Working Man’s Monologue

I was at the Laundromat today, watching the washing machine turn on its cleaning cycle of water and detergent when I overhead this conversation I kept having with my self:

“I don’t read difficult books. You know, the kind written by whats-his-name? that French writer, M John Harrison, or else that Chinese writer who like stole his name from the guy who wrote Moby. You know what I’m saying, right?”

The rinse cycle starts.

“Sure, I don’t read that stuff because it’s just style and no substance. Forget what Goethe said about having not one style but many styles, you know.”

The bleach enters its chosen hole.

“I know, cause I read to be entertained, to pass the time, or else to be instructed.”

“Wait. I’m not being entirely straight with you here.”

“What do you mean? You’re not like a closet artist type are you?”

“I don’t know. I mean what is genre? It’s like that Russian dog that went into space on board the Sputnik 2 to determine if a living animal could survive being launched into space.”

“Shit, you lost me there. Are we still talking about books or Russian dogs?”

“I don’t know. I’m just feeling ecstatic and feeling like I’m being lifted out of myself, which is why I read.”

The spin cycle begins.

“So you’re saying you do like difficult books?”

“Yes. I mean, why not? We’ve all faced failure and we’ve all been on the edge of destruction time after time through wars, disease, famine, natural catastrophes, political and religious pestilence. So why should a difficult, challenging, confusing book threaten us? Where is the danger? Is it because we fear we might lose our fabricated self for a more fictional self that makes more sense?”

“You bastard! You do like difficult books. Why didn’t you ever tell me? Why?”

“Cause I never really thought of them as difficult books. I just don’t have time to read the low mimetic. I just don’t have an interest in naturalistic fiction unless it’s a fruit or a veg. I want to eat, not sample. I want to drink, not sip. I don’t want to read books that get on the track, run the race, and cross the finish line. I want books to turn the world upside down, inside out, back to front, anything but the status quo. I want an interruption to repetitive thinking and predictable plots, a suspension of disbelief, a disruption to everything that is conventional and linear. I want a jolt to my DNA. I want a language show, dammit, with stage lights and shadows banjaxing reality. Why read fiction where reality and characters and plot are all neatly laid out? There needs to be room for the absolute insanity of our present-day life, the worthlessness of all our values, the beauty, the utter strangeness and complexity and incomprehension of the life around us that cannot be captured unless through a fiction that wants to. And you know, difficult books don’t even ask us to be understood or accepted. They just want to be tolerated, that is enough.”

“Shit, now you’ve made me spill my ice cream on my shirt. That’s one more thing to toss into the load.”

I drop my quarters into the tumble dryer and sit back in the bucket seat, prepared to wait for everything to come out dry and static-free.

Advertisements

Bigfoot Strikes Again

This mythical beast has got more names than God: Bigfoot, Yeti, Almasty, Orang Pendek, Sasquatch, and many others.

And now I read that scientists from Switzerland and the UK have set up the Oxford-Lausanne Collateral Hominid Project to prove for once and for all whether or not these mythical creatures exist.

Ah, science, you big show-off, you! But haven’t you ever heard this maxim: No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. Guess not, seeing as evidence to you is just another way of saying proven until proven by science.

Good God, Horatio, don’t you know there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt up in your science?

No matter, science has brought us the 4 known forces in the universe: gravity, electromagnetic, and 2 forms of nuclear force. The rest is all hyperbole, hypotheses, and human skepticism.

Tis better to have science and answers than to never have science and answers at all.

And what’s the alternative? Some amnesiac God scuffing around the universe in borrowed slippers who created the world as we know it, how, by coitus interruptus (the immaculate conceiver, yours for the price of religion) or else hands-on onanist? Then on top of that (or underneath, depending on your preference), this raunchy, pernicious, and retributive old God decides he needs some life in the universe to worship him. So out from his hat comes Adam — where else did he come from since there was no hanky-panky for God? But where did Adam come from? Even as a writer, as much as you would like your characters to come to life, they don’t —  so much for the idea of being omnipotent as an author. The only way characters from books come to life is in a reader’s head or else a director comes along and pays some actor tons of money. So maybe God paid Adam and that’s why there is capitalism in the world and the idea of sell, sell, sell until it’s Armagideon time again. Imagine what might have come to pass, though, if God had simply rented Adam or even disguised himself as the first man.

The Irish writer Caitlin R. Kiernan has written: “One good mystery is worth a thousand solutions.” So why make the unknown known? Look at Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

I like that there are still unexplained phenomena laughing in the cellars of this world. I don’t want to know that there definitely exists a Bigfoot as much as I equally don’t want to know there isn’t one. Where’s the mystery in that?

Snarls

The setting is a harbor in Maine. There are working lobster boats and those fey and insouciant yachts at anchor or else sailing away like a poor man’s dream.

This struggling writer is eating his lunch, watching an old guy and his grandson pluck mackerel from the sea. Adolescents leap from the pier into the brine or else caper on the docks vying for attention, desperately needing to be seen. But nobody pays them much attention — as it should be.

There are middle-aged mothers in bikinis with young children marching behind. The mothers are tanned, confident, soaking in the sun, eyes hidden behind shades. If they notice anyone, it’s only with a sigh. They, too, desperately want to be seen. But unlike the teenagers, these mothers want to be seen as the embodiment of youth. Those kids want to escape themselves as quickly as they can, so they continually dive with abandonment.

An osprey meanders above making sad discordant cries.

Tourists plod around, cameras at the ready, snapping up life, eager to dirty their clean, white sneakers. They comment on the postcard-perfect harbor, the light, the air, the lack of parking, the beauty all given to them as if out of a movie. They are so besotted with their vacation, with their wisdom for choosing Maine over California or Nebraska, that they huddle together for a family shot, their smiles so large, they go out to sea beyond the schooners. They’ll be there the next day, too, standing on the edge of the pier, waiting for those smiles to return.

A young couple kiss in the shade. Bodies entwined. They don’t seem to want to separate. They don’t seem to notice anyone else as they grope under the shelter of the tree. Maybe they think the shade is proof of their impulses. Maybe they innocently believe nobody is watching them. And who would in a beautiful harbor made for pleasure boats and satisfied tourists?

Maybe that’s what the arguing older couple think, too. In the face of nature’s beauty, who would fight, bicker, raise their voices, and accuse? It’s the perfect time to have a row. Nobody will be paying attention to the pettiness of man and woman when there’s nature blowing iridescent bubbles of splendor in your face.

“Why the hell did you walk by the lime kilns?”

“I thought we were going to see Andre the seal.”

“We stopped here to see the kilns. And you goddamn walk right by them.”

“I thought we agreed to see the seal and then the kilns.”

“Who the hell decided that. Not me. Why did we drive all this way just to walk by the kilns?”

“You could have said something.”

“Like what? Hey, honey, here are those damn kilns you’re walking right by.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Frank.”

“What?”

“You know what.”

“What?”

“We can walk over to the kilns if you want.”

“God!”

“What?”

“If you wouldn’t have walked by them in the first place, we wouldn’t need to walk back.”

“What’s the problem, Frank?”

“What?”

“The fucking kilns are over there, okay.”

“I know they’re fucking over there, you just walked right past them!”

“You’re hopeless, Frank,”

“Why? Because I want to see some goddamn kilns?”

“No, because you goddamn walked right by them, too.”

Life on Earth (Part 42)

Afternoon gov. How’s life on planet Earth? Not bad, not bad. Shame about the Olympics, though. Isn’t there some hint of intelligent life in the vast expanse of space who’s got bigger eggs to devil? But the Old Blighty isn’t doing bad. Got itself 24 Gold medals for the mantelpiece right next to the photos of Enid Blyton and Oswald Mosley.

But have you seen those photos of Mars from the Red Rover? Crikey. I hope we find life there. Cause then we can start downloading people. Plus, if we do find life, it will be Jaffa Cakes and bread puddin’, since it might stop us from thinking we are the Crumpets in the cosmos.

Just imagine it! Here we all are, stuck in our little teapot in our solar system, when out from the gamma rays steps the mothership like the Virgin Mary with a sentient life form suckling at her breast. And amid all the teabagging and sugar and spooning, this alien life simply scoffs, flashes us some indecipherable innuendos, flies off, and leaves us nothing but the recipe for turtle soup.

Actually, if we do find evidence of life on Mars, it might suggest that life is a hobo, travelling the galaxies, slumming from planet to planet in search of the next cheap thrill. I mean, I don’t see why life couldn’t have started billions of light years away and like a cosmic biker (think Easy Rider) slowly rode its way through galaxies, having these wonderful holidays, until the planet died and then hopping back on its bike and riding off as distant suns set behind it and new suns and planets beckoned, until, wham, bam, thank you martian, life ended up on Earth, worn-out, but trailing stardust and possibilities. Because life is very patient, isn’t it? Has to be when your only friend is evolution.

My Own Rampant Anomie

Sometimes sitting down to write is like being a piece of chum thrown to the sharks.

Ok, it’s not that bad. But something is always circling my chair. And it’s not my two cats. Or some mouse who’s found himself trapped, my two cats sneaking closer like the two killing machines they are but somehow disguise by all their listless slumber parties.

And it’s not the fan, rotating at a steady speed, keeping the room cool. And it’s not the pesky moth who has flown in to flutter like some great aperçus in the limelight. And it’s not the stack of books like precarious towers of babbling all within giddy reach and yet easily toppled. And it’s not God in his wide-wale cords and scuffed slippers, sipping on the matter of the universe, drunk with humanity, burping out the long stench of lies, with a wicked hangover of taboos.

It’s something, though. Something complex, paradoxical, multifarious, a kind of Voyager 1 in the outer solar system, orbiting, gathering info. And I’ dealing with termination shock as the electrically charged words become denser and hotter and slower. And maybe I really have entered this glorious polyphonic space where what I’ve written will turn out to be this modernist fiction that some pettifogging Brazilian writer will label as twit work. Or maybe it will be nothing more than a horsefly that stings a horse that bucks a rider who squashes an ant who carried a scrap of bread from the table of a writer who confounds, amuses, enlivens, angers, breaks hearts without bothering to put back together and splits the brain pan into sizzle and pop.

That something that keeps me company is a bit like gravity — a force everyone agrees on but nobody has atually seen or even truly explained. It’s the gravity of knowing you’re no good mixed with the moonage dream that you are better than all the rest — you live as a supernova and a red dwarf all in one big bang of creating a work of fiction.

And then that something leaves you at the speed of light and you are left sitting in your writing chair nursing a mug of tea and watching the moon like it’s a burlesque dancer and you can’t wait for something to shake loose and expose the truth that as a writer you simply keep yourself amused and engaged in the world by writing.

Feud for Thought

With the passing of the Augustan figure and intellectual bruiser Gore Vidal, I’ve had cause to think about literary rivalry.

It’s well known to each and every keyboard hitter about the hostility between Vidal and Norman Mailer(youtube.com/watch?v=C8m9vDRe8fw).  The Titans of Swing really had it in for each other in both the intellectual and literary ring. In some sense, their acerbic brawls overshadowed their literary outpouring — well almost. For me, they both seem marked, I think, by the immortality of posture that Milan Kundera wrote about.

As a young writer even I had my own bouts with writers. And it began with Hemingway. I never got what all the fuss over him was about. Yes, I got his use of economical language (but is writing solely about balancing the books?) and his great macho persona where each of his heavy testicles were raised high on the bookshelf of every poor male writer who seemed to have catkins between his legs in comparison. I never could bring myself to drink at Papa’s Hem’s animalistic trough of masculine greatness. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of a writer like Mervyn Peake, strolling around the Island of Sark in his cape and poet’s hat like he’d just stepped out from a Harry Clarke painting and was infused with the light of a pansexual being.

Oh, the spats I had with dead writers! You should have seen me, hidden away in my room, stomping the floorboards, shaking whatever writer’s book was du jour that day in my hand and railing against his or her departed spirit who I imagined took a break from the great library in the sky and popped down to have an argy-bargy with me. And I always lost the argument, callow writer that I was. Or maybe I made myself lose, cause who really could best the likes of Camus, Henry Miller, DH Lawrence, Tolkien, Peake, Ursula Le Guin, Simone de Beauvoir, Anais Nin, Satre, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Lloyd Alexander, Knut Hamsun, Hesse, Dylan Thomas, Angela Carter, Jeanette Winterson, Tove Jansson, Kundera, Joyce, Blake, Byron, Shelley, Arthur Machen, Tennessee Williams, Ted Hughes, Black Adder, Del Boy, Basil Fawlty, Judge Dredd, Fungus the Bogeyman, Morrissey, Ian McCulloch, Mick Jones, Paul Weller… and the list runs ever on, and on, and on.

Writers are always going on about the importance of reading, and, yes, it is important if you want to write. But I would add it’s also important to get into intellectual scraps with the writers you love, even if you never ever meet them. And it’s especially important to rattle the bones of dead ones — if for no other reason than it keeps their work alive.

In fact, I have a secret rivalry of my very own, too. A bit of an Edwardian, gentleman’s feud with a writer that’s all imaginary cricket bats and cravats and smoking rooms and letter openers and spats and tops hats and stuffy libraries and port. But neither of us have ever admitted to the other that there’s anything between us but a book — if even that. It’s more a rivalry that’s all in my head with us two pygmies of the intellectual void wrestling and wrangling in muck like pagan fools both destined for a ritual killing. Writing about it now, the whole thing sounds petty, stupid, and enormously entertaining. Every writer needs distraction and the impulse to create. And god knows what we’d even spat about if we ever squared off with our six-shooter mouths and our saddlebags of favourite writers strapped to our hips. It would probably be over what flavour ice cream we prefer and insults that would probably go something like this:

Me: “Your book’s crap.

Him: “You haven’t even finished yours.”

Me: “I hate your hair. It’s like liver and onions.”

Him: “Shorn boy and sheep shagger!” (*)

Me: “And what’s with those testosterone tanks strapped between your legs? Do they give you a squirt?”

Him: “It’s better than your bottle of dandelion wine.”

Me: “Yeah, well, for all your hot oven of masculinity, why is it you turn out cupcakes.”

Him: “Pigeon breath.”

Me: “Hog anus.”

Him: “You write like a lobotomized squid.”

Me: “Is that the amount of your intellectual fireworks, a pathetic squid? You know what, I don’t even know why I have a rivalry with you. You’re a lousy writer who can only string together sentences that have been around the block so many times they’ve actually built a necropolis. Plus as a person, you register on the humanity scale as a single-celled organism. Go try another phylum or else pack up your DNA and take a holiday by the genetic deficiency gene pool. And one last thing: I just realized you’re not even worth the effort.”

Shit, I maybe on to something here.

*Author’s Note: For the record, I have never shagged a sheep. But I have eaten Sunday mutton.