Saturday, December 06, 2008

On Photographs and Family Art

An apple is being interrogated. In a color photo that is almost black and white in its range of tones, a knotty, pock-marked fist of an apple, lumpy and dull-skinned, sits in a splash of light so bright the background has faded entirely to black. A crisp black oval of shadow reaches out in front of it, as light of varying intensity and shade play across the curve of its surface. From the brightest edge of the apple, lost in the full glare of the spotlight, to the darkest corner, which is indistinguishable from the shadow, a full range of pale greens plays across the fruit's skin. The colors do not smoothly transition, however. They are mottled, like the skin of a person with Vitiligo. There are pale splotches, black spots. The stem is dusty with web from microscopic spiders.

Fruit can be exceedingly ugly. Not store fruit: that stuff is grown and waxed and arranged solely for its looks. But apple orchard apples, roadside squash, homegrown tomatoes and other garden vegetables often show the frustrations of their environment much more clearly than the over-coddled, over-produced produce of the supermarket. The apple in this picture is not a model apple. It is not vying for a spot on television. It is an apple with bad skin. It is strange, and slightly misshapen. Although it is exceedingly healthy, it is not beautiful. But it is made beautiful by the light it is in, by its simple arrangement on a wooden surface. By the light that lovingly caresses it, that defines it and sets it apart. This photograph has drawn a striking beauty from a homely apple.


The picture was taken by my father. Though he is not famous, his artistic aesthetic is a fundamental part of my world. And the things that drew him to this apple, and to light it, and frame it, and shoot it in the way he has, are the same things that draw me to pay attention, in particular ways, to the subjects of my poetry. I love the form and the sense of space inherent in the picture. I love the way the lumps of the apple resolve into the smooth, perfect lines of its shadow. I love the blend of the real and the ideal. On the one hand, this is clearly an apple made to be eaten. On the other hand, it has become a thing of beauty, and its complicated allure lies in the tension between these two things.

In Proust Was A Neuroscientist, Jonah Lehrer makes the argument that the function of art is to surprise -- to bring new ways of thinking (of seeing, of hearing) into our world, to disturb our complacent patterns of thought. But art is also about delight -- about creating tensions of form and structure, about seeing what is not easily seen, and showing it to others. Art can disturb the comfortable, sure. But it also can comfort the disturbed. It can reveal hidden beauties in the humblest, overlooked things. It can make an ugly old apple into a plaything of light and shadow.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

For the most part, I feel like I'm pretty empathetic. I can understand, even if I don't agree, something about the motivations of people who vote solely in favor of preserving gun rights, or low taxes, borders or even (maybe especially) the right to life. Even if I disagree, I can see something that I understand and can connect with.

But, when it comes to Gay Marriage, I'm just dumbfounded. It seems, to me, like people standing up for bigotry -- and bigotry of the worst kind. I've never understood how denying homosexuals the right to marriage "preserves" anything, much less how allowing this civil right to spread to others would destroy anything. I can't connect with the intentions of any human who would make another's love life such a part of their business that they would bother to rally, or hold signs, in favor of denying legal rights to a segment of the population. It is meanness to the highest degree, and I can't really see past it.

So, in a time when America has demonstrated a tolerance that I hardly dared hope would happen, what is up with California?

Monday, November 03, 2008

I Do Recall Our Caravel

My run-ins with The Believer

And I do recall our caravel
A little wickered beetle shell
With four fine masts and lateen sails
Its bearings on Cair Paravel
—Joanna Newsom, “Bridges & Balloons”

For a guy who grew up pretty far away from where cool things happened — high school in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio; college at a tiny, snow logged, mostly military school twelve back-road miles from the smallest state capital in the country, (Montpelier, VT) — it was often hard for me to believe that there were contemporary people doing interesting things, or thinking like-minded thoughts (or at least to believe they were talking about and publishing those thoughts). I read a lot of stuff by people who died long before I was born. I listened to a lot of folk and blues from the '60s, or even the '30s. To be fair, there was some good contemporary music that I liked. But it was mainstream: Nirvana, REM, U2, et al. It was so slickly packaged, so professional and so clearly far from me or my world that it might as well have been from a different time. Basically, I assumed that I was too late for everything. Even when I didn't really believe that anymore, I still sort of believed it.

In early 2003, a few years after college, I was working for a small nonprofit, writing a lot of poetry that ended up drying out in my desk drawer (or worse, being foisted upon unwilling family and friends in a desperate bid for some kind of response). I expect I was not much fun to be around. I watched a lot of movies, read a lot of books, listened to a lot of music, the best of which caused amazing things to happen in my brain. Those responses also seemed like they had nowhere to go; I had trouble finding more than one or two other people who were interested in talking about or thinking about poetry and music and books—in the ways I wanted to think about them, anyway. Maybe I'm wrong, and was just going through a late-stage self-centered form of adolescence. Either way, the arrive of The Believer magazine in February of 2003, at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, VT was a revelation. The writers seemed young and idealistic, rough around the edges, but genuinely concerned with the things that concerned me. Most of my favorite articles were about finding and sharing gems in the cultural morass — novels, movies, music I’d never heard of, but needed to know about. I bought a subscription.

In 2005, The Believer launched the first of their annual music issues with a mix CD of cover songs. I still think the CD that came with this one is the best. What amazed me most, aside from the fact that I’d never heard of any of these people, were the lyrics. They weren’t just lyrics… they were poetry! Joanna Newsom, The Silver Jews, Postal Service. The songs on this CD have some amazing phrases. They are lyric, and sad, and true. This is a CD that you listen to with headphones on, cross-legged on the floor, just concentrating on the interaction of the music and the lyrics, and trying to understand why and how it affects you the way it does.

The magazine followed the CD with an essay by Matthew Derby, introducing the mix, and describing each of the songs. It felt like a personal, perfect mix tape made by a stranger. It wouldn't have surprised me if Matthew Derby had started the essay with “Dear Christopher.” Instead he started it like this:
The oldest recorded song we know of was etched on clay tablets in western Syria 3,400 years ago. But the first actual song was created much further back, before the creation of language, perhaps even before the invention of bread, or maybe in celebration of the invention of bread.

From music to bread! This was the way I wanted to think about music. This was how I wanted to hear about, and talk about it. As if it were important. As if it could change the world. Because, for me, it sometimes could. Then he ends it like this:
Some of the covers are faithful, others are barely recognizable, and some come from original compositions heard only by four people in Canada. All of them will change you slightly, make you more aware of things—even the one thing you've just noticed, which is the sudden and distinct smell of bread baking somewhere nearby.

And he was right. Even before I’d read that, the CD had changed me. It had amazed me. I wanted The Believer to be my best friend. I wanted to make mix tapes and send them back to Matthew Derby and all the people that worked there. Only I knew they wouldn't be as good. Instead, I became determined to make something else—a poem—as beautiful, as worthy of being spread around as the music The Believer had given me. I won’t say it was a direct cause, but that was the year I quit my job to apply to grad schools and write full time. So, in a sense, I'm still working on it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Predators: a poet's eye view of Gordon Grice's The Red Hourglass

"And what haunts me, is that in all the faces of all the bears ... I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food." Werner Herzog -- Grizzly Man

"We arrogantly see nonhuman animals as innocents at play in nature's temple, potential victims of evil invating humans. But cats kill for fun, wolves slaughter more than they can eat, and pigs destroy the vegetation they depend on. Many animals are just as intemperate and greedy as we are, though we accomplish more in the way of destruction." Gordon Grice, The Red Hourglass, pp 180

Gordon Grice's book The Red Hourglass covers seven different types of predators: black widows, mantids (mantises), rattlesnakes, tarantulas, pigs, canids (canines), and recluse spiders. He starts with the crackling, brush-fire sound of the widow's slovenly-looking web and its startlingly destructive abilities (it can kill a horse), then moves through the mantid's creepy, mamalian properties (one of the few bugs that hunts by sight, and can swivel its head), and the fearsome size of a rattlesnake bolus – the writhing ball they make before hibernation in their den. Eventually Grice arrives at both the disturbing assertion that "a pig will eat anything" and the outline of our long and troubled history with canids of all stripe. This is a creepy book.

Grice's main intentions seem to be twofold: first, he chooses creature we Americans know, or are familiar with (no lions or sharks) to remind us of the predatory instincts of animals right near us, and second he describes these creatures always in the context of associations with human behavior, refusing to let us see these creatures as evil, or malformed. The pig is dangerous because the pig thinks like us. The mantid is creepy because we can observe in it behavior similar to our own.

I feel like this books fits well as an answer to all of my poet's fictions about walking in the woods, and "reconnecting" with "nature" (where were we otherwise?) Though he was often accused of supporting it, Frost (our last well-known nature poet, I suppose) fought that stereotype as much as anyone. But it persists. The trouble is, of course, that we are just as much a part of nature as the birds and insects that surround us, and pretending we aren't is not much different than the prairie dog believing that her giant den is somehow separate from the rest of the world. Grice makes this point abundantly clear as he shows us animals that both feed on us, and upon which we feed – he reveals human predatory (and canibalistic) instincts by outlining the most gruesome practices of seven of the more gruesome species that inhabit our everyday world.

What's best about this book is that it isn't really about the predators we remember to fear. A visit to the zoo to see leopards and sharks may keep a child up a night or two, but heading out to the farm and accidentally stumbling on a mother sow eating her young will give you the fantods for weeks. It's not because you fear for your life, necessarily (although empathy for the litter is a part of it), but because it's so easy to see yourself in either part of that brutal game. And it's good to be reminded that the game is happening all around us, not just in far away jungles between hunters and pack animals.

Lions are scary, sure, but for most people, especially in the U.S., there's not much chance of running into one that isn't caged, or trapped behind glass. Wander out into your garage, or backyard, and you're likely to find black widows or recluse spiders, or possible a rattlesnake, depending on where you live. You'll certainly see some kind of monster, back in the dark corners of the basement, wrapping a few struggling bugs up in webbing with careful deliberation, delicately biting them, and waiting for their insides to liquefy.

Chances are good you've heard a coyote howl, or have seen a tarantula, or a live pig. And, as Grail makes clear, these are some of the most dangerous and deadly animals, to others and even to us sometimes. They are also amazing and beautiful. Grail's descriptions of the widow up close, or the lean readiness of a wild boar outline just how beautiful nature can make a creature.

Reading this book was difficult. Grail has a sparse, poet's prose, fluid and quick-paced, and his descriptions are beautiful. But the subject matter had me often holding the book by its edges, as if I were afraid it was going to bite me. Descriptions of necrotic lesions caused by recluse spiders, or the pack hunting tactics of even a tame dog had me cringing. And yet. The larger point that he makes – that creatures often brutally torture each other, causing unnecessary pain for fun and species advancement, is a good one to remember. In my view, nature is both beautiful and brutal. Ignoring either one does little justice to the importance of the other. Grail's book is great in that it helps me not forget.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

No Matter What I Write, the Tao is Silent

being sort of a (not really) review of Barbara Sprout's Primal Myths

One of the first myths in my life that I took seriously, that I believed in and made my own was Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching. The edition I have is an over-sized book, with black and white nature photography, Chinese characters on one side and the translations, by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English on the other. The form and layout of the book, its mysteriousness on one hand (side), and the sparse, clean language on the other hand (side), are tied up deeply with the content — Tzu's thoughts on mystery and clarity, the habits of water and the methods of kings. This, for me, has become a primal myth, and a centering force in my life. Even now, I have a hard time judging the quality of different translations. They all seem inferior to the one I have read and reread throughout my life, beginning in middle school and high school.

Myths can be provocative. I believe they need to reach us early, or at least during a period of intense questioning, if they are to become important, and not merely "useful" for a writer. When I first read this book, the first lines "The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao, / The name that can be named is not the eternal name." I felt that here was something I needed to keep deep inside me if I was going to understand it. It was not going to be something I could talk much about, or speak with others about. Speaking would, as Tzu says, limit my understanding. For these words to transform me, I had to consume them. I had to read them as if they were the key to understanding the universe (they are), and then I had to bury that key as deep inside me as possible, so that it would affect my entire being (it has). Otherwise, I felt, the words would be only words, written by a fallible human being, and I would have to evaluate them, and look for the humanness, and they would lose all effect. If I began to talk about, or try to explain the book, even to myself, I would not understand the Tao, but only my own explanation, which would never be enough.

Soon enough I began to come across other translations of the book. I started to understand that, as this was a translation, and since even the original was a translation of an experience — Tzu's own translations of his experience and understandings — that my best option would be to read closely, then to leave the book behind, and search for my own experiences of the Way — the Tao. This is, I think, the real, best, most vital effects of myth. Myth points a way to understand the world. But it is only a set of instructions — a guide for a practice. You cannot understand the myth unless you practice it. You cannot be moved by it unless you make it personal. And the practice is the way you adopt and solidify the myth.

Barbara Sprout, in her introduction to the book Primal Myths, makes a case that even the myths we don't literally believe in anymore affect our values — as evidence, she takes the Judeo-Christian creation myth (adam and eve) and shows how the values set forth it in (God giving Adam body and life) affect our western understanding of the body as sacred, divine gift made in God's image. I'm not sure if I would call myself a Taoist, but in this way the Tao has (and continues to) influence(d) my life. My sense of self is of one who is most successful overcoming obstacles through yielding. When I am unsure what to do, I take stock of my surroundings, and then make efforts to "align" myself with my "world" — to allow the universe to direct me, to "attend fully" and "be supple" to be able to do nothing, to receive the heavy winds like a palm tree and still stand. All this comes from a deep-seated sense of the workings of the universe as outlined by Lao Tzu.

And, of course, it follows that this affects my writing in great and terrible ways. On the most basic level, of course, the Tao Te Ching is a book of poems. A book of poems that I read deeply and seriously as a young kid. To say this influenced me to become a poet is to say very little. I don't all my own reasons for doing things but it could well be that I am only still writing poetry so fervently, because of this book. Also, I have a tendency to reach for the great and sweeping wise pronouncement when writing. It's easy to see where this comes from. I search — constantly — to write something as filling, as powerful, as world-organizing, as this book.

Of course that doesn't mean that I am now unavailable to other people's myths. Christian myth figures heavily into my value system (as it does to almost all of us). I remain fascinated by Greek, Roman, and Nordic myths that are always peeking in around the edges of culture. And I'm fascinated by myths that are near utterly unfamiliar to me — African and Vedic myths, for instance. In Sprout's book, which is as complete a collection of creation myths as I've seen, the Dogon myth, with its themes of ruined purity, numerology and spatial arrangement, food distribution and architectural symbolism is fascinating. I'd like to write a poem or several that incorporates some of those ideas. But the ideas feel interesting only at arm's length — like a curious story I would like to read more of. But the stories Sprout collects don't feel, in any sense, real. If I make the decision to use African, or Native American or Vedic mythology when writing, is a choice I can make. But I feel like it will always feel a little bit shoved-in. A little cold. I cannot make the decision to draw on the Tao Te Ching however. It is deeply a part of me. To some degree, it is present in everything I write.

Monday, October 13, 2008


If nests and shells were without significance, their image would not be so easily or imprudently synthesized.

Images that are too clear ... become generalities and for that reason block the imagination.
-- Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard

I can't stop thinking about snails making their homes by rolling over and over in ever-hardening spit. In the mornings, I have allergies, and am often very clogged up. I'll lie in bed, tossing and turning, trying to find a way of resting in which I can breathe. My eyes water a little, and even if I sit up and blow my nose, it comes right back — a seemingly endless supply of snot welling up and threatening to seal off my nasal passages. Maybe I'm part snail. I wonder how the snails make it — what combination of vegetable matter or fungus, or whatever dissolves to create the sticky, thick slime that the snails use to roll up a carapace for themselves. And it's amazing to think that snot from a slug, rolled and dried, can form the delicately patterned, vaguely mathematic-seeming, thin thing of beauty — at once both a protection and camouflage from predators.

I was in Paris once. The particulars aren't important, but I had a lot of time, and more spending money than I knew what to do with. I am an adventurous eater. There, I discovered snail shells as a site for delicacies — little cups of sweet brown meat dowsed in liquid butter and herbs. Like perfect bowls of stew for gnomes. This is a different sort of beauty, but one no less compelling. Part of what is so interesting to me about this is the way that setting changes everything. I had no problem seeing what the waiter set down before me — a platter of tiny shells dribbled in butter sauce, a tiny fork — as food. And in that way, the lightly burnt shells, sweet-smelling and full of food are beautiful. But when I see snails in a garden, I do not think of them as edible in any way. But they are no less beautiful.

The other day, during a walk in the woods, I came across a slug, munching amiably on top of a mushroom. Feeling a little bold, I reached down and poked at the slug. They're surprisingly resistant — given that they look pretty much like bags of slime. They are strong, and do not move easily. When you touch a slug, it does not attack, or release some unpleasant smell to make you go away. It doesn't exactly ignore you either. Instead it stops eating, stops moving, and hunkers down, prepared to resist you to the best of its ability, but utterly unprotected. If I were a bird, it would be eaten already. How has a creature like this not been eaten to extinction?

For some reason I'm always predisposed to like snails. I will pick them up. Set them elsewhere. Let them crawl across the back of my hand. Slugs fill me with revulsion. In the Pacific Northwest, I saw banana slugs as big as a thumb and finger. I have pictures. Is it because they are exposed that I dislike them so much? Being sticky, it's harder to find a clean place to grasp them. They squirm and struggle in between your fingers. It seems like it would be difficult for them to keep clean, but given their habitat — rotting vegetation on the forest floor — maybe that's not a concern. A snail, however, can easily keep clean within its shell. I identify with the values of the snail. Being able to choose, I would spit myself a shell as well.

Monday, August 04, 2008

La la la

This is the best thing I've read in a while. From David Remnick's "Lenin's Tomb" about the fall of the Soviet Union:

At the Kazan Station in Moscow a wanderer named Alik said he'd talk my ear off if I'd only buy him a bottle. I suggested we go to a store and join the vodka line. When he stopped laughing, he said, "Just give me thirty rubles." He snatched the bills from my hand and set off down the sidewalk. We walked ten feet before Alik found what he was looking for. A ghostly woman in a ratty coat reached into her pocket and the silent exchange was done. Alik quickened his pace and we headed toward a place marked CAFE. Three feet inside the door, he screwed off the bottle cap and downed the entire liter bottle in a few magnificent swigs. "Usually, in the morning, I like some potatoes," he said and then stormed out the door, singing.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

A change in perspective

So over the summer I moved from one apartment to another about a four blocks away. I was hoping that the move would provide a change in mood as well as perspective, but it's really done more than that. It's made me reevaluate all of my presumptions about Syracuse.

When I first came here, I was living in a slightly-run down neighborhood, across the street from a scary park that I had to walk through to get to school. I was driving several miles to the big box stores &mdash which are nice, but faceless &mdash to get my food. I didn't know anyone around me, and it was cold, and dark, and snowy. I ended up getting terribly depressed, drinking and smoking a lot, and escaping town whenever possible to see Karen in the city. Basically, my life was this book. (which, admittedly, is better than if it were the other book).

Since moving, the weather has improved considerably, but also I'm suddenly in a nice apartment, on a nicer street, with great downstairs neighbors, and a friend living across the street. I found a faster, safer way to walk to school, and it turns out I'm only five blocks from the local co-op, which means I can walk there whenever I want. Suddenly, it feels like I'm a part of a neighborhood -- a community. One I want to be a part of. I'm reading more, I'm getting out a bit. I stopped drinking in the evenings and I quit smoking.

What's curious to me is how much just a few things have really changed my whole world. It feels like I moved from a foreboding, slightly dangerous cityscape, where day-to-day life was unpleasant at best, to a happy neighborhood, where it's possible to make good decisions about living well.

Four blocks. You think it's possible that minor changes can have such drastic effects most of the time? Like, stopping a downward spiral? If I'd known, I would have changed spaces a long time ago.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

oh horrible

Have you seen / are you watching I Survived A Japanese Game Show? The concept is typical reality-show brilliance: a combination of a fish-out-of-water experience and clumsy Machiavellian idiocy. Some ten yokels who've never been out of the country (southern yokel, urban yokel, frat-boy yokel, New Yorker yokel, wall flower yokel, etc. etc.) are taken to Japan where they are routinely humiliated on a Double Dare-type program. The winning team is given a high-class tour of Japan, and the losing team is made to do some kind of traditional low-class work for a day -- a typical show has winners visiting a Shinto temple, or going to a traditional spa for instance, while the losers have to plant rice or shell clams.

Then the losing team has to vote two members to compete in an elimination round, so that one person goes home each episode. And eventually the "winner" (no one wins, really) will get $250,000. That seems a little light considering the humiliation(s) you have to go through, and given that a few years ago you could win a clean million just by putting up with Regis Philbin and answering a few questions.

The bad part: The show encourages us to revel in the schadenfreude, sense of superiority, and even a kind of xenophobic spectacle, as we see "how weird those Japanese are." It's typically insulting to everyone, even the viewers, assuming they need to be reminded after every commercial break what's happening. And it's truly awful watching loud, obnoxious Americans fulfill every Japanese game-show audience's expectations of Americans as loud, and obnoxious, and a little stupid. But that's one of the reasons it's so fascinating.

As an occasional tourist, I'm always at pains to not be such a fish out of water. I want to fit in, to be respectful, to learn about and experience different things. And I tend to really enjoy new experiences. It's why I keep seeking them out. But these guys had no idea they were even leaving the country when they signed up for this game show. They are *only* really here to compete and win. And yet, everything in the show revolves around showing these guys Japanese culture. So my favorite parts are always the non-gameshow parts, where the winning and losing teams head out for their respective prizes/punishments.

It's fascinating to watch a herd of yokels "win" something like a tour of the Tsukiji fish market, and then try to define their experience as one of pleasure. These are people who have never had sushi before. Which you can get even in Alabama these days. So, they are in many ways the least adventurous human beings the show could have found, and their "prizes" are always adventures. You can see the rictus-like smiles frozen on their faces as they troop through the market, a little scared, a little uneasy, trying to remind themselves that they're getting the good day. And the losers -- who earlier that day, or the day before, were on a game show, where they wore giant diapers, or rolled around in oil and feathers, then tried to pop balloons with their asses -- revel, revel! in the "humiliation" of being a rickshaw driver, or making mochi (both of which sound like a lot of fun, actually).

And that's actually the fun of the show -- it's the real fish out of water. Not simply Americans in Japan, (and certainly not Americans on a "crazy" Japanese game show, which is mild Compared to the ways that Americans find to humiliate themselves) but people who would never think of setting foot outside their country, suddenly coming face to face with tourism, and recoiling.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Someone Got Scotland All Wet


My last day in Edinburgh, I got to do a little tourist-ing with my friend Fiona, and her husband Paul. Otherwise, I was stuck on a college campus, attending a very interesting conference, but otherwise not seeing much other than 60's architecture, rain and rabbits for a week.

Still, we got out Saturday night and went to the Holyrood Park, which was beautiful (and where I got the photo, above, and pretty much all the other photos posted on Flickr). Lovely! I want to go back.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Before I go

...thought I'd post one of the pictures from my day at the Met.


more on the flickr site.

Touristward Ho!

It's definitely tourist-time for me. Concentric circles of tourism. Last Thursday, I poked around Eastwood, a walkable neighborhood in Syracuse, and found a couple good bookstores (musty smells, huuuuuuuge poetry sections, and even a not-indecent comics section! Terrible cookbook sections in both though). Saturday morning I took a few pictures (mostly of flowers in the neighborhood, nothing super interesting) then I hit the Blues Fest with a friend. Beer! Heat! Blues! Sandwiches! Good times were had.

It's interesting how tourism can carry with it airs of both selfishness and generosity. On the one hand, walking through Eastwood and my neighborhood, I was much more open to what the space had to offer. I could appreciate my neighbors' flowers, or the signs and layout of Eastwood in specificly conscious ways. It is pleasant to be in "tourist" mode -- precisely because I feel alive and aware of my surroundings in such a different way. On the other hand, I also felt like an intruder, and a bit of an imposter. Eastwood may be "walkable" but it's by no means touristy. The bookstores were across the street from a strip mall and a gas station. I felt self-conscious carrying a camera -- especially in my own neighborhood -- and it was hard to get it out and use it. Basically, my presence was forcing everything to be on display for me -- and it was clear that both of these neighborhoods were not prepared to be displayed. Mostly, I left the camera in its case.

The Blues Fest was a little different, in that the display was obviously set up in advance. I didn't bring my camera, but I did try to be aware of my surroundings. Unfortunately, we were there for a good half an hour before my friend pointed out that we were standing in the (drained) central fountain. I had not noticed at all.

Today, I'm in NYC -- I've got a flight this evening taking me to Scotland. So I've got the whole day to wander around manhattan (a place that is perpetually on display) and take pictures, visit museums, etc. Tomorrow I'll be in Edinburgh, and will again have the day to wander and "take in" the sights. After that, I'll be at a conference in Stirling, but it is, I am told, a touristy little place. Let's see what that means! Unfortunately (ach.) I'm going to miss Edinburgh's Fringe Festival by a few days. This has happened before -- when I went to Austin, we left just before SXSW started up. Oh well.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wait, why do I have this blog?

Ever since I decided to revive my self on the internets, I've been trying to think about what to do with this blog. Do I need it? My other two blogs (three if you count livejournal, which no one does) seem to have reasons for being built-in -- they help to encourage me to write poetry, or make translations (or share the stupid stuff I found while goofing off on the interwebs). So when I post on any of those sites, I have specific ideas about what I'm doing, and when anyone visits those sites ha ha they can immediately tell what they will find.

But this blog is...generic.

I don't like that. I'm not sure why. Lots of people have generic blogs. I even read some of them. But it feels even more solipsistic than usual to me to come here and just post... generically.

Looking at the excerpt of the Bishop poem that heads this, I'm reminded that, like my good friend Jess, I began this thing as a way to keep track of my experiences overseas. I'm not overseas anymore, but I still like that quote, and the tourist and traveler is still a part of me that I'd like to encourage.

So that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to use this site to post reflections on exploration -- geographical and otherwise. I'm going to practice being a tourist more often, seeing the world around me with a little more readiness for awe. And I'll start posting long(er) musings about my adventures here. Maybe even with pictures. More, I think, tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What a weird day.

So, one of the reasons I haven't written much, meaning that likely there aren't many of you reading this blog (hello, is this thing on?) is that I've been spending most of my days reading, writing, cooking and playing a little bit of tennis, and otherwise not doing much at all. But today was definitely a departure. Usually, when I have those awful big-deal type chores to do, like renewing my driver's license,or oh, I don't know finally sitting down to pay taxes, they're things that I've seen coming for a while. But today, I got a spate of last-minute, emergency-type things which came out of the blue, and were weird and surprising. You know, for chores. The list:

1. Had to send soon-to-be roommate his passport, which he accidentally left with his stuff here. Since he is taking off from Atlanta at some point this evening, said passport had to be sent by plane, from the airport. Weird. I didn't even know Delta had a shipping service. Or that it was so expensive. Enjoy your first class flight, little passport!

2. Been waiting for tax refund since February (not the stimulus, the actual refund) and keep getting "oops, sorry, we filed that wrong" messages from IRS. K. gets a letter yesterday that mentions refund not at all, and insists we pay large sum of back taxes immediately. A desperate visit to H&R Block (best $300 I've ever spent, especially with this year's tax headaches which, believe me, neither of us want me to get into) and 25 minutes on speakerphone with IRS muzak later, turns out it's more "oops, sorry we filed that wrong" and I should be expecting said refund "in 3-4 weeks" (possibly with interest!)

3. Car Insurance autophones me last night insisting I get a "photo inspection" and recommending a website. I'm still not sure what it is, or what it's for, but the website seemed legit, and the inspection cost me nothing. Despite asking questions of several people and visiting the Car Insurance website several times, I remain largely uninformed about this whole "photo inspection" thing, except that it involves a camera, and apparently is required if CI is to not cancel my insurance. Confusing!

Friday, June 27, 2008


Spent a week at the DMV yesterday (and today). Mm, I love the smell of overwhelming powerlessness in the shadow of faceless bureaucracy. This was a direct result of my birthday, (Touché, Birthday. You win again.) and the car's registration finally expiring.

For those of you not in NY, count yourselves lucky. This place is sick with aforementioned bureaucracy. To get the car registered here, I need a NY driver's license -- nothing else will do. This despite the fact that I was able to keep my VT driver's license in Ohio, even though I had the car registered there. Whatever. I'll get the new license.

However, to get my new driver's license, I need to have my old (still valid) license, PLUS: a birth certificate, a social security card AND two OTHER forms of ID (only one can be a credit card). WTF? Is this a magic driver's license? Does this driver's license give me secret access to heretofore uknown places? Is this why I always have to stand behind the stupid red ropes on Chrystie Street? It's easier to get a goddamn passport. Which I have. Which counted (luckily) for the birth certificate (which, I have no idea where that even is) and the two other forms of ID, but NOT for the SSN card (though the number's right on there). ugh. Then it cost forty fucking five fucking dollars.

THEN I get to register the car. Only I can't, because the car is in both my and Karen's name. And so we need both signatures to transfer the title. In original ink. So the faxed forms I have from her won't work. Again: wtf? Plus we need a picture of Karen's NYC license. Luckily, she's more on the ball than I am, because if she had an out of state license, it would be no dice.

Seriously, it would almost be easier (and cheaper) to drive back to fucking OH and renew the registration in Hamilton. It would certainly take less time.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Because I have too much time on my hands

I am, as of right now, five pages shy of being exactly halfway through Infinite Jest. That's page 485, if you don't want to look it up. It is both amazing, and funny, and nearly impossible to actually read. What's weirder, is that it mentions Syracuse NY several times, and prominently features Tennis (which is something I've been getting into quite a lot, lately) and AA (which is something I know a lot about) and Boston (a city I'm lucky to be pretty familiar with, despite never actually having lived there). And it's scarily accurate about all three of these things. It's also one of the more unbelievable books I've ever read.

Being halfway through, all I can say is it feels worth it just for the accomplishment. It's not at all boring or difficult in any traditional way. DFW uses big words -- sure, and the footnotes are sometimes silly, but not particularly annoying. Not nearly as annoying as you might suspect. Actually, I find that he has certain mannerisms of writing that stick in the head much more, that I'm much more tempted to employ myself, that I find far, far more annoying than the footnotes.

No, what makes this particular book almost impossible to read, I'm just not sure of. I like it, I'm already drawn to the material, but every time I sit down to read a section, I get through about 1/3 of a page and I start to nod off. I drink coffee, I change chairs, I put myself under bright lights -- nothing doing. And I *want* to read this book, god dammit! I *will* finish it! But it's like some kind of marathon. I've been reading it for the better part of the summer now. I've had to read other books in between, just to keep myself going back to it. I'm watching my potential summer reading list shrink because I'm determined to finish this book.

However, it's also funny as hell, and weirdly dated, given that it was only written ten years ago. And weirdly prescient, but only about a few things. There's no internet!

okay, enough. back to reading.d

Memories are made of this


I just found this video linking to a trip through lego's secret vault, where they keep a fresh box of every kit they ever made. I was a little skeptical when I touched off the video, figuring it would be a little lame. Then they started showing some of the boxes. It made me eight again! No kidding, this is like nostalgia crack.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


So late this morning after about ten to fifteen minutes of what sounds like giant metal canisters rolling across the convenience store of the sky (or "thunder" if you want to be literal), a giant wall of rain marched up the street, knocking branches onto the street and causing little mini floods. Then there was a brief, terrifying succession of the loudest lighting I've ever heard. It did not decimate Syracuse, thankfully. Apparently these storms are called supercells.


Monday, June 09, 2008

Ressurecting the Beast

So in the spirit of summer indolence industry, I'm reviving this blog, among others. Actually, I'm mostly working on two other poetry blogs. Mostly, I type my thoughts there, but I may post on this puppy once in a while as well!

whee. Send me a comment.