

This isn't to say that there's a great "a-ha" moment. There isn't. After all, it's pulp***, not a Minnie Driver movie.


Back to the Future Trilogy (1985, 1989, 1990)

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking why do I include all three when II and III were clearly not as good as the first one?  I used to think that, too. The problem with that way of thinking about any movie franchise is that it rests on an instant gratification function. Sequels rarely measure up on that front. But the entire trilogy, from beginning to end, maintains a tight fictional structure. The world Robert Zemeckis creates is fully encapsulated. Of course it's improbable. It's improbable that Marty's mother, as a younger high school girl, would develop a crush on him. It's improbable that Biff could haunt the McFly family for generations. It's all improbable. Then again, time travel is improbable. 

At some point in any piece of fiction, you have to give yourself over to the story. In theater they call this suspension of disbelief. We are pretty good at accepting that. But as a writer, this trilogy represents as tight a structure as you'll find in any piece of writing. It leaves no holes and manages to work over three movies made over 5 years. 
Northfork (2003)

This one is easy to get fooled by. The story itself is simple -- in 1955, a small Montana town is being bought out in order to be make room for a new damn. The modern world is overtaking the old. But there's a whole other story here... a story about a boy who might be an angel, odd divine messengers who are searching for him and who would have found him sooner if not for Nick Nolte's bedraggled and world-worn Father Harlan ability to hide in a small church that the last thing to fall in front of the wave of cold modernity.

This film is probably best example of magical realism that I've seen in English, without subtitles. The worlds merge so perfectly together and create such a masterpiece of problems and themes that every time I watch it, I find something new. Magical realism is difficult to pull off well. It's worth the watch.

If there's a writer on your holiday list, you could do worse than buy them one of these.
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* I have written before under other blog headings that writers are almost always writing, even when they are not engaged in the physical act of working with words. While I believe that's true, I also think it's important to stand up and move around. I always think about reading in Henry Miller's work where the first thing he would do when he felt inspired was to take a walk.
** I have no excuse. I'm a man of a certain age, having grown up in an increasingly violent age. Sometimes I just like watching things blow up in a fictional realm. It's safer than the news, anyway.
*** Fiction dealing with lurid or sensational subjects, often printed on rough, low-quality paper manufactured from wood pulp.(dictionary.com)

If you like what you're reading here, I have work for sale on my amazon author page:
www.amazon.com/author/mickparsons