Some things thrill and intrigue me. Some things do not. Behold: This is the Monkey Queen. She lindy-hops o'er the cruel, cruel world of wind and cold. I do not like February, Sam I Am. I am meant for spring and summer. This winter stuff is...unseemly for the man they call me. And guess what? I just woke up from a long, weird hypnopompically-sustained nap on the creepy "orgy beds" in the men's locker room at the YMCA. As I slept, two gigantic heat lamps (which haven't been turned on since 1978) hovered a foot above me, suspended from the ceiling on a long, metal rope. "What's crackin', Charles" I said to Charles, on my way out. "All right, playa," he did not reply. Outside, it's a blustery, ball-busting day.
25 February 2008
Back at the friendly neighborhood cafe, home of the world's most uncomfortable chairs, and the barista is a twenty-something kid with acne and hornrimmed glasses who periodically cranes his neck and shoots me a glance that says, "I've noticed that you've been here for an hour now and have yet to purchase a beverage." I continually look away. This deflection works...for now. But, alas, confrontation is inevitable. And I wouldn't mind watching this kid step to the plate and defend his turf against a shiftless layabout such as myself. It'd be inspiring, actually.
Sometimes ladders lead up and out of the mire. It is a wonderful thing when they do. Recently, my father fell off a ladder and broke some ribs. FYI: When you break ribs, it hurts like a mother. My dad, though, was cool about it. He didn't complain. "Coulda been a lot worse, " he told me. That's true. This is a kind of optimism I can appreciate.
Climbing ladders entails its risks. So there you have it: risk, hope, promise, ascension, disaster...these are the worlds that a ladder can span. This is my painting. I painted it in the Kali Yuga.
20 February 2008
I'm at one a them "Internet Cafes," boosting an airport connection. Monday, the day I was accepted into the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, I woke up feeling groggy and drugged. My nasal passages felt like they had been injected with Gorilla Glue. My limbs were sore from moving out of the house on Tallassee Road into this 3 bedroom bourgeosie utopia on Hale Lane. I spent that morning wandering around the huge, new house with Eleanor, who only wanted to climb on things and bite at things. Stella alternated from inside the house to out, desperately longing to lick clean a certain frying pan that’d been used to fry bacon the night before. Outside, wild winds howled in from the East, spinning the windmills and rocking the birdfeeders. I walked outside with Eleanor and held her close. She fell into a deep sleep. When she awoke an hour later, I thought we’d drive into town for a Neti pot, but soon discovered that the battery in our Jeep was dead as fried chicken. Just then, though, the Georgia Power guy showed up to read the meter. “Hey, buddy, you got an extra minute? I could sure use a jump.” He was a nice older fella who said, “Shit, I’ll make time to help you out, man.” Nice guy: “I used to have a Camaro that got real bad oxidation on the battery terminals and I’d always hafta take my pocketknife and scrape that stuff off, but you know one day that sonuvabitch just stopped dead in the road – I was going 70 mph one minute but was still as the Statue of Liberty the next.” “Thanks, mayne.” Went to the health food store, where we ran into Coleman Barks, translator of fine Rumi texts. And I thought to myself how odd to see Coleman Barks at the store. I used to see him around a lot, but lately, no, not so much. “Hey, Coleman.” He said, “Uh, hey,” looking lost, cold, and not remembering me from nothing. Had a thin paperback tucked under his left arm and was dressed like an old hungover lumberjack. Back at the new house, Janelle was waiting on the front porch. We walked inside together and about that time the phone rang. When I heard the news that I got accepted to Iowa, my immediate and, in fact, all subsequent reactions have been one of total disbelief, like those guys who win the lottery but end up clinically depressed. Janelle shrieked and pivoted. We went for a drive and a nowhere dog attacked the Jeep at 30 mph. Drove over his paw and he yalped. His owner, a neighbor lady, fortysomething, with the raw face of someone who’d been powerwalking, drinking lemon schnapps, and burning offerings to poor old dead but soon-to-return Jesus all day, stepped out and said, “He’s all right, he’s just a big stupid dog.”
She's rough on the dogs of the world, but Fortuna shimmies a little for me, lifts her hem a bit to expose the creamy thigh. But even now, I’m worried I might wake up from this weird home-bescrambled dream. Janelle and I had spinach, tofu, curry, and rice for dinner. We watched The Wire, Season 4. I kept trying to figure out how much my life is about to change, and then again how much it isn’t. Janelle tended to baby Ella, who is teething hard today. As the moon rose, I thought on my grandmother’s sister, Lucy Merle, who had a heart attack yesterday evening. “This shit is tenuous at best,” I kept thinking and thinking and still continued to think well into the evening. Washed a load of diapers and stepped outside to piss, realizing that the wind had blown down a set of chimes I had hung earlier. “Windy out,” a coyote screamed from several miles away, across pastures and treelines. Wind-wind-windeeeee outttt…” I peed off the back porch and shivered, “Yeah it is,” before retiring and sleeping the deep sleep on our mattress on the floor.
16 February 2008
I’ve been up since 2 a.m. & I hate to be the one to break it to you, but, supposedly, according to a timeline tucked away in some Mayan runes, the world is coming to an end in four years. Yup, 2012, A.D: The cosmic serpent eats its own tail. The Great Ship goes down. Until then, though, there are plenty of causes worth fighting for. Know what mine are? Civilization and sanity.
But damn, man, I hate waiting on these writing programs. Luckily I have a gigantic Herculean effort – the move – to distract me. It is now 5:12 a.m. Twelve hours from now, my family will officially be relocated. Until we can get a line on a DSL connection, this will be my last entry for a few days – but it doesn’t matter. I can tell you now what I’ll be doing: Parenting, writing, waiting…walking the grounds of our new home.
Yesterday I watched $500-$1,000 worth of my music collection get squished and splintered on Highway 129, when it flew off the roof of my car at 60 mph (While moving, I left the c.d. case up there by accident). A 30-foot streak of shrapneled glitter strewed down the road as SUV after SUV barreled down on my discs. Eleanor was with me, watching me watch in horror as my music went down the existential drainpipe.
Also yesterday a local celloist named Heather McIntosh agreed to compose the score for an experimental film I shot two years ago. This is very good news. A funny thing is that she was recently invited by Gnarls Barkley to join their band as their bass player. I saw her at Chase Street Storage yesterday. She was holding two huge ceramic squirrels that she was very proud of. I said, “Congratulations. But my c.d.’s just got demolished on Prince Ave.” She said “Aw, man. No way.” Totally.
Maybe I’ll go out and get doughnuts for the Big Move.
15 February 2008
It's eight o'clock in the morning and young Kate Pierson is goofing around between two glass panes. Know where she ended up? Owner of Kate's Lazy Meadow Motel, in Mt. Tremper, NY. That actually sounds perfect to me. In my pre-adolescent mind, I think of how cool it would be to own a business, especially a hotel in the Catskills. I hope Kate is enjoying her coffee right now, and is sunk half-deep in a dogeared Dave Robicheaux novel. Maybe she's got a lover again, finally.
She's a local gal, an aging hippie woodworker who does antique furniture repair. She'll pick Kate up at six tonight & they'll go to dinner at Dot's, then the drive-in. She'll make no reference to Kate's past. And Kate won't ask too many questions about hers. They'll just sit and enjoy the moment, the togetherness of it all, and the snow will be piled all around them in sometimes pristine, sometimes begrimed piles.
14 February 2008
It was invented in my lifetime and is one of the few notable positive contributions to the world that my distracted generation has served up. It is a distinctly Creole American art form, music of the underdog. Carrier of memes of survival and transcendence...whereas Rock n' Roll died off leaving only the White Stripes trailing behind to singlehandedly wield the wisdom and huevos, Rap has taken the weight. Sure, there's a lot of bad hip hop out there, but so what? These days there's a lot of bad everything out there. Here's to you, Rap Music. Happy Valentine's Day.
13 February 2008
When we first moved into this house, we painted one of the rooms orange. "This will be a good room to write and make art in," I declared, "because it will be impossible to be complacent within such feisty, warm walls." That ended up being a pretty good decision. In fact, just yesterday I painted 2 new paintings, amidst all the chaos of moving. But anyway, this is some art from back in the day. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then you're looking at about 4,000 words right now.
12 February 2008
Janelle wearing a cut-out owl mask. Our life right now is boxes, boxes, boxes. And even while we prepare, there is a quickening. The Big Move is approaching. Schools start letting people know who's in and who's out this week - a process that continues for another month and a half.
Yet today is a still, grey, overcast day in the world. Eleanor is fast asleep, dreaming her dreams of perambulation and care. And our house is in the kind of quiet, thick clutter and chaos that accompanies a big move: On the kitchen counter is a hammer, some bailing wire, and an open box of Toasted Oats cereal. A cactus is dying by the window. Our rental agreement is being used as a doorstop. Sunlight keeps attempting to puncture the cloud bank. It illuminates a tree. It illuminates a shed.
The owl is a nocturnal aquatic mammal who made a deal with the feathered serpent. It is a griffin and a dragon and a penguin combined. The noble owl can open beer bottles with its beak. It tends to its young like a careful Dutch nurse. When the owl thinks, it thinks dry thoughts that slip out onto the surface, profound ocean of night. I am an owl. I have an owl. I like owls. You are becoming an owl.
11 February 2008
This is a collage I made in Boulder, Colorado, home of the decent chile relleno, reasonably priced. Man, when I lived in Boulder, all I could focus on was the collective unconscious, therapy, renting movies, and consuming vast amounts of chile rellenos.
When I was a kid, I grew up across the street from a train switching station. The CSX line, which a lot of fellas from my hometown worked on, ran up and down the rails, north to south, all day and all night long. I grew accustomed to the sounds of the railway, and even now am comforted by the sounds, smells, and graffiti of locomotives. When I was young, though, I spent untold hours forever daydreaming about hitching a ride on one of those trains that passed through the switching station. I daydreamed about all the exotic places it could take me, through the kudzu, and into the wild world’s heart. Those trains were like good friends. Even though they killed a several of my dogs, everything about them seemed friendly.
My decision to go “on the road” as a young man in 1997 was, as you might’ve guessed, informed by those trains and Jack Kerouac. But you might not have guessed that it was also informed by 3 other forces: Henry Miller, William “Least Heat” Moon, and…Fortuna, the goddess of luck.
I had pretty much been in an identity crisis since I hit puberty. Since higher education had not provided the clarity I was looking for, I found myself deeply yearning for an experience that would provided some sense of who I really was. Like a lot of people that age, stuck between two disparate generations, I had no fucking idea what I was about. Really, I just wanted to feel the experience of being alive, of having an American pulse.
I had graduated college and gotten a low-paying full-time job with the folks at the Peabody Awards. They had hired me to make archival digital videos of old, degraded films, television shows, and kinescopes. Basically, my job entailed running a 16mm projector for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week in a sweaty, darkened room on the seventh floor of the UGA library. Even during the interview, it sounded horrible to me. But earnest old me was well aware that I needed to pay the rent, so I took the job. As soon as I accepted the offer, my equivocations truly began to rumble deep in my marrow.
I ruminated day in and day out about quitting my job and, if I did, what I should do and where I should go. “Should I stay or should I go?” became my mantra. “Work is the responsible thing to do, but I have a feeling it’s going to kill my spirit. Then again, maybe I’m putting myself on.” This went on for weeks, and finally got so bad that I decided to end my ceaseless ruminations by flipping a coin. Heads I go, tails I stay. For whatever reason, to make the moment more official, and also because I distrusted my own ability to distort facts, I actually wrote down on a tiny sheet of paper: HEADS I GO. TAILS I STAY. I taped this mini-slogan to a wall, took out a quarter, and decided my fate.
Say what you will about Fate. No one knows what it going to happen from one minute to the next in this life. And that’s really the most honest thing anyone could ever say about life. It’s that fact - Fortuna and her wheel of fortune - that has constantly driven me into all my adventures, mires, snares, sojourns, battles, respites, tricks and traps. The coin landed on HEADS. So off to NYC I went.
After my car burned to crisp on the NJ turnpike one month later, I washed dishes awhile and saved up enough dough to catch a ride out West. Finally, I was off. The aka cords were broken…mostly, anyway. I had at last left the ionosphere of Home. New air filled my lungs. Between Georgia and Portland, Oregon, where I settled, I saw many a beautiful landscape, man, woman, and child. In the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I looked for God and Woody Guthrie. Didn’t find either one, but I found something about as amazing - the Colorado River and a family of mule deer clambering on red rocks. Me and the car I was traveling in got searched in the Painted Desert when a lady cop thought she saw me try to smuggle petrified wood out of the park. (Little did she know that she was unwittingly fulfilling a sexual fantasy I had harbored since I was eleven!) I traversed ancient arroyos in Taos and, in Yellowstone, back country camped with the bison, grizzlies, and magical, secret geysers. In all places, the night sky enveloped me like I was one of life’s prodigal children.
Luck. It will spin you, all right. Beware when you think you’ve got anything figured out. A bad thing just might be a good thing. And a good thing might be something not-so-good. I kept traveling, joined the Renaissance Faire circuit, and lived in a few other places after I finally got seasonally depressed in Portland, Oregon and left for more good times, more chaos, more road. I took a lot of photographs and made some films along the way. Also, I still have that HEADS I GO TAILS I STAY scrap of paper. I keep it in my wallet, in case of emergency, or if I need a reminder of what a lucky bastard I am.
This is my sister. I've given her a bindi/mystical third eye here to represent the many insights and experiences she has accumulated that I never will. In me and my sister, you couldn't ask for two more different human beings - personally, politically, spiritually...you name it.
It's an important philosophical inquiry, at some point, to explore whether or not you can tolerate other people being different from you. It sounds pat, but I assure you that it's a bigger conundrum than any Golden Rule or morality play would have you believe. Carl Jung said that, in this nuclear age, if each of us does not work on tolerating differences and reclaiming his/her projections, the world is indeed headed for thermonuclear disaster.
The thing about my sister & me is that if you take a look at what each of us is all about - our high points and low points, our best attributes and our personal demons - and then add it all together...you'd get our parents (in all their paradoxical glory). It's for that reason that I don't really buy the "me and my sister are polar opposites" theory. We're just different sides of the same coin. We are complimentary, in other words. And besides, we each host our own internal Avalons. We each have our own crosses and psychological freight to bear.
Can one side of a coin tolerate the other? Can it love the other side? These are the questions of our nuclear age.
10 February 2008
This is a Chinese supermodel, imposed on a background of my own mental meanderings. She was torn from a calendar given to me a while back. In this calendar - given to me gratis by the proprietor of a pan-Asian supermarket - was a whole slew of Chinese supermodels, each elegantly decked out in silk dresses and slippers, glamming it up in front of various Chinese waterfalls, skyscrapers, Cherry tree orchards, and so on. Every day, I used to look at these supermodels and think "Whatsat gal thinkin' right now?" Then I'd come up with various thoughts. This young lady, by the way, is thinking of Jack Kerouac.
I'll tell you one thing about Jack Kerouac. In his best novel Big Sur, he details his own mind's unraveling, ten years or so after all the excitement and joy of On The Road. Now the poor bastard was penniless, being hailed as the spokesman for a generation that was already on its way out, and, on top of all that, he was deep in his cups. Big Sur is fucking painful. In it, we see the alcoholic Kerouac and the Kerouac drying out, succumbing to the dark forces of paranoia and delerium tremens. At the end of the novel, there's a long poem called "Sea," which is basically an attempt by the author to make sense out of the auditory hallucinations that haunted him in Big Sur. It's pretty painful, too.
Despite the depressing subject matter, though, Big Sur remains my favorite Kerouac novel. I'm sure one of the reasons is that it's like watching one long train wreck, but, no, not really. Actually, I favor this novel because in it, he appears to be giving the big "Eff You" to the pop culture machine that kept trying to eat him. Our boy from Lowell was the real deal, after all. An honest-to-God major American author of notable talent, serious about his craft. And in the end, even though he might've dodged the pop culture bullet, he sure as hell didn't dodge the tawny port. Died on a barstool, basically, living with his mom in Florida. Ouch. Oh well, at least he got to show people what it's like to be the real Jack Kerouac. That's what Big Sur is all about. And it ain't pretty.
But anyway, due to my experience on the psychiatric unit, I've also seen delerium tremens enough times to know that Kerouac wasn't pulling any punches. In case you're not familiar with d.t.'s, it's basically a temporary form of psychosis accompanying alcohol detoxification. Oh yeah, it's also pretty lethal. You can die from d.t.'s if you're not getting adequate medical supervision. I've seen my fair share of grown men with the tremens crapping in hallways while screaming at invisible tormentors.
Once, this twentysomething kid in the throes of d.t.'s was hassling some of the other patients. When I went to try and calm him down, he took a swing at me, then puked on my shoes. While he was drinking, this kid was as sane as you n' me. Take away his booze, though, and some serious demons come out to play. If that alone ain't incentive enough to stay drunk, I don't know what is.
I hate to think of young Jack Kerouac, at university on a football scholarship, becoming a fine American author, then eventually degrading into a poor, forgotten drunk. In his memoirs, Allen Ginsberg says that in those last few years of his life, Kerouac'd get loaded and call Ginsy collect and yell at him for being a total loser. Ginsberg pretty much worshipped Kerouac. Literally. I guess Jack was lucky to have the few friends he had. Like all of us, in that way.
Why am I (and the Chinese supermodel) musing about Big Sur today? Because my copy of it is sitting out, on top of a mountain of books and boxes that I have to move out of this house by the end of this week.
09 February 2008
Last night we built what will likely be our last campfire on this land. I released some homebrews from their cages, and the Missus & I put the baby in a tent a few feet from the fire. We talked well into the night while Eleanor slept the deep neolithic hominid sleep.
I would rather walk across hot coals than move from one house to another. All that packing, hauling, unpacking, and arranging...it works my nerves, gives me The Headache. If a rich, eccentric billionaire Texan showed up on my doorstep and was like, "Boy, I'll pay to have a crew come in and move everything from this house to the next house without you so much as lifting your pinkie finger," I'd be all "Yeah, but what's the catch?" And if he said, "I wanna see you walk across hot coals." I'd say, "Bet," and be all up in them there coals.
No Texan is to be found, though. And so it goes. It one week, we're moving from our beloved little domicile to a strange house up the road, on five acres, in wide open pasture lands and corn crops flanked with loblillie pines.
This is a weird life. Last night I decided, "By God, I'm taking this fire ring with me. I'm hauling every last rock of this ring of stone to our new place." My idea was that since Eleanor was born in a rented house, she won't ever be able to really return to her place of birth. But if we keep the rocks from the fire pit, she'd at least be able to sit by a fire from time to time and know that those rocks came from the same land that she was born on. In the postmodern End Times, a ring of rocks has to substitute for the Motherland.
Forget the pain in the arse that is relocation. I'd walk across hot coals if it would ensure Eleanor a healthy sense of familial/ethnic identity and/or cultural tap root in all this chaos of commercialism and pop identity advertising.
08 February 2008
In 2003, I traveled to Puerto Rico. I spent the summer working there and loved it so much that I returned the following summer. In Puerto Rico, I met people with names like "Ruel," "Crow," "Luzmar," "Dona Olga," and "The Spine Man." I spoke Spanglish & chain-smoked back in those days. Hand-rolled, each cigarette tasted like Life itself. In fact, I named a mix tape after my beloved smokes. I called it "Delicious Cigarettes." It had Manuchau and George Harrison on it, amongst others.
The Spine Man was a panhandler with a deformed spine who lumbered up and down the alleyways of Old San Juan. He was the embodiment of destitute Puerto Rico, exploited by the White Man. He'd stand down by the docks and wait for the tourists to come streaming off the cruise ships in search of Hard Rock Cafe and Senor Frog's. When they did, he'd offer his ragged claw, scare the hell out of the Whites, and score a few pesos. He always went shirtless, too. I remember watching the looks of colonial horror dawn on the tourists' faces as the Spine Man held up his end of the Cosmic Bargain.
I've been all over and I really miss Puerto Rico.
07 February 2008
She's eight months old today, and seems bent on mastering the material plane of existence. A few nights ago, due to negligence on my part, she swallowed a tiny piece of cardboard - actually, it was part of a boxtop from a little box of Sun*Maid raisins. Anyway, it made its way out the other end the next morning. It was a little piece of yellow cardboard with the word "SUN" written on it. Alan Watts was right: Human beings are just complicated tubes, meant for putting things in one end and letting them out the other.
06 February 2008
11,000 years ago, in the wake of glacial retreat, large blocks of ice were left behind that would eventually melt and become Lake Minnetonka. Before Whitey arrived, Dakota Sioux, Cheyenne, Iowa, and Ojibwe Indians called the shores of Lake Minnetonka home. The Land o’ Lakes was no doubt considered “sacred,” as all tribal peoples seem to intuit that anything that sustains life is sacred.
Now, I didn’t see any Ojibwes when I was there last weekend, but I did see something pretty magical: Up Lake Minnetonka way, every winter, the aquatic world and the terrestrial world become separated by a three foot-thick sheath of frozen lake water. Those who would profit from the protein and nutrient-fish that call the lake home find themselves drilling holes in the ice. Using high-powered gasoline augers, they puncture the lake’s surface and drill right down to the water. They then sink baited monofilament lines into the hole and hope for a prosperous return.
Pre-Whitey Indians no doubt did something like this too. And at some point, somebody had the bright idea to build a temporary shelter around the hole. And eventually, somebody else had the over-the-top idea to outfit that shelter with a t.v., radio, and refrigerator for holding copious amounts of cheap lager. Personally, I could give or take the t.v. and radio. But right about now that refrigerator full of lager sounds like the perfect fuel for catching some serious walleye.
While I was up there, I went for a nice walk on Lake Minnetonka and found an encampment of ice fishermen. Some had cheap little hovels over their fishing holes. Others had elaborate yurts and cabins. Thanks to our Minnesota connections, me and the wife actually got invited inside one of the more modest ice shelters. Inside we found this man in a sweat suit and his eighty-five year old mother, fishing away.
They were really nice and let me take some pictures of their scene. While I was gazing at his hi-tech video screen (it’s not pictured here, but he actually had a live underwater camera for viewing his prey) the man said, “So…you’re from Georgia, eh? I got a sister lives down in Arizona.” And I said, “Oh yeah?” Minnesota all the way.
Not all Minnesotans are ice fisherman. In fact, I conducted a little poll all by myself and discovered that most Minnesotans find the idea boring, silly, or just sort of pointless. After all, as one native put it rather succinctly, “if I need a fish I can just go to the store. I don’t need to spend six hours in a fishy little shack on the middle of a frozen lake in the dead of winter.”
05 February 2008
Some Things I Know:
1. Pine trees, antennae, and magic wands are cut from the same archetypal cloth.
2. Pine trees are beautiful.
3. A certain high-level metaphysical truth is concerned with what we commonly call electricity.
4. In the next two weeks, we'll be saying goodbye to the home my wife had our baby in, as well as the home we were married in.
5. In 3 days, Eleanor turns 8 months old!
6. Pound was right. Time passes and pisses on us all. Experience accumulates. You are always your true self at heart...and yet, nothing ever stays the same.
7. I am ready for Spring.
8. Ice fishing looks like it could be fun or excrutiatingly, mind-numbingly boring.
9. Waiting to hear back from writing programs is very much like ice fishing, except that I feel more like the fish.
10. Coffee is a very good thing.