30 April 2009


A few days ago, I stopped by our local natural history museum to kill some time between appointments. What I found was mind-blowing: a lifelike bust of Gigantopithecus "Giganto" blacki. As it turns out, forensic archeology, carbon dating, electron microscopy, and geometrical extrapolation lets us know that Giganto was about ten feet tall and weighed an average of 1,200 pounds - and that's damn heavy for a vegetarian. And there wasn't just one - there were a whole bunch of Gigantos knuckle-walking around the vast forests of ancient Asia. Giganto papas! Giganto mamas! Wee giganto babies grazing on grasses and nibbling the fruits and seeds of dicotyledons.

What's most awesome about the Gigantos, though, is the fact that they lived during the middle Pleistocene (between one million & 300,000 years ago), alongside - that's right - Homo erectus. Yup, Asian pre-humans (Homo sapiens derived from Homo erectus) actually co-existed with a nomadic race of massive apes!

I did some web-based research on Giganto and discovered, right off the bat, that Bigfoot enthusiasts love 'em. They're a rosetta stone to a whole range of theories about how the elusive North American ape is simply a modern day Gigantopithecus, etc., etc., etc. And who knows, right? It could happen. Either way, I'm content to imagine what kind of relationship existed between Homo erectus and Giganto. Was Giganto feared? Hunted? Eaten? Worshipped? All of the above? Did Homo erectus learn survival skills/social organization from Giganto? Vice versa? What's embedded in our archaic collective unconscious as a result of sharing earth with a massive apeman tribe? I love generating hypotheses about this.

What I'm really waiting for, though, is the day that some archaeologist finds a mummified alien somewhere in North America, still clutching the blueprints to galactic world peace and, like groovy vibrations, daddy-o.

23 April 2009

Gorgeous George

Bright & early tomorrow morning, I'm off to Pennsylvania for the wedding of two very bright, promising young people - Ryan & Wendy. In addition to being a momentous occasion and much mirth and celebration, it will also be my first time leaving the Midwest in nearly a whole year. (Unfortunately, it's a trip I'm making sans Janelle & Ella - traveling presents difficulties - So I'm the lone wolf.)

One year in Iowa. If I was a fringe cartoonist, I'd publish a comic titled My Iowa Year and include lots of self-derisive illustrations of my half-naked, scrawny, skeletal self looking in the mirror before getting dressed and shaved for class. But I'm not, and so:

Instead of trying to summarize this year in some kind of insightful, pithy way, let me just say that I saw a bumper sticker yesterday that seemed like it was being spoken directly from Gorgeous George to me. And here it is.

17 April 2009


Potty training: It sounds harder than it actually is. Basically, it means letting your kid self-direct and figure the whole Toilet Deal out themselves, in a pressure-free environment. People make such a big deal out of it, but I have no idea why.

According to Freud, the "oral" stage of development is followed by the "anal" developmental stage. This stage is marked by a child's experimentation with his/her boundaries, power, & control. The bowels (and their function) are a representation/extension of the psycho-physical navigation of these themes. If all goes well, a child learns when and how to express themselves in ways that are healthy and socially acceptable. And, yes, they also learn how to use the crapper.

I remember once, in third grade, I sat next to a kid named Eli. Well, Eli had told Miss Gill three, maybe four times already that he had to pee bad, but, you know, Miss Gill didn't want anybody to go to the bathroom for some unknown reason, and was dead set against it. So she said, "You'll just have to hold it until after class, Eli" all stern and cold. So, about a minute later, with tears in his eyes, Eli pissed his pants, right there in the chair. And the other kids laughed and shrieked as piss ran down his legs, into his shoes, and all over his textbooks. Eli was sobbing now: His mom had died of cancer about a week earlier. Now this.

And so the question often arises: What is wrong with the world? When did it all get so bad? Well, the way I see it, the world broke in 1982 when Miss Gill made Eli piss himself.

13 April 2009

My Creative Writing Workshop - Fall 2009

Of course we all agree that writing is its own reward. But what does that mean? Allow me to suggest that writing is a “hero’s journey,” something not for the meek. If it’s working, it provokes the writer’s bewilderment, confusion, grandiosity, frustration, glee, and, above all else, a commitment to the mysterious alchemy at hand. If you, the writer, are bold enough - and perhaps a little masochistic - you’ll keep writing after you’ve run out of ideas. You’ll keep writing during stretches of writer’s block. You’ll keep writing even when the only thing you seem to be producing is horrible prose, derivative poetry, or some lukewarm memoir that you know is a pack of lies. You’ll keep writing because, yeah, of course you love it - but also because you know that writing is about as sacred an act as anything else. And if you bring the right kind of attention to it, keep sacrificing the many layers of conceit and deceit, it will lead you to some new, worthwhile discoveries.

Language is at the heart of this particular writing course, which will center around prose, poetry, and non-fiction modes of writing (though our explorations will also extend to those places where such distinctions meld, overlap, disintegrate, and/or fail to arrive at a meaningful description of the work at hand.) We will meet bright and early every Thursday morning, so think of it as a kind of seminary of the written (& spoken) word. Our Good Book? The dictionary. Together, we’ll explore the life and works of many, many patron saints – devotees of the written word. You will complete written assignments with great frequency, both in and outside of class, exploring what it means to be a linguistic being. You will write for an audience (myself and your classmates), allowing our responses to shape your work, lead to new discoveries, and generate meaningful discussions. Be advised that active participation is a central aspect of this class.

Required texts (avail at Prairie Lights Books):

The Triggering Town, by Richard Hugo
Good Poems For Hard Times, by Garrison Keillor
The Outlaw Bible of American Literature, by Alan Kaufman

10 April 2009

The Painting

Eleanor painted this a few Saturdays ago. I didn't help her or guide her hand in any way. She just sort of waved her brush like a master calligraphy zen lunatic, then squealed like a marmoset. "All done!"

As I type this, I look out my window at the endless parade of Iowans walking their dogs. Big ones, tiny ones...none of them, to my eyes, are as pretty as our Coyote In The Other Realm. To miss something/someone intensely is to measure the effect of their presence...and there is a good lesson in this.

Spring is sloooooooooooowly upon us here in the Land O' Maize. And I can see how & why people talk about the nasty, brutish winters of the midwest - it's not just the intensity. It's the duration.

08 April 2009

Check Engine

The "check engine" light flickered on last night while I was driving the Jeep. "Yeah, that started flickering on about a hundred miles into me & Eleanor's trip to Chicago," Janelle later told me. The way I feel about all this is this: If the car's running, there's no reason for me to check the engine. Okay? So get gone, "check engine" light. There's other fish that need fryin'.

07 April 2009


This morning I got up and, around 7 a.m., discovered that my tomato seedlings had sprouted. (I sowed them in a small starter tray about a week ago & have been watering them twice a day.) I took the photo above, then put Charlie Parker Live At The High-Hat on repeat for 'em. Later on in the day, about five hours later, as I was reading a story for workshop, I glanced over at them. "Sun worshippers! Idolatry!" I took another snapshot (the one below). My hope? Delicious heirlooms this summer.

03 April 2009


Last semester, out of necessity, I started doing all my writing on postcards, during stolen moments throughout the day. The postcards turned into stories, and the Lord was pleased. Well, actually, the Lord declined to comment. But I was pleased. And my friends were pleased, and certain fellow writers were pleased, and various other fellow writers were displeased with the results, so it all added up to: Jon-dog, keep writing on postcards. Which I have. And it's changed my whole way of writing, conceptualizing language & narrative (reconciling the two, actually), and I've gotten a little bit grandiose at times here and there, but I'm okay with that, as these are the kind of overcorrections necessary for the emergence of something I can identify as real and true within my own subjective voice.

I lay awake some nights, though. Amiri Baraka comes to me in a night-vision and says, "Look. You should write so that the common man and woman can dig, dig? Then you might have a future." And I think "Yeah, yr probably right." And then I think, "Wait, nah, that's a bunch of Maoist crap," and resolve to write even less affected, more abstracted, voice-driven prose. (Joyce!) But then Baraka comes back with his b.s. about keeping it real, like, on the level, dig? "Don't be a bourgeois intellectual-writer. Nobody wants to hear that stuff, man." And even though he's right - yes, I admit it, I can't help wanting to write stories that .0001 percent of an already scant audience of readers will actually want to read - I'm really locating my non-praise-driven voice. And that's a good thing. I like having a voice. My hope is that, as I get better and better at channeling it, I'll get better and better at presenting its words in a way that remains accessible to others. That's sort of a long-range career goal...And the Workshop is, in a way, a good litmus test for accessibility. In other ways, not so much. So far, people from Spanish-speaking countries have comprised my best audience. They get the whole magical realism thing, the voice-driven form, the blending of forms and've hipped me to cool things, too, like the corillos of Mexico. (And why do I still not speak Spanish fluently? No reason. No excuse, except Laziness. I need to learn. I think it would help me become a better writer, and, therefore, person...)

I've almost finished a new story. I've been working on it for about two months now, entering its sphere completely. It's a weird story about how, in 1957, the Earth underwent the first of a series of catastrophic nuclear meltdowns. It happened partly because Rev. Jim Jones & Father Divine met face-to-face and set off a spiritual meltdown of Modern Religion, but also because of Oppenheimer and his whole bag. Anyway, the result is a whole lot of DNA confusion. Hence, the birth of (name omitted, for reasons of top secrecy), a half-girl, half-leopard who gets placed, at the age of fifteen, in a lockdown facility headed by a cruel mistreater. She - the leopard girl, the hero - has a lesbian love affair, then escapes the facility, and, hotwiring a Terraplane, heads to California, where she discovers Jim Jones and the Peoples' Temple in full effect. She joins them...and various calamities ensue. The story is narrated by a dude speaking a modernesque negritude patois, who also peppers his telling with numerous musical references - basically, it's who I'd sound like after listening to Sun Ra and gobbling ephedrine. Fragmented thought, clipped speech, various enjambments - a mensa-member, pop culture warrior who's survived a head injury and some red wine. Like that.

Anyway, I'm looking for somebody to illustrate it. If you know anyone interested, let me know. (Pictured above is Lady Luck In The Shape Of A Yellow Horse.)