Watch Your Step, Please

I am, as the mad men say, stepping in the same blog twice.

I am blogging as a member of a new collective blog that is made up of comrades from the graduate MFA writing program at Stonecoast, Maine, where I’m a student.

The site is called: GroupGrok. My writers-in-arms include Zach Jernigan, Julie Day, Adam Gallardo, and Caspian Gray.

We are abuzz with things to write. Visit the hive for honey or lip balm. Or visit because you’re interested to see what kind of monster I have become.

Once there you will find inteviews with writers, writing spaces, queer fish, valuable lessons, and blank stares.

But please visit. It’s trick or treat season soon. And my fellow bloggers have sweets.

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Disconnected, Disinterested, Confused

This is my unholy trinity as a writer. A lovely web of weird fate.

I spent a lot of time in my head as a child. So others left me alone, and subsequently, little was expected of me. I paid attention to this. I slotted it away like I hid marbles from my brother, cigarettes from my parents, homework from my teachers.

It created a lovely feeling: there, but not there. It was like being a hologram. Or a particle that becomes a wave — but I’m drowning, not waving, and I like it….

A lot more is expected from me as an adult. And that’s fine. But that seldom seen kid that no one noticed is still around. And I like it when I can steal into his head from time to time.

I enjoy the sense of being disconnected; floating free of society’s capsule. I mean how many times can a person put a ray gun to one’s head before he or she becomes alien to themselves? Sometimes I even sing Numan’s lyrics: “Me, I disconnect from you,” to help the feeling along. And I’d say it’s an important part of being a writer, this disconnectedness.  I plug out to plug in. Leave the material for the creative.

Same with being disinterested. Which is not the same as being apathetic. Apathy implies no energy for anything. Disinterested suggests choosing. And choose I do. As a writer, you need to guard your time and so it helps to slip into a state of disinterest and find yourself immersed in words, writing. All the disinterest leads you to act, focus, pay attention to what is important.

Which leads me to confused. I’m still confused by the world, myself, others, the writing life. I still go into my head to make some sense of it. (That boy I was taught me that. Or untaught me. I can’t tell.) Because I can never really figure things out, only come to some shadow understanding. As a writer I love this, this is my modus operandi. Confusion is what drives me to write: the confusion of emotions, of mind, of ideas, of every little atom that is the world — or even some world to be. But it’s a bugger having this creative confusion in everday life, people expect more of you, they want more from you, they want you to be here now!

That’s when it really helps to be that seldom seen kid.

Some Grandsons Do ‘Ave ‘Em

If a person ever asks me what book or author made me want to be a writer, I would have to give them a blank stare.

There is no such book. There is no such writer.

There is only my grandmother, Anne Richards.

My grandmother has been dead a few years now, and I miss her more deeply as the seasons pass from fall to winter, spring to summer.

She was not a writer. But she was a storyteller. She was not a modern woman. But she was a loving one. She was not a gifted person. But she made the best baked goods. She was not famous. But she shone like a star for me.

I spent a lot of my youth in her and my grandfather’s house on Glanmor Terrace in Wales. It was not a large house and it could be cold in the winter and the upstairs windows rattled in a gale and the wind spooked me like no ghost story could. They had a small bathroom in the house, which my grandfather built, and an outside lav, which was always full of spiders’ webs and damp toliet paper. But it was a fun place to hide away with a copy of the Sun, diligently searching for spelling errors, of course. Their back garden was long and slim and was squeezed between the neighbours’ identical ones. Identical in length and width only. My grandfather was a wicked green thumb and had a large veg plot and flowerbeds. Oh, and there was a gooseberry bush at the bottom of the garden and noisy crows, rooks, and ravens in the big oak that lorded it over the three gardens. In fact, there was no other tree on the entire street.

Windy, wet days were the best. That’s when my grandmother would strike a Swan match, turn on the gas heater, and blue flames would whoosh to life and then settle down into a lovely blaze of orange. Ensconced in her favourite seat, my grandmother would light up a cigarette, never inahling, though, just puffing away, nibbling on slices of apple and sipping her tea with no sugar.

That’s when I would lie before the fire and beg her to tell me stories of her growing up in Ireland. She would puff and laugh. But she always gave in.

I could sit forever listening to her stories. And in my memory it always seemed like I did, lost, in some way, like a character out of an Irish legend who has stumbled by accident into the land of the sidhe.

The sliced apple, the cigarette smoke, the warm gas fire, the persistent draught from under the hallway door, and the torrent of rain on the conservatory roof. What a mood! Maybe that’s why I love gothic tales.

My grandmother knew nothing about plot, structure, tone, dialogue, pov, anything about the craft of telling stories, but I was spellbound, curled up in a fetal ball at her feet, listening to her every word, letting them become as important to me as the blood that pulsed inside.

And her stories weren’t grand, opulent, masterpieces. They were simple ones about her early life in Ireland and especially about her one brother, John, who was a classcic trickster spirit.  I think I loved these stories about her brother the best, the way he would upset the proverbial apple carts and muck about and frighten and amuse and cause a huge amount of mirth — as well as lots of frustration. But my grandmother would always tell her stories about her brother so reverantly, attentive to everylittle detail of his many hijinks and capers. I could tell he vexed the other family members but at the same time they loved him in spite of his devious ways. Part of the proof of that was the many stories my grandmother told about him. In fact, he always showed up in her stories, even if it was to say that John was not around that day, or he’d gone to snare rabbits (or poach), or he was just simply missing, escaped into the wild woods around their cottage. Even his abscense made the stories tingle more with life. My grandmother knew this, I secretly think. Maybe that is why she told me so much about him; maybe she wanted to pass his spirit on to me, keep him alive forever.

If wish I’d told her how much of a great sotryteller she was.

“It’s you — nobody else — who determines your destiny and decides your fate. Nobody else can be alive for you; nor can you be alive for anybody else. Toms can be Dicks and Dicks can be Harrys, but none of them can ever be you. There’s the artist’s responsibility; and the most awful responsibility on earth.” ee Cummings

“I really do believe that a fiction absolutely self-conscious of itself as a different form of human experience than reality (that is, not a logbook of events) can help to transform reality itself.” Angela Carter

Realm of Pure Praxis

I have a dilemma. It’s not intellectual, philosophical, sexual, metaphysical, psychological, existential. It’s practical.

Why do I have a blog?

I started it because the Internet was a new frontier, for me, anyway, as a writer. And I also had this naive hope that the wandering eye of some agent or publisher might cross it and contact me to say postmodern should be lower-cased. I also began it as a useful way to keep the words flowing; the old chestnut of a word a day keeps the writer’s block away. And it has been useful. And I started it to try something different — the way a chef might prepare a meal differently from the routine.

But now? Am I simply posting out of habit? Is it a total conditioned reflex? Sheer obstinancy because I’ve started something and I have to see it through?

I don’t know.

When I look at my statistics, I see that strangers (and friends, too, I hope) are visiting the site. And it’s thrilling to know that people I have never met are actually interested in reading what I post. I mean, that was my wish, that people would read it.

But what of that?

I really treat it as a live notebook. A way to write and not really edit (besides spelling ), just a writing-from-the-hip exercise that helps strengthen the writing arm.

I don’t see it as a virtual diary, though. Yes, I sometimes write confessional-type entries, but I see these more like the way confessional poetry treats such private thoughts: in the realm of the creative and with more freedom to invent and hide the self in metaphor.

My blog is not a diary. In fact, it’s better if it isn’t. For me, at least, the allure of a diary is not so much about the details of what’s been exposed as it is about the initial titilation of discovering a diary and actually opening it, that moment of taking a peek into something that is forbidden. Once you start to read a diary, the confessional aspect of it wanes, no matter how horrific or disturbing or enlightening or shameless the subject matter; the real pleasure fades once the initial taboo is crossed. The confessional writing all becomes more or less superfluous and lacking in the continual and heightened arousal as promised. I know I’d feel the same way if someone told me that they could re-create the day of my inception, could allow me to see my parents fucking. I’d thank them but say I’d rather imagine it on a genetic level, imagining the tiny sperm entering the large egg.

But is there more, I wonder, to my blog? Or is it just another lamppost on the endless brightly lit street of the Web trying to shine a little stronger? And does it really matter if that’s all it is? What’s so wrong with that? I walk outside at night just to see a star, which  has travelled million of miles, twinkle. That’s the thing that really excites me, just seeing it there, up in the sky, this little pinprick of light in this huge universe, and I can find it, stare at it, for no other reason than to see it floating up there like a little light to nothing, not even needing to know that it has travelled there from who knows where. It’s the knowing it’s there that matters. The knowing I can go outside any night and it will still be there. There’s a comfort in that — but there’s also this creeping existentialism, too: someday that light won’t be there.

I had hoped some terrestrial light would have solved my quandary. It hasn’t.

So what am I driving at then? Maybe I have too much expectation from my blog and should just see it as just a part of the fabric of the Web, the same way atoms are the foundations of life: I blog, therefore I blog. Leave it at that.

Deep down, though, I am trying to start a conversation, get a narrative flowing. Am I succeeding? I get very few comments. But then I will read blogs and am not inclined to comment. I take whatever it is I want to take away with me and either bring it up in some conversation or simply think about the idea or a word or image or a feeling or whatever, letting it morph into something new that I can use in some creative way or I let it slide away to be used by someone else.

I’m happy just to be a rattlebag where others dip and take away. That is the beauty of being a writer, always seeking and searching for something to steal: some new experience, some new emotion, some new idea, some new metaphor, some new image, some new theme, some new word. But what’s important is that you then make it your own, use your imagination to make it different, because nobody wants the same.

I can be happy with that: adding to this verbal exchange, and making change.

Domesticated & Wild

Our eldest cat, Calamity, died. She was 16. Everyone is sad around the house. My wife and I got her from a shelter when we first moved to Maine ten years ago. We’re all going to deeply miss her.

I didn’t always like cats, though. The kind of pets I have always wanted are a fox or a crow or a hawk. But my wife keeps telling me these are familiars, not pets. She’s right.

But I’ve come to love cats, their independent nature, their aloofness, their sleeping habits, their intelligence, their sensualism.

And their wildness.

Yes, they are domesticated animals, but just look a cat in the eyes and you can sense their wild nature staring you down. Dogs on the other paw are completely domesticated. You’d have a hard time witnessing their wild nature, unless, of course, they bit you.

But cats! Even the way they stretch is wild and unpredictable. You feed them and house them and, yet, they still hunt and kill and at the first opportunity will make a run for it when the front door’s opened.

I know that’s why I like having them around. I like to know there’s some wildness in my life. I don’t live a crazy, stormy, turbulent and boisterous life. I live a quiet one: I work at my job, spend time with my wife and two girls, clean the house, shop for food — I do all the never-ending chores of a domesticated existence. (Like Flaubert wrote: “Be regular and orderly in your life so that you can be violent and original in your work.”) And I enjoy it — there is a pleasure in just simple things.

But having cats makes me remember that I have a wild nature, too. I’m not just a domesticated, civilized human being. I am also a wild creative person. That’s where my wildness lies, in the imagination, when I sit down to write at night, typing away, immersed in my fiction, my cats racing around the house, playing and caterwauling, hunting and prowling, stretching and jumping from one height to the next.

That’s when I feel like I’ve chosen the perfect familiar.

Extra Playful

It’s that time of the year. When the Check Engine light stares me down. Challenges me from behind the wheel.

It’s like the mythic eye of Balor, king of the Fomorians, the evil eye that will kill a man if he stares at it too long. And I want to stare at the light because it’s so vatic — but a foreboding one.

I’ve had it looked at. Many a mechanic has had his hands on my engine. And he can find nothing nefarious besides something to do with the gas tank — which is not in my engine.

What the hell lurks under the hood of one’s car? Between the grease and oil falls the shadow, yes? There are more strange and mysterious things going on there than in a Lovecraft story.

The Check Engine light is more Kafkesque than Kafka.

I should send it as a gift to a writer like China Mieville, then maybe he could make the weird more meaningful.

Dystopian or Utopian works. Forget it! Give me Check Engine light novels.

What would Huxley or Orwell do with this little annoyance of technology? Would either man have even thought about the inevitability of some sentient gremlin living in the viscous world of my engine and tapping into my most primal fear?

But what am I afraid of? What I don’t know but what the damn light knows! In its infinite knowledge the light knows what is to happen. All I know is that some disaster is waiting to unfold.

It’s like driving around with my own oracle under the hood.

But I refuse to listen. So what will be the cost? The infernal Check Engine light reminding me always that I am given motion through its benevolence?

Perhaps the whole universe is driven by this omnipotent light. Perhaps when the end comes it will not come with apocalyptic brilliance but with a comical touch: millions of Check Engine lights flaring on from continent to continent with each driver oblivious, maybe a little rankled, but driving on, ignorant of the final pronouncement.

If that’s the case, I should really never get that light fixed. It may be my salvation lies in the mysteries of my car’s engine.

Weirder things have happened; like dead bodies in car trunks.

“You’ve been playing too many hairs on the pianoforte.” Lewis Carroll.