Monday, September 17, 2007



I envy you your metaphysical shark bite and look forward to hearing what it means, not to mention getting occasional reports from the upcoming Season of Triumph. I think my last one of those was in sixth grade, or maybe the half semester of high school when I finally started speaking to people. At least, I have enshrined these times as ones of at least medium-sized triumph.

What the whole incident reminds me of more than anything else is that animals are riddles. For example, about two weeks ago I found myself staring and staring at a pair of Labradors that I’d been playing fetch with for about half an hour (the dogs names are Dolly (yellow) and Patsy (black), after their owners’ favorite country singers). Anyway, I’m staring at them and staring at them, the dogs are literally heaving, I mean their bodies look like they’re being squeezed by an invisible Scotsman and their tongues are hanging about a foot and a half past the end of their mouths. And then suddenly a sentence pops into my head. A dog is a unit of breath.

A dog is a unit of breath. I’m not sure what this means, but I have named my newest “story” after it. “Essay on Dogs as a Unit of Breath.”

Another big revelation this week: sitting sipping coffee a few mornings ago, listening to the sound of myself eating a muffin. Some people chew, but I am a fucking cow when it comes to pastries and especially things like muffins, and especially especially cream cheese and pumpkin muffins (eating one of these is like having cake for breakfast: always a worse idea than you think it will be). My body makes all these strange sounds, all these creaks and whistles, and then on top of that there’s the rustling of the wax paper the muffin was wrapped in and the sound of my ubiquitous god/neighbor moving around on the floor above us. As far as I can tell, he and I are the only people in New York who get up before eight o’clock on Saturdays, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit that sometimes the thought of this fills me with a feeling of tenderness for him that makes me want to get the stepladder out of our closet and press my cheek to the ceiling as a sign of solidarity. To think that he sleeps, fucks, masturbates, reads, cries, shits and whatever a mere seven to ten vertical feet from where I myself do these exact same things boggles my mind. Cities are simply ridiculous.

Other than staring at things and listening to my body, the main vector this week has been a revival of my commitment to marginal literature of all kinds. I know I can’t shut up about this, but I feel a proselytiser’s desire to spread the word on all these fucking amazing books I’m discovering: books that no one really pays attention to because they don’t fit under the headlines of novel, short story or poetry.

For example, I’m reading one right now (Voices from the Chorus) by the Russian standup comic/mystic dissident Abram Tertz, a sort of diary of the time he spent in prison for some made up Soviet crime. Book is a fucking battery: it is a primer, an instruction manual on how to turn your own life into a book of great beauty and potency. And the strangest thing is, I am starting to get the sense this is what all diaries are, or at least what they try to be. Someone should make an anthology of diary entries and call it “How To Survive,” which is essentially the unspoken subtitle of all diaries anyway. Joy and energy being an essential part of the survival.

(short list of diaries that are changing my life: Journal by Gombrowicz, Voices From The Chorus, The Diary of Anne Frank, Emerson’s Journals).

Some Tertz to give you an idea of what I'm talking about:

“While washing I touched my head and was suddenly surprised how small it was…”

“I simply can’t imagine why mice should have tails.”

“Whenever one sees Australia on a map, one’s heart leaps with pleasure: Kangaroo, boomerang!”

“A sparrow is very funny when it bathes: it bends forward to wet its breast, and then spends a long time shaking the water off. And the fact that it has no arms is then particularly noticeable.”

“I wonder what mice make of birds, and beetles – of butterflies? They are obviously able to see each other. But what do they think?”

Sentences like this feel like things to me, like rocks I can pick up and put in my pocket. I love writing that does this.

You asked for more Hrabal: have you read “I Served the King of England” yet? This is just as good as Too Loud a Solitude. The tragedy of this guy is that he’s written some insane number of books, forty or fifty or something, many of them supposedly awesome, except that there’s not enough readerly interest to get them translated into English. Also, if you haven’t read him, you should check out Hasek’s The Good Soldier Svek, basically the great Czech novel and Hrabal’s main ancestor. Goofy, ridiculous, a work of high smitage and superior frottage.

Swim like a maniac. Meanwhile I will keep inspecting the tidepools and sniffing my shoes when I step in something particularly interesting.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Swim Like Hell

I rarely find life annoying anymore, just people and departments. The department of motor vehicles, for example, or the English department. I've been a deeply annoyed person. I suppose, though, I've changed. The old me would have quit the job; the new me, would have schemed to find a way to Mexico. I think most writers are schemers at heart and all the writers I love--like Kundera--are mythical schemers. After all, Kundera presented the world with the term "erotic friendship", thereby giving husbands the world over a new, lighter paradigm for adultery.

Annoyances--do you ever put them in your writing (beyond this blog, I mean?) I've been exploring my annoyances more and more lately, just plopping them here and there, into my poems, blogs, stories. My last story began as a diatribe against the man who hangs out in the sauna at the Y, the man who sits there and stares at me, who licks his lips. I hate this guy. He's been a thorn in my side for a few years. So I started writing about him and voila he's a character in a story about a cook and his ghostly wife! Don't ask me how I made the jump from Sauna Guy to ghost.

"I escape my life, but I gain my life..." That reminds me of a quote from one of our favorites, Bohumil Hrabal, when he writes about reading books "in the blissful hope of making a change in life." Every time I open a book I hope for change and usually, if I follow through, from the first sentence to the last, I am rewarded. When I was young I sought out certain books, books I had heard would change my life, but soon enough I realized that every book was changing my life. The simple act of reading a book is enough--I'm not even sure the book matters, although some books, obviously, have had more lasting impact than others. I don't think this is an escape at all. For me books bring me right into life--like you say, "I gain."

I have many doppelgangers by the way. They never guide me elsewhere, but always back to myself. I can't escape myself. I'm too narcissistic.

I've been ridiculously busy lately, but I'm feeling confident, full of verve. It's great to write like this because I stop tinkering, I stop thinking about how bad I really am and I just write.

Reading Kundera. Need another Hrabal book. Turning 31 tomorrow and commencing upon a self-proclaimed "Season of Triumph" with a few friends. Basically, from September 17th to Thanksgiving Day, we're going to eat right, work out hard, and generally kick ass. I've threatened to publicly humilate the friends who lapse.

Also, something a bit odd happened yesterday: I went body-surfing in the ocean off Brigantine, NJ. It was a beautiful day (sunny 75 degrees) the water was warmer than the air and the waves were perfect. I caught three, four spectacular waves--waves with tubes, fat, cresting waves! At one point I stopped to catch my breath, looked down, and saw a four-five foot shark swimming towards my leg. It bumped me, I screamed like a little girl (the people on the beach verified this fact) and I jumped away. Then I looked down and saw the ridiculously frightening dorsal fin, sinking into the water, the body curving towards me.

I swam like hell. By the time I got back to the beach I was entirely out of breath. My heart was bursting out of my chest. The few scattered people on the beach stood up and started walking towards me. Karen nearly ran into the water. I just kept saying, over and over, "Fucking shark, fucking shark."

Here's what's weird: Before I got into the water I looked at Karen and said, "Watch me. This swim will be my most emblamatic swim. This swim will symbolize our impending season of triumph!"

Funny how I've spent the entire summer thinking about sharks. Funny how I told my friends I wanted to get bitten by a shark, that I thought it would be incredibly cool to get bitten, that I
actually wanted a shark-bite, like a sort of tattoo.

Anyway, I think it was a blue shark. At least it looked like one.

This encounter has struck me. I feel like I've met my animal-spirit, face to face. I called him and he came. I'll spend years figuring out what he wanted to tell me.

For now, though, the message is clear: swim like hell.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


Fucking dayjobs.

Excuse the profanity (dayjobs), but I just got done emailing my boss about a vacation I’m hoping to take in October. He didn’t really see it coming and I didn’t really lay the necessary groundwork, which means that, long story short, I’m seriously thinking about quitting my job.

So, to the admirable dypstick “goofy and horrible,” please allow me to amend a possible third term: and annoying. Life is annoying and I am annoyed with life, sometimes because I don’t get what I want and sometimes because I do get what I want, but always because the getting and wanting are the meat and potatoes of it.

I was thinking last night about your Rimbaud quote, and the way that it promises, or seems to promise, something like an escape hatch from all this. For me, great writing, no matter how “depressing,” always offers escape; but the escape it offers is always strange. It cuts both ways: I escape my life, but I gain my life. How, and in what incredible universe, can this possibly happen?

Let me give you an example: I am deeply, deeply annoyed at the fact that I’ve spent the last four hours emailing my boss, back and forth, getting further and further enmeshed in stupid departmental crap and further and further away from my hypothetical Mexico. I’m so annoyed that I have started thinking to myself: “You are so annoyed.” I’m depressed, too: I hate wasting time, and I hate waste, and though some part of me knows that I have to get acquainted with things falling apart, I am perennially ducking the meeting. I am a sentimentalist, who Joyce quotes as wishing “To do without incurring the immense debtorship of a thing done.”

It's annoying, as I've said; but the strange and unexpected thing about all this is that writing about being stuck makes me free - not literally, but in what feels like an important way. I makes me feel like I've opened the hatch in the back of my head and sat down to smoke my pipe – that’s right: I smoke a pipe when I’m free! I pick my nose and allow myself to wonder about which Star Trek captain is, was, and will be best, until the end of eternity!

I like Goofy and Horrible and allowing yourself (and your writing) to be that way, because I think that somehow, strangely, this freedom creates a phantom you - maybe even phantom yous. It’s like walking around in a cloud of identically-dressed bodyguards, except that at a certain point you look down at your tie and realize that you’ve forgotten whether you're a bodyguard or the bodyguarded. Panic, for a long moment, until you realize that it doesn’t matter: no nation on earth has the technology at this point to tell you and your creation apart. If they get you, the King lives on. If they miss, you are the King. I don’t know what happens if they kill everybody; maybe they become the king, in which case I still feel like I win.

Here's to marginality, escape, sentimentality, irresponsibility. New story has wandered into eerily Sebaldian territory. Meaning, I find myself quoting photographs. But no, unfortunately, he is not goofy (pronounce this last part in a Werner Herzog accent).

Frott on.

Monday, September 3, 2007

How Goofy and Horrible is Life

I like smitage. I'm thinking I want to use it from now on in everything I write--every story, every annotation. I'm just going to slyly insert it in my work, see if K. notices. Smitage seems like a precursor (or postcursor) to Surrealism and perhaps we should inaugurate it as such. After all, Surrealism is as much about self-obliteration as self-discovery. "I am another," said Rimbaud, and the Surrealists practiced it, impossible as that might be.

Next word: frottage.

As in: Yesterday, as evening collapsed on the boulevard, I saw her, fell in love with her, and expressed that love with a beautiful act of frottage.

Uncle Dean once wrote a poem called "Frottage" and its first line is sort of like my guiding principle in life and writing: "How goofy and horrible is life." If that's not a high act of smitage I don't know what is. I once wrote a blog on Myspace called "How Goofy and Horrible is Life." The blog was basically a defense of my "egomaniac" tendency to take pictures of myself, but the point I was trying to make, if any, was that in order for me not to fall into a never-ending terrible bout of self-serious gloom (considering, among other things, that I have a devastating, life-shortening, life-changing, pancreas-killing illness) I try to view the world and its tragedy with a sense of goofiness.

My Uncle's poems are all about "How Goofy and Horrible is Life" and so is, for that matter, some of my other favorite writers: George Saunders, for example, or even Milan Kundera. (I'm not sure whether you could call Sebald goofy...)

Anyway, I wrote a Saunder's annotation on Friday on his use of dialogue in "CivilWarLand." Yesterday, I re-read "The 400 Pound-CEO" on the beach and almost burst apart with envy and happiness: What a great story!!!

Which is to say: I share that devastating sense you have of having just (finally) finished a story and feeling pretty much that it is terrible.

Here's a perspective, speaking of Deano. In a letter to me, he once wrote:

"My new book will be out in April and I will send you a copy when I get one. It seems completely uninteresting to me although there are a couple of poems I shoved in at the last moment that are still alive for me, filling me with doubt."