16 January 2009

Dangerous Cold

In case you wondered, this is what -20 F looks like. Of course, there's no way to capture in a photograph what it feels like: You step outside, fully suited up, head-to-toe, with all kinds of North Face winter finery. One minute passes. You say to yourself, "This ain't so bad." By two minutes you've had enough, though. Another couple minutes and, let's say, a gust of wind comes along: You feel a thousand or more white-hot needles burning into your face. You say to yourself, "Christ, this is dangerous cold." And you're right - it is. They say that, at these temps, exposed skin freezes in ten minutes. Think about that...frozen skin. It ain't right.

07 January 2009

Rimbauds A-Go-Go

Despite their accelerated mastery of sarcasm, teenagers can generally put up with a lot of cheese. I remember, for example, swooning over Bob Dylan when I was fourteen and fifteen. Actually swooning! And the Dylan I swooned over was Dylan at his most affected & angry, his most dualistic and glib. In short, it was cheese Dylan (and I'm not naming tunes right now, because the truth is that most of his work, esp. his cheesy work, functions on multiple levels of the psyche. Nothing overtly special there - all writing does. Dylan's at his best when he's most nuanced, though. And that's really what I'm talking about: nuance. These damn kids these days don't see the elegance and power of nuance. Then again, either do the damn adults these days, generally speaking. O Sweet Nuance, Whence & Whither Hast Thou Bounced? Anyway-) It would be a while before I could tune my fork and sink deeper into Dylan's profundity.

Unlike Bobby D., though, Jim Morrison never did anything but cheese. Even his death was cheesy. (OD-ing on scag in a fuggin' bathtub? Come on, man. That's a very un-Rimbaud way to be.) And yet, despite myself and despite Jim and his bullshit "I have the soul of an Indian" posturing, despite all the drunken buffoonery and despite my own affectations of being somehow above the cheesy poetry of the Peace Frog, the raw ugly divine wart-like fact remains that I love American Prayer with an enduring, shameful love, and cannot, will not, stop listening to it. Eff the Doors. Gimme undiluted Jim!

See, most Doors apologists will agree that the real beauty of the Doors consisted of (1) The fortuitous time and place they happened to inhabit and (2) the virtuosity of the musicians (as opposed to J.M.). They'll say "Yeah, Jim was pretty over-the-top, but he helped balance out the experimentalism of the guys in the band, which created a nice counterpoint." That's crap, though. Nobody really cares about Robby's solos or John's bangin' sevenths. I mean, they were good, had skills, but at the end of the day do you want "good," or do you want a lizard king (whatever the hell that is)? And if you look at individual lines, it's plain to see that JM had the makings of a skilled poet. (Of course for every "High Style/Flash & forgive me/high button shoes" there's a "I'm Me!/Can you dig it?/ My meat is real.")

If Jim Morrison and Robert Zimmerman got into a fistfight at any point in their careers, Bobbie would have gotten his ass kicked. That's just all there is to it. Say what you will, Jim was Irish-American loco. Of course, it was an AXIS II, cheesy, L.A. loco. But still, he had heart. I mean, he actually believed all that mumbo jumbo about snakes and pentagrams and Indian souls crowding his "fragile eggshell mind" and whatnot. Nobody would wanna get in the ring with a guy like that.

And, at the end of the say, there's something really fun about listening to crazy, cheesy J-dog talk about Latin street gangs (something he surely knew absolutely nothing about) and sticky fumblings "in the arroyo." It's such a train wreck of pretenses - problematic in about seventy different ways. But still, but still...I'm certain he must've spent a lot of time thinking that maybe, just maybe he really was the Rimbaud of his generation. (What else could that kind of pretentiousness be communicating?) And that makes my heart go out to him...because we know who the real third eye laureate was/is - it was that guy over at the Kettle O' Fish, honing his Woody impersonation.

06 January 2009

What I'm Up To These Days

I've been writing poems lately...er, something like poetry, at any rate. And so last night I decided to revise one of my short stories - one that I've been wrestling with and wrangling since April of 2008 - as a series of prose poems. Something that can spread its wings a little further instead of being so damn literal and, well, prosaic.

I've done this before. In fact, the short story that got me into the Workshop to begin with was written in this manner. But I haven't swung this far out, this close to the perimeter - that borderline place in my mind where the real brutal crepuscular Truth is waiting - but is just barely beyond my ken. And so I can only describe the scenes I see, faithfully, in detail, with full allegiance to the metanoiac process. Kind of a mandala of words and images. A ring of bones on the forest floor, filled with twigs and stones and flickering light. I mean, I dream this way every night, but writing this way is something I've only recently considered.

In my last story, I wrote like this...but there was a reason to do it, plot-wise: One of the characters was mentally ill. The other two major characters were "disturbed" and just shy of insane. And so I had plenty of room and reason to color outside the lines and throw glass houses at all the rocks along the shoreline, as far as the prose goes. So it ended up being sort of a mezcla, partly poetry, partly fiction (or half n' half, if you will). But it's starting to feel a little stale, all this leaning upon plot contrivances in order to write the way I wanna write (which, to quote Samantha Chang, director of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, is to "write the kinds of stories that make you - the writer - cry"). And so now what I'm working through is how to do this without getting lost in my own voice.

Finding one's "voice" is a huge thing in the realm of writing. Most writers will tell you this. And what this whole "voice" business is about, really, is the separation of affectation from authenticity. But then (and I have to thank Bob Unger, Mary Jo Bang, and all the language poets for leading me, personally, to this axiom) sometimes its the case that affectation is the truth, or at least points the way, or maybe contains it in that "the micro contains the micro" sorta way. This fact confuses the matter considerably. And so it would seem that the only astrolabe one can employ in such a case is one's own personal methods of divination, craft, and intuition. This is when writing starts to feel like a big narcissistic quest for the Grail. Luckily, though, the process itself is ego-annihilating, and the macro really is contained within the micro, so really the whole modern world is opening up on the page, not just some writer's affectations or voice or whatever. A process we can all get behind. I think it was once called art...

But what is authenticity anyway? In my mind, it's a kind of certainty, a resolution. It's a commitment to see certain things through to the end and not be deterred or swayed or convinced to say or do something another way than you are doing it. Of course, this is tricky business. And balancing the Grail-quest with maintenance of one's connection to craft and an ordered, articulate aesthetic vision both complicates and simplifies. But that's what I'm up to these days, when I'm not forging lesson plans for next semester. The algebraic problem I'm working to solve, I guess is, How To Let The Unfolding Happen In A Way That Is Metered And Thus Self-Constructs Its Own Reason.

05 January 2009

Series Of Shadows

Resultant from a certain ball of incandescent gas sending its primordial light rays 93 million miles or so through the inky cosmos to strike against a toy truck on a kitchen table in a land called Iowa. Meanwhile, today I miss my grandfathers. Both of 'em.

01 January 2009

Happy New Year

"The I.C." At Dusk. I took this photo a few days ago, after a family pizza-fest at Pagliai's Pizza (home of the finest pies this side of Chi-town). Eleanor loves pizza. But, then, who don't?

Right now the Eleanor of whom I speak is grabbing a little shuteye. Poor thing's been sick the last few days. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea (or "NVD," as they used to say in the wacked-out parlance of the Emergency Room) mostly. No appetite and nothing that'll stay down. But now the tempest seems to have passed and she's just catching up on her REM cycles. There's not many things more pitiful or compelling than a little baby projectile vomiting in the middle of the night, calling out, "Mama? Pa? Mama?"

I've decided that I'm teaching The Autobiography of Malcolm X next semester. So I'm adding that to my List Of Things To Read over the next three weeks. It'll be interesting to teach X in a way that doesn't sugarcoat or spoon-feed it. I remember being 19 when I first read it and was fairly blown away by it. I'm calling my class "The Rhetoric of Dissent." We're gonna be talking about urban dance, punk rock, Valerie Solanas, rap music, and outlaw literature as well as a bunch of other sexy stuff. Whatever crosses my mind, really.

Janelle just called from work. She's coming home a little early. Had a cancellation. What's that woman doing working on New Year's Day anyway? Accruing merits immeasurable. If I we were all clients, we'd all be exceedingly lucky to find a therapist like my esposa loca.