Wednesday, December 14, 2011

THE ILLUMINATIONS, by Arthur Rimbaud (translated by Donald Revell)


There are certain writers whose fame owes more to their myth than to their writing. I'd put Arthur Rimbaud in that group, though I know that doing so is inviting attacks (Rimbaud enjoys cult-hero status amongst those with bohemian inclinations). Perhaps the classic example of the enfant terrible, Rimbaud scandalized the Parisian literary scene with his decadence. As a teenager he embroiled himself in a homosexual affair with an older (and married) man, and indulged in raucous behavior and uninhibited drug use.

His body of work is relatively small, composed almost entirely during his teenage years (by 21 he'd given up on writing all together). Amongst his most lauded works is THE ILLUMINATIONS, which is also some of the last writing he produced (other than letters to acquaintances, which have also been collected and published). It reads more as a series of prose-sketches than a cohesive work. I wonder whether Rimbaud ever considered it a book, or whether its creation and publication resulted primarily from other people raiding his notebooks.

Despite the legions of admirers, THE ILLUMINATIONS did little to inspire me. Here and there a sentence stood out, but the only piece that interested/satisfied me through all of its sentences was "City", and my interest/satisfaction came more from amusement at Rimbaud's humorous scorn (he was talking about London) than from any deep-passions. Anyway, here it is (as translated by Donald Revell):


I am a temporary and not unhappy citizen of a metropolis generally deemed modern because, in all of its furnishings and facades, and even in its overall city-plan, good taste has been scrupulously avoided. Here you will not find the slightest trace of any monument to superstition. In brief, language and morality have been reduced to their minims! These millions of people, all strangers to one another, pursue their educations and occupations and decripitude so uniformly that their life spans seem many times shorter than those statistically ordained for ordinary Europeans. From my window, I can see new specters rolling through thick, everlasting fumes--our forest shade, our summer night!--my cottage is my homeland and my whole heart because it is just like all the others, and out front, a whole new breed of Furies is arising,--Death without tears (our priceless housemaid), hopeless Love and pretty Crime puling in the gutter.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Map of Fog 3 in Maximum RocknRoll #343

The third issue of my zine Map of Fog was chosen as one of the top ten zines in this month's issue of Maximum RocknRoll. They give it a positive review, too, saying the zine reads like something Studs Terkel would have written.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

approaches to translation

Just finished reading William O'Daly's translation of Aún, by Pablo Neruda, and it left me thinking about the different ways people approach the process of translation. You can either stray toward translating the literal meaning of the words, or toward an artistic translation that aims to communicate your interpretation of the deeper meaning.

For example, a common spoken farewell in Spain is "Hasta luego." In English, you might translate that to "See you later", which is a common spoken farewell in the United States, and which means pretty much the same thing. Or you could translate it to "Until later", which is more literal, and still understandable, but which might strike some as awkward.

O'Daly seems to favor the latter approach, but sometimes he sways in the other direction. One example is his version of the poem's title: Still Another Day. A more literal translation of "aún" would be the adverb "still", as in "I'm still breathing" ("aún respiro"). If O'Daly wanted to make sure the reader didn't read that "still" as the adjective "still" (as in "motionless") he could have translated the title to "Even Still," or something like that, which is closer to the literal meaning of the word. But he went for, instead, Still Another Day, which draws from the meaning of the poem (which deals thematically with the passage of days) to add meaning that the original Spanish title doesn't have.

Why did he do this? My guess is that he'd explain it as an artistic decision. He might tell you "Still Another Day" sounds more elegant than "Even Still". He might argue that Neruda's Spanish version of the poem is elegant, and that the elegance itself is something that should be preserved, instead of sacrificed by a more literal--and probably more awkward--translation.

And he might be right.

But personally, I almost always favor the more literal approach, and part of the reason for my preference relates specifically to that greater awkwardness. I think there is value in being reminded, while reading, that what you are reading is a translation. Awkwardness can help with that reminding.

Why is it important to remember that you are reading a translation? Because there is more to language than just the meaning of the words. Language, and the differences between languages, reveal differences in the minds of people. And if we abandon the literal approach, and translate not just the words but the sense of 'elegance' we get from a piece, if we translate it so it sounds like an American wrote it, then we lose something essential to the piece itself--we lose what it reveals about the mind that produced it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

listen to Leonard when you feel happy

Listen to Leonard Cohen when you feel happy. Don't listen to him when you feel sad. Don't listen to him when you're home alone on a Saturday night, four beers through a sixer, too drunk to go anywhere (and nowhere to go, anyway), but not drunk enough to have your own emotional misery blotted out by physical discomfort.

Maybe listen to Beyonce instead.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Spain in Our Hearts/Espana en el corazon (New Directions Bibelots)
One of the things I didn't mention in yesterday's post about the SPANISH CIVIL WAR entry in the Simple History Series is the effort Gerlach makes to maintain a perspective that doesn't favor either side. It's difficult to do that in any account of war, and probably especially difficult for this war in particular. While I certainly appreciate the objective viewpoint in most informative writing, for this particular topic there's a lot to be learned by going beyond the objective. And while that might not be appropriate in the scheme of Gerlach's Simple History Series, the interested reader has a wealth of subjective information to explore, assuming they want to transcend the very simple.

A good place to start, in my mind, is Pablo Neruda's poetry collection ESPAÑA EN EL CORAZÓN. Written and printed while the war was still going on, Neruda's work captures some of the passion felt by those defending the Spanish Republic, and some of the atrociousness of the actions committed by Franco's forces. To those who prefer their poetry jaded and blasé in tone, Neruda's collection might come across as excessive. He seemed to recognize that himself, and addresses it in the closing stanzas of his poem Explico Algunas Cosas (I Explain a Few Things):

Preguntaréis por qué su poesía
no nos habla del sueño, de las hojas,
de los grandes volcanes de su país natal?

Venid a ver la sangre por las calles,
venid a ver
la sangre por las calles,
venid a ver la sangre
por las calles!

(here's a translation:)

You all will ask why my poems
don't talk of sleep, of leaves,
of the large volcanoes of my native country.

Come and look at the blood in the streets,
come and look
at the blood in the streets,
come and look at the blood
in the streets!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Simple History Series: the Spanish Civil War

Microcosm has taken over the publishing of John Gerlach's Simple History Series, with the volume covering the Spanish Civil War being the second they've printed. I picked up a copy on Sunday, and read through it that afternoon.

One of the first questions that came to mind, while reading this zine, was: how simple is too simple? Gerlach has stripped the topic down to the point where it offers less information than you'd find in the Wikipedia article on the same subject (I'm obliged to mention here that I found Gerlach's work easier to read than the Wikipedia article, and simplification might be part of why). At what point do the benefits of simplification founder under the weight of its drawbacks?

Another question: can the potential benefit of covering this topic in Gerlach's series be quantified? I've got the feeling that a fair amount of the people who pick up this zine might have never read anything about the Spanish Civil War otherwise. Sure, the topic has a special place in the hearts of a lot of revolutionary-minded people because of the radical political forces involved (conservatives/fascists vs. communists/anarchists/progressives), but for all of those 'revolutionaries' who identify as intellectual and love diving into books and articles, you've got plenty more who wouldn't touch a thick tome with a ten-foot pole, but might actually read a zine (especially if that zine is promoted by Microcosm, which has a pretty large audience).

A third question, less about this title itself and more about the topic covered: what would it take for a similar war to take place here in the United States? The Spanish Civil War came about because of the failure of Spain's political system to satisfy the demands of a people that had been dramatically polarized into the haves and the have-nots (to boil things down to even simpler terms than those found in Gerlach's zine). With the outrageous disparity of wealth in this country (1, 2), and with the dissatisfaction felt by so many people here (as evidenced by the Occupy movement, amongst other things), today's USA has a lot in common with Spain in the 1930s. And yet, it's pretty hard for me to imagine our populace actually taking up arms.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

FINE ABSENCE, by Anne Bauer

Just finished reading FINE ABSENCE, a poetry chapbook by Anne Bauer. It is excellent, nearly every poem a knockout. But what it leaves me ruminating on now, in these moments following two consecutive read-throughs, is the question of Writing About Personal Topics, and especially Intending for Those Topics to be Read by an Audience.

FINE ABSENCE takes as its general theme the gap that death creates in the lives of those left living. More specifically, many of the poems Bauer includes in this collection are written about, and in the wake of, her father's passing. They are beautiful poems, remarkable for the intimacy of emotion they reveal. And that's what makes me wonder, now, what it means to write of a real, specific, intimate relationship in a forum meant for the public, for an amorphous mass of people you'll never know personally.

I suppose it's possible that the publication of FINE ABSENCE was a sort of accident, that it entailed no effort on the part of Bauer, that she submitted the collection to the Pavement Saw Press chapbook competition (which she won, which is why the collection was published) merely on a whim, that it was accepted and published so quickly and smoothly that Bauer never really had the time or inclination to consider the concept of an audience. Or, I suppose, it's also possible that someone else submitted the collection on her behalf, that it was accepted and published without any effort or desire on her part (that's what happened with Emily Dickinson, after all). But from what I know about poetry publication, these hypothetical scenarios are pretty unlikely. In almost every case, getting a collection of poetry published demands a significant level of committed effort from the author.

Of course, in this particular case I am grateful that Bauer made the effort, because otherwise I'd never have had a chance to read it. But still I wonder: what does it mean to write about the intimately personal and then make efforts to share that writing with an impersonal mass of people you'll never know?

And of course, I write poetry too, and until the last year I worked at getting my poetry published. Even now that I've lost interest in the submission process, when I write poems there is always, at some level, the idea that the poem is an effort to communicate with other people. I'm not just jotting down thoughts for my edification--there is always, to some extent, the goal to produce something with potential value to a greater audience than just my own self.

Why? Why do poets mine their personal lives for material to be presented to a public (a public which, it must be said, really isn't actually clamoring for poetry)? Why are poets driven to present their private selves to an anonymous crowd? Does it boil down to needy egos?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

whatever happened to the outrage?

Remember a while back, maybe ten years, when sweatshops were a big topic? People were protesting Nike, the GAP, and other big brands; Kathie Lee Gifford broke down in tears when her clothing company was exposed as relying on child labor; 60 Minutes and 20/20 and Hard Copy were running exposes on human-rights violations in third world production factories. Sweatshops were utterly gruesome, and people were outraged to learn they were supporting sweatshop labor by buying overpriced Levis.

Ten years later, the sweatshop situation is even worse, and yet you don't seem to hear much about it. The big brands are more profitable than ever, and the smaller brands that sprang up specifically to offer sweatshop free clothing are struggling, or going out of business (SweatX and Just Garments shut down; No Sweat seems like its on the ropes; even American Apparel--which owed its initial popularity in large part to the anti-sweatshop movement--is starting to look like a short-lived fad, with stock prices that peaked at $15 a share currently trading for 75 cents).

So what's up? Does the public not care anymore? Has their horror been lacquered over by the gloss of a decade's worth of billion-dollar big-brand ad campaigns?

Well, one dude who's still outraged is Charles Kernaghan. Here's a speech he gave last year at the International Association of Fire Fighters. It starts with the American economy and then segues into sweatshops, and it goes on for more than 30 minutes, but if you watch even ten minutes you'll probably start to feel outraged about sweatshops all over again. So watch it.

leaving banks behind

World's fucked up today, and banks are a big part of why. I'd opened up a credit union account almost a year ago, but it's only recently that I decided to take all my money out of for-profit banks and shut down those accounts. It's an idea that's been gaining attention recently, and there's lots of good reasons for it. I won't bother to list those reasons here, as they're already all over the net, but if you haven't considered switching, I recommend that you do.

Monday, October 24, 2011


nothing is more utopian
than trusting the ruling class
to redress the grievances
caused by their own dominance

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sweet Schlitze

Recently saw the movie 'Freaks' for the first time. One of the characters that stands out in the film is Schlitze the Pinhead, because of a remarkable sweetness and charisma he conveys on camera. I wonder if one of the reasons Schlitze was so often presented as a female, despite his actual male gender, relates to people generally feeling more comfortable dealing with sweetness coming from girls. In any case, I'm definitely not the only one Schlitze charmed: throughout his life he was cared for by a variety of people, despite his severe handicaps. Well-loved among the sideshow community, Schlitze was even legally adopted by a circus animal trainer. He lived to the age of 70--a remarkably long life for a person with microcephaly--and continued to inspire goodwill even after his death. For example, a group of members of the find-a-death forum tracked down his burial site (he was buried in an unmarked 'paupers' grave) and pooled funds to buy him a headstone. Here's a picture of the stone. Schlitze finally got his hat "with a long feather on it."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


selected unpublished blog posts of a mexican panda express employee
A few weeks ago I got an email asking if I'd like a galley copy of muumuu house's new book: selected unpublished blog posts of a mexican panda express employee, by Megan Boyle. I said sure. They sent me a copy of the book about a week ago. I read the book. Here are some thoughts I had about it.

First of all, it's written in an emotionally flat, consciously unnatural style that I associate very much with Tao Lin. Contractions are often avoided ('i am' is used in place of 'i'm', 'there is' is used in place of 'there's', etc); emotional states are mentioned unemotionally and without great detail ('some acquaintances sat at the table next to me and i felt uncomfortable. they ate in silence and i felt more comfortable.'); sentence structures are basic and show little variation, are even sometimes purposefully repetitive ('i just took an online quiz in my head and found out [...] i just took another online quiz in my head and discovered [...]'). Obviously, writing in such an affected way produces specific effects on the reader. What interested me, in this case, is how that effect differs when similar styles are used by different people.

With Tao Lin's RICHARD YATES this style furthers my perception of the narrator as socially dissociated to the point of exhibiting traits of Aspergers syndrome. The Haley Joel Osment character notes the emotional state of the Dakota Fanning character, but seems to lack any sense of empathy with her. When the HJO character is moved out of emotional neutrality by the DF character, what he feels is irritation and disappointment that the DF character has not lived up to his expectations. He doesn't seem very interested in supporting her; his interests lie, instead, with his personal goals: writing, pushups, things he wants to achieve. The stylistically-affected tone I describe in the previous paragraph seems to further that narrator's character by displaying distrust of, or disinterest with, emotions and emotional-connection/interaction with other people.

Boyle's character, on the other hand, seems highly interested in other people's emotions, or at least in the way that those emotions relate to her. She wants people to like her, to find her attractive and interesting. Again and again she makes statements like 'i felt scared about not having enough time to make myself look attractive for the person i was getting a beer with [...]'; or 'one of my primary goals is to not take myself seriously, or at least to convey that attitude socially...'; or 'i'm having good thoughts today, all seem interesting. i wonder if that would be interesting to read, or too self-indulgent [...]'; or 'eventually i think i made enough funny/relevant comments that i 'broke even,' or maybe exceeded and moved into 'well-liked.'. She obsesses about her weight, mentioning it more than maybe any other topic. She fantasizes about people falling in love with her ('maybe someone will fall in love with me and make me want to stay.').

The pairing of the personality revealed by these statements with the emotionally flat, consciously unnatural style this text is written in gave me a sense of internal contradiction and conflict that seemed mildly tragic, but also illuminating of difficulties faced by the 'internet generation.' To put the conflict into basic terms: she seems to want other people's approval, but she also seems to feel that approval is basically pointless; if it weren't for everything else being pointless too, she probably wouldn't be so obsessed with other people's approval.

I wonder how much of this attitude relates to, specifically, coming of age in an era where a large amount of social-interaction takes place on the internet--a medium in which true intimacy is very difficult to achieve. One reaction could be to start to doubt the potential of human interaction all together, and to come around to a sort of narcissistic/self-obsessed perspective in which the meaning of your own existence is both dwarfed by the internet--because you're only one person in an arena populated by billions of other people (as opposed to being one person in a small town, where you see the same people--even strangers--on a regular basis)--and seduced by the internet--because you have potential access to vastly more people than you'd otherwise have access to. Or to put it in words that Boyle might use, because of the internet 'our generation is fucked.'

Of course, the limits of human interaction and the dehumanizing affect of crowds on the individual are things people had to deal with before the internet ever existed, and the rise of the internet might potentially just have put those things into more immediate perspective. But if that's true, it's probably also true that the internet has brought with it a potential for distraction far greater than any we've faced before, which likely results in individuals having less presence of mind with which to contemplate these things that they've always dealt with.

Boyle's book shows that distracted state of mind--it never goes too deeply in the abstract, it limits itself instead to the very simple, to the very immediate, to concepts like 'i like touching people when i'm drunk'. Often times she writes of things that seem meaningless, or at least not very important--'five employees attended my works christmas party at a bar/ i ate peanuts and tried to hear what people were saying'--which brings to mind that old Miranda July quote about Tao Lin writing 'from moods that less radical writers would let pass—from laziness, from vacancy, from boredom [...]'. A lot of Boyle's book is coming from those moods. A lot of what she writes seems pretty meaningless, seems like words put onto a blog just for the sake of producing words, of saying something, of making noise in an arena of billions--not to communicate anything important, just to keep from disappearing in the crowd.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

the deluded poor

On my lunch break from work today, as I walked to my normal hiding place, I overheard a conversation taking place between two girls walking on the opposite side of the street. They were young--probably college freshman--with dyed blonde hair and surfer-styled fashion, which made me assume they'd come here from Southern California (like more than half of the out-of-town kids at this school). At one point, I heard one of the girls say "Obama wants to take our money, because we're rich, and use it to help give poor people jobs. He's so stupid!" The other girl agreed vociferously.

It's an interesting statement for a lot of reasons, but the thought that leaped out at me when I heard it was: what makes these girls think they're rich?

San Francisco State University, where I work, is one of 23 universities in the CSU system. It's a school largely funded by state money, and the current budget crisis in California has lead to drastic cuts in that funding. This year alone, Governor Jerry Brown plans on cutting back at least 18% of the CSU total budget. What that means is classes have been cut, lecturers have been dismissed, services have been minimized, and tuition has been raised. It's so hard to get the classes you need here that it's now practically impossible to graduate in four years. Current average graduation time is closer to 6 years.

In all honesty, the only reason I can think of as to why people would come to this school at all is that they're either not willing or not able to spend the money to go somewhere else. In other words, they're not rich.

So what makes these girls think they're rich? I'm guessing they think they're rich because they're white and their parents aren't on welfare. Their lifestyles don't fit their concept of poverty, so they assume that they aren't poor. If they aren't poor, then they think they must be rich.

In a certain sense, they're right. This country is still a rich country. Even the poor people in America have a lot more money than people in lots of other countries. These girls probably come from families that own houses, have cars, have extra money to spend on unnecessary things like blonde hair dye. If the house comes with an extortion-rate mortgage, if the cars were bought on loan, if that extra money is balanced by ten thousand dollars of personal debt, they don't know about it. Their parents don't talk with them about finances.

The truth is, only very few Americans still qualify as "rich," assuming you're using the word "rich" to describe the people Obama's plan aims to tax (i.e. people who earn more than $250K a year). In fact, more than 90% of the people in this country earn a salary of around $31K a year, which is about one-eighth of what Obama's "rich" people earn.

And my guess is people in that upper echelon of wealth don't send their kids to state-funded schools, especially when those schools are going down the toilet.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


During my college years I inadvertently signed up for a class in Modernist British Novels (the class schedule had abbreviated the course as Modern British Novels, and I had hopes it would be covering writers like Irvine Welsh and Will Self; because of those three missing letters my expectations were off by almost 100 years). Besides one nonfiction book to familiarize ourselves with the atmosphere of the late 19th century, the class reading consisted of nearly all the works by two authors: Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster. It was a demanding schedule, which resulted in us racing through a new novel almost every week. At such a pace the pleasures of a novel can hardly be noted--it's rather like passing through a city on a train, with only a few vivid glimpses retained despite the ground covered.

Though Woolf's work fascinated me, it also felt laborious and difficult. Forster, on the other hand, connected with me in a personal way (this personal sense of connection, of intimacy and camaraderie and not feeling alone, is one of the great gifts that art sometimes gives). But, racing through his works as we did, I had no time to gain any real satisfaction from them, nor to explore what it was that they made me feel. I noted THE LONGEST JOURNEY and PASSAGE TO INDIA as two novels to return to later, and then I moved on to other study-related distractions.

Nearly ten years have passed since that semester, and only very recently have I found the occasion to return to Forster's work. Earlier this year I stumbled across a mildewed copy of THE LONGEST JOURNEY in the free box of a used book store here on campus. The copyright page states that the book I found was printed in 1922, in full compliance with the Wartime Paper and Other Material Preservation Requirements. The spine is cracked, the pages discolored, but the text remains intact.

The book sat on a shelf awaiting me, for several months, as I read through dozens of other books--books that succeeded in distracting me from where I was and what I was doing, escapist books meant to kill time, to turn our consciousness away from the monotony of our daily lives. I felt urges, now and again, to reread THE LONGEST JOURNEY, but new books kept getting in my way, seducing me with their novelty. Finally, bored of the shallow distractions of all these pulp novels, I picked up THE LONGEST JOURNEY, and started to read it again.

It has been, without a doubt, the most fulfilling reading experience I've had in years. The only other book I can remember reading recently that fulfilled me as much as this book has is MISS LONELYHEARTS, by Nathanael West.

Part of the satisfaction comes from the sentence-level eloquence Forster wields. He puts together words artfully, with great invention and wit, and yet maintains a clarity of story that keeps things moving along. Though it is true his approach is often oblique, rather than direct, it's still easy to know what he means, and to see things clearly. Also, an element of precociousness and idealism is worked into every sentence, which masterfully resonates the story's theme.

The theme, too, is something wonderful to me. Imagine if all of the idealism you felt as a teenager was actually your purest state, and if the later abandoning of such idealism for the conventions of the adult world, a process generally labeled "growing up," was actually a descent into perversion and hollowness. It's an ironic take on the "coming-of-age" novel, in which the character is wiser at the start, and degenerates from there. Rather iconoclastic, but Forster makes it work incredibly well. Plus it's very funny.

I'm not one who often thinks of turning books into movies, but the joy I felt with this book made me fantasize about putting it into a format with a potentially larger audience. The characters are so vividly realized, too--real people who come together in ways that show different elements of their reality--that it's fun to think of which actor would best portray each role. Perhaps:

Rickie: Elijah Wood
Ansell: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Stephen: Jack Black
Agnes: Keira Knightley
Mrs. Failing: Meryl Streep
Herbert: Steve Carell
with a soundtrack by The Smiths

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Accidental Subsistence

I got The Social Network through Netflix, watched it on Sunday. Interesting in that it seems to be a movie about a company (Facebook) instead of a movie about a character. There are several characters that the movie follows, but they seem to take peripheral importance to the development of the company. Scenes with the characters are generally truncated, dialogue limited, development minimal. Lots and lots of micro scenes used to show the developing plot, but not really to establish a relationship between the viewer and the character.

Most interesting to me was the idea that the company could go from a vague concept to a 25 billion dollar company in just a few years. 25 billion dollars is an incredible amount of money. It's large enough that the main character, Mark Zuckerberg, is encouraged to pay a settlement of 65 million dollars to people who really don't seem to have much cause to sue him. 65 million is considered negligible when compared to 25 billion.

Another way to look at it: 25 billion is almost twice as much money as it would take to completely rebuild Haiti. Remember Haiti? It's still fucked, nearly a year after the earthquake. Almost 10 million people squatting in tents, dying of starvation and cholera, and Mark Zuckerberg could cash out his Facebook stock (51% ownership of the 25 billion dollar company) and single-handedly save all those people without even needing to fund-raise a dime.

And it's not like Facebook, this monstrously valuable company, actually produces any vital product. It doesn't have any direct connection to survival, ie food water shelter. It probably won't even be around in another decade or so, fading away just like Friendster and Myspace and all the rest.

A while back Mother Jones magazine published a series of charts meant to visually illustrate the disparity of wealth in the United States. Here's one chart from that series:

So 1% of the population have 34.6 percent of all the money. (Actually, the chart uses data from 2007, and the situation has worsened since then.) When one guy (Zuckerberg) can make 12 billion dollars in five years by creating a company that doesn't even do anything crucial (ie related to survival), during a time in which the average American income is less than $35 thousand a year, it's easy to see how that disparity arises. And with every coming year, the number of people who have all the money shrinks, and the number or people who don't grows.

Here's another way to look at it: Our grandparents earned enough from their jobs to afford a house in a few years. Our parents earned enough to qualify for a 15 or 30 year mortgage, which meant that with a regular job they could afford a house in 15 to 30 years. For our generation, even with a regular job, it is no longer possible for many people to afford a house or mortgage at all in their lifetimes. You just can't earn enough, anymore. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg comes up with one unnecessary, soon-to-be-outdated idea, and he makes 25000 times more in five years than the average American will earn in a lifetime of work (assuming 30 years of earning around $35K a year).

Which means that there isn't really any point in trying to maintain a traditional career anymore.

Considering that, maybe this is a better strategy: work as little as possible, just enough to earn money to cover your basic (food/shelter) needs. If you're ever going to claw your way out of poverty, it'll be from coming up with that lucky idea (like Facebook was for Zuckerberg), or from winning the lotto or something. You can't work your way out of the poorhouse anymore (if you ever really could).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Testament - Gideons' Version

I've been given three of these miniature bibles in the course of my life. Maybe you've been given one too. According to the text in the front of my copy, The Gideons International have passed out more than 1.5 billion of them. They're more common than colds.

But I've never actually got around to reading through any of the copies people gave to me. I might have flipped them open here and there, and read a passage or two, and that's it. Eventually, they disappeared or got lost. The copy I've got now has been sitting on my desk for months, untouched since the day it was handed to me.

If people keep giving me a book, why haven't I ever bothered to read it? There are a couple of reasons. First of all, I'm averse to Christian evangelists. Secondly, I'm pretty lazy, and I haven't ever found the bible to be stimulating reading. I did get started on the Old Testament once, figuring I'd work my way through to the New, but I couldn't make it past Exodus. Too boring.

Well, today is a new day. St. Patrick's day, actually. And I've got this untouched copy of the New Testament sitting on my desk. And I'm thinking I'll try reading it, and blogging about the experience.

I don't know what's going to happen if I read this. Probably nothing. Probably I'll stick with it for a few days, and get bored, and give up. I'm not desperate to be saved, or anything. I'd be more interested in Buddhism, or something, if I were. And a while back I read the Bhagavad Gita, also pushed as one of those life-changing spiritual tomes, and it didn't do much for me.

But who knows? Right here in this Gideons copy I have, it says "The Bible contains the mind of God," and the Gideons seem to think it's powerful enough on its own--they seem unique amongst evangelists because they just hand out copies and leave the preaching to the book. How can my puny, lazy, mortal brain resist the power of God's Mind, especially if he wants me to be led by his light?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

DOWN ALL THE DAYS by Christy Brown

ANGELA's ASHES does a better job of conveying the "Dublin Slum Childhood" sort of story, because it's more coherent, but Christy's book has moments of hallucinatory brilliance, and awesome empathy. The writing is wild, sometimes ridiculously indulgent (especially when Christy runs through a series of alliterative adjectives), but it stumbles into brilliance often enough to merit fighting through the rest.

Take this, for example: "Happiest were the children [...] their small bones sang in the earth forever."

Or this: "her eyes like hard coal diamonds swimming in sperm."

Or this: "the fleck of blood [...] burning like a geranium petal at sunset."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

indie writers hit gold with epublishing

I came across this article on NOVLR talking about writers self-publishing books on ereaders. It focuses on Amanda Hocking (here's her blog), a writer who has never been published in the traditional sense--i.e. by a publishing house. She's put out 9 books, all on her own, and is currently selling more than 100,000 electronic copies each month. (According to USA today, she sold more than 450,000 copies in the month of January 2011.) The books sell for about a buck each, of which Amazon keeps 30 cents. In other words, she's making at least $70K a month without ever having had any other person decide her stuff is worth publication. In other words, HOLY FUCKING SHIT!

The NOVLR article also lists the other top 25 authors self-publishing books on the kindle, the lowest selling number of which is 2,500 copies a month. At seventy cents (or more, in most cases) per book, 2,500 copies a month is a good living.

After reading all of the above, I'm practically having heart palpitations. There's plenty of arguing that could be done to lessen the significance of this ebook selfpublishing revolution, but at first blush this makes the idea of earning a living as an author seem like an actual possibility again. The very thought is like lightning in my veins, and I'm super charged up on trying to figure out how to get into it myself.

Monday, February 28, 2011

independent journals

About two weeks ago I got a check for $300 from Autumn Letters for winning their Best of Word 2010 contest. The check didn't bounce--these guys are for real. You should go to their site, spend some time there, and send them some of your best stuff.

Recently I've been thinking about how my literary 'career' has been most helped along by independent journals and publications. I did have a few early pieces published in university journals, but it's the indie journals that actually seemed to care about my work. Quick Fiction, for example, gave me my first break. And Fogged Clarity, nominated a story of mine for the Pushcart, then did me the additional honor of resurrecting it from their archives for a spot in their first print edition. Instant City spent hours working with me on the story they published--they offered a lot of insightful suggestions, and respected my decision not to follow all of them--and then gave me stage time at a reading a few weeks later. And now Autumn Letters has actually paid me for a poem, which feels like some sort of miracle in this day and age.

I've also found indie journals to be generally more interesting reading than the university affiliated stuff. Not sure why this is, but I think it might have to do with the fact that university journals are often edited by groups, instead of one or a few individuals. That 'group-think process' often leads to a sort of milquetoast selection. Even with uni journals that have a single editor at the top of the pile, those editors are still beholden to other folks in the university--they almost never get true independence in their decision-making.

My experience working for a uni journal--SFSU's Transfer--sure didn't leave a good taste in my mouth. The selection process consisted of a group of fifteen people arguing over what made it in and what didn't. I don't think that any of those people had actually published work of their own, and they consistently settled on pieces that showcased some frivolous quirk, like a second-person point of view. We had one story that I blew me away, and I fought like hell for it, but the group rejected it because they thought it too 'traditional.' I was embarrassed to have my name appear on the staff list of the final product.

Obviously, I'm grateful to anyone who publishes my stuff, and I've come across some incredible work in uni journals. But I think it's especially awesome that that there are journals that follow their own singular taste, and somehow find a way to do it without third-party funding.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

new poem up at The Scrambler

The Scrambler's February 2011 issue is out, and it features my poem drink from the skull cup. Read it, and BLOW YOUR MIND!

(photo by Aaron Dailey)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

notes on Humble Pie

Obvious similarities to Napoleon Dynamite, especially in its fetishism of small-town life. Doesn't quite manage to generate the intrigue of Napoleon though, probably because the characters don't feel as eccentric or boldly comfortable with their own eccentricity. Watching Napoleon Dynamite you feel impressed with how awesomely awkward the characters are; in Humble Pie you just feel sorry for the characters (with the possible exception of Billy Baldwin's character, who manages a bit of swagger).

Also makes me think of Todd Solondz films in that many of the characters are extremely vulnerable, and the plot makes them suffer. Solondz goes so far over the top that it manages a sort of absurd black humor (though I personally can't say I enjoy Solondz films). Humble Pie is not so ruthless, and rarely does it manage to be funny.

You can see the writer's hand often in the dialogue. You can imagine him thinking "I'll make Tracey mean to the handicapped woman in order to create internal conflict in the character, to make him complicated and real instead of uniformly likeable and too simple." Feels contrived. In an early scene Tracey talks with a co-worker about "being a somebody," and says he thinks passing the driving exam (which he has failed several times) would make him a somebody. Blatant cliche dialogue to get to overly simplistic character motivation.

The scene where Tracey comforts himself with a junk-food binge, after having been slighted by a character he idolizes, is actually very sad. Him trying to trick the cashier into thinking he's ordering for two people works toward achieving the sadness, but it's really the shot of him in a dark lot, wolfing down food from the tray balanced on top of a trash can, that drives the knife into your heart.

The plot development sometimes feels a bit flat footed. There's a scene about midway through that involves Tracey having a gun pressed to his temple. Near the end of the movie Tracey faces off with the same character who threatened him with the gun, and Tracey challenges him, and the only consequence is a punch in the face and a few weak kicks. If you've got a gun-to-temple early on, you can't reduce the physical stakes at the climax without it disappointing the viewer.


Billy Baldwin tries to distance himself from the narcissism of the character he plays, but his prominent fashion "flair" (rings on several fingers and on his thumb, a funky ethnic-looking necklace, hair with so much gel in it that it looks shellacked) make it hard to believe him.

When Kathleen Quinlan talks about her excitement for "Indie films," she sounds like what she's actually excited about is the idea of being a big fish in a small pond.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

SPARTINA by John Casey

One of the most satisfying novels I've read in the last year. I initially felt drawn to it for the direct, esoteric nautical information, and the vividness of the characters. Sort of feels like a working-class struggle-to-claw-out-of-misery story, like Upton Sinclair's THE JUNGLE. About a hundred pages in it veers into the subject of adultery, which brings about more ambiguity in the language and description (a good example of the sort of pretentious literary wordplay attacked by B.R. Myers in his A READER"S MANIFESTO), and get's so "deep" that it's hard at first to even gather that any sexual act has been committed. Kind of disappointed me when it took that turn, but it managed to maintain the characters vividness, and the plot continued to involve the sea-faring stuff that first pulled me in, and eventually the ambiguity of the writing about love and desire and infidelity developed into a tone that felt appropriate for the complexity and mystery of human psyches. Also, the book brings a happy sort of resolution that feels difficult enough to not be cheap.

One of the most interesting aspects of SPARTINA is the narration: told in third person but intimately, inseparably connected to the consciousness of the protagonist. The sentences capture his gruffness, his focus on the practical (despite the book's eventual wandering into the mists of human-relationships), but also show his intelligence and thoughtfulness. To create an intelligent character without giving any whiff of academia to him, it's a unique achievement.

Another interesting thing, related to this narrative approach, is that we are often given statements as if they are definitive, and then later we are given statements (with the same level of authority) that contradict the initial statements. A little confusing at first (I'm used to third person narration being 'infallible'), but unique in how it further reveals the mind of protagonist--he comes up with a perspective that is presented as if it's a golden truth, the sort that book's often hinge upon as their climax (an epiphany moment), but later that golden truth is replaced by a different one. The protagonist is wise, but fallible.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Best of 2010 Winner

I just found out that Autumn Letters chose my poem "sick fish" as their "Best of 2010" in the Word Section! This is one of the highest accolades I've received for my poetry, and I'm very proud and grateful for the honor.