Friday, November 30, 2007

The Mope


Funny you should mention Rimbaud, of course. I like to think of him as a sort of emblem of what you might call, following Pushkin, the "lazy man". I like to say "the mope."

It's funny too, though, how mopes always seem to be the ones slamming open hidden doors. That monster Elvis, for example, was a classic lay-about. And have you ever read Truman Capote's New Yorker profile on Marlon Brando? The Duke, it seems, the torrent of American Acting, was really a fat, lazy bum at heart. And that's before he actually became a fat, lazy bum.

I love these guys, but I love them, mostly, for their mopiness. I aspire to Brando in Streetcar--cut, virile, ridiculously handsome--but really I feel more comfortable with Godfather Brando--fat, slow, a bit ugly. The one seems full of energy, but a little empty; the other, full of languor, and yet utterly powerful.

I mean, I always admired a guy like Neruda for his industriousness, but I didn't love him until I read his thoughts on wasting time:

"If poets answered public opinion polls truthfully, they would give the secret away: there is nothing as beautiful as wasting time."

But there's a difference, I think, between being lazy in life and being lazy in ART. For example, that bum Pushkin, you mention, throws grapes at us until we see that we've got to keep slapping ART, keep reminding it to pay attention and not lapse into the laziness of inherited forms.

Which is basically what Rimbaud says: "The invention of the unknown demands new forms". And, really, what poet's life better distills the essence of this quote than Rimbaud?

He wrote this famous line in 1871, at the age of sixteen, in the midst of a sequence of two brash and absurd letters that have come to be known as the Lettres du Voyant or, if you prefer, "The Seer Letters."

The first letter, to his teacher Georges Izambard, announced Rimbaud's intentions to become a poet, a seer, and it included a short poem, which begins with a choice Rimbaud line: "My sad heart slobbers at the poop."

Izambard blasted the letter. It was vicious, detestable he later said—the young poet seemed to want to screw himself up, as much as possible, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

But Izambard missed the point. Yes, Rimbaud was screwing himself up, but he was serving an inviolable master: Poetry.

"Right now, I'm making myself as shitty as I can," he wrote. "Why? I want to be a poet, and I'm working at turning myself into a Seer. You won't understand any of this, and I'm almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by a derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. And I've realized I am a poet. It's really not my fault."

This strikes me as one of the most pretentious, ridiculous letters ever written. And I love it. I love it for what it says about the connection between writing poetry and living poetry. The derangement of all the senses is one of Rimbaud's most celebrated phrases. With the support of this bold assertion, Rimbaud transformed the act of writing poetry into an act of living, a voyage into the wild unknown.

"The invention of the unknown demands new forms," Rimbaud wrote in the second of the Lettres du Voyant, sent to Izambard's friend, Paul Demeny, several months later. At this point, the young poet was certain: the new form was meant to be amorphous, as a man's life is, essentially, amorphous. And although Izambard and Demeny both dismissed the letters as utter inanity, practical jokes at best, utter filth at worst, Rimbaud was certainly not joking.

Within a few months he was carousing bohemian Paris, living on little else than absinthe, hashish, and the erotic adulation of Paul Verlaine, and writing his masterpiece, "A Season in Hell."

From poop to poetry—the evolution of Rimbaud was furious.

But still, I must admit, it is this early line that has always haunted me: my sad heart slobbers at the poop.

This line has occupied my thoughts for several years. It comes to me during the most opportune occasions. When, for example, alone and sitting on the toilet, I begin to imagine Rimbaud at sixteen, and I see the portraits of the young poet, the first taken in October, 1871, the second, more famous, taken two months later, in December.

The difference between the two pictures is astounding.

In the first picture Rimbaud, recently arrived in Paris, appears to be no more than a child, a puffy, mopey brat, eminently poised for naughtiness—the type of child who seems capable of writing an entire manifesto on poop.

In the second picture, Rimbaud has aged considerably; his face, chiseled, evocative—Jean Cocteau said, "He looks like an angel"—is the face of a poet, a man.

What possibly could have happened in the span of two short months to bring about this incredible transformation?

Sometimes I linger on the toilet, for up to ten, fifteen minutes, my chin positioned firmly on my fist, thinking about Arthur Rimbaud's life. I can see him, for example, standing on some non-descript corner in the Latin Quarter, kicking a stone, a seventeen year old absorbing the hitherto unfamiliar language of the world that was Paris in 1871: the dung-filled alleyways, the aroma of bodies and smoke, the muggy air. Then, in the evening, when the darkness collapsed upon the city, he would have strolled along the streets until he hit the small alley, the Rue Séguier, where a metal cot awaited him in a studio at number thirteen, the second of four, five, or six addresses in Paris, the filthy rooms where he conceived the lines that won him posthumous worldwide fame.

But eventually my thoughts always turn to his life after Paris, his years of wandering, and his death in Marseilles. The biographies tell us that in 1874, though possibly later—the life of Rimbaud has always remained splendidly ambiguous—he quit writing, irrevocably.

Rimbaud—the seer-poet—was nineteen years old.

He spent the next seventeen years wandering around Europe and Africa. This period of his life is sketchily documented, often vague, and mysterious. His letters, written during the time, reveal a sullen, mopey man. "I am bored all the time," he wrote to his family in 1888.

By the time he died, in 1891, in Marseille, after years of wandering, his poetry had resurfaced in France, but Rimbaud had vanished so completely that many people did not believe the news of his death: they assumed he was already dead. Rimbaud—the wanderer, the mope—was thirty-seven years old.

Rimbaud's life—the early, resounding poetry; the sudden, unreasonable renunciation of poetry; and the inscrutable years of wandering that follow—has fascinated and perplexed me for some time. And this is why I have chosen to evoke him now—as a resounding testament to the intrigue of mopey behavior. And yet, when I am on the toilet, thinking, and even now as I write, I am confounded by what seems to be the inscrutable enigma of Rimbaud.

After all, what is one to make of this enigmatic character?

How am I to evoke the unreasonable Rimbaud?

Was he a seer? Or a mope?

Whatever the case, it's obvious there was a lot of Not-Writing that led to Rimbaud's writing: a lot of getting ready. Does it really matter what you do to get ready, though? Probably. I tend to think boring lives inspire boring writing. But then, of course, there's the Emily Dickinson factor. She basically sat around her place a lot, but she sure wrote a lot of kick-ass poems.

Did she even do drugs? I don't think so.

I suppose the connection between Not-Writing and writing might be too subjective to qualify at all. We all get ready in different ways, of course. Writing, though, the act of sitting down and doing the work--that's easier to define. You sit down, do it. I know you might find that attitude naive, a bit ridiculous, but that's how I've always gone about it.

I live, get drunk, wake up hung-over, and sit down and write. If I don't make this commitment to sitting down, each day, I'll never write. When I'm Not-Writing I don't think about it. I try, instead, to give my attention to what really matters, at least to me: my wife, my friends, my family, food. Funny thing though, this attention, this look away from writing, is me writing too.

Basically, I'm always preparing, but not always thinking about the preparation. That puts an awful lot of stress on your life. Deliberately going out to derange your senses in the service of writing? That's childish. I'll just go out and derange my senses.

Hemingway was a dick-head, for sure, and part of this might have been his need to live experiences for writing. That strikes me as extremely artificial and very bullshit.

Perhaps that's why I prefer the mopes, the ones who love wasting time, which really has nothing and everything to do with the time they spent writing--which, of course, was not wasted time at all...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007



Russian Futurist…French Surrealist…? Are you serious?

Putting the inherent ridiculousness of these two ideas on the sideboard for a second, let’s have a closer look at them. My can-opener in this discussion, as usual, is going to be the Russian serial-amorist Alexander Pushkin, who Russians worship but who nobody else pays any attention to and rightfully so: he sounds stupid in any language other than his own, really beyond shitty.

I think he'd like this – I mean, if anyone spent less mental energy on writing and being a writer it was Pushkin, who founded Russian literature in a few brilliant strokes and then walked into a Frenchman’s bullet because his wife was a flirt. Live by the sword die by the sword; so he’s become a real hero of mine, not just for what he wrote, but for the way he wrote it. Reclined, generous, with swiftness and vigor and complete immersion.

Pushkin was a “lazy man,” by which I mean the usual pose of artistic industry didn’t appeal to him. Easy for us to forget in professionalized America, but art used to be, not so much a matter of when you clocked in and out, but rather how you positioned yourself so as to let the energies of the world flow down your pen-hand most efficiently. As beard-wearer/Soviet-escapee Abram Tertz wrote:

“If Pushkin (let’s assume!) was only pretending to loaf, it means that he needed that pretense to free his tongue, that it suited him as the plot motivation for the unfolding of his destiny, and without it he couldn’t have written anything good.”

I love this quote because it gets to the heart of what is a real writing problem for me. I mean, isn’t that what a long and intense part of what we do is about: not the writing itself but the getting ready to write, the Not Writing that leads to writing: organizing oneself like a circuit, the perfect combination of tradition and re-invention?

For Pushkin this meant giving yourself up, letting Fate (Pushkin loves F-f-fate) make you the greatest writer who ever lived one minute and a ridiculous cuckold the next. Your destiny is someone else’s business, which frees you up to look around and describe everything you see so beautifully and memorably that you end up, strangely enough, outwitting fate completely: escaping it, disappearing Houdini-style through a trap door no one else can see, because they're too busy doing what they do.

Another important fact about Pushkin, who was murdered by a Frenchman: he loved France. All Russians did – most of the upper class at that point spoke French from birth and had to have Russian letters translated to them, sniff sniff. But, attracted as he was to its masterpieces, P. knew he couldn’t compete, for example, with Victor Hugo. And he didn’t have to. He was a Russian. The whole thing was hilarious to him: the wigs and powders (which he loved), the balls (adored), the pretenses and high-blown speeches (made a few in his time). High-falutin’, fascinating but, at the end of the day, kind of beside the point. Now, a Russian horse shaking snow off its back – that was life! That was a moment that deserved to make its way into literature!

So Pushkin becomes one of the first flaneurs – the first walkers, to translate the term stupidly: one of the first guys to try to put everything and especially the underbelly of life back into art. Art is great, but art is also very, very stupid, Pushkin held. We’ve got to keep slapping it, keep reminding it to pay attention and not lapse into the laziness of inherited forms. Keep looking, Pushkin shouts at us – or not shouts, since he’s not really a shouter. He throws grapes at us and threatens to not invite us to his next party.

Empires, cultural or otherwise, develop underbellies, which the provinces explore vigorously; then if they’re smart the empires themselves learn from their subjects and begin dissecting themselves. So genius France develops in the 19th century a generation’s-worth of little Pushkins, which it now officially calls flaneurs: walkers, starers, examiners of underbellies. Rimbaud, for example (sound familiar?). Baudelaire. Alfred Jarry, and all the other people who piled out of that particularly roomy clown car. As archer/vegetarian Roger Shattuck says:

“The intellectual activity that Diderot refers to as libertinage (free-thinking, debauchery) in the opening sentences of Rameau’s Nephew rests squarely on this response to the fragment as ambiguous – both isolated and implicated. Baudelaire developed Diderot’s attitude into the endemic activity of the dandy: flaner (to stroll about, to saunter). The Surrealists in their prose narratives of city promenades refined flanerie into fine art…”

[fragments here – argumentative etiquette suggests I hold my tongue, but come on: there it all is, the 7th Draft aesthetic in a nutshell! Shattuck’s prose is as clear and strained as a man asking a passerby to kindly help him remove the badger from his Balzac, but you can hear the point trembling under there, compact and dangerous as the hum of an electron cloud…]

Pushkin showed France how to strut…but how does this fit up with us, who are anyway just Americans plain and simple, putting on these masks and codpieces as they suit our moments, whims, deficiencies and advantages? Well, to their surprise, the mob of flaneury has discovered in the centuries 20th+ that when a prone position transforms the entire world into a work of art, everybody becomes an actor. As the Shatt-man explaineth, once again:

“What is no longer given – station of self – must be created. It may take a lifetime. To that end most of us own a little property, have some adventures high or low, and revert at intervals to the mutterings of our innermost feelings. It all helps. At the same time I wonder how far the histrionic sensibility, the fourth path [!!!] to a place in the world, has also made actors, and perhaps lunatics, of us all.”

With the curtain closing, then, enter poor belated blogging, this fucking ridiculous enterprise comprised, as has been noted before mon frere, MOY DROOG, of equal parts tragic and absurd, or just plain stupid, and which runs on a frottage and aspires to smitage, the wholesale eyeball-peeling of the sun settling like a grapefruit on some distant dirty rooftop. “IT ALL HELPS” – I hear the famous Be Someone On Which Nothing Is Lost dictum in this, not to mention the dream of miscellaneists/bloggers/diarists, which at the end of the day seems to be nothing more than to catch all the little fragments of life and rub them together until they spark and the world (or, more often, an immediate circle) catches fire and burns.

Pushkin…proto-blogger? Dumber things have been claimed for him, I guess. The way I see it, the dream haunting literature is anti-literature and the nightmare of the Book therefore the Anti-Book, which, solidified, gets busy throwing its own shadow. Pushkin left behind a handful of fragments, which he didn’t think was anything to take seriously.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Communism Works: An Open Letter to Michael Silverblatt

Impossible to say exactly why, but the lumpen is rising, people. For example last night I listened to the voice of Michael Silverblatt and wanted to cry. I wanted to cry, Michael Silverblatt. For one thing is certain: we cannot go on like this…

I’ve been thinking about the world for a while now Michael – thinking of it not as a network of true or false propositions but as the inside of a gigantic whale tunnelling through time and darkness. Etymologically, as you know, whales and architecture come from the opposite end of the linguistic spectrum – but there is architecture in the whale as surely as there are whale pods migrating through downtown Los Angeles. Just because things aren’t brightly lit, doesn’t make them invisible, Michael.

Michael Silverblatt, to be honest I thirst for your tears as voraciously as a car whose little orange gas-icon has been lit up for the last thirty miles. I feel like we could get there, Michael. I really do. You interview authors on the radio and I am an author not on the radio, and together we are travelling through a series of interlocking whales that make up existence. One whale is America, another is Earth, then others that are God, Los Angeles, etc.

You remember the grade-school exercise that asked us to write our exact location on an undelivered envelope? Well, I think it’s time you opened that envelope and delivered the message that America has been promising the world for years. We’re ready for it – we’ve waited long enough, anyway, and the message is burning through the thin blue sheath like a coal. Messages, messages: we’ve been promised these for centuries, Michael. But your country’s hesitancy has made the rest of the world suspect her.

Michael, I believe I have made progress along these lines, and though I may not be the first person to say this to you, I want you to listen very closely: the thing that will make you cry is brotherhood.

“Brotherhood?” says Michael Silverblatt. “Just last night I talked to Junot Diaz. Jonathan Williams sat on that exact stool – you’re speaking into the microphone that once touched the lips of Seamus Heaney!”

What, exactly, is Michael’s point here? An older guard might pull out the over-rich consistency of the bourgeois worldview – but I like Michael, and more importantly I am like Michael, specifically in my reverence for the sacred and the high. I believe that we are all in the same whale and therefore hope to answer him, not with the scorn of the working class, or the kiss of the whip, but with a vision as pure and simple as a rose in winter. A ROSE IN WINTER MICHAEL! Am I speaking loud enough yet? Lower this partition, take off your headphones and I will show you how passion can make a rose blossom from your forehead and vines drip from your nose like shoelaces; thorns pierce your eyelids. I will show you the world you’ve been longing for.

Should Michael trust me on this one? Should he put down his collected works and chop wood with the rest of the sun-bronzed demi-gods? More importantly will the whale ever dock and the message dribble off its lips to collapse exhausted on the ivory sand?

Alright, I admit it Michael, you are making me cry now, which is not exactly what I was aiming for, but which I like anyway. Delicious tears of the people, or the person! Rosewater on my upper lip! I feel that we are halfway there – Communism works, Michael Silverblatt! Say it with me, and by saying throw off the fetters of your life and ambition and find yourself in the real utopia that we’ve been planning for generations, whose groundwork we laid before you were born and whose spires will continue their putsch long after you yourself have disintegrated. You may die, but the world you bequeath to your children will live on into the night.

Are you crying yet, Michael Silverblatt? Because listen, people, if Michael isn’t crying we haven’t done our job. Rend your clothes and don hairshirt after hairshirt, for an unmoved Michael is the surest indication that everything we have worked for is lost. The winter is upon us. The vast Russian winter. Take refuge in your rabbit holes. Because from now on the only things that you will experience in common are death and sleep and maybe not even the second of these, because the world we have made respects nothing and lurches gradually towards the twenty-four hour work week. The man on which nothing is lost looses everything, and this is the secret Michael. This is the switch you must flip to extricate yourself from this madness of industry, nightmare of endless books…

I know you can do it Michael. I have faith in you, I hear a spark travelling through your vast and deeply-sonorous naval cavities, making its way towards the light, moving as it not-moves, like Jonah in his whale. Longtime listener, first time caller, Michael. Take me into your heart and I won’t disappoint.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sermon on Industry


I’m sitting here picking my nose and trying to think of how to start this letter – which, of course, is always the problem. How to start. The inertia of life is so powerful and the vice-grip of routine so ever-present that I find myself constantly plotting, scheming, and devising what my girlfriend likes to call “spiritual pyramid schemes” for how to get up. A particularly pertinent problem for a writer, since most creative work is self-structured and therefore lacks the easy motivation of, say, a gallon of water shot up your nostrils.

In general, I’m a naturally lazy and even indolent person – indolent, which when used in a medicinal context (about an ulcer, for example), means persistent: slow to develop, progress or heal. So, in order not to stay in bed all day I’ve had to organize my life into a series of intricate routines, the point of which seems to be to turn a normally shapeless existence into something structured, purposeful.

One example is my morning, which I developed the year after I left college and have stuck to rigorously ever since. The keystone is a ridiculously-early wake-up: 4:15 am, on the dot. My alarm goes off on the waist-high bookshelf in our living room; I walk the six or so steps to turn it off (very important, an alarm next to my bed being easy to snooze). Then I go into my bathroom and turn on the light to pee. While peeing, I keep one eye tightly shut, which is a little disorienting, but which makes it easier for me to walk through the pitch-black apartment after I’ve finished peeing, since my closed eye remains dilated and can therefore see better in the dark. Out in the living room, I turn on the lamp and prepare to make coffee.

I am not lying when I say that I’ve done this exact same thing every morning (barring travel, disaster, and acts of God), for the last three years. The process as it now stands is effective, both streamlined and possessing a few little kinks (the one-eye thing, my alarm in the other room) that I’m proud of, because they work, and because they’ve evolved like monkey-sticks from the frustrating encounter with reality that is everyone’s day, really, from start to finish.

Now, one of the things that forces me to my knees and makes me regularly weep or at least scrunch my face up in a simulacrum of weeping is the human mind. I carry mine around with me in a silver dish and exercise it with the same delight I get from putting on a pair of fresh-from-the-box sneakers – a feeling of power, yes, but more importantly of rightness, the feeling a fork probably gets as it’s spearing asparagus. I stand in awe of its redundant beauty – redundant because why should we have these things? Why shouldn’t we just be worming around in the warm earth, bumping into roots and eating our children?

There’s so much posturing in writing and art that it’s easy to forget how beautiful and pleasurable a mind can be – but as usual, going back to the primary sources makes things a little more complicated. Virginia Woolf, who suffered from her mind as much as she delighted in it, thinks in her diary about the magic word “Health”

“Returning Health

This is shown by the power to make images; the suggestive power of every sight and word is enormously increased. Shakespeare must have had this to an extent which makes my normal state the state of a person blind, deaf, dumb, stone-stockish and fish-blooded. And I have it compared with poor Mrs. Bartholomew almost to the extent that Shakespeare has it compared to me.”

Again and again, I try to pin down why passages like this one, and the books they come from, are so important to me. Books are cities; books are cathedrals. Books are machines that can channel indolence to awe and awe back into indolence with Rumpelstiltskin-like efficiency. And the best books can (I really believe this), graft themselves onto you in a way that causes your original organism to react. They can turn sicknesses (depression, exile, prison, or just life) into the precise conditions in which joy can happen.

It’s Sunday morning, and I’m obviously feeling sermonly; but I don’t see any real reason why I should feels so charged, so excited. The room is freezing, the heater spasmodic at best, and there’s a bright yellow vacuum cleaner standing about two inches from my left arm – but god, how I love Sunday mornings! I remember being five years old and laying in my bed, listening to my parents sleep, the house creak around me, the wind like a gigantic dog chasing the trees and the leaves and all the other stuff around the yard. It was like the world was lying preserved in jello: inactive, but therefore couched and peaceful. People in general (especially writers) like to use upward-looking words to describe their happiness, but for me, happiness is about ankle-level. It’s that real life that we barely register, the world of drawers and closets and back seats and roots. Right now, for example, my socks on the floor look pretty happy.

I don’t know, I’m sure things need to exist in a balance – but for me, there’s something indescribably satisfying about making coffee in the morning. It’s as if the process – which I’ve cut into my life mysteriously over the years and now can only marvel at, as if it were some kind of crop circle that had appeared there beyond my strength to assimilate or change – it’s as if this form releases, rather than blocks my energy. I mean come on, about ten sentences ago I was practically peeing in my pants! But then at the beginning of the post, honestly, I was just sitting here picking my nose and thinking about how bizarre it is to be writing like this, for no particular reason (for no essential reason, at least).

These days I think about writing and life more and more as a sort of stone-soup production. You bring the pot and life brings the garden. Some books display the process that another person has taken to adapt to their circumstances. It is particularly heartbreaking when, inevitably, this person fails – and maybe this is the biggest difference between The Great Gatsby, for example, and Virginia Woolf’s diaries. One has architecture, design; the other is shifting and incomplete, partial, and imperfect. Or maybe just not interested in perfection.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Ask Her If She Likes Baloney

Hard to talk about Bruce without getting emotional; maybe there's no need to, anyway. Argument is calm and rational, but some things plunge beyond argument into the substrata of health and disease, meaning they organize your soul. Bruce is one of these things for me.

Like many romances, ours begins with a drought: specifically, the chunk of eight or so years that I lived between the ages of six and fourteen, when my family moved from Brattleboro, Vermont to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea to Lusaka, Zambia. The capital letters are just distracting: the most important part about where we were was that it was Not America. So, as the law of supply-and-demand dictates, we were raised under the banner of what I still flatter myself was a very peculiar Not Americanism.

Flash forward to my junior year of high school, when the walls of the schizo-edenic East Coast boarding school I had been languishing in since my parents moved to Egypt exploded, literally exploded, or rather inverted, figuratively inverted, to a sort of Deep Space Opera I later learned to call Bruce. This was Born To Run, the album that he called "My Shot at the Title." I decided immediately that I would like it.

(I don't know about you guys but for me, this is how liking things has pretty much gone my entire life. I decide for whatever reason that I like something, and then I make myself like it until I really do like it. Eventually, I'm so caught up in whatever it is that the delight can be described as "spontaneous." Will feeds delight feeds will feeds delight, back and forth like a Miranda July Poop Vortex.)

These days I'm on the downward spiral of my Bruce obsession - but I still think that he has important things to teach us. For example, I could ask you what you know about your own disease - the real disease I mean - and you probably wouldn't be able to tell me anything. But one way to know your disease is to see it reflected in another man so persuasively and completely that you feel a sort of intuitive sympathy for him. You think "I want to get away from this person," and at the same time "Maybe this guy will know what I'm talking about." You're fascinated, in other words, or repulsed, or whatever.

Bruce is rotting: grandly, operatically, and right before our eyes. If a Dylan withers and a McCartney ferments, then a Bruce rots, because he's an American and has spent his entire life running in two directions: mythical past and mythical future. Like all good Americans, he is a prophet of Not America, meaning he's never found rest and never will, and this is what makes the rot so disgustingly visible, like a bad sunburn, or male pattern baldness.

Apocryphal, but true, story: I once saw Bruce Springsteen's penis or at least a shadow of it, while weight lifting in downtown Boston. I'd gone to his concert the night before and was wearing my newly bought "Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band" hat, and it was early enough on a Sunday morning that there were only three other guys in the whole place: the owner, a trainer, and a guy who looked a lot like like Bruce Springsteen. Actually, this guy looked so much like Bruce Springsteen that, after he'd finished his workout, I followed him to the bathroom, Sharpie in hand, and prepared to take my chances.

The bathroom was cool and white, and filled (I immediately noticed) with a sound like a waterfall gushing over rocks. It was a mighty sound, a sound so intense and vigorous that at first I thought someone had turned all the faucets in the bathroom on at once, as a sort of paean to Bruce. As I cleared the corridor, however, I saw that this noise was being made, not in honor of Bruce, but by him! Bruce Springsteen, peeing (I include this for Seth)! And not any pee, but one filled with anguish and a low lament - the kind of pee that makes you glance over from your own place and consider, seriously consider, asking the stranger next to you if he's okay! A pee of terror and loneliness, the likes of which I had never heard before, and hopefully never will again...the pee of Job in the wilderness, or Jonah in his whale. A wild, hortatory pee.

When I closed the door Bruce re-sheathed himself and zipped up. "Excuse me," he said, shouldering his way past me. For a few long minutes, I seriously considered tearing the urinal off the wall and enshrining it in my bedroom.

Of course he was pretty cooked by "Tunnel of Love" - and that was the late '80s, before I'd even hit double digits. Now he makes albums called "Magic," and asks us to "Rise up" - a song that, more than any of his others, I like to play while running, writing, or taking a particularly difficult shit.

Anyway, after Bruce had left, the owner of the weight-room and I watched him walk away through the second-story window. I'd gotten my autograph, but I still wasn't satisfied.

"I saw The Edge once, in a pool hall," the owner said.

For some reason, I felt very jealous about this.

Friday, November 2, 2007

One Who Dissects Living Rats

Alex Tilney is an exciting man living in exciting times. Like the rest of us, he has battened his head for too long and now emerges seeking original response. He writes "for myself, strangers, and the elderly." He joins the Seventh Draft discussion in full regalia.

Hey Seth, Josh, and now Tommy (yesssss),

First of all, I wish my name were Attila Jozsef.

I had a beer with Josh last week and he infected me with the plague that produced this blog (another name for the blog could have been 'The Bubo.') Generally, I'm having some trouble lately buying the conceit of naturalistic fiction: 'you will experience the following writing as a mimesis* of lived experience, and the dream of the story will illuminate people and the world for you.' When I look back over my last full semester of creative work (I wrote the essay this semester), I had a couple stories I was proud of, but the things that have the most live-wire energy are the letters I wrote to my advisor. There it's just me talking and trying to connect with Victor LaValle, and that's where it seems like the effort to communicate a state of mind finds the most success. And as I'm approaching a lot of my story ideas now, the parts that feel least compelling are the "and then she got out of bed and went to the door to listen…" i.e., the show don't tell parts.

We all decided to spend so much time and energy on fiction writing because novels and stories have been kicking our asses since forever, but for the last 6+ months, I just haven't wanted to read any more fiction. I thought it was because I'm lazy; or because I had been writing stories with the aim of having them be 'finished stories' instead of recreations of lived experience, and so I needed to clear out all the built-up writerly residue in my brain; or because I get so many stories already from TV, movies, journalism, etc. Maybe all of these reasons are true, but I think, Seth and Josh, you have a point that fiction just doesn't seem to be quite the right tool or toy these days.

Like you two (or three), a lot of the ideas I've been having lately are much more marginalia-type stuff, and when I try to turn them into finished stories, I wince. My grandmother's 80th birthday party was last month, and the dinner was just overflowing with stuff I wanted to write about, but the idea of making a fictionalization out of X or Y situation just seemed like this huge exhausting detour. So along comes this blog for these other things I want to do, and I'm thankful and excited.

Anyway, so, this first post is a little more throat-clearing intro than my posts will be from now on, and more about Jesus and Transformers soon.

Before then, though: Josh, you mention that you can't think of a novel that you can open on any page and really like and get drawn into the way you can with Seinfeld. I agree to the rafters, but Infinite Jest jumped into my mind as a huge exception. I can open that book to almost any page and get sucked in, delighted, pissed-off, etc., etc. I know I'm going to get hated on because of Infinite Jest's reputation and because I insist on talking about it even though Josh, who has read seventeen times as many novels as I have, hasn't read this one. Oh, well--when I am doubting fiction, that book still has so much verve and all the people still exist even when they're off-stage, and so it keeps me hopeful.

Also, Bruce is cheesy.

Yours in grabbing hard young breasts,


*(I looked up 'mimesis' again because it's one of those literary terms I'm always a bit hazy on, and another of its meanings that I didn't know is: "the occurrence of a disease's symptoms in somebody who does not have the disease, often psychosomatically caused.' So maybe the bubo under my literary armpit is a fake. Oh, well.)

Thursday, November 1, 2007


While I steam and gather my strength after Seth's vicious and irresponsible Bruce-bash, the late, great Tommy Kim (pictured below) has volunteered to take - nay, to righteously demolish the Seventh Draft stage.

As a man he cannot possibly top five ten, but as a writer, modern dancer and hockey player he literally towers over his peers. By which I mean, I have one of these "sorrow" posters hanging over my writing desk. Without further ado...

Josh and Seth,

Someone you know (rhymes with gnarls) once said that you should have a story on why you’re writing your story. Not necessarily autobiographical material, but literally a story like “Mr. Misadventure” that will keep you centered, focused, a story that will at least help you get outside of yourself and make you engage, in some way, with something beyond your own process. Sounds like writerly hoo-doo, but I dunno, I was willing to try it.

When I was playing hockey in high school I was one of the first to use those breath-right strips on my nose to increase the nasal velocity of the air entering my lungs. Anything to enhance my anaerobic ATP-CP energy process. So what story am I holding onto these days to help evacuate the backed up cloaca? Well, I can’t really reveal that. I feel it would diminish whatever elaborate mechanism I’ve constructed to delude myself into thinking I can control my writing.

In other words, I’m fucking weird, I have superstitions. I believe in lucky charms, in taping the left shin pad first before the right, etc. I believe in rituals and the power of correlation, which explains why I stuffed my mouth with foil Upper Deck baseball card packaging after getting a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie in my first pack. I've stuffed my mouth with the foil packaging ever since, no matter how dusty the package, and when the metal paper touched my fillings, this sour-tasting saliva would burst from the corners of my mouth. This is, I think, talking about something else completely.

Wait, let me add this one: when I played video games I would yank my t-shirt at the shoulder, revealing parts of my back, and I would somehow think this odd ritual had some effect on the outcome of the game.

Sometimes when I have writer’s consta-poo-poo (this is a term my mother made up, mostly because she has difficulty pronouncing "pay-shun") I read writers I admire, but be careful there, because that strategy can overwhelm you and remind you of how you will never get your work to that level.

Other times I will do something intensely solitary, something odd, something Jill would call “fucking weird”. I’ll go to my favorite coffee shop in K-town and use the toilet. To dispense toilet paper, this café bathroom uses a thick boba straw as an axle, a sort of pin to keep the toilet paper spinning smoothly. I don’t know what happened to the original metal pin. I’ll write that detail in my moleskin (yeah, I’m a poser, I use those.)

Sometimes I’ll go to the Korean market and pretend I’m examining the pork bellies on display. Assi Market stores the sliced pork bellies in those wheeled, portable ice cream freezers street peddlers cart around, and I’ll nose through with the giant community tongs. I’ll dig through the clattering slices of frozen meat and fat while perking my ears and listening to conversations around me. Snooping around, being invisible yet infiltrating other people’s lives, that sort of thing. It keeps me aware of this very odd world around us.

I’m not sure if this adds anything to anything.

Fuck Writer's Block


I should be working on something else but I feel compelled to post a blog, mainly so I can push Bruce down, get him out of my face. With each word, he goes down.

Yeah, you like that Bruce. Don't you?

I have to disagree with your assessment of blog-writing. Actually, I don't even really understand the whole real writing vs. everything else battle. What makes blog writing un-real?

Of course, you might feel blog-writing is un-real because you don't edit blogs as you do your more serious work. Editing, most writers will say, is real writing. And editing, after all, was the notion that launched this blog--the seventh draft. I remember reading a letter from my uncle Deano:

"You should be glad Neal didn't hear you say 'I felt the need to go back and re-write the novel I am working on.' Right now she is finishing hers which means working through a SEVENTH substantial re-write, some parts re-written more than that. It's not my field but doesn't just writing a novel from beginning to end seem a bit naive? Writing IS revision. Do the work."

Do the work.

I understand this and live this, not just because my uncle, my mentor, told it to me. I understand it because I feel it--I feel this desperate need to go back, to re-work. I'm not sure whether this just isn't something in my psyche trying to show itself to me or whether it's just a weird manic behavior. Perhaps I indulge my urge to re-write because I can't figure out any other way to spend my time. But more likely, I own weird constellations, urging expression.

Whatever, it makes sense. When I re-write, I roll up my sleeves, get into the nitty-gritty, and I start figuring things out. Working on a sentence, to me, is like working on a specific weirdo meme in my body--when it's figured out, the meme is actualized and I move on to the next weirdo meme. This is everything to me. This is why I quite literally need to write.

To me though, it's all work, good life-giving work. The writing, the re-writing.

Sometimes I'll spend an hour re-working a paragraph and then, suddenly, I'll realize I've just recovered from my parent's divorce.

Sometimes I'll write a sentence out of the blue and realize I've just pardoned myself for bad behavior.

Sometimes nothing.

And, of course, you work through the nothing to get to something. The problem is, you can't sustain inspiration, you can only court it. And here's the thing: it happens WHILE you work, it's not something you wait around for.

Blogs, letters, e-mails--to me, they're part of it, just as important as the "real" work. Your writing life is just that, your life. When you write a blog, it's not like the blog is not you--it is you. I mean do you really look at your writing as something outside your life? You move from one to the other. You write. You figure things out. Without the blogs, you'd be itching to write elsewhere--you'd be sending mad e-mails; you'd take up letter-writing, you'd deliberately fog your bathroom mirror just so you could finger a few lines on the glass.

Remember my "Season of Triumph" blog? Well, I'm currently writing a short-story called "Season of Triumph." The blog led to the story and now I'm blogging about the story. My last blog, that piece of fiction, that goes into my next packet for school. The other recent blog, the Miranda July blog, well that blog was basically a direct quote of my latest annotation for school.

Writer's block is a bullshit dictum created by THE MAN to hold us down. Fuck writer's block.

Blogs are important. But now I have to go, because I really should be working on something else--my real work.