Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Another for the New Sequence

Poem as Tentative Question, Derivative, Annotation on Youth

We are not driven to belief by sadness,
but to sadness by belief, that

occupier on the broken rock wall
that limns a village, two or three young people

gather, mill, outliers in a land of bright plastic,
in this world of coffee cups, zip drives,

& too many fighter jets. Or not enough fighter
jets—it's become so hard

to tell: to tell anything anymore is a grave &
heavy program. Ochre sun, beleaguered former

General, tell me what we need to further wind
down that corridor, what happens in the hazard

lanes. My daughter doesn't ask these questions;
she doesn't have to yet, but it's raining

down to broken. Visibility at an all time nothing
but “I told you so,” & “just shut up and hold on.”

Monday, January 30, 2012

back from hiatus

I took a short break.  Sat in Jury Duty, sat at home depressed all weekend. Today, rediscovering coffee.


Thinking of attempting work on a new poem project.  Last February, when I hadn't completed a poem in, quite literally, years, I began writing again--quite a lot of poems, of varying quality.  The point was, though--I was finally writing.  I carried this out on and off until sometime around mid-summer.  Well, till around the time my life got shaken up and the Big Change came.   The rules were simple--these were to be 5-minute poems, no revision allowed mid-writing.   Necessarily they were short, mostly "talky" in tone, mostly in the voice of not a mystical poetic speaker, but me, Tony.

Now I'm thinking of trying to collect that batch, doing some revising and winnowing, and seeing if I don't come up with something at least somewhat interesting.  Have just more or less "completed" a project, I'm looking toward another--this might be a good place to begin.

In any case, here's a sample, which I have posted, in the past on the ol' FB wall.


June Rain, Laments

I'm breaking stuff up into little pieces
while the rain sluices, if that's a word,
outside in a supposed June.

Summer never comes to this town. Instead
we get despair, or we feign contentment.
I never get tired of the the plum trees.

It's a joint operation, this.  God conspires
with an ugly force, or maybe God is an ugly
force. But it takes us away from our childhoods.

I once stood on a fishing boat with my father,
7 years old and marveling at a shark on the line.
We never reeled it in and after, we got pizza.

This is what my adult life has been like. I could
never reel in my father. He remains adrift, aging,
nearly dead, toothless, and astonishingly inert.

One of these days, I'll sit and write a letter.
One of these days, it will be too late.
The rain doesn't care though. It will fall.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Applying my very limited critical faculties to a ten-year old film.

I managed to catch a bit of The Royal Tenenbaums the other night while scanning the Dish for made-for-cable slasher flicks, true crime documentaries, and any number of shows featuring gay men critiquing fashion and style.  Okay, so I also occasionally watch Piers Morgan too.

My surfing yielded this insight:   The Rotal Tenenbaums is a much better film if you just watch the last ten minutes or so.  An old friend of mine, after I posted this observation on Facebook, mentioned that he never got that far because the film was a "piece of crap."  Au contraire, my French-speaking faux-Texan theater geek.   I think it's only fair that if you call something a piece of crap, you need to watch at least half of it to, you know, have some sort of authority on the subject.  

So what's up with TRT?  Well, it's a Wes Anderson film.  It's for many of us, THE Wes Anderson film, or at least the one that marked his transition from indie semi-cult guy to "major director" (in a still kinda minor sort of way).   It's typically over-saturated in both primary colors and WA's primary actors.  Characters have audacious names.  Absurdity seems to be normalized, and hence, no longer absurd.  Everyone says hello and everyone is a bit sad and precious.

This film is no more a piece of crap than, well, a piece of crap.  It's better than crap.  Is it a "good" movie?  I'm not so sure.  I do feel fairly confident in proclaiming it a failure.  But a lot of art, good and bad, enduring and vaporous, fails.  

I'm not against Wes Anderson, nor am I a fan boy.  Royal is his "one big chance" film, it seems.  He takes all of his obsessions, affectations, general anxiety, and compresses them into a ball of a mess of a cartoon of a movie that happens to include Gene Hackman and Danny Glover.   And those Wilsons.    It's a mess, yes.   Eliot, rather famously (if you read shit like that--I, unfortunately and fortunately, do) wrote that Hamlet is a mess, a bad play, etc.   And well, I agree that Hamlet is a mess.  It's also brilliantly messy.  Wes Anderson is no Shakespeare.  Neither is Chris Marlowe, but that's for another post.

So, to you Todd Sheets, who deemed The Royal Tenenbaums "a piece of crap," I say, just watch the last 10 minutes or so.  It's rather pretty, actually.  You get the aftermath of a clusterfuck, some pretty colors and confused people, all the  major characters making appearances but few of them having anything stupid to say, as the dialogue is pretty slim, and then you get a funeral, where everyone is quiet because it's a funeral. You get the Anderson, single filing ending scene, slow-mo, and of course, you get Van Morrison singing "Everyone," which is lovely. Our man WA really *does* have a way with a soundtrack, despite his often slipshod auteur's eye.

Some Questions About Poetry

from time to time I'll try to broadcast "Greatest Hits" from the long-abandoned blog Geneva Convention.   This one comes to you straight outta May, 2005.


Donning My “Not Ron Silliman” Hat

1. What is your sense of the poetic tradition? How far back does your particular historical sense range? What defines your tradition? Nationality, language, aesthetic posture? What aspect of your poetic idiolect or tradition most distinguishes you from your closest poetic collaborators?

Tradition. There are gaps. A short poetic “map” of traditions that have meant something to me—but wait—I’m not really talking about traditions so much as individual poets. Let’s be chronological:

(a long silence here)
Romantics—particularly Blake and Byron.
(long silence here)
H. Mullen

Of course I’m leaving a lot out. I’m leaving out some drunk poets—like Li Po and Noah who built an ark, a poetic sort of project.

2. How would you define contemporary poetic practice? (Say, the typical poem that would be published alongside one of your in a magazine where you are published.) How does this practice relate to the tradition defined above? Does poetry of the "past" (however you define the past for these purposes) occupy a different corner of your mind?

The past is past. Contemporary poetic practice, though, seems pretty boring to me if you’re reading the wrong magazines, or if you’re sitting in an undergrad writing workshop. If you’re reading most anthologies. If you’re listening to the right hip-hop, reading interesting magazines, like Carve, Typo, the Canary—then it seems pretty multi-faceted, multi- and cross-traditional. If you can smile right, get the eyes and the mouth in on the action, you can appeal to a lot of people—not just your buddies and lovers. Sometimes, though, it can suit one’s ends to adopt an adversarial countenance. I keep wanting to say something about the past, but I’m not sure if I can.

3. Whom, among poets you most admire, do you understand least? What is hindering a greater understanding of this poet?

I frankly don’t understand most poetry I read. Really. I try to feel it. I try to internalize poets I like a lot, make them part of my mental and physical landscape. (Look at all the poetry books stacked on the floor and shelves of my bedroom and office.) But UNDERSTAND—I don’t think I do. I certainly don’t understand much blogging about poetry. You know the blogs I’m talking about. The difference, though, is that I read lots of poetry I don’t understand. The po-blogging bores me most of the time. I can feed off Clark Coolidge, regardless of how well I understand him. I can’t derive nourishment from [insert name of serious po-blogger here].

4. Are we over-invested in poetic "hero worship"? Is it necessary to have a poetic "pantheon"? How does the poetic pantheon relate to the notion of an academic "canon"? Are they mirror opposites, rivals?

For me, the pantheon is a personal thing. My own particular pantheon includes my friends—Nick Twemlow, Robyn Schiff, Andy Mister. It includes Frank O’Hara, because ANY po-pantheon has to include O’Hara. It even includes poets that Ron Silliman likes—like Joe Massey, for example. It includes John Darnielle. It used to include Wallace Stevens. It includes A.R. Ammons. It includes my friend Brian Draper, who is not a poet, but who sometimes says very poetic things without realizing it. This seems to me very different than a “canon.” I try to teach my pantheon in my own poetry classes as much as possible—an alternative to the “canon” that’s in the textbook that my students have to pay 20 bucks for (it was the cheapest one I could find).

5. Is "total absorption in poetry" benign? How about "poetry as a way of life"?

It is one of the finest things in existence. And it IS a way of life. It’s the only thing I’ve got.

6. Do you see poetry as a part of a larger "literature," or is poetry itself the more capacious categtory?

Poetry is first—everything else is a sub-genre. Poetry means making. It also means song. Shir HaShirim. I don’t believe in “Literature.”

7. Are humor, irony, and wit (in whatever combination) a sine qua non? Or conversely, is humor a defense mechanism that more often than not protects us from what we really want to say?

I think both questions are asking the same thing. I am suspicious of the word “irony” here, as I don’t know in what sense I’m supposed to take it. It seems that much of the “irony” talked about in contemporary poetry is of the Seinfeldian variety, which doesn’t seem very ironic to me. Humor, yes. Wit, yes. Sine qua non? Why do we gotta Latinize it? Humor, wit, kindness, ambiguity, maybe irony, are essential to poetry—what we really want to say is directly behind or directly in front of the tonal pose, the surfacey stuff. It’s all the same thing. But I’m one of those people who says everything the same way—friends tell me it’s hard to tell if I’m joking or being serious, as my tone remains constant. Here’s a hint—I’m almost never joking.

8. Is the poem the thing, or the larger poetic project?

I don’t understand this question. I mean, I understand what it asks, but I’m not sure it’s a relevant question. Poems are good. So are projects. Does “project” simply mean “a lot of poems that have something in common”? See, I’m not sure. Or is the larger project something greater, something tied to our lives in an extra-poetic way. I thought I was in love, and this became a larger project in a sense, and poems came from it. Scratch that. I was in love. Still am in a sense—it’s no longer contributing to my project, though. I think we should just write poems. The last time I made such a statement I was ridiculed in someone’s blog comment box about being too Pollyanna. To that person I say “fuck off.”

9. What is the single most significant thing anyone has ever said about poetry?

“I don’t get it.”

10. Which of these questions asks you to define yourself along lines of division not of your own making, in the most irksome way? How close do these questions come to the way in which you habitually think about poetry? What other question would you add to this list?

I suppose it’s question eight. Or maybe number two. These questions, like most poetry, confuse me. But, and this is key, I find delight in confusion. I like walking into a classroom, for example, and having no idea what I’m going to say about a poem until I say it. I like not understanding. While I like obfuscation in poetry, I have very little use for it in prose or critical writing. What does that say about me? I know it makes me appear simpleminded or stupid, but what does it say?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"Indie Rock" and me

Fair enough. I wonder, though, if “Indie Rock” ever existed. In the Reagan and Bush Sr. years, teenagers like me, in my small town had a few musical options: Top 40, Metal (mostly of the Hair variety), “Classic Rock,” which didn't yet really mean anything, and “New” Country (as opposed to Country & Western in the Williams, Cash, Nelson tradition).

This was the standard bill of fare. Hip-hop, had not, in any form really infiltrated middle America, let alone our out-of-the-way outpost in the foothills of a mountain range, squarely in the middle of a National Forest, separated from civilization by 50 miles of windy, narrow, often icy highway. It may as well have been 50 light years.

There were teens and young adults, like me, however, who did seek out alternatives. Pre-internet, I couldn't simply see what Pitchfork or Stereogum was up to, or download entire albums for “free.” I couldn't chat with my friends online and pick their brains and hard drives for the next big sonic thrill. Kids like me, we read magazines, paying special attention to tiny ads in the back, promoting bands with names like Dinosaur, Black Flag, Bad Brains, Skinny Puppy, Minor Threat, Minutemen. We'd send SASEs and a few weeks later, receive a crudely mastered cassette of crude-sounding music that meant the world to a kid stuck between Michael Jackson and Garth Brooks.

So there was punk, post-punk, hardcore, thrash metal, punk-funk, lo-fi garage music, and much, if not all, was released on small independent labels. We didn't call it Indie Rock, though. When I was a sophomore in high school, rocking my Descendents, my fIREHOSE, my Suicidal Tendencies, (along with the more mainstream-but-still “cool” Cure, R.E.M., The Smiths, etc.), we were just a few years from the emergence of something called “Alternative” music. I should be clear here—“Alternative” existed, in my time, not as a category or genre or marketing niche, but rather a plain descriptor. If a kid said she liked “alternative” music, she meant that what she listened to was mostly stuff you couldn't find on the radio, unless you managed to know a really cool college station and listened between the hours of 2 and 4 am. And most of us, we just said what we liked—metal, punk, etc.

By 1993 or so, I was 21 years old, the media was telling us that “punk had broke.” The music of stoners, burn-outs, and the generally anti-social youth was now on every Top 40 playlist, pushed forward largely by the unlikely success of Nirvana and the media-created “Grunge” scene, repackaged once again as “Alternative.” What did an alternative band sound like? Got me. It was no longer tied to independent labels, no longer confined to certain modes of production, certain ethics or a DIY aesthetic. Alternative was some dollar signs, a fake fashion trend, a Seattle-centric fetishization of the “normal kids” behind the corporate glitz, which of course had now been gussied up with a ton of corporate glitz. I began to drift.

By my early 20s I had largely forgotten what was cool or what was new and had turned my gaze backward, discovering the rock and roll of the 60s and 70s, most of which I had managed to neglect during my teen years. And then I grew up a little. Music ceased to be central to my way of being. I had other things to do--go to college, drink too much, unsuccessfully ply co-eds.  These activities required no new soundtrack.  The old stuff worked (or didn't work) just fine.

When I woke up from this hibernation in the early 2000s, things had changed. No longer was it necessary to hang out in dark record stores, subscribe to cheap, badly written magazines, or physically seek out, on foot, as it were, new music. Now, it was available in a few clicks. I began, tentatively at first, to see what I had missed.

A few things I learned: Metallica now sucked and were assholes, to boot; there was this thing people called “alt-country” that I was really digging on; a lot of bands had seemed to emerge that re-embraced the old school punk DIY aesthetic: people were starting bands, starting labels, releasing their own records, gathering fans through Myspace and other social media outlets. Pitchfork and their ilk provided a guide to this new landscape, and as a reborn music fan, I was grateful.

Then I started meeting the fans. The scene kids. The hipsters. You know the drill, the stereotypes, so I won't expound. I started to question the music and what these kids meant when they professed a love for “indie rock.” Sure, a lot of these bands sounded similar, but many more did not. Some of them started on indie labels and had moved on to things like making money. This “new” musical landscape, it seemed, was similar to what had existed 20 years earlier—the internet, among other things, had just made it more visible, more widely accessible. And the hip kids had decided that it was “Indie Rock” that they loved. It was like “Alternative” of the early 90s, but that fad had a very short lifespan. Now, in 2012, I still hear people in their 20s and 30s waxing ecstatic about this or that “Indie” band. I find myself having no idea what that means as a description; it says more about the fan than the music most of the time.

The Subtrahend, or What's Left Behind

The last time I saw my daughter was a Thursday morning, seven months ago. It was probably ten a.m. And I was probably wearing the same plaid pajama bottoms and the same faded “Queers” t-shirt that I wear as I type this—my standard lazy morning gear. Strangely, the rest of that last brief meeting is less clear. Of course I didn't know it would be the last time I'd see her.

E's mother and I separated when she was seven months old. That is, we ceased cohabitation. We had been, in effect, broken up since before she was born in February; we spent the next half-year negotiating our way around each other, physically and emotionally—inhabiting the same spaces but not sharing them in any real sense. The days were divided into chores and interior time zones, an arrangement that became more pronounced when I lost my job soon after E's birth. I put E down in the evening and after her morning feeding, took over around 7 am so that S could get a few hours of sleep. The afternoons usually involved me alone at home—E and S on this errand or that. Because of an extensive breast-feeding schedule, E was rarely left alone with me for more than an hour. So for 50 minutes at a time—when S was teaching, or when she darted off to pick up groceries, or when she went for a run—E was mine. We bonded in the ways an infant and a new daddy can. I played her music and she “danced,” I read her poetry. We took naps together.

By the time S and I separated physically, after a summer of petty arguments, semi-accurate accusations on both sides, too many late nights alone in the TV room with cable movies and Miller High Life, we were both more than a little broken, but also, I like to think, hopeful. We took every step to ensure that our own alienation from each other—our derangement—would not interfere with our co-parenting. Nightly bath-time? The same. As she got a bit older, favorite stories before bedtime? Check. Family dinners? Of course. While S and I weren't always on best terms, we made every effort to convince ourselves we were making every effort to nurture our child and protect her from our own petty differences and insecurities. We would talk about inconsequential minutiae, spout neat phrases like amateur meteorologists, pretend to discuss politics and film. I'd offer S thoughtful commentary on her teaching; she'd generally keep quiet about her dissertation, always almost finished. (A failed PhD myself, I wondered if she was trying to protect herself or my feelings by refusing to discuss her academic work). On the surface, we had a very imperfect but workable relationship. And most importantly we were ensuring that our daughter had both parents in her life—what I thought we both wanted.

That Thursday morning in June was out of the ordinary but not completely unprecedented. My visits with E usually took place in the evenings, with the occasional afternoons added when S needed “me” time—usually the gym. But this morning, S called and informed me they were just on their way home from an errand and asked if they could stop by. E was in a bad mood—fussy, as two-year olds tend to be, and they didn't stay long. I assumed we'd reconnect later in the day or the next day; I had learned by this time that matters of scheduling were best left to S as she approached all events in her life with a greater sense of urgency than I did, no matter the occasion. It was simply easier to defer to her on some matters.

So Thursday night came and went. Then it was Saturday. I waited, watched a lot of television, made countless short jaunts to the supermarket, to walk the aisles, to pretend I was shopping, anything to shake off the feeling that something was wrong.


On Monday evening, I received the phone call, wishing me a belated Father's Day. They were, it seemed, in the mid-west, visiting friends, “just a short vacation,” S assured me. “We'll probably be back in a week,” said the receiver. S's voice was chipper, assured, relaxed. Annoyed but relieved, I rationalized that this small getaway would be good for all three of us and next week we'd return to business as usual, but refreshed.

But something kept eating at me. It just didn't seem right. It was, as they say in the detective movies, hinky. A few days after the phone call, I strolled by S's house—something I would do most days anyway, as she lived only a few blocks away and was on the way to most places I'd normally find myself walking. Gone was her new SUV—I was nonplussed when, a week earlier she suddenly had a new car, since her “old” car she'd owned for scarcely 2 years, and this one was definitely more expensive—and in its place was a U-Haul. Strange people moved from the truck to the door, hauling boxes, furniture. I tried to speak to the new tenant but the woman was reticent to reveal much; she'd only say that they were moving in today, that the old tenant had moved out last week. I went next door to the landlord's house. Becky and her husband confirmed that S had moved out last week, had given her notice a month before. She didn't seem to find it curious that I had no idea about any of this. Was I the only one in my sphere, the only one in E's life who didn't know?

I guess E, in all her two years, didn't really know either. And that's what I think about now. It's the small questions that keep me awake at night, gulping coffee and obsessing over Twitter, or “culture” and politics blogs, afraid to sleep because sleep, well, sleep is always difficult. The question that I ponder most frequently is what she told E. How do you tell a two-year old that you are leaving Daddy behind? What did she say when E asked for me? When I asked why she left, every time I asked it, until after a few months I silently resigned myself to not knowing, S would only clear her throat, change the subject, or simply pretend not to hear me. If you ignore something long enough it often does go away. It worked, I suppose.

In just over a month E will celebrate her third birthday. I, most likely, will not be there. For the time being, I'm still a known presence. I'm “Daddy” but what that is coming to mean as the weeks wear on is that I'm “that man in the computer who reads me books sometimes and says nice things.” I don't know if she has any memories of me as a flesh and blood person. Does she still ask about me? Is it too late to matter?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

E, almost 3.

Two poems by Kristin Kelly @ La Fovea

Two poems went up today at La Fovea, a nifty site with novel ideas about editorship, curating.


And no, I have no idea if the Tony in the 2nd poem is supposed to be me.  There are plenty of Tonys out there.


I met Kristin one early afternoon. Memorial Day, to be exact. We were in a coffee shop across the street from a Circle-K and proceeded to have coffee for several hours.  Until they kicked us out, in fact. I remember talking about poems and movies, mostly.  Before we parted, she made sure to loan me copies of her CDs by Neutral Milk Hotel, M. Ward, and Bonnie "Prince" Billy.
It was still the first half of 2002 and people were still talking about 9/11 in hushed tones. I didn't know anyone with a blog and I'm not sure that iPhones or iPods even existed.  The Willamette Valley was in the full-force thralls of pre-Summer, which meant humid sticky days followed by mornings and afternoons of temperamental showers, then clearing, then perfect spring afternoons. This particular Monday was overcast and muggy. Warm enough for iced tea but emotionally more suited to hot coffee in paper cups and useless stir-sticks. I had ducked into the shop because a) it was only a block from my uncomfortably large and mostly empty 2nd floor apartment in a "Historic House," and b) I needed a break from writing a paper that would, God willing, finally fully the requirements for my MA degree, by now about a half-year overdue. I'm pretty sure I was also under allergy attack and fairly hopped up on Real Suda-fed.

That year I lived with a hippie named Marty who was growing a 5 ft tall cannabis plant in our kitchen. Our kitchen with bay windows. No drapes.  Me, I was of heavy body and sulky temperament. My face was bearded, I had thick black half-way down my back.  I was hiding from something but didn't yet know what.  

I don't think I ever figured it out, but I eventually came a bit out of my shell.  That summer, Kristin and I wrote poems to each other at a furious pace, and emails even more quickly.  By September I had a fully-formed book-length ms. of poems and more sadness than I had known in a very long time.  By then, though, I had met Josh Edwards and we embarked on publishing a little start-up poetry journal that went on to do, I think, pretty great things. I soon began a poetry blog, and enjoyed a very tiny tiny perverse bit of internet "fame" as it were.   I met some friends.

All that is far away now.  I'm a different person. A smaller person in nearly every way. I don't know if I'll ever really "be a poet" again.  I'm having a difficult enough time being a father, a brother, a son, a friend.  I do thank Kristin, though, for the poems. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

poem for Jay Nebel, superhero

Requiem for the Fire King

There is a fire in my head and a fire in my yard.

Fire has dominated my year and the National League

for at least as long as fire has competed with pine tar.

Fire is the poem of the next century. That's right, fire,
I'm talking to you. I have a fire in my bombast

and a gutbomb in the gut from all the firewater
I wasn't supposed to drink

When I was fired I drank too much. The burn
helped cool the burn. The fire newt

is long and tall like Jay the Fire King. God
take a bow; you made a fiery concoction of a man

all flamish and rakish and of a fire-like dispostion.
Grab all the flames you can and stuff them

into a calfskin. Sling it over your shoulder
and carry your offering to the altar. There.

On Fire Mountain.

On Stuff I'm Against

from an old web journal that I don't think is around or if it is I am not sure.

“I'm against poems about Orpheus. I'm against ‘pretty’ writing, most of the time. I'm against cleverness that covers lack of content. I'm against insincerity. I'm against deception and grief. I'm against dogs and cats living together. I'm against lists that prescribe because I always incriminate myself. I'm against excessive description. I'm against poetry as information.”


Tonight I found a cache of old notebooks. You know the kind: small, black, nondescript back pocket-sized.  For years I always kept several around—one in a pocket, one on the coffee table, one in the bathroom, others—to record details of travel (where I ate, what I drank, what was playing on the jukebox at this bar or that—I have a ton of accidental travel play lists), stray bits of conversations, notes on television and movies, and ideas or lines for poems or the novel that I'll never write. The year I lived with S., the year we brought E. into the world, though I had stopped writing as a professional practice, as a recreational practice, and soon, as a vocational necessity, I continued to keep the black books around, pressing them into duty as repositories for grocery lists, to-do reminders, address and phone number collection devices.   Though, no longer a writer, I constantly wrote in them.

This evening, my aim was to write down the phone number of a friend, a number I've been forgetting repeatedly for the past few months, the idea being that I'd later put it in my cell phone, because I'm usually more likely to have a pen and some paper around than my phone, which does a daily loop of travel from pocket to kitchen counter to dresser drawer to lost and back again. I opened the first book in the pile, jotted down the digits and then became transfixed on a short list, then another, then another.

It may be that these little books are the only tangible record, save photographs of my infant daughter, that I have of that time—certainly the only testament to the fact that I once shared a life with another adult human being.  The lists themselves are not exactly gripping human drama.  Most of them are instructions to work in the yard, to install the AC unit in the bedroom, to finish laundry before S. gets home, and in one case, to “cook dinner w/garlic tonight.”  The grocery lists may be my favorites.  Every one of them includes popsicles. 

Finding these lists, very simply, reminded me of that fraught and slender year and of the fact that I knew what lay ahead from the day we moved in. That early December evening, the sun only recently retired, but seeming much later, we stood in the dim light of the large open living space of a house nearly a hundred years old and creaking like one twice its age. S. stood, trembling almost, in tears, sobbing quietly.  She mouthed, barely audible, “this will never work.”  I wasn't sure what she meant. But I was. I had a task to complete though.  Standing before a too-big mass of furniture, books, undifferentiated papers, dishes, food packages, random junk, all our stuff, our two haphazardly thrown-together households, I set to the work of putting everything in its place, a seemingly impossible chore, determined to do it all that night. I thought it would comfort her; my words always failed me at that task. Then, mission accomplished, more or less. The heavy lifting was done.

The next day came. We went to work and returned each evening to dinner and quiet domesticity. It was a couple of calm months with moments of something like joy.  I shared my home and I liked it. We didn't exchange cross stares or tears. I was happy there. We made late-night grocery runs for ice cream nearly every night. Once we decided that 2 am was the perfect time to make falafel from scratch.  We ate at the dining room table, which we never did. We lit candles.  There were board games too, which I always lost. There was crime drama on television. Our windows didn't lock but rattled wildly, wind and rain behind them. We had a dumb but loving dog.

There were also labor pains. Daily labor pains, a growing belly. The two weeks leading up to E.'s birth are particularly vivid in my recollection. S. was due on the 14th, but E. refused to arrive for another 12 days. Each of these days was tense, anxious, exciting. On the 14th we had brunch at Studio 1—French  toast of course. S. ate fruit. It was a particularly warm and sunny February weekend.

I spent my other moments in those few days passing time by destroying comfrey in the back yard and mixing spices in the kitchen for vindaloo or making paneer.  We were, in a very pure sense, just waiting.  And it was all right.

Now when I have occasion to look back on those months, which isn't often—at least not under the lens of S. and me, I see shades of gray, dark browns, mottled memories. It's always cold, always winter; S. is always perched over her writing desk, head down. We are tense. I am walking the dog a lot more. Long walks late at night. Anything to get out of the house after we put the baby down.

It can't be said that, in any conceivable fashion, it was a good year for either of us, though we had those isolated moments, or the notebooks make me think we did, that make me cling to the hope of a past sunnier than I actually know it to have been. Truth be told, it was pretty dreary, pretty desperate, a year of self-assessment, and for me, the first steps down a path of months, years, of self-destructive behavior.

E. was the sole blessing of that year, of my life, and now, three years hence, she's also nearly as much of a memory as that old house. When she came along, S. and I were finally realizing that the three of us would never be a family.

Tonight, two years on, two years since the frigid morning I packed my last boxes out of the house on Orchard Street—I remember that day so clearly as well—there were wild turkeys on the frozen lawn—I read these scribbled reminders and know that despite the general tenor of the year, two—no, three—people loved one another there once.

Aggressive Living

Once upon a time, Gina Myers, aka Ginabird and I started a blog called  Aggressive Living.

It was not very long-lived but it featured angry birds long before Angry Birds.  We were the vanguard.

So maybe it's time to bring Aggressive Living back.  What do you say, Gina?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Blogging on Request: American Idol, Rain

I'm a little slow out of the gates this year concerning American Idol.   I watched all the auditions last year because I, like a lot of bored Americans, was interested in 1) would Steven Tyler be amusing, 2) would Jennifer Lopez not act like a haughty [bad word], and 3) would Randy become the new "mean one."

Well, Steven was surprisingly aight, dawg.  J-Lo was shockingly not insufferable. Randy was pretty much the same as before but even less interesting.  Now ask me if I remember who won last year.  Ask me if I remember any of the contestants.

No season has managed to re-capture the Clarkson-Guarini magic that catapulted season 1 into our collective pop-culture consciousness, though I think I nursed a small crush on Eliot Yamin that one year and kept watching because I hated that guy who thought he was in Creed.  For the most part, though, Idol has not been must-see TV, especially not when I have the ID Channel and can see murder 24-7.  I did happen to catch a couple of auditions tonight though when Paula Zahn went to commercial.   There was a girl who sang while her sister did a yoga pose, a young Bieber wannabe, and a really horrible Mobile DJ / Wedding Singer who, despite her terrible voice, seemed to win over the judges.

Unless ninjas or orcs or impromptu cooking competitions are added to spice up this year's offering, I'll probably skip the rest of the auditions.


As for rain.

Growing up in a rainy clime, I'm a rainy guy accustomed to rain.  The rain of the past few days, though, has mostly just depressed me.  It's made my favorite hobby (walking around town looking vaguely like a schizophrenic bum) less enjoyable than usual, and well, just isn't doing anything interesting enough to get excited about.  When the trees start falling on houses up here, then we're talking.  So far, though, pretty quiet stuff.

In high school, I used to like to slide my cassette of the Cult's album LOVE into my Sony Walkman and run through town in the wee hours. There's a song on that tape called "Rain."  It's pretty good.

The rain also reminds me of The Cure.  Or maybe The Cure just reminds me of high school and winter generalities.  In any case, it sucks to get wet.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

General ramblings on the dissolution of a relationship: part 1.1

It's always strange when normally insignificant events become inextricably  soldered to our lives by happenstance, by coincidence, by picking a particular treadmill. My ex- first "knew" (though didn't yet have medical confirmation) that she was pregnant  when, one day at the gym, she began to sob when the television announced Tim Russert's death.  I was the politics junkie; she barely knew who Tim Russert was. For months after, any mention of Russert had the power to make her eye twitch a little, her mouth turn down.

That summer I was falling down a lot, but not yet the heavy-drinking bad boyfriend I was to become. I suffered from constant fatigue, beaten immune system: part of me thought I was dying; the other part just assumed it was stress brought on by the news. Turns out I was very sick, and never really learned why, though I did learn that I had compressed vertebrae and pretty serious diabetes. This didn't help any, but once I was diagnosed, the constant illness waned a bit. I was more or less going through the motions at work, knowing that budget cuts were on the horizon and knowing that my illness and low seniority didn't bode well for my future in this, the only job I'd ever really enjoyed.

Of course, I also was dealing with anxiety and panic that mounted each day.  The depression I had once sought to control with pharmaceuticals began to intensify to the point that getting out of bed was a sisyphean chore. And there were good things in the evenings.  S. and I would perch on the couch and watch punk-rock videos (mine) or French films (hers), eat whatever we wanted, and generally try to forget that we didn't really like each other a lot of the time.

The idea that things would just be better when the baby arrived began to comfort me though intellectually I was well award that it was a ludicrous thought.  I looked forward to being a domestic being. I looked forward to being a dad.  This, I thought, would make me a better partner.

I had a certain naivete, a boundless misplaced faith in us.  In myself.

Two re: Paula Deen, Y'all

A couple of thoughts on the Paula Deen controversy, on this, her 65th birthday.

1) Ms. Deen, her fans, and even her detractors, tend to characterize her fat-laden and heavily-reliant-upon-convenience foods cuisine as "Southern Cooking." Many of us acquainted with real food cooked for and by people from the American South would disagree. Unibrowed Canadian (and now, by virtue of residence and culinary bona fides, Southern American, or alternately, "New Southern") chef, Hugh Acheson raises this point in a recent article. 

What is it if not Southern? Cookbook collectors, among others, might remember the sorts of books published en masse during the 1960s and early 1970s that featured garishly colored photographs (especially of various birds "a l'orange," invariably with little chef hats on their legs) and a reliance upon frozen foods, pre-made seasoning packets, canned cream of everything soup, and the twin tenets of that "cuisine": any five ingredients can be made into a casserole, and anything can be a Jello salad. My mother is about the same age as Ms. Deen and once had quite a collection of these books. Fortunately for me, Mom learned to cook from both of my grandmothers and relied on these rarely, though I do remember eating my share of Tuna Noodle Casserole and Jello mold "salads." The books themselves, however much they figured into my daily eating, made an indelible impression on me as a young food enthusiast--namely, the impression that I would never cook like that.

Though this type of cookery as a legitimate model for contemporary cuisine has almost completely disappeared from public consciousness, I'm fairly certain it lives on in other guises, such as Ms. Deen's "home cooking." This is not southern home cooking, but rather cooking by Betty Crocker and Better Homes & Gardens of 1963 - 1973 or so. It's no wonder that when Marcella Hazan's Classic Italian Cooking was published in the early 70s it was a revelation--not only for those looking to explore the real cuisine of Italy, but for those whose tastebuds had been assaulted and deadened by a decade of fat, MSG, and preservatives and were looking toward a fresher approach; maybe this is ho
w our grandparents really ate. 

Of course our fast food culture and internet-driven "bigger and more is better" trend (see Epic Meal Time if you doubt me) ensures that we're still eating crap, but the cuisine of Paula and sons is a distinctly historical, American, if not exactly Southern, phenomenon. It deserves a certain begrudging respect if only because by recognizing its provenance, a quasi-mythical Middle America and its "liberation" of housewives from the shackles of kitchen drudgery, we are encouraged to examine its historical significance.  This cooking trend and the cultural forces that I'm suggesting shaped it are not to be condemned but understood.  

Finally, as much as cringe at plugging her (who needs no endorsement), on thing we've learned from Rachael Ray, for example, that easy, relatively healthy cooking doesn't have to be time consuming. The runaway daytime hit, "The Chew," for all its cheesiness, butt-grabbing, pseudo-macho posturing by a not typically macho crew (A female Southern Top Chef also ran, the young daughter of a famous television physician, Mario Batali, one stereotypically "manly"-looking but possessed of an interestingly feminine laugh, and one gay male fashion expert) for a typically stay-at-home female demographic, is surprisingly refreshing it its ability to demonstrate quick-cooking and delicious-looking dishes well within the capabilities of any home cook of any skill level.   (Excuse that tortured sentence, please.)

2) Though I understand, and to a point agree with, the cynicism with which Ms. Deen's recent diabetes announcement was greeted with in the press, I can also affirm that having diabetes is something someone often is uncomfortable revealing because, believe me, it really does change the way others view you, especially those who think they're doing a good thing, who think they're looking out for you. There is nothing like being ghettoized by something you have little control over. 

Now, this is not to say that nobody has control over their diabetes, but there are different types of diabetics, and this particular disease seems to carry with it a certain stereotype of the "typical" diabetic. We don't all fit that model. So if I had it to do over again, I might have also kept my mouth shut about it.

Writing prompt via Google newsfeed

During my evening news consumption via interweb, I happened upon this:

This week, Farhad Manjoo and Emily Yoffe debate the question: When you’re hanging out with pals, but other friends aren’t invited, is it rude to post the details to Facebook?

I haven't bothered to head over to Slate yet to see what the verdict is.  In the summer of 2010, or thereabouts (though it started earlier), I began to see FB updates from my "friends" who were, in retrospect, only friends because they were actual friends of my ex-partner / mother of our child, updates that included pictures of my child playing with their children.

There was baby duck petting, berry picking, ocean excursions, simple play dates involving kitchen floors and bulk flour, days at the library, outings to this or that park--swings, merry-go-rounds, slides galore!  I also began to notice that I hadn't noticed any such pictures posted by E's mother.  It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that she had un-friended me, and I was therefore receiving information about my daughter's extra-curricular activities via FB updates by people who were very pleasant to me in person, but couldn't be bothered to consider that a father might want to spend time with his daughter in a group setting.   I was unemployed at the time and living less than a mile away from all parties involved, so it wasn't an accessibility issue.

I began to gradually un-friend these parents of friends of my kid.  Gone were the pictures of E on playdates, in unfamiliar settings. The painful feelings weren't gone entirely, but at least I wasn't reminded on a daily basis that my ex and her peer group were crafting a nearly father-free life for my daughter.

E's mother and I, despite our differences, have maintained an if not-cordial, somewhat stable and civil relationship, all the more important now that they are 2000 miles away.  She stills sends photographs every few weeks; I Skype with E when our schedules permit.  A couple months back, E's mother asked me to refrain from posting pictures of E on FB.  "You never know who might be looking at your page," she said.  Privacy control issues aside, I know how she feels.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Dust Clears

Welcome, reader types.    This is my attempt at doing some regular blogging on this old-fashioned blogging machine.  Facebook has its virtues but I'm trying to ease back into a longer-form communication tool for communicating with you tools.  Yeah, I know, that was terrible.

I have no real agenda here yet, and as you can see the design is minimal, links non-existent, and so forth. I'm getting settled in.  I imagine that some sort of coherent "style" will emerge at some point.  In the mean time, feel free to offer suggestions.  

What would you like to see on here?   Talk of poetry?  Food?   Random daily effusions of mental effluvia?


I am off to make breakfast but will check in later.  

Breakfast:  coffee, potatoes with chorizo, warm tortillas, fruit.

Breakfast preparation soundtrack:  Senegalese pop music.