Gift of the Gab

So, I’ve found out that there’s been research carried out by a psychologist at the University of Arizona as to why I’m happy most of the time: It’s because I engage in deep, existential, philosophical, and witty banter.

You won’t catch me leaning over my neighbour’s fence gabbing on about the weather anymore, since that disguises how unhappy I really am.

Talking about the weather. It’s been a glorious March here in Maine — except for the last couple of cold days. And there was even a slime of snow this morning as if some snow slug came and went. And it’s flippin cold. What the fuck?

See, that just goes to prove that, yes, small talk does lead to morbidity and misery.

And it causes me real mental anguish and Weltschmerz when I have to pretend to be convivial to people who I’d much rather kick in the polite conversation.

Give me lashings and beatings of cerebral discussions and I’m as happy as the Marquis de Sade in a room full of ripe fruit bursting at the flesh.

Start chatting me up with a conversation about the Red Sox and how wearing pajamas makes them sportsmen par excellence, and I’ll get so unhappy, you’ll swear my mascot is a black dog.

Whereas if you ask me if I ever ponder the relationship between Thanatos and Eros, my tongue will be working overtime and I’ll shoot a metaphysical golden arrow through my heart until you will see tears of joy running down my flushed cheeks.

Try telling me that there’s a bean supper coming up or that you saw the first robin of spring and you’ll have to physically wrangle away the razor blade from my wrist.

But you’ll have my ear and the next chapter in my book if you start to discuss Snufkin, the peripatetic musician of the Moomin stories, and how he is a symbol for man’s unfaithful nature.

And I’ll be weeping into my cups if you ever start to talk to me about the enchantments of work.

But I’ll be as high as a lotus-eater if you whisper just one word about subatomic particles and narrative fiction having the same strong attraction.

And don’t even get me started on gossiping. I’ll be bouncing off the bonnet of your van if you inflame my ear with gossip. Especially if it’s about a friend’s wife who’s hired an escort girl to trap her husband as the infidel of infidelity, and then you go on to say that you know a neighbour who puts on burlesque down among her runner beans and keeps a cabinet of obscene objects in her shed.

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The Old Man and the Melniboné

Now this is a writing schedule I could dress up for. It’s one that fantasy writer Michael Moorcock used to follow in his cockamamie days:

“My method of writing fantasy novels was to go to bed for a few days, getting up only to take the kids to school and pick them up, while the book germinated, making a few notes, then I’d jump out of bed and start, writing around 15-20,000 words a day (I was a super-fast typist) for three days, rarely for more than normal working hours — say 9 to 6— get my friend Jim Cawthorn to read the manuscript for any errors of typing or spelling, etc. Then send it straight to the editor unread by me.”

15,000 to 20,000 words a day! How? Where? On whose iBook?

I need to go to bed for a few days!

I also resonate like a crystal to this that the English poet Jon Burnside says about fiction: “What matters in fiction, more than formal skill, more than clever effects or knowingness, more even than the all too frequently sociological “meaning” of the work, is how keenly and completely a writer reimagines language and the world and, by extension, how that vision revivifies the language and experiences of others.”

And I like to shout this by Byron at the British political system: “Degenerate Britons! Are ye dead to shame, Or, kind to dullness, do you fear to blame?”

The Awakener and Suggester

I don’t go Ziggy Stardust when it comes to thrillers and crime fiction. I find so much of it dry and formulaic, with an author simply trying to fill his quota of dead bodies, the compulsory molestation, the textbook fuck scene, the family relationship unhinged by drugs or an addiction to canned soup, and one more corpse for luck.

But there are exceptions. (As it should be.) Writers like William Hjortsberg, Raymond Chandler, Ian Rankin, Dashiell Hammett, Henning Mankell, Elmore Leonard, P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, China Mieville (who usually writes weird fiction but delved into a thriller with his The City and the City), G.K. Chesterton, Ray Bradbury (Death is a Lonely Business), and Dennis Lehane. These writers use the genre to escape it.

I read Lehane’s Shutter Island and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. So it made sense to go and see the flick to see how Mr. Scorsese pulled it off.  And he did. After the film I was left with the ingering taste of Lehane on my cerebral synapses. I have to admit it was was one of the best flicks I’ve seen in a long time. Perfect mix of tension and exhalation. And a character with some real depth to him.

“When I was a child they called me a liar, now they call me a writer.” Isaac Bashevis Singer

CURRENTLY READING:

Resistance by Owen Sheers. Sheers imagines an alternative history for WWII where the Third Reich has invaded Britain and Welsh civilians become guerrilla fighters. The story focuses on the remote Olchon valley in the Black Mountains of Wales and a group of farmwives whose men have left them to join an invisible resistance movement. Enter a group of five Wehrmacht soldiers to the valley, led by Captain Wolfram Albrecht, a Oxford-educated and unsympathetic officer to the Nazi cause. His relationship between one of the Welsh women is the highlight of the book, as well as Sheers descriptions of the harsh Welsh hills and valleys and the frailties and triumphs of the human spirit. But I found the narrative plodding and Sheers spends too much time being dutiful to the idea of “What If” and almost ignoring any kind of action besides the changing landscape of the Welsh valley.

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO:

Cast of Thousands by Elbow. I love, love this Manchester quintet.

Since I Left You by the Avalanches. Great Down Under electronic band that are made for headphones.

Tonight by Franz Ferdinand. Glasgow’s got the groove.

Down The Rabbit Hole

I was dubious about going to see Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.  To begin with, I was worried that Burton would ruin it like he botched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — which was a crass interpretation of a Dahl classic.

But I enjoyed Alice. A Burton spectacular. His vision for Wonderland was visually stunning, I wanted to munch on my Raisinets and be there among the bright fungi.

It was the right mix of faithfulness to Carroll (although it’s not the Alice story, but a weird hybrid) and inventive entertainment.

The actress Mia Wasikowska who played Alice was super, and Bonham Carter and Depp were good. Although Depp’s portrayal of the Mad Hatter as a fey, carrot-haired campy clown with huge chartreuse eyes really got on my nerves. I understand that the mercury hatters used to make hats made them go mad, but eyes like that? Annoying.

All in all, though, a fun flick. Nothing ground shattering or mind enhancing.

But Alan Rickman’s voice as the caterpillar and Stephen Fry’s as the Cheshire Cat were definite stand-outs. And the Mad Hatter in a kilt and wielding a Scottish claymore was a treat.

And one of the best lines was by Crispin Glover about the bloodhound (voiced by Timothy Spall): “Dogs believe anything you say.”

So was it worth going down the rabbit hole for? Yes, but not entirely.

If you still want weird and wonderful and nonsense, read Carroll. He’s the master.

Vinyl Moment

I ducked into the record store today and uncovered an early Elvis Costello album: Imperial Bedroom.

I snatched it up at exactly the same time as another hand grabbed the worn sleeve. I looked over to see what bastard would dare take such liberties.

Turned out to be Elvis Costello. He’s on holiday here in Maine. I didn’t recognize him at first — since he looks a lot different without the hat.

So I ask him, as politely as a man who is still clutching to vinyl can, what the hell he thinks he is doing trying to buy his old records.

His reply. He bursts into a Burt Bacharach song: “What’s New Pussycat.”

Well, that does it. I let go of his record and nab a Tom Jones. “That’s a cover of a Tom Jones song,” I tell him, looking as humble as a music mogul can.

“Is it?” he says, and he lets go of his record and is now groping the Tom Jones.

We begin tugging, and the next thing I know, a pair of knickers fly out of the sleeve.

I try to snatch them. Elvis tries. But we are both too slow.

“Those are mine,” says the shop assistant.

No Thugs In My House

So last night Vladimir Nabokov was eating my cereal and he pointed his spoon at me and said, “That damn Strunk and White. I’d like to pin their bumbling rules of grammar to their tongues and then see if they agree with everything they wrote.”

“Easy, Vlad,” I replied, adding more Weetabix to his lake of milk. “We can’t all be a master English prose stylist.”

“Fuck you,” was his reply, “and get me more plump strawberries.”

If anyone who reads my blogs (including agents looking for a new rubber duck for their literary bath ) ever needs a letter of marque, a writ, or a note to your mum, I’m your man. (I can also do fancy letterhead and pointillism, if I’ve given enough time. Oh, and I can do you a nice erotic farce if you’re game.)

Here are some epigrams:

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be a raspberry in someone’s mouth and the only evidence of you ever being there would be the seeds?

Nothing is too damned sensual if it feels good. Just ask a ripe pear.

What’s Grass Got to Do With It?

March in Maine is like trying to squeeze that last bit of toothpaste out of the container: The only way a person is going to see spring is to endure March.

Although this March has been glorious so far, warm days with only the occasional dirty hill of snow shrinking like the Wicked Witch of the East. Whenever my four-year-old daughter and I pass a mound of the white stuff, we shout out, “Thy time is nigh at hand.” It’s a fun game to play until the flowers begin to bloom.

And since it’s March and the grass is beginning to green up, what better time than to wax lyrical about grass. Without it we wouldn’t have meadows or greenswards or parks. No herding animals either. Or even us with our lawnmowers.

I’m not a religious man, but there’s something evolutionary about the smell of mown grass. Maybe it has something to do with the idea that our ancestors must have stood agape at those herding animals with long legs and hooves thundering across the savannahs. They must have smelt the grass, so to speak, and got an instant idea: We could hunt those big meaty animals. Presto! The seed was planted. And so began ritual and magic. Killing and eating. And organized religion sprung from all this and has altered the very texture of our souls like the roots of grasses the earth.

And grass is the superhero of the plant world, withstanding blades and long teeth and passing feet. Its only Kryptonite is us humans with our insidious habit of paving over with concrete — the final solution to the age of grass.

Plus those blades of grass can harness energy from the sun and turn it into energy. Which is an amazing feat when you think about it. It’s like all the blades of grass are tiny straws sucking down a fiery ball.

In fact, grass can be linked to the start of our civilization. If we didn’t have grass to spread out a blanket on and recline and dream, we’d never have had cities or new ideas or science or art.

Thank Darwin for grass and all its 10,000 species.

CURRENTLY READING

The Battle of the Sun by Jeanette Winterson. Fantastic YA Fantasy from a writer I have always loved. This one is set in seventeenth-century London and stars Jack Snap as the chosen one a dark magus needs in order to turn the city into gold. Other characters include the feisty Silver from Tanglewreck, a koan-sounding dragon, an oracular Mother Midnight, a sunken king in a big glass tank, Wedge and Mistress Split, the creature Sawn in Two (who make me think of Master Peake’s Lady Clarice and Cora Groan), and the real-life alchemist John Dee. It’s a raucous, swashbuckling tale with Winterson’s characteristic skills of incantatory words, twisting plots, and wonderful passion for language.

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

A Miles Davis collection I picked up at Goodwill for a $1.

Crush by OMD. Not my favourite OMD album (that would be Architecture and Morality). But this one is synth at its best.

To Lose My Life by White Lies. I’m digging this album from the 3-piece London band. It’s like Julian Cope meets Phantom of the Opera. So good.

Wilder by Teardrop Explodes. I blame White Lies for making me dig this out of my vinyl collection and drop the needle on it.  It still sounds fine after all these years and St. Julian’s many odd transformations.