Apr 29, 2005

Because there’s nothing special about failing, III

Heeeey, I say, ‘cause it’s that kinda day, where I’m friendly as an exaggeration, where I'm trying to make myself laugh at my parody of politeness so I don’t start audibly wishing customers, employers and passing people all to hell.

How’re things?

he says, pouring himself a large coffee, I could complain, but who’d listen?

I say and he laughs. I don’t wanna hear it. Man, I had enough people going bat-crazy on me today.

I'm with you,
he says. It’s like my wife always tells me, you could scream, but no one would hear you.

Apr 28, 2005

Sceptical of the whole genre of philosophizing

Terry Eagleton in a review of a new book on Ludwig Wittgenstein's paradoxical relationship with aesthetics: Wittgenstein "belonged to that heretical sub-current of philosophical thought that can compress a whole complex argument into some earthy dictum, gnomic epiphany, or striking image. [He] preferred a montage of fragments to a conventionally ordered argument."

By the way, if someone knows of or sees something good on Wittgenstein's mysticism, I'd be very interested.

(via A&LD)

Apr 27, 2005

End-of-the-semester rain

The wooden stool stands in the off-center middle of the living room, out of the way to the kitchen, to the sink stack of cups and coffee mugs. It looks like a gallery exhibit, or a table minimalized, my pile of books shuffled with scratch-paper notes and sitting square on the round seat.

Old Crow Medicine Show - May 23&24 at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle.

Apr 25, 2005

John Hultberg, the avant-grade painter and printmaker who studied under Rothko and whose works were semiabstract urban wastelands combining an air of mystery and forceful use of color, died of a stroke at the age of 83.

May he rest in peace.

Apr 23, 2005

Farm stories
Luke Heyman's got an excellent story up about clearing fencerows, a tree, his grandfather and the crazy business end of modern farming.

"I remember when I was little watchin’ him hang one of his huntin’ dogs over his shoulder by the choke chain because it tried to bite me. The dog hung there wriggling and stiffenin’ on his back as old Tim (he was in Vietnam) carried on a calm conversation with my dad. The dog was ok; I guess."

See also Peter Krupa's similarly themed, "Well that could have been ugly."

Apr 22, 2005

Disfiguring God: How Eriugena ontologically explained the multiplicity of Being and became a heretic

"There is a tension, in the work of John Scotus Eriugena, between ontology and orthodoxy. He approaches one of the main problems of metaphysics from within Christian philosophy and, in doing so, falls outside of it. This paper is an exploration and hopefully and explication of those relationships: between Eriugena and the problem of the One and the Many, between Eriugena and Christianity, between Christianity and neoplatonism, and between Christianity and the problem of the One and the Many."

It's finally finished, at 2,977 words and 10 1/2 pages plus an addendum on Spinoza and a timeline of Christian neoplatonism.

Apr 21, 2005

Because there's nothing special about failing, II

There are three stages in the realization of failure:

First, to not realize one has failed, to be blind to it and to think of oneself, by the standards that are important, as a success.

Second, to realize one has failed and think that failure makes one uniquely tragic. This is the stage of dramatic self-pity, the stage of Oedipus when he gouges out his eyes.

Third, to realize one has failed, that failure is commonplace and that, really, there's nothing special about failing.

Apr 20, 2005

Because there's nothing special about failing, I

I knew this one-legged lawn mower mechanic, once, and once I asked him what had happened to his leg.

He’d lost it, he said and he grinned, in a shin-kicking competition.
'A city of anarchy is a city of promise'

So a slew of my friends, who normally come in slews, are all taking this intensive short story writing seminar with the unlikely name of "The Art of Strategic Assessment" from a big-name writer you've never heard of, Mark Helprin. Some of them seem to think he’s crazy like a fox– they’re telling stories that he claims he’s never been to a party, tried drugs, alcohol, tobacco, coffee, or even hot chocolate and also that he once was in an Israeli prison for three years and that he and the two other American’s took over and ran the place – and some of them seem to think he’s crazy like a loon, if loons were rich New England neocons.

Could be. I just wanna see these 1,000 word short stories everyone's been writing.

In other news, from August 'o5 through graduation in December to when I move to Atlanta for a while in May 'o6, I'll be living at The Beat.

Apr 18, 2005

The muscles in my jaw are knotted up tight from pen-chewing my way through a Latin exam. And I'm still two pages short on that paper, with another one quick coming down. Expletive deleted, I say.

Well. 'M looking forward to a farmer's tan, this summer, to working without a hat to let my face go brown and my hair bleach to the sun in streaks. My hands will go rough, again, go back to calluses gripping the weed whacker all day until I can feel the engine running in the tremors in my hands.

I'm looking forward to building a fence in the front yard and pruning the trees in the back. I like pruning trees, with the sharp blades slicing softly through the green wood, working slow and easy standing back to look at the shape and the directions of next year's growth.
After Enosh

And in those days, men began to call on the name of the Lord.

Apr 16, 2005

Hey Dan

Called home last night to talk to the birthday boy - 8 he tells me, because I don't keep track - and the big news is that bricks are made out of mud.

And, he says, they're red.

Apr 14, 2005

15 pages

Just, he said to himself, start writing.

Apr 13, 2005

Wanting to help and backing away

The old black man was standing by the side of the truck on the side of the road, staring at the tops of the trees, his right arm laid along the edge of the hood where the paint was peeling back in the heat. His short white hair was wet with the sweat of 10 a.m. in Texas, in the summer, and his blue button-up shirt was soggy and arm-pit stained a darker blue, with white salt rings settling out in circles.

His gas cap was unscrewed and set flat on the roof of the cab, like a black cork in a red sea.

Guy’s outa gas, David said, and we pulled over.

We were driving, in those days, a big brown paneled van we’d bought from the cousin of a friend. We loaded lawn mowers in the back, up boards, and blocked the wheels with gas cans and blowers, angling the weed whackers over besides the back bucket seat where I sat. The front windows were always rolled down and the back ones always tented open and we put a bungee on the sliding door to hold it open for the muggy breeze that whirled grass clippings into our hair.

We always stopped and helped people. Once we pushed a brand new plate-less Pontiac that stalled at a busy light, put a tire on a minivan, gave or loaned gas to people who’d puttered out to the curb with gauges gone flat, and we stopped to help the old black man stranded on the side of a busy hill. Watch the traffic, Dad said, and we jumped out, ran around to the back and slid out the gas can heavy with gas.

The man started. White eyes widening. He stooped, bending his body over bringing his shoulders up around his chin, moving lanky, stepping quick around behind the truck.

No sir, no sir, he said. We stopped. Gas, I said, confused. I held up the can, lifted it to my chest, cupped it with both hands and stretched it out. No sir, he said, waving his hand and shaking his head in a whole-bodied no.

We saw you, my dad said, opening his hand at the blistering truck, and stopped to help.

No sir. No thanks.

You need help?

I got somebody coming.

And we backed away. Get back in the car boys, Dad said, and we did.

Why didn’t he want help? I said, after a silence.

Was he scared? David said.

Yeah, I think we scared him.


So Dad told us about the KKK and burning crosses, lynchings, segregated cities, dogs, deaths and fire hoses, about the "ugly record of brutality" we'd seen showing in the old man’s fear.

I wish he’d taken our gas, David said.
Issues with time: Ron Silliman on Pound, Zukofsky, Grenier, The Alphabet, Russian Futurists, Structuralism &etc., concerning time in the structure of poetry and the "longpoem."

Iakovos, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop in the west from 1959 to 1996, who moved the Greek Orthodox church into the mainstream of American life, championed ecumenicism by establishing talks with Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, and Jews, supported uniting the variety of Eastern Orthodox churches in a single American church, marched for Civil Rights in Selma, and opposed the Vietnam war, died Sunday at the age of 93.

May he rest in peace.

(via Seraphim Danckaert)

Apr 11, 2005

Karol Wojtyla's divided heart

"John Paul II had three questions for me: Are you taking care of the poor? Are you taking care of the workers? Are you taking care of the youth?"
      - Cardinal Arns of Brazil on JPII and liberation theology

Apr 10, 2005

Which is where you'll see me walking

I avoid it, if I can, riding with couples that have been together this long. It’s not that I think long stable relationships are a bad thing, but being trapped in a car in the middle of one, that's a bad thing.

So we're driving over to Canada, through the checkpoint and up the road a little while and the driver’s trying to convert kilometers to miles in his head to have some idea when we’ll be there and we miss our turn. Maybe. Or maybe it’s still ahead.

Did you miss the turn? she says.

I don’t know, he says. I thought it was farther up.

Did you see the signs?

Not since the checkpoint.

No, there were signs just back there. You didn’t see the signs?

I didn’t see them,
he says. Did you see them?

No. Do you think you missed the turn?

I don't know,
he says, a little too loud and clenching his jaw and then, trying to switch courses, Should I turn around?

Well don’t turn around,
she says.Not if you didn’t miss the turn.

And so we’re still driving the same way except that now the driver-husband doesn’t know anything for sure except that whatever he knows is wrong. So he's getting angrier and angrier and trying to count to ten, stay on the road and breathe, all at the same time. She's not looking at him and she's looking out the window pretending it's interesting and pretending she's not noticing he's trying not to blow and she's so silent she's exuding I told you so.

I'm in the back trying to disappear, which doesn't seem to be working, and we're driving along more and more uncomfortable. Then he remembers something from counseling, or something someone said they'd say in counseling, and he leans his head to the side to look sympathetic or concerned and gestures one hand between them and says, honey, I’m, uh, hearing mixed messages. I'll turn around or I'll keep driving or we could stop, if we see some place maybe, and ask for directions. You just need to tell me what you'd prefer.

Well you're driving,
she says.

It's like watching someone die by being staked to an ant hill. No, no actually it's worse, because everyone pretends like this isn't barbarous. Because no one leans down to a guy staked to an ant hill, with ants crawling up his nose and biting at his eyes, and says, honey, you're gonna make us late.

A lot of my friends are engaged, and a lot of them don't want children. They're all engaged just because that's the age we're at, in our 20s and getting out of college, and they don't want children, well I don't know why that is. Maybe it's a stage or a generational trend or maybe it’s just peculiar to my friends, educated and disgruntled children of the moral majority who haven't quite figured out how to separate God and their mothers. If you ask them, and they don't think it'll offend you, they'll say because they don't know anyone with children that they want to be like.

So they're comparing rings and dates and plans and grad school options or future work and oh, no, we're not planning on having any children.

And every time I hear that I think, shit, having kids is the part of a relationship that doesn’t look like highly perfected torture, and I start making plans to walk.
Wisconsin Death Trip

"You faced front, you seldom smiled, since levity was not the mark you wanted put across your face forever." - Michael Lesy

Apr 9, 2005

'Buy me something from the store'
Porch Lady and the neighborhood

We lived in the yellow house that was halfway between the VFW and the McDonalds that marked the neighborhood. The old woman in the apartment next to us had the porch and the front yard. We had the concrete stoop in the back, facing the graffitied shed and the shrubs overgrowing the asbestos dump and the creek. All winter all we saw of her was the yellow window of kitchen light that was always on, but when the bees began to fly in the spring she moved to the porch and sat there in her chair until the very end of fall.

We called her Porch Lady.

She sat there quiet, rocking and watching the empty street and when she saw someone she’d yell to them:


Whenever she was gonna yell a message at a kid shuffling aimless down the street, she always started with HEY and just let loose a bellow to bowl down the whole street and we’d be jarred, visibly shaken. We’d wake from day-off naps to her yelling for something from the store, or second-hand hellos.


My roommate hated her. One too many naps were ruined by Porch Lady and he’d go around grumpy and scowling and swearing at her.

She was the center of the entire neighborhood. The neighborhood women all came, sometimes, and sat with her in a row of seats lined on the porch looking over the scrabble of kids in the street. They talked about their men, were they more lazy or stupid, and they held a council in a chorus of un huh’s and said that’s right, that’s right. That’s what I said.

And the men came, in the evenings still wearing work clothes, moving the dice games up from the curb or the tunk games up to her so she could watch and laugh. They’d stand around her, leaning up against the wall and slouching down on the edge of the porch. They’d stand there drinking beers and smoking and telling funny stories about themselves and each other.

Sometimes they stood there for an hour, sometimes for an afternoon or an evening. Once we woke up in the morning to hear them on the porch in the arguement in the middle of a Hitler analogy that would have taken all night to follow.

Wow, I said to my roommate, quiet enough they couldn’t hear me, they’ve been going at it all night.

He swore, got up and went to the bathroom. I laid there, listening to the porch.

Apr 8, 2005

Adding to the canon

Ron, my uncle, has suggested a reading list - really a curicumlum - of "New American Poetry," "that phenomenal mid-century confluence of poets who changed the writing of the U.S." If you have any interest in 20th century, American or avant and post-avant garde poetry (or, as I do, an interest in poetics and aesthetics esp. as influenced by poststructualism etc.) I suggest a look at his list, which includes Zukofsky, Duncan, Creeley, Ashbery and Spicer.

(Note: Valerie, if you see either New American Story or The Poetics of the New American Poetry at Powells at reasonable prices, pick them up for me.)

Apr 6, 2005

'Bizarre outgrowth of the suburban mentality'

The next phase in the 49-year history of the mall appears to be here: faux urban streets billed as "lifestyle centers," imitating public space and mixed use by adding open-air plazas, sidewalks, and street-side parking to "convey a sense of being out and about in the world" in hopes of attracting high-end shoppers.

An Alaskan megachurch is buying a mall for worship space while maintaining and hopefully increasing the mall's retail business. Some businesses are worried about the church-landlords forcing them out for piety's sake (e.g. Walden Books, wary after a history of being boycotted), while others just hope that with the over 1,000 Sunday crowd of worshiper-shoppers, business will improve. (via The Revealer, where they've been focusing on megachurches a bit.)

Meanwhile, Gideon Strauss is considering walkable differences between an the new and old neighborhoods of Hamilton, the three rules of what makes a city good to walk in, and worrying (in the comments) that New Urbanism is only viable for the rich.
Saul Bellow, the nobel-winning novelist who blended styles high and low, cast himself in the American idiom, and considered the novel a vital art form, died Tuesday at the age of 89.

May he rest in peace.

Apr 5, 2005

An imaginary frame

We went outside, after. Or maybe we were kicked out, eight boys from five to ten wandering from trouble to trouble around the farm and likely to spend the afternoon kicking your furniture into pieces and taking turns pulling ourselves up to dangling from the sink counter on our elbows to compare faucet drinking methods, if you didn’t kick us out. We were probably kicked out, after the movie, and we went out past the community garden into the woods behind the shop with the shuffle of a gang of little boys thinking of what to do.

“Guys,” one of us said, probably one of the older ones, “guys. Let’s find two trees close enough together to play they’re pillars we can push down like Samson.” So we tramped through the woods behind the shop looking for trees that were big enough to look like ancient temple pillars and close enough that we could put our palms against both trunks and push. Trees don’t normally come like that. The biggest found two where he could touch, but we objected.

Nah aunh. No way. You couldn’t push down big pillars with the tips of your fingers.

Samson could.

Nah aunh.

Yeah he could.

Nah aunh, he didn’t just touch them. He had to push so his huge muscles came out.

And we kept looking. We finally found two, on the edge by the road, leaning into each other. We each took a turn being framed by the trees imagined as pillars imagined as a last dramatic act of roaring destruction.

You’re blind, we’d say, close your eyes. And you got like a huge chain around your neck.

Each by turn bent over in pretended pain and anger and acted chained down and closed his eyes to be blind, while the other seven boys stood around as stand-in Philistines. He shook his head where imaginary hair was growing back and put each palm against a tree and pushed so his huge muscles came out and the temple would collapse and the people would fall down through the ceiling. He yelled and we all yelled and then the next boy took a turn.

Then we shuffled off looking for sticks and thinking what to do.

Apr 4, 2005

A door-stopping, days-swallowing monument of a book

A day, you know that type of day, when what you want is the biggest damn novel you can find. Un huh, so damn big it makes centuries and empires seem small and it'll take a month to read straight through and that's all you can do is turn on the little light that crooks over your chair and read.

A book so big it's as if it is its own reason.

Apr 2, 2005


Pope John Paul II has died. May he rest in peace.

Apr 1, 2005

Wanting an act of grace

He did this to himself, he said, though we didn't ask. "I did this on purpose," he said, "I wanted to get fat.

He went to the McDonald's and drank creams, peeling off the thin plastic seal and tipping up the tablespoon-sized cup held between three fattening fingers and drank the milk thick to half cream.

"Can I help you?" said the girl behind the apron, behind the counter.

"No," he said and he drank another creamer.

"I wanted to know," he said, "I wanted to know that if someone liked me it wasn't for something. I guess I wouldn't have done it though if I'd known it wasn't going to be so hard."

But I don't know, I think maybe he would have.

If I were to describe her, you would think of other pretty girls, but she wasn't other pretty girls. You would think you knew what she was, you would think "cute," think "pretty." I can't describe it, but what she was was beautiful.

Guys would ask her if she had a boyfriend before they asked her name. When she left they stood there, staring. "Shit," they'd say. Girls hated her, sometimes trafficking in harsh wither-looks and hush-mumbling gossip, or the stood around trailing her shadow, trolling for left overs.

Somehow, being beautiful had wrecked her life. She played tennis, but no one mentioned tennis. She took photography, but no one talked about photography. Her beauty had destroyed her world. Her beauty was a gravity and everything around was weighed down into an orbit of disfigured shapes.

I had to call her a lot, for the work we were it, call her at home sometimes in the afternoons when her father would answer and at work some nights when some girl would giggle and call her name long and slowly teasingly dangling out the second syllable.

I'd wait, in that breathing silence of holding on the phone, and wonder. How do you act for someone, towards someone, whose every passing social and working relationship is too tense, where everyone always wants, wants something and lets it show long dog in their eyes? How do you say hello, smile in the hall, ask for her on the phone when all she can know is to think those are demands and desires?

I never told her a joke, never gave a grin. I ignored her in a way, I think, that no one had allowed her to be ignored. I thought it was the best I could do. We talked about photography.