Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Non-Plight Of The Honky Gringo

Here's a broken-up story for you, fragments from a longer quasi-non-fictiony thing called The Non Plight Of The Honky Gringo.

Sleep is evasive. I read till I nod off, come up for air, go back down the pit, wanting those dreams where I fly and say, I'm flying in a dream and now that I know that, I can fly anywhere, any height, disrobe, be naked in the blue air, send my love to the ants below. Flying in dreams, because I've done it before, what I remember is the thrilling coolness of the breeze my soaring body makes.

My boss sleeps soundly, but then she exudes and orchestrates more energy in any given hour than most people do in a week, a genius of her noble profession, which is noble, truly and forever.

(It is books.)

Sleep for me hinges on what I aim to face the next day. I think this is flawed logic.

A nightmare of a job I won't sleep at all. An appointment, a job interview, the dentist, I'm a little better but not much. If it's a day of leisure, maybe the best, I drown like a baby.

What's the very best though is crashing into sleep from a day that is as long and interesting as an underwater canyon. Think of the last very long, very interesting day you had and go into pin-drop detail describing it.

This last night I lay there visualizing French farms and Polish weddings, pastoral customs I wouldn't know what to do with but that I'd like to observe.

The ashen, acidic, abattoir rot emanates from the botched piping, making me wonder what crime is being suppressed by the imbeciles below. A murder? A trainwreck of sloppy joes and ashtrays and dead rats in the walls?

When I walk now, I make sure not to go my habitual routes, not from paranoia but from a self-empowering espionage. I take unnecessary detours, I backtrack and skit down an alley as if trying to outwit an analyst who's trailing me with judgment on his tongue. Back in childhood, when I spent a lot of time in my room alone, either reading, writing, listening to music or doing generally odd, ritualistic things, I used to pretend there was a child psychologist hiding out in the wardrobe. He was a spy. (More often I made her a she.) People in his trade were forced into the position of spies and saboteurs. The most interesting children had tendencies to burrow deep into arcane alcoves of the mind, hard to pry out, hard to find.

I always thought he came in through the window, along with the coyote howls, the fig tree limbs, the smell of summer limes, sun-baked asphalt cooling under a blue moon, fuzz from lost tennis balls getting stuck in my teeth.

Food is something else.

I ate the plate called Happy Buddha but was disappointed by its lack of variety. I drank the tea called Green and felt less nervous than if I hadn't. The mangoes are delicious this part of the summer but I still don't know how to cut them properly. Their juice feels electric on my fingertips.

I had a dream last night that was more like news.
Poetry is news that stays new. My dream comes with a real-life prelude:

Another lifetime ago, when I was involved with a raven-and-nickel-haired poetess she took me, in her tiny blue clown car, to a tumbledown movie theater next to a gay blues bar, a Jewish pastry shop and a giant rotting lake that had a Christmas tree in the middle of it. This was called The San Antonio.

The theater served warm beer and cold pizza and had gutted couches for people to lounge in while they watched the movies. This movie was about Oakland, in particular about an old, notorious drug dealer who, when he died, was escorted in a massive, outlandish parade of horse-drawn carriages, top-hatted coachmen, major-domos, etc. all through the blighted areas that he had fed and ruined with addictive, powdery drugs much to his advantage, his legacy, his legend.

I used to walk past spit-polished Bentleys idling outside of crumbling SRO's.

In my dream, I was walking through a bad neighborhood that was inevitably filling up with people like me who weren't from bad neighborhoods but because of their artistic livelihoods felt like they had to live in them. In this dream, a funeral procession was turning a corner. Just as my friends and I were walking across the street

Sun blasted against the side of a brick building. Their was an old painted advertisement for bread against the side of some broken-down factory. The funeral was for a "Gangster". And it had all grandiose trappings of that real-life gangster's funeral in Oakland.

Suddenly as the funeral procession neared the center of the block, a legion of screaming police cars screeched to a halt in the opposite intersection, adjusted into barricade formation and cops, and plainclothes detectives, and strangely-uniformed volunteers all brandished rifles, pistols, automatic weapons and started just firing on the mourners, the carriages and the sympathetic onlookers. A barrage of gunfire, all of it done stoically, methodically, without too much concern.

They were aiming for the Gangster Second In Command. It was very shocking. But I awoke thinking, Cops probably do this. They go to Gangster's funerals and fire away at the other Gangsters. It's the best place to find other Bad Guys all together at once.

I know nothing about the hard life.

I talked to a nurse yesterday who had paralyzing eyes and who was jealous that I worked at a bookstore. Her job is usually sad, she said, so she doesn't need to hear about Afghanistan on NPR 24 hours a day, not that she doesn't need to, but it doesn't behoove her disposition to, so could I recommend a book maybe, a book on tape, something else to listen to on her commute?

Which is funny, because it's the kind of the thing I've talked about before. Ease of day-to-day life can sometimes inspire a darker aesthetic side. Whereas if you're a nurse, a truly brave occupation I could probably never do, the horrors of the hours need to be mitigated with something less heavy-handed, something, even, life-affirming. It's understandable actually. I realized this only later.

I read somewhere it's best to stay put now. Cultivate a place. Let your garden get interesting.
I can't stay put usually, or I can stay put in a larger context but in the smaller one, I fidget like a sugar-high waif.

I wolfed down a fried tiger shrimp sandwich at a bar. The same bar where I watched the tail-end of a no-hitter and realized that sports can unify people more than most things. There was genuine glee when he threw that final strikeout. Drinks all around. Aggressive hugs. Shouts to the skies.

A man on the 14 bus, unnerved by a gesture I made, called me a "foreign racist" and, bewildered, I looked around to find even the scantest evidence for this madman's accusation and I found instead a compact mirror a woman had left on a seat that showed me the Russian letters on my ever-present black, bleach-embellished shirt.

Which doesn't explain much.

I am not Russian. I am not foreign. I am not racist, insofar as we're all not racists but still make split-second, visual assumptions whenever a non-us comes our way. He also told an old man to "spit out the dragon, old man."

The old man didn't listen.

Friday, July 24, 2009

My Cronenberg Rant

This last Thursday, I contributed to The Rumpus a pseudo-review-cum-rant of David Cronenberg's first feature film, Shivers. The film that Alien ripped off. Seriously. It's all in the added documentary on the DVD.

Read my review here.

I think it's amusing, especially the comments it inspired.

I think my love of Cronenberg doesn't necessarily hinge on a "sick disposition", only a respect for bravery and creative brinkmanship. He's a man who is influenced by Vladmir Nabokov, J.G. Ballard and William S. Burroughs. Thus, a word-ranter like me finds much to appreciate in his complex films.

I appreciate it when artists explore all the things I'm afraid of/and yet attracted to, i.e. modern medicine, sexual desire, biological upheaval, the fine line between the mind and the body, and of course that old standby, Death.

Fear is a good thing for artists. Maybe it's the ultimate catalyst for art when all is said and done.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hypothetical Cities: A Drawn-Out Interlude

I have a back log of things to talk about it so I might as well have at it.

Hypothetical Cities. Like Calvino's Invisible Cities, like Delany's Bellona, like Mieville's Orciny. Others I haven't entered yet: Le Guin's Left Hand Of Darkness and The Dispossessed, DUNE, Lillith's Brood.

Some Cities happen in a room, under a bed where some things forgotten once rolled and grew sticky and mysterious. Some happen in Shanghai, a City big enough to house hordes of others, where I've never been but which I might pretend is actually Fremont if I'm feeling nostalgic for an OLD JOB. I'll be in Chicago, broad-shouldered, icy-cold, Bellovian, in October for a wedding which, according to my friend is the most racist city in America. That's his Hypothesis of that City. (He lives in Phoenix.) Which isn't unlike my perceptions of San Francisco, New Orleans, Baltimore, San Diego: stratified, blockaded, and yes, perhaps, racist. My original theory of Chicago, a memory of innocence, is going to the greatest art exhibit I've ever seen: Odilon Redon.

But, not talking now, but listening to the Cure and Bauhaus after eating a fresh mango with the tang of mustard still on my tongue, I'm thinking about day-long amorousness when the day out the rickety, shit-splattered window is drab cotton and blustery and not worth doing business with unless the business is turning in.
For a bout inside a musty, humid room.
Turning your back on unseasonal wind. Turning your face to frenzy.

Today I handled a book that could cost between 400-500 dollars. Maybe. It is called THE COMMAND TO LOOK and it's spiral-bound and published in the year 1937 and although ostensibly a manual for Pictorialist photography it's more a grimoire scattered throughout with Picaresque, Grotesque and Lecherous photos. More on that later. Maybe Thursday.

I'm thinking about the woman
who came in to the store today in a felt coat, a loud red blouse, mousy hair, lazily tanned and asked to pick up the book she had put on hold, The Pot Growers Bible. It had been there, on hold, for over a month after she had ordered it. I found it necessary to comment on this fact to which she replied, mock-lethargically or real I couldn't tell: "Ah yeah, I just couldn't summon the energy to go pick it up." And then she enlightened me about the origin of the word "pound", as in a "dog pound": apparently, back in the day, runaway dogs were billed in total pounds they weighed by collectors. Or something. And then she paid for the pot grower's bible with a check but didn't have her ID on her.

Last night, sleeping was hard-going.
Three different beds in three days. Three kinds of dreams, three breeds of hypnagogia. Some astronomical shit going on which, although not a big believer in, I'm convinced affects me physiologically like some kind of alcoholic energy drink with added, narcotic botanicals thrown in merely to assuage the dying crust-punk scene. All I know is, these days, Saturn is always involved.

Nervy. Mind-busted. Thrumming. Last night. Tonight there is an Eclipse and I have friends in China who are there just to see it. My other friend was in China too and she just got back. I have a friend in Costa Rica right now. Another friend I know going to Brazil. My friend from the bachelor party weekend is going to World Cup in South Africa next year, and to World Cup in Brazil in 2014. After that, he said, he'll cash in his chips, die happily. Soccer, I think, is the sport of writers, or should be.

I own this fantasy for next year of going to Morocco, taking a boat to Tunisia, cutting through Egypt and then up through the Balkans until I wind up in the Carpathian mountains where, perhaps, I might breath wonderfully wooded air and feel haunted and do that body-killing work on the Transylvania farm I was invited to do but it fell through by virtue of something
! What, "writer"? !
This fantasy is, when thrown out there, patently absurd but I want to justify it by calling it "looking for a Character", a Character who in "fiction-time" is chasing after the Assassinista who is supposed to kill him, and thus must traverse a long route, across seas and languages and diasporic confluences for the "female mobster" novel in progress. . .HOW do we justify our creative excesses? Do we need to? Female mobsters? Isn't that more a fetish than a reality??

Spent the weekend in San Diego with the glaring sun, the ultra-tanned hedonists, the bracing cold of the ocean cut with the scalding sand killing hangovers and shame all at once, a bachelor party involving fifteen men in a beach house drinking and eating meat and play-brawling and play-insulting, among them two friends known and loved since kindergarten, a Stegnor Fellow, a Libertarian and an Indian nurse staffer and the potential happy threat of Pornographers coming from another Beach to aggravate and usurp the Bachelor Party. But no, that didn't pan out, just men, loving and laughing and feeling stricken in the morning on the rug, in the sweaty sheets, whiskey-wrecked and meat-glutted, scatological specimens. . . which me think of a STORY of the male ritual, how it ends in slack-jawed, visceral, fecal-focused pain but not without HUGE laughs along the way.

I came home with clippings of old poems, with poems that belonged to a friend, with postcards I started and never sent, with pages ripped out of notebooks about cough syrup and cartoons and trespassing to a Dam, a beautiful letter from my Grandfather which sowed the seeds of a further life-bringing essay about a disquieting yet love-heavy year in my life and the lives of my loved ones. I have brought back a forgotten notebook about all the things I saw in Boston and Virginia and Philadelphia and Washington D.C. when I was a tween obsessed with Paul Revere's brand of revolution and all my scrawls were meticulous cursive, the pride of the nuns.

I started this with an intent, to write about what I've not been writing about.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Scattershot Thoughts Of Change

AS I NARROW in on my big move to Bernal Heights, as I'm about to slough off an awkward, stilted and oppressive living situation and be only two blocks away from my wonderful place of employment, I wonder what will motivate me, as a human, a friend, a lover, a writer, a son, a non-combatant, a pedestrian, a reader, in the months to come. (Among the other identities I'll have to flesh out as circumstances arise, as things ebb and flow.)

ANOTHER identity is "worker" and, now that I'm in the only field I'm qualified for but making less money than I've made in a long time while remaining HAPPY in what I'm doing, is this then my CAREER or as close to it as possible? IT's the only time that I've COME back to a trade that I had done before, in this case when I worked at Logos Books 6 years ago.

A YEAR ago I would have said I was in uncertain waters, which I was. THAT I had made a sudden move to a strange place full of strange people. (THIS place, called The Excelsior I have tried to document, write about and understand, with certain degrees of success and failure.) THAT I had, in my decision making acted largely out of fear, anxiety and the need to settle again. THAT I had made a very difficult life decision prior to that one, one that still often haunts my waking thoughts. AND that perhaps creatively I didn't have a foreseeable outlet after the decision was made. THE last part was the most ridiculous conviction, thankfully.

OK, so let's finally determine then that now, a YEAR later I know what I want to "do with my life", as if life is putty you get in a kit but the instructions are in Gaelic and the "example" they show you in the drawing of what your putty is to become is of an Iberian fortress near the Tagus River that's been rained on with flaming arrows, so just figuring out what "to do" with your putty becomes this anxious, tactile adventure.

I CAN say, smugly, staidly, that life has no instruction manual, which is funny, because one of my favorite novels translates as "Life: A User's Manual" by Georges Perec.

WHAT I, above all, want to continue to enshrine is that life's purposelessness is fertile ground, and not cause for grief and woe, but a HOLY disorder of sorts that stories are made out of, stories that become lineages, families, next of kin, new rivers for blood to flow in.

THE addiction to literature proves this out.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thursday Blogging At The Rumpus

After my two Sundays filling in for Mr. Fischer at The Rumpus, I've agreed to do a regular Thursday afternoon writing gig at The Rumpus, on an array of topics which hopefully will mostly be about books, art, writing.

More or less some of the stuff that goes on here at U.M. Maybe I'll cross-post. Basically, it's blogging about whatever I want. But The Rumpus writing will be more concise, newsworthy and linked to certain other book blogs. And this place here, I'll be keeping for longer rambles, more creative forays, outlines/drafts of critical stances and photography. But of course distinctions are meaningless.

I'm not sure if blogging is the future of writing, but I'm going to see how far I can roll with it, while also wanting to definitely maintain writing of a non-blogging sort. I dislike the short-attention span thrust of lots of blogs, which probably makes me a less than ideal blogger. Because after all I tend to ramble, put it in too much text, not enough links. Who knows?

On that note, some of my recent Thursday afternoon pieces for those interested:

I pose the question, Who Needs Philosophy?

As well as another: Why Do The Scandinavians Seek The Darkness?

So, if at all interested, check out The Rumpus Thursday afternoons for similar yet different posts from me.

Thanks for indulging my hyper-aware self-promotional meta-blogging.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Thoughts/Ideas While I'm Thinking Them

A SLOW Monday listening to Eastern European folk music, eating Greek yogurt and carrot juice. Priced some extremely rare and expensive books this morning, including a son's none-too-flattering photo essay about his alcoholic father and chain-smoking mother: Ray's A Laugh as well as some Gnostic treatises.

EVERYBODY all the time is loaning or giving me books. When you consider this, plus the additional fact that I work in a used bookstore, or actually two used bookstores, it would seem my addiction for the printed word will soon take on Keith Richards proportions. But it's interesting the books people give me. Stephen at Phoenix gave me Joe Orton's Diaries. And Jodel from Goldstein (my old job) loaned me My Dark Places by James Ellroy. And Wendy from the same place loaned me an Octavia Butler novel.

YESTERDAY, A SUNDAY, ambivalent pale grey skies cut, here and there with flashes of pale light. Walked further on 24th than I'm used to. 24th street that is, one of the more colorful, mural-plastered boulevards, mostly Latino and Vietnamese, and I had this moment, walking to a coffee shop for a writing meeting, that I had crossed some interstitial boundary and was in another city, another country, not necessarily a Spanish-speaking one, but an indefinite one where I could learn nothing from the local murals, or discern any sort of religion from the whiffs of incense from the botanical stores.

THIS psychic feeling of border crossing most likely stems from my enraptured reading of The City And The City by China Mieville. More on that later. More on that later: a mantra of sort for the persistence of obsession?


1. Short Stories. Not sure if I have the temperament for this form. But I appreciate the discipline/the slice of lifeness/the brevity and solemnity. And the potential interconnection between several tales, like a resonance chamber. I like the ease with which a vignette can arrive on the page and linger in the memory, like a mysterious postcard from a distant ex-fling. My unifying concept is a sequence of dreamy city stories featuring, honestly what I'm most familiar with space-wise: San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego, Los Angeles.

2. Lyrical Essays? I kind of think my longer, illustrated blog posts will be this: essays/meditations on books, culture, art and the personal circumstances of receiving/appreciating cultural artifacts and how they affect one's LIFE. Departing from the idea of life formed by culture. Something like Henry Miller's The Books In My Life or Sontag's Against Interpretation but with personal anecdote, asides, pictures, allusions, cross-references, etc. HERE, some forthcoming ones:

a). Essay on Story of the Eye the movie vs. Story of the Eye the book.
b) Essay on Thomas Disch
c) Dirty novels of the 60's.
d) The Brothers Karamazov as ultimate novel of late-twenties CRISES.

3. OTHER ESSAY TALES. Not sure what I want to call these. Myths? Apocryphal memoirs? Tiny textual movies? One in particular that's getting really long and out-of-hand: a lively, vivacious, somewhat dirty tale of being a straight guy with nothing but hedonistic, sex-loving gay and lesbian friends and the antics that ensue. That might sound superficial? Placating? Trite? MAYBE, but I feel like I have the anecdotal evidence to make it transcend its gossipy-sounding summary, turn it into a cultural document that presents MY generation's life and times in America's most ridiculously awesome city (San Francisco.) ALSO: another essay about the man who travels but wants NOTHING in his journey. Not girls, not ganja, not machine-guns. NOTHING.

4. WORKING NOTES FOR NOVEL, w/Working Title: Assassins. This novel so far has a bunch of segments/story-lines summarizes, some characters sketched out, but nothing fully finished or thought through. Plot thoughts so far: A man grows up with hippie parents. His mother unfortunately has an incident. Kills someone. The Man's sister flees. He is alone and is cursed by the crime of WHO the mother kills, a woman who just happens to be part of a powerful female crime syndicate. The Son grows up nursing a strange fascination-horror with things like perfume, bathrooms, parking lots, courtyards. He is taught that any woman he meets might be a part of this crime syndicate with the working title Pistis Sofia. That he is a marked man. His neurosis becomes a long poem. Then one day his poetry begins to show up at crime scenes that mimic the one his mother was involved in. He must catch the person who's trying to catch him before they catch him??? And on and on. Too much going on with this one...

That's it. Back to book peddling.