Showing posts with label Essays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Essays. Show all posts

14 December, 2010

Essay: Intractable, Part 1

I grew out of a narrow tradition; as a writer, my education began with The Great Books on the dusty top shelf of the reference section in the library. I read Descartes, Spinoza, Aristotle, Plato. But that was later, when I was in high school. The first book of any literary consequence I ever read was George Orwell's 1984. I was ten. The magnetic weight of that book struck me, even though I didn't understand it thoroughly until I had read it many more times. And even though I didn't understand it all that well, I did begin to understand one thing: I began to understand that if I was going to write – which, by that time, I had already begun – that my goal was to write something that had that same kind of magnetic weight.

Naturally, I had no idea what an impossible standard it was that I set for myself. I had no idea that most writers are NOT artists and that by deciding that I WOULD BE an artist was more or less assigning myself to more trial, misery, glory, pain, and epiphany than anybody would choose if they had any sense.

If Orwell was the book that made me want to be an artist, then it was James Thurber's story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, that made me an English major. He's a writer that's generally ignored by both the academics and the outsiders; academics ignore Thurber because he wrote primarily to entertain, sometimes to poke fun, but never to tear down the upper middle class readership of the then young and frenetic New Yorker. He was no Sinclair Lewis. Outsiders ignore him because the New Yorker has become everything that's wrong with contemporary American writing and the intelligentsia; it's insipid, snobbish, lacking in balls or editorial integrity, and is completely isolated from a large segment of writing in America, and has been since Steinbeck. When I read Thurber now, I see him as one in a lineage of American writers that began with Mark Twain; like Mark Twain, Thurber is often pigeon-holed based on his early work. But that's not the only thing they have in common. Twain and Thurber were successful as artists because they showed a clear sense of the absurd. Thurber understood that Mitty, in his day dreaming, had more to do with what America was becoming than the wide-shouldered, straight-backed version that played out in the movies and popular literature. America was, in Thurber's time, a land of desperate, spineless dreamers. And in that realization, there is brilliance that still shines even though we have changed from desperate dreamers to just plain desperate.

But I loved books, and I was developing a love for literature; so I did what seemed to make sense. I threw myself into academia, into the canon. Some of them I loved; most of them I didn't. A few of those have warmed up to me over the years... not because I've developed a greater understanding of their place in the canon but because I'm hitting an age where their words speak to me instead of at me. Robert Frost is one. Dickens is another... though I limit myself to Hard Times and The Old Curiosity Shop. Whitman spoke to me at an early age; but then so did Chaucer and Milton. Milton is one I have always appreciated because his humane treatment of the devil in Paradise Lost remains a literary achievement that few have come close to. I don't agree with his intent or his final statement on the matter of humanity, the devil, and what it all means; but he was a Puritan's Puritan. He put protest in Protestant. So I overlook my glaring disagreements because … well... he was kind of an asshole. And even when I disagree with other assholes – because I have often been accused of being one myself – I at least like them. Just a little bit.

But even though I loved academia, I was struck with how dogmatic it could be. All institutions are dogmatic, whether they're academic, religious, or political. So I sought out other voices: Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, and Corso. On The Road and Coney Island of the Mind stick out to me as significant influences on my development. Development, not style. I discovered literary rebellion. And it was wonderful. But to really appreciate and understand it, I had to move outside of academia; which began a long series of bouncing from job to job, in and out of academia. Getting divorced had something to do with that, as well. But I see that less a cause and more part of the effect of how I was developing, what I was becoming. 

09 November, 2010

Essay: Of Love and Football

I can't believe you did this to me, she said.

My wife and I sat through the last quarter of the Steelers/Bengals game feeling the same hope and excitement mixed with shame, anguish, and disappointment that seems all too familiar to the Bengals Nation. My wife, like every dedicated fan, has her list of people to blame; we talk about it. Sometimes it's the Bengals' cadre of wide receiver divas. Sometimes Carson is still playing like he's worried about being hit. Sometimes the offensive line plays like they're working for the other team. Sometimes the defense plays like they haven't been playing football since they were old enough to support a helmet and shoulder pads. This year, and part of last year, our post-game conversations have focused on the half-life that is Marvin Lewis's career in Cincinnati.

Without reservation, I blame Mike Brown. I always blame Mike Brown.

He tinkers with the team the way I tinker with my chili recipe – except my results get better over time. Mike Brown suffers from the same delusion that another micro-managing football team owner – one Jerry Jones, owner and GM of the Dallas Cowpokers – suffers from. Each of them had one idea that worked once upon a time; and now they believe they are football geniuses. Jones gave us professional cheerleaders – though, as my friend and fellow scribbler Jose recently pointed out to me over Facebook, knowing that guys who watch football will also watch hot chicks in skimpy uniforms isn't really an inspired idea; it's more like common sense.

And for those of you who don't know or remember, Mike Brown's one good idea was to start the Bengals franchise in Cincinnati. It was, I admit, an inspired idea, and one that I am bound to be grateful for. If little Mikey Brown hadn't gone to Daddy Paul and whispered the name “Cincinnati,” the Bengals might have been playing in thrown away Browns' uniforms in some other city – which means that my Dad, who was content to live in Florida until he heard that Cincinnati was getting a professional football team, would have never moved home and married my mom. But one good idea – and a business idea at that – in no way qualifies him to micro-manage. Mike Brown is the brain behind the stadium deal that nearly soured the team's relationship with the city – a relationship salvaged by Marvin Lewis and the no huddle offense. Mike Brown has narrowly avoided being run out of town by the grace of a once solid defense and the fact that other than people he's related to or people he pays, Mike Brown doesn't have any people physically close enough to actually lay a hand on him. He lives in a germ free bubble at some undisclosed location in Indian Hills (where the Nati Affluent guard themselves from the hordes of rednecks and displaced downtown blacks that have the audacity to question terms like “gentrification.”) and only speaks through coded transmissions from a ticker-tape machine.

And while the season isn't over yet, any chance of a post-season appearance is as dead as the fish that get washed ashore from the Ohio River. Last night's edition of the Cincinnati/Pittsburgh grudge match had all the elements I have come to expect; I liken it to Greek Tragedy. Think Oedipus Rex. No, the Bengals didn't fuck their own mothers; but they sure as hell set themselves up for doom, failure, and to wander around blindly. For the next 8 weeks, at least.

The problems aren't new ones. People will talk about Carson's injury and wonder whether he'll ever really “get his swagger back.” Talking like that is about as idiotic as people talking about whether Obama “got it” from the recent mid-term election... only at least swagger is a bit more specific than “it.” When I was 13, “it” meant sex. And while I think Carson Palmer came back from that injury a different quarterback, his swagger isn't the entire issue. The real issue is that the Bengals organization has nearly worn him out, and the only real question I have is the same one that my wife posed last night: so if Carson Palmer were to leave Cincinnati, would his brother Jordan leave too?

I've also been wondering about Marvin's fate. I'd hate to see him go, but maybe it's time. If Marvin goes, though, then there's some other deadwood that needs to go, too:

  • Paul Alexander, Assistant and Offensive Line Coach: He's been a coach longer than any of his players have been playing the game, and has been in Cincinnati through several Head Coach changes. My only thought is that he must get on bended knee ever year and give Mike Brown one hell of a blow job … no small trick through a germ-free bubble. That's the only way I figure that he's been able to keep a coaching job.
  • Bob Bratkowski, Offensive Coordinator: This guy's Cincinnati career can be clocked with an egg timer. The fact is, he does have an eye for talent, but not an eye for stacking the offensive side of the ball to account for inevitable injuries. And his play calls are predictable. My wife pointed out several times during the game last night that if she could read what the Bengals offense is going to do, then the Steeler's defense must have precognitive knowledge of it.
  • Kyle Caskey, Offensive Quality Control: From what I can tell, this guy's a glorified intern. Unsure of what this position actually entails, I did what any dedicated researcher would do. I googled it. And according to the only source that sounded at all reasonable, Legion at posted in a forum two years ago that basically someone in Caskey's position prepares game film, gets the coffee, and has something to do with the scouting team. I guess Caskey's responsible for getting the hookers.

If it seems I'm picking on the offense... well, I am. The defense has problems, but it's player related. Injuries and inexperience have hurt us on both sides of the ball; but with the offense, it's rooted in a coaching structure that's become predictable.

The only way that the Bengals have ever had solid seasons is when they run the ball – which they haven't been able to do this year, in spite of having talent like Cedric Benson. Running Backs are always the most under-appreciated and most critical players on the offensive line. They carry the weight. But this year, with our dual divas, T.O. and Ocho, the offensive strategy has been to throw the ball. And while I will admit I was wrong about T.O. as a talent, I am sick and tired of all the Batman and Robin bullshit. And if something doesn't change, Ocho will get sick of it too. Last night he looked several times like he was suffering from ball envy. And Ocho doesn't like it when he can't show off. The only upside to a break up of the friendship between T.O. and Ocho is that there will be fewer reality tv shows to ignore. Play football, guys, if you want to play ball. If you want to have VH1 reality shows no one will watch, go with god and get out of the way.

When the game was over last night, my wife said the same thing to me she always says when they lose: I can't believe you did this to me. Her claim is that I somehow turned her into not only a football fan, but a Bengals fan. I did no such thing. I only wanted to be able to watch football in peace. The fact is, though, that if we were able to go to home games, she would be one of Those Fans – the face painting waving at the tv camera and trying to psyche out the visiting team kind of Fan. And I love her for that, among the many reasons I love her. I try and tell her that the years of frustration makes for a True Fan; if you can love your team after watching them self-destruct season after season, when the the golden years come – and they do – then you've earned the right to be as obnoxious as you want to be. And my wife, I can tell you, is no bandwagon fan. And while the rest of the season will drown in the rhetoric of trying to “end the season with their heads held high”, the Bengals will disappear from the conversation until next year's blooper reels. Maybe Caskey puts those together, too.

24 September, 2009

4 New Poems: Essays

Essay: Regarding Poetry

Left to its own devices
a poem is its own and
only best explanation.
Everything else
is some dead poet’s ego
getting in the way, trying
in vain to outlive the lines.

Essay: Regarding Occupation

Every job is designed
to do one thing – use you
up, brain and body.
One way or the other.
The trick is knowing that
and having the insight
to sleep in.

Essay: Regarding Art and Compromise

Whenever a would-be artist
speaks of compromise –
with the husband or wife, the kids,
or the day job—check the eyes.
If you look close enough, you’ll see
what’s left of the soul evaporating
and escaping out the ears.

Essay: Regarding Happiness

The Puritans and the Buddhists
got it right – all life is suffering.
Today I put two dollars on a horse.
It held its own until the last turn.
Up until that moment, I was floating
on my chair. When it lost (came in last)
I drained my beer and walked home.