A Parable

This is from a forthcoming, but not yet written, novel tentatively called The Rise of the Impotence Class or The Charge of the Light Brigade, depending on the length.

Philip Dander needed a room to write. His home had become too familial and his wife too tawdry. If Philip Dander retreated to the bedroom to write, his wife would lure him away with the promise of a Ben & Jerry evening that Philip mistook for a lustful rendezvous but instead consisted of a pint of New York Super Fudge.

As a journalist he was accustomed to words and no longer gave them any thought besides the odd headline and habit-forming alliteration. But he’d given his daytime job in for afternoon naps, TV watching, jogs around the supermarket after the coupon items, and an hour before the iBook madly Googling a lead that he’d come across about a porn star who had once fucked 250 men. And so Philip Dander was committed to a life of fiction.

He realized the Great American Novel would not get written unless he located a room to write beside the one he already had. It was imperative, embolden, progenitorial, coitus reservatus, in vitro, and other archaic and arched words that most readers’ eyes glaze over and that only scruffy academics grab up in their jaws and shake until dead.

He took out a personal ad in the local paper: “Young, talented writer looking for a well-endowed room with dimensions of Katie Price.  Must include a desk — preferably big and with enough room to spread out naked on.”

He got one reply from a woman in Presque Isle, Maine.

But no room or desk.

He began to write letters to the editors of magazines, imploring them to locate a room with a desk and print it in their next issue. He copied dozens of wanted signs and hung them at the police station: “Wanted: Large room with a history of violence. I’m a writer who is working on a thriller.” He took out ads on Craigslist under the job section: “Writer looking to hire dependable room and desk with a good work ethic. Must be flexible and have many drawers. Pay dependent on how many words I write in a day. No broom closets or public bathrooms, please.”

Nothing except the one phone call from a lunatic who thought he was Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.

Things were getting desperate. He’d only written one word in a month and then had accidentally deleted it. When he tried to write in his favourite recliner, either the cat or his wife or the strong smell of fear prevented him.

Philip Dander started taking extreme measures when after two months he had missed too many baseball games and the stack of magazines and newspapers filled every chair in the house.

He suddenly began to miss dinners. Was late for his baths. Never showed up for church — and he was the son a preacher man, but not the one Dusty Springfield sings about. And rarely showed for coitus and when he did overwhelmed his wife with lewd suggestions of writers’ positions.

Desperate now to the point of plagiarism, Philip Dander broke into other writers’ houses and for a few brief, stolen moments sat at their desks in their rooms. But he couldn’t keep it up when the writer’s block set in. It kept him in bed for months, the paper with the word “It” typed on it pinned to the headboard.

Things began to deteriorate after this. Philip Dander only came home to look up a word in the dictionary. He was out all day, snatching what he could at park benches, cubicles in big corporate offices, principals’ offices, desks at furniture stores. At night he visited seedier places with stained desks, rented one-room hotel rooms with decades old stationary, haunted trailer parks until he sighted an unused desk, loitered around strip joints until he could snag a table under the brightest lights.

After a year of this Philip Dander was in a bad way and he’d only written one page of his novel and most of that was headlines from newspapers and captions from magazines.

One morning, after spending a rough night sleeping on a curbside desk destined for the trash heap, Philip Dander, unshaven, delusional, uncommunicative, and dressed only in his boxer shorts depicting the faces of his favourite writers, smashed the fingers on his typing hand in the drawers of a behemoth desk at the library. With a sudden jolt of creative productivity, he typed an ecstatic “He said,” and then almost fainted away from the pain in his broken fingers that had miraculously, as if muse driven, written the words.

But it was not enough. Later that day eye witnesses saw him trying to suffocate himself inside a famous horror writer’s desk. Unsuccessful at that and blinded by tears of rage, he fell over a cord and smacked his temple on the side of the desk.

He was confirmed dead by the horror writer well before the ambulance arrived.

The dark tower for Childe Roland

I just took a short holiday. But nothing that involved air travel or the removing of your shoes to expose the sock with the hole or that you do indeed have stinky feet. Nobody to ask if you packed your bag or whether you are carrying a pocketknife, scissors, or hatchet. No going through the detector and fearing the electronic sirens will sound because it is discovered you forgot to remove the band of matrimony in the land of marriage.

And when you finally board on the delayed flight, you realize you’ve forgotten your belt, your wife, and the chip-implanted family rodent. Then you are pushed and shoved down the fuselage like a dairy cow resplendent with full bags like udders and discover your seat is the one squeezed between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Next it’s a fight for the shared armrest and a lot of squirming around for the dropped ear phones while the hot cloth, now cold, has soaked your jeans.

Finally settled in your stall, you are shown a video of what to do in case of a crash. A wonderful world of entertainment as you settle back into your seat that has a flotation device beneath as your mind imagines the plane in flames, the plastic oxygen mask shriveling in the heat like a sad flower of fate, the dead-weight passenger beside you immovable now as smoke fills up the cabin and a crocodile line of frantic and screaming people claw to have a go at the lovely fluorescent slide into cold and frigid waters.

And forget using the toilet. First you’ll have to climb over the Teton beside you, then navigate the aisle with bared-teeth toddlers, louche teenagers with angst, a big breasted woman with nowhere to move but up against you, and gas-filled adults disguising their anal orchestrations with aerodynamic stretches. And then when you finally reach the coffin-sized cubicle it will be occupied until the stewards begin to roll their rattling carts down the aisle with shouts of “Bring out your dead!”

Driven back to your seat by Gestapo-like stewards behind their armored cars, you slowly ingest a meal that sloshes in your stomach more than the last drop of plane fuel and try to fork the last fresh pea while your neighbors slurp and belch. As full as the overhead compartments, you decide on a doze just as the turbulence sets in, a baby begins to wail, someone a few rows down begins to retch into a bag, and the stewardess with the confetti-smile, Vegas-chip eyes, hair like a waxed car, body like a fine-tuned engine asks if you’d like a pillow the size of a toupee to drivel on.

Finally on the verge of sleep, you are awoken by the captain’s booming voice declaring the time and temperature at your destination that is still hours away. Hoping to alleviate your sudden tension, you plug into the movie that turns out to be United 93.

A book, you think, will save you. But it turns out that your over-weight bedfellow in the next seat has just read the thriller and is all lips and jowls and blubber and sweat and the inside of a jock’s duffle bag breath intent on telling you the spoiler.

After what seems like what a monkey must endure in a zoo after being born in the wild, the stewards, now referees, patrol the fuselage spotting for unlocked trays, reclined seats, and terrorists.

With heart in throat, ears in a big beating drum, feet like logs, some unknown tyke’s sticky fingers in your already messed up hair, the plane lands with a mere jolt while the two passengers beside you roll in fleshy waves, squashing you between their deep sighs.

Prodded awake by the urgent need to flee, passengers run amok, go AWOL from families, out-maneuver better than fighter jets, nudge and tussle like dueling beasts, out-smart the other rats in the Skinner cage, and dash to freedom like lemmings.

And although the flight is over, the real hell’s only just about to begin.

The Vacation as a Tourist.

That’s why I stayed at home for my holiday and had an adventure with Jan Morris’s The Matter of Wales, bottle of Portuguese wine, French bread, Italian sausage, Celtic music, and Irish linen.

I always think it’s better for the world to come to you than for you to crawl to the world on all fours.

Blubber is blubber

Our world is increasingly becoming left brain. I’d like to call it biblical — our Moses era — where the world is parted between left brain chosen and right brain forgotten. Or the right brain movement that is a commuter train to instant access where we must all “Mind the Gap” and leave behind our left brain like luggage if we want to ride the tracks in the ceaseless rush to get somewhere or gain something material.

“The world is too much with us” and not enough in us. In us in the sense of the creative life, the right brain of the dreamy, intuitive, and playful. I like to think of the right brain as ambergris: that pungent perfume that we can use to seduce our imaginative life, just like it once was used to seduce lovers. I mean if a simple lump of ambergris, which is in fact just whale feces, can sell for thousands, then surely we can afford our right brain a little more loose change?

I see the left brain as the sperm oil of old that could light a metropolis but kill a leviathan. Yes we are now vastly more knowledgeable about our world, baptized as we all are in media babble and mobile phones and call centers and e-mails and straight-jacket shopping to buy what we don’t need but what some advertising imp wants us to have.

In Moby Dick Ishmael says, “I know him not, and never will.” The everyman of today can say, “I know everything, but never well.”

There’s a part of me that wouldn’t mind being swallowed by a whale for a bit. Get a sense of the organic, the simple digestion of real things like reading, cooking, walking, writing, playing with my daughter. It would be invigorating to pass unseen through the outside world and its inanities, the real leviathan, the real Moby Dick that haunts us until we are obsessed with forms and facts and the analytical blubber. Like Henry Miller wrote, “Everything that has form has invisible substance.”

I imagine Miller was talking about the right brain, our leviathan that we harpoon for a lake of oil and analytical blubber.

It is known that an experienced whaler could tell how big a whale was by how long it stayed under water.

I’d say the longer we stay under the influence of the left brain, the bigger the challenge it will become to recognize the right. It will become like a single sperm swimming beside this giant deception.

My travels with a desk

I went for a kayak over the weekend and it was very fulfilling. The sea was so clam, as if it were liquid glass suspended on either end by imaginary glass blowers. I paddled to this spit of land that is only accessible when the tide’s out (it’s a deft scramble over rocks when the tide is in) and watched this huge cloud city trundle across the sky, the sun lost in its mass and feathering its edges, and the blue sky rinsed and rubbed like a kid’s wellie. For a split second, I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to make this small peninsula my home like Crusoe. But then I realized I had no books, no paper, no pen, and that a quick walk and the place was explored.

No fiction there. So I paddled back and left a more simpler me behind, strolling the surf in silence.

There are similarities between writing and kayaking. For one, both expect you to be fixed in a small space with expansive vistas before you. Both require a rhythm, but not one that is too forced or calculated.  Wandering freely in both is preferred to explicit destinations. And you don’t need that many extra tools: paddle, life jacket, and water bottle for one, a room of one’s own (or a table in the corner of the living room), a computer, and uninterrupted time for the other. That’s the hardest part for a writer but not for the kayaker. Once you’re out on the water there’s no urgency to return to land until you are ready. You are completely unreachable. Time is the ripple in your wake, the unending drops of water that slide off your paddle, the slap of waves, and the sun smashed into liquid gold.

The meniscus that separates you as a writer from the world of time is more immediate and tenuous. It breathes there at your shoulder. And the world of time and responsibility is always close at hand, especially if you have a young family. There is more of a force field that needs to be generated as a writer in order to finish what is needed.

Kayaking, then, is more of an escape.

Writing is an attempt at escape that ends in you becoming even deeper entrenched into the world of time.

George Herbert’s “The Collar”

I struck the board, and cry’d, No more.

I will abroad.

What? shall I ever sigh and pine?

My lines and life are free; free as the rode,

Loose as the winde, as large as store.

Shall I be still in suit?

Have I no harvest but a thorn

To let me bloud, and not restore

What I have lost with cordiall fruit?

Sure there was wine

Before my sighs did drie it: there was corn

Before my tears did drown it.

Is the yeare onely lost to me?

Have I no bayes to crown it?

No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?

All wasted?

Not so, my heart: but there is fruit,

And thou hast hands.

“I Will Sleep”

What will you do in the village alone in the house
with your mother gone in autumn with winter coming?
I will sleep with the terrifying and brave blackness at night
of the village and of the house. I will sweep the yard
of plum leaves and pear leaves, with the short broom,
my back bent. Sweep, clean, tidy up, my arm repeating
a motion until I am woven with my dead into a clear
and living braid. Then I will sit in one of the chairs
by the white table and wait on the wind, the birds,
the ancient scent of the house, joyous and crying.

Tryfon Tolides

The gentle cycle

The Olympics have begun in Beijing but I must keep at bay the enervations of modern life. So I won’t be watching or rooting for. I won’t be giving up my pint of blood to save a sport.

If individuals want to challenge themselves physically, so be it. But don’t turn it into some state-of-the-art, human potential carnival. I’m sure most athletes are on anabolic steroids to shoot their puts and chuck their anachronistic javelins and jump their high poles. So how has the human body been pushed to its potential when a drug is making the athletes superhuman and not their own will power? If drugs are to be part of the games, then let’s embrace them. Drug up every athlete, implant them with cyborg bits that increase speed and stamina or splice their genes with leopards and monkeys and elephants and boars and gazelle creating hybrids, weird fauna of the sporting kind. Now that would be fun to watch and would really challenge our ideas of human potential.

And I’m sure the Olympians must embarrass their flabby viewing audience with sleek, muscular, and fit bodies just before the commercial for chips and soda.

People should compete, be it physically or cerebrally, but why on such a large scale and with so much pomp and opulence? Let’s drag sports down from its heights and let the air the rest of us breath fill its lungs.

Why spend all that money on athletic competition between countries when we need to clean up our skies, soil, and souls? Everything’s sloshing into and out of this sad bucket we call Earth. And it’s even got a hole, but that’s a profit in someone’s pocket instead of a heart-wrenching pain in everyone’s hearts.

And let the bastards call me unpatriotic if I disagree with their misguided allegiances. Half the uncivilized world was made to agree with Rome. And then the empire was sacked.

I just don’t get all woozy and xenophobic when it comes to de facto national sports, just like I don’t get all dreamy when it comes to the National Socialist German Workers Party.

All clubs and parties and enclaves and bands of roving yobs are built for one thing: assimilation and loss of identity. They are mindless blips on the eventual flatlining screen.

But then I want to belong to the literary world, which is a community. But it is at least an imaginative one.

My little soul’s endless emotions

I can’t get enough of canned peaches. Can’t get enough kaffeeklatsch when it comes to peaches. I could spend hours just finding synonyms for “peach.” And I love it when a older woman with a twinkle in her eyes calls me peachy. And I could write a dissertation on the homo-erotic, social myopic about the can.

But I cannot stand a lukewarn cup of tea. Or the sanctimonious rubric of adulterers who think those who are not promiscuous are philistines of the lowest kind but who don’t see that their mores are exactly the same as the puritan who castigates anyone who is morally debauched. It’s all the same egg yolk getting splattered on the face.

Life has a backward movement as well as a forward momentum. A person can wrestle with big things, but a person allowing big things to get the better of them can only lead to misery.

I sometimes approach writing as if it’s a clothesline where you go each day and collect words. But it’s not that simple, and it’s not that prosaic. I think to be an honest writer you have to wish for a strong gust to send the words away and then it’s up to you to either trudge back indoors with what stayed put or for you to see it as an obligation to dash after those that got away because you know that’s what you need to succeed. What’s attainable in writing is worth the effort but not the struggle. It’s what can never be that should be the passion.

“There’s a common myth that creativity is linked to dark states and depression; it isn’t anything like as simple as that. I think it is to do with being open, which you have to be if you want to be honest in your work, and it is to do with the liminal state of creativity — a place that happens on the cusp or the boundary of two worlds and is exhausting, exhilarating, but also frightening, and full of shapes that are unknown.” Winterson