Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Post '09 99th blogpost Of 'O9


I began the year, all at sea, broke, barely-working, living in a weird part of town.

I began the year beginning this blog.

I began the year finishing up 2666. And having nightmares.

And thereby, after thinking hard on it, I devoted myself to forging an equally ambitious, sloppily elegant beast. Or two of them. And convincing myself every day that it is important.

That the stories I tell myself will be ones that people will want to read. And that will be important too.

Learned much this year from reading Carson McCullers, Samuel Delany, John Berger, Stephen Elliott, Paul Bowles, Carol Queen, Iris Murdoch and Steve Erickson, among others.

A couple books I didn't get around to talking about that I read this year, books that are almost too difficult, too "transgressive" to comment on (actually I was just lazy):

The Leather Daddy And The Femme by Carol Queen
334 by Thomas M. Disch
Evil Companions by Michael Perkins

And now, as I slip into what calls itself 2010, I'll have one more big, monster of a book I'm going to be starting.

Clocking in at about 1300 pages, and verifiably a neglected novel, if not a neglected masterpiece: Women And Men by Joseph McElroy.


Besides that there is the usual list of things for the new year:

finishing the first novel

submitting more stories and essays
something political
something philanthropic
expand my cooking repertoire
that one yoga class
that one horticulture class (actually signed up for)
exploring and documenting
a trip? camping?
health. . .
savings. . .
fellowships. . .
cameras
embraces
ink stains
letter writing
conspiring
propagating useful fictions

making play in the ruins.

good night 09!

A quick beginning to the 2nd Novel.

Although I'm struggling to not only start, work on and finish the first novel, the opening passage, or some variation of that for the second novel in the projected series has just come to me. So I've decided to spit it out here.

"In the Times before ours, that is to say before the Miracle-working Gangstresses and Lunatic Medicine Shows terrorized and defamed us, before the country became a spitting black cauldron of war, chicanery and depletion, a boy with a peculiar deformation was born to a pair of young singers, a man and a woman who were hellbent to make it to San Francisco in time for a very famous poetry reading.

He was born on the road, in a motel parking lot, under a patio umbrella, next to a drained pool. The Haitian maid happened to be a midwife. Percy's mother wept in her arms for hours. Percy's father spent his own tears in a biker bar.

They named their boy, in fulfillment of some unconscious omen, Crispin Percius and alternately called him Crispy or Percy depending on their moods, which were often drug-induced and subject to the passing winds of some unknown threat. In no short time, this young man would grow to be among the country's most hunted treasures not entirely for reasons of his own.

He also grew to be one of our country's most famous poets, whose masterpiece: Ariadne: Her Urinals became a very common souvenir left at crime scenes of all varieties. Including the more notorious slayings of noted financiers which you might remember from your history books. . ."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mythopoetic Site Study San Diego Part 2


Writing some of the semi-fictional back story of the narrator of a fictional memoir. . . so traversing some more visual references from my "hometown."

Memories of things lived and things dreamed and things read all get mixed together and coagulate until you can't separate one from the other.

This is part of the crux of the memoir-novel.

When a young man's marriage comes to an end for no discernible reason,

he is beset upon by memories he can neither confirm nor deny. Each new memory unlocks an old one.

His head feels like a flooded prison. Getting more flooded by the day.

Suddenly the people around him, the women and men he gets involved with all seem to be trying to help him unlock something that may or many not have happened to him.

Even his own hairdresser plays the part of some kind of "revelation-pimp" where with every six weeks, he bestows upon the hapless narrator some kind of password or evolving insight as he hacks away at the wild silver and black foliage on top of his head.


One of the garden-holes he plummets down involves an encounter at a rickety old Victorian arboretum many years back

in that twilight period between his late boyhood and early adolescence, when a dark woman with ice blue eyes in a long dark coat, (or maybe it wasn't a women at all) hands him a briefcase, but before he can accept it he is whisked away by his parents.

(But the smell of her. . the rare-earth spices, rotten humidors, ships. . .so reminiscent of how his twin sister smelled when she came back late at night from the ravines and fields near their house. . .)

This encounter happens inside the dim, pungent causeways of the arboretum.

A place I was at a few days ago in real life.

Where I was fascinated by the Ecuadorian blood leaf. Imagined a room adorned with nothing but thousands of bunches of blood leaf and how one might go mad inside such a room.


The young man needs to understand which memories actually belong to him, or which ones are actually important in deducing the course of his life. He has his hair-dresser as a guide. He has other guides: lovers, friends, guys who sit on stoops, old ladies who deal drugs in empty churches, etc.

He remembers one of his first "revelation-pimps": a shadowy man at his high school who demanded information about several students and student organizations.

And how they met at an incongruous corner, in a little Arabic-Turkish-Basque tea house set like an oasis amidst the parched depots and overpriced fishmongers of a desert downtown.

And how there was a tango instructor there named Jill Solomon Miller who was one of the first truly beautiful women he remembers meeting in person.



Cafe Bassam is no longer at its original location on this wonderful corner where you can melt into the backdrop of the loud, expensive nightlife, on wooden chairs paired with marble-topped cafe tables, obscured by thin, leafy trees. Where my friends worked and spoke of conspiracies and arguments and secret backroom deals and secret backroom staircases leading to locked rooms that emanated a pulsing blue light.

And where. . .many backroom deals were made in the darkness of the sidewalk-trees with students and teachers and insiders alike, all masquerading as one another. . .over countless espressos and Gitanes Blondes and revelation-scandals.

The place was open late, later than bars, until three or four in the morning and you could smoke inside and play chess with men who didn't really speak your language. And here the mysterious owner, a man with a steely smile and a differently-colored beret depending on the day of the week, sold me an antique cigarette case. . .made from the bullet-casings of a pistol fired during the Hundred Year's War. . .

or so the owner's friend insisted. . .


That very shadowy man, not the owner nor the owner's friend, but the shadowy man who paid us to spy on our fellow students,

he got me a summer job running a rickshaw through the night streets of coastal San Diego, a shady, unlicensed operation if ever there was one. . .and its base of operations was through the dark porticoes and arcades of Balboa Park. . . . past all the museums, or at least most of them until you reached
the basement of the Museum Of Natural History. In the basement of a museum, a glum, unfurnished, windowless room, a plywood desk

and a single light bulb hanging over it, dangling, faint pearly conspiratorial light. . .

Monday, December 28, 2009

Myths Of Place And Setting

As I make my way through Steve Erickson's books, while inevitably taking breaks, short and long to dip into all the other unread masters I have heaped around my life,

I'm thinking about his 8-plus novels (only 2 of which I've read), most of which have to do with the cinema, or Los Angeles, or alternative surreal histories of America to some degree, and how they all supposedly constitute one large oceanic novel.

Sort of like Proust, or how Kerouac's novels were all one "Visions Of Duluoz". . .

I've always liked that idea. Which is why short stories, when I write them, tend to share common denominators, common settings, or variations on the same setting.

And why I'm drawn to a project now, a series of novels and "memoirs" that all interconnect and reflect and draw from each other. Featured warped visions of me and warped visions of not-me. False memoirs and true novels.

(A project that is not unlike what people as diverse as John Berger, Jeanette Walls, J.M. Coetzee are doing now. And in terms of the memoir craze, I'm completely of the moment even if, at one point, or many points, I have been ashamed of and/or afraid of the seductive life-writing impulse for reasons that were silly, short-sighted and completely illusory.)

When I think of connected books and how each book is part of a larger book, it's kind of like that saying, not sure who said it, but that you usually only have ONE IDEA in life. . .which isn't exactly true. You have many ideas, many motifs but maybe, just maybe they tie into a larger, more cosmic motif that defines you, often without you knowing it.

Which is like that saying, "The fox knows many things, the hedgehog knows one big thing. . ."

In my case, and for this prospective project, there is perhaps one thing: The Missing Beloved, which is like The Missing City.

Or the Sister That Ran Away To The Forgotten city.

Which is part of that relentless lineage of books that all feature someone who's searching for a mysterious other person, and in cases of male protagonists often the missing other person is a woman ((a theme that also reoccurs in Erickson's novels)). . .

But never mind that now. What I wanted to talk about was one of the recurring settings that is deeply rooted in my life.

I was down in San Diego for the holidays,
a city that I grew up in, lived in for many years and go back to for short intervals during the holidays, and I'm always, each time I go down, succumbing to different torrents of memory, often of varying intensities and warring degrees,

and the consequence of this can be a sometimes disorienting see-saw between comforting melancholy and uneasy exaltation.

I like the brick and the verdigris of my parent's place. The downtown sea winds. The hot dry brightness and the quotes by Martin Luther King on the stones that lead down to the port. The seascapes down here, perforated and punctured and defined by military prowess are dazzling and somewhat terrifying.

And I always smell the summer I worked on a tour yacht that did rounds of the bay past all the grey ships and the ship builders and the submarines. A summer enjoyed on many levels but wasted on one: pining for a missing blond.

Now, navigating through the Bourbon Street-feel of the Gaslamp Quarter,
you find Broadway where things start feeling dingier and more gutted, and the signs of a few archetypal holiday dives that are featured in a few tales I've told begin to show themselves near the stained bus shelters and the liquor stores and the check-cashing places.

I find parallels between downtown San Diego and downtown Oakland even if these parallels are a stretch. Or are just elements common to any city. What really connects them is the warehouse feel of their downtowns by the water.

The sense that some fundamental, browbeaten history is being obscured.

Chee-Chee Club on Broadway had, in the past and this last holiday, shown my friends and I some of that history. . .

But just being a voyeur never entirely helps.

The idea of a city whose old skins go to recreate its citizens. . .

More later. . .

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Days Off


I'm thinking of doing, if not a Top Ten, at least a semi-list of memorable "events" (of mind, of life) that happened this year. . .got a few days left.

In the meantime, I've been plunged into the watery dreams of another Steve Erickson novel, Rubicon Beach.

Although I don't have the above copy, I do appreciate the 80's aesthetic of it.

More to say on Erickson later, but as I've been reading Rubicon Beach I've also been succumbing to tiny little wine-induced cat naps all of which have been wracked by dreams wrested from his own visions of a submerged, swampy Los Angeles peopled with buccaneers, vengeful prostitutes who live in flooded hotels, beautiful Indian girls from shipwrecked forests, etc. etc. He' s a writer who verily invades your dreams and mangles them. Good, strong, unique stuff.

Erickson is a writer preoccupied with a vision of America, but not the America of Sarah Palin or Barack Obama but the America that exists somewhat in a subterranean state beneath all the official decrees, histories and prophecies.


So it was great to find him included in a giant, hodgepodge of a book I'm also leafing through and just came out recently, the Greil Marcus co-edited A New Literary History Of America.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Cendrars For Christmas


This Christmas I remembered a Cendrars book I had forgotten (see above), one of a few in English I don't have, so I promptly ordered it from alibris.

Meanwhile, warm dry brightness of Southern California and sea glare, a stark contrast to the wet wild darkness up north.

Much in the way of old-time merriment with old friends, esoteric jokes, games of wit, obscene toasts, life-affirming blasphemies, strong ales, brazen innuendos, sweet potato fries, a huge bar tab, vodka and ginger ale, a trip through the dingy part of downtown, stockpiling research, Muscovy duck, abandoning plans, reassuring ourselves, finding old keepsakes and contemplating lists for the new year, as well as all the qualms and tiny dreads and large joys that go with the aforementioned.

Have a great day everyone.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Garbled Year End Disjecta Thesis

2009 is
making its way to an end,
which means that this blog, begun on or around January 1st of this year, is a pretty accurate chronicle of all the things that have "happened" in '09,

at least in the head of this one avid reader, writer and

obsessive personality who made the pilgrimage, in life-terms, from part-time clerk's clerk living
in the stony plains of the Excelsior to full-time book peddler living

in the red and gold highlands of Bernal.

What it has tried to record is wherever life has bled a little from its own unwritten pages, wherever narrative and poetic maps have stenciled themselves in unlikely corners of these often hastily forgotten 24 hours.

That's just experimental fancy talk for saying: it wasn't really about life, but life through the filter of words and ideas.

Considering life from the perspective
of what I want to write about and what, inextricable to writing,
I want to read is a good way to make my head explode.

If truly the printing press was the single most important invention of Modern Times than its acolytes, or at least some of them, have become a perverse band of day-dreamers and spiritualists and table-knockers.

Because I want to read and write about everything. So what does one do? Except talk to the spirits in the head.

Or install interesting filters I think. Saying No is liberating. Censoring is liberating. Blockage and congestion and dams are freeing. Saturate every atom, yes, but only the atoms you need.

The Massive World Books keep trying to be written, have been written, will constantly elude being written, but that's because the Massive World already exists, so Tiny-Massive Worlds must suffice in ink-tones, like one of my favorite novel's titles, Little Big.

Adhere to new angles, to the hidden geometries of the same story. Writing, for all its hard talk of being hard, is only fulfilling if it absorbs you like love does. And love, for it to last, requires sniffing out new angles.

Come to the conclusion that you'll never read everything, not even close and that reading isn't actually the most important activity in life, only a part of it.

What is then?

Well, it is something that subsumes reading under its vague umbrella: I think the most important activity is something that cannot quite be defined: which is a sort of mutually-shared idleness that masquerades as work,

a labor of languor that borrows nothing from the

indexes of tension and resentment, a vastly fulfilling and absorbing non-doing defined by laughter and gratitude that sweeps away the dictates of time, hierarchy, and anxiety.

But actually the most important thing might be empathy.

But you can only empathize when you are idle in your heart. When you are relaxed, freed from the tension of being sized up, or taken down, or minute-by-minute stripped of your dignity which can happen minute-by-minute even if nothing seems like its happening.

I feel I write to empathize. I create characters that I want to empathize with. I create situations that I feel like I can step into. I might not want to step into them. In fact, it's crucial that many of them I don't want to step into, but that I will step into them because I can.

The most important thing about empathy is that, as a feeling it always falls short of accuracy but that accuracy doesn't matter.

Which is to say, in writing to empathize I really write to relax.

I want to feel idle in the world and in normal life, life being what it is, absolute relaxation is impossible or it's fraught with all the tremors of mortality.

Desiring to empathize already joins you with those that don't give a fuck about you. And you're expected to fail because you must.

But I meant to write notes about the year.

The year had a 9 in it, so it started off propitiously, and where there were hard times, which were few, these were softened by the oxygen of inspiration, or as William James calls it, the oxygen of possibility. Imaginary possibilities many of them.

And many the time I ca e up against the discord of Art and Life, the latter which isn't work or art or art-work but something that embraces yet repels all of those things. So easy to just plug in to imaginary apparatuses and let others cavort and carouse. To do both requires living up to extremities.

Looking at yourself from the point of view of a Challenge or a Duel or some Unknown Bond. Which isn't self-inflating as much as it can be self-flagellating.

As for the year I don't have any best-of lists, or highlights; maybe at the very least I'll try to recap some of the books I read that I didn't afford adequate mention yet.

But tonight is going to be delivered Cambodian food and a Ken Russell movie and reading more Steve Erickson.

I've sat down lately to compile some many working notes for a longish essay/appreciation of Blaise Cendrars, as well as try and articulate my thoughts about Paul Bowles and The Sheltering Sky, the last novel I read.

What I couldn't say in a rambling, free-associate manner here, I tried to distill more pithily, or at least more blog-friendily at

The Rumpus on Thursday, with the addition of mentioning Bowles' travel essays.


I wanted to say something else, about the title I picked for the blog that January day so long ago.

It refers to a song by the great and unusual band The Fall, which also has something to do with an upcoming part two blog about Cendrars and another Fall album.

But yes: "Underground Medecin" is the first song on the second side of The Fall's debut album, Live At The Witch Trials. Here's the lyrics:

(Your nervous system, your nervous system) (Underground medicine, underground medicine) A spark inside [Covers up what I hide] And when it clicks There's no resist Every time I hear a new baby cry I thank my spark inside And you get underground medicine Underground medicine [I'm full of] nervous system Underground medicine I found a reason not to die A reason for the ride The spark inside When you hit some [mind] you get Underground medicine Underground medicine [I'm full of] nervous system Underground medicine I had a psychosomatic voice And one time it might come back Underground medicine Underground medicine [I'm full of] nervous system Underground medicine On my pants I spilled expectorant And the colonel [...] They took his cup away Take it away, take it away [...] medicine [...] medicine [...] medicine

So yes empathy and writing and intense idleness is about that spark inside, the flint in the nervous system releasing underground medicine. . .

Yeah...something like that indeed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Notes Towards A Blaise Cendrars Project 1

The man, the myth, and the man-made man-myth.

As I bit by bit add skeleton, flimsy as it may be to an experimental novel I'm working on, I have to occasionally slip back into hopefully shorter projects and feel like I might complete them.

Like short stories I suppose. Or short blog posts. Or letters. Or impassioned emails. As if writing is something that demands quotas. Sometimes that's how it is though. You need to keep in practice. You need to count your words.

But for now, I'll stick to a lyrical essay I'm working on about the effects and resonance of Blaise Cendrars on my youthful, wholly naive imagination (then AND now.) I find it best to work on this by just spewing out my impressions which are many and varied and dovetail with my own mishaps and misadventures.

Starting when I was, oh about my late teens well into the present, Cendrars has been something of an "exemplary example."

Now I tell myself, the overarching reason that I must learn French is to read Cendrars in the original. (And Tournier, and Perec, and Rimbaud, and Apollinaire, and Baudelaire, and Flaubert. . .ad infinitum.)

In the meantime, I have combed high and low these many years to acquire all of his works that are in English translations, many of which are considerably rarer than the originals. Searching for these books has led me on many circuitous goose chases and I can't now remember how I first acquired my first Cendrars book but I suspect it was by accident after I heard his name mentioned by Henry Miller. I have reason to believe however that the first book I had was a copy of his magnificent, sprawling and multi-layered autobiographical novel Sky.

(I remember that for a while the other book in his autobiographical series, The Astonished Man, was as rare and hard to come by as anything on the Internet.)

Cendrars, the intrepid, one-armed seaman.

But Sky, the book is so like a season that catches in my mind and had everything to do with being an idiotic young man in moth-eaten clothes, of attending cognac vigils on starlit balconies and high night meadows during meteor showers and walking past weirdly angular buildings arm in arm with a girl with a certain Peter Pan look on her face and having every day feel like spring with petals falling and few obligations except Galousies and books and dreams. . .

. . .it's a book utterly devoted to its title, whether it deals with his son being killed in the sky during World War 2, or the often admittedly tedious history of levitating saints, or his descent into the pitch-black depths of the South American jungle to talk about mysterious constellations and odd light-sucking patches in the evening sky and old, noble recluses in love with Sarah Bernhardt.

Cendrars' captivating romanticism is paradoxically yet nobly infused with an ascetic's sense of the void, a mystic's grasp of absolute non-doing and non-being and while at the same time, always being reverential of life, Cendrars at the drop of a hat can, as he likes to say, "sever all ties and retire from the world", shutting himself away in some impromptu hermitage with his books and cigarettes and old reels of film.

His insomnia. His day dreams. His books that he will never write.

What amazed me from the first time I read him was how adroitly and effortlessly, like no one before him or since, he forges a rough marriage in words between high involvement and seclusion, adventure and bookishness, the grinding life of the daily man and the florid life of the day-dreaming artist, and, most importantly between the facts of a man's life and the truths of a man's life.

His Modernism is both machinic and spiritual and is all about the essential tension of consciousness that can allow us to be both monad and cosmos all at once. His vision of the Modern is a place where near and far collapse, and another zone, more sidereal, at the Antipodes as he likes to call it where consciousness itself transcends terrestrial coordinates. . .

Really? I'm not sure yet. I'm working on it.

He, more than anyone, if only with unacknowledged, stellar influence, seems to have predicted our own era of "the false memoir", the "fictive autobiography" and the "libellous true story."

Which, not surprisingly, is the "false genre" I'm working in now with my first novel. . .

So Cendrars' stellar influence is as strong and radiant as ever. . .and my nights are longer again as I remember his nights that he brought to life to me as an unworldly, utterly bookish boy, my head in the mists of an interior sky, my hands soft and puny from handling nothing but soft pages all day and dealing with only the pettiest of juvenile indiscretions.

Night as seen and breathed in South American jungles, aboard ships, on top of cliffs as he is about to drive his Alfa Romeo down to a deeply nestled fishing village where he will be greeted like a troubadour with a hearty stew and red wine and the kind of conversations that old travelers inns used to teem with.

And Cendars the fervent mariner and explorer and solitary man of the night writes the most lyrically of the nocturnal, and the blank, and the black beyond black spaces. . .night and solitude and cigarettes and books and adventure: these are his mainstays.

In my next post perhaps I will include a photo of this stack of 12 or 13 books that I own, or that own me, if for no other reason than photos are good ways to break up the text. . .

A "simultaneous" poem by Cendrars, illustrated by Sonia Delaunay.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Sheltering Sky: Briefly


Been reading Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky, and about half way through it, while combating rain and long holiday shifts at the store and other blog devotions and cooking and being broke devotions. And there are myriad end of the year lists out there to comb over for books I haven't read and need to if I want to know what my peers are doing.

(Look for me at The Rumpus tomorrow as I'm filling in for Seth Fischer. (He's busy graduating!)

As with his stories, Bowles has this way about him of economical straight-shooting mixed with lyrical, intensely tangible flights of language. He is a place maker and with him even the psyche is more landscape than anything else. Like a cluster of stones in the chests. Canyons that open up in the blood.

His whole written output was the most carefully thought-out tight-rope walk. And his psychological probings are complex and ardently, intricately described. In this case, three people enter into a land that is not like their own and the foreignness of their experience only magnifies their original foreignness to each other. The hyper-magnification of both keeps escalating until you feel, as I do at the book's midway point, that the worst possible thing is going to happen to them. To all of them.

And I'm dropping from fatigue right now, as is Katy getting adjusted to her new bakery work which thrives on pre-dawn labor -- but I'm in the cross hairs of some creative essays on the idea of travel and journey and not-going places and making life a map that combines landscapes with memories and falsehoods.

I need to expand on all that. And I shall. For now, I rest weary legs in a heated room.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Introducing Centipede Press

I've discovered an exciting new press that republishes out-of-print horror, crime and sci-fi classics.



It's called Centipede Press. Well worth checking out, also because the art-work is exceptional too.

Here's a couple of their titles that we just got in at our store: Some Of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon and Here Comes A Candle by Fredric Brown.




Friday, December 4, 2009

Thanksgiving, Dogs, Blessings, Books

The mighty, heroic, holiday-fatigued Luigi!


Thanksgiving came and went with dogs and food and champaigne. Inexplicably, it's now early December and tonight is my work party.

There is one particularly heroic bulldog (see above) who, Katy and I agreed is basically the Henry Miller of canines with his unfettered zest for life, no matter what holds him back. To aspire to the rough and tumble optimism of the bulldog. . .

I've been reading Miranda July and trying to start The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. But instead, feeling particularly forlorn a few weeks back I started a desultory re-reading of the radical text, The Revolution Of Everyday Life by Raoul Vaneigem that meant so much to me as a naive college student.

I also remembered that I never really finished it because, at the time, the life-changing demands it asked of me were overwhelming to ponder. It wasn't just what he advocates but it is also the fiery and poetic way that he slays every taken-for-granted concept, icon and tendency in our Western Culture.

Not to say I'm any more prepared to accept his words but at least I'm more sufficiently disabused of some pretty dopey notions.

Actually what sparked the re-reading was the very recent interview with Vaneigem that was trenchant, lyrical and unrelentingly idealistic. There is lot to that interview and I'm thinking about writing more about it.

I've been trying to force myself into a routine that's hard for me. Probably hard for most: switching between projects, maintaining individual focus for each. The early darkness and the California cold (relative to the rest of the country) has made it easier to stay home and focus and force the blossom of inventiveness under a spell of domestic tranquility.

On my days off there is nothing better than a quick, hot shower and putting the coffee to boil and french-pressing it and making toast and oatmeal in our large, multi-nooked sunny kitchen which, with its big herb-garden window overlooking a wind-swept garden down below, bears the resemblance to the prow of a glass air ship. I spend hours there with my notebook, my computer until I get antsy and then it's time for a revitalizing walk.

But the challenge is working on short stories, editing, honing and re-drafting them and then going back pell-mell into my ongoing memoir-novel which is about a hundred, sloppy pages. The challenge is to embrace the quotidian pleasures to create marvelous adventures. In this, I'm very blessed.

Food, shelter, love, family, friends, inspiration, livelihood: these I have and I give endless thanks. Or at least I try to. I hope my writing conveys it.

Last night I spent several hours on Duotrope navigating all the literary magazines out there and submitting a much-edited, highly-mutated short story of mine about Oakland to three of them. But what intrigued me was the variety of genres out there, sub-genres, literary fetishes, weird things. There is possibility, that much I realized.

Meanwhile, the unread books keeps growing and I suffer reader's panic. Alternating with writer's panic. And so I eat and read the news. We've been eating so many pungent, warming feasts that we've made from a hodgepodge of recipes.

Vegetarian sheperd's pie. Homemade hot and sour soup. Lentil stew. Homemade chicken and noodle soup. Borscht. Homemade chicken tortilla soup.

All containing copious amounts of ginger and garlic, all of which help to combat the germs and sicknesses that seem so ubiquitous this winter.

Lastly, I have signed up for an Introductory Horticulture class.

Good day.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Reading/Listening/Beyond

Tonight has been superb.

I spent rich, fertile hours reading Miranda July, handwriting notes for stories and listening to live classical music, all while feeling very alienated from humanity and depressed about the old general human condition. The physical sense of alienation had no real root in any pertinent example so I was pretty dumbfounded and instead of thinking about it I sunk my head into a book, sucking in the words of people I respect.

Longing for an interesting night I would suggest this combination:

Carson McCullers



While listening to Mark Lanegan.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Recent Research Photographs

Day's beginning objects as brightness overtakes

The red church at noon

1970's pasta experiment installation. . .today

Bright kitchen prow light early afternoon

Ex-Funeral Parlor

Melancholy stairs, New Orleansian

Friday, November 20, 2009

Recently On The Rumpus, Etc.

Lately at The Rumpus:





Just a random sampler.

And as always, the Rumpus has other great features too like, for instance an interview with Paul Auster and an interview with Colum McCann who just won the National Book Award.

AND! Great new stuff at The Splinter Generation too!

Other things I'm obsessing over:
Carson McCullers in general
Interviewing my friends about their most personal secrets, jumbling it up and creating new characters out of the information.
Writing a travelogue about what happens when you travel just to distance yourself from your loved ones.
Writing a long essay about the year 2001 when so much happened.
Night blooming plants.
Politics.
Farming.
My bookstore which today was so BUSY! And I was in the zone meaning I felt no fatigue until right this moment.
Katy (as always)
My family -- writing them long overdue letters that strive to explain myself!
Crafting my contentious memoir.
Doing interviews with people: Kate, the owner of my bookstore and then maybe this famous Beat poet, Bukowksi biographer and writer Neeli Cherkovski who comes into my store and chats with me now and again about books and poets and Heidegger.
In the winter time all I want to do is eat, read and sleep.

My 6 day workweek is almost over, and then the holiday season will begin and I'll be working 40 plus hour weeks and wrapping more presents that even Santa can fit in his sack.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Late November

Aside from having some kind of cold-like symptoms most of the month, I've just been up to my ears in paper and ink, wallowing in trying to perfect the most nuanced fantasies. Failing that, I'm just going to say what I want and what I think might help others enjoy themselves better.

I'm gonna try to stand outside a lot today and get some Vitamin D because I just read it might be the miracle vitamin of our early Millennium.

The rain came yesterday but not for long. I longed for a voice like Mark Lanegan's to keep singing as I sat out an hour in a vacant store, as the sidewalks grew slick, as everyone I knew felt far away, enclosed in hermetically sealed houses, drowning in their own fantasies.

Perhaps whiskey chais were in order? Or bad movies?

But instead I curled up with a laptop and peppermint tea and kept revising things that I think I've been revising for at least a year. Maybe longer. I realize my stories are often past that fabled 5000 word mark that so many magazines adhere to. Which makes me suspect I have the promiscuous, enthusiast's heart of an undisciplined novelist.

I also had a creative revelation walking back in the rain last night. But these revelations, when they're creative ones, feel more like a long-delayed raking of the mind's coals, uncovering volatilities that you wanted to shortchange, delay, or quench. But you can't. It's why writers write, because they can't do much else.


Oh but the revelation was that the two prospective novels I've been plotting are actually too similar in plot and are actually like mirror narratives to each other -- and so what I need to do, in all integrity, is combine them in the same book. Which will make for a huge, fun, sloppy project.

Reading:
I'm reading and almost finished with The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Which she wrote at 23. Which is beautiful and wonderful and radical in ways that few books are. Her life is no less intriguing than her books, mostly because of the almost unimaginable pains and setbacks she faced, both phsyically and emotionally.

But just as interesting is her wily Bohemianism, her revolt against the conventions of the South, and her embrace of subterranean beliefs and passions. The aesthetics of the black-listed, the black market, and the dark recesses.

Along the same lines as McCullers, I watched a movie called The Little Foxes written by Lillian Hellman, a black listed film director. Quite captivating and upsetting.



Thursday, November 12, 2009

Gonna Hit The Road Cause Of A Lucky Coin



The inspiration has struck like a cheap punch to the jaw.

I found a 1935 Indian-Head Nickel tonight, and I said, fuck, I work full time, I have no normal ambitions, I write almost full-time, I'm constantly broke and it's time for "unpublished" authors like myself to undertake "book tours" -- so if you read this blog, consider myself coming to your town, to your little house, via Greyhound sometime next Spring and reading "unpublished" portions of a Novel In Progress in your living room. . .

I suppose I'll soon be asking for very nominal "donations" ?????? We'll see how that plays out!?

This is the kind of hackneyed thing that will pay for itself, I suppose. . .

Thanks for your anticipated help!!!!!!#@$%@#%@#%

More details to come!!!!!

Love,
Michael

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Journal Of Albion Moonlight


I was pleasantly surprised to find at Tin House Books Blog this stirring appreciation of Kenneth Patchen's The Journal Of Albion Moonlight.

J.C Kallman, the author, refers to Moonlight as a "pivotal" book for him. As it was for me. And for many I've given it to. Because it used to be I would find copies of it and give it away. I'm not sure if they all loved it, but I'm sure most of them did.

I think it's an important book, a unique and maddening and ponderous book all at once. But utterly beautiful and imperfectly honest, a vision wrenched from the soul, a shrapnel stew of vexation and bloody passion. You can pluck hundreds of sentences from it that are among some of the most moving sentences you've ever encountered.

It was written in 1941 by a working-class pacifist poet, the son of a Youngstown steel mill worker.

But tonight my loquaciousness is at a minimum because I'm drugged on heavenly homemade borscht.

I'm not sure I've quoted this paragraph here before, but I think it's something of a miracle and acts as a template for all journeys.

It's on the second page of Albion Moonlight:

Very well. We knew we had no other course but to get away with all attainable speed. A light rain had fallen in the night, and morning brought the drizzle to storm proportions. Our coats were wet through as we sogged out of New York on the first leg of our trip. That a great distance separated us from our goal we knew; that we were in danger of destruction at any hour of the day and night we knew; what we did not know was near madness we would be; how alone; how defenseless: how beset we were with what we had heard, with what we had been taught -- this especially we did not know.

As with many authors, it was Henry Miller who first led me to Patchen by way of an essay he wrote about him that you can now read here, albeit with an awkward background photo pattern.

Good night now.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

City Walking: A Misplaced Travelogue

I always wanted to attach photos to words and location names that weren't factually accurate. It was part of my project, DecoVerite, which I'm trying to revive as a methodology, a mythology, a poeisis. I wanted to send postcards that were total lies: local venues, streetcorners, San Francisco locations masquerading as locales from distant lands. Assemble tourist guides for areas where nothing, conceivably was happening. All of these ideas happened the day I lost my architecture assistant job. And recently I found photos, randomly, in my computer that I've culled for the notes below.


I took unnecessary side-streets the other night.

I was reviewing October derelictions, autumnal missteps. I also wanted to remember everything that had happened to me in the City. But mostly I was in a meditative mood and I believe solely in meditation in action, mostly on foot or by the pen or the bottle.

Moments when, at the sun-stroke of morning when the sky was pierced with nearby children's cries, I held my stomach and wondered whey I did those things the night before. I'm like a wedding planner who always shows up at funerals.


The beginnings of a fever started pulsing behind my ears. But it wasn't anything except the cabin version.

I had a rendezvous, but it wasn't for an hour. My route always begins the same, down the flat street, to the corner of that mysterious and beautiful warehouse with the tawny bricks and the stained windows and then downhill on the edge of the roaring, Mission-penetrating traffic. From the top of the hill, downtown looks like a whole other city away, a place where things are long and straight and made of green glass reinforced with million dollar steel. Where you can't even imagine how the flotsam must heap in the thin streets that race between the tall and long structures.


The shoeshine guy has closed up shop.

The Indian pizza smell dominates everything.

The Outer Mission has become my galaxy, for better or worse, going on a few years now. Which means I eat a lot of cheap Chinese food, Thai food, Indian food and Cambodian food.

I wonder at the chain-link fences guarding grassy lots, fences that have multi-colored twisty-ties on them.

I wanted to be out there, a helpless satellite under the yellow moon, walking on wide, unlit sidewalks that pedestrians don't much care for despite the cleanly-cropped houses with their clearly-demarcated edges.


Once, I find myself on the backside of a familiar establishment, like the grocery store, but the back is all broken mortar and stinking vents and little fenced-off alleys where all the carts are corralled like pigs. Clearly, I'm on a sidewalk that isn't favorable for most walkers. It feels like it's the wrong end of something, an access road, a backdoor, a trapdoor.

It was the same in the Excelsior, but more extreme: for instance, the Safeway was next to the Mortuary, and instead of shopping carts, there were rat corpses, abandoned cars and men in the bushes hunting for lost needles, as the pink neon flickered in the red fog.

I find places to photograph the moon.

Of course, it doesn't look like anything. Just a ball of hot butter above the cracked ramparts of crowded apartments.

The other day I walked to work as I always do. It takes five minutes.


I make the same left turn. I see the same dogs, the same happy people. This time, and for the second day in a row, inside of a second-story, street-facing window, a woman was singing opera while a man played the piano. Thin, aqueous curtains obscured them. I couldn't tell if there was an audience. There was an amber, archival light suffusing that room. It was comforting, even more so by the fact this was at least the second day in a row they were performing. And all the stoops were strewn with rotting pumpkins as the opera wafted out in the night, loud enough to be mistaken for a radio turned to eight.

And not just because of the heat I wanted to be out.

It was more the smells that drag me to certain parts of town, that unearth undying memories. Smells that make me think of being freshly landed in this city with all the excitement of a virgin or an astronaut. Walking down Capp Street, on the part where it's just a dark, shallow canyon flanked by docile Victorians and a perpetually unused parking lot and a stoop where businessmen sit and drink beer and talk on the phone, I always wonder what I might be stepping in, but actually it's clean and then suddenly it's bright.


It's 22nd street where old businesses congest even as new chains are emerging.

I walk to the corner where I used to live, I am full of scenes and intimations from Erick Lyle's book, as well as a surge of memories from that interesting year and a half I lived on that house on the street flush with the piss-stained sidewalk, the people fucking in their cars, the men smoking drugs in my doorway. The frozen yogurt store is still there. And so is the Latino bar, El Trebol. And the Buddhist temple that long ago took residence in the old Gothic-looking Episcopalian church.

I realize I never went inside the temple. I never felt reverential enough. I always felt like a tourist.


I did used to walk passed the temple, to the corner of 22nd and Valencia and admire the weird things that always ended up on the window ledges of the boarded-up Driscoll's funeral home. There was something there I grabbed once and I think I've since lost it. I can't remember what it was except that I was reading Jean Genet on the toilet that morning and thinking about how my landlord was going to turn that funeral parlor into an overpriced hipster bar. Since going to press, the mortuary remains closed.


The other thing I remember, and also lament never actually getting documentation of it, was that there was a sign next to the door of the mortuary. It was an oval-shaped porcelain sign inlaid with a flowery mandala in the center of which were the words, Tomorrow Farm.

How appropriate? How morbid? How Honest? Who knows, but I neither photographed the sign nor swiped the sign, even though both were viable options.

But that night I went walking, I saw everyone sipping wine under extinguished heat lamps at a place that used to be called The Last Supper Club and is now called Beretta. The beauty of everyone's arms, probably still warm to the touch even as cobalt dusk rubs away to a total black.

The other night we were in costumes, just the two of us. She was the missionary, I was primitive man. And after fetching candy, we found ourselves on top of a mountain, alone, one that is parched and red and lunar and toasted a sleepy Halloween without anybody in sight. A bench on top of it provides an unimpeded night view of the dark and sparkling city, all the rows of candy houses, splashes of shiny water far away, and shiny forest even further.


It's a challenge to the landscape to be the only two people in costumes for miles around. Or if you happen to find costumed people staggering down the unlit sidewalks, stragglers from some long-dead party, you have to wonder what brazen mishaps they've gotten themselves into, just to be so far from the conventional circuits. On that cool night summit, nothing could see us so we could do what we wanted, we could say the strangest things about things we've accidentally remembered that have no bearing on the lives we have now.

Being lost in San Jose, dragging my luggage in a shopping cart from one forlorn depot to another.

Being alone in an empty church on a rainy day in Buenos Aires, thinking about love I had given up on, and pages I wanted to fill with all the details of my loneliness.

The candy was gone fast; the night was cooling; I found I was talking aloud about things she had never known.

Monday, November 2, 2009

All Soul's Day Night Tidbits


I'm drinking a coffee float at nearly ten at night and listening to Dead Moon's Dead Moon Night-Thirteen Off My Hook. In a little bit, we're gonna go climb the hill with its hidden garden staircases, its parched lunar landscape and admire the All Soul's Day full moon. What we did on All Soul's Day was active, sun-lit, muscular.

We went down to Alemany Farm and spent part of the afternoon constructing a road of mulch, an activity that required lots of pitchforking, wheelbarrowing and raking. Seemingly simple, seemingly tedious but then we got to harvest the last tomatoes of the season -- orange-red bombs of tart sweetness -- while our muscles thrummed in the dying light.

Update: we didn't climb the hill, we went to Alamo Square Park and stared at the moon and heard bats in heat surrounding our heads and talked about communes until 3 a.m.



This is the legendary and amazing Dead Moon.

I woke up with a bad taste in my mouth from October, so I ran in the dry, November heat -- an odd phrase to say -- until I coughed up party gunk. Gunk from Chicago, from Halloween, from pre-Halloween, from the compulsion to only live in festival-time. How to break habits in favor of adventure? Constantly asking myself that, constantly asking myself the same questions and wondering whether they are worth asking or better worth shelving.

I've been slipping in and out of fevered note taking but cannot confine myself to one river of thought. The novel I'm etching out is slightly halted after my excited reading of Erick's Lyle's punk-pastiche-history-memoir of S.F. pre and post dot-com bust: On The Lower Frequencies.

Really it's about a time when people still wanted San Francisco to be for the working class, the artists, the punks, the squatters, the poor, etc.

I'm remembering thanks to him, that most of what I want to do in my novel is to tie in personal history with the larger mystique of Bay Area history, and not that I need to drown in research but just discuss simple things, like the history of Cayuga Gardens, or the high crime rate in McClaren Park or the fact that underneath 6th street there are tunnels, or the fact that if you look at old footage from the '89 earthquake you can see, despite the surrounding wreckage, the dirty windows of my old Oakland warehouse still intact and gleaming in their sepia-wash glory.

When you come to live in a city, how many ghosts do you inhale without even knowing it? That's the question of October.

If nothing else read Lyle's book for a completely raw look at what cities are like when you extract all the suburban pretensions, when they become places where people just want to live, where ruins are habitable and where, when it comes down to it, what matters is not having to spend your life paying off for basic necessities like coffee and friendship and music.

Dreams briefly:

I don't like talking about dreams but lately my subconscious has been in upheaval. Today I woke up with sickly dreams of guilt, not just your usual guilt, but something I prefer to call "wisdom-guilt": guilt about not trying to be wise enough.

This philosopher I've been reading compulsively, Cornelius Castoriadis enjoys contrasting in many of his works how the Ancient Athenians viewed the world compared to the Modern West. One of the distinctions he makes is how the purpose of life by Athenian conceptions was for wisdom and beauty and today the purpose is happiness, both collective and individual and usually based on prosperity, excess and financial surplus.

Perhaps, an over-simplification but he backs it up with compelling scholarship.

For instance, I admitted in last night's dream that I was stealing money from the store I'm working at. Why? To fund a trip by camel to a magical lagoon that has pearls at the bottom of it that are worth more than most human souls.

Who was to join me on the trip? Many of the guys I spent cavorting with a little over a week ago at Al Capone's old nightclub, The Chevy Chase, in the Chicago English countryside region. At least to me, it resembled the English countryside. But inside it was like a German dance hall with a polka band in the balcony and rumors of smuggling tunnels that burrowed all the way to the Chicago River.

And then even before that dream: some volatile, vinegar concoction that you pore into aquariums in order to change the colors of the fish, merely for fleeting entertainment.

I remember a phrase from that dream: "Look my love, blue and white are the colors of control, always remember that."

I woke up with the urge to run. In the odd November heat.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

John Berger, Tears and Dead Moon

The day I turned 30, I was in Santa Cruz with Katy, already a well-documented trip, and went to my old place of employment, Logos Books and said what the hell, maybe they'll have something I've been looking for, something my own store doesn't have or that I haven't seen yet.


Amazingly, I found this first edition of To The Wedding by John Berger for a very good price. Inside was a postcard of the cover of the last book I had read: Jean Rhys, The Complete Novels. A simple, if somewhat strange coincidence. Later we went to a spa with our books and didn't get them wet and when I got home, I inscribed my name in the book, with Logos and 30 underneath it.


Of course, it hadn't taken me long to become enraptured with Berger's works.

All I had to do was become reappraised of him and to judge among his large, and bewilderingly varied output and to read one of his latest works a few months back, Here Is Where We Meet, a poetic, fictionalized autobiography of landscape and loss that still dazzles my memory and haunts my own writing.

Today, in an infrequently patronized cafe, I finished To The Wedding and found myself dabbing away hot late morning tears over my large cup of weak coffee. Crying doesn't usually happen when I read but Berger, at least based on these two novels I've read, deals in a sort of transformative poignance that is unlike anything I've encountered before in fiction, except maybe for Coetzee in Waiting For The Barbarians and Life And Times Of Michael K.

But Berger's vision is even larger, large enough to contain historical episodes, artistic interludes, geographical quirks, odd species and local customs, among the whole range of variation and fable that are his palette.

Speaking of found objects, because so much of Berger's work feels like a chain of found objects possessing its own logic:

I had forgotten until the other day that I had since replaced the postcard of the young lovers in Brassai's French bistro with another, older postcard that Katy found in one of the books in the sale cart in front of my store.


By all accounts, Eastern European peasants or Roma of some sort, and a mysterious piece of writing on the back.



I hadn't started the book after my birthday trip but instead had laid it aside while I finished another birthday present, The Secret History, a wonderful novel in its own right.

But with To The Wedding, I took my time, I savored the gem-like sentences, the undulating episodes that often, in their telling, take on the form of the wondrous landscapes that Berger, with his painter's eye, renders palpable on the page, mostly black, night-darkened mountains that are being pierced by a sagely motorcyclist and long rivers with many fingers and conduits upon which a melancholy, Czech woman with an aching finger is idly floating down en route to a rendezvous.

The wedding in question is truly, purely bittersweet; and the love story that initiates it feels like one of the most honest, uplifting ones that can exist, mainly because corrosion and mortality and disease are such a defining feature of it.

To love someone unconditionally who is doomed to a wildly premature death, who is tainted with a terminal, ravaging virus, to know that she has 2, maybe 3 years without a blemish before the disease starts to do its rapid destructive work. Berger poses this quandary amidst the plane trees and fields and rice paddies of rural Europe, in the shadow of Communism's failure, in the general soul failure of middle class existence and in all the little things, the trinkets, the food, the palaver of life that constantly bubble to the surface of his prose.

Berger, while remaining staunchly a Communist, a farmer, a man clearly on the side of the earthy and the earthly, turns books into prayers almost, but prayers to the earth, to mortality itself, not to get even with death but to sing of the paradoxes that beset us, as if acknowledging them in the most beautiful, haunting way possible will make them more understandable.

It's a beautiful book, quite possibly as beautiful as everyone has claimed. I would be hard-pressed to distill from all the complex tragedies and joys of life a book that seemed so much like an invocation, a promise to the dead, some ancient Greek form of homage that has long been forgotten.

As Michael Ondaatje says, "In some countries it must still be the writer's role to gather and comfort. . .to hold and celebrate a moment before darkness. With To The Wedding, John Berger has written a great, sad and tender lyric, a novel that is a vortex of community and compassion that somehow overcomes fate and death. Wherever I live in the world I know I will have this book with me."

It left me kind of shattered today after I read it, and then I had a strange day at work, with many awkward, misunderstood and tantalizing encounters. For some reason now I feel sore and beaten, but for no good reason and I better pluck up because I got to go to Chicago in a day from now for a wedding as well! A very happy wedding I'm excited to be attending.

Oh -- and because brute passion really is the stuff of good art, I'll leave you with a band I listened to at work that reminds me of the passion of John Berger: a three piece band from Portland called Dead Moon who played for nearly 20 years, husband on guitar and vocals and his wife on bass and vocals.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ides Of October

Recently, besides listening compulsively to The Cramps, Siouxsie, and the Gun Club, I have seen two memorable movies, Carnival Of Souls and Jean Cocteau's Beauty And The Beast.

Both of which are perfect for Halloween viewing.

Both of which excel in sense of place, place as persona, as spirit, as monster, as beloved. Both feature lovely leading ladies who are tormented by yet strangely attracted to ghastly male callers, one in the form of a midway ghoul in a train conductor suit, the other as the aristocratic Beast with his star-flecked wizard cape jacket. Both feature enchanting, spirit-imbued locations that are as weirdly seductive as the two men who live within them.

Maybe I can write some creative essay about both of them?



In the meantime, thanks to a surreptitious encounter with legendary zine-writer Aaron Cometbus (he came into my bookstore wondering if we would sell his zine, Cometbus; of course we would!), I have delved back into my large copy of Despite Everything, A Cometbus Omnibus, a book I procured several Octobers ago, having wandered the city with a huge Cometbus fan who was as bundled in black as I was, and having autumnal thoughts for things like leaflets, trinkets, mementos, perhaps the afterthought of a cheap hotel hangover, we ducked into Needles And Pens and she convinced me to buy it, saying I would like it, that it was "large-hearted, enthusiastic writing, open to everything, in love with life", words to that effect. . .and I bought it along with some map pins which I've since lost.

Many Octobers ago when I discovered bands like The Fall and Television and The Gun Club.


Reading Cometbus is such a blissed-out vacation from the formulaic parade of cleanly-edited, neatly-arced stories about someone having a crisis, and then a revelation and then sustaining in his or her mind's eye a lingering image from his past that the reader is asked to appreciate as a sly summation of all the character's deepest desires. Of course those stories have their moments too, but sometimes you want the sloppy, honest, self-published, handwritten tangents.

Zine-writing is more like life-writing and I had forgotten that.

There is an elegant, slangy, generous spirit alive in Cometbus and I had neglected that and I had forgotten as well the larger zine-spirit and have wondered lately whether the spontaneity, spunk, and fury of zines can translate into blogs.

Hmmm, I suppose it depends on a lot of things.

Finally today I got a chance to visit Katy's grandparents' fruit orchard up in Martinez, CA where apparently John Muir spent lots of time. It was a beautiful place and I was reminded of Steinbeck's description of those rolling golden hills: pastures of heaven. Both of us have realizable fantasies of having an acre or two out there in some lovely rural place like Martinez.