31 August 2008

For Ryan

For Billie/the South (which I long for).

When I moved to Boulder, Colorado a few years ago, for one reason or another I got really into my identity as a Southerner. And "got really into" means "came to terms with the fact that I am" as well as "probably got a little goofy with it all in the process." But it was an important process. Nowadays, my buddy Ryan asks me "So, are you the 'Southern writer' in the Workshop?" (Ryan's from Atlanta, but I think of him as being a Southerner nonetheless, because he's got a good heart and has worked hard to see the South in positive terms, despite all immediate Atlanta-ness around him when he was a kid, and also despite the fact that it's actually corrupt and bulldozes most things he cares about - which is a predicament we both share of course, urban-to-rural boy. Plus he has spent countless hours working to document the beauty of Panola Mountain, a place of sheer power. Atlanta both wants to laud and destroy Georgia, at least if you ask somebody firing synapses from rural Georgia. So, you see, dear reader, the "Southern-ness" of things can be hard to talk about easily.) And I think the answer is "no," but then again it's too early to tell. We shall see.

Most people, when they find out I'm from the South, say, "Really? Where's your accent, then?" as if I'd make that up. (And I know for a fact that Ryan gets that too.) But these are always people not from the South, who can't detect the delicate traces of my accent-in-hiding and who never knew what it was to have to cover up your way of speaking so people won't think you're a total idiot. 'Cause there is a bias. It is real. (Post)modern Southerners know that, and it's a damn shame. So, yeah, the accent is there, but it only comes out when it knows it's safe and/or coaxed out of hiding by Jack Daniels. Of course, my almost accent-less way of speaking has become the norm for me, as a result. And that's a shame too. Or, rather, it is what it is.

One way or another, I can trace my Southern identity to Ireland (as many Anglo Southerners can), which has pretty much been kicked around by the colonial oppressor since Whitey first decided to try its hand at Ye Olde Invasion and Conquest. So, basically, I'm hard-wired genetically to see myself as protector of all good things that are targeted for destruction. Especially ancient things. And ancient ways. Forever an anachronism, I see power-hunger and greed wherever I go. I see it in the world and sneer, weep. I see it in my own heart and shudder. My man Ryan...I may be more Southern than him, but he's more Irish than me...which is more than a fair shake. He also squares off, in lucidity, with his most fiendish nightmares. So this gardenia's for my man Ryan as well. Fighting the good fight. Shaking off the skinwalkers. Re-tying the Celtic knot and narrowing his gaze onto what's real. If there's a link from me to the Old Country in this life, it's got something to do with Ryan. And that's ethereal, I know. But he's my man.

29 August 2008


We actually checked this framed poster-print out from the Iowa City Public Library. It's now hanging on our living room wall. I've fallen totally in love with it. So now Robert Motherwell is my man. Before he became famous as a painter, he was a student of rhetoric and philosophy. Because of this, he was able to explain abstract expressionism to the masses. So now he's my man x2.

Today I got some bad news about Stella: She's got bone spurs in her thoracic spine. I found this out after noticing her having real trouble getting around the house (this suddenly, one day last week, then continuing all week long), which is when Janelle took her to the vet (today, while I was teaching). They sedated her and kept her 1/2 the day, to shoot x-rays and do some bloodwork. Janelle, Eleanor, & I were at a Writer's Workshop potluck when the vet called. I was on the cell phone, getting the bad news, while I looked out across the sea of writers, noshing and chatting under the elms.

So Stella's got arthritis in her back, spurs of calcium forming between her vertebrae, which has been causing her all kinds of pain. All week, I've been carrying her up and down the long flight of stairs that leads to our pad. When I do so, she trembles in my arms. Late one night, at 3 a.m. she woke us all up, thrashing around in pain, throwing herself against the wall and panting. I gathered her up, laid down next to her, and told her everything was cool, that I was gonna watch over her. This means, of course, that the Old Gal is getting older, and that that mean-assed bastard Mr. Bones is sharpening his scythe. I thought about that fact, there under the elms, and felt a little crazy.

Between Stella being arthritic now and Eleanor being in daycare, my heart's damn raw from the first week of classes. I just sorta wanna roll myself into a leaf somewhere and get caught by a far-off breeze. Maybe blow away to Avalon, listening to Dexter Gordon in the daylilies.

September 1 is the beginning of a new cycle.

End of the first week of classes. One down, fourteen to go. Smoke 'em if you got 'em. It's not all that bad, actually. It's just that I teach morning classes (one's at 7:30, the other at 8:30). I love mornings. So thought that I'd like to teach then. Nah. I just keep looking out the window and wishing I was out there.

When I was a boy, my dad drove a truck for Russell Oil Company. Basically, he drove around our rural enclave, filling up petroleum tanks at gas stations, etc. Sometimes, if daycare plans fell through, I'd get to ride shotgun with him. And so I have a few memories of riding down dirt roads in a big oil truck, with my dad at the wheel, the c.b. crackling. If we stopped at a gas station, he'd let me run in and get some Red Hots. (In my mind, I can hear the cowbell roped to the door, clanging dull against the glass.)

I am standing in the candy aisle now. Millions of boxes of endless Lemon Sours, Mary Janes, Bit O' Honey's, candy corn, starlight mints, Boston Baked Beans and Red Hots. My dad grabs us two Cokes up from the cooler. He smells like industry, for this is how fathers smell. The ample-bosomed woman at the counter watches me, looking stern. An old, old man on a bar stool upholstered with duct tape sits behind her, silent, behind his thick glasses. She speaks: "Clyde - is this your boy?"

27 August 2008

Before/After: Janelle's Rockin' New 'Do

p.s. She donated all 13" of it to Locks of Love.

A Fact Of Existence

Eleanor, here, is sporting the sleeve of fabric that goes over one of the arms of a chair in our living room. She looks like the Grand Wizard of impish behavior here and, man, I miss that kid when she's away at daycare. It's like a corkscrew in my heart...whenever we're apart. Janelle & I have been worrying about her. We worry about separation anxiety, and we worry about her missing us and wondering where we are. "Your worry and sadness is normal," we've been assured by various Experts Who Know, which is kinda sorta reassuring (okay, well not at all really). Neither does it take the sting out of it. I miss my imp and can't nobody make that fact of existence go away.

25 August 2008

Jean Paul

This is me marking the minutes of my two back-to-back morning classes. Yup. Today was the first day of school. Take one down. Pass it around. Fourteen weeks and four days left in the semester...It's been a very groovy summer, but now, suddenly, I'm a teacher. To paraphrase Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys II, "shit just got real."

Yesterday we went to a "beginning of the school year" bar-b-q for the Iowa Writer's Workshop. It was very cool and casual. Eleanor mostly wanted to defect from the whole shindiggery of it all and parlay with total strangers in the park the bar-b-q was held at. That's kind of her scene. At one point, a strange kid wearing a vintage Southern Rebel hat - he called himself "Jean Paul" - showed up, circling the periphery of the bar-b-q and walking a rabbit on a leash. Eleanor ran over and hugged/attacked the rabbit while Jean Paul spoke nonstop about his desire to one day be a workshop writer. "I'm working on a documentary now. Also I write new journalism, which brings in some cash. I was in the ARMY, too. See my salt n' pepper hair? It's been this way since I was six." Weird kid. All of twenty, maybe, walking this pet rabbit, saying these weird things. "Gotta go, Jean-Paul."

23 August 2008

Boss Squad

This is money graffiti. Something about "Boss Squad," "God is good," and "extream." I came across this 5-spot locally. I think I got it at the local co-op, after I bought some espresso beans there. Anyway, five minutes ago, I went to the "extream2" myspace page and discovered the secrets of the Boss Squad. Now you can too: (Click here.)

Basically the Boss Squad is a group of homegrown emcees from the A-T-L, of all places. I don't know how many fivers they desecrated in their PR campaign, but one of 'em was successful, at least. I mean, it traveled from the Peach State all the way up to the Land O' Corn. I think that's pretty righteous.

Unfortunately, the music of the Boss Squad is not so righteous. At least, not to these ears. But, then again, it's nice to get lured haphazardly and whimsically to an A-T-L gangsta rapper's myspace page. I like that. There's a photo of one of the members of the Squad in front of a BP station. And I'm pretty sure I know the exact BP. It's in College Park. (Represent.) Anyway...

If you were taking my Rhetoric class at U of Iowa, this is the course description of the class you'd be signed up for:

"All too often, we might find ourselves sleepwalking through life without questioning our own motives, or the motives of those who surround us. Sensing this keenly, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that 'the world is a will to power, and nothing besides.' As soon as he uttered these words, he left us – all of us – with the mixed blessing of having to locate and define our place in a world where power is constantly being negotiated, bought, sold, stolen, otherwise trafficked, and even re-defined.

In this class, we will embark upon a protracted exploration of Nietzsche’s premise, examining the distribution of power and control embedded in the rhetorical messages that we send and receive every day. Together, we will (1) rigorously analyze these messages, (2) engage, explore and mine them for their many levels of significance, and (3) learn to skillfully present our perspectives within a public forum. Also, in this course we will hone our analytical, written, and spoken prowess, thereby learning to more keenly wield argument in its many guises. Because we will likely find negotiations regarding the distribution (and, hopefully, the redistribution) of power at nearly every turn, we will also examine our personal and social relationship(s) to power and what it means to be responsibly power-ful in these modern times."

But basically what I'm gonna have these guys do is explore and explain things like how a five dollar bill, graffitied, can migrate from the ATL to Iowa and what it mean to be a member of the Boss Squad. Seriously.

22 August 2008


Fate. You either believe in it or you don't. Or maybe you believe in it without realizing it, or wanting to admit it. After all, most of us like the idea of free will. But how do we balance that philosophical balm with the concept of destiny, which is also quite the balm in its own way? Simple - we take the obtuse advice of this tricksy li'l stone: We acknowledge that our swath has already been cut. Before each of us came into existence, that swath waited, for eons, for us to manifest and fulfill it. Ah yes, but we can also depart from the swath and see what it feels like to go off-roading, existentially, as it were. Because sometimes that's just more fun n' interesting. But too because sometimes, by off-roading, we realize that what we thought was our swath was actually the most mixed-up deadend badlands of 'em all. This is what it means not to depart from the path that Fate has assigned us. This is also what it means to stick & move, Ali-style.

20 August 2008

Fer Shure!

Stella in the green hills of Iowa City limits.

I just got off the phone with my friend Victor, from Mexico City. "Victor, man, I think we might move to Mexico after a couple or three years here in Iowa. Whattaya think?"

Victor said, "I can tell you plenty of cool places to live in Mexico." Now that's what I'm talking about.

Am I serious? I dunno. Maybe. My man Paul & I often make jokes about living in Puerto Rico. I tell him we should open a hotel in Vieques. In my mind's fertile eye, I can see Eleanor surfing in Rincon, Janelle mastering her Caribbean Spanish and mid-wifing Puerto Rican babies. Me? I'd rent kayaks, drink Barrilitos in my green tea, and write weird short stories about the drifting sun that once fell in love with a dinoflagellate named Rarla. Paul and his lady Lanie The Poet would entrance the island one way or another. Maybe with an open mic night. Paul'd embrace his Rinzai Zen roots. That much is fer shure!

Corn In The City

I saw this on a Sunday morning stroll last weekend. Basically, in an effort to promote ethanol, I think, one of the managers of a local gas station here in town planted a squirrelly little row of corn out by the sidewalk. I guess people were, um, bothering the corn. And so down on the curb there was this sign, duct taped to the concrete. Please, leave the corn alone.

If we could all just let the damn corn grow, we might be able to learn a thing or two from it. But no. We cannot do that. For we are squirrelly hominids. We must poke and prod the corn. We must tear, spindle and mutilate it. We must, in short, bother the corn. (And if there were just a few more rows of maize here, underneath the sky, we might even trip & lose ourselves in it.)

19 August 2008

Dick Tracy

Me and the family atomic...LIVE! Somehow, I recently found myself in possession of a little Logitech web camera. It's been wrapped in an impervious, impenetrable urethane shield of some kind for the last couple weeks, staring out at me from the floor of our closet. But yesterday I finally plugged it in and tried "video chatting" st Skype.com for the first time.

Video-chatting: I found it to be sort of like Dick Tracy's video-wristwatch. But the cool thing about Dick Tracy was that (a) he could "video chat" anywhere, anytime and (b) it was a frickin' wristwatch. Now, that's cool. I'd need a wrist the size of a small cornfield to wear my desktop computer as a watch. Anyway, though, if you're reading this and you want to video-chat for free with the Jon-Dog, go to www.skype.com and check out the specs. We could be thick as thieves. Oh, and no. I don't work for Skype now. I'm just a guy who wants to be Dick Tracy. Sort of.

18 August 2008

I never get tired of bitching about how little sleep I get.

Today the cable guy came and hooked us up with a phone/internet combo. He was very cordial and had the demeanor of a Buddhist monk I once knew. That same monk, it's worth mentioning, de-monked himself, grew his hair back out, and is currently teaching Queer Theory in a certain private university in Colorado. Anyway, our cable guy reminded Janelle and me of this monk. So we kept whispering behind his back while he hooked up our cable. We whispered things like "What if_________never became a monk, and instead installed cable? How weird would that be?" and also "Maybe this is _____________, only in some kind of bizzare-o alternate reality. And so I guess maybe we're bizarre-o versions of actual us..." and so on and so on until the poor guy left, at which time I went online and updated my iTunes album art. Like that was an important task.

Anyway, this is my cow-daughter. She's stoked because she's up at 6 a.m., on some wild evolutionary tear that makes you realize that all humans are are these strange tubelike quarks that zip around, sticking their fingers into logs and experimenting with the world until something interesting happens, and if nothing interesting happens, then we just continue on our wild tears until the earth itself relents and sends a comet, gila monsters, or jazz music to occupy us. In Eleanor's case, it was a pair of socks that occupied her for about an hour this morning. Taking them off, putting them on. Over and over and over again while I slowly caffeinated myself and watched the sun blearing in through the window panes here in our lofted duplex. Back in the bedroom, her ma caught up on a little sleep. And dreamed of more and more sleep. If you are reading this and you don't have an infant son or daughter, please, for us, sleep.

14 August 2008


Betty Page x 2. She’s looking at you saying “The water’s fine. Dive in!” And so let us dive. Into the day, into time. Into Whatever Comes Next.

This morning I started writing a story about a schizophrenic who experiences his first psychotic episode while living with two twin brothers from Senegal. I don’t know where this story came from, except that it’s a composite of actual things I’ve witnessed, and some details I just snatched out of the duende’s grab bag.

As I sat and wrote about themes of cultural lostness, existential lostness, man’s search for meaning, and psychic unravelings, Stella grazed on the kitchen floor, picking up bits of egg and bagel fallen from Eleanor’s breakfast. Cars rolled by our house, which, since it’s a duplex and we live on the top floor, is very much like a tree-house. When the page gets too empty-looking and oblique, I can turn my head and stare out a window, at people’s backyards, or the cars rolling by. In my treehouse, I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot.

The Africans came from a guy I lived next door to in college. His name was Abdul, and he played soccer. He was tall, very dark skinned, and looked like a prince. He was an orthodox Sunni Muslim and probably the most good-humored person I’ve ever met. He roomed with a guy named Tromal, from the A-T-L, who was trouble, mostly.

I remember coming home from work/school one day and finding Tromal sitting outside of his apartment door. “Get locked out?" I asked him.

“Yeah,” he said, “but Abdul’s in there, he just won’t open the door.” Tromal had a look on his face like someone had just peed all over his pristine Nike Air Jordans.

“Why won’t he come to the door?” I said.

“Because the muthafucka’s in there praying and shit.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I can see him. Take a look at this shit, man.”

I cupped my hands and peered through the grime on the tiny window, which was set at eye-level on the front door. In the middle of the living room, on his green prayer rug, the stately Abdul was on his knees in full prostration.

“Open up, man!” Tromal banged on the door.

After making two or three more prostrations, Abdul slid back the latch, opened the door, and, smiling down at Tromal, said, “I am sorry to you, Tromal. I was praying. You see?” He pointed to his prayer rug, flattened on the floor like a tiny magic carpet after a long day of flying.

12 August 2008

Stolen Bicycle Land

I'm currently at Iowa City's Java House, where a large portrait of William Carlos Williams is staring me down. And you can laugh about this if you want to...but would you even believe me if I told you that yellow bike has now been stolen as well? Indeed. That makes two bikes in one week. Both plowed under in the mud of ephemera. Unlike red bike, yellow bike was actually stolen from our home a couple nights ago. So it goes, right? So it g.d. goes...

Our remaining bicycle - blue bike - will soon be padlocked to our little garage out back. If I were to lose blue bike to the thievin' bastards of Iowa City, it might be too much for me to bear. A major blow to morale that could be easily avoided by hoarding one's property. Wait, did I just utter the history of Western Civilization?

It's important to keep your home safe. And so this weekend, while people were stealing bikes off my front porch, I was designing and installing a stairwell gate for our home. Made solely out of scavenged material (except for the hardware), this bad boy's built to last...and to keep my tot from teetering down the flight of stairs that empties up into our living room from the front door.

Here's how I made it: I pre-drilled pilot holes into the drywall and studs, then lag-bolted two plates on either side of the stairwell, countersinking the bolts. After that, I attached hinges to a futon frame I found on the side of the road and cut down into a gate with non-climbable vertical slats. Then I hung those onto the plates. A standard safety hook n' eye latches the gate together on the opposite side of our living room (out of view and graspability of Eleanor's little curiosity-paws). I tested this gate out extensively. It ain't going nowhere. It will outlast you, me, and all the stolen bikes of Stolen Bicycle Land. (So there, thieves!)

09 August 2008

As If I'd Find The Thief Nearby

This is the rim of my yellow bike. I'm riding it today because my red bike got ripped off while I was at the library a few days ago, leaving Eleanor and me to hoof it the mile or so back home. If there's a universal law I've subscribed to most frequently the past ten years or so, it's this one: Leave everything unlocked to repel thieves...but don't be a sucka. Muhammad said it a bit more poetically: Trust in Allah...and tie your camel. Guess I was a sucka. Guess I shoulda tied my camel.

And so at roughly 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday I was seen exiting the library on a late summer's day, with the sun at my back and all of Creation basking in the sun's terrible incandescence, staring at an empty gap in the sidewalk where the Red Bicycle should have been. "Oh snap," I said to The Eleanor, who was riding on my back, "the jig is up."

I spun around like a keystone Mevlevi dervish, as if I'd find the thief nearby, crouching under a Dracula cape. But no. Just humanity. Billions of perfect strangers going about their daily business in the town square. Children laughing. Fountains spurting. An old man with bright blue eyes scratching his arse with his palsied, spotted hand. Nowhere was my bike.

There is a tendency to blame oneself after such a misfortune. And yeah, okay. But yet sometimes one simply needs to trust in one's fellow man. If one's fellow man happens to let one down, it has to be okay. That is, one must find an inner-way to make it all right. Such is the lot of modern man.

"It's not the end of the world. Just the end of a bike. And the birth of a sunny walk home." This is what I tell myself, though I only half believe it. I really want to catch the thief and break his toes. "You took my bike, you bastard." But the ship is perennially going down. Everything is passing.

Earlier this week, I got the news that one of my old clinical supervisors from grad school lost her son to a swimming accident. He was eighteen and full of life. Got pulled under a pier and didn't come back up. So in a world of degrees, bikes don't mean shit. We can't break the toes of death - or life's slings and arrows - but I would if I could. I'd be sadistic. And in my my own mind, on my best day, I am Sadistic Toe-breaker of Suffering.

05 August 2008

World Afire

Shortly before we left Georgia, Janelle & I built a big bonfire in back of my folks' place. We've been in Iowa almost two months now and this is surreal. Our new home isthe second floor of a house. When I look out any window, I see the gridwork of streets where there used to be grassland prairie. Besides that, I see clouds.

When I was younger, I discovered that I could break clouds apart with my mind. (Putting them back together was considerably more difficult.) Later, as a young man, I learned that the clouds are my mind, and that the mind is all there is. This was a lie, however. I now know the truth. This is the truth:

Well, we did it.
We moved to fucking Iowa
And said goodbye to a perfectly problematic life
In Georgia.
About this, the levelheaded
say things like
“Solvitur ambulando” and
“Wherever you go, there you are,” while
the spiritually compelled lid their eyes gently
and assure me that “There is no direction you can turn
and not find the Creator.
Such is Creation.”
And so this morning I rolled over
in the land of corn and soybeans,
almost all modified, grown, and blanketed
by a malignant alchemy
that won’t rinse off with water,
where I have come to sit and stare at an empty page
and see if I can invent my own faith,
to see if wherever I might end up, I can maintain my
secret belief that I am crude royalty of some kind,
to find out if anything is really solved by R. writing,
and to divine whether or not
there is a direction I might lift my eyes,
away from this chemical world,
far beyond God, and even
out past the neighbors
and their television sets.
Not to end pain,
which would be a futility,
but just to try and retrieve from
the thieves who have stolen them
some of the right words
and to stare the dog down,
in his flesh colored jowls,
and snap back
with the kind of violence
that can give birth to a robin’s egg,
a vulva quaking with promise,
or at least a decent short story,
crowned with what I have seen.