Showing posts with label River City. Show all posts
Showing posts with label River City. Show all posts

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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26 April, 2017

Love is the best disease

My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me. -- Winston Churchill

When I rolled into River City on a Greyhound bus 5 years ago this week, I had no idea what I was in for.

My plan was to stop through on my way west. I'd been living on the road since January and had been bouncing around the East Coast, Appalachia, and the Ohio Valley for months. I stayed with family, visited friends, and slept on buses, trains, and in stations between Chicago and Newport News.

The way I understand it, she had to pay someone $20 to pick me up because no one wanted to drive downtown to the bus station. Traveling by the big grey dog is frowned upon by a certain segment of the population, and perhaps (though unlikely) by some of you, Dear Friends and Readers. So it was that after beating the bushes and offering cold hard cash, Amanda managed to find someone to pick me up and deposit me at the house that would, eventually, become my home.

And I say again: that wasn't my plan. My plan was to roll west, cross the wild Mississippi River, explore the big square states and head to the Left Coast, where all freaks and all geeks of every stripe are welcome.  I didn't intend on settling down so much as wandering around and back again. I had some unfinished business up in Illinois -- an anti-climactic and passionless divorce -- and was planning on looping back east to visit family and friends.

When I came to Louisville five years ago this month, I didn't expect to meet the love of my life. I expected to reconnect with an old friend from college that wouldn't mind a visit now and again as I passed through The Bluegrass.

But that's exactly what happened. I didn't expect my entire life to change, but it did. That's the way love works, though. It's not calm. It's not reasonable. It doesn't take your plans into account. And it doesn't always mix in with the life you're setting up for yourself.

If you're lucky, love makes you a little crazy. Cynics say that falling in love is like a drug and just as temporary. Being in love takes work. And that work requires that come back to that person, over and over again. If the definition of insanity is the desire to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, love means looking at the love of your life everyday and embracing inevitable change.

In a way, real love is a disease. It invades you and changes the way you breathe, the way your blood flows. Love demands that you make changes, even when the changes might be uncomfortable at first.

I'm not always particularly good at living the domestic life. I've written about that before. But I love that today, I get to celebrate my marriage to a woman that knew that when she decided to take a chance on a guy like me.

And that's the thing about love. It's not a warm fuzzy kind of thing.

But if you're lucky, it sure does feel that way most of the time.

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11 May, 2016

Etiquette and indignity: riding the Grey Dog

[From pocket journal, 9 May 2016]

At the. Louisville Greyhound Station, waiting for the bus to Cincinnati. I know this isn't a proper jaunt, but I feel a certain mental and spiritual release just sitting here on the floor with my rucksack and the blue guitar*. [They've taken out even more seats since the last time I was here.]

The post-Derby exit crowd is still here -- the proles that no one looks for in the expensive boxes or theexclusive parties where the rich, the famous, and the rich and famous wear ugly hats, ugly ties, and take pride in urinating on the city in a most non-metaphoric fashion while making fun of the accents, the politics, AND while the city's most glamorous whores -- the mayor, the city council, and the Chamber of Commerce** -- open wide and swallow whatever the out-of-town rubes have to offer. In addition to the obvious hangovers and economic losses being nursed***, space on the buses at a premium. This means, among other things, that that Greyhound drags out the broken down cans to accommodate the crowd.

My bus is number 6222. I always look at the number. It's a habit born out of complaining. Yes, I realize it often does no good to complain when, after riding in a mostly air conditioned sardine can for 25.5 hours from Louisville Kentucky to Norfolk, that your bus driver is lost in rural Virginia. It does no good, but I do feel a little better afterwards -- especially  after listening for 2 hours as other passengers, none of whom have ever been in the state of Virginia, try and give the bus driver directions to get back on the interstate.

I know what you're thinking, Dear Friends and Readers -- GPS makes this sort of foolishness impossible.

Oh, if only that t'were true. If only.

Traveling by the Grey Dog is one of those things I often swear I'll never do again. By its very nature, it is undignified and uncomfortable. Many people lack the basic etiquette to minimize the absence of dignity and comfort. I have even written about how I will never travel by the rolling sardine can again.

But I end up doing it anyway. And this is why they always win.

This particular bus is one I'm sure I've ridden before. It used to be a nice one, too. One of the late 90's models -- seats still wide enough for a non-stick figure person (though certainly not big enough for a man of large appetites to stretch out). Plenty of room in the above head storage bins. Unlike the new buses they advertise, there is no free wifi, and there are a few electric outlets every 3 or 4 rows. It's true that the newer buses have shiny, all faux leather seats, free wifi, and plenty of electric outlets. But the seats are more narrow, there's less leg room, and the above head storage compartments are smaller and shorter.

The seat I'm sitting in is stuck in a reclined position that I have always found uncomfortable on buses. It's more slouchy than relaxed and I've slept better on the bus sitting straight up. I know this seat will not be fixed. Mine is not the only broken seat, as the seat ahead of me is also stuck in a reclined position. The young woman sitting in it, trying to master English as a Second Language with an adult ESL reader, is apparently unconcerned that her head is almost in my lap and that a jolt or a speed bump could make us far friendlier with one another than either of us wants.

These seats will not be fixed or replaced. At some point, after the engine has been taped together from all the miles and abuse, it will finish out its service somewhere in the Great Empty -- a large, square state like Iowa, Wyoming, or Montana. They send all the broken up cans out there to rust, rattle, fall apart and die like an underfed racing hound.

Yes, the buses are made to be driven into the dirt. But the inevitable entropy is driven -- pun intended -- by riders who think a bus seat is a recliner, who don't know how to use earphones, and by those who don't seem to grasp that no amount of lounging, seat hogging, and a total lack of spacial awareness makes rolling along at 55 mph in a rolling sardine can more dignified.

And moreover, the basic business model -- as far as I can tell from my vast experience riding the Grey Dog and its various geographically locked clones -- is built on a mutual acceptance of an undignified humanity. They tend to put the nicer, newer (and smaller) buses in larger markets in the northeastern seaboard and southern California. Then, once the buses get a little too used in service, they're moved to more populated markets in the midwest, south, and west until they make the death roll even further west, into the mountain time zone far, far away from the shiny, made for TV background coasts.

I wish there was a train between Cincinnati and Louisville. There used to be. But CSX won't pay to update and repair the tracks for commuter trains. So on the bus I go.

There is, I suppose, always this:

*The blue guitar is a Washburn Rover, a travel guitar. Sounds a little tinny, but holds a tune and can fit in the above seat storage. Someday I'm going to put in an electric pick up so I can plug it into an amp.
** The Chamber of Commerce has rebranded itself as Greater Louisville, Inc. You know. Because that changes the nature of what they are, which are parasitic savages.
***No one who wins big at the Derby takes the bus home. It's a universal truth.
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28 March, 2016

Ontology and Texas: Vacationing and the Traveler

 There is nothing more grotesque to me than a vacation. - Dustin Hoffman

How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else.  - R. Buckminster Fuller 

My angel asked me if I miss being on the road.

"I know you miss it," she said. "But..."

"I do miss it," I told her. "But I'd miss you more."

Anyone who has met me in the last couple of years has only heard me talk a little about my urge to travel. I don't get out as much as I used to, and when I do there's more of a deadline than when I was chasing after the Nomad Nation a few years back. I suspect that many people who have only known me over these past couple of years have a difficult time imagining me wandering across the country and the countryside, with only one more temporary destination in mind, but open to the possibility that another will be just as fine or better.

When Amanda asked if I would switch up how I portioned my time and stay with her more than I was on the road, it was an easy decision to make, and I don't regret it. I like to think she doesn't, either.

But when we announced our intention to go down to Austin and visit her brother and his family, a few people who DID know me back when I traveled pointed out that I must have been excited to travel again. My mom, knowing full well that my itchy foot* hasn't dulled, it's only semi-restrained, asked if flying to Texas would quell the itch that apparently everyone including the eerily accurate Pandora algorithm noticed.

It was a good visit. We arrived in time to see my sister-in-law Cassie's movie, The Liberators premiere at SXSW. We were able to visit a tiny house village for the formerly homeless being built by Mobile Loaves and Fishes.  I was able to touch the first draft, with author's revisions, of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. Most importantly, we were able to spend time with family that we don't get to see often, and I was able to meet more of the extended relatives in Cassie's family.

The truth is, though, that while I did enjoy the trip and enjoyed Austin** mightily, the trip did nothing to scratch my itchy foot.

I could blame flying***, or I could blame my perpetual (and familial) issue with the freestanding Republic of Texas. The problem is much less dramatic, however. After the third day, I pointed out to Amanda that I was starting to feel like we were there too long -- you know, Dear Friends and Readers, that old rule about visitors and fish -- she clarified the issue in her usual direct manner.

She told me "You don't vacation very well."

It's true. The problem presented itself even before we left River City, when I was trying to pack. How does one pack for vacation? I understand how to pack to live out on the road for 3 or 4 months at time, or longer. But vacation? You're generally expected to have enough clean changes of clothes, optional nicer looking clothes for special occasions. Right? Swimsuits? Flip flops? Where do I stash my emergency fire starter? Oh, right, that doesn't fall under the list of acceptable items for carry-on luggage. Pocket knife? Nope? Medicinal bottle of bourbon? No bottles bigger than 3 ounces. What about my blanket, and emergency warm layer in case I hit cold weather, and my poncho that can also double as tent (with camping rope or clothes line... neither of which is TSA approved for carry-on luggage.)?

There is an ontological difference between traveling and vacationing that many people take for granted. Traveling is, in itself, the purpose the trip. It's true that travelers stop places and see things and meet people, but the momentum is the point.

Other the other hand, the destination is often the point of a vacation. Also, the fact that a vacation is, by definition, time taken away from something else -- from job, from the usual schedule -- places a different premium on the time. An hour is always just an hour, but that hour earned (or stolen. or bartered for) on the job creates a focal point for energy and intention. You're supposed to fill the hour with as many activities as possible and take pictures so that you can go back to work and show your co-workers, many of whom were probably cussing about you since they had to pick up your slack. Vacation implies a finite amount of time during which the vacationer "de-stresses" or "re-centers" or "drinks like the fish he was born to be."

Traveling may include any, all, or none of those things, except that the time isn't taken. It isn't earned, stolen, or bartered for from your boss, your co-workers, or the grand capitalist system in which we are all replaceable cogs and nothing more. Traveling means embracing the notion that your time is yours, and when you stop, or work, or don't work, it's your time to do with what you want.

This is why most people aren't travelers. There's more freedom and fear wrapped up it than many are capable of or will to handle. And it's probably why I don't vacation well, though I do enjoy any time I get to spend with My Angel. And I still had a great time.
 * itchy foot, n. ph. - a disposition to desire momentum that sometimes presents as a need to travel for its own purpose and value, regardless of final destination. (Parsons Dictionary of Oft Used Words and Phrases, Electronic Desk Ed.)
** I've never had luck with Texas while traveling. I either get side-tracked, searched, derailed, or stuck at the bus stop in Amarillo during a police siege... which happens more than you might think. Also, I have it on authority of an over-told family story that my Old Man also had problems with Texas... to the point that former Governor Ann Richards wrote him a letter promising a long prison term if he was ever to return to the state. To my knowledge, he never did return. Austin, however, is a nice enough town if you can afford it and there is more beer -- by sheer volume and label options-- than any other place I have ever been.
***More undignified than riding bus, but faster... which, in my experience, is the only thing it. I have it on authority of my older brother, who has flown First Class before, that it is much better. This does nothing to endear it to me, however. 

If you like what you're reading here, I have work for sale on my amazon author page: You can also leave a tip if you'd like. Thanks for reading!

14 April, 2014

Brief Meditation on the Metaphysical Politics of Place and The Good Friday Assault (A Story)

I've often told my friend Jared Salyers that I am jealous of his sense of place.  With very few exceptions, he has never wandered far from the place he knows is his home -- Olive Hill, Kentucky. With very few exceptions, I have more or less avoided my childhood home -- Bethel, Ohio. His reasons for staying are startlingly similar to my reasons for staying away. His sense of connection to the area where he was born and raised -- and where he is now married and raising his son -- runs deep. 

This will seem like an unremarkable statement if you are a native Kentuckian. Since I am an implant from the dirtier side of the dirty, sacred river, I often meditate on it with a sense of wonder. Native Kentuckians fall more or less into two distinct categories:
  1. those who love it, identify with it, and feel in their bones (whether they stay or go); and
  2. those who leave, and once they leave, rarely feel the need to return.
There is a pull to ground in Kentucky that is unlike any other place I've been. And even though it took me a long time to get here -- and even though I will need to scratch my itchy foot from time to time -- this is the place I call home.  I don't have the same connection with the place that others have -- a connection that in my mind gets wrapped up in my notions of grace, as a gift bestowed by the universe for reasons beyond our reckoning that are probably not worth the energy to try and understand.  And because I do identify that sensation of knowing home in your bones for your entire life as a kind of grace, like any good Protestant Reject I recognize the other path to paradise comes in the form of works.

Love and impossible gravity* drew me here. Love and impossible gravity keeps me centered. And it is because of love because of impossible gravity that I am embracing every facet of my life.

Lately, this has meant learning. Learning how to garden. Learning how plumbing works. Learning how to repair things, make things, how to plan for years instead of days and months -- and learning that plans are only good plans if they are fluid and if they are grounded in love and in impossible gravity.

Places, like people, wilt and rot if they fall into neglect. Places, like people, will rise out of the fog someone is willing to put the work in.

And there is beauty in wilting and rotting. And there is beauty in rising out of the fog, washing
everything in sunlight and in water, and in pulling out what arguably should have never been there... like the carpet upstairs. Except for where a very old, very sick, very incontinent cat destroyed the pine floorboards, the floors are sturdy and in good condition. In spite of some the fantastically disastrous "improvements" (people who don't know how to do wiring should not do wiring. People who don't understand gravity should not install plumbing.)  done to this house by the people Amanda bought it from and in spite of some age and wear and tear, the bones of it are good. We're putting a lot of energy and thought into the place. We're going to be planting an expanded garden soon, and we are planning to expand it further next season using terrace gardens.

This clay did not birth me and I will never be able to say that. But I will be able to say I put in the work to justify calling this place "home."

The Good Friday Assault 

05 February, 2014

Along The Dirty, Sacred River: Introductions

The Ohio River has been a physical and psychic boundary marker for as long as I can remember. Growing up in southeastern Ohio in the shadow of the seven hills, the river was the demarcation point for everything that was wrong with everything.  It's difficult to explain sometimes just why folks from southern Ohio have had such a historical loathing of anything to do with Kentucky. I suspect this has something to do with the fact that most of southern Ohio's original settlers came, not from the east, but from Kentucky, searching for work in those grand and unsavory cities like Cincinnati that grew up along the river as cesspools and harbingers of commerce. 

As an adult -- or, more appropriately, a child who has reached middle age -- Kentucky and the river have taken on different meanings. The river is transfixed in my mind as a place of magic and of history. Before people developed symbols to represent the sounds they made, before people developed language to pass on stories and songs and other kinds of important life knowledge, the river and the rocks and trees recorded history for us. We can look at the water, dig in the dirt, and if we have the know how and if we pay attention, we can see not only the short history of humanity, but the history of this giant storybook Earth.

The river soothes and keeps me. Piscean as I am, I've always had an odd -- and sometimes contentious -- relationship with water. I'm hoping to develop a better relationship with it, and learn from it in the same way I hope to learn from everything around me.

Those of you who know me or have followed my writing for a while may be more familiar with me under a different header,  That blog is the story of a man travelling and trying to put himself back together. I am not done travelling, and I am not done with the core idea that those months taught me -- live to avoid an avoidance culture; but it would be disingenuous of me to try and keep writing under that banner. In a hyper-sensitized, logo-branded culture, the tendency is to find a niche and keep it up. All the smart marketing books tell us that -- that people are swayed by brand loyalty. That we are who our Google/Facebook profiles say we are. That we have one life, one trajectory, and one destiny.

That, Dear Readers (I hope you're there!), is a pile of bullshit.

I've been away from blog world for a bit, focusing on life here at the new home base on the south side of River City, otherwise known as Louisville, Kentucky.  I've also been struggling a bit with how to best proceed with this next to unknown and unread existence I think of as my public life. People who know me well enough to be my friend on Facebook, the most technofascist of all the social media sites, may have a handle on what I've been doing.  I've been teaching, and writing some poetry. I've been working on storytelling at monthly Moth Story Slam at Headliners. I've playing music in the basement, trying to teach myself the banjo and mandolin. I've also been putting together a show of sorts.  As if that doesn't sound busy enough, I'm also working on another small press endeavor ... for those of you out there who may still remember One-Legged Cow Press... that will publish and distribute limited editions of handmade chapbooks mostly written by yours truly with some other good folks thrown in for good measure. 

That I'm launching a new blog doesn't suggest that I've abandoned the notion of avoiding an avoidance culture. It's quite the opposite. I will wander about when the mood and circumstance takes me; but there's plenty here to keep me occupied that is worthwhile and worth not avoiding.  In addition to written blogs, there will be audio clips and pictures, and maybe even some viddy for your viewing pleasure.  This non-existent space will be filled with stories and songs and poems -- a lot be my, but hopefully a lot by others, too -- and with news and updates of new travels, travails, adventures, and (most certainly) misadventures. 


20 September, 2013

Gator People Live in the River, Interlude: Updates and Distractions

Here we are now entertain us / I feel stupid and contagious / Here we are now entertain us - Nirvana

Let be be finale of seem./ The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.  - Wallace Stevens

The good news is that the quality of current college freshmen is such that they no longer feel the need to laugh at my jokes when they aren't funny. Of course, on the whole they believe it's my job to either entertain them so they can forget they're in class or to forget they're in class and pass them on since they already know everything.

And I'm one who respects and understands experience as a teacher. And I'm one who realizes that even the most self-entitled, insulated 18 year old has some experience from which to draw. The issue is that while most 18 year olds know some things, they believe they already know everything because they have learned how to affect cynicism and wear beanies.

On the upside, I'm either past the age or past good looking enough to where the girls don't try and flirt with me to improve their grades.

... glass half full and all that, after all...

But on the whole, higher ed is pretty much the same as when I left it, and I find odd comfort in this dysfunctional fact. I survive the cognitive dissonance caused by the outright deception of admissions people and the conflict of purpose among my colleagues by remembering that I did not build this screwed up machine. I am merely trying to dance on the edge of the conveyor belt.

A few updates:

  • I am officially "in the system" at U of L.
  • I have replaced my stolen phone and even updated to an underwhelming iOS7.
  • I am learning to play the banjo.
I am also tinkering with the idea of another chapbook and plotting another run at the story gathering project.

09 September, 2013

Gator People Live In the River, 4: Persona Non Grata Chimichanga

I'm a very good man. I'm just a very bad Wizard. - L. Frank Baum

Back in the saddle again, as it were. The academic year is officially in full swing and I am back at what one of my former professors, Layne Neeper liked to call The Salt Mines. He was not only referring to teaching, of course. You don't work in higher education -- or institutional education in general -- and have the luck to be limited only to teaching. There are the politics of the thing to contend with. And whether you're a GOPper, a Dem, a Libber, a Fibber, a Tea Bagger, a part-time word slinger, or a rodeo clown, you can not escape the politics. Even those who claim to be apolitical are impacted by the systemic dysfunction that often parades as professionalism.

I am still not yet a real person at the University of Louisville. The latest snafu involved some a policy gap between the Great and Powerful Oz (U of L) and the most monolithic of institutions, the Department of Homeland Security. (Or, if you like, the Wicked Witch of the West.)

I'm not entirely new to the misfunctional nature of large universities. Arizona State University is itself an exercise in how to tread water in the middle of the desert. Sometimes my annoyance at how things don't work is misinterpreted as a lack of understanding or a sense of entitlement. The truth is that while I expect the great machinations to not function, I choose to maintain my idealism by holding onto the notion that we can do better inspite of a general attitude of benign neglect.

Update 9 September:

In the process of fighting an unjust parking citation -- unjust because were I an actual persona pro grata in the eyes of the university, I would have had a parking pass and would not have been at risk for being slapped with said citation for Failure to Display Proper Parking Decal -- I managed to get an actual Faculty/Staff Parking Decal in addition to not having to pay the citation. 

While this is progress of sorts, do not mistake that for the university's official recognition of my existence. I am, at the time of this writing, still an undocumented worker. All the work, none of the glory, and I still have to pay the same rate to park as someone who is full time and/or tenured.

Mayhap it will fall to future generations of Part-timers to find justice for this inequity.

In the mean time, I have to cut this short so I can go fight for a parking space. Save peace and love for the future. In a world in which might makes right and in which I drive a pick-up truck with large tires, there is no mercy for tenured folk in fiberglass new-age hippie mobiles.

[Feel free to read some sort of politically attuned message into the previous statement.]

Also, feel free to stop by Iron Belly, a blog of my new poetry, some prose, and whatever else I feel like posting there... though it will be mostly poetry.

Don't worry,though, Dear and Faithful Readers.  I'm not going anywhere.

Thanks and Gawd Bless.