29 March 2009

Snowdrifts & Rain

Ladies & gentlemen, I give you...Jack Dempsey & Harry Houdini. Do I have sort of a crush on Jack Dempsey? Yeah. Once, in New Orleans, I read some graffiti on a bathroom wall that said JACK DEMPSEY, WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMP 1919-1926. (It was on that same New Orleans adventure that Janelle & I drank some whiskey before going to a candlelit, gothic Mass at the big cathedral in the French Quarter.) Jack Dempsey was the man.

Bob Dylan's Chronicles begin in Dempsey's cafe. But way before that, he was nuthin' but a fatherless Irish-Choctaw brawler who hoboed and trolled the pubs and dives and whiskeyhouses of the Rocky Mountains, proclaiming, "I can't sing and I can't dance, but I can lick any SOB in the house," trading blows with the locals for cash on the barrelhead. Or so says the myth. Big leap from there to the World Title. Somehow, though, he pulled it off and became a patron saint for the underdog.

I once visited Manassa, Colorado, where he was born and partly raised. It's a deserted ghost town of a place in the high-altitude climes of the magical, murderous San Luis Valley. A place of cattle mutilations and top secret government ops. In the center of town, on a marble pedestal by a playground, there's a 2x-sized brass statue of the "Manassa Mauler," frozen in a glorious salvo of jabs. When I was there, it was January. There were two or three strands of X-mas lights wrapped around the Mauler. A street dog was sniffing for scraps nearby. "He looks morose, don't he?" I said to the perro de calle, "Not festive at all - more like the subject of some kind of barbed wire electrical torture or something." I was traveling back to Boulder from New Mexico that day, and the skies opened up with snowdrifts and rain.

26 March 2009

Taming The Beast

Today I met with an agent who represents literary fiction writers. It was pretty ridiculous. I've already forgotten her name! But she was cool, sharp, and chatty as hell. "How will I know when I'm ready for an agent?" I asked her. "When you have a polished manuscript ready" she replied. It's interesting - agents are all about getting "your work" "out there." She actually said, "I don't just want your work to end up in the right hands, but in everybody's hand." The literal implications of that sentence distracted me for about five minutes while she went on and on about the literary fiction publishing world. It's big. It's out there. And me, I'm an empty sardine can in a Russian Space Station...you know, floating.

And so yeah, sure, maybe eventually I'll be ready for an agent...but I'm nowhere near that now - even if I had a manuscript, I don't think I'd be quite man enough to try selling my work yet. I need more seasoning, more practice, more failed experiments, more growth! I'm closer to having something to say than ever before - and that's a very new, refreshing feeling. Meanwhile, Janelle made chili tonight and we've been listening to Horace Silver's "Song For My Father," which would make my Top Ten All-Time Favorite Songs To Eat Chili To.

25 March 2009

Schoolin' Em

I'm listening a Rodney Crowell version of "Bluebird Wine" (off the Heartworn Highways Townes Van Zandt documentary) right now and digging it.

And It's all right
I've just hit my stride
Right off the bat
Lord, I'm drunk on Bluebird Wine

Baby taught me a diff'rent way of thinkin'
Like how to spend my evenings here at home
List'ning to the music on the radio
Drinking all the Bluebird we can hold

Janelle's giving the nipper a bath & they're both laughing. Outside, Iowa City is quiet as can be...

Today I gave my students mid-semester evaluations. Told 'em to judge me harshly, anonymously, but, if at all possible, to try & be constructive. To my surprise, every last one was positive. This caught me off guard. They nearly all agreed that I'm "brutal" (as one student put it) when it comes to grading papers (which makes me smile). But not one said "I hope you get in a horrible car accident" or "this class sucks and bear no relevance at all for me." It was more like "I actually like coming to this class, unlike my other classes" and "I like the way you let us talk and give input" and "I like your laid-back style."

Really, I'm surprised. Especially after a week or so of totally phoning my class in, showing up uninspired, brokenhearted, and not really giving a f--- about being a reputable educator. I must be doing something unconsciously. And it must be speaking to these guys. Hot damn! Jon-dog is pleased...

24 March 2009


I should be biking to the 9:30 a.m. class I teach (the hungover undergrads) right now. But I'm not. I'm all sick in my throat and head - body aching, too tired to even stagger. So instead I'll blog, read some stories, and try and rest before workshop tonight. The three photos above illustrate how my soul feels right now, if you wanna talk about soul.

Why did I dream of drug deals in the viaducts last night? Perhaps it was because of a student paper I read shortly before bedtime. She was describing her first experience getting high. Here's an excerpt:

We were very suspicious and uneasy about it, but I told myself to be cool and just try some. Sam handed over the joints, lit them for us, and Alex and I inhaled the joint simultaneously. We both threw a coughing fit but regained our cool and begun smoking it again. We both felt cool, rebellious, and sophisticated. We loved this, maybe a little too much. Sam told us just to sit back and relax in order to feel the effects almost instantly. We surely did feel the effects! Alex and I were swaying back and forth to the reggae music playing in Sam’s store. I felt completely calm and free of worries; that was a first for me! I believed that I was on a beach in Jamaica, jamming to Bob Marley’s song, “Jammin.” I was basking in the hot Jamaican sun while watching and enjoying the soothing sounds of the waves as they rolled in. The smells of salt water and authentic Jamaican food permeated the warm air. I slowly began to drift back into reality. Marley’s music was now faint, and I began to recognize my surroundings again.  The smell of ganja became consciously noticeable.

She's not really a stoner. That's sort of obvious ("Sam handed over the joints" & "We surely did feel the effects!"). For their last paper, I asked my students to lie to me. "Tell me lies!" I said, "Tell me lies about your life. Make it different, make it new. Fool me good," etc. I get tired of reading the same student papers about the "three things I'll be discussing in this paper," and/or how "through it all, I've changed and grown as a person." I gave them an excerpt from Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, which they roundly hated, and told them to take Chuck Barris' example. And so the soccer champ has been transmogrified - on paper - into a stoner. And my dreams have responded accordingly.

I reckon "What does your soul look like?" is one of the more important/interesting questions a friend could ask a friend. Like the Cherokee ask each other "How deep is your well?" and the rain falls and the winds surge from the west, through all that nuclear corn safe in its fields of green, and I cancel my class and read Steve's story about the end of the Mayan calendar:

You don’t have to be a member of the Young Einstein Society to know that time and space are funny things. In the night sky we see light from stars that have been dead for billions of years. And we wish upon this light. We draw pictures with our fingers, connecting this dot and that, until the light becomes a fish, a bull, an archer, a reflection of us. The sunlight in our sky is eleven seconds younger than the sun itself—a mere echo of something that has come and gone and will never return again. Upon this echo we map out our days and weeks and months and years. On our bedside calendars we cross off time that was never there to begin with. The sun might have already aligned with the center of the galaxy, expanded and consumed this planet in one red wave and we wouldn’t know it for another eleven, silent seconds.

21 March 2009


Day before yesterday I tried to give myself a haircut. It didn't work out. I now look like I've contracted mange.

I did a reading ("Anthology") a few weeks ago at this place called PS2 here in Iowa City. It's the hot spot, the hip scene. And actually it was a lot of fun. Why does my mouth get all dry and feral whenever I do a reading, though? I'm guessing it's because I'm an introvert at heart. I can appear extroverted when my public persona is firmly intact like one of those shields on Space Invaders. But this is just isn't possible when I'm reading my own work, which is basically just terrifying. No one seems to notice, though.

The other folks reading were phenomenal. And after I read, a clique of poets from the Workshop told me, "Man, you're in the wrong program." And I said, "Maybe. Probably not. I can't do what you guys do," and meant it. But, yeah, I'm pretty firmly entrenched in the lunatic fringe of the fiction Workshop (which includes me and two other dudes). Nonetheless, I have officially received word that I have funding fer next year! (Huzzah!) I'll be teaching creative writing instead of rhetoric, so the gods have smiled on me a little bit. Naturally, I'm terrified.

I did two guest lectures a couple weeks ago (one with Janelle, which was really fun), about voice and prose and point of view and jazz and so on. And it was cool - I was really energized, but, again, same thing - there were parts (when I was reading my work) when I was freaked out and inwardly frenetic and tachycardia drymouthed. It's weird - there's such a dichotomy between writing (which is this private, fine affair) and reading (which is very public and exposing). I'd like to locate a grey area between those two poles that's not so intense. What would that look like?

17 March 2009

The End Of Stella

So it has gone:

At the beginning of this month, Stella started to show very real signs that she was no longer getting much pleasure/joy/characteristic exuberance out of life. Despite massage, exercise, pain medication and, towards the end, home visits from the vet & chiropractic care/acupuncture, it became apparent that Stella was simply not enjoying life very much. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed, she needed help to do the most basic tasks of living – getting up, laying down, walking, & going to the bathroom.

She really got my attention when she started to lose her appetite. One day she walked away from a pound of fresh raw bacon I had been trying to coax her into eating! She just left it behind…

“This ain’t right,” I told Janelle, then called the vet. Our vet explained that tests would be required to figure out what was wrong with Stella.

“What kind of tests?” I said.

“First, blood tests. We would hope to find an infection or something relatively easily treatable like that. If not, we would take x-rays, in search of something more serious, like a tumor.”

(I tried to imagine Stella, our sweet coyote-crone, going through a battery of tests at her age & level of functioning. It seemed unnatural and a little cruel, even.)

“I don’t think Stella would want that,” I said to Janelle, “I think she’s letting go.”

Thus began our long, painful grieving process of late nights, depersonalization and random sob attacks.

Now, Stella was around four and a half or five years old when she took up with me. (Her previous owner wasn’t sure how old she was.) She came under my care in the high altitude desert town of Crestone, Colorado, in the summer of 1999. I was a twenty-five year old piece of continental driftwood & Stella was in her prime. And she stayed in her prime for pretty much the entire time I knew her, too. Here, at the end, things got pretty bad pretty quick…But we had a hell of a good run together, Stella & me. Stella & TheDriftwood.

A few days ago I came home from teaching my hungover undergrads and found that Stella had moved herself somehow into the bathroom. She was curled around the base of the toilet. I brought her bedding in and made it comfortable for her in there. She lingered for several days, without showing any signs of bad discomfort – she just appeared tired and seemed to be readying herself for death. The vet gave us signs to look for that would indicate suffering. “I can come ease her suffering if I need to, but I think it’s better to let her go naturally” she said, all of which was a relief to Janelle & me.

The days came and went. Stella’s eyes grew faint. Janelle & I sat with her often, giving her love and affection and telling her all the things you’d want to tell a dying friend. She seemed grateful. I guess we did too. Eleanor? She didn’t seem to notice Stella’s state. She’d run in and want to play and hug on Stella, all boisterous. And we’d say, “Eleanor, Stella’s not feeling well.”

“Owie?” Eleanor’d say back, her huge eyes beaming.

“Yeah, she’s got some owies.”

The day we decided Stella’s suffering was too much - that was the day Eleanor really seemed upset. The vet wasn’t even there yet, she just ran over to Stella and said, “Eat? Eat?!” When I tried to comfort Eleanor, she started crying. I looked down: Stella’s eyes rolled up at us, full of concern. Winds blew strong from the Northwest. The sun streamed through the window, onto us all.

An hour or so later, with Eleanor at daycare, the vet gently administered an injection of pentobarbital directly into Stella’s heart (her circulation already too compromised for an intravenous shot). She died instantly here at 1100 E. Jefferson Street, around 9 a.m. today, in the arms of Janelle & me. Outside, the crows bleated.

We buried Stella out at a friend’s house in Solon, Iowa, on the banks of Lake MacBride.

Pictured above is her grave.

“What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? — it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” – Jean Caraway

01 March 2009


Yesterday, a buddy/fellow Rhetoric TA (who's been an AP writer embedded in IRAQ the last few, but is now regurgitating Foucault into the young, dilated corn-minds of U of Iowa) locked his own unkempt arse out of our (shared) office on campus. The batard called me at 9 a.m., "Help...need key."

"Yeah, sure." I then parceled up all of my entire kin here in the I.C., and headed to campus, which, on a Sunday, is land of lost-looking Lutherans and hollow-eyed corn dudes and ma'arms, just shy of pre-pubescent, and found him, the writer (he's also a g.d, writer in the Fiction program, keeps talkin' about "Bananafish" as the pinnacle, and yadda-yadda-yadda, chainsmoking, blazer over t-shirt, scarf over that, "AWP, AWP...embedded" unh), and sed, "Here thou art...yes, yes. Hurry back. We're headed to Fairfield."

In Maharishi's Fairfield, Iowa it is possible to stand in the middle of town while the railway seethes with traffic and simultaneously order a $2,000 organic cotton bedroll while observing a dying Norwegian choking down cheap tequila. Meawhile, a Maharishi-ite scoots by, with gomden under (be-hemped) arm, and I says "peace be unto y'all," and so, Iowa, basically, is more Colorado than Colorado, as here, the shit hits the fan...and then it flies, flings, floats to its most il/logical conclusion...right, yes, which is why I'm here. Part of the Big Fling. At last!

So yeah, you owe me one, Ryan. But whatever, I won't collect, 'cause I'm the Uberman Experimento - (yawn) - and I've got the Tao Te Ching-inscribed mug to prove it. But don'cha know in Fairfield we didn't need no mug or existential props to procure the most delicious Mexican food in Iowa, which is, incidentally, pretty bad, bad as Maharishi's student lounge (And I woulda had a shot of Redmeption to wash it all down, but a down-and-out Woody Guthrie-lookin' hobo was at the bar, pontificating about the virtues of Jose Cuervo himself, how dawg, and I reckon I'm close to a minor leftover nerve of some kind of American post-generational pathway when Eleanor leaps up, says, "I'm done!" and goes screaming down an aisle created by two huge palettes of Co-Cola. "Whoa!" So I run, relleno in hand, capture youth, then settle up, split with nuclear family in tow).

But anyway, this is our new rented home (as of August-ish).