Wednesday, April 29, 2009

April Into May

(More Georgia photos above.)

Before I know it, it's time to pay rent, buy a Fast Pass, make a list of monthly obligations and curse chronology for being so quick-tempered. Before I know it it's time to worry about new flus, new allegations, and the beginnings of collective disillusionment. I'm still reading the Brothers Karamazov, quite slowly, savoring the flow of events it describes as well as the baffling complex political theology it discusses. So much melodrama and it is all so addictive.

And many essays too, including a rediscovery of my old copy of Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag, which is fairly indispensable. It makes literary essay writing seem fun, playful and inspired, unlike a lot of the essays I had to churn out in college. I've also been told by a friend that I need to read Martin Heidegger's Being And Time. We'll see about that. Although I do look at philosophy as a special kind of literature. And it's always nice if a philosopher writes beautifully. I do intend on reading some more poetry next month, if only because I've neglected it for a long time now.

April had some instructive and fun excursions. I like to think of them as experiments in finding better or just different ways to live, even if the ways themselves are only temporary. I like to think some of these experiments might contribute to my hackneyed theory that living as an artist might actually be good for the planet and for our society. At least from the economic point of view. Moreover, that an artist can, in fact, be a good citizen and not just a mad narcissist who fiddles while Rome burns. But maybe I just have guilt? Because if the artist is at home making art, someone is working hard to make the food that feeds him, right? But the artist can't feed the farmer. Well, he can feed his soul I suppose. That's for a longer take.

These instructive trips included one to the local organic farm, Alemany Farm where I worked for 5 hours in the hot sun and got to bring home vegetables I had harvested, like kale and chard. Small farming is the wave of the future, I'm almost certain. And I really, really felt good using my hands for things other than answering phones and collating paper. I enjoyed helping out the kids and using a shovel and sweating to the sound of earth being moved around. And ground cherries are delicious. And the Jerusalem cricket is horrifying.

And then a week later I was in Macon, Georgia and just last weekend, we went camping and kayaking at the Russian River. I'm still a camping novice but trying to get my forest-legs. There's nothing like sweet fire-smoke on your clothes and fresh, hot food under the stars. And being on a river, slowly with nowhere to go except the nearest sandbar that has a rope swing above it. And the tangled trees and thick brush rustling in on you as if the fire pit is the only thing holding dark squirming weirdness at bay.

April was also the usual sporadic work schedule, caffeinated bouts of revising, nights both fun and unfortunate at the Argus and the Broken Record and a great workshop that meets every Sunday (at least until next Sunday) moderated by the local writer and teacher, David Booth. I highly recommend any classes he is offering. I've learned more from him about the hard mechanics of short story writing and revising than from anyone I've had. He's also a damn fine writer.

While working hard at revising and starting some 6-10 short stories, I came up with a division system for them based on what I think are the most pervasive themes. So far I've divided the stories into 3 separate divisions: 1) Haunted Homes (Not Houses) 2) Lovers In Peril 3) Fixations Of The Future. I realized this attempt at categorizing things that are barely written and some only simply outlined was inspired by the short story collection Dangerous Laughter by Stephen Millhauser that is on my shelf and waiting to be read.
He divides his collection into 1) VANISHING ACTS 2) IMPOSSIBLE ARCHITECTURES and 3) HERETICAL HISTORIES. All of which are enviable divisions. I can't wait to read more of the stories therein.

May on the horizon. No predictions. Except more spring. And biking with super-duper tax-refund bike.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Meandering Mind In Macon, Late Evening

I am still on San Francisco time and the evening coffee made that even more apparent.

Outside, familiar night sounds: a train whistle, a dog, song. These are things I like hearing, splashes of sound that calm me down, make me delve deep for words I think are important.

My parent's apartment in Macon, Georgia is over a hundred years old. The first impressive thing is the hallway, a long and shadowy lane with high ceilings, an old wood floor with burnt-amber panelling, doorways I'm uncertain about cracked darkly on all sides, all of which gives the place an antique spaciousness just perfect for benevolent hauntings. Actually, there's lots of impressive things about the apartment. It is a very accommodating place, relaxed, serene, simple, and I can imagine wanting to live here just to finish some sordid, bloodthirsty novel that I couldn't finish anywhere else.

Macon has lean hills with spired schools on top and darkly verdant wooded areas and giant, columned, plantation homes with rocking chairs on the front porches. The cemetery we went to is maze-like and the river is reddish-brown and wide and a walking path wraps around it. Macon also has blight and poverty and burned-out cars close enough to the nice parts. I think when good and bad are close together, it's better that way, although that is only an assumption.

I've been reading up on some non-fiction down here: articles in The Atlantic about the economic crisis, links on Bookforum about suicide, geography, prostitutes and all sorts of stimulating intellectual crises and my favorite social theorist of the moment whose monumental written output I've only barely tapped: Cornelius Castoriadis who was an economist, psychoanalyst, and social libertarian of sorts whose work seems to transcend both hopelessly out-of-touch Marxism and Postmodern nihilism. Delving back into stuff like that makes me inspired to write fiction. And reading fiction makes me want to write more essays.

Some of my thoughts have been panicky flailings about THE FUTURE. I've wondering about cities where artists can still go to and live like artists. I'm wondering about how you should make friends with doctors, and dentists, and horticulturalists. Which brings me to somethings I need to write about, like my first forays just last weekend into urban gardening, and the enduring notion that to live like an artist, at least in terms of frugality, self-reliance and communality, is actually the most honorable, even dare I say the most sustainable thing to do.

I've talked at length down here about decisions for something like a comfortable future, conversations that aren't easy to have and harder even to capitalize on. But necessary and beneficial precisely because they can be unsettling. The love is there, coming from all corners as tough and truthful as it is.

I think the task of writing, and the belief that you will continue writing while knowing you will certainly have to do other things is akin to this great F. Scott Fitzgerald quote:
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

And with that, I bid you goodnight.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Light-Hearted Thoughts and The Inquisition

I went to a literary reading last night that was mostly outlaws telling of their vices. I wondered half-jokingly whether my "life story" would make good fiction, or rather, as I've been doing, I need to make fiction out of my life story.

Meanwhile, work is sporadic and the bus rides are long and colorful and a whole entire family, about a dozen people between the ages of 6 and 65, is staying at my house for who knows how long. You learn to be an outsider, it heightens perceptions and can, if unchecked, increase agitations. But you also laugh at yourself for being so concerned.

There are children on the bus, tired workers, tired mothers, drunks with bloody faces, young men on acid who want nothing more than to buy a soda pop with your money. I read the news with less foreboding even though tragedy and devastation occur just as punctually. I read philosophy to get excited about possibility. I read memoirs, poems, short stories. Sometimes I wonder why. I stare into a beautiful face with the warmest, coziest smile I can imagine and I wonder how to saturate the minutes more effectively.

I want to believe everything is a political act.

Since I found that magic garden I've been feeling more hopeful about my neighborhood.
(And I realize I just pimped those garden photos TWICE in one sentence; such is the hyperactive nature of the internet; meta-blogging and so forth.)

Life might not ask for anything more than adding beauty to it. In this case, a garden, a Judeo-Christian archetype par excellence, might just be the ticket.

Meanwhile, I had a fortuitous encounter today with an old friend of mine, a long conversation, a long walk, an inspection of native plants, all after I had just finished up the famous Grand Inquisitor chapter in The Brothers Karamazov. On that note, I was reminded of the following video based on the famous chapter: