Wednesday, August 11, 2010
I'm closing in on the end of the third book: a chaotic black journal I first purchased in Santa Cruz on my thirtieth birthday that is one part diary, and two parts working notes for stories and a novel. That was the trip when we caught the dying butterfly, preserved it -- and found, via photographs, evidence of a disturbing trap lain by vagabond criminals in the garbage-strewn woods fringing the dried-out river.
The novel, itself, I realize is a shamelessly hyperbolic novelization of my memories. After all, when asked to write about yourself, you are asked to write about what goes in your head. You are asked, in essence, to write a novel.
Your whole life is a commentary on your own life. A memoir then is twice-removed from the commentary that occurred in the inscrutable heat of certain moments. The actions that accrue to fill your life are forever obscured by the language we enact to describe, expand, and rationalize these actions. Often, language itself -- as in when we say: I love you, or: I'm scared -- are our only actions. This makes writers of us all.
It is my attempt, as a first-time novelist, to ring out a singular cover story for all the paranoias and fascinations and failures of a life up to the point of an early thirty-year old's. For me, the best cover-story is something out of folklore. Of caves, and tunnels, and gardens, and hidden realms. This is best because it is the least likely.
Of course, for better or for worse, I have to take into account the recent calamitious changes in my own life that rest themselves upon daily-shifting plates of illusion and ambiguity. The plate tectonics of love which shift more timorously than any of the earth's bones.
I think the biggest betrayal for the "lad" of the novel is that his abiding love for life, and for the world, must constantly combat the constant dissolution of love and community and transcendence. Now, the latter is a phrase I wonder at. It's a big word used by early American philosophers to denote, well what? That nature will save us? That God is in the trees? I don't know really. But I think it might strive for: better than what we worry we actually are.
If, from the very beginning, you are led to believe that your passion for union will do you well and that, as a life skill, it is the one to cultivate at expense of all others, what happens when this passion is compromised at every turn by alienation, weakness and refusal? Well, that's reality -- in one sense -- and one sense among many senses, I suppose. Mine, this character's, a poor city-dweller's, a citizen of the current recession, a woman living in fear of an acid attack, a homeless man in the park fearing the intervention of a cop or a vigilante, a child fearing the violent appraisal of a failed father, a mother fearing for her general well-being. Amidst all this panic, the sound of a car alarm brings all the banality home to roost.
How do you act like an adult in a world hell-bent on its own destruction? Where are the adults in countries that are drowning in debt, and poverty, and tyranny? Where is maturity in a blind acceptance of ecological decimation?
That is the question, I think. To act like a child would be to acquiesce to a naivete that would be all but renunciatory. But to renounce life would leave you with -- what?
I suppose art strives to pose these questions and, failing to answer them, to pose other questions that are at least more hopeful in their potential answerability -- in life's battered continuance.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Past the garage of the crazed grey-bearded guy who slams his sack against a tree, whose garage is always a shrine to something I can't ever understand: old maps pinned to the trunk of his car with abalone shells, an old radio sounding off between two wilting candles, lawnchairs positioned between a fat, flame-shadowed buddha, friends of grey overalls who speak to him a weird lingo about anger and determination. He sometimes recognizes me, other times he doesn't. It's fine either way because I recognize him and I know I should walk past him and greet him.
"This is the time of the great undoing" -- so my radio goes. I'm in a house where I hear the squeak of a second story mouse and the revving of so many illegal cars and the sky is red and the flags gutter at the bondage castle across the rippling rooftops. And what I am is sad.
Three days now the sky is sodden with shale-grey clouds, damp and thick with heavy blue sadness.
I am sick with sadness -- but about ready to be better.
Hallelujah? Maybe. John Cale's is still the best version.
Friday, July 30, 2010
It's been months since I've been here. But I'm back.
An animal I loved died recently, in fact just the other day. My ex-girlfriend called me from the vet's office in tears and held the phone up to the cat so I could say goodbye. I tried the best I could to say farewell. She told me he licked the phone. "Trouble" was old and had eaten poison quite by accident. He is one of two animals that I've ever really loved. Minutes later -- or before, I can't really remember -- there was a tiny earthquake and the house shook and I went outside and talked to the neighbor about the big one. Then I borrowed an ice pack for a bike accident.
Here's some pictures of Trouble.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
What to do? Well, I can plan the rest of my creative life with the detritus on my almost 5 year old MacBook Pro. For starters here's a piece I think I wrote a couple years ago for a theater project for my friend Niki. She convinced me to dance in her piece in a ladies wool bathing suit and to, as well, perform in a burlesque number where I'm given lipstick and dressed up like a woman. That was a high point of my enriching vulnerability. I need more of that.
The following piece has a lot to do with recent conversations. It's very long and unedited but I feel as a short essay it has promise. Might as well. I feel it contains grain of the themes that I've always wrestled with and will continue to, as my weakness is as instructive and guiding as what I misperceive as strength.
A DREAM OF DEATH (IN THE DESERT)
At eighteen, I kept a very embarrassing journal, or at least it appears that way today. It is the only journal I ever saved from my tumultuous adolescent years; I destroyed the other ones because they were mostly free-associating, beatnik wannabe jumbles of sexual fantasies and trivial dream sequences. Some of these destroyed journals included minute-by-minute breakdowns of elaborate autoerotic sessions not to mention photo collages that were snipped from either car magazines or stolen Penthouses. The journal I started at eighteen, however, had the fresh perspective of someone who was suddenly legal in every sense of the word and who had suddenly read a lot of books about mental and physical conditioning. Still, that journal is permeated with my frustrations with girls, with dating, with trying to get laid, only it is less about the things I’d like to do and more about how to get to the point where I can do those things with grace and grit. I am, after all a horny teen who needs to learn finesse. The hows and not the whats. It is infused with human potential theories, occult philosophy and the most obscure self-help rhetoric you can imagine, all in the service of screwing, which rarely, if ever happened to me back then. The love of my life (or so I believed at 18), Amy floats through the pages, short, pale, earthy in her figure with those upsetting green eyes and that heaving Irish bosom and that sort of demeaning, precocious laugh of hers which made her a favorite with her art and theatre friends. But towards the end of the journal she is dating a close friend of mine. Unspeakable rage and jealousy turns my language coarse and difficult. My cursive starts getting frantic, all over the page, instead of in the neat, tightly-packed rows as before. I write poems about the various ways she is torturing me. About how she plucks her own eyes out and distills an acidic broth from them that she drips on my skin, burning me all the way to the marrow. Drip by drip, she stings me with the bright, blinding green of her Irish beauty. She becomes a surrealist fantasy of unattainable desire. In chemistry class, she assails me with hands of zero Kelvin. At Irish club meetings, she undresses my ambitions and guffaws with endless cruelty. I had been reading too much Breton, too much Artaud back then. The body was only good for the hallucinations it produced. The body was only as good as the Muse that enslaved it. So I dragged mine through sleepless nights of overblown poetics and solo wine quaffing. She cornered me one day about my public displays of poetic yearning. She had her arms on her hips, those emerald vessels burning in her face, her skin as thick and formidable as whipped mare’s milk. I feel an atavistic rush—the knowledge that my manhood will be in direct proportion to how much a woman will humiliate me, upset me, turn my life upside down and denigrate me as a pitiful, truly repulsive acolyte. Is it guilt? Is it the Christ martyr complex inherited from my Catholic upbringing? Is it some early blossoming of homosexuality or my current S&M fascination? I bow to her, in faux reverence and she pushes me back with her arm, disgusted. At this level I can see where her sweater covers her bellybutton. Cashmere. Imported. Worn to clubs that she snuck into. Threads of violet fizz around the edges. My heart surges. I want to be enslaved by her. I want. . .I want. . . But she walks away and I slide to the ground, sighing.
Later on in the journal, there is a dream. I’m still in the habit at eighteen of recording my dreams, just not as many as before. In that journal, I write down only the ones that I believe are influenced by the events in my waking life. You see, I was looking for a logic to it all, a music of the inner spheres that would also help me in the sex department. The description of this particular dream reminds me of this weird kid’s film I saw once that was about secret agents: Cloak And Dagger. There is a scene, I believe, where a woman corners a young boy in an alley way and he drops to his knees as she prepares to shoot him. For a long while she just smiles while she toys with her pistol. There is a spirit of play in the air, almost like it’s just a game of hide n’ seek but more highly charged than that. In fact the viewer knows all along that this she-villain can never off the little kid hero because his imaginary friend who just happens to be a trench-coat wearing secret agent is going to prevent her from doing that. This boring foreknowledge makes it a kid’s movie. But when I first saw it, I was spellbound by this scene and more by the feelings the kid must have had, a strange fluttering of adrenaline in his solar plexus that was directly related to his domination, to his near death at the hands of this woman. At the time, I was probably bringing a lot of my own baggage to the table, baggage that I could barely understand or hope to articulate.
In this dream, I died. I died while asleep but contrary to the urban legend, I didn’t actually die. I woke up shaking, my vision pixilated. From a black car, I was kicked out onto burning sand around the hour of twilight. I’m not sure which twilight it was, whether the dusk or dawn variety but the desert was vermillion and indigo, the cactus and the canyon walls slightly orange and jackals lurched in the distance, coughing. The driver got out too, a woman with long hair and sunglasses and wearing a leather jacket. She dragged me by the hair across the sand. It was cold and massaging on my kneecaps. I was groaning to myself; she was silent. Finally we arrive at no remarkable place, just more sand, more dying reds and faint purples of twilight. Brandishing a long black, greased-up gun, she looks down at me through her sunglasses. I cannot tell if she is beautiful but she is certainly tall and limber. She points it at me. I feel helpless, distraught, not at all like the kid in the movie must have felt, not the cold, hormonal agitation, not the male Andromeda complex. The barrel is as cold as the sand against my forehead. It clicks, the bullet enters the flesh of my head. No explosion, just a mute entry. A slight crack and it brakes through, like a splinter in a peeled egg. I slope down on the ground, still conscious, still watching her, even as the bullet is swimming around in my brain, counting down the seconds until I die. Then in my dream, it goes black and I’m counting backwards to zero. The closer I get to zero the darker it gets. The numbers slow down. It is almost absolute night and finally we arrive and I have one last bit of commentary: “So this is it then. I’m dead. It’s a lot like sleep.” Four seconds or so of darkness, almost entirely quiet, then my eyes snap open. Brightness. Awake. Time to write this all down. Before something else happens. . . .
Thursday, April 22, 2010
A T.S. Eliot April saturated with panic-spice.
Bad air, hazy, raw around the edges, and going from hot to cold within hours and people are having trouble breathing. Everyone is asthmatic and pale, encumbered by neuron storms of private worry and fret.
I climb the red hill beyond my house and mentally map the quadrants of the city spreading out before me. The view of the docks, and the Bayview and Hunter's Point is strangely gorgeous. The slow crawl of freight ships, permanently anchored it seems. I wondered: what if a freight ship was painted orange? What if the freeways were painted blue? What if they hung heraldic banners from the tops of the white cranes? All these wonders, not real now are being piecemeal inserted into the novel which will be a realist science fiction erotic shaggy dog story.
Distraction. I need to go somewhere and use this map there. Tropical countries paint their cities crazy pastels because no one cares. The verandas and porticoes of Vietnam look lovely in a South American jungle town.
I'm 230 pages into the novel and will have to go back endlessly and tweak and improve and slash and burn. It will be a monumental task of humility which I look forward to. I keep sending stories out and receiving promising rejections. I keep writing rambling asides for The Rumpus but so far this year has been like last year but with more rough spots. What will happen to make it different and more smooth?
By accident I got How To Read And Why by Harold Bloom, the notorious, lauded while at the same time loathed literary critic whose read EVERYTHING and thinks, interestingly enough that our country is a Gnostic one, not a Christian one.
I basically skimmed the whole book last night, which resulted in the fact that now I need to read some more things that I don't have and don't now have the time to read: like The Charterhouse Of Parma by Stendhal and the entirety of Leaves Of Grass and Middlemarch and I need to re-read Moby Dick and the strange sequel Pierre. And oh yes, more stories by Chekhov, and by Nabokov.
But you can read forever and feel like you've never read anything. Language is a good hiding place with many hollows and tunnels and caverns. It compels more hiding. I'm not sure what we're hiding from except for the fact that things never turn out the way we thought they would as children. Disintegration feels like it starts earlier than we thought it would. But decaying things can suffer a positive sea-change too.
Oh, and for fuck's sake, it's time I read Proust.
At least Swann's Way. Now I'm of to gallivant in the sun of Friday, my last day off before my work week, before we get a new housemate and have to buy new kitchen furnishings and learn how to live on even less than we have now.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
SHE came in the store today because it was pissing rain so we haul the free box in. I have to say she emanates a pathetic, angry negativity that at once I want to make go away while at the same time I abhor the conditions that made her so crazy and angry in the first place. Within five minutes she had suggested to a young girl in line she read a book about rape, because "that's what this world has in store for her", and ended this, of course, with the almost ironic tag: "holylove.org."
AND then I saw a two year girl in the rain, on her knees, bawling and choking on tears for almost twenty minutes while the woman she was with, also sobbing, tried to make her calm down. She didn't calm down; she wailed and railed and everybody looked and commented and the rain came down and my stomach knotted up from something sour I hate earlier in the day.
AND the plaza in Warsaw where all the Polish citizens gathered to mourn the deaths of their leaders looked like something out of a dream.
I listen to "minimalists" a lot lately, people like Arvo Part and Gorecki (sic) -- so-called "sacred minimalists" -- a harrowing backdrop of choral repetition is good for words to come up, makes the moment swell like a funeral march, or the slap of water against a sad, old cliff.
I feel caught in a web of trying, caught and flailing and haggling with my own motives, and remembering only one alibi which I would prefer to keep secret. An alibi I can hoist up when all goes sour and grim, and say: at least this makes the days digestible.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
And when it strikes, you don't run, you fortify in the heat of the moment with the very heat that the moment provides. Which is hard and which is weird and which you have to do because that's what life is.
Tis been a year come May I've been a rugged worker at a small bookstore in San Francisco. What I love about this job is the constant face time with innumerable books I haven't read or even heard of until I find out about them from some enthusiastic customer. What I admire about the job is the multiplicity of tiny tasks that all coalesce in making the bookstore exist in the first place.
What I love, too about the job is the easy stance I find I'm taking, standing behind my old wooden counter, with folded arms and a gracious grin and with the patience of a favorite bartender as I hear countless and varied tales and asides from the regulars and the non-regular droppers-by who come by for some odd tome or some tall tale of San Francisco of yesteryear. I have collected many business cards, many the paper trails of cult allegiances. I have spoken to well-weathered folks with strong affiliations with fringe botanical fan clubs, historical societies, magic shops as well as the former employees of sheet music stores when the local economy was graced enough to honor such specificity who have now turned to dog walking businesses.
I have shared minor anecdotes with people en route to Haiti and Africa and Spain and the Maldives, with folks intent on preserving the local murals, with tattooed lesbian punks, with children who hate the murder of guinea pigs, with queer families who want nothing more than to raise their child as a progressive, poly-lingual visionary in a world that is, at the very least, downright terrifying.
It is an honoring job, at its simplest. In its essence, I know I am dispensing things that make people happy in the most edifying way. They can get overpriced food wherever they want but books this good and this well-priced are hard to come by in the city and so is the joy of discovering what you have wanted all along but were too conscientious to know it.
And part of the joy of doing this comes from the fact that the bulk of the used books that we sell, I, myself have purchased for the store from similarly enthused customers who read and read and sell back books for credit, hoping to find gems therein that I too may have purchased from their own unknown kindreds.
In a day's time I can watch with awe the tactile channeling of a history of ravens from an old Irish woman into the hands of a banjo-playing bird-watcher all because I made a decision to purchase and price the book according to the needs of the store as well as the needs of the customers. You'd be surprised how comfortably those needs fit together. This power is less than power; it's a humbling privilege that links me to other readers who themselves are champions of other worlds that are out there in dense city streets where people might slave away only to own a piece of written reality that they can put in their backpack and open with glee in the sun-drenched park.