Saturday, January 30, 2010


"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic.

It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.

If we remember those times and places--and there are so many--where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future.
The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."

--Howard Zinn

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Noir Effect Part 1

The last few days have been weird, in not exactly constructive ways.

Which falls way short of the urgency I want to express.

A word I loathe, because it lacks any sort of specificity and is aligned too maliciously with cliche: drama. Beyond drama, an encroaching wave of unreality that is dubiously indistinguishable from the weather.

And not just the weather we talk about because we're too tired to talk of anything else. The weather inside. The inner meteors. Clashing and fraying the nerves, exiting the skin in spoors of unease, not like breath but what we breathe when we're not breathing.

The gray-ribbed skies, the blustering wet winds have surrendered to general blandness, not even a condition but a general lack. And the psyche is rendered faceless, without affect or charge. I saw the hill-topped park, and the mutant-green bathroom light, a beacon for hybrid undoings, and wondered whether, despite the recent surge of cops in my neighborhood, I should walk that park in the circle it describes, every revolution of which I'd have come to a new half-hearted conclusion.

But no, such compulsion is an old urge.

Tonight, after closing down the shop, I walked the dark hills with the garret-crowned houses that are always yellow-bright and naked, towards a place where live jazz can be had for free, and you can eat a simple spinach salad digested with ginger beer. It's an old tired place I haven't been in for a while.

To hear it from the employees, you work 8 hours straight there without a break. Many a strong soul has been forced out to sling barbecue or pour coffee elsewhere. But they can't argue with the wine or the tinkling music or the occasionally-inspired soup or salad inspired by the bistro aesthetic.

A man I see always on the cafe circuit, because both of us like so many of us, are prone to linger in cafes where there's free music and decent coffee and not-bad edibles, was there, with his insightful bifocals, his non-descrepit black clothing, his usual glass of wine and bowl of soup and we nodded and talked briefly about cafes.

And then realizing we were talking about cafes, even comparing them in half-whining tones we kind of started, half-humorously to hate ourselves. To hate ourselves in front of each other. Surely, we said, laughing, we have nothing, nothing to complain about. And it was true.

A bowl of soup, a glass of wine, a dog-eared book of art history: this, I believe is his usual evening spread. Hearty, I think. Vivifying. The kind of triple-pairing that can bolster you for a long night of braving harsh lake-winds en route towards a distant outpost where questionable rewards are housed. In this I remember Oakland autumns, alone, with unsung songs inside of me when I thought the lake was a piece of rippling black silk.

Tonight was different. I hope it was because certain essential illusions have been pre-shattered. It's not a guarantee though.

The jazz was mild, and calming distraction as jazz, which has no acid inflections often is. The musicians took breaks to eat expensive sandwiches and talk about their varied cosmopolitan roots. One of them, red-faced and white-haired and charmingly gaunt, claimed both Scottish and Dutch ancestry, which meant he was prone to many excuses to travel to Europe and take the trains and boats there which take him to family and beyond.

The other, a Frenchman spoke of his alienation from his father. And then the American spoke, somewhat self-congratulatorily of being able to suffer any rodents for having lived in Thailand. Any conversation you happen to overhear, if you overhear it with your whole self, offers parts of the whole fiasco we are all implicated in. It's nice, in a way. Not distracting but focusing.

But I was busy writing a letter about my spiritual failings which, having said it here, sounds absurd. The man I wrote to is a Catholic. He knows I'm still a Catholic, if only in birthright. He is an old, old friend. He's worked the food circuit at the university, lost it all in Reno, hitch-hiked, begged, been betrayed and forlorn for longer than I have. Now I believe he is happy with a good woman, a good job, a good house. His faith is strong and buttressing. It's a live thing. The liveliest faith I've seen from a friend in a long time. I've seen his bedroom altar, I've heard his devotions on days of obligation.

And I wrote him four pages about the current weirdness, describing it not explicitly but in roundabout ways until I exhausted the letter with groundless aphorisms that point only to invisible places.

And I left him with a question, I left myself with it too: "If it's not the Invisible you're drawing from, then is it love?"

I don't know, however, what kind of question it is.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Repository Of Dream Shards

Could be the influence of Women And Men's delirious, fugue-like structure, cascading sentences that don't necessarily ramble but rush right along through their own memories (as if sentences can have memories of previous sentences?) but my dreams are less deep immersions in images that just scudding the surface of the deep, riding on a wave of endless words. . .

I wake with the echoe of long, disconnective paragraphs in my head. It's a breezy form of faux-delirium, something that might make the day feel louder, weirder. Even in my dreams I'm dictating the world's most unnecessary novel.

Could also be the copious pesto pizza eaten late at night washed down with a hot whiskey, ginger, cinnamon and bitters concoction after experiencing a butchered screening of the delightfully macabre and demonic 1920's Swedish silent film about witchcraft set to live, wonderfully eerie and dissonant music by a group called Dr. Prisoner: The Brain!

Here's another description of what I saw/experienced last night.

Put on by the wonderful people at Artist's Television Access.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Notes On "Women And Men"

This might not be the year where I blog that much. Too many longer projects.

But a few things to say in the interim.

Women And Men
by Joseph McElroy, of which I am only 200 pages in and which is 1300 pages long, might be the strangest, sustained piece of writing I've ever encountered. . .notes pending...but one image jumps to mind: broken circuitry of consciousness as if it's not a stream per se but composites of broken machines. . .

Some major "scenes" so far:

--a rocket launch in Florida during which a rogue newsman finds inspiration from a Chilean economist.

--another Chilean, but this time an opera singer, has a doctor that loves her so much that he smuggles, via a medicine man, a certain tapeworm for her so may she lose weight.

--a very formative Grandmother who tells stories to her grandson but not her own daughter who ends up committing suicide.

--various incarnations of inventors and fringe weathermen and hermit scientists, and generally a sense that the margins of society hold untold knowledge.

--a woman, the heroine of the novel, Grace Kimball, who is a part Native American, is thinking about her day Molly Bloom style (full of various asides, tangents) while masturbating in her Body Room in which she holds women's workshops.

--oh and the first scene, or chapter of the book, is a wonderfully empathetic description of a woman giving birth. However, so far this character has not made another appearance.

--a recurring image of the uncrated parts of the Statue Of Liberty sitting in the grass while a little girl, the heroine's grandmother is being serenaded with a Longfellow poem.

More Later. . .

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Local Paradoxes

To pretend you're immortal and lead the contemplative life, and think through things that can't be untangled without centuries of inquiry; but also to take action, to engage, participate, be enraged (as we should), and urge joy in spite of cruelty.

To urge mortality onto yourself and others. And in that limiting light, things done and undone shine harder for being rarer. Are harder. Are rarer.

To love selflessly; but while erecting fortresses that are yours alone; to be psyche and society; to embrace while fleeing for your life; to escape into the arms of the one you can't live without.

To be alone with the images in your head, to discipline them, to play games of domination with them; but then to make words centrifugal, even a force forgotten so you may dirty your hands with the uselessness of living.

These are some of my local paradoxes they I just now wanted to put on the page.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Things Early January

January is certainly off and running.
6 hours of writing and revising yesterday. After a 7 day, 50 hour workweek!

Watched the disturbing, audacious, brazenly over-done, but surprisingly not morbid film, Tideland (not morbid despite scenes of human taxidermy, and potential pederasty.)

Everyone's getting colds again. Others are quitting vices.
Still others are meeting and falling for one another.
Inciting jealousy, excising old illusions.
A funny line from a self-help book, "Mourning the life you thought you had. . ." Such things only make me laugh, cruelly and sadly maybe.

I'm arming myself against it all. Especially the colds: raw garlic helps.
I have a desire to spend one week in New York for no reason at all this year.
My eyes are sort of puffy.
My spirits are high, and getting higher. ()
It's 2010: it's already the FUTURE. This novel I'm reading, Women and Men is wildly difficult.
I'm augmenting it with a little research here and there.
I'm working on my on novel, hitting about 130 pages of rough shite.

Hmmm, this year I might makes this blog more concise, sharper, less updated so I can finish some big things.

Here's a good book I'm leafing through, written by my father's former English Professor at U.T. Austin and one of the finest exegeses of Blaise Cendrars in English.