Romance of a Travelling Gnome

The gnome tossed down his rod. “I’m done,” he said, “with the pernicious values of a morally bankrupt middle class.”

The fish in the pond circled in an orange mood of indifference. Only one, twitched its fins. The short one. The one with a chunk from its tail.

The gnome trudged up to a front door similar to every other front door on an endless row of identical houses that people called homes.

He kicked the front door with his black boots, which in their small way, were also indistinguishable from every other gnomes’ boots.

But this didn’t stop our gnome. He was done. And when you are done, a little matter of muchness carries no weight.

He thought about pissing on the roses. But when you’re a plastic gnome, this is hard to do. Except metaphorically. And so our gnome stood before the thorny roses and pretended to piss, his little hands in the pockets of his sharp red pants, whistling a ditty.

Done, he flicked his metaphor and left.

Nobody saw him leave. A plastic gnome is of no significance. Except when he is no longer beside a backyard pond. Then the whole neighbourhood breaks its mold.

For He On Honeydew Hath Fed

The waiting to be published, like waiting outside a closed door. You can hear things going on inside. You can even peek through the keyhole and see an agent sprawled over the desk with another writer in her arms. And you can even slip messages under the door until it’s wedged shut against you. You could even become brutish and kick down the door, but what will that get you? A stunned agent. And then she’ll never remember you. You could pick the lock. But then what? You’d find the room’s empty and the agent’s tucked up in bed with the new book she just got published for a first-time writer. No, it’s best just to be patient. To keep writing like God’s at your heels with a blueprint of your make-up and he’s beginning to nod and mumble to himself about a change. I must persist. I must not wilt in the scorching sun of rejection. One day, high on the hill, the wild hawk will fly down and take the meat from my hands — or he’ll take my whole bloody hand off and I’ll be left with stumps. What is it that some scribbler said: writing is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. And it’s also having a head like a hammerhead shark. Having Thor’s hammer instead of the poet’s lyre, sometimes. It’s about being immune to needling others who either want your blood because they don’t have it or drain your blood because they think you shouldn’t have it.

Either way, bloodletting must be done. So get out your cup and let’s drink to getting published.

Sartorial Monsters and a Super Creepy Feeling

There’s a winter coat I like, covet. But I can’t afford it right now. So every other day I keep going to the Website to look at it. It’s mildly pornographic the way I sneak a peek when no one else is looking, gloating over the coat I long to drape over my shoulders.

It’s lined with a thick warm fleece. I just know it will be warm. And so I keep going back like a ghost to his grave or a dog to his bone.

I wonder why I do this? Is it some hidden Freudian thing? Or am I working some sympathetic magic the same way early man drew animals he wished to hunt and catch on a cave wall?

Sometimes I stare hard at it and whisper, “You Will Be Mine.”

Nothing visibly happens to the coat. It doesn’t miraculously jump into the shopping cart.

I leave it alone for a few days. Return. Try my same old magic on it.

Nothing.

So I walk about in my old coat and feel depressed. Partly because I’m getting obsessed and partly because I’m becoming a materialist with sweaty palms.

I dream of the sound of snap-closures.

It’s no use checking my checking account. I know the story: Empty is as empty does.

I get that itch the most at night. When I’m alone. Sidetracked. Or needing a distraction from the writing.

Just a quick peek, I think. Where’s the harm in that? It’s not as if that sentence I just wrote is going anywhere.

The coat is still there. It’s image, anyway. And how I long for the actual one to be on my coat rack. My winter scarf draping from it. The light above the rack shinning down on it like a blessing.

My tea gets cold. The moth at the window batters itself over and over again. I wonder how much dust it loses from its wings? Will it fly again? Will it want to?

It’s getting colder out. November is brushing up on its icy syllables. That poor moth is going to expire.

That damn coat had better be mine before the snow flies!

The One That Got Away

I had an Aunt Florence. Worked as an undertaker. Did odd jobs for the living.

She used to have me over for tart and cupcakes. We’d sit around her new coffin and I’d munch on the dessert while Aunt Florence dressed up some cadaver. And she always liked to slurp her tea from a saucer. It gave me the horrors. I much preferred to see her make a small incision in the jugular, drain the blood into a bucket, and slap the dead man’s limp willy over his stopped heart.

She was also one for the boys. Loved them when they got run over or drowned or choked on the Christmas sixpence back in the days when Sterling was a man around town and not a fey monetary bruiser with a weak left to the Euro.

And she always made the boys handsomer under her scalpel and embalming fluids. Once she made some waif into the darling of society. He was passed from house to house on Silver Terrace until his mother and father were brought to tears.

When the time came for her own casket, she gave us all the slip. Drove off in a fancy new hearse with an undertaker with half her skill but with a predilection for necrophilia.

Death Star

QR Markham (guardian.co.uk/books/2011/nov/09/james-bond-plagiarised-novel-qr-markham). The writer who plagiarized his novel. Didn’t he ever listen to the Smiths’ “Cemetery Gates,” especially the line “there’s always someone, somewhere, with a big nose, who knows and who trips you up and laughs when you fall”?

But enough about the hapless fool. I’m not dedicating my blog to him, so many others are going to dig in with the big boot.

However, it does give reason to pause about what is considered plagiarism and what is considered artistic stealing or pastiche. Seriously, how many writers really know what plagiarism means?

Writing is such an unfathomable force sometimes, and its art is a bit like sleeping with your mother — except as writers we sleep with all the other writers we’ve read. I understand that including whole pages of text from another writer amounts to theft and that the pillory should be hauled out. But what about stealing words from another writer? Is this an illegal act? If Angela Carter in one of her novels uses the word “slipshod,” is it fair game for me to use it?

Seriously, where is the line between one’s own work and another’s?

What about a scene you like in another writer’s book? Is it permissible and kosher to lift it, not word for word, but lift its mood, its thingness, and then make it your own? Is this ok?

And what about ideas you stuff into your notebook that you got from another writer’s finished work? Letting the ideas knock about in your head like pugilists. Surf on your own blood. Mix with your atoms until, shock, they transform into your own ideas.

Here’s Webster’s definition of plagiarism: “The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.”

Ok, so there’s the rub. Passing it off as one’s own.

Why didn’t whatshisname just rip off what he liked about Fleming and co and then Make It His Own? Write it in his way? Do what all the other writers do!

I suppose it’s all about finding one’s voice. Although I’ve never understood what the hell this cryptic message means. It always sounds to me like some sort of papal order. Or having a sergeant-major scream in your face: “Find your fucking voice.”

My voice in my work is actually not mine at all. It’s an awful sticky mess of so many other writers. It’s really like a dandelion head that’s gone to seed.

I mean, come on, what writer hasn’t pinched another writer’s idea, theme, vision, words, tempo, plot, metaphor, etc, etc? Very few, I imagine. Like Eliot said, “Good writers borrow. Great writers steal.”

I’m not saying that Mr. Markham is justified in what he did. I’m saying that maybe the creative act is more complicated than we would like to make it out to be. And it’s also more nebulous than it is finite. More shapeshifting. More uncontrollable. More of a febrile beast that devours you one word at a time.

It’s is an act of creation. And as a writer you take risks when you write.

Just be prepared to get the Death Star destroying you like Alderaan if you step over the boundaries.

Where the Cracked Sidewalk Ends

I hate the news. The useless orgy of its bland spectacle. The spectacle it enjoys in enjoying other’s miseries. I love the German word for this: schadenfreude.

The news turns misery into pornography. And it is all misery that the news flaunts: murder, theft, loss, pain, violence, destruction, war — a shriveled tongue that has smacked the same bloodless lips for how long? The newspapers churn it out like meat. And what, am I, you, supposed to be better informed by all of this junkyard misery and oppressive weight of reality? Am I supposed to be a better human being, a kinder, smarter, wiser, compassionate, functioning member of society?

I just feel more bloated. And in fact, I’d rather feel more like a dissenter, a partisan, an iconoclast, a decadent who likes a little dab of the diabolical.

Where, then, do I go to get my news? Who has the audacity the verve the sheer vision, let’s say, to tell us a secret that is too terrible to tell? What we are being told is like the most unreal life force in the universe trying like hell to be the most substantial. I think enough of us in the world are already emotionally and psychologically damaged  through the insensate reality that pours on so many troubles of existence (“Life is just one damn thing after another.” Twain).

Why do we put up with this honey-tongued oracle of news? None of it is new! The cycle of life, or even evolutions slow and dimwitted carnage of survival of the fittest, is always in flux. What is news today is old news tomorrow. There is no eternal truth because every newspaper in the nation or the world pounces on the same story, which doesn’t make any more relevant or timely or important or even necessary. The story is dead before it hits the page because the next piece of misery is already loaded into the revolver. Fire at will, there’s a sucker born every minute and there’s fuckers out there who want your mind wrapped up so tight in the news of the world.

But then everything carries within it the seeds of its own destruction. So it is only a matter of time before the news we so desperately don’t need to hear will implode like an old sun.

What we need are novels. But not heaps of them, piling up like bones, a monstrosity of novels that everybody wants to write. I don’t need those books because those books that those writers constantly write say nothing to me about my life (yes, I’m riffing on the Smiths).

We need those books that Poe spoke about, those books that lay the heart bare for the writer and the reader. But who can write those kinds of books, who can summon the strength to dig that deep into the humours and bile and the shit and the blood and the seamen and the anima mundi and the muscles and the bones and the death and the madness and the murder and the fucking useless boredom and amor fati and the other side and the same side and the genesis and the atrophy and the numbness and the drugs and the hallucinations and the every day and the eternity and the nowhere and the shocking violence of the layers of time and space?

We need febrile writers who can touch the uncanny and turn it on until it orgasms. Writers who can’t write for the happy mobs of for the tedium of modernism. Writers who write for the sensitive, for the damaged, for the ones always left out. Ok, so that would be 99 percent of humanity then.

Oh, it’s so damn hard: do we smash the world and start again or do we fall into it completely?

“Everything existing in the universe is the fruit of chance and necessity.” Democritus

“Necessity knows no magical formulae — they are all left to chance.” Milan Kundera

Remembering That First Love

In the beginning was a book. This is a tale every writer knows. It seems almost foolish to utter it.

But I’m a fool.

After my wife and I got married, we decided it was time for a tectonic shift. We had both embraced a scary and invigorating and wonderful new life together. But it somehow didn’t seem real enough to us until we had decided on a madcap adventure; our own little spot of time where we could be more in the world but not eaten by it.

So we sold our belongings and moved from Maine to Ireland.

This is the brief backstory. Now to the heart of the matter.

We lived in a small leaky thatched cottage in Corrandulla, just outside of Galway. At dusk we listened to a blackbird sing in the tourlough. Sometimes we would sit and watch the sheep graze. Or the wild horses race. There was little to do in the country. And we were unemployed, living very thriftily off money we’d saved from a summer of racking blueberries. Sometimes we listened to the radio, especially a show by Donal Dineen, “Into the Night.”

We left buckets out when it rained. And it rained — this is Ireland after all.

One night, my wife finished the book she was reading and set it aside. I didn’t know the author. She was a contemporary English writer. Up until this point, I had been reading Henry Miller, DH Lawrence, Tolstoy, Hesse, Dylan Thomas, Tolkien, Hardy, Knut Hamsun.

I loved the cover. It drew me to peer closer.

But I had a nightly chore to take care of first. I was in charge of starting the fire. So I piled on the peat and ignited the paper and sticks we had gathered earlier from the tourlough like medieval peasants. And then I made a cup of tea. Made sure the buckets were not overflowing with rainwater.

I ensconced in my favourite seat. Stoked the fire. Picked up the book: The Passion by Jeanette Winterson.

I didn’t put it down until I was done. Along the way I spat orange seeds into the fire.

When I was done, I sat and watched the fire’s dying embers. I listened to rain, wind, a car speeding down the dark country lane.

I made a decision that night, as I spat the orange seeds into the fire, that I wanted to be a writer just like Winterson.