Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Excitability

Diane Williams Excitability. Selected Stories 1986-1996 Dalkey Archive Press, 1998 Over the years, I’ve read and reread all of Diane Williams’ books, but Excitability is still my favorite. When I read it first, in my mid-twenties, I suspect that I more pretended to like it than actually enjoyed it. I grew into it. These are stories that take time to learn to read -- or else I am wrong. Maybe all that’s required is the willingness to be continuously jolted and discomfited. Whatever the case, it’s well worth it. Just as science needs explorers in the furthest reaches, with deep space probes or electron microscopes, so fiction needs Diane Williams. I think this is especially true now that very short stories have become ubiquitous and fashionable. Williams shows how fiction under a thousand words can be truly daring, even vast, and not just an exercise in cleverness, a convenience of the writing workshop. The recent work of Diane Williams (Romancer Erector, Vicky Swanky is a Beauty) is like a walk in a brilliant art gallery -- who doesn’t enjoy that? The older work is like going to see the graffiti and street art of an outlaw. In both cases you are looking at real art, but in the earlier work (on that perilous street) there is a feeling that you might at any moment be apprehended, mugged, violated. When I read the early stories, collected here, I feel I am a bit in danger. All her work is fascinating and necessary, but the recent work seems to me safer. Safe, in this case, is not a synonym for lesser but -- oh, how I relish the danger!



This Life, In Terms of Trees


for the bunkheads of Moosehill


This butternut is tenderly fond of me.  I dip two fingers into my White Russian -- yes, I have carried a cocktail glass, in the middle of the night, right out of the farmhouse and down the dirt road to this reunion.  I rub my fingers across its deeply grooved bark, then rest my forehead on its trunk to listen.  This is our preferred method of communication.  The butternut does most of the talking.  Despite the vast responsibilities attendant on its position, the butternut is effusive in its welcome. I am the family’s youngest son, the crooked one.  The butternut is a doorman to the invisible world.   We care for each other.  I feel as though I am the old butternut’s very favorite dog.

On the way here, halfway down the dirt road, I stopped to see my friend the willow, arching between the pond and the moon.  Years ago the willow taught me its true name, which I still remember and won’t reveal.  To say “I love the trees” is harmless, but people will think you strange if you say, “The trees love me.”  The trees love me.  Not, you understand, because of something I have done, but simply because I am their own.  

After the willow I checked in with the cemetery.  I wasn’t afraid.  They know me there.  Several dead people were also highly pleased to see me.  I suspect that dead, like “reality”, is a word that should always be placed inside quotation marks: “dead” people.  They are not really so dead.  They have their enthusiasms certainly.  The dead stay current.

The living are more measured.  As is always the case, as must be so.  They have an image to uphold in the town and therefore always appear somewhat strained.  There is one dinner at which I am stripped of essential information, like a tree of its leaves.  After that questions are avoided, as sensible people avoid a mess.  The butternut, however, is unconditional, as is the trellis orchard, the black walnut, the irrigation pond.  The briars of the blackberries take every chance to cling to me.  I have come home.  

When I was eight or nine, my father planted a dead tree in the backyard in hopes that I might become a normal boy.  It was a large dead apple tree, a Cortland.  He planted it in cement.  The idea was that I should climb on it, and gain in strength and agility.  Naturally this had zero effect.  I went on reading.  I liked scary stories most, even when they gave me nightmares.  I had a particular fascination with the story of a witch who slipped off her skin at night, folded it, put it under the bed and flew off for the evening.  There was no way for me to explain to my father that only sporadically was I a timid crooked boy with a limp.

My father marches now into the parlor.  “I have received some very bad news.”  And I brace myself for news of sudden death.  It is the widow Cartwell. She refuses to cut down her beech trees.  Two purple beech trees have been planted in the cemetery, in memory of her dear departed husband.  They are blocking my father’s view of his favorite oak tree.  Well, not exactly blocking, since the beech trees are saplings and the oak tree is approximately 70 feet tall.  Still, my father insists that the vista he enjoys while driving down the dirt road is now entirely spoiled.  “It’s like rape!” he says.  When I appear alarmed he downshifts.  “Well, it’s like disfigurement.” I remind him that the oak tree has not actually been harmed in any way.  I commend him, again, for arranging for lightning rods and visits from a tree doctor.  I then try to express, delicately, my opinion that trying to convince the grieving widow, as well as her grown sons, to hack down their father’s memorial beech trees is likely not worth the bad feelings and unpopularity which will surely result.  My fathers scoffs at me.  He says, “It is totally worth it!”

When I was a child, my father planted a blue spruce, on Mother’s Day, for my mother, who was dying.  Now the blue spruce itself is dying.  It stands like a giant skeleton beside the farmhouse.  This is not what was supposed to happen.  Blue spruce trees, like mothers, are meant to live a long time.  The blue spruce is dying because of a gas leak in the water supply.  Though the water was painstakingly treated, the tree cannot recover.  I know this because the tree told me, as I rested my forehead on its trunk in the yard and was helpless to console it.  My family can’t decide why the tree is dying.  Of course I can’t say, “The tree told me”, so I nod along with everyone else like it’s all some big hairy mystery.  This is how my life on the farm has been.  I knew, but could not say that I knew.  Because I could not say how I knew.  And above all because it was obvious.

The butternut is dying, too.  Of the canker which is slowly girdling its trunk.  Who will mind the door when it is gone?  How old was I when I first knew that the butternut tree was, between worlds, both doorman and door?  On a smooth knot on its trunk it was possible to knock and gain admittance into contrary, parallel and otherwise.  That door will be closing shortly.  I remember once I knocked and stepped through --

Only now does it occur to me that I never came back.    





Sunday, February 15, 2015

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: GRABINOULOR, A Joyous Neglected Dada Masterpiece

The First Book of Grabinoulor
Epic by Pierre Albert-Birot
Translated from the French by Barbara Wright
First published 1921
English translation, 1986
Dalkey Archive Press, 2000


The fact that this book is almost totally forgotten seems to me indicative of the low esteem in which joy is held in this world.  Nearly a hundred years ago, Albert-Birot was the publisher of SIC, an avant-garde review which published every famous name in Dada.  When Grabinoulor appeared in 1921, it was praised by Apollinaire, Celine, Max Jacob and Raymond Queneau.  I had never heard of it, despite reading fairly deeply in writing of the period.  I found it by chance, lying in the stacks of a Galway book shop.  Marvelous good fortune!

Grabinoulor is a mad picaresque tale, in 26 parts, one of them verse, with zero punctuation, about being young, omnipotent and exceptionally horny.  Written at the end of World War I, the narrator begins with an appreciation of his vigorous morning boner and proceeds at once to reshape Paris and the globe.  I’m telling you, there’s nothing like this book -- which also means I’m rather helpless to describe it.  If you’ve read Henri Michaux, think of the tales of Plume -- but now imagine that the protagonist, instead of being thwarted and trodden upon at every turn is instead repeatedly victorious.

What sort of book is this?  This is a book where the protagonist advises his grieving widowed friend to telephone Venus and ask her to send a Great Love at once and she agrees, calls up Venus right up.  Venus, too, agrees and asks for specifics (dark haired and well-equipped, please), and poof! Great Love appears at once.  Everything is going swimmingly until the widow’s dead husband calls up from Heaven, where phones have recently been installed.  Does this give you an idea?  Or: in Chapter 19 of this book “a lobster mayonnaise starts the world going again.”  Time and space are more playthings than obstacles and Grabinoulor usually gets the girl.  It’s so much fun, engaging and readable, despite the atrocious typeface.  Put on your reading glasses and surrender to happiness.  Intended to liberate the soul, Grabinoulor still does the job, nearly a century later.

Reading Grabinoulor, I was surprised that it doesn’t have a cult following -- at least not in English.  What a brilliant source text for painters, poets, song writers,  animators, and film makers -- to say nothing of libertines and sensualists.  When you’re fed up with despair, when you’ve had all the ennui you can bear, seek out the hero Grabinoulor. He’s spectacularly horny and out for a lark across the universe.

Drunk At the Art Museum

from People Who Don’t Matter

Series 4: Drunk At the Art Museum

Here at the art museum, the nice lady at Drop-In and Draw says, “It’s called negative space -- but it’s not negative!!!” Seriously. Is this kind of disclaimer necessary in other countries, or only in America? You know, it might be nice to not be quite so broke. For one thing I could buy better whiskey. Whiskey that is actual whiskey and not this stuff in a plastic bottle that’s actually 80% grain alcohol with whiskey flavoring. I poured some in a trial size Scope bottle. For when I need to take the edge off public transportation. And evidently I forgot to rinse the bottle. So that the whiskey-flavored rotgut is now Scope-flavored. And it is no worse this way than it was to begin with. I don’t pretend. I understand this won’t turn out well. I get that. I’ll be 57 or 64 or 42 and I’ll be sick or broken-down or drunk or desperate and I’ll have no _____ and no ______ and no _____ and no _____. Folks will hear news of me and they will say it is too bad and secretly they will be pleased, not so secretly, because it will mean that they were right all along to work and save, to stay home, to behave. God likes nothing so much as to beat upon the Divine Providence crowd. My wandering hippie poet friends are homeless drunks now; my sparkling hustler pals are dead. Yes, your acquaintance Patricia is following her bliss in the painting studio but -- her husband is a lawyer, right, and now he gets to have affairs and that is the bargain. In the future I will be the illustration for a lesson about morality -- who would dream of interfering with that? This is not a generic exhaustion; this is a very specific kind. Even though I slept last night on someone’s sofa, this is the exhaustion of traveling all night on the bus, on an all night Indian video coach with a jacket for a pillow and the most persistent and useless boner of all time. Now I am off the bus but I’ve still got further to go: do I have everything, is this the right terminal, where is the gate, I have to rest, I have to remain alert, when exactly is whatever’s coming next? A college boy scribbling in a notebook is adorable. Especially if the young man is bearded and the notebook is spiral-bound. Even in his thirties that man is still seen as commendable, well-rounded, engaged. But a middle-aged man who endlessly scribbles is assumed to be homeless, drunk, crazy. It is a perpetual source of frustration to me that no credit is awarded for being half-drunk, half-crazy, semi-homeless. It’s a shame that, in this day and age, being semi-functional isn’t seen as more laudable. I’m only half-crazy! Can’t I get a fellowship for that? As a young man, one of my primary goals was never to appear pathetic. It never occurred to me that this would get harder all the time... Someone recently stood over me in the coffee shop and asked, “Are you writing something? Or are you just writing?” What was I supposed to say? I note the profusion, the procession, the symptoms. Diagnosis is another department, down the hall. If, instead of having almost no money at all, I suddenly had enormous amounts of it, I know just what I’d do. (Let no one say that I am not a pragmatic person prepared for all eventualities.) I’d check myself into a luxury hotel room way up in a skyscraper, one in which luxury is expressed in a monastic aesthetic. For days I would sit in a hard chair with arms, just staring out. When I became antsy I would obliterate the debts of my friends and arrange for all of us to receive celebrity dental care. I would pay lavishly for translators to publish work by writers I adore who still have not been fully or adequately translated. A lot of money would go to ecological concerns. I would cry and cry and cry. I admit I might have several elective procedures. Certain people would receive money to just go on being themselves. The farm where I was a child would be preserved. I would go to elaborate lunches with the best wines and my favorite homeless people. Most of the time however, I would just sit in silence, staring out. Some weirdnesses can be traced back. However I also find within myself some peculiarities for which I can offer no explanation. For example, I know that Hsing-Hsing, a panda at the National Zoo, was a great buddha who came to benefit the world by sitting all day in a cage near Washington, DC. This is not one of my spiritual beliefs. It’s something I know. Also, I am overwhelmingly emotionally affected by Juan Gris. Who gets emotional about cubists? One is supposed to swoon over Matisse or Chagall. Even my mania for Miro is more explainable. Still, I can’t look at a painting by Juan Gris without feeling that someone powerful who loves me has called me up out of the blue just to say something encouraging. It is evident somehow amid the geometry. Beige and black, hunter and pea green. Heavy ruled or wavy lines. The overlap. The liberation of perspective. I feel as though I am in the presence of my vastly gracious forefather, benevolent patron of the heroic notecard. About these, my illuminated sausages. I seek something danceably humble. Something that people interested in progress and achievement will come across and say, “It’s just pages journal pages from a notebook really.” Or: “Sounds like that guy has some problems.” I seek something that won’t matter to those who matter, to those who consider themselves to matter. I seek something the important will find nonsensical. What I am looking for is almost beneath notice. Those for whom it is intended will recognize it. One thing I have learned how to do well is how to be moderately poor. Other people learn to be successful, efficient, dynamic. I developed skill in poverty. Here are a few pointers I’d like to share with other non-winners. When you have a little money, buy a 25 pound bag of rice. Not the worst rice. You are going to have to eat and eat it. Not basmati either. A diet of only basmati may result in impotence. Learned that years ago at the ashram. Then buy a variety of beans. Now you know for sure that you are not going to starve. The heart relaxes. The very lowest grade of canned tuna way at first provoke you to vomit, but I promise you it’s much more tolerable if you meow ecstatically while cranking open the can. Then, the next time a little money shows up, you buy a membership at the nearest art museum. I am completely not kidding you. Those will be the best 45 bucks you ever spent. Because you’ve got to keep the heart alive and not be ground to bits. Not to have your nose rubbed every minute in what a poor loser you are. So you become a museum patron. An officially fancy person. And then whenever you need to you can you flood yourself with beauty, you can keep from being crushed to nothing, you can survive. Here is something extremely important I haven’t heard anyone mention. You must get drunk at the art museum. I mean it. You have not been drunk until you have been drunk at an art museum. You must not miss out. There is no place on earth better to be moderately drunk than an art museum. I do not mean so drunk that you are a danger to statuary. Obviously. If you investigate the lives of super-rich people, you will discover that they spend inordinate amounts of time at special events, events which are, more often than not, simply opportunities to be drunk at the art museum. The rich may sip champagne from crystal. The rest of us will have to make do with sips off a flask in the john. Just the same, this may still be one of very the best things that ever happened to you. Drunk at the art museum, the space is itself ecstatic. (Don’t you, too, go to a museum as much for the space around the art as for the art itself?) You are free to stare and stare, to gaze in raptured contemplation. Three gins in, you’re on just the right wavelength, slowed down some, detached from your own specific catastrophe, awake to colors, noting that many artists did masterful work at the age that you are now, imagine that, maybe it’s not too late, even now, even for you.



Thursday, January 29, 2015

PEOPLE WHO DON'T MATTER: Series Three



Series Three: 

Americans Are The Very Most Important People in the World

 America!  I am putting my queer shoulder to the wheel! -- Allen Ginsberg





Can a muffin truly be AMAZING?  Even if it is made with cream cheese.  Like, does it talk?  Does it reproduce through mitosis?  Can it infallibly predict the future?  Does it cure baldness?  Can it restore the permafrost?  Whatever happened to words like tasty and delicious?  Why is it necessary to say of a muffin, that it is totally worth it, even though you may burn in hell forever, just for sniffing it?  Is it that we have grown so insatiable, so ravenous, that we struggle to imagine what ever might possibly satisfy us?  So that we think -- hey, how about a phenomenally awesome muffin?



This.  Please excuse this note out of the blue.  I absolutely loved ( meeting / seeing ) you a few weeks ago.  Thank you so much.  Did my heart a world of good!  I understand, too, that you are overwhelmingly busy now.  The work you are doing is so important -- certainly it’s no surprise that you are rising in the ranks!  Listen, I understand that you are phenomenally busy but, if you ever have time to get together again, I would feel be delighted.  I hope you are happy and well.  Thanks again.



Not This.  I feel a little pathetic for writing again, since you didn’t answer my last email, but you are so lovely and I really did enjoy having ( lunch / sex / drinks / drugs / conversation ) with you.  It’s probably unlikely, but I sure would feel lucky if you wanted to see me again.  I hope you are happy, creative and flourishing.  It isn’t actually that easy to make friends in this city, is it?  No pressure.



Not This, Either.  Sorry, you didn’t answer my last email, but I’m trying one more time.  Please don’t feel the least bit guilty!  To tell the truth, at least a dozen other people had the same response.  In fact it’s unanimous.  I am a person worth seeing precisely once.  If that.  I’ve always had a low opinion of my personality and level of charm.  Not low enough, it turns out.  I admit that, no matter how much I think about it, I honestly can’t figure out exactly what is so wrong with me.  I mean, I know lots of whiny, angry, unpleasant people who have TONS of friends.  (OK, most of them have money.  Not all.)  I know there are plenty of things wrong with me, but I can’t figure out what’s SO wrong.  You probably don’t want to see me again but, if you did ever think of a use for me, I would be happy.  Because you seemed really wonderful.  Not just because I am lonely and semi-desperate.  Alternately, you could help me understand what is so wrong with me.  Because I admit I don’t get it.  Is it my ( looks / breath / speech patterns / odd tics / self-absorption / self-dramatization / increasingly evident desperation ) ?  Thank you so much for taking the time to read this overly long message.  I hope you are serene amid your expanding role at work and your ever-increasing level of importance.  Blessings.



Definitely Not This.  I loved spending time with you.  Stupidly I thought I’d get another chance.  Presumably you just couldn’t think of any way that I could benefit you or augment your ( resume / importance / self-esteem / physique ).  I understand that I am an underwhelming sort of person.  On the other hand, ( attention / a listening ear / a blowjob / six and a half inches ) isn’t nothing!  Please remember that I am here for you at any time.  Remember, too, that lots of people have somewhat pathetic friends just so they can feel better about themselves.  Why shouldn’t you?  Nowadays everyone shops online.  They shop only all the time.  I even feel like people are shopping while they sit across from me at the table. As I speak, I believe that in their minds they are going click, click, click and are wondering why I am still there.  Just me, without any stupendous parts or attachments, without money or credentials, without any obvious benefit or use.  That said, it’s not true that I am good for nothing at all.  I am able to do first-rate copy-editing, basic gift-wrapping, food prep, heavy lifting, errand running.  I can fuck or get fucked.  If you put your mind to it I’m sure you could think of way you could use me for your own pleasure, importance or convenience.  Then I could see you again.  I recognize that you are almost certainly too busy and important to respond.  God bless!



This old guy here, white hair sticking out the edges of his red baseball cap, heavy glasses, reading off a device, drinking out of his blue to-go mug.  When he sat down he was talking to no one in particular about LOSERS and MORONS.  His ear buds are in, big duffle bag on the floor, a briefcase on the chair across from him and, on the table in front of him, standing on its end, is THE HOLY BIBLE, black, embossed in gold, with his business card propped against the lower corner, as though he sees himself as the very front desk of Truth with a capital-T.  He takes a sip from his blue mug now and calls out to the world.  “It’s true!  Adam and Eve are my relatives.  Yours, too!  Adam and Eve are my great great great great great great great great great great great. . .  (This is where he gets stuck.)



Instead of sending notes, it may be better if I just leave the country.  Certainly it’s less humiliating.  I look forward to feeling lonely in a place where I don’t feel defective as well.  The really weird thing is that for years I thought the reason to return to America would be to have relationships.  You know, to be with people.  I thought that would be really fabulous and deeply meaningful and would totally make up for, you know, the food and the health-care system and everyone talking about how great they are all the time.  But this has turned out to be superstition.



YOUR FREE PREVIEW HAS ENDED
To continue, please swipe your credit card.  Paypal is also accepted.  As are offers of food or refuge.  Sexual favors and/or access.  Original works of art.  Opiates, benzos, anything that cures the Clap.  Free rides.  Gift certificates.  Liquor, especially whiskey.  Please no white wine.  It is accurate to say that sexual favors are highly encouraged.  As is driving over with cash.  Assistance in publication.  Snacks, especially savory ones.  It’s totally enough if you just hang around naked.  You could at least say something encouraging.



American public toilets are designed to prevent acts of promiscuity and perversity.  The odd result of this is that it’s impossible, almost anywhere in America, to take a dump without someone being able to watch you.  There’s always a crack between the walls of the stall, as well as a huge gap between the stall and the floor.  Evidently Americans believe that, if it was actually possible to take a crap in actual privacy, people would just go berserk.  I wonder what Americans think when they go to countries where it is possible to shit in a public toilet without anyone being able to watch.  Lots of countries have toilets like that.  I’ve had sex in many of them.  Of course this behavior is not sanctioned.  However, in other countries, it seems tacitly recognized that, like pissing, shitting and vomiting, sex is one of the emergencies to which the human body is prone.  Public conveniences are built for private urgencies; sex is one of them.  Seriously, people: if the act can be completed in less than ten minutes with a minimum of side effects -- what’s the harm?  Sincerely yours, yr local predatory homosexual.



It seems to me that the number of Americans talking out loud to themselves is now at unprecedented levels.  The use of devices camouflages this somewhat.  This lady here is one of my favorites, quite elegant in her long white coat and tall hair.  She looks like she went on a spree at an upscale department store, then spent the next 36 hours riding roller coasters.  Somewhere she found a white cassette tape and now, whenever she feels a tirade coming on, she talks urgently into it, all while holding it like a harmonica.  She’s acting almost like everyone else really, just two tiny degrees to the left.



Nothing makes me despair as surely as the declarative American voice.  The we’re-doing-business-here voice.  The terrible drone of this is what we can expect and these are my credentials and this is the five year plan.  Other people do not find this excruciating.  They find it respectable.  This slash and burn approach to time.  For a long time I couldn’t understand what was happening to me.  When I arrived at the coffeeshop I was just an adorable misfit poet in search of a muffin and free refills.  Four coffees and overheard conversation later, I am willing to set myself on fire if I can smoke these bastards out.  Where oh where is the 800 number by which we may sign up to be nefarious?  Anything but this bullying importance, this toxic progress.  Excuse me, gentlemen.  Sorry to interrupt.  There is going to be a 20 minute delay in the destruction of the world.  (I just pissed in your gas tank.)



Americans, it goes without saying, wish to be important and successful.  This is what one is supposed to want, automatically, like world peace and healthy full-to-term pregnancies.  Just the same, if I agree to skip success and importance, aren’t I helping everyone out?  The millions seeking to be number one have one person less with whom to contend.  In this, the no-time in which we have left, would it really be so offensive if I paid no attention to winning, if I just paid careful attention and filled in where necessary?  Couldn’t one less number one be a small breath of relief, like a very minor breeze in a hot room?



It’s true there are highlights.  Such as that moment when an American, about to go down on you, turns around his baseball cap.



Tantra is for beginners.  The advanced spiritual practices are as follows.  If he never sends me a message, I’m good with that.  If they disapprove, it’s all right.  If she never responds, it isn’t a problem.  If I am not asked to join, that’s all good.  If he says bad things about me, I don’t mind at all.  If I’m never recognized, no bother.  If they never praise me, that’s cool.  If I am never asked in, I’m good with that.  If he doesn’t want me, it’s fine.  If they want to blame me, they have my permission.  If she never writes me a letter, that’s OK!  It’s not a problem if they never include me.  If he doesn’t love me, I’m fine.






Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

The Book of Disquiet
Fernando Pessoa (as Bernardo Soares)
Edited and translated by Richard Zenith
Penguin, 2003




In India there are bitter vegetables people eat for their health -- to ward off diabetes and counter the effects of a diet over-high in refined sugars.  When I first lived in India, I hated those vegetables.  Now I like them best of all.  “Bitter” is not always a negative adjective.  It may also restore life.  It can serve as an antidote.  There is something similar about The Book of Disquiet -- a book about failure, tedium and disconnection that is repeatedly beautiful and compelling, even life-giving.

Please excuse me for quoting a blurb.  It seems to me exactly right.  John Lancaster wrote, “In a time which celebrates fame, success, stupidity, convenience and noise, here is the perfect antidote, a hymn of praise to obscurity, failure, intelligence, difficulty and silence.”  If you, too, are spooked or nauseated by a world in which people go around trumpeting their own busyness and importance, reciting what appear to be advertisements for themselves, then this book may well feel like an antidote -- as well as a drastically more honest assessment of life, the way it actually feels, as opposed to how it is supposed to feel.

If I may give advice, I strongly recommend using this book as a “tincture”, just a few pages at a time.  I do not believe Pessoa would be offended even if you set it in the bathroom to accompany intestinal disquiets.  As Zenith points out in his introduction, reading at random is actually ideal.  I read this book over six months and was glad of its company -- but I think, if I’d sat down and tried to read through it in a week, I might have found it insufferable.  You could O.D. on ennui.  Taken slowly in small doses however, it is brilliant bitter company.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

CA Conrad, Ecodeviance

CA Conrad, Ecodeviance
(Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness
Wave Books, 2014



Whenever I read CA Conrad, whose poems I find as potent and brave as anyone’s alive, I end up asking, “Who else is taking these kinds of risks?”  I read a lot of poetry.  I seem to be one of nine adults left on the planet who still subscribe to and read literary magazines.  Most of the poems I read just seem so careful, so eager to flash knowledge and earn credentials.  Not bad poems, not bad at all, just semi-dehydrated.  Impeccable and careful poems suitable for publishing in a tasteful university press volume entitled, Poems For Tenure.

Then there’s CA Conrad.  In Ecodeviance he describes an exercise wherein he approached men in suits on lunch break in Philadephia and asked them, “Excuse me sir, on a scale from 1 to 5, 1 being thin and creamy, and 5 being cottage cheese, how do you rate your semen?”  Conrad is unafraid to query businessmen, minerals or ghosts; the results are often spectacular.

As well as being precise, gorgeous and full of surprises, CA Conrad’s poems are marked by a willingness to take real risks and make respectable people uncomfortable.  Yes, please!  I want to read more poets like this!  How can we go on primly celebrating beauty in our rarefied salons and not be pissed off by the poisoning of the natural world and the murder of innocent people?  Real love does not shy away from fury.  Neither do these poems.

The poems in Ecodeviance are the results of rituals created by CA Conrad called (Soma)tics, “ritualized structures where being anything but present was next to impossible.”  The rituals serve as the source for a body of notes that then become the basis of a poem.  Each poem or set of poems in the book is presented with its ritual of origin.  (I hereby predict that these rituals will soon be so frequently imitated and assigned in Creative Writing programs that a boomlet of CA Conrad imitations will result.  This is not a bad thing.  At very least it will provide a respite from Raymond Carver imitations.)

In content and delivery, in ritual and result, Ecodeviance is a wake-up call and CA Conrad is our queer genius alarm clock.  May we heed the call.


PEOPLE WHO DON'T MATTER


Series Two: DEVOTIONS



Once, at a thirteenth-century French monastery, I collapsed of nervous exhaustion, right straight into the shrubbery, and was given a silent room in the infirmary that looked out on a flowering tree.  This actually happened once. Now I cannot help but wish for it all the time.



I made a great show of liking the dog whom I really did like.  Half Lab and half Boxer, which turns out to really work: love with a square head.  It was one of those dates that feel like an audition.  File under: defeat as self-fulfilling prophecy.  Like one of those nights when I tell myself that the next day will be all right -- if only I can sleep.  “No one likes walking on eggshells!” said my brother before I left home for 25 years.  This one’s a young man with a red beard.  He’s read both Nabokov and Gogol.  His erection is so long and so persistent that, when he needs to go somewhere, he tucks his cock into the waistband of his pants  I enjoy it if a man has one or two positive characteristics.  Any more than that is terrifying.  He was a real-live bisexual.  I named him Waistband.  As he drove me home I asked, “How is it possible that you don’t have eight boyfriends and six girlfriends?”  Waistband said, “I tend to get tired of people.”  I do not expect to hear from him again.



What a difference it would make if I could believe, for several seconds in a row, that anything in which I am involved could ever turn out well.  You know, just temporarily kind of sort of well, the variety of well prevalent on this planet.  I am oh so ready for some of that.



When I feel afraid, I remind myself that I am not without allies, saints, protectors.  I chant their holy names:  Disquiet.  Robert Walser.  Zen tales.  Tiles the Hopi painted and sold to tourists in the 1920s.  Tales of the Hasidim.  Paley, Barthelme and Davis.  Quilting contests.  No Other Life.  Juan Gris.  Excitability.  Hopscotch. Lascano Tegui, Viscount!  Harry Mathews.  Cookie Mueller.  Why Did I Ever.  “I will do this work of transformed and even distorted memory and lead this life, the one I am leading today.”  Are you aware that Clarice Lispector answers prayers?



The man says, “It’s got a button on it.  It might as well work.”  Then later, “What do we do?  I say we PeeWee Herman the shit out of it.”



These are a few notes on the challenges of living with a hyper-devotional nature.  (Another word would be ravenous.)  This is in addition to what I call being nervous!  very very dreadfully nervous in an Edgar Allan Poe sort of way.  On the plus side, I receive intense sensual pleasure from being left alone in large open spaces, including those commonly referred to as “empty”.  I can sit in a silent room and listen to the very minute sounds with the same pleasure others receive from music.  In the same way I am able to feel real visceral relief over the fact that today I will almost certainly not meet any celebrities.  With any luck I will be able to dodge both the successful and the important.  To tell the truth, I very often enjoy having my particular mind.  Most men need to have their prostate repeatedly and forcefully stimulated to receive the same pleasure I get from pencilling in-depth notes on neglected works of literature in translation.  I do admit, however, that this is not a mind well-suited to everyday living.  No.  Not so much.



Always, always I have an idea of the day I ought to be having, the way it ought to unfold, the flawless discipline of my actions (out of bed, meditate, fast walk, work) but then there is the actual day (unexplained itching, ardent thoughts about uniformed South American security personnel, email, unavoidable conversations, complaints -- and before I’ve even had a chance to brush my teeth and then I’m caught up oh yes I am) and how it unravels.  Every now and then I have the day I am supposed to be having.  Sort of a to-do list decathlon.  So many good things!  Spinach salads, bill-paying, strenuous creativity.  I have the day I am supposed to have until about 3.  By 3 I’m ready to fill the water bottle with wine and head to the baths.  Honestly it seems like the most prudent option, considering my level of agitation.  For the next three days I do nothing right whatsoever.



How about some new good habits?  For example, condoms should have an assigned place.  Condoms all the time falling from pockets, notebooks, and bags are tacky and unpleasant for everyone.  When I need a condom, I can’t find one.  Every time I’m looking for something else (for example a dollar) here’s a condom instead.  I ask myself: am I not already sufficiently ridiculous?  One of these days a condom will land in the tip jar.  I will have to decide whether or not to retrieve it.



The wish to be led to a silent white-walled room, a room looking out on the upper branches of trees, to undress in silence and bathe for a long time, to dry off and to pray, and then to be comprehensively fucked, fucked and delivered of spunk, then immediately fucked again, or maybe I fuck him the first time and the second time he fucks me, fucked and jacked off down right to the root of the spunk so that, for at least three days thereafter, it is impossible to desire anything more complicated than sandwiches.



Once I fell in love with a man I saw only one time each week.  Just four hours on Thursday.  That was it.  And there wasn’t anything you could call conversation.  Low growls, grunting, praise of various attributes.  The rest of the week we wrote each other notes.  I think it would be very easy for me to fall in love with a man who writes me notes every day.  Of course, it has to be a man with a liking for my particular look and style: accordion / basset hound hybrid with Poe-ish tendencies.  He has to be able to tolerate devotion.  Which is far less common than you might imagine.  I remember a man once told me, “Please.  Less awe.”



Sex for hyper-sensitives.  Ideally, when you take off your pants, there would be a solid hour for staring, sniffing and weeping before initiating the process which leads from nuzzling to full-blown adoration.  I would also prefer to be completely invisible but -- I understand that’s something I should probably deal with.



Few men tolerate devotion.  Not statements of it any way.  (I believe there is evidence that God, too, is annoyed.)  For one thing, devotion is intensely repetitive.  Devotion is not in a hurry to be on to the next thing.  Your left armpit alone is worthy of at least twenty minutes of my focused attention.  When you slap me on the face with your hard pink cock, that’s it, I am done.  Nothing else needs be achieved.  You can go right on slapping me like that for the next ninety minutes.  It’s all I want for Christmas.  It’s a suitable afterlife.  No wonder people find me so annoying.  I don’t blame them.  It is likely difficult to understand that, for me, everything is close and loud and bright.



Evolution, alternate theory.  Perhaps the reason there are so many stones is because so many people want to be them.  In the meantime, there’s liquor.  Liquor is a strategy for sitting in the same room as pain without wailing aloud.  The first three drinks are for relief.  After that, you are human with a head of grief, with feet of grief, with hands of grief.  A hybrid, like a basilisk.  Your letters will never be answered.  Who writes letters?  This is an example of how you have fallen out with the world.  People have moved on.  The pronouncement has already been issued.  You are not to included.



One of my aunts, ever a role model, went away to the asylum in 1964.  For a time she was diagnosed with what is called hypersexuality.  So perhaps there is a biological basis for me.  A more likely explanation is provided by a simple experiment done many years ago now.  Test subjects put their hands in a large pot of water and waited while the water was very, very slowly brought to a boil.  They were allowed to pull their hands out when they wanted, but they were told to keep their hands in the water as long as they could possibly bear it.  Test participants were each instructed to think of different things.  Those preoccupied by sexual fantasies withstood the pain the longest.  By far.  They lasted much longer than those who, for example, attempted to busy themselves with cheerfulness.




Sunday, January 11, 2015

Hiromi Ito, Wild Grass on the Riverbank

Wild Grass on the Riverbank Hiromi Ito Translated from the Japanese by Jeffrey Angles Action Books, 2014

As I read and reread this gorgeous and unnerving book, I thought of an afternoon in graduate school when I went to my adviser and confessed to him that I liked the way that poets told stories much more than the way prose writers did. He agreed with me very seriously and quietly, as though I had discovered something true, but which could not safely be discussed in public. As evidence, here is Wild Grass on the Riverbank, one of the first narrative book-length poems to be written in modern Japan. Gory and explicit, damning and redemptive in turns, this book is required reading for poets, storytellers, wanderers, rebels, and ecologists -- for anyone who aims to survive. This long poem, in 18 parts of varying lengths, is written in a combination of prose and poetry, in language that is sometimes childlike, sometimes scientific, and must have been fiendishly difficult to translate. Angles’ translation’s conveys a tremendous emotional force while giving a sense of the different registers of language through which Ito cavorts with both daring and playfulness. When I began reading this book I was pulled in first by curiosity, enjoying Ito’s wild narrative strategies and her utter willingness to convey the full messy details of life and death, neither of which is ever a closed category or final state. (For Hiromi Ito, as for Jose Saramago, death is only an interruption. It comes and goes.) As I read further, then reread, what finally impressed me most was the emotional and incantatory power of long sections like “We Live at the Riverbank” and “We Make Our Way In”, unified narrative poems that are both edgy and exultant and can suddenly flash with a force that brings to mind Alvaro de Campos or Whitman. Jeffrey Angles, increasingly well-known for his fine translations of Chimako Tada, Taruho Inagaki, and Takahashi Mutsuo, earlier published a translation of “Killing Kanako”, the book that first brought Hiromi Ito renown in Japan. In his introduction Angles refers to other books by Ito: a book of prose poetry, as well as novellas and essays. I hope very much that more of this work can be made available in English. One of the most important poets of modern Japan, Hiromi Ito has been called a “shamaness of poetry”. Exactly right. Here is poetry that is unafraid to strip bare, copulate or reek, hiss or howl. An exploration of being “naturalized” in every sense of the word: an unending series of changes, deaths, ecstasies, resistances, and transformations.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Georges Perec, Series of Spaces and Other Pieces

Series of Spaces and Other Pieces
Georges Perec
Edited and translated by John Sturrock
Penguin Classics, 2008


“How I think when I’m thinking?  How I think when I’m not thinking?”


This is the rare sort of book which may serve as a tonic.  Reading it will make you more prone to interesting thoughts.  More precise and specific thoughts.  Reading Perec, I am reminded again how vastly more exciting it is to hear about the peculiarities of Universal Decimal Classification than about a failed love affair.  (Perhaps because jilted lovers tend to speak in generalities and rarely, if ever, are inspired to keep it brief?)

To me, it seems natural and advisable to feel a little worried when people speak of experimental literature.  But Perec is one of those savants whose experiments are also a swimmingly good time.  (Who would you add to this list?  Calvino, Markson, Mathews, Cortazar, Davis, Barthelme -- who else?  Could you please add suggestions in the comments section so I know who to read?)

This book collects important works by a man who never seems to consider himself important.  He is always playing, improvising and inviting.  And it is so much fun.  His essay “Think/Classify” which points out, then demonstrates, the impossibility (and joy) of classification is one of my favorite essays of all time.  (Purists of the form will likely not consider it an essay, which is appropriately hilarious.)

What a pleasure it is to be confronted by a simple decision: if you enjoy Perec, you’ll certainly want this book.  If you are new to Perec -- and perhaps daunted by ‘LIFE: An Instruction Manual’ -- this is a brilliant and engaging introduction.  Here is found a great playful mind, ceaselessly experimenting in short snippets and flashes, a da Vinci in literary fireworks, hurrying from one invention/apparation to the next.



Wednesday, January 07, 2015

PEOPLE WHO DON'T MATTER


the following is a very short excerpt from a novella titled, People Who Don't Matter.  More sections, already written, will appear in the coming weeks.  Thank you.


Series One: OUT





Hello?  This sandwich is for anonymous.  To go.



Most of the people I talk to in America are homeless.  Everyone else is busy.  And important.  So important!  Everyone else is in cars.  Walking across the city, I pass from one conversation to the next.  I fit right in: scruffy beard, big dusty backpack, clothes salvaged from the gutters of 8th Avenue.  The homeless men and I have the same habit of formality, we address each other with meticulous politeness.  Ever been to a grocery where everyone uses food stamps?  People talk as if they are in church.  Walking across the 8th Avenue bridge, I catch up to David, on his way to see a friend who gives him work.  He has to use a cane to walk this morning.  The day before he missed a step while carrying a mattress, went down hard.  The guy he works for has a bottle full of 800 mg pills of Advil.  He’s dreaming of ibuprofen all the way across the bridge.  Smellies! screams a young man who has stuck his head out the window of his shiny red car.



This is for everyone who ever wished they could paste their own picture over that of the cocker spaniel on the telephone pole, right beneath the words
LOST PUPPY
Needs Medication!!!



Make it happen, he says.  All I want is to relax at the bar, but the man nearest me is shouting at his buddy beside him.  Announces he’s “got a winning concept”.  Admits that “there are very valid bad reviews in this world and they are very impactful”.  Insists “we are so much greener than them it’s not even fucking funny.”  Tells how much his life has changed now that he’s on top of the right Google searches.  Talks about “giving it your all”.  But mostly he talks about making it happen.  You’ve got to make it happen.  Make it happen!  It is obvious that I have been assigned to the wrong civilization.  Make it happen makes me think of rape.  Listen, how about this?  Is this OK?  Is it all right with everyone if I just go ahead and fail?  Would that be all right?  My attempts at self-promotion are invariably gruesome.  I do not wish to learn to speak American English, that dialect of advertising, the vehicle for becoming important.  You can win.  I abdicate.  That’s OK, isn’t it?  More for you!



Things I’ll not do.  No tennis championships for me.  No work as a foot model.  Someone else has already written Reinventing Yourself With the Duchess of York.  It is unlikely that I will ever be held up as the epitome of health mental or dental.  I should probably admit that my senatorial career has already been seriously compromised.



This will have to be the actual version now.  Not just some notes jotted down while thinking of something else.  Too cool to make an honest effort is an entirely seventh grade excuse.  You see, I had intended to become drastically smarter.  Somehow I imagined that another several dozen IQ points might just show up.  Narrative structure.  “A skill set”.  I might as well wish to become taller.  Or younger.  This is the equipment on hand.  Which is no excuse.  Think of what Matisse could do, in deep old age, with only a pair of scissors.  This person, with his limitations, his obsessions, his very limited skills.  Telling him to rack his brain, make a concerted effort, will only make everything worse.  He’ll only tell you again what he’s told you before.  All the while looking terribly sorry.  The best chance for this one is to sit quiet and receptive, without hope or ambition, like one of those enormous radio telescope dishes, listening day and night to alien variety shows.  People found them interesting, momentarily, many years ago.  Then they forgot about them.  Just the same, they go on listening.



When I walk into the changing room at the rec center, a guy is standing naked at the sink, covering his body with soap from the dispenser.  “Oh, it’s you,” he says, though I’ve never seen him before.  “They’re trying to sabotage me.  I have to walk miles and miles.  They won’t let me on the bus.  Look at how sore I got.  He lifts his balls to show me his chafed and bleeding crotch.  He walks back and forth from the shower and the sink, covering himself with soap, washing again and again.  He doesn’t own a towel.  He’s red-faced and covered with hair.  His penis seems unusually small, but that’s probably just because I’ve watched way too much porn.  He shows me his skinned knee.  He shows me his toenail coming off.  He wants me know how much everything hurts.  Later on the custodian says, “You let us know when there’s somebody like that.  We got children and old people here.”  Clearly the fact that a man is naked, drunk, and ranting is perceived as a problem.  “But he wasn’t bothering me,” I say.  It’s true.  Also it is easier to be patient with naked people.  Also I feel oddly grateful to him.  As if his losing it was a favor to me.  As if he were beserk on my behalf.  This world.  Something’s got to give.  Today he volunteered. 



What form is best-suited to saluting the momentary, the uncertain, the highly perishable?  What form is suitable for the very probable end of human civilization, for seeking to be human even now?  I have always enjoyed small plates.  But they’ve got to keep coming until you’ve had enough to eat.  



Also: because I am the one writing this, since I am ostensibly the person in charge, I am going to make the rule that is is ALWAYS all right to drink wine with this, even if you’re reading at 7:45 A.M.  (As the designated writer, I will attempt to stay sober.  In general.  More or less.)      



Is anyone else entirely haunted by the fact that who matters and who does not is decided entirely arbitrarily?  It is not even a matter of race, class or talent, though of course those things may have an effect.  It is as if you have a sign over your head that everyone can read but you.  And you either matter or you don’t.



I, too, would like to win.  I don’t claim otherwise.  After all, I’ve done all the other drugs.  Now I would like to try success.  I could spend an entire long weekend blitzed on it.  What does it feel like when a whole room full of people imagine that you are someone who matters?  Fucking hell, it has to be better than walking naked down the hall at the baths, snorting poppers in a crowd of admirers.



The principal question posed by America today, or: is it still egomania when everyone’s doing it?



In Tokyo, on the day for three minute speeches, I sat in the back of the room and took notes on my students’ performance.  The next speech that day was from the most congenial of the cheering squad, though only so-so at English.  The young woman stood at the front of the classroom, her hair and make-up just so, Audrey Hepburn everything, a fortune in shoes, clutching a crumpled sheet torn from a spiral notebook.  Louder, please!  I insisted.  She repeated herself, no louder than before,  then dove straight into her paper, clear down to the floor, where she lay sobbing in the center aisle between the desks.  I watched in astonishment.  I couldn’t believe what was happening.  Because I had imagined this scene dozens of times -- but I always assumed it would be ME doing that.  I totally failed to remember that other people were even eligible for hysteria.  It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK, I chanted softly and sat waiting as the other students solaced her, which they did with exquisite tenderness and patience.  I believe they felt, as I did, that the young woman had done something exceedingly gracious, a real favor to everyone. 



How did this happen actually?  How did I end up this far outside, not just left out but opposed?  When did this start?  When was wandering ordained?  Looking back, it’s obvious, though I failed to realize at the time.  I must have felt myself going out, but I didn’t know how far I was going.  I didn’t know that I was never coming back.



In the beginning I spent all day at the hospital, then went home and wrote letters detailing his health, prognosis and treatment.  This behavior was well-received and appreciated.  This was the correct use for me.  Otherwise my visibility was a source of discomfort to everyone.  I was most visible during that the unavoidable moment when each person asked, Did he give it to you?  No, I said, again and again.  No, he did not give it to me.  I do not have it.  Then whoever it was would hurry back to discussing his health, prognosis and treatment.  But not before I saw their face.  Because this was not how it was supposed to work.  I was quite officially the bad one.  I was promiscuous.  And as for him, he was the nicest man.  People have their pictures of the world.  They love them.  They’ll sacrifice anything to save them.  Thus did I become invisible after Did he give it to you?  It’s only very natural that people were unable to disguise their bewilderment at the news, their looks of confusion and, yes, disappointment.




Tuesday, January 06, 2015

New & Forthcoming

“Metta Meditation for Hot Male Action, or, how to practice love in sleazy bars” has been translated into Spanish. The translation is by Rico Noguchi with illustrations by Julio Granados. “Recently, At Orgies” appears in Zymbol, number 4, at newsstands now. “A Seat on the Train” is forthcoming in A Capella Zoo.

"The Myth of Single Parenthood" is forthcoming in Jonathan. “The Right Way to be Crippled and Naked” will appear in an anthology of fiction about disability created by the editors of Beauty is a Verb: The New Disability Poetics. “Naked in Sweden” has been published in the reborn international version of Minus Tides, a literary magazine based in Denman Island, Canada. The essay “Just Interesting” is online at Biostories. “Pa, Randy and the Sugarhouse Fire”, originally published in Zymbol, has been nominated for a Pushcart prize. Often I feel utterly and officially nuts to go on writing, studying, and wandering endlessly. Thank you to everyone who encourages me, who provides me with refuge, inspiration, or resources. These small successes are only possible because you aid my survival. I am very grateful.


Wednesday, November 05, 2014

ANNOUNCEMENT


Happy National Useless Persons’ Day!


(Same as Secretaries’, Bosses’, Children’s, Grandparents’ Day!)

This is the day we pause to honor the useless persons in our lives, as well as the determination, luck and fortitude necessary to be useless in the long term.

This is our opportunity to recognize those folks who never quite pulled it together, who possessed either no luck or no visible talents, as well as those whom, by nature, are simply not suited to life in this world.

Useless persons, we salute you!  We celebrate you!  You and your abiding uselessness!

Useless persons, brush the moss from your teeth and climb the stairs of your mother’s basement, for today is your day to be garlanded!

Three hundred sixty four days of the year are reserved for those who strive to be Number One, who grow each day in importance and commotion.  One day alone is reserved for useless persons.  Useless persons, today is yours!

Today we honor the contribution made by useless persons.  A very real contribution -- even though it may seem that useless persons are only forever eating something, eating and complaining of some small pain, of the cost of dentistry, or the lateness of the bus.

In a world saturated by importance, the useless play a necessary role, their very unimportance is important, as persons who embrace unimportance grow ever more rare.

Today we salute useless persons.  The boon of uselessness!  The bliss of mediocrity.  The reliability of failure.

Because we cannot seriously expect the incessantly victorious to sit listening to Grandpa.  Who is going to walk the dogs of the ceaselessly dynamic?  Who will water the plants and wash the floors of the relentlessly beloved?

Even less often are useless persons recognized for their contribution of simple non-damage.  What a mercy it is to the world to never become a CEO, to never fly to your second home in your own small plane, munching on game hens and foie gras and sipping imported champagne.  

The beauty of failure is seldom recognized in a world where success is generally seen as synonymous with one’s capacity to harm.

Instead here you are, useless person, at home in your underwear, boiling lentils and chopping onions, writing poems about how the world is far gone in a dangerous and remarkably dumb direction (of which its total non-appreciation of you is but one small indication.)

Putting aside the poem, you check the clock.  Soon it will be time to walk the dog, maybe check on Great-Aunt Vinnie, before checking in with your sexual partner, likewise thoroughly mediocre, an amiable nobody who doubtless would have died long ago of liquor and TV dinners, if not for your tender and disappointed ministrations.

You pause for a moment to re-consider the poem, which is, after all, just a defense against the list of your friends who won and won and won and won and now explain, quite righteously, that of course they do not have time. 

I VEHEMENTLY DENY AND DEEPLY RESENT ANY SUGGESTION THAT I HAVE CREATED A MADE-UP HOLIDAY JUST TO GET ATTENTION FOR MYSELF!!!

Happy National Useless Persons’ Day!






Friday, October 24, 2014

Bangkok Coup Special



small stories from beneath military rule


June 2014, Bangkok




Wanderers
He never imagined, before he began to wander, how many other people were wandering too, not quite living anywhere, just floating about, how many other people were naturalized citizens of the country called, “I have no place else to go.”  A lot of other people, it turns out, had also done the math and figured that they could live for a very long time in a cheap country and, because ties had grown so weak, had immediately done so, without ever deciding what, exactly, they would do during the day, without recognizing that sanity is just as fragile as any other form of health.



Appearances
The first night the curfew is relaxed, Bangkok plays to an empty house.  The girls on their bar stools, the boys in white shorts, the rows of fake watches with no one to love them.  Even for the indomitable, maintaining the appearance of cheer is a strenuous task, like a devoted mother who makes her voice sound cheerful every time she walks into the room of her beautiful son, lying there hooked to machines.  Almost everyone is capable of heroics.  The trouble is that trouble goes on and on.



Lucky Lost
He was lost.  He recognized that he was lost.  He did not wish to be lost.  He did not want to go on being lost for a long time.  It was exhausting being lost.  It was better than wanting to die.  He knew that he was lucky to be lost in this way, in what seemed the luckiest possible way to be lost: alone in a bright stark room with white walls, white linoleum, blue polyester curtains, with desk, attached toilet, even a small refrigerator.  He did not wish to be lost and still he did not neglect to be grateful that he was lost in this way, so empty, so clean and so bright.



Thank You So Much
Those men who say, before removing their pants, Please ignore me if I say totally stupid and crazy things during sex, like I love you.



Ice Age Updates
Often it seems to me that return visits to the gay scene in Bangkok are essentially updates on the progress of meth, on an ever-encroaching ice age.  Sneaking up to hug an old friend from behind, hands over his eyes, Guess who? he turns, and I find his eyes like gutted candles, a smile but no one at home in it, and that voice, the voice of ice -- the words all the same, all correct, and the tone like reading aloud from old newspapers.

Sure, he’s using some, he admits, but only on weekends and he’s totally keeping it together, absolutely together, tight, the same four skin creams in the same order and all his porn alphabetized, the door knobs covered in plastic wrap and the shoes lined up, the bottles of poppers lined up, everything neat as a spice rack and he can tell you everyone he hates, either alphabetically or in order of intensity.

Even then there are surprises.  Like the news that one friend, long since zombified, has taken vows as a monk and returned, by all accounts, to being quite recognizably human.  Such is the state of affairs: losing another friend makes me shrug, but the news that one has returned leaves me here crying helplessly into my breakfast of rice soup with chicken.



How is Bangkok?
People want to know.  Speaking as a queer wanderer, Bangkok is fine.  Fine as long as it is enjoyed in a very ordinary way: for bags of sliced papaya, pineapple and guava, for aimless wandering in Lumpini Park, for the pleasures of a clean and silent room, for orchids and sidewalks.  Coup or no coup, the rule is the same: Bangkok is fine as long as you do not attempt to have fun.  If you attempt to have fun, the dogs of misery are at once set upon you.  The trouble is not so much the price list as it is being reminded you are worthless. We do not require the army to police us.  We have been policing ourselves all along.  Try to have fun and you will have toes shoved in your mouth by men who wish to make themselves feel big.   Attempts to have fun are besieged with old pictures of oneself, regrets, catty remarks.  Attempts to reprise one’s career in pornography result in a kind of cascading nightmare.   But if you give up, if you do not ask too much for yourself, it is all right.  Sometimes it can even be fun.



Economy
I heard a British woman ask, with zero irony, “Is there a coup rate?”



Insults
My very rich friend is part of the Chinese-Thai aristocracy.  He calls deposed prime minister Yingluck, that whore.  When the U.S. makes clear it disapproves of the coup, he refers to the ambassador as that bitch.  Nowadays almost every one of his sentences includes one of these words.  If he’s useless in sex, if there’s shit on the sheets, he says, “I’m Yingluck!”

My other Thai friends are not rich and they hate him.  Chink, they call him.



So true
This sign at the cafe that reads
Beware of your belongings. 



Hung
When he jacked off I was astonished by how far out in front of him his hand was, as he tugged on the first third of a cock so remarkably long that it seemed a great distance away from the rest of him, like Florida, or even Alaska.  Reminded me of the photos I’ve seen of Matt Hughes.  Not Matt Hughes the boxer. Matt Hughes eleven inches.  Didn’t look like he’s jacking off.  Not exactly.  More like he was strumming on a small guitar.

As for him, he was rightfully offended that people assumed he was a prostitute just because he was young and black and had a perfect muscular body, as well as a gigantic penis.  “People with big penises need sex too!” he insisted and I agreed vigorously, as vigorously as I could, while trying, at the same time, to seem neither patronizing nor desperate.



Warning
One of those things that isn’t mentioned nearly often enough:
You deserve to be warned that more than half the people who urge you to follow your dreams will never forgive you for doing so.



Seeds
Every day I buy fruit from a vendor on the side of the street.  I feel lucky to be in a place where buying fruit can be such an ordinary thing.  Not like Tokyo, where buying two kinds of fruit that aren’t bananas is classified as an event.

I noticed that the kindly man who chopped up the guava always threw away the central part with the seeds, but that part is tasty too, as well as nutritious, so that I learned to say, in Thai, “give me all of it” and I practiced and then, when I went to buy my fruit, I said it to him, and he looked happy and surprised that I had learned a little Thai.  He put every part of the guava into the clear bag.  When he handed the fruit to me he grinned and asked, in English, “So -- where’d you learn to say that?”



Tuning
The military has arrested the son of the former prime minister.  He was released after “a talk to fine-tune understanding”.

Because that is just what armies do.



5 Boats
I dreamt I was looking down steep stairs to a river, as though I had returned to Benaras.  Lined up in the water were five very narrow boats.  In each of them a young man was lying calmly, face up, with eyes open.  Each man gleamed, as if lightly coated in oil.

As I watched, the first young man was set on fire.  He had already been doused in kerosene.  His face contorted in agony and then the flames consumed him.  After a few minutes only a black husk was left.  Then it was time for the next young man.

I watched helplessly from the top of the staircase.  I did not understand why these young men had chosen to sacrifice themselves.  The second young man screamed and burst into flame.  The next three waited quietly, staring up into the sky.



Remote
If you are fortunate enough to receive an invitation, the host will greet you at the door with a plastic basket for your clothes and a remote control wrapped in plastic wrap.  “This is your remote and that is your TV,” says the host.  It is one of six flat-screen TVs lined up against the wall in a large room which has been cleared out except for the TVs, two cots, a sling, and a table in the corner with bottles of poppers and sugary drinks.

Each television has a memory card with hundreds of movies.  The movies are grouped according to both studio and theme.  You can choose twinks, bareback or Brazil, as well as HotHouse, Treasure Island, or MenAtPlay.  Thus every man can have exactly the porn of his choice.  It is no wonder that the host is renowned and that everyone wants to attend one of his parties.

Here at the orgy you may do whatever you like -- but you must not lose track of your remote and you must not touch anyone else’s.  Any man who attends a party must be both adventurous and versatile.  You must be beautiful and/or hung.  You can fuck the men or get fucked, suck or get sucked, you can fist, you can piss -- in the area designated area, please!  You can do anything -- but you must not touch anyone else’s remote.  Anything else you can do.  The man won’t mind.  He may not notice.  He is watching his television.  Even with his cock is buried in the back of your throat, he has his remote in hand and he is fast-forwarding, searching for the very hottest scene in Viral Loads.

Even if you are one of the passionate minority who believe that a man on the screen -- horsehung, ripped and gleaming -- cannot compare to an ordinary man in the flesh with hair on his belly and his briefs around his ankles, it is of no use.  The man has his remote and he is not letting go of it for anything.



Smile
The deposed former prime minister in exile, the man who is perhaps the cause of it all, is asked to comment on the coup.  He says, “I hope the military will soon return smiles to the faces of the people”.

Because, again, that’s just what armies do.



Flip fuck
“Sure, I get fucked, I want to feel what my man feels like, but mostly I am a top.  I like to flip fuck.  If you fuck me, then I am going to fuck you, that’s my rule.  Of course Antonio Banderas and Sean Connery can fuck me, but mostly I am a top.”

My friend is 71.  He makes a fine Manhattan and has just attempted to blow me on the fire escape.  He is upset because he has only gotten fucked in his fancy temporary apartment, he hasn’t fucked anyone, and he can only afford two more months here on the 21st floor.

I ask him what he will do when his visa runs out.  He says he might fly to Sweden -- because who doesn’t want to fuck a tall blonde Scandinavian?  “But it’s expensive,” I say, because I am a paragon of good sense and caution.  He says, “I haven’t figured that part out yet.”  Then he runs his fingers along my neck.  “I assume you’ll be staying over.”  I explain that I am a person who needs a lot of time alone.  It’s my all ages excuse.  He says, “For breakfast I brought croissants.”

I take my shoes from the shoe closet.  I kiss him quickly on his fuzzy mouth.  I didn’t bring flowers or fruit or wine or cheese to dinner with him.  I didn’t bring anything.  Manhattans were my father’s and grandfather’s favorite drink but I had never tasted one.  I don’t wait for the elevator.  I run down the emergency stairs, all the way down twenty-one floors.  It feels good to run.  Nothing will ever change unless I change it.  My bad habits are not going to just peter out on their own.



Good-looking
“He got everything he ever wanted for his funeral.  Except he didn’t want an open casket, so on that we fudged a little.  I decided it was OK because he couldn’t have imagined how good he was going to look!  He hadn’t looked that good in years.  Except they did his hair wrong.  So I got his comb and combed his hair the way he liked it.  He was a good-looking man, I realized then.  I hadn’t really known before.  He was my man and I loved him, but I didn’t know what a good-looking man he was until he was in his casket and I was combing his hair.”



Broad river
Making to love to a tender tall broad-shouldered man in the afternoon behind blue curtains on a clean hard white bed at the infamous and eternal Malaysia Hotel, I feel that my lover and I are just the surface.  Beneath my body, his body, the sheets, the bed, the Malaysia Hotel, there is a broad red river of molten earth and blood and we are just appearances, ripples, in that molten river, which is nothing like I have described, or is only so from this perspective, which is itself entirely dreamlike, an appearance.  That river is a hum, is being.  I see the river as a current underground, but in fact the river is all that is going on.

As I saw this, I carried on kissing him, holding him, tumbling with him, and although I suspect he guessed that something was a little strange, he was a great broad-hearted man and he did not mind.



Mirror
The sense that a disaster would at least provide some structure.  Surely this is a more popular option than is generally recognized?

Because it is exhausting to make each day from nothing, and then to try to determine what the days before meant, or if they were worth anything.  Such a temptation: to want to know that you are doing it right.  I ought to have agreed on who I was for just one day, knowing full well that it was arbitrary, that I was not that.  I should have at least provided for myself a working title.

When I visited her in the hospital, my friend told me about the first time she ever smoked ice.  “For the first time I was fine just as I was.  I wasn’t being crushed to death.  Everything was so bright.  

“I went to take a shower and, as I dried off, I stood before a full-length mirror.  I looked at myself, at my whole body.  For the very first time in my entire life I did not feel ugly or ashamed.  Even then, high as a kite, it seemed to me a little sad that I had decided to destroy myself, just at the moment I discovered I was all right.”










Monday, October 20, 2014

Not Until They ASK: The Rules of Helping in America



Not Until They ASK: The Rules of Helping in America




The United States of America is a profoundly spiritual nation.  To truly appreciate it, you must understand its spiritual underpinnings, its roots nourished by many faiths, and above all the words of Jesus Christ who taught, You’ve just got to stay positive!

As the bearer of “the good news”, Jesus was persecuted and finally crucified by critics who couldn’t handle his incessant optimism.  Jesus came to Earth to teach us to love, care for and help others.

But there is a very important clause.  (Thank God!  How else would we ever find time for ourselves!)  You are only ever allowed to help someone if they ASK for help.  They must ask.  Otherwise it’s no good.  Helping before you are asked is no good at all.  It’s interference.  It’s totally wrong.  You must not interfere with anyone’s process.  Especially if they’re in the process of dissolving their organs.  That’s, like, practically sacred.

If a person is ready for help, they will announce (to you, to the greater public, and in the presence of an authorized notary) the nature of their problem and their total helplessness in the face of it.  

For example, someone may say, “I am addicted to alcohol, shopping, and frozen desserts.  I have borderline narcissistic personality disorder and I cannot tolerate gluten.”  

Then you are allowed to help.  But not until they ASK.  Always remember: grovelling first!

People must ASK for help.  They must ask for help directly and specifically.  Then and only then you can help.  It’s not enough if they call up and say, for example, “I am covered in my own filth,” or “Honestly it’s difficult sometimes, living here under the bridge” or “I have burnt through my esophagus” or “Excuse me, would you mind if I borrowed a plastic bag, a roll of electrical tape and some barbiturates?”  No!  That’s not enough!  Don’t make a mistake.  They must ASK for help.  

In the meantime, while you are waiting and very carefully refraining from helping, what should you do?

Why not focus on yourself?  You’re an important person!  Your time is valuable.  Eat right, meditate, do workouts.  Practice the union of Pilates and Dzogchen.  You need all your force to bring your unique gifts and talents to market in this time of economic uncertainty.  Do you feel fulfilled?  Have you found your unique life path?  Are you receiving the recognition and love that you deserve?  Focus on YOU.  You are the only person you can change.  Be your very best you!  

Also, you need your strength because it is very likely that, by the time your friends and family members ask for help, there will be very little of them left.

America prides itself on efficiency and comfort -- and what could be more efficient or comfortable than ignoring the misery of those around us?  (Ignoring the wretchedness of those at a distance comes naturally.  Ignoring the misery of those in the same room with us requires special reasoning -- and is still totally easy.)

Nothing works -- about that we can agree.  Nearly all pious busybody interventions come to nought.  The simple truth is that many if not most of us, and many if not most, of those we love will be needlessly hindered by our addictions, habits, compulsions and fears.  Our bodies and minds will be damaged and destroyed, our beauty ruined and our talents pointlessly blighted.  

Nothing mysterious about this.  As you no doubt have noticed, life is often painful, not infrequently excruciating, and the desire to throw ourselves on anything that might make us feel momentarily better is well-nigh irresistible.

This is just the situation: pious interventions and equally pious non-interventions both fail most of the time.  The most brilliant and gorgeous people we know will go on drinking and we will watch helplessly as the system shuts down piece by piece: stomach, esophagus, colon, liver, kidneys.

This is the point at which the genius of America really comes to bear: in the assumption that averting our eyes will have a magical effect.  This is the triumph of positive thinking.  We can do little, so doing nothing must be right.  You’ve just got to stay positive!  

We are important people, after all.  We have so very many things to do.  We need more achievements, more successes, more credentials, more influence, more connections, more talents, more romance, more fulfillment.  Why should we waste our mental energy on what is probably a lost cause?  Life is short, people!  

Why should we be haunted by the suffering of those we love?

This is the daring Gospel of Jesus Christ, who said of Judas Iscariot, “You’ve got to let him hit bottom!”  Then wiped him clear out of his mind.  This is Jesus, after all, master of positive thinking and time management, who had the whole Holy Land atwitter and no doubt guessed his gig as World Prophet would be brief.

What is the use of grieving?  Why should we allow our hearts to be broken?  If we went on telling the truth all day long, how could we ever go on being positive positive positive?

You can’t understand America unless you know the Bible, on which the forefathers founded this great nation: Moses and his Ten Commandments, Jesus and his Twelve Steps.  “Not unless they ask for help,” says Jesus in the one of the Gospels.

Then of course there is that other Gospel, on which America was also founded, the Gospel wherein Christ teaches, “Never ask for help. Never ever EVER.”