Showing posts with label culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label culture. Show all posts

03 January, 2020

I am what I am -- dirtysacred

on the dotted line
My given name is Michael, which means (ever so humbly) One who is like God.  But I've always gone by Mickey or, as I got older, Mick. I distinctly remember having to learn to spell both my names; I grew up not liking my "formal name." It felt like a thing separate from me;  it was someone else's name. I learned to sign it on official documents, but it never felt like my signature. I tolerated (barely) a string of doctors that tried to be my buddy by calling me Mike : a name I grew to dislike even more than my "formal" one.

There was one aspect of my dual nomenclature that appealed to me: it gave me a dual identity, a notion that set my already colorful and widely wandering imagination on fire.  Being the super hero aficionado I was,  my shared status with the whole cast of characters that helped forge my imagination: Spiderman. Superman. The Incredible Hulk. Dual identities. Spies had them, too. This was how heroes walked through the world like regular people.

Mrs. Gallagher, my high school Spanish teacher, told the class that each of us had to chose a Spanish name to be called as part of language immersion. Most people took the Spanish version of their name.  The Spanish version of my name, Miguel, didn't seem right.  Another name popped into my head; I'm not even sure where it came from, though probably from some western or another: Diego. That had flash. That had adventure. A bit of swashbuckling bluster, even. When I told her I wanted to be Diego, she seemed pleased that I took a different name. Then she told me the American version of my Spanish name was James.

I thought of this later when I chose James the Greater  (the patron saint of pilgrims) as my patron saint when I was confirmed in the Catholic Church at 44 years of age.

When my dad died I got a little obsessed with the notion of names, naming, and generations. I've always been told I'm either a "chip off the old block" or a throwback to my Grandpa Parsons ... Daniel Boone Parsons, the Boone being his own addition because he believed that successful people had three names. He was also something of a fan of Daniel Boone stories, being a voracious reader.  I saw my name... Parsons... as the only connection I had left to Dad and I embodied it as best I could.

After my first marriage fell apart, my name was a burden. I felt like I let down my father's memory. And so I found another name for a while: Quill. This name, like my formal and birth names, was given to me by another. And I wore it, too, like another identity.  It allowed me to  untangle some of the other parts of my personality, some of them darker. Free of the weight of the godlike man I'd built my father up to be, I was free to be, at last a man of my own reckoning. 

And eventually that too became a burden. One day it fit; the next day it didn't. 

Maybe it was somewhere around this time that I started to think of names as something besides A Thing Designated and Bestowed.  A name could be something representative of a particular time and place in a person's life. I was Michael when I signed official documents. Michael was married. Michael was divorced. Mick was still alive and writing. I was Mickey to my mother, Mick to my friends, and had been Quill to others.  I had one friend who called me, with great affection, Papa, after a long debate over Hemingway and Jane Austen. She sometimes still calls me that, and it suits me fine enough... from her.

After my 2nd marriage disintegrated, somewhere in my travels my journal, along with my ID and bus ticket, were stolen. It took some bit of engineering to get new copies of my ID, but the ticket and journal were gone forever. And to be honest, I was far more upset about the journal than I was my Illinois driver's license.  Michael had already been divorced. Again. And who was Mick? Did it matter? I took on a few names, just to try them out. Blu. Baleu. Ozymandias (after my favorite poem). I published chapbooks under those names.

We attach so much to a name. And in spite the widespread use of screen names dating back to the blue screen days of the early internet, it's still our  "formal" names that matter more. This is less about lineage, though, than it is debt. Our financial debts are tied to it and to our social security numbers. A woman can change her name when she marries by filling out a form; a man must go in front of a judge to declare he is not hiding from any debt or court paper. 

But these are interesting times; people change their names for any number of reasons. We are becoming much more openminded about people in the process of becoming.

And yet.  And yet. 

I recently tried to join a literary discussion online and was told I had to use my "real"  name.  When I  explained I would rather use the name I have come to think of more as mine... chosen and not bestowed... dirtysacred... the moderator messaged me and informed me that he "hated to disappoint" me but that he must insist, because of the true and deep nature of the discussion, that I use  my "real" name.

I didn't argue. But I did withdraw.  I wasn't sure how any deep literary discussion could happen when people aren't welcomed as they want to be. I still don't.  But I'm not the sort to make a stink where I'm not welcome as I am.

What is a name? My father feels no disrespect; he is gone and beyond getting offended.  And if I feel that I should choose a name that reflects my life as it is instead of how others would have it be, then that name should be enough. The encroaching nature of Facebook and the damned chains of debt meant to enslave us in this capitalistic republic would discourage me from taking a new name.

What is a name? A given name is a borrowed coat and a used pair of shoes we need to get started out the door; a chosen name is what we become from what we learn while we're kicking up dust.

06 December, 2019

Spontaneous Nothing/ Done getting kicked

Jean Baptiste Rochambeau: traitor but not bad game designer
The aftermath of every major life decision is that my brain, my  old enemy, kicks out every single reason that I might have read the road signs wrong. Like as I might, blaming this on alcoholism doesn't feel like it fits the bill. Yes, our brains are our enemies most of the time... the brain as controlled by ego, at any rate.

To wit: faced with an unexpected 40% tuition increase from last semester to this semester, I decided it wasn't right to put that kind of strain on my family's already thin finances. The financial aid office, in all it's wisdom, offered me the opportunity to apply for yet another loan that I probably wouldn't get. If I had gone out to LA to deal with the issue in person, I'd have had no money to pay for lodging and no sure way home ... unless my wife and I didn't pay the mortgage.

See what I mean? Untenable.  Add to that the fact that the additional loan I was "qualified to apply for" was a PLUS loan... which is essentially a bank loan.  They check your credit score for that one.
So I didn't go. I was able to get a Leave of Absence for financial reasons, but that means I'll graduate a semester later than I originally planned... December instead of June 2020.

Meh. That part I'm not all that bothered by. A little bummed that I won't get to graduate with my friends in the same cohort. But it's that ol' brain... my Ego... that's been kicking my ass over the last few days.

Well, fuck you Ego. And move over.

This self-questioning has been a paralytic in the past. My joints lock up. My brain turns into an old rabbit-eared idiot box permanently stuck on white noise.  Generally this happens while I'm mid-stride into some half plan or another. Except that this time I had a plan, even if I'd forgotten that my old enemy, ego mine, would try and get in between.

My plan? Nothing.

That's right. Nothing.

I'm pretty sure my wife doesn't want to know this, and I'm damn sure certain that every productive member of the Machina Trumplandia doesn't want to know, either. Nothing flies in the face of that Engrained Something we were taught from the moment our parents started trying to socialize us.  My mother will worry. My mother-in-law, too. Pretty sure my daughter, who is preparing to have a daughter of her own, will have some concerns. If my father's ghost is hanging around, he'll have some choice words on the matter.

But yeah. Nothing. One Big Spontaneous Nothing.

That Engrained Something... that's ego. That's all my previous lives and decisions trying to run on repeat.  But like a religious has to die to their old life, a poet ... to truly be one... has to die to his or her old life, too.  While I have a deep respect for The Grand Experiment*, I've (finally) learned that there is no such thing as finding an accommodation between poetry and "life."

Poetry IS life. And there is no accommodating life. Either you live or you don't.

I know what you're thinking. What about money? What about bills? Yes, I will need to  make money. My decision to try and go back for my MFA was predicated on the notion that I had to find another track to be a good husband. My decision put off going this residency because of the financial hardship it would drop on my household was based entirely on needing to do what's best for my family. Not my ego, which would have had me going out to LA and putting our domestic security at risk.

No thank you, Ego. Fuck off.

Now, it's true that I've done a lot of things to earn money. Nearly all of them were awful. I attribute this to the fact that I've always hated money.  Even when I thought I was engaged in my own little capitalistic experiment ... and doing pretty well at it, actually... the thing I was sacrificing kept kicking me in the nuts. Poetry. Poetry kicked me in the nuts. Life. Poetry ignored is one big game of Roshambo, South Park Style.

I'm done getting kicked in the nuts for you, Ego.

Nothing. Live it. 


*The working idea that a poet can balance poetry, professional, and domestic life. I'm not saying it can't work. I'm saying it doesn't work for me. I was born with rambling feet, but I'm a lousy dancer.

Thanks for reading! 

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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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09 February, 2017

Letters from Trumplandia, 2: march on, cult/ure war!

...there can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message. - Umberto Eco, "Ur-Fascism"

Nevertheless, she persisted. - Mitch McConnell


I really don't blame people who insist that the media is to blame for how fractured the American landscape looks these days. There is a long and labored tradition of blaming the messenger for the message. There was a time when writers used pen names to protect themselves from retribution from the powerful for something they wrote. There's a reason for the existence of the phrase "Don't shoot the messenger."

The reason is this: most people like to shoot the messenger because they can't lay their hands who they are really upset at.

When people claim that the media is manipulating public opinion and manipulating "facts", what they don't want to face and what they don't want to accept is that it's not the media manipulating anything. Journalists are sharks. They go where the blood is. Corporations aren't and can't be ideological -- either liberal or conservative -- and continue to be corporations. Their first (and really only) prerogative is to make a profit. Ideology creates dogma. Dogma -- even a capitalist one -- eventually gets in the way of making a profit because you end up sacrificing profit for an idea. When you commit--  or refuse to commit to -- a story as a journalist you are making an ideological choice.

A good friend of mine recently defended her position that the media is manipulating cultural chaos by claiming that every story is opinion-based. To a point, I agree. All stories are told from the journalist's point of view; so, yes, in a sense, the news you watch, read, or scroll by is opinion. A good journalist understands his or her fallibility, though, and also understands that the purpose of media is not simply just to inform the public. With the fast flow of information in a digital age, simply communicating facts isn't enough. A journalist is a kind of storyteller, providing context that gives facts meaning.

But before you start complaining about the current state of media as if once upon a time our national media was objective and non-narrative, please do some research into the newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst.

If you appreciate a good movie, then please find Orson Welles' Citizen Kane -- a send up about a
Hearst-like character that so bothered the prototype that Hearst used his considerable influence to keep it from being played in movie theaters.

Scrubbed, sanitized history books and that sleepy mass communication course you may have taken in college will tell you we escaped the age of so-called "yellow journalism."

But anyone with a lick of common sense and an understanding of 21st century corporate media gets it.

If it bleeds, it leads. If it bleeds enough, news bleeds cash

It's not ideological. It's just business. And journalists, like teachers, garbage men, and ditch diggers, are exploited, abused, and spit out, too.

When 45 first announced his plan to run for President, I warned my colleagues and co-workers to take him seriously. He made his fortune -- real or on paper -- selling, first real estate and then himself. Someone with a more paranoid turn of mind might even look at the trajectory of his life and say that he had been preparing for it all along.

But I'll leave that bit of terror here and move on.

I'd read the reports of events at  rallies and seen that seething and misplaced anger being focused on reporters, on social justice activists, and on anyone who doesn't fit the mold the mid-20th century white male.

When I went the rally here in Louisville and witnessed the brazen threatening of journalists and their families, when I watched 45's supporters -- cheered on by a known white nationalist -- manhandle and abuse protesters, I knew I was watching more than politics run amok or some unwanted bastard mutation of the GOP.

I knew then I was seeing the beginning of the next wave.

The Nazis who did this added a racial slur that got the second picture banned from FB.
The wave of crimes against people of color and other minorities tied to post-election mania on the part of the Alt-Reich and its supporters was, for me, another indication of the next wave. That these crimes go more or less unanswered by the authorities is nothing short of criminal.

Convincing reasonable Americans that the media can't be trusted and that only the regime's sanctioned and vetted voiced can be trusted is a strategy straight out of the fascist playbook. The new wave's embrace of traditionalism at the expense of everything is another such strategy, which is best exemplified by his campaign slogan:

For my very well intended liberal friends who are hoping for a swing in the mid-term election or looking for hope in the 2020 presidential campaign, please keep in mind that not only has the new wave emboldened bigots and budding fascists, but has also gotten a foothold in the future of our educational system with the confirmation of anti-public education advocate Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary. 

In other words, the very institutions we have counted on to perpetuate and grow democracy in the minds of future generations are at risk... perhaps at the greatest risk since the concept of public education for all took hold.*

Moreover, even the pretense of rational conversation has been sucked out of the governing process, with Kentucky's own Mitch McConnell (R-KY) silencing Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) during Jeff Sessions'  confirmation hearing to be Attorney General when she tried to read aloud a letter written by Coretta Scott King criticizing Sessions' civil rights record.

This is the new wave. And since the GOP hasn't been able to silence or chastise the bastard Nazis the have given life and breath to, they are simply embracing it... because, down deep, the modern GOP has the same hate-filled, power hungry heart that the Alt-Reich does. As we decide how to move forward, please take heed and remember the lessons of our elders:

Concentrated power can be always wielded in the interest of the few and at the expense of the many. -- Lucy Parsons

Yours in the struggle, 

Bro. Mick
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*You can trace the spread of democracy, the increasing size and economic power of the middle class, and the rise of labor unions to the spread of literacy via accessible public education. Limit people's education and you limit their horizons.  

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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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.
* 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.(

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10 August, 2016

Synthesis and (never) forget it

 Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits. - Carl Sandburg

Ain't no money in poetry, 'cause that set the poet free. Well I've had all the freedom I can stand. - Guy Clark

My old high school guidance counselor, at least two different college academic advisors, and more well-intended but reductive thinking givers of advice have regurgitated in my general direction that statement often attributed to the father of the pedantic fortune cookie fortune, Confucius.
"Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life."
This statement is, of course, complete and utter bullshit; but it sounds good when intoned in the ear drums of tween, teen, and college age (and older) "lost" kids who haven't chosen a path to tax-paying socially defined success.  The caveat is, of course, that whatever job it is that you love, make sure it's something reputable and reductive so that when people ask you what kind of work you do, your answer doesn't challenge their basic assumptions about the nature of the life, the universe, and everything.

Of course, everyone likes a writer. Everyone likes a musician. But when either a writer or a musician has the temerity to expect to do what they love* for a living, we are told that's all really cool and all but shouldn't you just love DOING it? Isn't art for its own sake enough?

Art for art's sake is a nice argument for the wealthy class. But it doesn't address the truth that for most of us to create art for its own sake, we have to spend eight or more hours a day NOT CREATING ART and doing something we don't love -- and really, in most cases, don't really like.

But, I still continue to look a jobby-job** in order to do my part for the Parsons/Hay household. As I look for stable work in this "recovered" economy*** I keep running up against the same issues:

  1. There are more people looking for work than there are jobs for which they are qualified. I've applied for work that I'm absolutely qualified for and did not get a call back. It's not personal. There are a lot of people out there with similar qualifications, and a lot of them just out of college who will work for less in the name of getting experience.
  2. There are plenty of unskilled jobs; but employers have no motivation to hire people with skills and trades to fill them. I'm no snob. All work is noble and deserves respect. But when I apply for those kinds of jobs, I never get a call back, either. Common sense dictates that an employer sees my work experience in the classroom and as a freelance journalist and is inclined to NOT hire me to be a cashier because they assume I won't stick around.
  3. The industries I've worked in the before (writing and teaching) thrive on low morale, low pay, and a disheartening work environment.
So when I'm not looking for work that I know I will neither love nor like enough, I spend my days down in the basement, writing, podcasting, and looking for ways to use my various talents to earn a little scratch.^ As such, I'm making a few changes to my blog that will hopefully enable me to help keep the lights on and food on the table.

If you are a regular reader, you will notice a few changes.

  1. First, I'm using Mail Chimp to set up an email contact list. This is for blog updates and information about my projects ONLY. I will not sell your emails or contact information to any third party.
  2. Second, I've decided to reopen my archives. So, you all have access to my work posted at Fictions from the Dead Machine and American Re:Visionary.  Enjoy.
  3. I still have a link to my work published on Amazon at the bottom of each post. E-books and actual books are available.
  4. I've set up an account through for readers to become patrons. It's crowd source funding that allows anyone to set up monthly payments at different levels. Each level carries it's own level of rewards, included secure and dedicated content for some sponsors If you read the blog and like it, please consider giving $2.50 a month to help me keep the lights on. It's about the price of a cup of coffee -- less if you are a complicated coffee drink connoisseur.
One of the perks of that dedicated content is that you'll get the first whispers about my new projects... including the new podcast that it currently in pre-production.

Thanks for reading.
*To create art, sometimes you hate it. But mostly, you love it.
** A "career" is a jobby-job with retirement benefits.
*** Obama: savior of underpaying, unskilled jobs everywhere.
^ My goal is to make a living with my art, not a killing. I want to live, not work to death.

If you like what you're reading here, I also have work for sale on my Amazon Author Page. Thanks for reading!

04 March, 2012

Shipping Out to Boston: The Beantown Massacre (Verse 3 and Chorus)

Harvard makes mistakes too, you know. Kissinger taught there. - Woody Allen

The Harvard Law states: Under controlled conditions of light, temperature, humidity, and nutrition, the organism will do as it damn well pleases. -  Larry Wall 

If I don't trim my shit back soon, I'll start looking like this.
Harvard Bums are extraordinarily polite.

According to Neil, this is due to the fact that the cops will haul anyone off who gets in people's faces too much with their panhandling.  Mostly, they linger around the entrances to certain stores and under awnings and whisper their request for spare change as you pass.

In my experience, though, most panhandlers are pretty polite (with the exception of the Coney Island Stooges) ; because even if your mother doesn't teach you at some point that you get more flies with honey than vinegar, (sometimes a cliche is just a cliche) then life most assuredly will. Even if it's an act. Even if, while you try and play the role, you fantasize about snapping the mark's neck and tearing his head off.

Ok. So that was me working customer service. But the same general rules apply.

We were both a little hungover on Sunday, so we didn't get started until late. The quickly fading daylight was working against us. Personally, I blame the rum. I always have a hangover when I drink it... even the Good Stuff, which that most assuredly was.

But we managed to rally after some conversation, water, aspirin, and Laura's Sloppy Joe's and baked brussel sprouts. Over the course of our conversation, one thing became clear: the grand plans I had for Boston would have to be cut back... ever so slightly.

I have a relatively short list of Writerly Meccas... places that, for purely literary reasons I feel the need to go and just soak it all in... the stuff that helped make the writers and the writing that endures for me. And yes, even though Boston is One Of Those Cities that's historically important... The Tea Party, American Revolutionary War, Blah, Blah, Blah... Lowell, Massachusetts resonates for me a little more.

Lowell is the birthplace and final resting place of Jack Kerouac, one of those writers academes love to hate and many other writers hate to love. He's most well known for On The Road, the book that, if you read it when you're 18 makes you want to quit whatever you're doing and travel.

Of course, it's all carnival now... an economically depressed blue collar town that, once a year, becomes a bastion for hordes of Kerouac wannabes who don't understand the final tragedy of the man or his work. Desolation Angelsis one of my favorite books, and tops the list of my favorites of Kerouac's. (Followed by Mexico City Blues, and Tristessa.) Desolation Angelsis supposed to cover the period of time in his life before he wrote On The Road. But in many ways, it sums up everything about the man – his hopes, his hang ups, and his sense of failure, his idealism, and ultimately, his bitterness.

Idealists are grumpy most of the time, and generally have the greatest cause to be... because the world rarely lives up to our expectations. Because the dream is rarely realized. And if there's a recurring theme in my travels thus far, it's that dreams – although necessary and worth the risk – often don't come true. Or worse, they do, and don't measure up to the ideal.

We could have made it up to Lowell and had a quick look around; but I didn't want to sprint through just to say I'd been there. Neil and I decided instead to go to Harvard. As a former academic wage slave, I thought it was important to go to Harvard Square – the heart of academic entitlement – just so I could tell myself that The Machine didn't beat me.

My relationship with Higher Education... as it continues to be called, though now with a bit more irony and disgust... is nothing short of antagonistic. We understand one another, H.E. and I. As the last institution that failed me, and I believe, that continues to fail most everyone who can't afford to go someplace like Harvard, I end up howling alone about these failures. Because only a rare few are willing to admit I'm right, and most everyone – including the poor bastards who have still made careers out of it – is unwilling to accept the fact that they're slaves at worst and lackeys*at best. 

We walked down the hill and caught a bus that would take us straight to Harvard Square. It's a very pretty place, actually. Well manicured and cared for. Lots of brick. It was a Sunday afternoon, and on the chilly side, but there was still a fair amount of hustle and bustle. As we made our way to the Harvard Campus, Neil told me his story of the Harvard Occupy... when some of the nation's most entitled students – many of them the sons and daughters of the 1% – gathered to camp on Harvard Square to protest whatever it was they thought they were protesting... probably the fact that they don't get automatic A's for simply being accepted to the university that can boast, among it's many luminaries and graduates, former President George W. Bush... proof positive that a rich Daddy and a sense of entitlement really can get you somewhere.

At one point, Neil told me, the Harvard Occupy started to attract non-Harvard folks – particularly the homeless population. This, naturally, could not stand. After all, when a bunch of entitled kids who want to camp and have an excuse to cut class – other than the ones their Daddys give them – nothing works like a short scamp into wretched liberalism. (Which , of course, is allowed in college. Like “experimenting” with drugs and casual homosexuality. As long as you graduate on time and get a real job, what you do between class is no one's business, and, like the long hard tradition of sodomy in secret societies, is never discussed.) The homeless problem is one of those that the Occupy Movement has yet to cope with. There's still a fair amount of middle class pretense among the Occupiers who fail to understand that the very same forces that create homeless and poverty are the very same forces that are robbing them of the ability to have a nice house in the burbs, 2 cars, and three large flat screen televisions.

The Harvard Administration saw fit to close the Harvard Yard. Literally.

Wretched Liberal Dumpster Diving is one thing. But the HOMELESS? ON CAMPUS? Mixing with the best and brightest that private schools and trust funds (and scholarships for the statistically relevant poor kids) have to offer?

Something horrible could happen....

Something like...

I don't know...


No. The potential for class and culture miscegenation could never be permitted.

The common refrain in Neil's dialogue was that Harvard – separate from the students – was the kind of place where the only thing that mattered was The Work. And for anyone who knows better, The Work is something different for everyone. The Work is something sacred; because in the beginning was The Work. And the Word was with God. And the Work was God. And the Work carried on in spite of all -- including a society that neither appreciates nor encourages Good Work to be done. When I asked Neil how he felt when he first got his job on Harvard Campus, he smiled. Then he told me about his initial impressions of the place and how it surprised him that no one who actually worked at Harvard was actually all that snobbish.

“I was the one with the chip on my shoulder,” he said.

The only time Harvard people get bound up, Neil insisted, was when they're impeded from their work.

I don't think I believe it's as simple as that everywhere else; but I like to think it could be.

Neil is one of those guys who always looks for the best advantage; he's smart enough, and multi-talented enough. He says that if there's any advantage to the shit hole economy it's that people will have to learn how to Do Things On Their Own. He says it could be the best time for people who can engineer their own futures.

That's the narrative that feels good. God knows I like it, and or some people it might even be true. I don't know know if it's true for me. But in the end, maybe knowing doesn't matter. Maybe the journey doesn't count on knowing. Maybe knowing doesn't matter.

Maybe it's something else.

Now, when I was wandering around around Harvard Campus, I paused in front of Widener Library, and I even rubbed the shoe of the statue of John Harvard.

It's not really a statue of John Harvard. Rumor has it that the real John Harvard couldn't be bothered to sit for the modeling, so he sent someone else. Which means that everyone who rubs the toe of the Harvard statue for good luck is really rubbing the toe of some heretofore nameless academic. Huzzah!

The image that struck me even more deeply than the veiwing Widener Library... which, thanks to Hollywood, reminds me of  a young and beautiful Moira Kelly

She could've borrowed my razor anytime. Until One Tree Hill. That was just.... just horrible.

and a hairy Joe Pesci

Thanks to Hollywood script writers, literate bums can get laid by exotic beautiful, well-read women** .

was the large number of homeless people huddling in Harvard Square.

If the weather was warmer, I'd think they were waiting out the cold. But it wasn't warmer. And they were there, anyway. Huddling around the doors of the shops where Harvard faculty, staff, and students shop, are the broken, the lost, the free, and the brave. They try and stay warm, politely ask for a small piece of humanity, and endure... in spite of the fact that the conservative hordes and the wretched liberal scamps don't seem to understand that they, too, are part of America... and a part of the American Dream that has never lived up to the idealism that birthed it.

Being on Harvard's campus, though, I  couldn't help but be bowled over. Just a little. It's not a big campus, really. But it's a well-maintained one, and one that started simply with a collection of books and a pile of money. Used to be, that's all it took to start a university. And it's the tension between those two things... knowledge and finance -- that continues to define the problems higher education still has.

It's also the tension between those two things that defines most of our problems as a culture, I think. I won't bore you with the history of literacy in Western Civilization; but I will say this: Democracy would not exist without it. An Educated People are a People who are less likely to be fooled. An Educated People understand the gravity and the freedom of Self-Determination.

But it's also true... and it's becoming increasingly so... that you don't need a college degree to be Educated. Thomas Carlyle said the only true college is a library of books. And Neil, while I don't share his optimism, does have a point: we may be at the one of those rare high water marks in human development thus far where the access to information and the ability to Do is unparalleled.  If we decide to take the risk. If we decide to throw off the old dreams and old metaphors.... like that one called The American Dream, which dictates that success comes from Gumption and from Doing All The Right Things.

Instead, maybe we should find The Work and do it no matter what. Even if it means Doing What Seems Like the Wrong Thing. Because in spite of what we're told, The Work matters. And it doesn't always pay. But it's always necessary. And we should be annoyed when the world conspires against us getting it done.

And sometimes, you end up being a bum and people think you're nuts. But there's enlightenment in that, too. There's enlightenment and there's humanity when you learn to look past what you see.

*For a proper definition, please refer to the Parsons Dictionary of Often Used Words and Phrases.
** In case you didn't know... DOESN'T happen much in real life. Or, at any rate, not to me. Not that I'd object, to being proven wrong, though...

[Thanks for reading! Sorry with the delay on getting this one posted. My next blog... on my temporary return to Mount Carroll and my plans for the next stages... south and west... is forthcoming. 

A special thanks to Nelson Bonner and Jennifer Payne for their contributions to the travel fund. I will be putting it towards necessary supplies and travel costs. My exit window is 3/21 -4/1.

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05 January, 2010

The Old Desk

I keep beer out on the covered front porch.
It’s winter in Northwest Illinois
and the relentless cold makes for great
refrigeration. My wife hides my beer
behind an old school desk she bought
at an auction; she says
she doesn’t want it to be
the first thing people see
when they visit. I laugh and tell her
her worries are cute and that somebody,
(not me) ought to be concerned. It’s possible
to derive some comfort from knowing
all your paranoia is justified. Our neighbor
notices when I take walks, asks me
when I see him at the post office
if I’m looking for work, and he pays attention
to whether we use our car, or when we leave
the garage door open. I can tell in people’s faces
when I see them on the street, or at the (only) bar
they’re trying to decide if I’m “ok” enough;
I want to tell them
the beer on my porch is probably
their best indicator, though most of them
will never come close enough to notice.

When she brought the desk home,
she (proudly) informed me
she only paid 50 cents. (She said)
It was too good a deal to pass on
and besides (she insisted) she was thinking
of me. It would be cute upstairs, where I write;
It could sit in the corner and I could use it
to put books on. But the desk
has done its duty; the seat
is smooth and splinter free –
worn by countless student asses,
made sore by the wood
and by the hours spent
learning cursive and reading
from old primers and struggling
with long division. The wrought iron legs
are rusted from years of exposure
through creaky floor boards and clapboard windows,
wet boots, and the dry heat
of a coal or wood burning stove. The desk top is
splinter and graffiti free, and has a hole
in the right hand corner for a bottle
of fountain pen ink. When I carried the desk in
from the car, I left it on the porch
where the orange rocking chair was
that she left to sit in when she goes
out on the porch to smoke. The desk will hide
a couple of cases of beer and some liquor,
too. Every night when I lock the front door
I think about locking the screen door too; but then
(I remind myself) this is not a town
where people steal your beer;
it’s much more intoxicating
to take note of visitors and
driving habits and the frequency
with which I (do or don’t) leave the house

26 August, 2009

New Poem: Dialogue of a Functional Relationship

Will we be alright? She lights a cigarette,

watches him carefully for contradictory

body language. Yes, he says. We’ll be okay.

She’s nervous and blows smoke like a factory.

Are you sure?

Yes, he says.

Are you lying to me?

He lights a cigarette,

feigns offense. No.

Why’d you ask me that? Would I lie?

She smiles. You might, she says.

To make me feel better.

He smiles, leans over to kiss her.

As long as you know.