Reading & Book-signing May 27 in Eureka

I will be reading excerpts from my new book, Practicing Zen without a License, at 6pm at Booklegger bookstore, 2nd & E Streets in Eureka.  I will also be signing copies of Practicing Zen as well as my previously published novels (Jujitsu for Christ, Nightshade, Living in Little Rock with Miss Little Rock, Dreamer).  Come out to Old Town & get to know this critically acclaimed, new-to-Humboldt Southern writer!

Welcome to the Cloud

This, it has just occurred to me is a novel.  Here and arriving daily.  Before your very eyes.  It is, so to speak, the ego of the cloud.  It’s the narrative theory that best explains all the manifestations of the writing, the novels, poems, collections, letters, journals, meditations, reasonings, declarations.  It’s the story of the work, who supposedly did.

A story implied in blog posts, not a story about blog posts.  A story that is not possible, because of its uncountable links and hyperlinks, in any other medium than this one.  It’s about time.  It’s about time literature came to the electronic world.  Lit has been far too busy rendering that world and not busy enough participating in it.

The beauty is I can write anything any time.  It’s all part of the narrative voice.  I don’t have to explain everything in every post.  Just assume the rest of the cloud and if you’re interested you can check up.  This website is a sort of interface with the cloud.  You will eventually (we’ve just got up and running) be able to access the cloud in whatever way you wish.  Maybe you want to follow the bio thread of the poems.  Maybe you want pieces on a certain topic no matter whether they’re poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or math.  Maybe you take a quick look and go somewhere else.

Another beauty of it is, it’s always finished.  It’s done.  It is, simply by having been announced as one, a completed novel.  I can kick off at any time, and it will stand complete.  The fact I can kick off at any time is part of its structure.  It can certainly gain detail, and I hope it gains a good deal of it.  I will continue to finish stand-alones like The Illumination of Elijah Lee Roswell or Dinosaurs from Outer Space or One Man’s Canon or the memoirs or the villanelle I began yesterday and got far enough to know the repeat lines have to be “There are certain facts no one can explain:/  the light in beauty, the loneliness of pain.”  They’re awfully pretty so I’ve gotta muscle up the others.  I’m debating “I go a long way with physics.  It aint insane,/ for one thing (theology springs to mind),” but maybe it’s a cheap shot.  The vulgarity I mean, the brazen attempt to trigger adrenalin.

Definitely a shot, in any case.  Gotta think about that.  Some of my best friends are theologians.

If I do kick off sooner rather than later then the novel will be one of those teddibly lit’ry little jewels with just trillions of implications in its apparent brevity.  If later, more epickish, maybe.

And the central character is very like me, yes.  Prezackly, except I aint made out of words and he is.

So far as I can tell.

He’s a poet.  An American poet.  Of course a novel like this is not to everybody’s taste.  Probably very few will be drawn in.  But lordy those few are gonna love love love it.

One problem that turns out to be easy to deal with is his life is not terribly interesting.  There’s no car chases, nothing blows up.  Once a long time ago my young mind broke and I was afraid I had done something terrible but I hadn’t and most of my life has happened since and has been primarily interesting I would guess to me, but as it happens that’s precisely the viewpoint I’m using.

It turns out that for some the act of reading is a blissful state.  They don’t want to get the gist more quickly, the hell with the fine structure.  They do want to be carried forward, they do want a connected line of talk, a bit of playfulness, the sort of quick-mindedness that’s fun to sympathize with.  (To those, I say again, welcome to the cloud.)  If they’re like me they would appreciate exhilirating views, excitement, which is easy to offer without either pretended or real danger.

I had this idea out in the yard in the sun doing yoga.  I was thinking how bored I was with the same old literary exercises.  I know how to write poems.  I know how to write novels.  I know how to write all of the forms.  I’ve been not writing and blaming myself and trying to tell myself that there is no blame but still not being able to get any juice going and calling it age and blaming myself.

What I need, I thought, is a new literary form.  Something that aint any of these.  And it dawned on me.

There’s thousands and thousands of pages out there.  There’s this blog, beginning now.  The published books are available on Amazon.  There’s the quarter meg or so of poetry and other thinking I keep on my computer as the cloud of what I am up to now, the more-or-less official total works.  Which bears the scars of the terrible loss of data two and a half years ago.   Excluding letters, I don’t see why, and other wordatives.  Like the stuff in Special Collections at Ole Miss.

This is a way to get myself to sit down and write every day.  It’s better than a journal.  Freer.  It aint autobiography, it’s thinking.  I love thinking.  I can put in exactly what interests me or grabs me every day.  Exactly.  My death is irrelevant except as a sort of formal boundary.

I notice that there is indeed suspense:  Will I finish the villanelle?  What will it be like?  Imagine how you’re going to feel when you read the real thing and it hits you that I knew I was going to end it that way but didn’t tell you.  Imagine if one day you found out that when I was 23 I wrote a poem that made a very similar move in its last line.

One thing about the villanelle, it will really exist.  It won’t just be a villanelle mentioned in a novel but never seen.  And mystery:  I don’t know what’s going to happen next.  Nobody does.

And yet I know it’s all going to fit together.

Another good thing is I don’t have to spend a lot of time on meta-meta.  Don’t have to do the coyly self-conscious author bit.   Overdoing the clever.  Writing is a lousy way to get ego strokes anyhow.  I’m interested in this because it offers a way to keep writing without beginning to parody myself.  (My own concept of how I write is not adequate, I now find.)  I’m interested in it formally far more strongly than I am interested in it as a rendering of my character.  Maybe I will mention this level every rare once in a while, just to keep the viewpoint clear.  Keep it clear that while real as anything else, this is indeed a viewpoint.   And the rest of the time just write.

Whatever I Want It to Mean

Occasionally a creative writing student would comment, “A poem (or other piece of writing) means whatever you want it to mean.”  I hated this brainless attitude, and still do.  It is not true.  The author intends one or more, usually more, way more, specific effects.  It takes work and it takes intelligence.  I blame what I call the hidden meaning theory of poetry, a favorite of hack teachers everywhere.  You’ll recognize it.

The hidden meaning theory of poetry substitutes ingenuity, however preposterous, for understanding.  It arose with Eliot’s generation, the culture’s defense against the perceived “difficulty” of contemporary poetry.  Its basic tenets are that the job of the poet is to hide as many meanings as possible in the poem, and the job of the student is to dig them out.  The more “meanings” you can invent, the more likely you are to get an A.

It’s a thoroughly boring activity, of interest only to hacks and suck-ups, and if that’s what most people think poetry is about, no wonder they hate the stuff.

But the malaise runs even deeper, is even more insidious.  When I was in college and grad school, it was dogma among intellectuals that we could not discover the actual nature of things, that language itself, with its insistence on conceptualization, was a barrier to “the truth.”  (I view language as a path into reality instead a screen that filters it out.)  Philosophers insisted that we could not know how we knew things, and therefore all language was suspect, and therefore no viewpoint could be impeached.  They insisted that one’s language shaped one’s perceptions, was the dominant force.  (Among linguists, this is known as the now widely discredited Whorfian hypothesis–usually phrased as “The Eskimos have thirty words for snow,” or some similar and equally misleading statement).

Again and again the academics of my day insisted that perception was primary, that one viewpoint was good as another.

I’m think of this now because my daughter just mentioned a television channel called Belief Net, which is apparently devoted entirely to “Christian” programming.  When exactly did “belief” come to mean “contrary to evidence and reason”?  My other daughter once described to me a member of her church who declared that “faith is believing in things that don’t make any sense.”

No it isn’t.  Faith is more nearly holding to the truth no matter what the fashions may be.  Sticking to the facts, no matter how widely disparaged you may be for doing so.

There IS such a thing as Christ-like forbearance and sacrifice.  It’s a true facet of human nature.  The story of Christ presents that capability in transforming myth.  (When I say “myth,” I do not mean “silly little story,” but something so powerful it can reshape society.  Neither do I necessarily mean “historically inaccurate.”

It’s also true that sort of forbearance and sacrifice delivers better results than any of the alternatives, especially the alternatives of violence and revenge.  (It’s extremely rare and difficult to practice, though.  One must first learn to factor oneself out of the calculations.)

I do ridicule the “believer” who thinks the world was created six thousand years ago.  No it wasn’t.  The Bible was never intended as a physics manual.  I do not hesitate to mock anyone who insists that his or her opinion is as valid–simply because he or she “believes” it–as painstakingly acquired evidence, the fruits of long and difficult reason, or fidelity to fact.

But I blame those midcentury philosophers and academics as much as anyone.  They were the ones who floated the notion in the first place that all points of view were equally valid.  They were largely humanists, and feeling the hurt because science was getting all the attention.  It was their take on relativity, their attempt to be as cutting-edge and theoretical as the physicists.

But it leaves them with no comeback to the fruitcake fundies.  Typically what is fashionable in philosophy gradually leaks into the cultural substrata and becomes a given several decades later.  Now, although the philosophers and academics have long since moved on, everybody “knows” that any point of view is as good as any other.

No it aint.

I’m Glad You’re Dead, You Rascal You

Okay, bin Laden is dead.  I, like most people, am glad of that.  He murdered 3000 people on 11 September 2001, and maybe as many as a thousand more in various other incidents.  He was a terrible human.  How awful must it be to be bitter and violent still when you get old?  I don’t envy Al-Zawahri, who looks at least as murderously dyspeptic, and who will surely soon die as well.

But what are we to make of the people who made billions of dollars during our tragedy and disarray?  What are we to make of the Wall Streeters who crashed the economy, the greedheads at insurance companies, people who did not hesistate to profit while millions of Americans not only went through shock and mourning, but lost their savings and their jobs and their hope?  Many of us not only mourned the dead, but mourned a lost country–my first reaction on 11 September was horror and shock and a deep sick feeling, and my second was fear for my country, how angry and vicious we were now, in the aftermath, almost certain to become.

What did most people think of arms profiteers on either side during World War II?  And yet arms profiteering is now our major industry, while taking care of our own citizens doesn’t even make the to-do list.  If I had contempt for Osama Bin Laden, how much more contempt must I have for those who never hesitated not only to strip the vulnerable average citizen of as much money as possible, but to portray anyone who opposed their thievery as unpatriotic?  How much contempt for those who lobbied to change the laws even further in their favor (and often succeeded)?

Greed is NOT good.  This is the firm opinion of the species over the thousands of years of its existence.  Greed serves only itself, looks after only itself, ignores facts and probabilities.  Greed will do anything, anything at all, to further itself.

Can we begin to talk about this now?  Now that the obvious lie has been exploded, the lie that opposition to crooks means you hate the U. S.  Can we begin to talk about these creeps for the sordid little spirits they are, now that they can no longer wrap themselves in the flag and declaim, while taking our money to offshore banks, that they are the only true patriots?

Never mind punishment.  As the KJV puts it, verily they have their reward.  I would not have been willing to be Osama bin Laden for all the money in the world.  Neither would I have been willing to be Anthony Mazilo.

What about the truth?  Is it okay to face the facts about these creeps now?