Friday, December 14, 2007

Planned Obsolescence, or Always the Bridesmaid

Yesterday was a hard day.

1. I had resolved to go into the office, to see people I'm friendly with, but who I had not seen in months. My social anxiety flares.
2. I decided to shop beforehand, granted it was just for groceries and office supplies (being out of #10 envelopes as the impetus), but still I had to descend into the maddening psychosis of pre-Christmas.
3. Nervousness about embarking on test two of a new semi-social engagement (which I'm too shy to mention outright until it clearly takes) had me in knots most of the afternoon as well. And
4. I received 4 rejections, including one from West Branch where I sent a few poems TEN days ago. Generally they filter in one at a time. Four is a little harsh in a day. Four times being told I suck (okay, I know that's not what they say. But maybe they should. If I ran a magazine, maybe I'd just have a little note that said either "You Suck" or "You Rock" depending on which way things went in the editorial office). Then I got another email rejection in the afternoon.

The rejections, combined with the fact that I had spent some of the morning getting other things (both fiction and poems) ready to go out, made me think that maybe I'd hold off on sending anything else out for awhile. Every now and then the administrative aspect takes over, usually when I'm not feeling so good about the actual writing. So then it becomes something I can do INSTEAD of writing, which is not a good. I resolved to take a break from submitting things, because sometimes I feel like it does have an ill effect, enough for me to want to feel super indy again, as in a who-cares-what-the-rest-of-the-world-thinks focus on just me and my intimate dance with words and sentences.

Today I saw another thin envelope with my handwriting on it and I cringed. But it was the kind of no that gets me running again. One of those book-length poetry contests I thought I had no chance in hell at, called my manuscript "wonderful" and "strong", a semi-finalist.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Every tongue that gets bit always has another word to say or Better the serenading at home

Granted we got there late, just as Iron & Wine had finished pulling their instruments onto the stage. There wasn’t the time to sit back, watch the rabble in anticipation, witness the languor and rising irritation of people actually watching the opening act, take in the excitement of a show imminent. I don’t know what music played between sets. I mean, literally we sat down three minutes before the show began. We entered the lobby just as the college kids were filtering down to the bar for their third or fourth beer.

The air filled with the unplaceable floating odor of beer. The way breath smells, but collectively, as though every other mouth in the place had just tasted hops. The way my grandfather’s house smells after five p.m. It’s a smell I sort of miss, and the kind that’s even more prevalent in bars in this state since the smoking ban went into effect. I rarely drink anymore, since getting together with C, and it gives me a headache almost every time. Before I even finish the second glass of whatever I have. I had wanted to drink at the show, but actually forgot. It was this way with smoking as well when I did that. I often forget to partake of the vices.

I don’t do this much anymore either, going to concerts, but it’s only because of my mounting fear of crowds. My concern with coughing not kept localized, of massive infection brought on by a sneeze. There’s just something unsanitary about stuffing so many people into any one place. But that’s me. So why do other people go to a show?

1. Because other people are going, i.e. socialization. But I hate these people, there for the conversation, the getting dressed, the ones who often stand with their back to the band.

2. Because of love for the particular band. Okay, I’ll buy this. I was in love with Tori Amos once. Once I would have given anything to be in a room with her, even if there were rows and rows of people between us. (I’m only a little embarrassed by this confession. It was this way with David Bowie as well, but he rarely toured in my concert-going years.)

3. Because of the band’s reputation for an incredible stage presence. _Standing in the Way of Control_ excluded because it is nothing short of pure mastery, I continued to buy The Gossip’s CDs every time even though I never listened to them. While songs from the early albums came off sounding pretty much the same to me, the shows were exhilarating moments of rock and roll I wanted to live inside. Even before Beth Ditto took her clothes off, I was madly in love with her. I worried Brace Paine would turn his ankle, I stared. Kathy Mendonça hot on drums. I mean the show was mostly Beth, and the madness of the music that came off too controlled in the studio, but they were all always in top form. Which leads me to

4. To see what a live show can add to/rise above/yield something different or more than the recording we know.

To this end, which was my reason for going to the show last night, Iron & Wine, sadly, did not deliver. The band seemed tired, anti-social even, which I respect, but not so much on stage (unless one can turn it into a kind of freak show beauty a la Cat Power). The songs were well rehearsed, of course, but I felt like I was sitting in a crowd listening to the album. You know, actually, remembering that one trip to the Lillith Fair in ’96, some audiences want to hear exactly what they know. I am not this audience. If I want the CD as I know it I’ll sit in my bedroom, reading or doing other things while listening. I go to a show to get a feeling, experience something I can’t get at home. The only thing that fit this bill last night was my disdain for twentysomething strangers. At home I could have made them play my favorite song. And play it again if I wanted to hear it again. So there was no benefit, not really. I felt like I was listening to a bland studio session, with a few notable drawbacks to this even.

My theory. This show was sandwiched between Seattle and Vancouver, as almost any show we get is. We are not a large town. We are no city. There is nothing metropolitan here. But we aren’t the backwoods some acts seem to take us for. This was a throwaway show. Everyone seemed to be taking it easy. Perhaps someone was ill. I heard something about Sam Beam not feeling well. But the worst offense was that it seemed like they gave the sound guy the night off. I don’t know much about these things, but it seems that if you have a dozen or so instruments, you might have your own sound guy to work it all out. I would. Last night whoever was running sound had little clue what the sound should have been. Instead of the intricate harmony of so many instruments, it was a bit of harmony in the background drowned out by the screeching of two fighting cats. With the treble of the slide guitar and violin turned up twice as loud, everything else was lost and I felt like my ears should have bled.

Things I actually enjoyed:

1. The music, sure. Problems with the sound, but still a good listen. Better than listening to Rainer bark, which is what I am hearing right now.

2. That, like a lot of music I love, I realized even more fully how voice is generally used as just another instrument in many songs. Perhaps this was more fully accented by the fact that, with the fighting cats, voice was relegated to the bank fence as all the other instruments were.

3. The woman yelling STEVE, STEVE, STEVE, pacing back and forth two rows ahead of me for about ten minutes.

4. That there was less required clapping than usual. I do admire a band who will provide a musical liaison (or even some random sound) in between songs.

5. Figuring out that his hair looks pretty much as mine did in junior high, perhaps with slightly more frizz and, of course, sans the beard.

6. Trying to figure out the inexplicable, yet not unwanted mass exodus 2/3rds of the way through the show. This I finally decided could be attributed to the short attention span of the college student. (And I felt bad for C. Every now and then I get a hint of what it must be like to live in a town where everyone you run into is a current or former student. I mean, I’m horrified enough when I run into students I’ve had when I’m not expecting it. And this only happens once or twice a year.)

7. But the best moment came with the standard yelling of Freebird! from out in the crowd. Sam Beam threatened to play, as apparently he had the night before when prompted. “What else can I do if you ask for it?” Small laughs in the crowd. Then someone yelled, “What about Hot for Teacher?” In this moment the crowd got small, so small, all of us in on one thing, all understanding, everyone laughed, Sam laughed, actually lost control for a second or two. It’s a moment like this, some kind of transcendence, that I need if I’m going to venture out to a show, if I’m going to stay up past my bedtime. Unfortunately this is the only moment of this that I got.

When Sam Beam joked, referring to the show the night before, about having played Freebird, “you should have been there, you should have seen us last night,” I have to say I had to believe him. I hear it was a really great show.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Quantum Physics and The Art of the Possible

While there isn't much that disturbs me more than a child prodigy who has elevated him/herself unnaturally beyond normal capacities without putting in the time, I am fascinated with accounts of people suddenly explosively excelling in one discipline due to a proficiency in another.

What am I talking about? Well, a word to prodigies - I don't think it's so much the skills themselves that frighten me when I see a two-year old hammer down Chopin's Polonaises in G minor (which Chopin himself wrote while practically still in the womb). What bothers me is Oprah's (or insert alternate venue) adoring crowd. Skill is skill, right? I close my eyes and it's the same music, take the child away and it's the same painting, photograph, surgery, math problem solved.

Really I think it's the crowd itself. The attention lavished, the focus, fetish. Somehow any spotlight on a child--and I don't mean a dance recital filled with parents and camcorders--I mean the pre-pubescent opera singer on Ellen, etc. Any spotlight like this on a child seems precious and pornographic. We the spectator are attracted to the small child performing an adult act.

The exception for me (perhaps strangely) is a child actor. In this the child that acts the best is the child who can forgo/ignore the audience and simply "be." Right? That's what we expect out of good acting. A child actor is doing something childlike, pretending to be someone else. Kids do this all the time. Or I did anyway. I don't know, maybe this is a completely hypocritical division. And perhaps I can't fully explain, except to say it is. That said, I don't like seeing child stars on talk shows on in magazines either. It's the public eye, not the screen itself, that seems voyeuristic and exploitive to me.

This is not where I meant to go with this at all, but two things diverged this week. I started watching Season One of Heroes and I started reading Amir D. Aczel's _The Artist and the Mathematician_. How do these meet? Well, child actor Noah Gray-Cabey from Heroes apparently studies advanced high school math (he's 11) and got his start as a piano prodigy. At age 3 he could watch his father play something, memorize what his hands did, and repeat it correctly the first time. The book talks a lot about the integral link between math and other disciplines. Aczel shows how cultural movements were a direct result of mathematical movements and (occasionally) vice versa, one making the other possible. This interests me. The book focuses on how structuralism in linguistics and mathematics (instituted by Bourbaki) served as a catalyst for structuralism in other fields, most notably anthropology (Levi-Strauss, who is really considered the "father" of structuralism), which doesn't particularly interest me at the moment, as well as literature (making Oulipo possible) and literary theory, to name a few.

This made me think more about quantum physics shaping both photography and painting and allowing for the current (somewhat long-standing) trend for fractured narratives in both writing and film. Quantum physics (which I haven't really read about since junior high school when I wanted to learn how to time travel if at all possible, and haven't thought about since Quantum Leap and Sliders both went off the air) shook up our relationship to time in such a way that cause and effect became severed. Up until then a work of art generally reflected one moment in time, the shakeup allowed for the changes that allowed for cubism to examine movement in painting. Not the implication of movement, but movement itself. As in Duchamp's series of paintings of his brothers playing chess, or the nude descending the staircase (was this Duchamp? I think it was, but I'm not in the mood to fact-check myself). Even in the latter's title we have movement. I'd never thought about the title as such a key to not only the picture itself, but the attempt/statement it was setting out to make. A motion picture in paint, animation of one frame.

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Anyway, my thanks to quantum physics for giving me permission to continue creating a mess when I write instead of making sense.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tell me about the dream where we pull the bodies out of the lake and dress them in warm clothes again.**

Last night I had a dream Richard Siken made me an ice cream sundae. I then went to the movies with Mindy Kaling. There were also some recurring problems with loose teeth that I don't want to talk about. The sundae was good, but did not have the miniature M&Ms like Mindy's did.

**from Richard Siken's "Scheherazade" (of which I did not post the whole poem because I don't know how to do the white space justice here)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

No anchorless groping disturbs the hand**

C and I are going to see No Country for Old Men this afternoon. In about an hour, actually. This is why I seem content to tool around shifting words online rather than getting into the meat of something or going back to my reading (Israel Chalfen's _Paul Celan: A Biography of His Youth_).

Part of me would like to compose a long post about this film, which I have not yet seen, based on what I have been told and what I have read elsewhere. While I like to hear what other people have to say about a film before I watch it myself, I refuse to read reviews before watching a film. After, when I can argue with the writer while I read, I will see what they have to say. But there is a kind of posturing that happens in film reviews that taints the film for me. It's like I sometimes analyze a film using the text of the review. The few times I have done this it has made me uncomfortable and taken me a little while to figure out why my enjoyment of the film was off.

Whether the film is actually *good* or *bad* means nothing to me about how I enjoy the film while watching. I like looking at attractive people on the screen. I like the ritual of the ticket counter, the popcorn counter. More than anything I like the feel of experiencing something with strangers in a darkened room. That said, I like to experience this something with no one sitting directly next to me (unless I've brought someone myself), in front of me or directly behind.

If someone sits directly behind I wonder if they're putting things in my hair. This fear, I'm sure, stems from my first movie date in junior high. I was an awkward child and people noticed this. I will even say they took it upon them to capitalize on it. Regardless, I came out of Rocky V with popcorn and whoknows whatelse in my hair. And though my date was kind, the relationship did not last out the month. I don't blame this on the popcorn so much as the roving hands.

I want to be one of the people who will sit in the semi-darkness before the previews begin with my feet on the chair in front of me. Somehow I grew out of this in my middle twenties. I should perhaps have grown out of it sooner, but as I've said, I'm very protective of a positive movie-going experience. Now when someone sits in front of me I simply move, if possible. When the theater is crowded I have to give myself over to a different kind of mentality to fully enjoy a film. Like dancing with the rabble in a crowded concert venue (which I do less and less), I stop playing us and them and imagine myself as less myself (the island) and more as one piece of the crowd.

Then there's the snackfood. Popcorn and M&Ms, mixed, the chocolate warm and soft within the shell, the popcorn becoming stained with the candy colors. And also contraband Diet Dr. Pepper.

In any case, I'm looking forward to seeing Javier Bardem. I have a slight crush on him. And the Coen brothers have only let me down once, though admittedly I have never seen Intolerable Cruelty or Ladykillers.

Regarding book reviews, I do read them, but never to the end unless I have already read the book myself. In these the posturing is less aggressive, less obnoxious, but often the writer of a review is self-involved enough to include too much of their own world I do not wish to know. Except for People magazine, which tells one nothing, but is nontheless not invasive.

**from Celan's Mother's Day poem, 1938

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Anxiety of Deadlines

In the house, Carol and I have set things up so that we don't get in each other's way. She has what I call her "suite" upstairs, and with the white noise machine on she can block out almost everything. Everything except what I call the Real White Noise Machine:
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When Rainer speaks, he will always be heard. And, blind and startled frequently, he is heard a lot.

My office is downstairs. I initially had the idea, after a year of substantially cluttering up one small room in our other house, of having nothing but a desk and a chair. With, of course, the madness of my bulletin board and the yellow moons of post-it notes that surround. The small Basquiat calendar remains on October. It regularly falls to the floor, but the prevailing month lets me know it's been at least three weeks since this has happened. I started with the desk and chair. The 1950s couch, given to me by my good friend Don moved in:
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then the bookshelf. The bookshelf is small, three shelves only. The idea behind this is to recycle books: read them, then sell them back to Henderson's (current credit on my account is somewhere near $120, something that makes me feel safe the way my parents never did), then buy books only as I have time to read them. I refuse to get another shelf. This is a system that Should work.

There's only one pile of books on the floor. Granted it reaches the full three or so feet in heigth that the shelf does, it is only one stack. The other stack on TOP of the bookshelf is probably only two feet high. And we won't go into the conversion the room's closet took on. One day there's wood on my floor, the next day there are shelves in the closet and the books have again multiplied. Then there's the chair I bought at the Catholic yard sale. I felt good about talking them down. Thirty dollars was way too much for a chair that who knows who has sat in. Regardless, the other dog likes to sit in it and watch me read on the couch.
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All of this was the setup for what? Today as I read Allen Ginsberg's _Planet News_ a bird flew into the window. From this I got a new title. I keep a list for things that don't readily title themselves. I looked up just in time to see the bird. It flew away, shaken. I was reminded of the week Natalie repeatedly saw birds flying into windows, I wrote down the title, I returned to my book. Three or so stanzas down in the poem I was on (Waking in New York) I read this: "Oh New York, oh Now our bird / flying past glass window Chirp", which reminded me of the post on death I'd been meaning to write.

Last week an experienced kayaking doctor got blown off course in the bay and was found facedown in the water three hours later. He was 40. I have little orange bottles in my bathroom with his name on them.

Five years ago tomorrow my grandmother died. She was my favorite person in the world. Once she realized I had no relationship with my mother she took over in the ways that she could. She wasn't the baking cookies kind of grandmother, she didn't coddle, but she loved me.

A friend of a friend (a girl in her 20s) died last week, a blood vessel rupturing in her head.

All of this reminds me I could die anytime.

I have things to do. I've never been happier. I've found the girl of my dreams. Somehow happiness has brought terror though. I'd never given a thought about mortality until I found I had everything to live for.
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Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Poet as Rock Star

Good day! After much consideration I have made the jump to Blogspot. This is not to take away from my "private" public journal, but only to focus on (mostly) literary things. Such as:

1. I have recently completed a draft of the novel good enough to circulate. This does not mean I'm perfectly happy with everything, only mostly that there were a few deadlines too good to miss. The work will continue after my month (November) of respite.

2. The month of respite will be used for the purposes of a) catching up on reading, as I am still off by 17 books from my goal of 150 books read this year. That leaves me with one book roughly every three days, a feat I'm fairly certain can be mastered as long as does not take over my life anymore than it already has, and b) to get back on my goal of constructing one (1) collage per month. Collage has been known, actually, to focus my attention back to a writing project that is giving me trouble. But that will not be its charge this month. Purely for the visual ecstasy of putting pictures of Britney Spears next to underwater Jacques Cousteau panoramas will I put glue to board and scatter my workshop with old Bust magazines and ancient medical texts, etc. I've a great one that deals primarily with disorders of the eye. There are many disorders of the eye.

3. The premier issue of Knockout is available and features: Marvin Bell, Timothy Liu, Todd Boss, Charles Jensen, Mabel Yu, Brent Goodman, Carol Guess, Carl Phillips, Alberto Rios, Robert Bly, Kimberly Lambright, Billy Collins, Charlotte Innes, Joseph Massey, CAConrad, Gerard Wozek, and others, with translations of Yuan Zhen, Ouyang Jiong, Han Wo, and Zhao Luanluan. It's really fantastic.

You should pick up a copy at (I do not actually know if that link will work, but I am not a bells and whistles kind of girl. If you're going to read here you may have to get used to your keyboard's fancy cut and paste functions). Also, half the proceeds will go to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation, "an organization established to help those affected by the civil war in Sudan."

I received my issue early (yesterday), as I carpooled to Seattle with one of the founding editors to see

4. Matthea Harvey read at Open Books. Her new collection, _Modern Times_ came out recently and I'm sorry to say I hadn't read it yet. While I'm a huge fan, apparently the bookstores in my town are not quite as hip to her hot poetic stylings. My favorite of the evening "Dinna'pig" nearly didn't make the final cut due to blushing.

It was entertaining as well to see how a professional manages herself at a reading. I mean, I'm always entertained by how writers, who are by law odd creatures who often fear the light of public space/public discourse, navigate an event at which they are required to be "on." Perhaps I will save my list of "types" of public reading faces for another post. What I will say is that Matthea Harvey is a model for what a good writer should do.

a. She did not read with an affected voice. Now there is a time and place for this, but I (for one) think these times and places should be more limited. Matthea read with (what I think) was a normal speaking voice. A bit on the deadpan side, but then that suits her work well. There is something about delivering lines like "Ma gave Dinna' Pig his name so that no-one would forget where that pig was headed. She liked to call a spade a spade, hence her children: Mistake, Mistake 2, and Goddammit" that just might not be as effective if affective.

b. She was very good looking. Notably this is not something a writer can change much about themselves. But a pretty face to me makes for a prettier reading.

c. No Q&A. While I was disappointed, I could think of a bevy of inane questions to drill her with about her brilliant work, it is a good tactic. If the audience asks no questions, there is less likely to be that nagging feeling on the plane that you have said something stupid. Note: ala Hillary Clinton style, one May plant questions ahead of time in the audience that one already has a handy answer to.

d. When signing, Harvey was able to squash that uncomfortable space where the devotee shifts his/her weight from one foot to the other while trying to think of something to say other than, "I really like your work." She did this by picking something out about the person to engage Them with. In my case she mentioned that a lot of her favorite people shared my name and I mentioned that I refused to say my first name when I was a child because it sounded like someone falling down the stairs. Regardless, I was still able to say something silly along the lines of, "I really loved hearing you read."

e. I would like to institute a system kind of like groupies in rock and roll. Mind you, if I end up having them I will not engage with them in questionable ways, I'm more thinking of following around poets I admire from town to town, reading to reading. Never mind that I may hear the same poem fifteen times. I've heard Sleater-Kinney play "Dig Me Out" live at least 30 times and it has never depleted my love for the song. On that note

5. Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney fame is now blogging for NPR about, well, primarily about music, but so far she's covered everything from people carrying their cats, etc on their shoulders, to her father's retirement, to the season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Good gig, right? It's only been about a week, so you can catch up easily if you start reading now. She's at

6. I went to the dentist today. While I will try to keep this primarly a literary blog, hell days may seep in and nothing sends me through flames quicker than a bright light and a man with a drill standing over me.