This is the first parcel received at our new home, aside from a notice from the Iowa City Public Library, stating that the DVD The Big Easy, which I recently returned was but an empty case (No disc! Oh snap!). And what is this? Well, it's 7.30 lbs. of cured Tennessee bacon - no nitrates, no nitrites. Pure manna. You've never seen seven and a half pounds of cured bacon before have you? No. Me either. (Thanks to Kim Nelson for this very Kim-like treat.)
22 July 2009
We arrived in Iowa City over a year ago, subleased a small apartment, then moved into this duplex, now empty of all our traces. "Time passes and pisses on us all," a famous writer once said to another famous writer - I can't remember which. And by "us," he meant all of us, everything. But, though I like to parrot, I think maybe I'll stop quoting this unknown author - because maybe to say "piss" is to miss...the point....and the opportunity - to grieve, to breathe, to just sit and be with the changes, or to say something like, "the skies are clearing." Even as I type this, a kid in jeans rolls past my window, riding a unicycle, yakking on his cellphone. And Eleanor, she's growing fast. I'm looking a little haggard these days, though, what with all my balancing acts. Ha-ha! My Janelle, though, is an arhat of teapots, beating the spectres outta the reeds. And there is always jazz on. Things, all in all, are good. Oh yeah - and the skies are clearing.
20 July 2009
Due to a mixup, I've been drinking decaf coffee the past three days, thinking it was half reg/half caf. Anyway, because I'm a caffeine junkie, I've been plagued with horrible headaches and body pains. "Jesus, am I really so old now that a little move destroys my body-mind?" No, but that's what I thought until this morning when it dawned on me what'd happened. Listen, I love coffee. Okay? Okay.
Yeah, so, on Friday, we moved into our new place (pictured here). My man Todd, as well as some U of Iowa brethren (Tom, Devon & Dimitri) stepped to the plate in a serious way and helped us, you know, git-rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-done. At some point during the move, my buddy Jeremiah sent me an e-mail that said (and I quote):
"Tropical juices, fresh fruit and Jacob's Creek Shiraz combine for a fruity flavor that's all grown up. We blend rich, tangy Parmigiano and Romano cheeses with spinach, artichoke hearts and sautéed onions and bell peppers. We bring the dip hot to your table, with Friday's® red and white corn tortilla chips. Juicy fire–grilled chicken breast drizzled with our Jack Daniel's® glaze and some crispy Cajun–spiced fried shrimp with dipping sauce. Our creamy mashed potatoes and veggies seal the satisfaction."
I know what he's getting at. He's saying the world's on fire and that it's okay to laugh about it when you're between artistic acts of freedom. Laughter's like majik fire, you know - we stole it from the Gods.
16 July 2009
I've had this tape a long while now. It's the Modern Lovers' 1976 debut album Modern Lovers (actually this is a tape of the 1989 reissue). Today I listened to it after I dropped Eleanor off at her cool-ass daycare center (which is an old, old house full of bright, energetic, multi-culti kids with hip-to-what-time-it-is parents). The center's run by a guy named Tim and he's got some really good people that work there for him - all wonderful people, really.
So after I drop off Eleanor, I usually pump the kilowatts for my drive back home:
"...girls would turn the color of, uh, an avocado / when he'd drive down their street in his / El Dorado..."
Today's gonna be more Adventures In Packing. Yup. Another epic move in a series of epic moves. It occurred to me earlier today that tonight'll be the last night we spend here in our rented duplex. As I typed that just now, I was prepared to explain why that's significant. But I'm suddenly no longer convinced that it is significant. Muhammad said to "be in this world like a traveler."
15 July 2009
I built these stilts a few days ago using leftover pieces of wood from a "summertime fun time outdoor sun canopy" I intended to build in our front yard but never did. I built a privacy fence instead. And so. Stilts.
According to Stilts, by S. Carl Hirsch (with illustrations by Betty Fraser), "in the Mexican state of Yucatan, some temple decorations of the ancient Mayan Indians were discovered only a few years ago. Clearly depicted were men on stilts who took part in religious ceremonies and dances. These stilt-dancers were supposed to bring good luck."
It makes sense that stiltwalkers are meant to bring good luck. I mean, the act itself is an embodiment of trust in the phenomenal world, and therefore a gamble. Walking on high-ish stilts, even for a short jaunt down the sidewalk, always triggers something in my mind-body. Something that says, and this is what life is - a protracted stiltwalk that can't go on forever and never even promised to. And while you're up here what are you gonna do? Enjoy the ride? The scenery? Try and stand still to make it last? See how fast you can go? Or just maybe focus, focus, and stare at the ground? What are you gonna do, stiltwalker? Huh? What'cha gonna do?
The alchemical process reflected in stiltwalking is sublimatio, the separation of purity and impurity, and the "lifting up" of that which is of value from that which is base. (And for those of you who want to go a step deeper into this, it's worth noting that polarized, binaried dualities like this are, in themselves, base and useless at a certain level of psychic reality.) Ascension: We are lucky, I believe, to have this experience. And we're luckier still to be able to come back down to the soft earth, who's eager to hold us & sometimes knock us around for the short time we're here...
And maybe the Mayans were getting at this very fact. And maybe they're right to enact, physically, the sublimation they wanted to see happen in their own psyches and communities. Maybe that's a lesson we could all benefit from: There's value in enactment of myth. Joseph Campbell says that's all a ritual is - an enactment of a particular myth. Plain and simple.
14 July 2009
"The lights that once festooned our bathroom are now bulb-burnt in the county landfill."
It's sixty-six degrees here today in Iowa City, Iowa and I am listening to Chicago Art Ensemble's "Magg Zelma," which is a psycho-spiritual ride royale through the African diaspora, starting with the rural American South. Hot damn, I love these guys. In other news, boxes have taken over our home. Boxes and flotsam and jetsam.
I notice a sheet of paper on the floor. I pick it up. Upon it, these words are scrawled in my be-inked cursive: "Being a writer means being part of what a civilization says to itself." These are notes from my first workshop with Marilynne Robinson.
"In terms of craft, John Updike is vastly superior to Faulkner."
"There tends to be a consensus in workshop, however pluralistic, and it tends to be congruent with a quality of voice authoritative in (the writer's) own mind..."
Yawn. (My body's tired.) I'm still listening to "Magg Zelma." I'm still surrounded by boxes. It's still sixty-six degrees outside. And we have four lime-green tomatoes on our vine.
12 July 2009
"The world belongs to me because I am poor." (Kerouac's overly-romantic view on poverty, but not a bad quote to have stuck in your head in consumeristic-mad America.)
Eleanor & I biked to the park about an hour and a half ago - huckleberries, whee! - and on the way home, passed a compact, upscale pile of junk outside one of the old farmhouses here on Jefferson Street. We went home and got Janelle & the Jeep, then returned. We ended up carrying away a folding card table from the year 1865 and a nice armoire. Janelle: "I can paint or re-stain that!" And the sun was starting to set so we hot footed it home and got Ella in the tub.
And so: This Friday, we're renting a U-Haul and moving into our new home, which is approx. 100 paces away from our current residence. To say "we can't wait" would be to downplay both the pain in the ass that is moving as well as our excitement about getting out of this weird duplex, which we've shared for a year now with a neighbor whose social skills are in a bad, bad way.
Our living room and kitchen are now filled with boxes, boxes, boxes. And it's total chaos! There's a lot of good things about chaos. One of them is that it usually presents an opportunity for artistic expression. In this case, the boxes make for excellent mini-graffiti tags and stoopid drawings (see above photo). It's actually kind of an ideal environment for me, in many ways.
Scads of life-giving blueberries. Janelle, Eleanor & I picked six pounds of these two days ago and have been eating them in both their natural form, as well as in the more exciting form of muffins. They say that in nature exists a cure for everything. I don't know if that's really true, but blueberries are known to ward off: free-radicals, heart disease, scurvy, colon cancer, macular degeneration, GI distress, urinary tract infections, Alzheimer's disease, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, cataracts, glaucoma, varicose veins, etc. etc. etc. And in lab experiments where rats were forced to endure experimental strokes, the rats that ate blueberries showed less brain damage than the control group - an overall scenario I find both fascinating & depressing as feck. At any rate, the point is that because of these blueberries, I can finally rest assured that I will live forever and never get sick...which is nice.
10 July 2009
Kidneys. They're super-cute and we're each packing two of 'em. And what do they do? They remove wastes from the body, primarily. But they're multi-taskers, 'cause they also regulate the balance of electrolytes, control the body's blood pressure and spur the production of red blood cells.
I didn't know all this prior to this post, of course. I had to look it up. (In general, my knowledge of how the human body works is pretty Middle Ages. For all I know, little elves live inside me, pulling levers and twisting dials.) During my exhaustive research, I learned that, once removed from the human body, kidneys look like slimy pink purses. Or gigantic, slick butterbeans. The Ancient Semitic wisdom holds that these miraculous butterbean-purses, in addition to all that other stuff, also regulate moral behavior:
"Man has two kidneys, one of which prompts him to good, the other to evil; and it is natural to suppose that the good one is on his right side and the bad one on his left, as it is written, A wise man's understanding is at his right hand, but a fool's understanding is at his left." (Tractate Berakoth, Folio 61a, Babylonian Talmud)
Why this diatribe? Because - my man Paul gave one of his kidneys up about a week and a half ago - something impossible in Old Babylon. Now Paul's kidney lives inside somebody's sixteen year old son. Why did Paul do this? You'll have to ask him, like I did. But basically, he seems to have operated from a pretty simple place of basic, kitchen-sink compassion. Sort of like, "Why not give a friend one of my perfectly good kidneys?" [Oh yeah, I forgot to say that earlier: we can get by just fine with just one kidney. How is this possible?! Maybe because they're located in a pretty vulnerable place (the small of the back) and evolution - or, if you prefer - YAHWEH, in its infinite kitchen-sink ingenuity, said, "I better give these guys an extra. You know, in case one gets gored out by a mastodon...or Jack Dempsey."]
(The infamous "Massacre In The Sun" - Jack Dempsey versus Jess Willard. The lore behind this fight is that Dempsey had never laid eyes on his huge opponent before, and was terrified when the bell rang. So his "strategy" was to just charge Willard with every brawlin', bustin' thing he had. He did...and won the bout, leaving Jess Willard with the following injuries: a caved-in cheekbone, a broken jaw, several knocked-out teeth, a broken nose, a few broken ribs, multiple contusions, cuts, and abrasions, both eyes swollen shut, and permanent hearing loss in one ear. Note Dempsey's brutal kidney punch at 00:40)
In this modern world, unless you're Jess Willard, kidney disease is the new mastodon. According to data collected through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, roughly 13% of American adults (ages 20 or older) have physiological evidence of chronic kidney disease. Kidney transplants are drastic measures that save lives. And in my mind Paul's as hardcore as Jess Willard, because he let a masked man cut open the small of his back and remove one of his butterbean-purses - in order to help out a friend who needed it bad. It all went well, of course. Now he's on the mend and back in action. (Nice one, Paulie.)
08 July 2009
I killed my Facebook account today. Well, but then again that's not true, is it? No, because apparently, according to Facebook personnel, my account is only deactivated. What this means is that if I were to log in at any point for the next two weeks, my account would be reinstated fully - no questions asked. However, if I can manage to wait any longer without logging in, my account will be permanently deleted - forever, along with any photos, videos, notes, etc. I uploaded to my Facebook account. So there's this 2-week gauntlet they require people to walk, which I find hilarious.
Facebook is both the dealer and the drug itself, and that's why I had to get out of their little matrix. It was actually beginning to make me feel bad about the world. Too much useless information. Too much pointlessness and crass marketing. Too much time wasted. Too much exposure to the elements of civilization I find most grating and deplorable. Too much like adolescence, in other words. And, for a social networking tool, it sure was starting to make me feel isolated.
Don't get me wrong, for a while there I enjoyed Facebook's pointlessness and the fact that it unabashedly wasted my time. But after a while, anomie killed the cat. And that old cat, well he started to feel a bit empty - probably from relating to people so superficially. And now that I'm done with The 'Book, friends have started e-mailing me again. I'm grateful for this, but it makes Facebook even creepier, as an overwhelming majority are e-mailing me to talk about Facebook in this kind of "off the record" way, explaining how they, too, would like to delete their accounts, but "I just like to stay in touch with people too much for that" or "I'm just not ready to leave yet, but one of these days..." Honestly, though, I can think of three solid, interwoven reasons (besides the fact that it's fun and convenient) why people stay on Facebook - and I know 'cause for a year and a half I was a stone cold Facebooker:
(1) Fact: Facebook is busily making itself indispensable to its proponents. By combining e-mail, IM-ing, photo & video posting, fan pages, etc., it's compressing the entire social aspect of the internet down into one mega-application. The people in the upper tiers of Facebook, Inc. make huge money off advertising based on demographic information readily offered by the folks who use it. And that's what Facebook is all about - bartering that valuable demographics info. And sure, it's convenient in many ways, but after awhile that "convenience" becomes status quo and you forget that you ever lived without it. That's because Facebook goes out of its way to stay that way. And so, they make it difficult for you to leave by becoming insidiously indispensable (like Wal-Mart, like Netflix, like the automobile).
(2) Fact: When Facebook fails to keep you in the matrix, social dynamics will step in. Weirdly, when I gently announced that I was leaving Facebook (never stating why or flaming Facebook) I got more than a few snarky comments from my "Facebook friends." But overwhelmingly I got the "don't go!" sentiment, which is kind of nice, but equally creepy. (In fact, moments ago, someone in real life just stopped me on the street to tell me they were 'going to miss me' on Facebook. No kidding. That actually just happened.) But this "don't go" sentiment expresses more than Facebook's indispensability and people's general empathy for me. It illustrates basic group dynamics - herd mentality, social pressure: "Don't go. Be one of us." This is weird, cloying, and drone behavior. Furthermore, it confirms that Facebook really is high school.
(3) Finally - duh - Facebook is addictive. Fact: Every time I logged on to Facebook, I felt like a goddamn chicken that'd been trained to peck at a tin lever. Why? In order to release those golden grains of feed, of course. In this metaphor (simile, actually), mind you, I'm the chicken, the log-in button is the lever & the feed is this endless vat of information, some of it useful & interesting, most of it not. Why is information so addictive? Because, baby, information's the new currency of the digital age. We all wanna know what's going on, from as safe and unassuming a vantage point as possible. So, yeah, voyeurism ties into it as well, and the voyeurism Facebook makes possible is an addictive drug...and as with almost every addiction, the underlying concern is death anxiety. Hence, "don't go!"
Bottom line - Facebook is free. They advertise this constantly, and they do so because they want you to always be aware that all this fun & convenience costs you absolutely nothing...which, of course, is untrue. The hidden costs are many (some of which I've detailed above) and are quickly becoming a fact of life in these modern times. So on some level, I suppose I probably have driven a lot of blames into Facebook. But really, I blame myself. Facebook feeds my un-cool tendencies because I let it, after all. So Facebook's dead to me. And I am dead to it, thank God. Well, I mean, you know, in fourteen days I will be, provided I can re-enter human society without crashing and burning from withdrawal. Hey, look at that golden grain up there, boy? Wouldn't you like to get in on that action???
It's here again- that strange time of year in Iowa City when rental leases start drawing to a close and big piles of free stuff start appearing on curb sides. Last summer, fresh from Georgia, I'd drive around with Janelle, Eleanor, or Cousin Lesley and hunt for pieces of furniture, objects d'art, & raw materials to strap down to the roof of our Jeep. Got some nice stuff...I mean, you know...nice enough.
It's weird, though. You can find it all: sofas, mattresses, fruit juicers, toasters, pipe fittings, crates of paperbacks, c.d. cases, pant suits, bookshelves, photo albums, inexplicable piles of wood, curtain rods, reams of paper, computer monitors...the detritus of the broke and collegiate in transition. You can look down just about any street in this town this time of year and see discordant little Jabba The Hutt's all lined up to the horizon for Homeboy Trashboy. But not before us bottom feeders get out there and do a little recon...
If you're lucky, you'll find a pile that hasn't been sifted through yet. If you're unlucky you'll get there five minutes too late. All the sweet stuff will have been spirited away by nimble hands...or worse - the rains will have already turned that pile into a heap of post-industrial mush. Best to avoid these piles. Nothing to be gained there. The above photo was taken through a privacy fence I erected in our front yard a few weeks ago. It was constructed from pieces of lattice, 2x4's, and crown molding I scavenged from the piles. It ain't pretty, but it serves its purpose.
Building objects out of scavenged wood is probably my favorite thing to do when I'm not writing. I absolutely love it - maybe even more than I love growing tomatoes. It's a wonderful enterprise. It's a hands-on experiment in planning, problem solving, engineering, mathematics, luck, and technical execution...you get to be your own boss, and when it's all over, you have this fence or gate or box or birdhouse or whatever that is so totally unique, as its the product of unique circumstances and chance occurrences.
07 July 2009
06 July 2009
"So, there will be this thing called 'the internet,' which is sort of like talking on the phone and sort of like channel-surfing and sort of like typing all at once. And it will be pretty damn cool, but will also have the tendency to fragment real life and take your mind off your terrestrial existence."
(This is me going back in time, in the style of Bill and Ted, Marty McFly, or Scott Bakula and giving my 1991, high school Junior-self a little bit of a heads-up about the future.)
"And so anyway, it will be cool for a while - you'll be able look up anything! The world will be at your fingertips! Information will be free in almost every sense of the word...but then, naturally, market forces will intrude, turning most of what's cool about the internet into a Festival of Lameness. From that lameness, many mind-numbing things will emerge, including something called Facebook."
"Face-book? What's that?"
"Facebook, young Jonathan, will be an insidious way to stay superficially in touch with a few friends and a whole lot more obscure people so that advertisers can utilize personal data to better reach their target demographics...does that sound awesome or what?"
"No, it sounds like the wackness. Assuming I psychologically survive high school, I can guaran-damn-tee you I won't be 'bookfacing' or whatever when I'm thirty-five. It sounds like a future re-enactment of the social stratification I witness every day in the lunchroom."
"It is. And that's why people will scramble for this thing called Facebook. It's hard to explain...but in the future, it's what passes for fun. And strangely, it's also what will pass for communication."
"If I wasn't so self-absorbed, your vision of the future would terrify me. Please tell me that I don't fall for this Facebooking crap."
"Oh man - you'll fall for it all right. But that's why I'm telling you this now. You see you must stop the machine..."
Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera. And so, I decided earlier today to, in 48 hours, pull the plug on my Facebook account and to stay in touch with those I love & like the old-fashioned way. That's right: E-mail, instant messaging, and Skyping. Woo-hoo! I'm practically Amish now!
05 July 2009
These are more Athens, Ga. photos. (Good godamighty, there's nothing to parallel the gardenias of the South, or a nice jigger of Barrilitos, fairly fresh from Puerto Rico, to hit every nostalgic quadrant of my heart.) As I type this, I'm also watching the final twenty minutes of The Godfather. The Don is dead. The baptism is on. And Michael just renounced Satan & all his works...
02 July 2009
(Vacation photos resume.) After the "Florida leg" of our trip down south, we headed back up to Athens, Ga. Pictured above are three extreme closeups of Athens, which is a beautiful town and a town that I miss.
Here's what I know about longing: It resides in the animal body. I can think about it abstractly and philosophically. I can process it linguistically. But the experience of it is immediate and felt in the body. Here is a short list of random things I long for:
(1) The humidity and heat of a southern summer. It envelops, folds me in, and provides a feeling of atmospheric density conducive to relaxation.
(2) Making eye contact with Stella across a room when I'm up late at night. Those deep, golden eyes staring back into mine followed by a slow exhale as she disappears back into her dreams. (Similar to longing, we talk about "relationship" and "connection" in these abstract ways and words, but the actual experience is exquisitely physical.)
(3) My morning walks to work in Portland, Oregon, summer of 1998 - I'd walk from my little apartment right in the heart of the city across about fifteen blocks that slowly turned from bustling cosmopolitan downtown Portland to sprawling, industrial warehouses and alleys. I passed a handful of coffee shops, newspaper stands, and one beer brewery along the way. Graffiti covered everything.
(4) I miss hearing A Love Supreme for the very first time. (This happened in 1994 and there's no going back. I've listened to it countless times since then.)
(5)Walking with my grandpa through his tomato garden. Something happens when a young man walks alongside his grandfather, either in silence or sparse conversation, tilled soil underfoot. Or maybe it was something more personal - between him and me. I'm not sure. But his absence remains alien, uncool, and not at all the "natural" thing death is purported to be.
01 July 2009
When I lived in Portland, Oregon (this was about eleven years ago), I lived in an old, crumbling house with a bunch of friends. We were all young and applying ourselves, more or less, to the business of figuring out what "adulthood" means. Two of my housemates were Micah & Suzannah, and they had a prancing Catahoula named Boo. Back then, one of my favorite things was to play with Boo and get him all excited so he'd prance and tear around like a goddamn maniac. We had tons of adventures, me and this dog and Micah & Suzannah. I knew him since he was a little puppy! And when I got Stella, Boo played with her and they got along like squash and onions. So Boo was my boy...and on a Portland, Oregon spring day that we were just hanging out, being cool & enjoying, I took Boo up onto the roof of Old Crumbling and snapped this photo of him. Ol' Boo, towering above Creation! As time will always have its way, Boo left this physical plane about four days ago. So, little buddy, this one's for you. Fly on, Little Wing...