Showing posts with label notes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label notes. Show all posts

16 October, 2020

Notes on "Locked inside the Difference Machine and other opus erratum"


"Opus operatum" translates as "the work wrought." I like that word: wrought.  I haven't generally feel like my poetry is, for the most part, something that IS wrought; but I've always liked the idea. It makes me think of my grandfather's hands, the hands of a carpenter, and the way he always smelled of wood shavings and nicotine.  Wrought like I imagined the way cars, trains, and airplanes were made; wrought like the real swords I pretended stick were in endless, imaginative games. Wrought, something beaten our or shaped by hammering. It's one of the crunchy words that gets used to describe masculinized creation. Nations are wrought. Industries are wrought and do themselves take credit for what people's hands make. When poets speak of poetry being wrought, it's mostly in a masculine sense; and as I mention, I like the word because it's chewy and because of the idylls it creates when I turn it around in my mind.

But poetry for me isn't  wrought. Not wrought, not wrangled, not forced, not carved, not fought for. It's not drip and dribble inspiration from the muses.  It's also not something birthed; not because I think a poet necessarily needs a uterus to birth a poem, but because that's not ever been my experience with language. And when I read poets speaking of their work... and sometimes worse, when I read people writing about someone else's poetry... the verbiage is generally an active one.  It's like we have to somehow justify the truth that writers spend a significant amount of time sitting down, or maybe trying to contradict the trope of the physically ineffectual wordsmith, or maybe it's an attempt to articulate the sensation of writing to a reader who maybe hasn't had the experience. 

The problem with metaphors about writing is that eventually all metaphors break down.  Even (and especially) the good ones.  After so undetermined and trope specific amount of time time has passed, even the best metaphors need their context explained in order to truly make sense. The same is true of movies, and of a large amount of music.  This break down explains why "To thine own self be true" is almost always treated as a self-affirming mantra and why Romeo and Juliet is still seen as a soppy love story. And if ol' Billy Shakespeare isn't immune, NOTHING is.


The Difference Engine -- what amounts to the first ever computer, was created by Charles Babbage in 18. And although now it's just a calculator that's far too big to fit in your hip pocket to help figure out the percentage amount of a tip, this it's one of those inventions that has transformed the world we live in. And most people -- many of us who use computers daily whether we like them or not -- don't even know his name.

I bring this up because outside of a certain context, Babbage's mechanical brain is easy to dismiss. So to is the fact that automatons (read: robots) are recorded as having existed long before the 18th Century, when they were popularized in Europe... some accounts even written about in ancient China (400 BCE).   

There are people for whom poetry is just another difference engine, or, like Jacques de Vaucanson's Flute Player (1737) is nothing but a curiosity.  I find most people who don't like poetry either weren't introduced to it with the appropriate context or dismiss it because it's not generally something someone does "for a living." Making money as a poet usually means doing any number of things, and in a culture driven by neoliberal capitalism, what a person earns ends up being more important than what a person does, what they make, or what they create.

I think of myself not as someone who wroughts language into poetry but as a lens. The world passes through me like light through a lens and what poetry comes of is nothing but refracted lights and images. This metaphor, too, is breaking down -- like Babbage's machine, the legendary Yen Shi's artificial man, or King Solomon's throne (in some writings described as an ivory and gold mechanical wonder.)

Read this installment of Anthology of Days here.

11 September, 2020

Notes on "the running back" (Anthology of Days)



My dad loved football.  When I tell my story -- the heretofore still short and unfinished long form -- I sometimes begin, in the style of Tristram Shandy, prior to my conception.  If it wasn't for family in-fighting and Paul Brown's bromance-style break up with Art Modell, I wouldn't have been born.

When the team debuted in 1968, the Bengals' uniforms were modeled after the Cleveland Browns. When Paul Brown was fired by Art Modell, Brown still owned the equipment used by Cleveland so, after the firing, Paul Brown packed up all his equipment which he then used for his new team in Cincinnati. The Cleveland Browns' team colors were brown, orange, and white, and their helmets were solid orange with a white dorsal stripe over the crest.  (Wikipedia)

When I tell the story, I mention as an aside that Paul Brown lit out of Cleveland in the middle of night with a truck full of Cleveland uniforms -- which has more flourish than saying he actually owned them and carried them off as much out of legal right as spite. Most people don't remember, and even more don't care, and there's only so much back story I'm willing to give in this the Age of "The Internet of Things."

I was never great at sports, though I did try. But I did grow up loving football, if for no other reason than my dad did. And even after he died, I found that watching football was a way to maintain my connection to him in some, almost ritualistic way.  And when I started hearing stories of former players with neurological issues, saw the doping scandals, starting with the death of Lyle Alzado, I started to wonder what it was all about. Recently, the neurological impact of the sport on its players has gotten more attention.  In both cases, someone points out at some point that the players made the choice to enter the sport; and while I think that's true, I think it ignores the socialization of athletes starting in junior high and up into college, as well as the economic urgency athletes from poor families have to "make good" on their talent.  

And today is 9/11, and I'm supposed to mention it because that's what we do. We rehash the day, talk about where we were, what we were doing. This 9/11 happens during a pandemic in which nearly 190,000 people have died, millions are infected, and every single one of them is erased as a statistical blip, or worse, a lie under some heretofore unfounded "conspiracy." Today, we honor 2,977 dead while whitewashing the suffering of those who survived -- all while we shrug our shoulders at not only the death and suffering in this pandemic, but using it as an excuse to ignore the suffering that happens everyday. My brother-in-law, who runs a 5K everyday and keeps a go bag packed, calls this "compassion burnout."  

A better word for it is "powerlessness."

The running back is just one more sufferer whose suffering is being largely ignored today. He asked me to help read his letter from the Metro Housing Authority because he had trouble finishing it. He needs glasses, he told me. The letter informed him that while he qualified for housing, because of the extreme need for available housing, he would have to wait. I tried to pitch this more optimistically by saying it meant he was further ahead in the que.  I think we both knew that was probably more for my benefit than his; but he accepted it graciously.  That, a temporary chair, and kind optimism was all I had to offer him. And true, I don't know his full story... there's no Wikipedia page link for that. And even if I did, I don't know that I'd tell it here, if only because maybe once upon a time he did decide to play a sport that breaks people and puts them back together like a badly glued ceramic mug. Maybe he wasn't poor and had few options. Maybe he wasn't puffed up his whole childhood to "make good" on his talent. Maybe.

Or maybe a better word for it is "Capitalism."

Read "the running back" here.

06 September, 2019

from Field Notes: millionaire whore's bath/ bad dreams

K√≤ng  (Nothingness)
I don't know if I've ever been so relieved to hear the sound of a toilet tank refill.

They turned off the water this past Tuesday for nonpayment. I've been without water before -- on the road and living out. I know how to ration and prioritize. I've learned to survive on very little. That doesn't scare me. And even with no water, we still had a roof over our heads. We still had a comfortable bed. We even had a supply of clean water for coffee and cooking, and two rain barrels of water we could use for gray water for non-potable purposes.  There was plenty of food and the ability to cook it. I knew we'd be ok until the snafu got fixed.

But I didn't like the idea of having to think like that... at home.

Most of the time when I'm off the road and at home I bounce between embracing everything I love about being home and feeling like a fraud. Over the years I've grown more accustomed to the domestic sphere; but I can't ever escape the sensation of being a baboon, lumbering around and trying really hard NOT to wreck the place. When they turned the water off --

I found myself wondering about the fleeting nature of high concepts like home and comfort.

It wasn't a question of panic. It was a question of being pissed off.  Pissed that I'd let it happen. Pissed that I wasn't being mindful. Pissed because, even when I was drinking, I made sure utility bills were paid... or at least, paid down. Pissed.

But sometimes being pissed doesn't help. Anger can be a powerful, but dangerous motivator. Being pissed... that's a paralytic.  And we didn't have time for that.

So, we rationed our clean water for us and for the dogs and cat. We had 6 gallons of clean water, which meant if we were careful, we could make it last more than long enough to get the bill paid.
 ____

Dream from the first night:

In the dream I was sitting around a fire in the middle of a dark, expansive wilderness. I've dreamed of this wilderness before, but not of this particular fire. Sitting around the fire with me were my dad, my grandfathers, Steve (my first ex-father-in-law). The other elders are there, too, but there are a lot of them and I can't make out their faces in the darkness. I'm holding my red Bybee coffee mug. It's warm and full of coffee. Dad, my grandfathers, and Steve were holding cups, too. The smell of coffee hugs the air, which is cool. Late autumn. I can't see any trees, but I know their limbs are almost stripped bare.

Looking down, I'm dressed in long sleeves for the weather. I'm wrapped in a blanket but can feel the chill of the night air on my fingers. My hands are covered with tattoos. The firelight makes it look like they are moving: the snake writhes under my sleeve and back down, a crow flies, fish swim. I think I can feel the tattoos moving up around my shoulders, up the back of my neck, and into my ears. No one is surprised by this. I'm not surprised by this either.

All at once there is a great wind and a stagecoach drawn by six white stallions rushes by. The horses eyes are lit with a fire that breaks the darkness ahead of them. I catch a hint of trees, the outline of houses, a trail I didn't know was there. None of my companions moved away from the road as the coach passed. Neither did I.

As it passed, I caught her scent and heard her laughter. I jumped up to follow her, but the darkness closed around the coach just as easily as it opened.

A voice -- not my dad's my grandfathers', or Steve's -- said YOU HAVE TO STAY. SHE HAS GONE AHEAD, AND YOU MAY NEVER BE READY TO FOLLOW.

___

I've taken more than my share of baths out of a sink. It's all about hitting the high -- and low spots.  I have to admit, though, that even I took pause when I used bottled water for a whore's bath. I doubt that Paris Hilton felt as fancy as I felt with my daily ration of wash water.


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20 March, 2012

Wayward Sacredness: The Plenteous Nature of Obligation (A Pocket Journal Transcription/Explication)

You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you get what you need. - The Rolling Stone


Sunday, 18th March, 2012

On some level, life ends up being about who you owe.

Sense of obligation leads around, determines where we go, how we live ... or how we don't ... what kind of jobs we take or don't take. No matter how independent we are, so much of our lives come back to our relationships with others, our obligations to one another.

Started out the day yesterday  at the bowling alley. Drank a few Guinness and had 2 shots of bourbon. I've been staying away from the costlier stuff as a general rule... even bourbon. Which, being back in Mount Carroll, isn't easy.

I've been drinking of course. Dave has been kind in regards to covering quite a bit of my bar tab and Billy's always good for a few in reciprocation. I've paid for some, too; but what I've paid doesn't nearly cover what I've been drinking.

Wanted to splurge a little, though, it being St. Patrick's Day and all. But I was going to take it easy, too.... or, at the very least, PACE myself. (In this, I was largely successful, believe it or not. Penny pinching and making sure I'll be be able to travel are far more effective motivators than worries about my health and welfare.

[I know I'm not a martyr; I never died for anyone but me. - Over the Rhine]


Hung around the bar even after Dave and Julie disappeared into the basement with Billy, Jeanine (Billy's wife), and J.R.


[The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all undimmed. -Fortune Cookie]

After a bit Doug and Laurel come in for the corned beef and cabbage*. (NOTE: Doug is on city council and a die hard historical preservationist. His wife Laurel's business has something to do with some facet of community and economic  development -- not here as much as other places. She and her partner Ernst are essentially hired guns. They dig up and apply for grants, put together project proposals, look at the viability of business projects based on the area the business is thinking of building in. And that's only the stuff I've overheard them talking about At Brick Street Coffee.)  So I moved from the bar to the back table where they sat down, chit-chatted with them while they ate. Doug ordered the salad bar and made a respectable looking salad loaded down with ham and bacon. Laurel ordered the corned beef and cabbage, though she pretty much only ate the cabbage, potatoes and carrots.

We talked a little about my leaving out (again), and Doug tried once again to talk me into staying. Laurel seems much more at ease with people coming and going than Doug... which I find interesting since he prides himself on being  progressive and forward thinking. You'd think he would be more transition-minded of the two.

But then again, he is a die hard preservationist... which is sort of ironic on the surface.

"You're a local fixture," he told me. This was maybe the 2nd or 3rd time he talked to me about staying on since I came back from my Eastbound jaunt. The times before he tried to appeal to my sense of community and obligation -- which are legitimate tactics to use, since I do feel like I'm a part of the community here... which  in part means I have incurred a certain sense of obligation to the place.

[I carry my home on my back. But the cops only frown every time I put it down. - Utah Phillips]

It's difficult to explain the exegesis of why I have to go to people who aren't similarly afflicted. Doug and Laurel did their share of bumping around early in their marriage, but they have been settled here in Mount Carroll, undertaking the renovation and preservation of their historic house on Main Street for 15 years. They understand what Melissa sometimes calls "being a gypsy." But this itch is an entirely different thing. And generally, the only people I have found who really understand it are those who feel it, too.

[I don't know if I'll ever find the way back home. -Utah Phillips]

And it's not just the fact that Melissa is here. It would be relatively easy to avoid her, if that was what I really wanted... even in a town as small as this one. It's still an emotional mind fuck when I see her and talk to her, and I have put off going over the house to finish packing just because my natural impulse is to avoid the emotional pain of visiting A Place That Used To Be Home.  But I knew I'd have to deal with that before I came back here. And really, it's a problem that's all about me -- which leads back, of course, to onfree of the factors that contributed to the end of the marriage.  That I make most things about me and only me... whether they really are or not. 

I have not always been mindful of my obligations. And though I do try, sometimes that underlying selfishness bubbles up to the surface. It's something I work on, something I am trying to be ever present and thoughtful of these days. And it is primarily because I've been traveling and writing and being reminded of just how lucky I am to have a multitude of friends and of how good-hearted people can be if they're given the chance that I can come back here and be aware -- sometimes awkwardly -- that I carry the weight of certain obligations. 

One of those being that I have to be honest about my part of the blame in the breakdown of my marriage to Melissa. This was brought back, clear as the sky is today, when I woke up with a hang over and the residue of a feeling that I had felt a lot over the last year and a half or so. That feeling of being an asshole. Primarily because, while I was certainly drunk enough prevail upon the men's toilet at the bowling alley to vomit in, I wasn't drunk enough to pass out. The drink rarely makes me sleepy. Actually, it usually does the exact opposite. I was sitting up, by myself, trying to get myself to sleep. And then I started to think about things. About being here. About needing to get away. About how what we want and what we need isn't always the same thing. Oh, I'm a fucking genius when I drink. And what do you think this genius did at 1 in the morning?

You know it. I texted Melissa to see if she was awake, knowing there was a better than average chance that she would be.

Me: 
You awake?
Her:
 yes
Her: 
whats up
Me: 
Nothin. Me.
Her: 
What did u want? U asked if I was up?
Me: 
Sorry. I'm just awake. Ignore me.
Her: 
Stop treating me like i chose this.
Me: 
That's fair. But stop treating me like I wanted it.
Her: 
You did.
Her: 
Are u drunk?
Me:
 Been drinking, yes. Don't wanna fight.
Me:
I didn't choose either.
Her: 
I dont either. Why did u text me?
Me: 
Sorry. I have moments. It'll pass, I guess.

If nothing else, my temporary return has been effective at reminding us both what it is about me that pushed her away. Clarity isn't always kind. 

The conversation goes on a bit after this, but the gist of it was: Don't be an asshole. And I can't say I blame her... because... well ... I am. Often. I am and have always been my worst enemy. Sure I have good qualities... I'm well-read, a snappy dresser, a decent writer, a polite guest. My mom likes me. My friends like me. Women occasionally enjoy my company for brief amounts of time.

But I was, in all honesty, a shitty husband in many respects. That I really did try is only a testament to the fact that I was horrible. Not violent. Not mean spirited. But an asshole, nonetheless. Because I wasn't as mindful about my obligations as I should have been.

Of course, that my obligations to my marriage often ran contradictory to my obligations to myself were the real problem.

And when I was talking to Doug and Laurel, trying to explain why it is I have to go... because I'm really only truly happy when I'm Out There, and being Out There is the only place where I can live and not turn into a total asshole because the work I need to do is Out There. And there's a lot of it to do.

There's a lot of it to do because of the obligations I feel. Because my friends have been more than generous, and so has the universe. Because I left the bowling alley without paying ... intending to come back later and pay at the end of the day... and when I did return I found that Doug and Laurel had paid my morning bar tab.  Because Dave and Julie have put up with me for almost 3 weeks. Because John Briscoe sometimes buys me a bowl of soup. Because a homeless guy in Norfolk gave me a dollar and a cigarette. Because I don't want anyone to regret the love and goodwill they show me, and because I want to find someway to share that back with the universe. 


[This post is dedicated to everyone who's been gracious enough to let me sleep on their couches, share their food, and listen to my stories. There's too many of you to list all at once. I hope you know who you are.

And thanks to all the people who read and who, I hope, will keep reading once I get back Out There. Which will be soon. Very soon.]