<= 2001.07

2001.09 =>

[AUGUST 2001.]

the weeping philosopher

Last night, in my sleep, the end of my relationship is reenacted as a ballet. We dance well in the beginning; then we start to trip up. After that I end up in a dimly lit bedroom with my father, desperately trying to explain how I will continue to seriously write next year while maintaining a sustainable income. The outlook was so frightening and bleak that my eyes snapped open after six hours of sleep, and I spent a half hour or so shivering under the blankets before realizing that further sleep would be impossible because I was too busy thinking up projected budgets and wondering which cities I could move to where people might lend me furniture. Not much room for interpretation here. To quote Louise Glück, "I hate when your own dreams treat you as stupid." And the year has only just begun.

What economy? And: runaway Brazilian slave communities versus the Brazilian space program. I didn't know either of those existed.

Today a trip to the Terrapin Coffee Brewery in Coralville is probably in order. I can spend the money I don't have on a big pint glass of wake-up juice, and I'll be forced to actually stay at the table and write. I'll just pace and brood at home.


ask my publicist

The first workshop was fine, it turns out, though things may change once we move beyond the introductory. The problem was that as soon as we left class the nine-month graduation clock started ticking. A group of us ended up drunk at the undergraduate bar, morose about the short amount of time left to acquire publications and agents and book deals and so on before we're regurgitated back into the real world. This stuff shouldn't matter, of course, but it's hard to ignore. So the pressure cooker's back on. Also, for the first time since last month's split I am having frequent dreams of loss, and consequently I wake up maudlin and torpid and don't leave my bed for a while. I guess that while on vacation I could put it out of my mind, to an extent. So shit's hitting the fan, sort of—but for the moment I am still able to write, for which I should be grateful.

The Anatomy of Melancholy isn't actually about melancholy, apparently; it's about everything.

What else would you like to know? The coming Alzheimer's epidemic? I'm still not drinking out of aluminum cans, though that's probably a needless precaution.


boo-boo kitty

In three hours the first Frank Conroy workshop begins. Frank has a reputation for brutal honesty in the process of critique—as opposed to other instructors, who try to soft-pedal it somewhat—but given that he's the director and has been teaching for aeons, it seems obligatory to take him. At first it seemed best to do it in the final semester, the way that you have to fight the big boss at the very end of Super Mario Bros. 3 or Blaster Master, but then it occurred to us that you might risk leaving Iowa with your artistic ego crushed, so we settled on second-year fall semester as the optimal time. "We" because Marlowe and Vu and Peyton and S. Patterson and Julia and everyone are in there with me.

I also think Frank is about the sole Workshop-affiliated person who hasn't seen this site by now. Except for the first-year students, whom we don't really know yet. They seem eager and shy and sometimes suprisingly tall.

I finally got around to reading Terry Castle's piece on Sappho, linked from Eclogues a while back. She follows Sappho's historical image through its twists and turns, explains critical opinion via references to Patsy Cline, and gets a good dig at obsessive post-structuralism at the end. I never interacted with Castle much at the expensive university, even though she was the chair of the English department, but I remember her as short, sanguine, and energetic.

And MIT will prevent student suicides by expanding mental health services. We can hope.


like a cow that makes water

It's the first day of class and, as Marlowe remarked, we all feel like seniors. All through the organizational meeting this morning I had the uncanny sense that we were enacting the first scene from Varsity Blues or Grease or something, where all of us wiser upperclassmen greet each other with high-fives: "Man, this is going to be the greatest year ever!" Eerie. If the analogy holds, then all of us will undergo interesting romantic and academic crises in the next half hour.

All about Besitzstandswahrung, the desire of Germans to protect the generous provisions of their welfare state in the face of a slowing economy.

On a visit to the UK, [German dotcommer Suzana] Sucic ventured into a Kent hospital after a friend broke her leg. She vowed never to return. 'The hospital was positively Victorian: rundown and grubby, with poor facilities like you might have found in Germany 100 years ago. The British still retained their air of superiority, while I was saying to myself: "Don't ever get sick in Britain".'

Toni Morrison on the Guinean author Camara Laye's The Radiance of the King: but her treatment of the book is more an excuse to discuss the history of Africa in the white literary imagination. It's interesting reading, and especially appropriate for any of us who might hypothetically, ahem, be writing fiction set abroad.





dull sublunary lovers' love

Oh, good. This is just what I needed to know: mosquito bites can give you not only West Nile virus, but Eastern equine encephalitis or St. Louis encephalitis. Thank you, CNN. For no clear reason, they also note that mosquitos can't carry HIV.

Stephen Wolfram, inventor of Mathematica, talks about his all-consuming project of the last decade. He claims to have come up with a new way to model physical systems, using computational algorithms rather than mathematical equations. The apparent method is to start with simple initial conditions, then apply many iterations of the same operation.

Q: So your experiments convinced you that nature uses simple programs to generate the complexity we see around us...

A: Yes, I think it's the main secret of nature. It's what lets nature come up with things that look so much more complex than anything we've been able to invent does. Some people say complexity in biology can't just be coming from natural selection. They're right, but the point is that nature uses tools we didn't expect. That's what I've discovered.

It sounds a lot like the methods by which fractal landscapes are generated, and could explain why (for instance) the Fibonacci sequence keeps cropping up in nature, but it'll be impossible to evaluate any of this until his book A New Kind of Science comes out. And maybe not even then. Wolfram takes on everything from the second law of thermodynamics to the question of free will, but at least he doesn't claim to have all the answers:

Well, the things I've been thinking about are very, very different from the usual quantum field theory and string theory approach. There's some very basic intuition that's different when you think about simple programs instead of equations and so on. One big issue is that getting a fundamental theory of physics doesn't mean physics is finished. That'd be like saying that computing is finished once you have a computer. Suppose that the program for the Universe is four lines long. There's no room in those four lines to put in all the familiar stuff we know about space-time having four dimensions, the muon being 206 times the mass of the electron, and so on. Almost nothing from the everyday world will be obvious in the program. These things will have to emerge when the program runs. Figuring out how that works, and exactly what can emerge, can be arbitrarily difficult.

And so is making breakfast, often.


detox & aromatherapy

Last night's gathering at my place was supposed to be a small pre-party to get in gear for the larger parties this weekend. But turns out it wanted to be the definitive party to end all further parties for all time. I've spent all morning with a horrid headache, cutting hookah burns out of the carpet.

A new book on women primatologists. Yeah, the rapist orangutangs are in there, as well as some really horrid medical stuff that Louis Leakey tried to do to his protégées.


good things come in threes

Three kickass things I have recently discovered:

The Unconsoled, Kazuo Ishiguro. I know it came out in 1995, but we're all playing catchup here. "Kafkaesque" is the awkward adjective that gets thrown at it a lot, and the resemblances are there, but I think this is more a side effect of Ishiguro's narrative strategy—the most impressive use of dream-logic I've ever seen in fiction. The story is first-person, but will break off into brief third-person segues where the narrator is not present; plotlines are extraordinary fluid, impelled by a logic more associative than causal; location and time are elastic, twisting as events dictate. This is impressive enough on its own, but doubly impressive when you consider that this was Ishiguro's first novel after the Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day, and that The Unconsoled is essentially about the bizarre demands and pressures placed upon a successful artist—in this case, a concert pianist. The allegory is clear enough, but it never feels reductive because of the book's narrative innovation and sheer weirdness. After The Remains of the Day, which was the apotheosis of the controlled, precise historical-realist style Ishiguro had cultivated in his previous two novels, he must have realized that he was in danger of being pigeonholed. To address those very artistic concerns in his next novel, and moreover to address them in a style completely unlike anything he had previously written, seems an incredibly ballsy move to me. And I salute him.

Bluebeard's Castle, Béla Bartók. Is it an opera? Is it a "vocal/musical drama" or a "tone poem collection?" Who the hell cares? It's an hour long, has two vocal parts (Bluebeard, Judith) and is perfectly harrowing. The librettist Béla Balázs inverts the traditional fairy tale so that Bluebeard's new bride finds not the severed heads of previous wives, but something far worse. As plenty of commentators have noted, the castle functions as an expressionist representation of Bluebeard's mind, and everything that Judith discovers—the torture instruments, the bloodstained treasury, and most chillingly, the lake of milky tears—is some bit of the psyche that were best kept hidden. It's a mythic and gruesome testament to the ways that men and women can fuck each other up. And as far as the music: I mean, it's Bartók. What else do you want?

De Stijl, White Stripes. I have Lauren to thank for this one. The people at Amoeba Records say it's one of the hottest titles in music right now and is impossible to find, which makes no sense since it isn't even their latest album, but okay. They're a husband-and-wife duo (him: guitars, vocals; her: drums) who play a minimalist blues/pop/punk mélange. I guess the appropriate music-geek label is "garage," but that makes it sound sloppy and lo-fi when it's actually driving and controlled. Think you can't have a groove without a bass player? Think again. Plus there's a lot of really cool slide guitar work. Half the time it sounds like White Album-era McCartney, half the time like a pissed-off B.B. King who just discovered the distortion pedal. Only more modern. I don't know, just buy it.


dryad triad

Andrew Lloyd Webber is into alien abduction and mounting deer, apparently. Someone's having fun with this.

Long ago and far away, in November 2000, Elvis Costello picked his 500 essential albums for the music issue of Vanity Fair. The man's range is impressive: Berlioz, Mingus, Tom Waits and Eminem all show up. Though "Sorted Out For E's and Wiz" seems kind of a bizarre pick from Pulp's "Different Class."

Five count 'em five days of summer left and I've been unable to write for a while. Time to get in gear.


back to school

That's right, folks, pack up your Davy Jones lunchboxes and have your moms write your names on your underwear. Classes start in six days and right now it's rush week at the sororities, several of which are within spitting distance of my place. Every time I step outside, there are gaggles of coeds in tank tops standing beside their designated bus and comparing lip gloss.

Last night I stepped off the plane to see Marlowe and Peyton holding a big cardboard sign:


Then we went outside to find Vu performing this odd swaying dance beside his car, singing along with Patsy Cline's greatest hits. My friends.

Today, while I register for classes and pay bills and hang up shirts, think about this burgeoning thing called Post-Neo-Dadaism.


back to nature

Weird-ass sign number thirty-one of the impending heat-death of the universe: all day long today I hike with female family in the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe. We cross a large bridge and to keep everyone in the spirit of things I start singing the "Bridge Over the River Kwai" song, only with the actual WWII-era lyrics, viz.:

Hitler has only got one ball!
Göring has two, but they are small!
Himmler has something similar,
But Goebbels
Has no balls
At all!

My mom and aunt and sister all liked it. Later we go to the Tahoe City mall, and while they're trying on shawls I sit on a planter, open V. to my bookmark at page 340 (the confessions of Fausto Maijstral), and start reading. Guess what song is on page 349.

Tomorrow I go to San Francisco and probably won't update until the twentieth, when I get back to Iowa, unless something incredible happens.




There in the deep lies death, but don't be afraid. Take hold of the watch with one hand, with two fingers grasp the stem, rewind it smoothly. Now another period of time is opened, trees unfold their leaves, boats run races, like a fan time goes on filling with itself; and from it sprout the air, the breezes of the earth, the shadow of a woman, the scent of bread.

What more do you wish, what more do you wish? Strap it quickly to your wrist, let it beat in freedom, imitate it with longing. Fear will rust the anchors, everything that could suffice and was forgotten goes corroding the watch's veins, gangrene in the tiny rubies of its cold blood. And there in the deep lies death if we do not run, and arrive beforehand, and understand that it no longer matters.

       -Julio Cortázar (original text)


the age of innocence

I think the sonnet project is over. It suddenly began to feel like I was exhuming a corpse each morning. It were best, for now, to drink tea and read and do other quiet things that will not overly disturb the universe.

As a temporary creative outlet, I have my great-grandmother's piano. Virginia Dunlap ("Grandma Ginny," "G.G.") was my mother's mother's mother, born like my mother on Friday the thirteenth. She married my great-grandfather Hugh Richardson, the foreman on Wilbur May's Double Diamond Ranch (home of Zorro's horse Tornado), which in those days was a fair distance outside Reno. She had a naturally perfect ear for pitch. As a girl, my mother would visit G.G. and hum the latest Beatles song for her; G.G. would match the melody and improvise a harmony for it on the spot, creating a complete piano arrangement. She also painted quite well, mostly landscapes and still lifes in oil. I've inherited only adulterated and compromised versions of these talents, but at least our family's hereditary agoraphobia/anxiety disorder, which was strong enough in G.G. that she was often afraid to leave the ranch, has also manifested in me only at half-power.

G.G. died before I was born, shortly after my mother's first wedding. My great-grandfather ("Pa") remarried, and when I was very young I visited him and his second wife Ruth on a smaller ranch. I rode a horse named Donna, who was docile enough to trust with children; I think this is the only time I've been on a horse, other than when I was in Egypt and couldn't handle the camels. As I grew older Pa's health deteriorated. He began to hallucinate gargoyles in the house and was taken to a rest home. The last time that I saw him he thought I was the doctor. Three years ago he passed away.

The Double Diamond Ranch is now a planned community, complete with a faux Miner's Village for retirees. My uncle Hugh has a couple of bricks from the old ranch house, but aside from the theme-park Wilbur D. May center nothing else remains.


pig iron

No sonnet today. I think the last one blew a fuse. Here, this is last night's phone conversation.


LMO: Hello?

ME: Hi.

LMO: Oh, I was just going to call you. Here, hang on.

SLK: I guess I'm supposed to talk to you.

ME: Oh, all right. What are you doing?

SLK: Eating a slice of pizza.

ME: What kind?

SLK: Pepperoni and onion.

ME: Oh, you've gone back to mammals?

SLK: What's that?

ME: You've gone back to mammals?

[Thirty second silence.]

SLK: Um.

[Twenty second silence.]

SLK: Well, I.

[Thirty second silence.]

SLK: So yes.

ME: Oh, sorry. I thought you were talking to someone else in the room.

SLK: No, no.

ME: Right.

SLK: It's just that there's a lot to keep track of. There's music. And there's a cat.

ME: One needs tactics to deal with these things. A constantly evolving tactical strategy. Like Rommel, the desert fox.

SLK: Huh.

ME: That sort of rapid response.

SLK: I thought he just kicked a lot of ass.

ME: But I think he did it in a supple way. I don't know. I'm an indifferent student of twentieth century military history.

SLK: I don't even try, really.

ME: It's probably best that way. Where did Lauren go?

SLK: She was outside, or smoking, or... it's been a night like that. It's been a night of three-legged cats and relationship issues.

ME: I see.

SLK: [Away from mouthpiece.] No, I just thought that was the best way to describe it.

ME: Should I call back later?

SLK: [Away from mouthpiece.] Should he call back later? Okay, here she is.

LMO: Don't I have the best receptionist?

ME: That conversation made no sense.

LMO: Sorry if that was sketchy. I just found out that both of you were going to be in town and decided to throw you at one another.

ME: Oh. Wait, was that Stewart?

LMO: Who did you think it was?

ME: I thought it was Joe.

LMO: No. He left today.

ME: Oh. Oh. Well, that explains things.

LMO: Sorry.

ME: Oh.


the hanged man

The odd new genre of Shakespeare porn. "By adding Shakespeare to anything," says Nina Hartley, star of A Midsummer Night's Cream, "you automatically class it up. Certainly it helps to get you onto cable."

St. Clare of Assisi is the patron saint of television, by virtue of a mystical television-like experience in the thirteenth century.

But that's the covenant. "I give you leave
to break my heart tomorrow, but for now
you are my own." I took the pledge. I bow
before these terms. I no longer believe
the end negates all meaning. I had reprieve
from loneliness for twenty months, and how
can that be bitter? In the end, I know
it was a sacred thing. And if I grieve
for loss, it's like the grief for summer's end.
In cycles wider than the brain can feel,
in snow-clogged caverns, life awaits rebirth.
I trust in this. I'm learning to depend
on hidden things beneath the frozen earth.
So learn to hold and wait. Learn to be still.


at the hyvee

They're calling the next Star Wars movie Attack of the Clones, for fuck's sake. This might be the point where I gracefully step off the boat, explaining "I'll rent it some time." At least I have V., which after 250 pages kicks nine different kinds of ass.

"Come look at the lobsters." "I don't want
to see the lobsters." "Why not?" "They just creep
me out. Climbing each other. How they keep
colliding with the walls. The bastards can't
even open their claws." "Don't start a rant.
They're living. Just say hi." "But do they sleep?
What would you think, abducted from the deep
into this tank, never to understand
what brought you here? It's such a Beckett life."
"Stop it. I have no patience for that view.
What's the point? Look, even if all thought
is ultimately futile, we've still got
to shop for dinner." "Have you told that to
the lobsters?" "You think you're funny. I don't laugh."



What is the grass? Oh, that's an easy one:
the Fool. The life that doesn't know it is.
What is the earth? A god, who covers his
dead skin with life to ease his lonely run.
What is the sky? A goddess. And the sun
that scars her form: the mark of the god's kiss.
What is the night? A cipher. The abyss
that chews even gods' hearts. It pardons none.
Who is your love? A curio on the shelf,
to be taken down and polished once a year.
Who are you? A mirror that displays
its environs, but cannot see itself.
Who am I? Old atavistic fear,
Medusa on whose face I dare not gaze.

From geegaw, Zadie Smith on American writers and their hair. This fucking rules. Read it.


the embalmer's song

Or if Lolita's only love affair
involved the English language, as Vlad claimed,
there's some relief. My love, you could be tamed
in words. In fact, I'll have to do it. There
is no room to communicate my care
for you in these few lines, unless I drain
your body of all else. I can't retain
whole people in these poems. Skin and hair
will stay, to save appearances, but with
a penstroke I eviscerate the rest—
for shame. I know, it's dreadful to replace
a human soul with quick and dirty myth.
But even as I move to plead my case,
it's not you, but your mummy, I address.

It was the pills!



Humbert's lament: "I was a pentapod
monster, but I loved you." Ain't it sly,
gentlemen of the jury, how this cry
separates love from lover? As if a flawed
container could hold purity—as if God,
abstracted to emotion, could reside
in dark and festering souls. Let's put aside
such sophistry. There's no need for façade.
Our hearts are lattices of layered mire,
and love entwines its roots in that sad mesh.
It comes from dust. And this is not to say
it's meaningless—just that we can't require
our feelings to be nobler than our flesh.
Lamenting: je t'aimais, mais je t'aimais.


exploratory surgery

I have a project, and the project is August in Sonnets. One per day. I will post them here, and no doubt I will also post things that are not sonnets, like the death of the British autodidact, but the pertinent thing is that sonnets will happen until 31 August. For all I know the sonnet might be considered obsolete by now, unless you're doing something cute like The Golden Gate—and the confessional sonnet is probably just wince-inducing. This is fine by me. It frees the little beasties of any aspiration to be more than what they are: merely a device to get me through the month alive.

Certain tropes we've all come to expect
from poems of this type: an "I," a "you,"
and all the horrid things those pronouns do.
I'm not yet ready. First, I must collect
the scalpel of my thoughts—then vivisect
a heart too shocked to know it should be blue.
It doesn't see it's run out of O2.
These jokes are easy, still. There's no impact—
not yet. The tiny winery in my brain
that vints the neurotransmitters of woe
hasn't begun in earnest. What I feel,
or think I feel, is prelude to the pain.
So masks and gloves on, please. We've got a real
condition settling in. And far to go.


j'ai perdu mon eurydice

On a friend's advice I am reading Louise Glück's Vita Nova, and it is good to me. It makes me feel noble.

Consider "intimacy" to be a code word for shared embarrassment. There's something awful about betraying the deep secrets of your desires—physical, emotional—to another being. It's driven by need, of course, but you are always aware that the need will never be assuaged; that in admitting this need, you have laid your heart open upon the operating table; that when you recall this interplay in the far future it will seem cold, cold, cold.

"If I could only learn to play guitar, I would just date myself."

Is this believable?



Slept surprisingly well, other than some odd dreams. I did wake up convinced that the world was ending, so it was a genuine surprise to see sunlight streaming through the window, but after a quick check on the mountains etc. everything seems to be where it was yesterday.

My father, who is probably the one being I personally know who never checks this site, comes into town today. So I'll get to explain everything to him. Then we'll go to the car show, or something.

A link from Grant some time ago: this couple is looking to corporate-sponsor the name of their baby. If we knew enough wealthy counterculture-type people, we could conceivably get a fund together to outbid the corporations and force them to name the kid "Blackula" or "Leprechaun in Space" or something. That would teach 'em.

Noreena Hertz, author of The Silent Takeover: Global Capitalism and the Death of Democracy, talks about what she saw in Genoa.

The demonstrators see protest as the only means of grabbing the attention of the public, corporations and government—the necessary precursor to change. I'm sympathetic with those views—I've written about them, after all—but I recognize that protest does not offer the ultimate solution. It is no substitute for democratic decision making, and it is an ineffective context for negotiations. If political institutions are failing, it is on those institutions that the protesters should focus their anger.

But the main gripe about Hertz's book in the amazon.co.uk reviews is that she offers no real solutions either. The problems are manifest, but what do we do? Of course! We attack sprawling multinational corporations with sprawling multinational novels! Ugh. Okay, I'm going to scramble some eggs.


nihil ex nihilo



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