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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Trees The Trees

I read Heather Christle's The Tree The Trees while waiting in line at the DMV. When you go to the DMV it always takes an hour and a half. I don't know why so many people go there unprepared, completely flabbergasted that they have to sit in a room with strangers for an hour and a half. I'm good at waiting. I'm a master of it. If I had the money I would ride a train back and forth from home to Philadelphia, just so I could wait for my destination, no other options or responsibilities hovering in view.

Reading poetry in a very loud place, with screaming children, pop music ringtones and the ever present bingo-esque call for persons in line ahead of you, is surprisingly easy. It's a pleasant bureaucratic white noise. But I find it completely impossible to read verse on a screen. I have no idea what the difference is, but backlighting makes all efforts futile. But I hope you do not share my affliction, so you can enjoy the passages I share.

From "JE M'APPELLE IVAN"

I am alone     I am a real bear     with a head full of
hazard and light     I live in nature     live with no
friends     and no equity     who needs it     I have
my face     I have my hands     which are as I speak
mauling the air     one time I took a trip     I lay
horizontal on a marvelous raft     I did look up
regard the blank stars     and accept them as holes in
the frame

This past weekend I went hiking, since nature decided to finally stop snowing out of season. Making my way through a nice carpet of bluebells I stopped at a steel gate. I'm not sure what made me stop and stare at it for so long. But eventually I glanced down and at its foot was an almost invisible turtle. He was camouflaged beak to feet with dried dirt. He stayed still for a very long time, and I resigned he was dead. I took a step closer and saw his tail twitch. He was alive, but not by much. Dried up and nearly a hundred yards from water, I guessed he was a victim of the flood that had been through the area a few weeks earlier. I found a wash basin half-buried in dirt, another product of the flood, and placed the limp 25lb snapping turtle inside. I carried him the hundred yards to a river and began washing him off. On closer inspection I realized his shell had been severely cracked. Rotting flesh was beginning to poke through the crevices. He opened his powerful snapping jaws wide, either in pain, fear or aggression. Or all at once. I put him in my car and drove home, ignoring the smell of putrification and river fish. I washed him off again with clean water once home, but it only reveaed more of the damage. It's a Saturday evening, and veterinarian offices won't be open until Monday. With little money in my bank account I'm not sure what help they would be anyway. A call to the local wildlife rescue reveals that their facilities are full. Google tells me that severely damaged turtle shells are irreparable and usually fatal. The only option left. Return him to his home. Perhaps that's where he wanted to be all along. I put him back beside the river and leave him to the wild.

From "WHEN THE SUN WENT DOWN THEY KEPT GROWING"

now I understand     you are the owner of a small
piece of time     like anyone else     tonight
everyone's sending me flowers     and I am upset
thinking maybe where I am the earth will collapse
I mean     they are light enough     but gather this
many together     and some are peonies     I can't
understand how they even stand up     babies can't
do what they do     I don't want to be over     any
time in the next hundred years

I'm at the DMV because I bought a new car. New as in new to me. New as in 2008. The paperwork involved seems more painful than what the monthly payments will be. Everyone I talk to seems surprised I'm 27. Maybe it's the barrette in my hair. Or the Hello Kitty perfume. I want a "Virginia Wildflowers" license plate because that seems nice. Although getting the "Pro-choice" one and gauging reactions is tempting. I want a personalized plate as well, to match the flower theme. But so many of them are already taken. MTN-LRL? No. RED-BUD. Nuh-uh. PEONY!? Keep dreaming. I've never hated like-minded strangers so much. PHLOX is available and the DMV website congratulates me on finding it, but I think I know why it's never been taken. LILAC is there as well, but inappropriate for a red car, I feel.

"1998"

one time this real moon was trying to arrest me     I
was like     I don't even know what I did wrong
has the whole world gone away     why didn't
anyone tell me     never much good at escape     I
thought I'd try complete surrender     dropped every
weapon I had     then the moon was like     listen
you slice of the future      you can cry but you can't
make me change

There's a theme of time and perpetuality in Christle's collection. The perpetuality relates to nature. And time to us. We are mortal. But nature is enduring.


From "HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME"

I know where I'm going to die     right here     in my
own honest body     I avoid my body by sleeping
for instance I've just woken up     now here come
my galloping arms     my head the malletless gong
so many days I do not understand     one plows
forward     one gathers     it rains     each month
maintains its own atomic number     a year does not
have a skeleton     it has an uncracked egg     I have
to eat it     I have to get married     my friend the
golden onslaught married stuff in bloom

From "THE ACTUAL FUTURE"

           now I'm going to talk about the future
of my peer group     the actual future     when I turn
into a human     and have to take vacations to
weep into myself

A sincere and fervent desire to write "to weep into myself" in the "Comments" section of an absence report form.

From "THIS IS NOT THE BODY I ASKED FOR"

the thing is     you can't send it back     so     today
I'll accomplish a lot     I will compare my head      to
an eight by twelve glossy photo     of a man on a
fabulous jet-ski     what I see right away is the noise
we both have that in common     I'd like to jet-ski
straight out of this life

My number, F-204, is finally selected for bingo. I go the desk, lay out my folder containing the car's title, a completed VSA-17A, SUT-1, VSA-5, VSA-14, and check for $342.75, precalculated based on the 3% tax on the car, $10 titling fee, and cost of registration for one year. We only need the title and check, she says. Okay, I say. What do you do for a living, she asks. I work in a library. Oh, she says. I figured it was something like that. I admire your presentation and organization skills. Thanks, I tell her.

I finish the transaction and walk out with plain tags. I was thinking about the turtle and forgot to ask for the wildflower ones.

Heather Christle's The Tree The Trees is available at Octopus Books.

60 pages
4,885 pages / 20,000 page goal

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Crapalachia

Didn't see it coming that a book titled Crapalachia would end up making me bawl like a toddler (see also, my forthcoming review of Kevin Sampsell's A Common Pornography). But Scott McClanahan's Crapalachia: a Biography of a Place filled me with enough nostalgia and death anxiety to make my SSRI pretty much defunct. God, but it is wonderful.

McClanahan's writing is superb; minimalistic but beautiful and poignant when it needs to be. He doesn't tell us what we need to feel while reading. Or manipulates readers with "emotion porn." What happens just happens. There's humor mixed with tragedy, because that's life, regardless of where or how we live.

It's been said that the poor living in the hills of the Appalachian mountains, better known as "hillbillies," are the last group it's still seen as socially acceptable to ridicule. I'm not so sure about that, since the same could be said about those who are overweight (damn, that's two strikes against me). But I do know that that the kind of people I grew up with, went to school with, my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and myself, have been exploited, humiliated, manipulated, and ignored by the rest of the country for what seems like forever. Because, POVERTY! Hilarious, right!?

In the appendix to his book, McClanahan mentions that his work shouldn't be roped into the genre of  "Appalachian Minstrel Show." In other words exploiting its people and culture, reducing it to cariacture, to entertain and make money. If you don't know what I'm talking about, just watch the lineup on TLC or the History Channel for more than 5 seconds. But then he calls out certain authors in particular, like Lee Smith, which seems a bit pompous. I've been to one of her readings and she's anything but a minstrel. She grew up in the area she most often includes in her novels, and has every right to write about them in her own way. Appalachia belongs to all Appalachians. Or at least to those who pronounce it correctly.

But I still can't recommend Crapalachia enough. It's a creative semi-non-fiction biography of a very real place, and the people and memories it holds. Here are some passages:

I saw the graves filling up all around her and saw how Grandma would be here beneath it one day and then Nathan and then one day Stanley, and then one day...me. So I saw her whisper, "Oh lordie," and claim she was dying like she always did.
     I wished we were already back at home so I could eat some more peanut butter fudge. Nothing lasts.
     I snapped the picture and it was like she was already gone.
     It was like I saw that she was dying right then--real slow--and she knew the secret sound. It's a sound that all of us hear. It's a sound that sounds like this. Tick. Tick. Tick.

AND NOW A MOMENT TO ONCE AGAIN
REMEMBER THE THEME OF THIS BOOK.

      The theme of this book is a sound. It goes like this: Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. It's the sound you're hearing now, and it's one of the saddest sounds in the world.

I love the author's interjection there. "REMINDER! This book is about mortality! Just like everything is!"

I knew he believed in something that none of us ever do anymore. He believed in the nastiest word in the world. He believed in KINDNESS. Please tell me you remember kindness. Please tell me you remember kindness and joy, you cool motherfuckers.

      I looked at Ruby now and I saw all of the things she knew. She knew how to do all kinds of things no one else knew how to do.
     She knew how to render lard and make soap.
     She knew how to make biscuits from scratch and slaughter a hawg if she had to. And she knew how to do things that are all forgotten now--things that people from Ohio buy because it says homemade on the tag. I looked at the quilt she was working on. The quilt wasn't a fucking symbol of anything. It was something she made to keep her children warm. Remember that. Fuck symbols.

 Fuck symbols.

192 pages
4,825 / 20,000 page goal

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Feast of Crows

A Feast of Crows. More like A Fast of Interesting Characters. Not that there's a lack of named persons in this book, but we only hear from like, four of them. From a cast of hundreds. And not the ones we're really interested in (except you Brienne, you BAMF).



~ BEWARE, spoilerish info below ~

Behold, FoC! Be thrilled by tales of Cersei, sitting in a castle! Or Sansa, sitting in a different castle! And Samwell, sitting in a boat! Are you a Daenerys Targaryen fan? Like Tyrion's whoring and japes? Well fuck you, they're not in it!

GRRM put a blurb at the end of this massive door stopper explaining (apologizing?) that he realized the book he wanted to write would be too long, so he decided to split it up, into this and its followup, A Dance With Dragons. But instead of splitting it chronologically he split it up by character chapters. Meaning we're only hearing from half the characters we're supposed to be hearing from. A Dance With Dragons will apparently tell the side of the other kajillion characters.

But after this one, I don't know if I can handle another open-ended, snail-paced disappointment. Given its title, I pray to the Seven that Daenerys finally gets her ass, and those of her dragons, over to Westeros. Or that white walkers make it past that blasted wall. Or Jaime and Brienne just make babies already. But I feel like GRRM keeps setting up all these grand threads for epic things that could happen -- frozen zombie apocalypse, dragon takeover, nights becoming dark and/or full of terror, winter FINALLY coming -- but doesn't know exactly how to write these things. They're all just sitting there as possibilities. And I honestly don't see how they could all go together anyway. It would be a clash of every fantasy fiction trope imaginable.

What I really want is for the peasants to revolt and set up a democracy. Just draft a magna carta and throw it in front of King Tommen. That kid'll sign anything.

1104 pages
4,633 of 20,000 page goal

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Internet Lovelies

With the lone exception of George Clooney, no one in America ever comes out and says that not everyone wants to get married. The social compact, as expressed in political platforms, revolves around marriage and family life. The acceptance speeches at both of last summer's presidential-nominating conventions were addressed to only two demographic groups: "working families" and "families who work." That's fine, working families need the lion's share of social programs--the housing, the schools, the health care, the roads to get from the housing to the schools and the health care. But what about a shout-out to those of us single professionals who shell out gazillions of dollars in taxes to educate and care for all the working families' progeny?
Sarah Vowell, Link

Being a single, working tax payer is one of the most socialist things you can be. Add to that having a job providing free books to the public and my faded Communist Party tee (featuring Karl Marx with a lamp shade on his head and martini in hand) is looking more and more appropriate. 

I was able to meet Sarah Vowell last week, which was a pretty big highlight in what has been an overwhelmingly lightless winter. February and March can go straight to hell. Sarah is one of my favorite writers. I've read all six of her books, a read-count only surpassed by JK Rowling in terms of author loyalty (though that's more to do with addictive tales of child wizardry). She made an appearance at my alma mater, where she read from her most recent book, Unfamiliar Fishes. I was hoping she'd mention something about her next project, but she told the audience she wasn't ready to discuss it publicly. However she did read from something new, discussing the diaries of a grumpy cartographer who helped map the newly expanded western United States. It was absolutely hilarious, and I'm hoping it's a hint at what her next work will be. Books about cartography and map obsession are pretty big right now, with last year's publication of Ken Jennings' Maphead and Simon Garfield's On the Map. I'm not mapped-out yet, so bring it on.

Question: when you meet an artist, writer, musician, etc., you admire, what are you supposed to say to them? Other than blurting out something along the lines of I LIKE HOW YOU PUT WORDS TOGETHER. Or THE NOTES YOU PLAY SOUND GOOD. Because I'm lost when it comes to proper creator-fandom etiquette. They're just human beings, after all. Human beings who've heard from a thousand other nerds that they enjoy the things they've created. If you have legitimate questions, maybe that's different.

I remember several years ago when I went to a Rob Zombie concert (this librarian used to be pretty metal, albeit not with the best taste), my friend and I payed major dough so we could be the first ones let into the pit, to secure the coveted first "row," center stage. We did, along with about 50 others, and were so early that the band was still on stage doing sound check. There they were, and there we were, 10 feet away, in broad daylight and silence, and all 50 of us had no idea what we were supposed to do. There was a lot of feet-shuffling and checking of watches. Then two hours later when they took the stage, we all screamed our heads off because they were actually performing. Meeting artists when they're human, outside of the music, books, paintings or films in which they usually reside, just seems so awkward and surreal. Like you've suddenly been confronted with the fact that you're actually a stalker. A creepy stalker who's been paying for years to gain access to their inner-thoughts and emotions through the fourth wall of artistic creation.

Or maybe I'm over-analyzing this, and should just stand in line to get my book signed like everybody else.



Here are some more internet lovelies.

I don’t know about you, but any given week, I associate with, hang out with, deal with, talk with, laugh with, put up with, experience life with people who are gay, straight, bi-, brown, white, black, male, female, trans-, old, young, comfortably well off or strugglingly poor, and every mix and match possible. We are real people and we have real issues. Our lives are just as complicated as anyone else’s and just as ripe for storytelling as anyone’s.

The books I read growing up, the role model my uncle became, my own experiences and those of the people I loved, all of these conspired to make me hungry for stories, and I don’t want to be meeting the watered down worlds that don’t include facets of people that I know exist.
 Karina Cooper, Link 

Last year, when I was 33, people kept mentioning that it was my "Jesus year," the age Jesus was when he died. As in, I guess, if I hadn't saved mankind by the time I was 34, I could pretty much be counted as a failure. I'm much more concerned about my "Byron year" of 36. As in, if I haven't committed incestuous acts, gone to war, scandalized an entire nation, driven past lovers insane with jealousy, and written a few half-good manuscripts, then what the hell am I even doing with my life?
Jessa Crispin, Link

We played things on vinyl, because we were 22 and thought we were the first people to appreciate a variety of things, including wooden floors and theories of translation and our old telephone. Our landlord from upstairs would ring the phone at unsociable hours because all hours were unsociable and speak Quebecois French that I brain-translated into my-French then brain-translated into English and I have no idea what it meant but I think it meant, “Are you cold?” We called into work or university sick or university or work called into us sick — let’s just not move, either way. We made a lot of fried eggs and took it in turns to moonwalk out to the d├ępanneur two blocks away for cigarettes. I wore my yellow knitted socks and my pink silk dress and my grey woollen jumper and had my first encounter with the brain-dentistry of clinical depression. Once we didn’t leave the apartment for three days. The experience snowily, sleepily dusted all surfaces of human interactions — at breakfast: “We haven’t left the apartment for a week!” This was conversational exaggeration and at the same time possibly true.
Heather McRobie, Link 

That whole essay is wonderful. Check it out.

The division V.P. offered me a job after my two-week gig, which I cordially declined. I imagined myself waking up before dawn, raking bristles across my teeth, and taking the train eastward towards a spoiled sun which believes it is the center of our universe. We tell it stories of other stars, and it spits flames. Every downtown is a Jenga game about to end. Part of me wonders, regrets, what I would have become had I repeated yes like Molly Bloom. I will admit this world makes me, sometimes, want to put a rat inside someone’s asshole and record the contortions of their face simply out of aesthetic curiosity. Fortunately there is the internet, where I spend my time refreshing. The office was on the 36th floor, its spotless floor-to-ceiling windows pretending not to exist. I saw myself calmly walking to the edge and jumping off, my shadow morphing into the exact shape of my body the moment before the moment. “Sorry, waking up would be too much,” I say, unaware of the ontological metaphor. I exit his office in silent Cole Haan loafers.
Jimmy Chen, Link
 
Taken out of context the rat statement may not make sense in the passage above, but it's a reference to American Psycho. Click the link to read the entire essay. Or just go ahead and read everything Jimmy Chen's ever written, actually. I like the way you put words together, Jimmy Chen.