Monday, December 31, 2012

A Thing For 2013! "Why God Why"

I wanted to post a picture of the cover of my book, Why God Why, which is coming by way of Love Symbol Press in 2013.

Here it is:

So yeah. really can't wait to get this out in the world. There'll be a preview with a couple key pieces in the next issue and final issue of Red Lightbulbs. Till then, you can get a little more information about WGW at Love Symbol Press's website, here.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Books of 2012 That I Enjoyed Reading A Lot

I'm back, just in time for New Year's!

I'd like to issue a quick few kind words regarding books I've read in 2012 and enjoyed (above all others, though I've enjoyed nearly everything I've read this past year).

The Map of the System of Human Knowledge, James Tadd Adcox

Mr. Adcox, or "Tadd" as I affectionately refer to him, is not just a good person but a hell of a writer. This book fully lived up to (and maybe surpassed) my expectations. While the stories didn't have titles as such (and so are harder to single out for that reason) the whole assemblage really works. The layout and aesthetic is pulled off nicely, and the little fictions/poems throughout are equal parts hilarious and heartrending. (Also, if I draw any criticism for featuring writers here with whom I'm friends, let me just say I don't care this is my blog I do what I want here, so-called integrity be damned.)

I am a Very Productive Entrepreneur, Mathias Svalina

I haven't had the privilege of meeting Mr. Svalina in real life yet. I hope that changes. This collection is amazing, mesmerizing, enchanting. He really hits on something, and that thing that he hits on I can't rightly name. It's just something he hits. Certainly aspects of that something lie in certain kinds of criticism of our consumptive culture, but I'll be careful not to reduce it too much in that way. Besides, it's beautifully written, and even if you read into what Svalina is saying very deeply, and you find yourself disagreeing and perhaps incensed -- which would be more than a little nutty, but regardless -- I'm sure you'll concede dude knows how to construct a sentence or two, absolutely. I also thank Svalina for finally getting me to pin down the spelling of "entrepreneur." Psyched for his collection forthcoming from Love Symbol Press in 2013-14.

May We Shed These Human Bodies, Amber Sparks

Ok, full disclosure, I haven't technically completed reading this collection yet. I'm more than a third of the way through it, however. With that in mind, I think it's safe to say unless something drastic changes I'm going to continue to adore these stories. Sparks is just the right amount of ribald and surreal. She mixes them nicely. She mixes them earnestly. I know she's a fan of George Saunders, whom I have to believe would think this collection a very worthwhile literary effort indeed, though certainly all Sparks' own. I can't wait for more from Sparks. I hear she's working on a novel these days.

#KanyeWestSavedFromDrowning, Salvatore Pane

Sure, Sal Pane and I might have our differences about who, exactly, was evil, basketball wise -- Michael Jordan or John Starks respectively. (The answer: it was always John Starks, which is why Bulls' fans had to boo him during his brief tenure with the team.) However, this is a hell of a collection. And maybe I'm biased because I was on the team that selected this collection for publication by NAP (and one of its most adamant supporters, full disclosure), but that's because Pane's writing is fantastic, great, the perfect blend of pop culture reference, '90s nostalgia, and just really brilliant writing. I'm excited for Last Call in the City of Bridges, which likewise, will surely be an enjoyable read.

Revelation, Colin Winnette

Winnette has had quite a run of awesomeness over the past two years. Lots of deserved awards and accolades, and two story collections, Revelation and Animal Collection, and a third on the way from Atticus Books in 2013. Revelation is quite a feat in itself, a surreal semi-modern day depiction of the end of days referred to in the biblical book of the same name (or at least that's my understanding of the book of revelation). The three friends of this novel suffer as many breaks and divides as the earth itself seems to be subject to. My personal favorite was the swarm of locust that had all but consumed a retirement home.

My Only Wife, Jac Jemc

Ghostly, otherworldly. A narrator who seems so detached it's hard to tell where reality begins and delusion ends. Beautifully rendered, which I'd never expect anything less from Jac Jemc. She's a poet, I feel, first and foremost, despite her knack for telling stories. You'll know this is no ordinary story from the very first chapter onward. You'll be pleased with what you find throughout.

Hot Pink, Adam Levin

God, I love this book. I don't care about the comparisons to David Foster Wallace. Adam Levin writes like Adam Levin. He's not the next anything. He's the inimitable writer he is. His work is complex and inviting of your own puzzlement. Puzzle over, for example, the nuances of a term like "hot pink." How might that appear through another point of view? What about a house that refuses to be mended? Why?

Us, Michael Kimball

I've raved about this book already, richly deserving of being raved about. It's dark, it's emotionally challenging. It's also insightful and incredibly evocative. Michael Kimball is among that great tradition of writers who don't need to dance around you prosaically (not that there's anything wrong with that or especially right with that, either). He gives you what is there and lets you assemble your own meaning. You might also check his latest, Big Ray, an intense journey through the complicated relationship between an abused son and his abusive father.

Light Boxes, Shane Jones

If you're in the mood for one fantastical, surreal fable-esque jaunt, Light Boxes should do it. Like Us, I raved about this book earlier this year on the blog. Because it's good, so good, I want to remind everyone that I enjoyed it so much. I could list the reasons, most of which are gone over in the earlier year's post. Still, February as a villain? Winter as never ending? Fiction as fun? Read Light Boxes. Do it.

Beauty Was the Case that They Gave Me, Mark Leidner

Unlike the more pithy titles above (Svalina and Adcox excluded) this poetry collection is a mouthful. But it's a mouthful in so many ways, so many good words to read and maybe speak aloud. So much fun and funny, too. You'll love how Leidner twists and turns both language and the tender threads of narrative he either does or does not include in his poetry. If you like to have fun you should like Mark Leidner. That's all I'm saying.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lessons Learned, I Think

Before I begin, I should note I'm not entirely sure what inspired me to write the forthcoming post. It probably has something to do with my feelings about politics and the greater discussion taking place at this most recently pertinent moment in American governance, the incumbent decision we're collectively soon to make. There's been a lot of discussion about Mitt Romney's first debate performance, which was exactly what the center-left feared it would be -- a very real opportunity for the GOP candidate to make his case to the American people as a credible candidate and to simultaneously and effectively cast the president in a bad light. Mission accomplished. We can discuss the reasons, but that doesn't really bear much mentioning. I will say the measured acumen of a politician more professorial in background is not conducive to a good show, debate wise. It's boring. It reminds people that our brains aren't designed to ruminate hard on anything. That our brains are instead designed for the quick flitting, downright thoughtless action needed to survive on a daily basis (see: Why Don't Students Like School? By Daniel T. Willingham). You don't ruminate much of your waking life about the things that surround you, at least not more than you take passing inventory of them for that reason I mention above. The point is, Mitt was all about survival, and if there's been one truly effective mantra of his campaign, it's been that as a businessman he is uniquely suited to helping America survive and then thrive again.

So what? Well, I got to thinking about my own self. Of coming to realize what kind of person I am. I never set out to write or be a "writer" when I was still a student in high school. Looking back on a letter I wrote to myself for a senior year English assignment, a letter addressed to me who is now 28, I asked about how my football career went, or perhaps was still going. A lot of hope in that. I can still almost feel the desire of my younger self, wanting to be in the NFL.

I am sorry to disappoint my younger self, too. I feel like if he had all the facts at the time, he'd be grateful for things working out how they have.

Thing is, while playing football I also liked writing very much. It was just more of a leisurely activity. I did it when I wasn't practicing, or weight training or otherwise prepping to be a football player. I wrote what I would have called satire then, a blanket term for anything humorous and possibly, possibly befitting of the true definition with some shred of sarcasm or irony, as well. It was at best a very raw skill I possessed. But that, along with drawing and reading were the seedlings of pastimes I found myself turning to more and more during my first year of college at Illinois State University, all with the hope of, as alluded to earlier, becoming an NFL player.

But it slowly became clear that I wasn't so cut out for the football grind. The practices were grueling and seemingly endless. I remember heading straight for the dining hall after getting out of the locker room and eating mass quantities of whatever was being served. And then the early morning practices I had through the entirety (it seemed) of the winter, when I'd wake up at 5am or so and put on my shoes to go run and train in nearby Redbird Arena with a number of my teammates and our strength and conditioning coach, who was, maybe by necessity, pitiless. You really didn't want to be late, ever, for any reason.

I remember one of my friends on the team describing his ultimate decision to quit in roughly this, very paraphrased, way: "I felt myself standing in the doorway of my dorm room, wavering back and forth. I said 'fuck this.' And I went back to sleep." I could relate.

There really was another problem during all of this, probably the most decisive of all. The coaches and I just didn't jibe. They were all (almost without exception) Oklahoma guys who'd gone to schools like OSU and Tulsa, one of them playing with the likes of Barry Sanders (or as he put it, jokingly, "Barry Sanders played with ME." This coach's most constant refrain was, "You don't like me, fight me," which sounds about right, no?)  And to be fair, these guys weren't exactly bad guys, (they certainly weren't humorless authoritarians) but their worldview was at least a 180 turn away from where mine is today, and where I was headed at the time. I had leaned left politically since high school, after an especially memorable U.S. History course I took and friends of mine who'd made, and continue to make, exceedingly compelling points for the liberal cause.

It was likewise around my first year of college that I got interested in reading Al Franken, who was funny and political, who knew? (Much funnier, as I saw it, than his right-wing foes and foils.) I took a class on political history that was taught by Manfred Steger, a pretty well regarded authority these days on the effects of globalization. I was also excited to hear a lecture by Noam Chomsky who visited campus that year, fall '03.

Suddenly, I was by all rights a regular card-carrying communist.

I remember feeling like I didn't understand a lot of what Chomsky said at his lecture, but the parts I did, I agreed with. Chomsky was certainly no fan of President Bush. Because of my various influences, I certainly wasn't a fan, either. A year later, and mostly to my embarrassment and shame now, I was a rabid supporter of Michael Moore's polarizing documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11.

Some of my teammates who were in the same class as me, one of whom I definitely let read off my answer sheet during the final, that a coach had warned them about taking what Chomsky said too seriously, or at least reminding them to be skeptical. The coaches weren't "shades of gray" sorts of people. They were "cause and effect" sorts, who occasionally had to cram a round peg into a square hole.

I felt myself become that round peg. I wasn't fitting, no matter how hard they yelled. That's when I realized I was some kind of anomaly to them. I'm not saying I was ever given terribly much though, actually I think the opposite is true: I was written off. They equated smarts with football intelligence, and I was too unsure of myself to be that in their eyes. I remember toward the end of spring practices meeting with my position coach, the one who, if you didn't like him you could fight him, and having a candid conversation, most of which I don't remember. I do remember for one reason or another he left me alone in his office and I sneaked a look at the report on my skill development (all of this informed a big part of scene I've hitherto written into a story). It said things about my "good, quick feet, strength and flexibility" -- big positives for linemen -- but it also mentioned my failure to grasp their system, and that I would not be ready to play in the coming fall. When my coach returned, I figured I'd level with him and tell him that I'd been sort of struggling with some feelings of depression, which I was having trouble explaining. After my so saying, he looked at me as though I were an alien species. He didn't have much to say that was encouraging. I left with the feeling that I'd REALLY dampened his opinion of me, if it wasn't irrevocably the case already.

The last team meeting I attended, I felt like a stranger amid good friends who understood all of each other's inside jokes. It was raining outside. I was so desperate to get out of there. I also remember the disgust on my strength and conditioning coach's face when I told him I planned to workout at home over the summer, rather than spend it almost entirely on campus. I wanted out of there, as said. I got out of there and soon after realized I wouldn't be returning.

I got the sense from my experience at ISU that there are certain people who look at certain attributes in others as exclusively weakness, as though to save the body something's sometimes gotta be amputated. I was a bad football player largely because I was always second-guessing myself, not reacting to the play and just acting on instinct. When I'd played my best football in high school, my mentality was playing instinctively. The best football player is the one who just does. And the more unsure I got the worse my playing got. And it was abundantly clear there'd be no help coming to get me back on the right track. Maybe things could have been different at ISU, but I guess that's not my real concern in writing this, my real point. My real point is, while I felt the divide widen between myself and my coaches, I see them in retrospect, as the adults in the situation, doing more to widen it than anyone else. We were told by our head coach, "there are no atheists on our football team." I remember the defensive coordinator (one of the coaches I can say WAS humorless and actually, yes, a douche bag) in the midst of spring workouts telling me he thought I was "weak." Not in a motivating way, in a way that signaled his contempt.

I think we need to stop finding weakness in others, and instead determine where the true strengths reside. Are we really stronger with exclusion? With finding ways and means to tear down instead of build up? Certainly sometimes everyone needs a good kick in the pants and to stop feeling sorry for his or herself, but when do we know we've gone to far? And how do we get ourselves back on track when that happens? I tend to think with the support of each other, not the delight in besting a hated (or at least strongly disliked) enemy.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Why I Really Can't Pretend Conservatives Are Reasonable Anymore

I'm finding it harder and harder to be reasonable about the other side, politically speaking. I say that mainly as, I think, a result of the polarized conditions of governmental elections. It's like somebody turns up the heat during the election season. I also think it's because of the inflexibility of the conservative side of the debate. I'm perfectly willing to hear someone tell me differently, say that no, it's because of the liberal side and the haughty contempt they hold for views they deem lacking due intellectual vigor, what I might also call a sincere willingness to look at a hypothetical situation from standpoints outside of my own. My friend (and I don't mean that in the Joe Biden referring to Paul Ryan sense) Michael Frissore has done a better job than most at putting forth this argument, which I would describe as, if nothing else, devil's advocating for some of the more extreme positions of conservatism in the generally extreme contemporary Republican Party. I don't disagree, for instance, that we should try to preserve life, even nascent life, in the case of abortion. Where I think we're free to argue and disagree is where life precisely and truly begins, and to what extent this is a conversation that should be of concern to the public, when the greater majority of people in our society will never be faced with the decision to abort or not to, and whether said option should at least be on the table. As with the example of the highly ineffective war on drugs, people will still have abortions, so do we decide to make them safe and legal or not?

My point basically is, I'm tired of pretending that the political climate today is something both parties can be blamed for, and that liberals share equally with conservatives. They don't. Liberals can be moonbats, but they don't typically get elected to congress in that event. Even Elizabeth Warren, largely considered of the moonbat set, I would say, is not so hard and fast to her positions as some of the more averagely conservative politicians. Think of what's become of John McCain and others of a more center-right Republican bent. Pushed out by those who consider them to be "Republican in name only." I'm not saying you have to agree with me to be a good politician, but I do believe you need to be able to represent the views of individuals outside the demographic you most closely resemble, and that is becoming increasingly impossible for those of the Republican set, even if they wanted to (and there's a part of me, a small part, that despite many of the things he's done and said, believes that Romney would be more comfortable moving toward the center himself, but in order to be a viable Republican candidate, he can't).

So I welcome a push toward secularism, which isn't atheism, and the respect politicians in this country need to show for all different groups, either by leaving them out of the public sphere or by finding ways and means to show support for each and every representative group, even if that means multicultural learning where there's a rather homogeneous population. And of course, when I say that, I'm most especially referring to small rural communities that tend to be Christian in orientation and often very skeptical of outsiders, for both good reasons and quite a few not so good reasons.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

This Romney Believes...

Through all the rhetoric, and man is there a lot of that, I believe the Republican party really stands for things. They're things on the whole I don't stand for, but I don't hold it against them that we disagree. The truth is, they really do stand for established privilege. I don't think Eric Cantor could make a claim like the tweet he let fly on Labor Day if that weren't the case:
Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.
Give the laborers one day? Nah. They didn't build that.

So that brings me back to Romney. The Atlantic Monthly had an interesting, recent article, "Slugfest," about the upcoming presidential debates. The article spent a little time talking about Romney's 1994 run to unseat Ted Kennedy, which proved ultimately unsuccessful. I found this bit about it particularly telling, Romney reflecting upon the whole experience:
Romney now looks back and says he knew he never had a chance and was running mainly because he felt a civic duty to stand up against 'a man who I thought by virtue of his policies of the liberal welfare state had created a permanent under class in America.' [emphasis mine] 
I don't know if you can exactly fault Romney for these views. In some ways I agree that we do need to fight against the idea that government in the solution to our problems, but of course that's never been Obama's argument. And I don't think that's by and large the prevailing view of the modern Democratic party.

If it's an argument about proportion, fine. If it's an argument about the difference between having safety nets in place and not at all, I take exception. And I think most people should, too. We live in a world of uncertainty. Nothing's perfect, granted, but it's good to feel as though there's a prevailing attitude that we're together in this, if only somewhat. Paul Ryan's fiscal vision seems hell bent on ridding us of that concept wholesale, which doesn't seem like a partisan statement to me. It's the closest thing to objective truth I think you can find in politics these days, or maybe ever all time. Of course Ryan wouldn't spin it as negatively, never has and never will, but he's said effectively the very same thing. And he's Romney's Vice President. And Romney by his own admission sees most government interventions as categorically bad (see above), unless of course he's instituting them (see Romneycare).

For as aloof and uncomfortable as Romney, the man, can be when dealing with people who are different from himself, I also think we see him at his most sincere. Take the following two clips. The first, more recent in his discussing gay marriage with a gay veteran.

And then this video (circa 2007) in which we see Romney talking to a man in a wheel chair about medical marijuana. Romney is completely unyielding in both encounters and completely uninterested in the differences, and the unique struggles, of other people, of different people. It shines right through.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hair Lit And Other Important Links Relevant To Me

Hey! Lookie here: I was invited to join pretty illustrious company recently by way of the forthcoming Hair Lit Anthology, a project masterminded by Nick Ostdick and Orange Alert Press. It's rad, bro. Totally. And while I don't know if hair metal dudes would be inclined to say "rad" or "bro," I'm sure this thing is going to be a good thing, enough to make them say "rad" and "bro" -- perhaps in spite of themselves.

I mean check out this cover:

Rad, right?

You can help get this thing off the ground via a pretty nice kickstarter, one that -- depending on how much money you choose to put up -- could really produce some awesome prizes. Like the anthology itself plus a book by Roxane Gay, or Steve Himmer, or Michael Czyzniejewski, or Ben Tanzer or any of a number of other wonderful possibilities. So start the kick HERE.

I've also had a great month in terms of story publications. I have lived out certain dreams of mine. The first was having a piece in >kill author. I did that! In the very last issue of >kill author no less! Check it!

Then there was the second issue of Banango Street, which is awesome. I especially recommend Chad Redden's audio piece.

Then I was absolutely floored to be selected for SmokeLong Weekly by guest editor Laura Ellen Scott. I got to do a fun interview with her, too, which will come out when my story is released with the rest of the quarterly this fall. (AWESOME)

And lastly, KNEE-JERK! Knee-Jerk Magazine, which has recently undergone a site revamping. I had a little something with them, as well. Did I mention how much I love Knee-Jerk? I do!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dinesh D'Souza: A Modern Right-Wing Intellectual?

There are a lot of right-wing intellectuals out there these days, just as there are those of the left. Avik Roy of Forbes and many other prestigious publications as well as a healthcare adviser to Mitt Romney; Dr. Charles Krauthammer, a well know face of modern conservatism (I grew up reading his syndicated column in the Chicago Tribune, and while rarely agreeing with his politics, I can acknowledge he's more than able to formulate a rational argument); Rich Lowry of the National Review, who took an admirable stand against those who defended George Zimmerman in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting (under the unironic headline: "Al Sharpton Is Right"), and his famously severing National Review ties with John Derbyshire for what many considered an overtly racist article the latter wrote for Taki's Magazine. (I might also mention Jonah Goldberg, another National Review writer who'd be viewed more favorably by me if not for his ideologically bound Liberal Fascism, a book I really can't easily get past for a lot of its specious to out-and-out mendacious claims.) With all those listed I would say there's no doubt in conversation we'd disagree far more than we ever agree. But I respect where they're coming from generally, and for their courage to not always toe the party line, or to say things out of keeping with it.

Despite his Ivy-League credentials and an undoubtedly knowledgeable manner, the same really can't be said of Dinesh D'Souza. An ideologue's ideologue, who apparently has decided to become the right-wing equivalent of Michael Moore by way of his highly partisan documentary, 2016: Obama's America. I had no idea this movie existed until just this past weekend, when I came upon a Facebook friend's comment about it. The premise is really unreal. Where Moore's documentary implied some complicity, either directly or indirectly, by the Bush administration in the events of 9/11 D'Souza's cryptically pronounces Obama as having a secret agenda built upon the aspirations of his "socialistic" birth father, with whom the president it ought to be said barely had a relationship, meeting with Obama only once in his lifetime. Now I'm sure the film addresses their relatively non-existent relationship, maybe in the same way The Dark Knight Rises resolves SPOILER ALERT the relationship between Ra's al Ghul and his daughter, Talia. I don't pretend to know. But I do know it's unlikely to have much more than the most tenuous grip on the facts. And that has more to do with the one from whom its source material is derived, D'Souza himself. D'Souza has long beguiled me with his claims that liberal America must own its fair share of the blame for the 9/11 attacks. Of course he'll repeatedly point to the Shah of Iran's losing support from the Carter administration. What he's less wont to note is it was American and European intervention that foisted the Shah to authoritarian rule in the 1950, and it's also far more likely the ones who own that blame are the corporations who were unhappy with the elected government's nationalizing Iranian oil fields. That tidbit doesn't jibe well with D'Souza's very purposeful and, yes, very unfair message. I'd watch the movie if I thought it would give me any  more but the same from this unabashed ideologue. Sadly, it's been and will continue to be very popular with his target demographic (sigh). Please, though, enjoy Stephen Colbert satirizing the hell out of D'Souza's unreasonable beliefs on the Colbert Report circa 2007:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Dinesh D'Souza
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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Debating Ignorance On The Internet And Specifically Facebook

Hey, you! Wow. You'd think after all the time I spent in my early twenties tied up in the inanity of political discourse on the internet I'd have learned some lesson, right? Wow, no, apparently I haven't yet. It'd be nice to, some day. I'm actually all for discussion of the issues. And granted it's hard to discuss the issues when memes like the following are being widely disseminated:

I know I should find better things to waste my time on, and there are equally specious pro-Obama memes are out there, floating around, cluttering the discourse, too. I know that. Still, I wanted to talk about Ronald Reagan, hero of the right. And yes, I came from the perspective that his presidency wasn't as great as this meme implies. And so I called upon his trumpeting of "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" which at least subtly suggests blame for society's problems on his opponent, Jimmy Carter, during the 1980 campaign; his penchant for falling asleep during cabinet meetings (I hear this excused as, "probably got more done sleeping than Carter did awake." and other such noise that I'd prefer not to delve into); his love of a short workday; his taking twice as much vacation in the same time span as Obama (though one president definitely gets more grief for it); and his -- I'll concede -- probably unknowing complicity, or "actual deniability" as I believe John Poindexter once called it (instead of the more aware "plausible deniability"), concerning The Enterprise and sending armaments for money from Iran to the Nicaraguan Contras, during the Iran-Contra scandal. There's more, naturally. Any president can be accused of just as many gaffs as they can successes, and as always, it all comes down to perspective. Anyway, I went there. And it was bad. It was not a lot of name calling, at least between me and my most specific debate partner. But it was a waste of time. 

We got nowhere. 

For every reasonable point I made, my opponent felt the same way about his counterpoint. It just sort of went on like that, fruitlessly. To end it, I blocked the discussion. To further end these sorts of issues from coming up again, I deleted the person who'd originally posted the meme. Is that wrong? I'm inclined to say no. I say that because I did not know this person, a received-at-random add from him for reasons that remain mysterious to me, especially when if I recall correctly I came in contact with him for the first time while arguing in another thread with just the same sort of leftist bent. 

What it comes down to are salient differences in belief. I'm at least largely a demand sider as goes economic theory, and I consider supply side economics very hazardous at best (a la the Clinton administration's bestowing "Most Favored" nation status onto trading partner China and the problematic and still controversial implementation of The North American Free Trade Agreement, which each decision made it more appealing to move American jobs overseas). A  vehement supply sider would see my opinion in this regard as a wrongheaded, unnecessary restriction on the mechanisms of the global market. Simply put, don't make it harder to buy and sell (and produce) goods in other locations abroad. And as time has gone on we've been able to see the longterm effects, which have been largely good for corporations and the very wealthy, but like a lot of international commerce, much less desirable for the less wealthy on down. Thus the irony of the "Trickle Down" theory's name, which seems to have gotten stopped up somewhere as wealth continues to be increasingly consigned to the highest levels of American society to the detriment of all those (and not just the poorest) below them. 

But often these components aren't reasonably looked at. And the individual he sees things in terms of his self, as we all do to lesser or greater extent, evaluates progress only by how good his/her life is, purely anecdotal and ego-centric terms, bordering at times on the solipsistic and, even, occasionally, the sociopathic. Which is why arguments can be so reductive. And suddenly name calling arises out of what was once a logical and reasoned debate. The party that is categorically wrong is usually the first to invoke derision. See: the history of racism, of subjection, of scapegoating and genocide. Meanwhile, how are we looking at the true merits of our sociological problems? I had a fascinating email exchange with Professor Robert Lopez of California State University-Northridge on this recent article he wrote for The Witherspoon Institute, and which tells a different story from the commonly held arguments supporting gay parenting. (Lopez himself was raised predominantly by his mother and a woman she became involved with, and he speaks of what he viewed as "being strange," in the eyes of the greater community around him, and likewise feeling strange himself.) Granted, I wrote to him because I wanted to determine where his and my own views intersected, but our views hardly completely intersect, even after discussing the matter with him more personally. Still, it was a very polite exchange, one that I feel good about and suggests to me that people on the opposite sides of any of the political perspective (on all the different issues) can, indeed, be debated reasonably. This is not something usually found on Facebook, however, and I think that's the lesson I want others to take from what I'm writing here. Don't be like me. Probably, where Facebook is concerned, you should leave well enough alone. 


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Romney's "Culture" And Things Worth Keeping In Mind

Oh messy politics. Here we've been going, constantly. It's an unpleasant business, the American political landscape and all that's tied to it. I really dislike it. I wish it were cleaner and more positive. I'd prefer we all fall into our respective camps of belief, follow the credo invoked by many a Republican of an individual's right to personal liberty -- although that seems to be not without a few caveats regardless of the political persuasion of whoever's invoking the term.

Ostensibly, if you're a stereotypical Republican you believe "personal liberty" refers to one's right to own as many firearms as you choose to (and as much ammo to power those arms as you choose, likewise), freedom of Christian religion to be plastered everywhere you deem it's needed (i.e. everywhere), and freedom to hate the poor for choosing poverty (and gays for choosing to be gay). That, rather glibly, sums them up, right?

Conversely, if you're a stereotypical Democrat you believe in "personal liberty" to the extent that it doesn't offend others (and frankly, I get that and agree; but Steve Carell didn't just invent Michael Scott from nothing, the character came from alarmingly real source material; some people just don't understand how what they say is offensive, a consortium that -- like it or not, free and considerate speech advocates -- will always be part of the discourse). And Democrats will retain their right to be offended, sometimes adequately in proportion and sometimes less than adequately (Republicans often resort to the very same, in cases that usually begin with a Republican saying something offensive and not liking the response). The point is, Democrats dislike and often react poorly to a bigot's invocation of personal liberty. Democrats are also often guilty of hubris -- of being the know it all that thinks (s)he knows it all, but nobody does. And they could absolutely learn somethings from their Republican counterparts if they would likewise learn about them, and why Republicans see the country in the terms they do.

(If you haven't yet guessed, I'm more sympathetic to Democrats than Republicans. And when I cite each party affiliation I'm referring primarily to the people, the masses, who claim them as their ideologies of choice and not the politicians, who are usually far more similar than they are different.)

The problem consistently becomes one of unwillingness (or perhaps outright inability) to even attempt to understand another person's perspective. I try to imagine the notion of culture as, perhaps, Mitt Romney intended when he made the rather glaring mistake of identifying the difference between Israel and Palestine as one of "culture." I've seen the closeness of tight-knit rural communities firsthand. People in these places would bend over backwards for those whom they love and believe they can trust. And what's the best way to delineate whom you can trust from whom you cannot? How alike are they to you? Difference, just as an evolutionary consideration, can mean danger, can mean harmful, can upset a balanced ecosystem. It doesn't change the fact that by and large, in this day and age, we have little to fear from that historical Other. People are people, some are not ones with whom you'd like to be close, and others are. But there simply is no superficial set of criteria on which to base this decision. Romney couldn't have failed to notice the general differences between the average Palestinian and the average Israeli. Certainly, even if distinction by skin color isn't quite so easy in the Middle East as it was in the Jim Crow South, there are other superficial means. Though it wasn't always true, Americans are much more comfortable with Orthodox Jewish dress than they are typically with, say, an Orthodox Muslim's. You can see how someone of Romney's unarguably insulated background would find it easier to identify points of common interest among a largely Jewish population than a largely Muslim population, and that's without even addressing all the weight of generations of socio-political distinction between the two closely linked nation states (although one is not recognized as a sovereignty by the United States; I'll let you guess which one).

Fareed Zakaria is correct. At its most simplistic, the difference between these two regions is capitalism. Moreover, we must understand the distinction between Israelis and Palestinians is simply far more complex and far more monetarily attributable than some dubious notion of superior "culture" -- a term which to me might as well be referring to superior race. Culture has become the new, veiled term for previous and more overt labels.

What is it about human nature that on the one hand aspires to achieve so much and on the other lazily attempts to categorize self from others by facile determination? Blacks are intellectually inferior for some reason that was (and still is) conveniently and most enthusiastically put forth by White people. Why not let people become who they can become, before deciding that ahead of time? Plainly put, why do we aspire to achieve so much but constantly resort to some lazy, simplistic analysis of our fellow people? And why not understand that more often than not individual success is the product of community? Community on a wider scale could have a tremendously positive effect. That infrastructure is a good thing. That the poorest members of society should be protected from oligarchs. But don't take my word for it, as Adam Gopnik over at the New Yorker has extensively delved into, what were capitalism's preeminent founder Adam Smith's thoughts on the nature of labor and employer? How about this from Smith's seminal work, The Wealth of Nations:
He [the laborer] supplies them [the employer] abundantly with what they have occasion for, and they accommodate him as amply with what he has occasion for, and a general plenty diffuses itself through all the different ranks of society. 

I anticipate I might get comments about how government impedes this relationship, that it's the government and high rates of taxation that prevent employers from being more equable with wages. But how can we believe that, at this point? And what's more, even if you consider that the rate of corporate profit has finally begun to decline, for the first time since 2008!, they're still at a "paltry" 6.4 billion. The NY Times article further notes that the downturn has more to do with foreign markets than with domestic ones, something worthwhile to keep in mind.

I mean, isn't having a solid infrastructure across all strata of society desirable? For everyone?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Oh, Oh, Love Stories Of Nemeses?

Thought I'd go ahead and scribe a quick blogpost. Thought I'd scribe it without being entirely sure of what the word "scribe" means. I know that a scribe was typically a writer of things. What sorts of things? No one knows! it's lost to history. It's lost to the sands of time.

So we move on, wondering.

The Nervous Breakdown had a pretty interesting article up the other day. It was about Joshua Ferris, more or less. It was about a writer of lesser notoriety dealing with the fact that Joshua Ferris, "Josh," had gone on to some significant authorial acclaim. That's the most superficial rundown I can think of for expressing the substance of the article, entitled "Et tu, Nemesis?". Seriously, follow the link I've provided, because I believe it's a lot more than just that, those paltry words I've used to sum it up.

I think what's most interesting about the article is the way in which its author, Abby Mims, gets to the heart of the that you cannot be a hero in your own home, because everybody knows you. They know that you leave the seat up after (or -- worse -- down during) your using the toilet (this is a very male-centric portion of the analogy, an analogy to avoid all possible confusion, is describing micturition). Joshua Ferris, acclaimed National Book Award Nominee and The New Yorker Top Twenty Under Forty recipient, did not get along with all of his peers in his college MFA program at UC-Irvine.

My initial opinion of Ferris' writing was very enthusiastic. "Then We Came To The End" is a very good, maybe great, novel. I've been less impressed by his short stories since that impressive debut. All of this is to say, I have mixed feelings about him as a writer. And truthfully I don't want this post to become all about one writer's quasi-antagonistic relationship with a now famous author. I think it's more useful as a study of human nature, and how humans operate in the occluded space of a graduate creative writing program (in part because I still entertain some small desire to enroll in one, at some intangible point).

Take a look at the article. I'm curious to hear thoughts. It's certainly a piece that inspires a lot of strongly felt reactions.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

New Fiction on The Big Jewel

I have a new piece on The Big Jewel! Take a look if you care to. It's about fighting in holes, more or less.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Triumphantly Returning

I've been gone. Yes. I know. I do that. I'll do it again. You can't count on this blog to be updated regularly. But I'll always come back. I'll always have some new musing that needs an outlet, whether you're looking for me to let it out or not.

Anyway, this summer has been a time for reading old favorites, new (to me) old favorites and wonderful contemporary authors alike. I'll single out several. One has been Henry David Thoreau's classic, "Walden" -- a tremendous read. Really, in these times especially it offers up the kind of refreshing alternative point of view that's really needed. It's also reminded me that the more superficial goals we humans aspire to have always been and continue to be, however the form manages to reinvent itself. But I love the notion that the pursuit of luxury can't be enough, as when Thoreau remarks: "When he has obtained these things which are necessary to life, there is another alternative than to obtain the superfluities; and that is, to adventure on life now, his vacation from humbler toil having commenced." And if I can distill a little of what Throeau is getting at in what amounts to his thesis (or one big positing, anyway), he's not really prescribing a specific model of life for everyone, all people. He's aware it's possible to take pleasure in your current circumstances, whatever they be. But for those who have become disenchanted and maybe wish to understand why possessions have not filled the void, he offers his own experience, his ruminative and meditative existence, as a possible alternative. He questions the very notion that seems to be a fundament of present day society: things can be no other way. They can be another way. They can be the way that works best for you. Maybe that's living in the wilderness or maybe it's something altogether different. But go out and find it. Listen to another point of view.

Then there's my longtime favorite, the weaver of intricate sentences that flow so musically you feel you're nearly spellbound, or maybe you are, after reading. That'd be Vladimir Nabokov. And this time around I'm catching up with him by way of "King, Queen, Knave" -- which as alluded to is already shaping up to be an amazing read, at least prosaically. There are signs that the plot will be rewarding, too, but I don't feel enough has been revealed to say with any sincere inkling yet. I'm at the pont where one of the main characters, the presumed titular knave, is wandering the streets of Berlin without his necessary prescription glasses, which he'd previously clumsily destroyed. There's comedy and perhaps something more to that.

In the wake of Patrick Somerville's hilarious recent imbroglio with The New York Times that's been covered well by other people, I have finally gotten off of my hump and begun reading his first novel, "The Cradle." I'm excited by its furious pace, especially given that the essential premise is so deceptively innocuous: a man goes on a quest to retrieve the cradle that had once belonged to his wife when she was a baby. As an avid fan of Somerville's fiction (I can't encourage your reading his short fiction collections anymore than Ialready have), I'm curious to see what shapes and forms his long form writing will take. Certainly there's a more serious tone to his writing here, emotionally stimulating and downright enervating in its weight, which I've experienced after reading just thirty some pages. It's evident Somerville has an amazing range of insight and literary acumen, and I look forward to seeing how these powers reveal themselves further in "The Cradle."

Also, while I've been only slightly better at updating my status there, I've begun blogging for Artifice Books in recent months, which you can find by clicking HERE. There's plenty of other worthwhile things being said, arguably more than the few that I've spoken.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Totalitarianism And The Great Masses Fully Roused! (Part I of Hopefully Many Parts)

Great novels keep you thinking. Reading "Bend Sinister"(And while I"m on this tack I might as well include Nabokov's "Invitation to a Beheading," George Orwell's "1984" (much as Nabokov would have disliked being named alongside him) Franz Kafka's "The Trial" and Albert Camus' "The Stranger" to the list of novels that have got me to thinking, especially regarding the leitmotif (word of the day 05/31/11) of this post, but thinking of several things -- aside from Nabokov's being perhaps the great writer of our time.

The first was I've been meaning to read Hannah Arendt's "The Origins of Totalitarianism" for far too long, and it was high time I got that started. So I've got that started and it has been quite a treat, from the standpoint of keeping me thinking.

The second was that, easy as it is to say otherwise, we've got just as much potential for totalitarianism here in the good ol' USA as any country that's ever existed, and possibly more potential for it considering our great size in terms of population and the falseness of the proposition that democracy inherently breeds free thinking, or embraces it.

I've read Eric Larson's latest book, "In the Garden of Beasts" (concerned primarily with the first U.S. ambassador to Hitler's Germany, and the change in Germany's social complexion in the year's time between Hitler as merely Chancellor to his final ascension to Fuhrer and total control.) So thirdly, in conjunction with the facts of "Bend Sinister" and "Origins," is this: it never ceases to astound me how easily freedom is willfully handed over to a regime (and bureaucratic machinations subordinate to it) that desires anything but the freedom and welfare of its citizens. Hitler and the Nazis' rise provide perfect historical testimony to this fact, and damned if this is something we can sweep under the rug -- isolate to a "crazy" place and time -- and be done with it. You'd have to be crazy to do that. You can't fail to recognize that what happened in Germany was not uniquely German; it was disturbingly human.

Certainly democracy, of whatever you wish to term our current form of government in contemporary America, allows for the possibility of freedom -- but it also invites the opportunity for the contrary, a systematized manacling by those who urge oppression. Its machinations are usually subtle. That is to say, forces such as "The Silent Majority" of President Nixon's famous citation, which is a powerful, capable force. The Silent Majority that tacitly (or not so tacitly) backs the Machiavellian ends of an unscrupulous administration (think justification of Iran Contra, for one notable example), provided it means ends that a statesman can justify. These must somehow be linked to the American way, a certain pursuit. 

It is true there is a large swathe of apolitical denizens in America today. And it's possible to consider this group harmless, consider it to be an aggregate of those whom it would be hard to muster to aspirations above the most basic. But it's precisely these individuals disaffected by the political mechanisms of an entrenched government and its corresponding party system who are, historically speaking, most easily aroused to react forcefully against it. Which actually makes a great deal of sense, purely from a psychological standpoint. As you begin to feel more and more the outsider, holding no advantage, you likewise begin to -- often -- resent the group you see as responsible for your marginalization. For instance, think of how children most often hate bullies and, even if not bullies, the most popular children -- begrudging their privilege. The fact is, though, this isn't in this case without merit. Now, conversely, isn't it true that many times the most popular children, bullies, will turn children against the very lowest on the totem pole, the very weakest of the weak, which helps the popular children or child / bully consolidate power (no one wants to be the lowest on the totem pole, and expend energies mostly on distancing themselves from that person / people). You can see this working on a macro scale, as well. There wouldn't be need for scapegoats in the hugely repressive governments, totalitarian governments especially, were it not for this psychological precondition. Or at least scapegoats are a useful means of deflection. And deflection is a common means of controlling opinion in contemporary America, if not globally.

Herbert Marcuse termed it, in an eponymous essay published in 1965, "Repressive Tolerance," which is to say when tolerance for freedom of speech goes "too far" (quotes around too far quoting the questionable idea of what exactly constitutes too far). I'm inclined to agree with Marcuse. When a line of discussion of a certain heightened vitriol gets to the point where its promulgators are actively speaking of repression, you've got to call attention to, and probably vitiate, this fact. The problem I see with squelching a repressive line of thought is, how do you do so without making martyrs of the people you're silencing? If conservative commentator Glenn Beck, at the height of his popularity, had been silenced by the government for being too provocative, I feel safe in saying it would have compelled a war, or if not that then some kind of violent retaliation by a fringe, fanatical right-wing political group, at least. But I suppose this effect is something to be returned to.

I further agree with Marcuse with respect to a politically inundated society being counterproductive to the free thinking of its members. He puts it more precisely, and in terms of how we are taught to think, when he explains, ". . . learning to know the facts, the whole truth, and to comprehend it is radical criticism throughout, intellectual subversion." Those things which foster control discourage knowledge of the whole truth, and how to find it. You find the whole truth by reading and reacting to / interacting with everything. John Stuart Mill's call to understand the other side's argument as well as your own (which has led me to read a great deal by Ayn Rand, F.A. Hayek Charles Krauthammer, Jonah Goldberg, William F. Buckley, and Ray Kroc -- hell, even odious talking heads like Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity). Well-roundness, exposure, more holistic education, should make those scapegoats (entities in need of oppression) the masses are trained to dislike in, say, a fascist society, less terrifying and thus less in need of repression. So that my favorite mantra, put forth by Simone de Beauvoir in her seminal work "The Ethics of Ambiguity," offers a kind of axiomatic thesis to Marcuse's essay, viz., "A freedom which is interested only in denying freedom must be denied." In other words, a right-wing Christian stating a gay man's freedom to be gay impinges on his/her freedom -- viz., (s)he wishes the gay man be denied his freedoms so as not to be exposed to nor have his/her family be exposed to the "gay lifestyle." This is the standpoint from which repressive tolerance can most properly and reasonably be understood. But still I cannot see how repressive speech would be undermined or stifled without granting martyrdom and probably impelling a violent reaction, perpetrated by those who cannot see the incongruity of imposing their "freedoms" on minorities and so forth. I understand that Marcuse would say children are the focal point from which this battle is won or lost, but how do you achieve that without enraging families who have been told/taught to believe seditious forces are attempting to brainwash their children, that it's done in the schools through re-education. Ironically the real dogmas perpetuated by larger factions of America seem to exist elsewhere. In, yes, my own personal object of bias, the church of modern American Christianity, that right-wing conflation of church with state variety (other places, too, but that's a big one). Is it crazy to say Christianity in these general terms I classify it, as one example of dogma, would be free of the scrutiny it now is subject to were it open to the rights of others to believe / worship / et al as they so choose? And is it not the fundamental opposition to this, to the rights of individuals to live as they choose, free of proselytism, that engenders a real cause for such antipathy?

How about, as long as I'm asking questions, if everyone believed the same thing as this very specific brand of Christianity I describe would that therefore make it true, finally, at long last? What about trees in the forest? At least people'd be able to sleep easier with the question of the righteousness of their beliefs taken off the table and ruled as beyond contest. That'd keep things simple, certainly.

Now, what was my point again? (Digression will be a big theme of blog posts from here on out, if it wasn't before.) Ah yes, this will be an ongoing series. Investigations in philosophy of the state and man, especially as such discussions prove relevant to whatever the hell is going on in our own country, in this day and age. I see a lot of good in opening up a dialogue. I see a lot of good, likewise, in not rambling on and onward in one single post forever.

(If it isn't apparent this is a post I've been building on and expanding for too long. I hope most of what I've written to this point flows well enough and plays off the preceding points I've made in a clear enough way, a way that by itself indicates the purposefulness of things being framed as they have been. If I have failed at this, I'm truly sorry but I hope it was a fruitful read, anyway. I don't want to waste anyone's time, especially by rambling.) 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Oh, The Places I've Been!

I like to drum up support for the literary magazines I like, which happen to be the ones I submit stories to, likewise. I had an echap from Pangur Ban Party come out this month, featuring stories that will be included in my collection, Why God Why, still very much forthcoming from Love Symbol Press.

Because I love the publications, and because I think great publications are deserving of as much attention as can be got, I've included links to all the places I've been and their most current issues. I'm also gonna include links to a few books I've been reviewing for Untoward that I think you ought to at least look into. Some of them hardly need anymore press but I'm giving it anyway. They all deserve to be recognized. People need to know they exist, if in the event that they don't already. SERIOUSLY!

Lit mag links:

Fix It Broken Issue 4 - HERE!

Prick of the Spindle 6.1 - HERE!


Pangur Ban Party, My echap, There! Words! - HERE!

Books to watch out for:

Michael Czyzniejewski's Chicago Stories: 40 Dramatic Fictions - HERE!

Paul Kavanagh's Iceberg - HERE!

Adam Levin's Hot Pink - HERE!

Diana Salier's Letter From Robots - HERE! 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Refuse to Rhyme "Freight" With Anything For Intention Of Achieving Humor / Catchy Title

I've been interested in the concept of Mel Bosworth's novel "Freight" for quite a time now. It's an homage to "Choose Your Own Adventure" stories that contributed greatly to the free-time reading I did in elementary school. Usually, I would choose the adventure that ended in violence of some kind, usually death as well. It was a morbid streak, but one I stuck to. I remember one trip to New York ending with my plunging down the steps of the Statue of Liberty. A grisly way to go.

Anyway, in the spirit of that style, Mel Bosworth has written "Freight." It is an enjoyable way in which to offer readers an either purely imagined or possibly born from something more autobiographical story of a first person narrator and his life's worth of experiences. This was especially useful for me as a book available on Kindle, since there were hyperlinks to each passage of inter-connectedness. And that's precisely how the novel functioned, at certain points throughout you'd see passages that were highlighted as hyperlinks and would either skip you ahead or return you behind to passages deemed relevant to one another by the author. It works. It works really well. Might be construed as a gimmick by some, but not me. Not when it's a gimmick that works really well (which is probably the rule to distinguish gimmick from effective / innovative literary device -- did you like it / how it was implemented?).

That'll be a rule. I think it might be my rule already, but now I'm stating it loudly and clearly, gimmick and innovative device are in the eye of the beholder.

I loved another frequent concept of "Freight" -- that you swallow up the people that come in and out of your life, and they, in turn, might likewise swallow you, thus adding freight each and every one of us. It's reminiscent of the "This American Life" episode in which Ira Glass interviewed a farmer who'd cloned his beloved steer, Chance. Chance was not the same after cloning. His new "self" was different, altered by something imperceptible. Second Chance was violent and mean, tore open the farmer's nut sack as a tragic, climactic turn of events. People might be so different over time that when a person was your best friend at one point (s)he might tear open your nut sack at a different time.

What have you swallowed? Was it bitter?

You can get "Freight" on e-book. I recommend your doing so.

Monday, March 5, 2012

My AWP Disappointments (So Few That They're Worth Mentioning)

1.) Not getting to talk to Sal Pane longer.

2.) Not meeting Nick Ostdick, Amber Sparks, Courtney Maum, Robert Kloss and Nate Pritts (among those whom I know were attending AWP and did not meet; don't get me started on those I haven't verified were in attendance)

3.) Meeting Mary Miller but not realizing she was THE Mary Miller (she was introduced to me as "Mary" which, in fairness, makes sense).

4.) Missing Amelia Gray's reading by mere tens of minutes, tops (although I believe it was less than that). (And I did get to meet her and she was wonderful and nice and that more than made up for my not getting to see / hear her read).

5.) I've still never spoken to Zach Dodson at any of these events, which is because of no good reason. He lives here, Chicago. I should really try to say hello. (sigh)

6.) Chad Redden, Shaun Gannon, DJ Berndt, Jess Dutschmann, Chris Kelly, Mike Bushnell, and Mike Kitchell's not staying forever!

7.) Josh Denslow's being unable to attend the Another AWP Reading.

8.) Faith Gardner's being unable to attend AWP.

9.) Meghan and Russ not winning the Karaoke Idol at Beauty Bar. (I demand a recount!)

10.) Peterbd's not coming to AWP and also not being someone I have ever physically seen, neither in person nor image.

All right, that's it. That's all the disappointment I can think of. Everything else was wondrous. Especially James Tadd Adcox. And even more especially Mason Johnson. And Dan Shapiro, also!

I'll come back and post more disappointments if I remember any of them. (Story of my life, right? Which is to say, disappointment.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Call This a 'Shane Jones Thank You Card', If You Like

Ah yes, I do still exist here. Somewhat thoughtfully, even!

Who doesn't enjoy fables? And dreams, whose dreams aren't pleasant? A lot of times mine aren't. They're interesting, but I'd describe them as exhausting, too. Like getting into an involved conversation with a bespectacled, post-menopausal woman in the middle of a labyrinthine shopping mall, at the bottom of a staircase worthy of M.C. Escher. At which spot we conversed about how the staircase was stylistically similar to those staircases built in the '80s, lacquered wood-paneling for hand supports and thin, gray metal beams fixing them in place and completing the baluster -- although, as she'd said, it had been built even earlier than that, at least as early as the '70s. It had pre-dated the style. Perhaps it was the very first of its kind?

Now, what the hell was the point of regaling you with that, you wonder?

It illustrates why nobody likes to hear about your dreams, so stop bothering them. And in so doing, it offers an example of why, though dream-like (as many great works of fiction are), "Light Boxes" by Shane Jones is much much better than that reductive categorization. (Further, that that categorization is extremely easy and lame and when accompanied by nothing or little else, the term "dream-like" is pretty much devoid of meaning.)

Firstly, the plot, oh, the plot, indeed!

The plot operates as a kind of character in itself, stretching the limits of what its characters can endure. What they're asked to endure, put plainly, is an endless February that's together a person (the primary antagonist), a place (the two-holed opening in the sky (although this is admittedly a bit tenuously labeled, as the two holes isn't referred to expressly as February, but more as the residence of February; oh bother), and a thing (the endless winter in which circumstances of the narrative are situated).

Then there are the narrative shifts in perspective, from any number of the heroes, to February him/itself, to the girl who smells of honey and smoke (a simple description which is pretty remarkable for its potent terseness; a description you can almost taste).

There's much in the way of abstraction, and certainly in this abstraction, much metaphor to parse. I kind of like looking at it as a straight-up narrative, though. I remarked in an earlier post, a post I'd written before I'd known much at all about about "Light Boxes," writing that "everything in the novel is February. A nice and cold month devoid of feeling" (I was referring to Sam Pink's "Person" but apparently I could just as easily have been talking about "Light Boxes"). I feel like I get it, Mr. Jones, casting "February" as your villain IS the only logical choice.

And what a conflicted villain. We never know much about February's angle, except that it's something he/it feels he/it must do. There seems to be no pleasure resultant from the imposition of an endless winter. This subsequent lack of understanding motivation, even where understanding them means understanding something truly terrible, is repelled by most people. We want to know why people go on shooting sprees, or crash planes into buildings or commit a Holocaust. That's what Thaddeus, the leader of the townspeople, seems to desire. Why are people taken from him (in various ways) and why won't February end? How do we make it end? His obsession leads him down a road fraught with hazards, until finally he comes face-to-face, I think, with February.

It's a great read.

Oh, and apparently it's February now, as I'm writing this. Believe or not, that wasn't planned, though I do so love good coincidences.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Let's Get This Party Started on a Friday Afternoon

I'm not going to beat around bush: I've got a collection of flash fictions, "Why God Why," coming from the newly conceived Love Symbol Press (also publishing heavy hitters like M. Kitchell, Josh Kleinberg and Heather Palmer; I'm in GREAT literary company, I mean / humbled to be included). The collection will be out later this year. No official date yet, just the broad 2012 label. STILL! I've enjoyed looking over potential cover art. Also there will be something in the neighborhood of 50 plus stories included when alls said and done. Swede.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Parsing "Us" By Michael Kimball

"Us" by Michael Kimball is one of those novels that is so evocative, so emotive that in so conjuring, it does a lot to defy labeling or being "understood." Certainly one of its primary themes is mortality, and the effects of that inescapable truth on love and the living. But I'm not entirely comfortable with boiling it down to that. I think it's better to look at it as a great big whole without a distillative thesis.

So then, the whole. Well...

The narrator's wife is stricken with some form of illness, sending the narrator into a panic to save her. What follows is a rather surreal journey into the highs and lows of "The End" (there's some suggestion that the end is not The End, but that's all I'll say). The novel is heartbreaking, crushing. But it's powerfully so. It's the good kind of crushing, too. The kind I think everyone ought to force themselves to feel at least every once in a while. Not as practice. Not as prep for something bigger, but instead for its value as an emotive experience unto itself. Things can have value in and of themselves and not for some great palliative effect they offer later on. I believe this. Honest. I think it might be a touch contrary to the prevalent feeling of what does someone or something offer me as an individual, at this given moment but also possibly into the future. People and things don't have to be commodities, commodities we can then exploit for our specific needs and wants.

Nobody has to learn how to grieve. We know how to do that. Michael Kimball through "Us" offers a very powerful opportunity to be human in a very distinct way. To let us collectively experience a unique component of the human condition, having both its pros and cons, to be sure.

I don't want to oversell it. I feel I should always attach something like a rider that says: "Hey, that's how I experienced it, anyway. I hope you experience something similar because that leads to the great thing of relating, a great thing that people can do, that we have it in us to do." But that's not necessarily what will happen. I'm cool with that and I hope you are, too.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What's in a Name?

Well human psychology, I got one for you. Recently The Moonmilk Review began its transition to The Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review. Fans of the literary references, Italo Calvino and F. Scott Fitzgerald respectively, needn't be clued in on their significance or their significant differences. Ultimately, it's all semantics / semiotics, what each as a word and image signifies in the mind of the beholder. Still, I get a categorically different sense from Moonmilk than I do from Eckleburg, even if the content of the publication should change very little. I, as beholder, am not a huge fan of "The Great Gatsby" -- although I do genuinely enjoy thinking about the image of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg regardless. (Dr. Eckleberg is one of my favorite parts of a novel I find generally underwhelming.) Alternatively, I'm a great fan of Calvino's collection "Cosmicomics" -- especially its "The Distance of the Moon," a story  from which the term "moonmilk" in The Moonmilk Review is derived.

I know my misgivings about the name change will pass, as they'll have to necessarily since this is a thing out of my control. I will miss the name Moonmilk Review, though -- a surprisingly great deal, too. Much more than I would have ever assumed.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Latest in Etgar Keret, "Creative Writing"

I like when well known / regarded writers take a stab at writing about writing. Lorrie Moore's narrative second-person "How to Become a Writer" is an ought not to be missed kind of read, among stories like these. Handled deftly, they are a fascinating look at the creative process, the writing process in conversation and in workshop, even if / though it's not the "creative process" per se of the author of the fiction itself. And now, Etgar Keret has brought his own offering in the form of "Creative Writing," which appeared in a recent issue of The New Yorker.

Others I've enjoyed in this way are David Foster Wallace's character Rick Vigorous' storytellings in "The Broom of the System" and Will Self's disturbingly awesome "Nonce Prize" which concerns, among other things, creative writing in a prison setting -- and, actually I recall liking the stories within stories more than the primary narrative in novels like John Irving's "The World According to Garp." Even Albert Camus' "The Plague" plays with describing the writing process, when a character becomes enamored to the point of obsession with a sentence he's writing and constantly revising, to wit, "One fine morning in the month of May an elegant horsewoman might have been seen riding a handsome sorrel mare along the flowery avenues of the Bois de Boulogne."

Etgar Keret's "Creative Writing" left me feeling that, for all its many positives, the one thing I wished was also explored here? His characters' writing badly, or at least in a way that better suggested their novice status. Still, though, there's a lot here, and the stories within the story are conceptual oddities in themselves. At outset, the story concerns a couple who's recently experienced the loss of a child. I can't quite recall if this is expressly stated or implied. As recourse, as escape, as coping mechanism / impetus, the man suggests to the woman that she take up something like creative writing. She does and experiences success immediately, come in the form of praise from her instructor and peers. This leads to an odd form of envy in the man. He finds the woman talented, but also inscrutable. Her work is good but leaves something to be desired, he feels. He joins a beginner's creative writing course of his own. The narrative comes full circle. In a glib sort of way, I enjoy feeling the story's moral is: writing is hard, and endings are hardest of all.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Will Break Barry Graham [Stop] Must [Stop]

AWP is rolling into Chicago come the end of February. At its commencement we'll be having a big arm wrestling tournament among writers and whatnot. What precipitated this? I challenged Barry Graham, DOGZPLOT Emperor-in-Chief, to an arm wrestling match. He then decided the tournament was a good idea (it is) and the thing has taken something of a life of its own. Worst case scenario? I lose and have to buy Barry Graham pizza and beer and kiss his ass literally and publicly. As you might imagine, I have no intention of losing. We'll see if strength and endurance on my side February 29th, though. I've been hitting the gym hard in the meantime. I expect this will pay dividends come arm wrastlin' time.

Also, Ben Tanzer is a traitorous ratfink who made one mistake when he double crossed me: he left me alive!

TEAM POWERBEEF!!! (That's my arm wrestling team. There's me, the wrestler, and there's the people I've conscripted to shout invective at my opponents / cheer me on (mostly the former, though).)


In other news, Jon Mau and I have concocted a template for further plans should Plan A and Plan B run afoul. You're free to use said template in your day-to-day lives as well, whenever the same happens to you.

Plan U - Try yelling at it from a seated position. Moving as little as possible. Saying something like, "I'm feeling too lethargic to respond to this physically."

Plan V - Sobbing quietly, hands resting on your face, cradling it as you're bent over yourself. Probably, you've moved little since Plan U, most likely not at all.

Plan W - Take a hostage. Then you release said hostage immediately, asking or pleading (most likely pleading) with them for assistance. You've been under a lot of pressure lately, is one big thing you might say to your erstwhile hostage.

Plan X - MELEE!!! (pronounced Mel-E)


New Untoward and Red Lightbulbs things in the world. Mark Jordan Manner, a really talented young writer, being a common thread between our two publications, as coincidence would have it. 

I too have a publication on elimae that's up and at them now on elimae!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Things Which Will On Occasion Elicit Nothing

Tao Lin. He's a fascinating figure/fixture in the world of contemporary indie lit. He's definitely hitting on something -- he has the ardent following to prove it. Gawker, even if sardonically, posts about his exploits often -- even going so far as to offer him a forum for posting of his exploits himself at least once. I consider myself neither a fan nor a hater. I'm an interested bystander. I was interested when discussion of Marie Calloway and Lin's role in publishing "Adrien Brody" and corresponding with its author broke a week or two ago. Then, despite its circular tendencies and refusal to take a specific position without contradicting that position, I quite enjoyed Janey Smith's reaction on Big Other.

Tao Lin is a curiosity, and as Janey Smtih notes in greater depth than I plan to go in here, he seems to deftly understand the importance of being great at getting attention. Everything else can be viewed as subjective in the marketplace, other than the plan fact of what sells. Tao Lin and Muumuu House sell, and much as I'm loath to admit it, Jordan Castro and the rest of the young Muumuuvian disciples are wise to get on board with this promotional machine. I'm sure it could be counted on one hand those people who know who Amelia Gray is or who Michael Kimball is or Blake Butler, even, but don't know of Tao Lin. If it's a shame that this is the case the best you'll be able to argue is for something subjective.

Of course it's crass to say because Lin has followers he also has merit. Fine, it's crass. So what? It's no less true. And even though I didn't much care for the substance of "Shoplifting From American Apparel," the first of Lin's books I've been able to get a copy of and read. It is fairly straightforward. It follows characters who are undoubtedly stand-ins for Tao and his gang, a fact all but revealed expressly in his Gawker piece cited above. He's simultaneously aware of the kind of "movement oriented" nature of his position in this place in history, having characters remark to one another that they'll be no doubt referred to as the "blogniks," or some such media-driven expression to place them in the popular imagination of whatever discrete realm of pop culture they fit into. In so saying, he also has a hand in sort of positioning himself in this categorization, while also removing himself from it somewhat, by having his characters play aloof and dismissive of the idea.

So to the subjective, then, what can I make of "Shoplifting From American Apparel"? It's unlike anything I've ever seen only because of the discussion that surrounds it. But that's kind of fitting, in this day and age. When "reality" is yoked to television shows that are only real to the extent that their characters are marketable it's fitting that a major alt lit hero / pillar would be more worthy of praise for the things he elicits outside of his work and not from the work itself. Besides, he doesn't have time to entertain you with the outmoded medium of reading. I mean, there's just enough in there to keep you in it to the end, but the payoff there is minimal. Satire isn't part of it. Embracing a certain kind of commercialism certainly is, a certain commercialism lifestyle filled with iced coffees and vegan smoothies. All of this is to say Tao Lin knows what he's doing.

I think it's fitting I read Sam Pink just prior to reading Lin. They share many affinities but where Pink seeks if nothing else than to explore through his stories Lin is comfortable leaving the exploration tangential, as a reactionary aside to his life outside of writing or any art form whatsoever. Fair is fair, though, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention his literary forebears. No doubt the Beatniks were of a similar mind, Kerouac and Neal Cassady on the road.  The blogniks pun is extremely apt if a little on the nose. Certainly, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. And last, but perhaps most apt of all, the literary Brat Pack of Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInierney renown. I can't help feeling, given their tendency to stay put and write about what was around them, the urban jungle of the 1980s, that there is more than a slight connection. Tao Lin's contemporary version of commercial culture is only slightly more terrifying and only because his characters seem to so earnestly and unthinkingly embrace it (and maybe that's the point). Reading about them left me feeling nothing, emoting nothing, empty of feeling, which might be where Lin diverges from all the other literary groups I mention. There's a catatonic quality to everything there, which to his credit freaks me out. If his goal was to freak me out with his emotionless writing he did accomplish that.

That's not to say it didn't have parts I thought were really strong. I liked the lockup scene, after Sam is arrested for shoplifting from American Apparel. I thought that was where some of the most heft of the story was found, in the visceral reaction of the inmates to one another and to their eventual pugnacious lockup partner, a man who was locked up for fighting in a Starbucks. He'd apparently gone there to go to the bathroom after a more verbal altercation with his assailant at the Bar he'd been at. It reeks of something true and honest, even if it's totally made up. Sam seems to understand that this is an important moment for him but he can't seem to understand how or why. The lack of serious introspection is further horrifying.

There's much to be horrified by in the works of Tao Lin.

And maybe it's good or maybe it's bad.

But those are pretty subjective things. after all.