Monday, December 15, 2008

Parking enforcement is cruising

It's just after midnight, and it just started to rain (hooray! we need it). While I was taking a porch break I saw an LAPD parking enforcement car cruising the street behind my building.

Damn, they issue tickets in the middle of the night? Poor officer that has to do that job.

I wonder if they train them to drive their Priuses efficiently. Those things do awesome at slow speeds with lots of stopping.

A few minutes after the parking enforcement went by, a couple pedestrians ambled along. I could see them past the empty lot, framed by cacti, which is now greening with the recent rain. I love my neighborhood.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Never Use Monistat again.

In case there was ever any doubt as to my sex (and there is and should be; Curbed LA recently referred to me as a "he" and my presentation is generally androgenous), this post will put it to rest.

I hesitated to write this post because the subject matter is certainly not dignified. You would not find this discussed in Virginia Quarterly Review, for example. But if a blog can function as a citizens' information network, this is certainly the type of information I believe should be circulated: information that empowers us to act independently of advertiser's wishes and take control of our own bodies.

I have a clove of garlic in my vagina.

A few days ago, I started to get a yeast infection. Being broke and generally averse to sticking synthetic, expensive anti-fungal agents (Monistat and co.) into my vagina, I decided to try some home remedies.

Yesterday morning, following the advice of this website, I cut a notch in a peeled clove of garlic and tied some floss around it as a rescue string. I then stuck it up there. I left it in for 8 hours, took it out, went to sleep, and then stuck another clove in this morning. I've also been drinking cranberry juice and eating soy yogurt and miso soup for the live acidophilus cultures.

It's working brilliantly! Garlic doesn't ooze out disgustingly like Monistat, and it has completely relieved my itching. It's less noticeable than a tampon when its in.

I recommend it, if you're unfortunate enough to get an infection. And I recommend visiting the website I linked above, if you want the full and complete DIY on yeasties.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Three Morning Pages

As recommended in the The Artist's Way, I write three longhand pages each morning upon waking.

Lately I've wanted to write (in this blog, not the morning pages) about Villaraigosa's failure to plant a million trees, or about my success foraging wild cherries, or about how little pity I have for investment bankers.

But my writing energies are now focused on producing a solid entry to VQR's Young Reviewer's Contest, so as a stand-in for a real blog entry I'll simply transcribe one day's pages. According to the artist's way, I am not supposed to read the pages until at least 8 weeks after I write them, nor am I supposed to share them with anyone, but oh well, I broke that rule.

You can tell that these are unedited, and that I'm sometimes searching for something to fill the page.

------- 9 / 23 . morning pages -------------

The problem is that I feel like "words aren't coming to me" when I expect them to come as easily as reading prose makes it seem. In the good prose I read they follow one another at a rapid rate, all quite eloquent and sensible. This produces the illusion that a person could speak those words in monologue or conversation quite naturally. But actually (as Marisa pointed out in one letter), the pleasure of writing is that it produces that illusion but is actually the product of long periods of musing and revision. See, I crossed several things out already in these few sentences. I guess an element of "good" writing that is pleasurable to read is the crafting of a spoken-seeming flow in the voice. This is why even newspaper writing can use the dash to portray a thought that interrupts itself. We do that in speech. We also pause at times and at the end of sentences. Thus, we have marks like the period and comma. But isn't it strange how formal writing does not attempt to have signs for intonation, volume, speed, etc. It's true that there is a limit on the extent to which sound can be transmuted into writing, but we could definitely go further, and in informal communications people improvise. Common in informal writing but prohibited in formal is the use of capitals and font size to indicate volume or emphasis. We also do not allow cross-outs to depict process in formal writing. There must be some rhyme and reason behind the things we allow. Perhaps this could be a field like linguistics that looks at many systems in an attempt to draw (inductively) conclusions about the way humans process writing in general.

The economics professor incorrectly defined inductive and deductive reasoning yesterday. This disturbed me. I find strict and rigorous understanding of concepts like that to be very important. First of all it gives you access to vocabulary that scientists and philosophers use. Second of all the actual concept itself enhances your analytic ability. That seems obvious and obviously important. Thus its disempowering and actually disturbing to watch these analytical concepts be shoved under the rug in the interest of efficiency.

Then again maybe all the people are sitting in the classroom not paying too much attention to Anza, or putting much stock in him. They won't be pulling out his definitions in conversations with strangers. Maybe the glazed look on their faces signifies that they too want to get their A and move on to bigger and better things.

C and E are having breakfast in the other room. I'm at C's desk, which sits under a window. On the outside just next to the window is a shed / shack. It blocks some of the sunlight and view of a palm tree.

We talk about "progress" in writing. But sometimes its achingly difficult because one does not know what the "destination" would look like. I want to write Amro and say that after I received his email, and the attached review, I "made a lot of progress on the review I'm writing." I know that's true. but then I look at what still needs to be done and I don't even know what doing it will be like. That's why exercise is very appealing because it is made so clear what one should do. Run this route, lift these weights, perform these drills. Until you get to the very high levels it is almost impossible to fuck up, although there are varying degrees of success, various quality levels of training.

Yesterday, listening to Fall Out Boy and Coheed and Cambria, I realized that punk is really the music I love best, that literally moves me. They are the folk songs of my generation, with their simple architecture and relatively straightforward verses and choruses. Coheed and Cambria are layering more complexly and doing some metal things. But really it is the heavy climaxing choruses of punk rock - high distortion, tonal and repetitive bass, high snare, loud and borderline raspy singing - that make me feel like a part of a unified generation. We need songs for our causes and struggles, songs for our time, and I can't imagine those songs being written in any other genre.

People want to listen to more fashionable, inventive, cutting edge bands. Like Modest Mouse or Panda Bear. I like those too. But if Bob Dylan can be so universally acclaimed then there must be some general recognition of the fact that careful mastery of a simple genre is an astounding form of art. Like printmaking.

Whenever I have coffee and food with morning pages I have less to write. Maybe Hemingway was right: skipping a meal makes you sharp. Discomfort makes you sharp, I agree with that. This is why I need more discipline to WAKE UP and go through the day a little bit tired sometimes.

I miss Lizzy. She was perfect to live with. She was clean and socially conscious and values quality family time and public transportation. We have more in common than we would have thought at 9 and 13, when all I wanted was to rebel. Now rebellion in some quiet forms has come upon her, unsummoned, and she wears it well.

The other problems with coffee and food are: 1) they make me feel guilty for being served, 2) I have to shit while writing and it does not sharpen me, it distracts me.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

DFW, in memoriam

Salon writer and admirer Laura Miller has already written a beautiful elegy for David Foster Wallace, who hung himself last night.

I learned about his suicide over the phone from a friend, a fact that seems appropriate considering how many times Infinite Jest doubts our ability to connect as humans in a world saturated with technological middlemen, a world where news reaches us on our teleputers as we watch them, alone.

In his work, he engaged with despair readily. His suicide does not surprise, given the dark and hopeless moments he often portrayed in his fiction.

I do not pretend to be qualified to eulogize him. In fact, I spent the better part of this year reading and attempting to review Infinite Jest, and I never reached a point where I felt comfortable making claims about it. I disliked the feeling it gave me; I rejected its message. But I could not shake its effects free, and suspected that that was the ultimate marker of art.

But I will make a recommendation here, to whoever reads this. Out of respect for one of our time's most talented writers, we should read his advice on how to live, and follow it for an hour or a day, if we can. Before his death, David Foster Wallace did at some points advocate a kind of hope. Not the kind that fits in campaign slogans, but the kind of hope that exists, humbly, despite an extremely detailed and attuned awareness of the infinite number of arguments against it.

Your fitful fiction enlarged our concept of peace, by excavating all of its alternatives. Rest in peace.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Close Range: Wyoming Stories

A book like this causes its reader to thank God, unironically and humbly, for allowing her to come across it.

A few lucky accidents brought Close Range into my hands. First, we caught the last half of a very edited-for-tv Brokeback Mountain, flipping channels after a long, hot mid-Atlantic day. When I got back to Los Angeles, I mentioned to my sister that I wanted to read Brokeback Mountain, the story. She had to return some books anyway, so the next evening the book was in my hands, as if it had willed itself there. I certainly hadn’t put in much effort.

I was working on my final story for English 124: Short Story Writing at L.A. City College. My chief disappointment with the class was that we never actually discussed the short story. Our topic was plot and all the teaching examples were drawn from films. We were assigned didactic online articles about how over 90% of high grossing films involve some kind of plot reversal. Ironically, despite my beef with this approach and my constant bitching that we should look to stories themselves to show us how to write stories, Brokeback Mountain the film brought me to this book more than anything else.

But once I opened Close Range, Proulx demonstrated what this genre can do. How to sketch characters and settings in a very compressed space. The autotelic pleasure of beautiful sentences and local dialogue. How to open up a whole backstory with a terse flash.

In fact, finishing this collection, one is left with the sense that the genre’s pleasures and capabilities have been thoroughly mined. As if methodically, no stone left unturned: Close Range includes a character study, a voice-driven “I” narrative, a suspenseful quest, a folk-tale, a love story. It was prodigious indeed that I happened upon this book, because I can’t imagine a better short-story writing text.

These stories are full of fury and spitfire, fueled by Proulx’s athletic prose. She can go for paragraphs at a time without an uninventive adjective, without a plain descriptive sentence. Just as one’s attention comes to her prodigy, she showers you with a prodigious display. Then at other times, Proulx advances a narrative using only plain and sparing language. Like the Wyoming weather, her prose can blend into the landscape one moment, and the next moment step into center stage, rising like a furious deity with a will of its own.

Consider, for example, this relentless sequence of verbs from an opening paragraph in “Pair A Spurs” (emphasis mine):

Ten days before June a blizzard caromed over the plains, drifting house-high on lee slopes, dragging a train of arctic air that froze the wet snow, encased new calves in icy shells. For a week the cold held under glassy sky, snow-scald burning the cows udders; it broke in minutes under a chinook’s hot breath. Meltwater streamed over the frozen ground. The bodies of dead stock emerged from fading drifts, now you don’t, now you see em, a painful counting game for ranchers flying over in single-engines. Scrope’s yard flooded, a mile of highway disappeared under a foot of water while they held his mail at the post office, but before it ebbed another storm staggered in from the west and shucked out six inches of pea hail, a roaring burst that metamorphosed into a downpour, switched back to hail and finally made a foot of coarse-grained snow. Two days later the first tornado of the season unscrewed a few grain elevators from the ground. (152)

What I love about this passage is how the orgasmic ending of the penultimate sentence renders the plainest verb here, “made,” profound.

More examples of Proulx’s relentlessness abound. For ranching vocabulary, on the first page of “The Blood Bay” we have “gant bodies of cattle,” draws (a gully shallower than a ravine, in case you didn’t know), coulees, and whetstone. For metaphors, the opening page of “People in Hell Just Want a Drink of Water” gives us: “Cloud shadows race over the buff rock stacks as a projected film,” and “It is like a deep note that cannot be heard but is felt, it is like a claw in the gut.”

And then there's what she doesn't say: how she leaves the intricacies of geography, guns, or tractors unexplained, or how she carefully controls how plot and backstory are revealed, so that the chronology of the story and the chronology of the reader's discovery are quite different.

Close Range was a National Bestseller when it was published in 1999, after several stories in it won O. Henry’s, after several more were chosen for Best American Short Stories 1998 and 1999 and after one was published in Best American Short Stories of the Century. After its publication, literary accolades continued to rain, but Brokeback Mountain failed to win the award for Best Picture and Proulx was mercilessly lambasted by B.R. Myers in his now-famous ”Reader’s Manifesto.” (It delighted me to read him quoting lines I loved, and then talking shit about them.) Proulx, Close Range, and Brokeback sit at a strange nexus: loved by the literary establishment, respectfully received, with various reservations and qualifiers, by the mass media; and scorned by sharp old boys like Myers. Thus, Close Range is a productive site indeed from which to ask questions about what ‘literariness’ means, and what art can or should do in its various arenas.

All this makes me feel especially grateful that I came upon these stories so innocently, and read them without regard for their position in such debates. (But, if you care to know, I agree with Proulx. (Please click that link, it is pure awesome, except for some LA shit-talking). I think Brokeback Mountain a much, much better movie than Crash, which offended me with its mischaracterization of race relations in LA. As a child of happy Angeleno miscegenation, I must object. When I watched the movie, I began to do so immediately and vocally right after the credits stopped rolling. Thinking on it now, the two movies represent the dichotomy between plot-driven, surprise-ending, message-conveying stories that close with, well, closure, and plodding, ambiguous, language-driven, landscape-driven work. Being rough here, the Motion Picture Academy lives by the former, the literary establishment by the latter, and Myers by the former, at least I think so. He may exceed this dichotomy. If forced to choose, I endorse the latter.)

Before I thought about the Oscars or read Myers, though, context was one of my main interests in Close Range. What context does Close Range claim for itself?

These stories disregard both time and current events. To a reader ignorant of ranches and rodeos, the technology that appears in Close Range will appear dated and quaint, as will its dialects. Fashion, for these characters, involves spurs, boots, and flannel shirts. Transportation consists of old trucks and trailers. Nothing is new. Everything needs fixing. Occasionally someone listens to the radio or remarks upon the caprices of the beef market. Nobody ever watches tv. It comes as a shock, then, when one comes across the occasional reminder that these people live in eras as recent as the 1990s. Inklings of their urban contemporaries come at them antagonistically.

The Coffeepot southeast of Signal had been an o.k. little ranch but it passed down to Car Scrope in bad times – the present time and its near past. The beef-buying states, crying brucellosis which they fancied cattle contracted from Yellowstone bison and elk on the roam, had worked up a fear of Wyoming animals that punched the bottom out of the market. It showed a difference of philosophies, the outsiders ignorant that the state’s unwritten motto, take care a your own damn self, extended to fauna and livestock and to them. There was a deeper malaise: all over the country men who once ate blood-rare prime, women who once cooked pot roast for Sunday dinner turned to soy curd and greens, warding off hardened arteries, E. coli tainted hamburger, the cold shakes of undulant fever. They shied from overseas reports of “mad cow” disease. And who would display evidence of gross carnivorous appetite in times of heightened vegetarian sensibility? To counteract the anti-meat forces Scrope contributed ten dollars toward the erection of a roadside sign that commanded passersby to EAT BEEF and, at the bottom, bore the names of seventeen ranchers who paid for the admonition.

In this passage, “outsiders” can only communicate with Wyoming people as a market, and ranchers can only communicate with "beef-buying states” via a sign planted on a road only ranchers will travel. Urban consumers can only interface with Scrope en masse, as a “malaise.” As foreign as these vegetarians are to Scrope, he and his fellow characters are foreign to most readers. From their occupation, to their dress, to their intimacy with violence and death, everything about these characters estranges them from the time and place which most of Close Range’s educated, literary audience inhabits.

This accomodates the fantastical and extreme. Thus, when the Dunmire boys cut off Rasmussen’s penis in "People in Hell Just Want a Drink of Water" it does not seem unbelievably brutal. (Note the title’s insistence on a certain distinctive place.) We believe it could happen. Similarly, when the titular spurs of "Pair a Spurs" lodge beneath an old railroad beam after falling off a drowning man, we believe it when Proulx writes that they were “seeking sister metal.” Perhaps magnetism works like that in Wyoming waterways. The focus on place unsettles the parameters of reality so that they can no longer be assumed to be universal. If televisions and Toyotas do not figure into these characters’ lives, then who knows what does? Yet, these stories do not feel like magical realism. Here the geospatial imaginary – the idea of Wyoming – supercedes the genre of magical realism. These stories don’t evoke Rushdie (who, ironically, writes about the marginalized geographies of the Subcontinent) nor do they forerun Jonathan Safran Foer. They feel true, as if the bitter hardness of Wyoming did in fact contain secret workings, hidden logics that city people will never have the grounds to question. We can’t evaluate and then classify as fantasy or reality, because - how could we know? Urban authority crumbles before Wyoming even as it towers confidently over India or Brooklyn.

I suppose this is what people mean when they say that Proulx’s prose is “evocative.” Myers hates this word. I want to use it. Because when one reads Close Range, one surrenders one’s own authority. What Close Range calls forth - what it evokes - is silent humility before mortality, before nature, before mystery. No wonder, then, that I opened this post by saying that the book made me want to thank God.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man, by Ogden Nash

It is common knowledge to every schoolboy and even every Bachelor of Arts,
That all sin is divided into two parts.
One kind of sin is called a sin of commission, and that is very important,
And it is what you are doing when you are doing something you ortant,
And the other kind of sin is just the opposite and is called a sin of
omission and is equally bad in the eyes of all right-thinking people,
from Billy Sunday to Buddha,
And it consists of not having done something you shuddha.
I might as well give you my opinion of these two kinds of sin as long as, in
a way, against each other we are pitting them,
And that is, don't bother your head about sins of commission because however
sinful, they must at least be fun or else you wouldn't be committing
It is the sin of omission, the second kind of sin,
That lays eggs under your skin.
The way you get really painfully bitten
Is by the insurance you haven't taken out and the checks you haven't added up
the stubs of and the appointments you haven't kept and the bills you
haven't paid and the letters you haven't written.
Also, about sins of omission there is one particularly painful lack of
Namely, it isn't as though it had been a riotous red-letter day or night every
time you neglected to do your duty;
You didn't get a wicked forbidden thrill
Every time you let a policy lapse or forgot to pay a bill;
You didn't slap the lads in the tavern on the back and loudly cry Whee,
Let's all fail to write just one more letter before we go home, and this
round of unwritten letters is on me.
No, you never get any fun
Out of things you haven't done,
But they are the things that I do not like to be amid,
Because the suitable things you didn't do give you a lot more trouble than
the unsuitable things you did.
The moral is that it is probably better not to sin at all, but if some kind
of sin you must be pursuing,
Well, remember to do it by doing rather than by not doing.


(as listened to in Poetry on Record vol. 1 while folding my laundry and not taking out a medical insurance plan)

shout outs

"Shout out" means acknowledgement, usually for others.

When we shout out for ourselves in desparation

Depression could be okay if it made me return to words.

A kind of fragmented sentence could be okay if it was true.

If it was a true representation of the pieces of sensation

barely keeping track of.

Thought must be a level of synthesis above this grappling.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

LAPD vs. pedestrians

On Monday, I got a ticket for crossing the street wrong.

I was crossing 7th St on the east side of Alvarado, right next to the Westlake / MacArthur Park Metro station on the Red Line. I crossed within the boundaries of the crosswalk, walking my bike and not riding it, and I made it across the street before the light turned yellow. Once I arrived on the opposite sidewalk, a cop immediately stopped me and began writing me a ticket. I looked at him with incredulity. He said, "Once the red hand begins flashing, you cannot enter the intersection at all."

He then proceeded to ask me for my ID.

[Unrelated note: he filled out my race as white, and I had to correct him. I said, "I'm not white." He said, "What are you then?" I should have said black. What could he have done? I said, "Asian / Pacific-Islander." He said, "I don't think I have that - what do you put on forms?" I barked. "Other."]

I didn't argue with him, and later looked up California Vehicle Code 21456, which he cited on the ticket. It did in fact stipulate that the way I crossed was illegal. But seriously, who knew!?

So many questions were running through my mind. WHY would a cop bother ticketing pedestrians in a neighborhood with so many other, more consequential crimes? I could probably identify 15 people selling fake IDs, 5 instances of public drunkenness, and 50 instances of littering within a 2 block radius of the corner we stood on. How could pedestrian traffic really be the priority here?

As I rode home, I thought about all of the times that drivers had broken minor laws in ways that directly endangered my life while I rode a bike. And I got straight up angry. I wanted to say to this cop: I ride my bike and take public transit every day, and it cleans YOUR air and makes YOUR city better. YOU benefit directly. But instead of protecting cyclists and pedestrians, all of whom are doing the city a public service, you criminalize us. Instead of ticketing the thousands of drivers who anticipate green lights or blow through intersections at unsafe speeds, you plant your sting on the sidewalk and fine working-class transit users.

The day after I got the ticket, I was at the same intersection and saw another pedestrian being ticketed. I asked the pedestrian offender (who, coincidentally, was also walking a bike), if he was getting a ticket for crossing the street wrong. He said yes, and added, "It's ridiculous. Pedestrians have no rights."

I asked the cop why he was doing this, and he said he was ordered to by his supervisor. I asked if he could just give warnings instead of tickets - educate instead of punish. He started some kind of explanation, but had to interrupt himself to go ticket some more pedestrians who were wantonly crossing the street at that moment.

Curbed LA did some reporting on this issue. I also found this article in Streetsblog. I recommend reading through the comments in the Streetsblog article. Unlike the comments in the Curbed articles, these have more substance than your usual internet jackassery.

Later comments in the Streetsblog article give good advice on how to contest the ticket. The logic in this article will also be helpful, even though it pertains to DC, and not LA.

I am happy to relay information like this here. But I also worry that most of the people in my neighborhood who are getting these tickets do not have the internet or other resources to learn how to fight them. What I really should do is go back to that corner and make sure nobody breaks the law, so that the sidewalk officer can't ticket anyone.

I want this officer and all of his supervisors to suffer full accountability for this nonsense. For the record: the officer who gave me the ticket was named Peterson. The violation occurred in the Rampart section of the LAPD's Central Bureau. The Rampart police station is located at 2710 W. Temple, LA 90026, and can be called at 213 485 4061. The Central Bureau Deputy Chief of Operations is Sergio Diaz. His email is .

The sting took place in District 1 of LA City. The Council member who represents this district is Ed Reyes:, 213 473 7001.

Thanks, LAPD, for making walking a crime in one of the nation's most pedestrian-hostile cities.

Monday, July 14, 2008

"One must keep on looking..."

I wrote what follows in May, after the end of spring lacrosse seasons but before the beginning of summer adventures. Now, it resonates with passages at the end of To The Lighthouse, when Lily is having her vision, or struggling to have it as the case may be. What I wrote below is about how an artistic moment happens passively. What Lily knows is that after these fortunate incidents, we must hang on.

"Phrases came. Visions came. Beautiful pictures. Beautiful phrases. But what she wished to get hold of was that ery jar on the nerves, the thing itself before it has been made anything. Get that and start afresh... It was a miserable machine, an inefficient machine, she thought, the human apparatus for painting or for feeling; it always broke down at the critical moment; herocially, one must force it on."

"One must keep on looking without for a second relaxing the intensity of emotion, the determination not to be put off, not to be bamboozled. One must hold the scene - so - in a vise and let nothing come in and spoil it."

Lately, perhaps because I have few tasks to complete and no schedules to follow, life seems a meager and humble struggle to keep things tidy. It consists of simple and forgettable tasks like folding the clothes and emptying the sink and deleting an irrelevant email and picking up the keys off this table and placing them where they will be remembered, on that desk.

As I go through these actions, which are too minute to deserve the title chores, the phrase that often enters my mind is "daily struggle against cacophony." I know that what I mean is entropy, or perhaps chaos, and not the rattles and buzzes of cacophony. But I stay with the metaphor which apparently has deep roots in my subconscious because this word, cacophony, appears gutturally at all routine moments. I am taking a shit. Cacophony. I am watering the rosebush. Cacophony. I am tossing the old coffee grounds in the trash bin. Cacophony.

My everyday life seems one cymbal-filled, slowly rising and randomly dissonant morning. Most sensory input is subtle, like the vibrations of a far away speaker: the buzz of the refrigerator, the gradient of heat from where I sleep to the window, the unobtrusive blue of the carpet.

And then there are moments which are like locating a clean and clear note somewhere inside the labyrinthine pith of cacophonous and thick sounds. I look in my rearview mirror and see the sea, and the slow red of sunset, and I realize that there is a rhythmic beat underneath all of this, yes, and that beat moves me through dusk to sleep and then a next day. The beat allows me to be happy; or my happiness enables the beat. Either way, I suddenly and firmly know that the perfect reflection of the ocean means I should be here, despite all the times my daily routine seems pointless, empty, and insignificant. I do not have a future in the sense in which the educated elite in their early 20s are expected to have one - that is, a career on the horizon. Nor do I have a future in the job-marriage-401k sense in which members of the middle class are expected to have one. Instead, I have daily cacophony, and the occasional peal of a clear note. I have a simple horizon. And I am perfectly happy.

16 may 2008

Friday, April 4, 2008

It's been a while...

"It's been a while" is what Britney Spears says at the beginning of "Break the Ice," on her latest album BLACKOUT.

Okay. I've been coaching my little butt off and haven't been reading, writing, or posting as much as usual. I quit my job at the UCLA School of Public Health, and started coaching lacrosse at Occidental College and at Redondo Union High School. I also experienced, for the first time in my life, the hell that is not having medical insurance and getting an infection.

Oh, and I got freaked out about posting my drafts on here because many, many journals require that what you are submitting has never been published in any form anywhere, including the internet. I think this is a silly rule; does my work really have less value in the journal because it has already appeared on my blog? That's a zero-sum logic that I don't follow. Anyhow.

All these things have kept me away, but I'm coming back.

I'm reading Claudia Rankine's Don't Let Me Be Lonely and it is an oddly appropriate follow-up to the Whitman. It floors me. I already wrote down drafts for three different poems. It must be inspiring me. I recommend it.

I used up all my eloquence at half-time and time-outs earlier today, so let me just sign off with these scribblings, which I wrote on a legal pad while watching lacrosse in the Rose Bowl during the East / West Challenge in early March. I sat a row back from my players, who were resting between games.

Perhaps because the stadium is shaped like a bowl, perhaps because the air is filled with music and tension, the air takes on a certain density, a certain opacity, a certain viscousness. As if the air itself had changed composition and would now be proper stuff for athletes to breathe.

I cannot tell you how my heart aches for this, as if aching for a lost lover. It is difficult, difficult to watch the players lined with sticks, hear the announcer and then the anthem. One cannot help but imagine oneself in these arms, one cannot help but imagine oneself occupying that familiar embrace. And one watches the goalie and thinks, my head would be there, my glove would be a bit looser - and the worst - i would have gotten that.

It will never again matter in the way it once did. Whether you make the save or not. Whether you're at your best or just the tiniest bit (enough!) slow.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Last Week

I attempt to memorize one poem per day and read one novel per week.

(I often recite the daily poem while I am riding my bicycle around LA, and this week I rode the LA Bike Tour with 10,000 other cyclists - thus the picture.)

My book last week was F. Scott Fitzgerald's How Tender is the Night. It has been a long time since I read Gatsby, so I can't make comparisons even though that seems like the obvious first thing to do in any commentary on anything else by Fitzgerald. All I really want to say about Tender is the Night is that (as the back cover and the Fitzgerald bio both promised) it offers remarkable insights into how people socialize. To give a very minute example, in one stretch of dialogue a character pauses to remember a name, and the other character, during the hesitation, changes the subject. Whatever story the first character was beginning is abandoned forever.

Last week, I memorized Marianne Moore's "What are Years?" and Hart Crane's "Chaplinesque" (of course) and "The Second Coming" by Yeats. And Whitman's [28] from the 1855 Leaves of Grass took four days to memorize.

Observations on repetition: even the shortest poem can have a memory. This might seem obvious, but for me it was the insight of the week: repeating doesn't imply that you're uninventive. "Smirk" appears twice in "Chaplinesque," first in stanza 3 -
We will sidestep, and to the final smirk
Dally the doom of that inevitable thumb
That slowly chafes its puckered index towards us
Facing the dull squint with what innocence
And what surprise!
and then again in the last stanza -
The game enforces smirks; but we have seen
The moon in lonely alleys make
A grail of laughter of an empty ash can
And through all sound of gaiety and quest
Have heard a kitten in the wilderness.

Without the first "smirk" the second "smirk" would be impossibly difficult, a puzzle with little meaning.
What else. Turns out that Whitman is impossibly arhythmical. [28] resembles a Gregorian chant in its refusal to present any kind of beat or meter. As a result, Whitman is hard to memorize. He repeats, and will repeat many many times, but he does not make patterns. It reminds me of how most people have a hard time generating random sequences. For example, if asked to fabricate the outcome of flipping a coin many times in a row, by writing "H" for heads and "T" for tails, most people will write something like this:


Most people will never include something like this:


but probabilistically, the latter is just as likely as the former.

Whitman understood that it is okay to repeat and repeat and repeat, even though aesthetics might dictate otherwise. He could break a pattern and fall back in, the movement dictated by something more important than meter or rhythm.

The resulting verse is like falling raindrops, or rustling grass; both regular and random, both predictable and wild.

Como las bicicletas aqui.

Monday, February 25, 2008

To Whitman after Leaves of Grass

These are the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing or next to nothing,
If they do not enclose everything they are next to nothing,
If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are nothing,
If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing.

You knew me, but could you have known this?
How we would loop digitized Christmas carols out lit store windows
While our schizophrenics and crazies gestured outside to no one in particular?

How we would walk in the sweat of pregnant Filipinos and barely adult Taiwanese?

How we would fill the earth with our refuse, how we would tame rivers with concrete?

How we would kill a quarter million by dropping one bomb,
How we would drop another bomb, and kill another quarter million.

Walt, did they tell you we are perishing in Pershing? We are homeless in Hollywood, frail on Fairfax, we are beggars in Westwood?

Here where grass never grew until aqueducts were planted, hundreds of miles of lifelines still hidden, barely inscribed in the speedbumps on Mulholland drive.

How “exploration” and “discovery” would not unite us, would not tend us inward toward each other and ourselves, but would rearrange the bodies of slaves and ultimately drive our daily lives apart? Now it is an insult to presume to contain those multitudes, their struggles one and the same in an historical, causal sense, yet mutually and utterly foreign. Did they tell you we would forge foreignness at every turn, we would create aliens, we would deport intimacy? That the rushing squaw would no longer be invited in?

I will be your answerer. And the song will be funereal, a tribute to the America you dreamt, who sings yet in death.

Surely there must be something of worth here, behind locked doors, where people finger their crotches and watch the Sopranos, or put on a Radiohead album and navigate the hills, or dig surfboards out of the trash and ride them once more…

Some say we are lost, and I will not say that.
I do not succumb to endless entertainment, and I do more than consume. I contain and do not consume all those who do more than consume. We still dream.

The tagger fidgeting in still-creased jeans, as nervous as a prom date
The commuter turning the dial
The car sales-man
The old punter persisting without hurrah
The chain mail basketball hoops
The cashiers laughing and rearranging the gum
The soccer players with their shins colorfully covered

You write out of New York, in a time of optimism,
I write out of Los Angeles, in a time of fear.
I know that you are deathless,
I know that the sun does rise,
And that I too am deathless,
And that I too could die.

You rise anew in skyscrapers and palms.
I believe anew in psalms; how a thought might collect
The whole world in its words.

The waitress with hot plates on her forearms
The truck driver on his first highway haul, holding a straight course as another truck passes.

I am with Britney Spears when she shaves her head in Sherman Oaks. I solemnly graze her scalp.
I thrust hips with the dykes and the fags when “Piece of Me’ comes on.
I leave a lock of Britney’s hair for a dumpster diver.

I am Los Angeles, and I elect to miscegenate. I know Wilshire and Normandie; I know 101 homeless shelters; I know Echo Park. And I say there can still be a kosmos.

There is no need for a “we are” when I am Los Angeles. I am an aftershock and yet a foreshock. Premonitory and vicious are my visions.

The whole world gazes me. They way they gaze is me. If they accept illusion, if they prioritize imagination, they gaze my way and I am that verb.

Not just the hills and cardboard sets relived in living rooms, but a dream ever magnifying, a katamari out of control.
Pornographic and ever lusting.

I will teach you the truths that must be pulled from orifices, the root-canal truths, the champagne cork truths. I will teach you the truths written peligroso in another language.

How one-hundred and one communities living in parallel can collide into the same bottleneck, necking and nursing, fucking, slumping, sleeping, getting drunk.

My maps will not show you where to interchange, the curve and skid of the exit, the unexpected merge. These truths grow like follicles out of my asphalt. “There is no there there” is blasphemy to the millions who dip and pivot precise. Blasphemy to the skid marks that end in fire and lights, and remain, dulled, in the daylight.

There we turned and turned, there we patiently waited, and there we died.

I supercede America.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Best of January

All the best creative drama I've seen this month. Heroes, Wicked, and Juno.

At the center of each is the anti-hero. Someone awkward, inexperienced, and downright lowly. Hiro the office worker. Peter Petrelli the nurse. Elphaba the... wicked. Juno the kid, tipped forward with a kid of her own. None of these heroes is recognized by the people around them as destined for anything great. They don't look like people who'd be touched by destiny (except Elphaba, she looks green). But they are.

This is a trend, I think. Remember how Spiderman rocked all of our worlds and then Superman disappointed (even, for me, on opening night with 3D IMAX glasses)? It's because Superman is rock-star iconic - i.e., nobody we can relate to; and spider bites, on the other hand, happen to us all.

Am I saying the obvious when I say that in a world where "big figures" like government leaders and corporate top talent have failed to inspire (or even perform on a basic level, in some cases), it makes sense that we are moved by ordinary and every day heroes? We are a generation with no JFK or MLK; with no Sinatra; with no Gandhi; with no Rockefeller or Carnegie. We barely remember Lady Di. Instead of icons, we have reality TV and Fergie.

If our Presidents can't lead and our Senators gotta get it on in the bathroom, hell, if our parents can't even stay married most the time, then we will have to learn how to act like adults from a teenager like Juno. The husband Mark, who bears all the financial and social markers of an adult, is the film's real teenager. Juno, spewing slang and wearing stripes, models maturity.

In a time when evil is just a caricature and good is canonically a clean red-white-and-blue flag, the stability of good and evil as concepts disappears. I love how "Wicked" plays on value-laden language until words like "good" and "bad" no longer have a clear meaning. Lines like, "Wickedness must be punished, for good." and "Who can say if I've been changed for the better? Because I knew you, I have been changed for good." They take "good" out of its binary and put it somewhere else, somewhere idiomatic, somewhere deeper. Anyone can evoke the good-bad binary, and anyone does (cough cough Bush cough cough War on Terror cough cough). "Wicked" reminds us that good and bad are made.

The super-hero is a uniquely American, and beautiful, tradition. (Read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay if you're not already in on this fact.) And we all want to be heroes. What stops us? In each of "Wicked," "Juno," and "Heroes," there is a kind of anti-sidekick who encourages the would-be hero to get pragmatic, and not pursue heroic dreams. Not risk comfort and safety for something merely right. Says Glinda: "You're having delusions of grandeur." Nathan throws black paint on Isaac Mendez's painting of homecoming, believing he is saving Peter's life. Various peeps try to dissuade Juno. There is always a moment of choice: be a hero or not? And these three dramas all move me because in each the central characters ultimately choose heroism.

Though "Heroes" has been cut off, it is moving in the direction of complicating that moment of choice. A choice that seems right and heroic ends up killing somebody else, sacrificing something else. Nothing is orderly in that show as of Season 2. When it got cut off, "Heroes" was descending into a kind of complicated (perhaps postmodern?) chaos. "Wicked" flirts with this place too, during the song "No Good Deed goes Unpunished."

Mostly, though, Wicked, Heroes, and Juno make me feel unstoppable. They make me feel hopeful about the heroic potential we all contain - we're all actively containing - all the time.

Let's go stop time. Let's balance a bike with a guitar on our backs and go write a great song. Let's heal from any wound. Let us empathize in super human ways. Let's defy gravity.