Absolute Beginner

The rain it raineth every day in Maine! And someone on my street is getting a well drilled. Why not just set out a few buckets?

Had we but world enough, and time…. Actually, I do have enough time on my side and I have been doing some light reading: Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Calvino’s Cosmicomics, Duncan’s The Last Werewolf, Swamplandia, Simmons’ The Terror, Saunders’ CivilWarLand,Donald Barthelme’s short stories, and Stanislaw Lem’s The Cyberiad.

My job search is still a work in progress. I have applied to everything from a post at the Republican Journal to a freelance copy editor job at HBO to working as a faucet in the kitchen sink.

“This is one moment,/ But I know that another/ Shall pierce you with a sudden painful joy.” TS Eliot

I’ve also been applying for a teaching gig, but, get behind the fool if it isn’t almost impossible to break into this line of work without a bruiser or simony. I don’t have enough teaching experience, and won’t get any if nobody takes a chance on me, Abba-style, and adjunct positions are now the new feudal economy. It bites the biscuit. And I have an MFA but I can’t teach high school English!? I feel like an English aristocrat with a big manor and not money to buy himself a fucking brolly. I sometimes think Jude the Obscure and I would have a lot to talk about in the pursuit of happiness. But, then, I’ve never done things according to civilized conduct.

“I’m all lost in the supermarket, I can no longer shop happily….”

I feel mildly like what’s his name, you know, Caedmon, that herdsman in Whitby around AD 680 who rushes back to his cows instead of singing at the feast.

Where’s a Gilles de Rais when you need one?

And between me and my shadow, the writing world can sometimes, well, loose its romantic ideal and give way to routine. And everywhere I look now all I see are writers loaded down with degrees and accomplishments and happy, professional smiles. What the hell happened to writers who are exiles, outsiders, runaways, castaways? Did I fall asleep like Rip Van Winkle while somebody pinched my idea of a writer? As someone with an MFA, whatever happened to writers whose imaginations detonated life? Or writers who didn’t come out of the binding fully formed without a blemish, without a writerly deformity or failing? Am I not reading enough? Am I living too much a sheltered life in my cosmos while the incandescent form around me? Is my individual path as a writer merely atoms scattered in curved space? And when they kick down my front door, how am I going to come, with my hands on my head or on the trigger of my gun?

“My life had stood – a loaded gun.” Dickinson

“Life was beautiful in those days.” Calvino

I know, I should Twitter about my frustrations and get a jolly following of custard pies.

Instead, I’m listening to the 80s Scottish band Lowlife. Damn if the lead singer doesn’t have a voice like a fallen angel walking Dante’s dark wood. And I’m lounging with Pigbag, post-punk English band with fusion running in their musical veins.


At the Birth of Light

I love Christmas. The celebratory aspect, the cheer, the merriment, the baubles on the tree, the sparkling lights, the awareness of certain gifts that have come my way by no will of my own. Blessings, I suppose you could call them.

And I love the books, especially A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Briggs’ The Snowman and Winterson’s The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me.

And I love the movies — It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol (from the Muppets to Scrooged), A Christmas Story, to all the Rankin Bass holiday specials, especially Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.

And then there is the music: the Choir of King’s College, Handel, Tchaikovsky, Sting’s If On A Winter’s Night…, and the duet of Bowie and Bing’s Little Drummer Boy.

But I’m not religious.  I don’t go in for all this immaculate conception and the swaddling Jesus as the light of the world. Lovely metaphors. But still I doubt.

And it’s annoying how Christianity has claimed this season as its own creation when it is obvious to any human being that Christianity stole from the pagan winter solstice celebration. Nabbed nature’s unknowable and enigmatic power of giving us more light in this dark season. I understand how easy the heist must have been: it’s not too much of a creative leap to transform light into a symbolic and divine gift. In fact, as a writer, I respect the kind of imagination that made such a connection: the sun growing to its zenith; the birth of the son of God bringing new light.

It’s just frustrating how Christianity in its ignorance decided to stamp out the untamed pagan wisdom and replace it with a certain domestic piousness. Refused to acknowledge the source of its inspiration. (In writing, nobody likes a writer who refuses to pay at least some homage to the others writers and books that have got the fever of creativity going.)

To my mind, the pagans celebrated the wild, unkowable, unhuman, unpredicatable, chaotic, frenetic, passionate, and primal element in the universe that they saw the sun representing. This probably needed a change when viewed from human existence since it leaves us all just a little bit insignificant and trivial compared to such a mind-boggling power like nature, the universe, the great unknown. And what better way to battle this ambivalent universe than by creating a baby born in a manger. That act so quickly grabs our attention and places existence so firmly and materially and spiritually back in the human. I have no problem with this, I am human after all and need to be reminded of it.

It is the divine nature of this birth that has always bothered me. Why the desperate need to transcend this human existence? Isn’t this what divinity offers, a sense of getting as far away from the human as possible? But why? Why not celebrate our humanity?

In fact, if we want to really celebrate anything, then let’s celebrate our creativity this time of the year, and not some unknowable god. We are the ones who create. Not gods. The light comes back for us in so many ways. Why limit it to one baby in one manger?

That’s why I enjoy this time of the year; it makes me celebrate the best in us with the hope to transform the worst.

But not through divinity. Through a wild imaginative act!

This is what I want to celebrate: that metaphor can transform life from a sense of darkness to one of more light. This is worth celebrating. This is worth living for. Not piety, the holy, the divine, worship. Not even the bleak reality that the economic crisis has created because bankers decided to sheepshag us and bag us, the other 99, and then try to sell us as mutton. But the act of creative transformation.

That’s where the light resides this time of the year.

“Swift as a spirit hastening to his task
Of glory & of good, the Sun sprang forth
Rejoicing in his splendour, & the mask
Of darkness fell from the awakened Earth.” Shelley, “The Triumph of Life”

That’s Fantastic, Mr. Fox

I’m reading Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox to my four-year-old daughter. She loves it, especially the enjoyable rhyme about the rotten farmers:

“Boggis and Bunce and Bean

One fat, one short, one lean.

These horrible crooks

So different in looks

Were nonetheless equally mean.”

It’s a rhyme worthy of being sung by Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon.

Dahl is a fantastic writer. He knows how to flip the adult world on its soft head and with a big, brash show announce, “Look at our wonderful and absurd antics.”

And Wes Anderson’s film is right on. I think Dahl would have loved it. Anderson likes to portray the dynamics of dysfunctional families and the beauty that lies within those crazy cracks and faults, and Dahl’s Mr. Fox and his family was a perfect choice.

There is something fantastic about a wild and wily fox outsmarting greedy and slothful humans. And the simple as well as annoying act of stealing chickens reminds me of the myth of Prometheus, stealing back fire from Zeus.

And it feels so right that Ted Hughes, sickened by the strictures of his English degree, encountered a figure with the body of a man and the head of a fox who put a bloody paw on his papers and said, “You’re killing us.”

And if ever there was a trickster, it had to be Roald Dahl.

I remember when I first read James and the Giant Peach, I pestered my parents to buy a peach tree for our back garden in Wales. I must have been desperate to have talking insect friends and to sail away over Carmarthen Bay, heading toward the Emerald Isles or farther, maybe, into the land of Tir Na n’Og.

My parents ended up getting pear trees. Which I now see as a fantastic adult prank.


The Phantom Tollbooth. This has been called a contemporary Alice in Wonderland. And it is. Norton Juster writes like a madman who can’t get enough of the shape, the sounds, the taste, the meaning, the history, the wonder of words. And he does so much with so little: A bored young boy.


Love Hysteria by Peter Murphy. The Lord of Goth’s finest solo album. Murphy moves through each song like a snake shedding its skin. It’s a hypnotic album for late-night listening when the house has that deep-set silence that seems inexhaustible, but isn’t.

Go Away White by Bauhaus. Yes, I’m having a Goth relapse. But Bauhaus, along with the Smiths, Japan, and Echo and the Bunnymen, and Joy Division, put the “kick” in my teenage self. This album is on par with The Sky’s Gone Out and In The Flat Field.  And as is to be expected, it mixes elements of Murhpy’s solo work with Love and Rockets. I want to go and unearth my Anne Rice and drink from the cup of solitude. Or listen to Bowie’s Scary Monsters.