Monthly Archives: September 2014

Drop by Drop

people in rainThis week I received a copy of the literary magazine Kenyon Review in the mail. Apparently at some point I entered a contest with them, which I paid for, and my consolation for the usual result (I lose) was a few copies of the magazine. Because I barely find time to read novels, I don’t normally read the magazines, but this time I read a bit, and among my browsing I started a poem.

Maybe I could have tried harder. I read a page—and pardon me if I think I’m not a stupid reader—but after a page I thought “what the fuck is this about?” Like so much modern poetry that I’ve read, it seemed like it was supposed to mean something, only I was too dumb to understand it. So I stopped reading.

Will it seem irritating to you, or even obnoxious, when I post a poem below that exceeds reality? The difference, I believe, is that in this case, when the poem seems strange and surrealistic, it’s supposed to. That’s it. Don’t try to make more of it. Think of it as reading a kaleidoscope. Think of it as eating a bowl of dictionary while stoned.

Waiting For Rain

She stands on the tide as it rolls,
her hair full of sparks from a storm.
She was born as a child of warm soil,
yet she feels more at home in cold water.
The bright smile she shows me at noon
seemed cryptic that morning in mist.

She seems to remember the stories
of babies who wake up their mothers
with whispers about other worlds,
where you almost know something is real.
Some things she secretly writes down,
hoping that angels will read it,
waiting to hear their sad sighs.

She won’t speak unless the rain falls.
Then her voice is like silver and gin.
I’m putting out buckets and waiting for rain.
There’s things I don’t know
and things to be gained.

The smell of cinnamon hurts her eyes,
and diamonds make her weak.
When I tell her how lovely she sounds,
she shows me the knife in her boot,
but unlike the knife in my pocket,
hers only cuts in the dark.

She has a jar of buttons
from clothing she wore in the sun.
She takes out the buttons at night
and holds them a while in the dark,
while she sits naked and shivering.
The buttons are shaped like the future,
and she squeezes them tight in her fist.

She won’t speak unless the rain falls.
Then her voice is like silver and gin.
I’m putting out buckets and begging for rain.
There’s things I don’t know
And things to be gained.

She’s helpful and lovely and wise,
except for the odd-numbered days
when she sulks about cars that are green.
She’s wild and she’s free and she’s absent.
I’ve learned not to question those moods.
She watches the water with interest,
and sometimes she looks at the boat.

I’ve collected the buckets,
I’m waiting for rain.
There’s things I don’t know
And much to be gained.

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Filed under Not Real Poetry

Particle People

quantum humanWhen we look at various breeds of dogs, we see them as remarkably different from one another, but perhaps the dogs see it otherwise. Does a chihuahua look at a golden retriever and think, “I greet you, o fellow dog, with bottom sniffs”? If dogs do see one another as merely fellow dogs, then they are far more advanced than human beings, with all the differences we hate among ourselves.

Even if we cannot meet the the moral standards of dogs, we do share one thing with them—we are extremely interested in our own species. On TV, in movies, in books, in the vapid chirpy drone of pop songs, we want to know about human beings.

I’m that way, and I don’t even have a dog as a role model. For me an interest in people lies at the foundation of everything I write, as a single question: “What does it mean to be human?” I don’t conceive of that question as regarding the meaning of life (if there is such a thing), but rather the question concerns what it is like to simply be here, to be human at all. I think about the existence of human beings in many ways, and while the list below doesn’t even begin to explore the permutations, it shows some possible approaches.

Quantum mechanics: Like all matter, we are made of quantum particles, which we are told mysteriously pop in and out of existence. So the particles that make up our body are going in and out of existence. Wait…what? What does that say about us?

Chemistry: Those same particles create atoms, which move in and out of molecular combinations in our bodies about a bazillion times a second (to round off). At that atomic level, there is a lot of randomness, so if, for instance, a molecule drifts to the left, it may combine with another molecule and something happens. Or if by random chance it drifts to the right, nothing happens. Is this molecular reaction truly random, or do you believe that molecules drift according to fate? A bazillion times a second.

Biology: Our molecular bodies are made of the same elements we can see on the ground as we walk, with this inconceivable difference—those elements on the ground have become grouped together in such a way as to walk around and think about themselves. Think about that.

Individual person: There are seven billion people on the earth, and every single one of them feels in some way alone. Everyone also feels like the very focus of existence. After all, no one else is sitting where I sit, feeling exactly what I feel, no one else has my memories, is afraid of what I’m afraid of, desires exactly what I desire. Doesn’t that make me unique? There are seven billion unique people.

Society: We try to avoid that sense of aloneness by being in groups and by connecting with other people. In groups we also magnify our inherent goodness as well as our inherent evil. It takes many people working together to play a symphony or to run a concentration camp. Sometimes we can also appear to be in a group because so many people surround us, yet we feel sick with loneliness.

Spirit: One of the paradoxes of our existence is that we feel we are more than a body made of dirt. Even the most cold nihilist declaring that the mind is nothing but chemical reactions—even such a person doesn’t actually feel that way. You can say we’re nothing more than the chemical reactions of neurons, but I’ll give you a Mozart symphony, a quilt in a flowered pattern, a Japanese garden, or an apple pie with ice cream, and if you don’t find something spiritual in all that, then you deserve the dirt you’re made out of.

Soul: Do we have a soul? Whenever I see children smiling I always think yes we do. I would never try to convince anyone of my belief, but here’s how it is for me: I can close my eyes and lift off the earth, fly through space, I can watch rainbows a thousand lightyears wide wash across a galaxy, I can smell the perfume of angels, or I can hear ants singing. Suppose these things don’t exist, and yet I have them in my head. For me such things are real, just as the soul is. After all, the quantum particles of my body are blinking in and out of existence, but here I am.

How many possible novels are there in that list? I count at least 7 billion.

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Filed under Writing While Living

Burritos and Kittens and a Life of Endless Inspiration

man writing

Look how hard I’m working

Now that I have a novel out and Oprah is trying to call me (I haven’t taken her calls yet because I’m using a strategy of coy anonymity to increase interest, like Thomas Pynchon), I’m thinking about what to do next. Now that I’m living in a fantasy world of imaginary fame and all.

I could plan how to spend all that money. At the moment I’ve earned enough to go to Chipotle and have a burrito, as long as I don’t get chips. Or at least I will have that much if the person who told me they’re going to buy the book goes ahead and buys it. Just in case things pick up, I’ve also written down the address of the Mercedes dealership. Picture that—driving up to Chipotle. “Yo, gimme two burritos. With chips.”

I ordered a few copies of the book myself, because I want to send some to friends, and the books came yesterday by UPS, a loud banging on the door, rousing me from my sleepy little beer nap. I opened the box, took them out, and wow…so book like. And that cover, man, it makes me want to read the book. Or it would, if I hadn’t already read it about a hundred times while working on it.

The important thing with a book, whether it’s self published or put out by a big ol’ New York publisher is to publicize it, to let people at least know it exits, so that they can ignore it consciously. Marketing, that is, the sort of thing a person who writes would naturally love doing. I was thinking of it as similar to going to Chamber of Commerce meetings to shake hands, act like you’re smiling, and force your business card on people who don’t really want it. I used to do that when I was looking for a job and loved it, just loved it.

Part of my razor sharp, bullet proof, meticulously calculated marketing plan is to stand on the street corner and when people walk by I’ll look at them with my eyes really wide, like those velvet paintings of kids with big heads.

No, seriously, I’m going to go to independent book stores and give a copy of the book to the owner. Will doing this help? I do not know. But it won’t hurt, and it’s my idea for the moment, in addition to spending lots of time at poetry readings for a chance to mention the novel.

What I really want to be doing is sitting right here in this chair, listening to this Pandora station, with a bowl of cashew nuts, working on a new novel. I’m actually writing much less than I wish, in part from spending time on the marketing. I also have a job now, a good job, and as I’ve said to people several times, the only negative thing about my job is that I have to go to work. If not for that, I would write more, in addition to doing a better job keeping up with kitten photos on the internet.

It feels familiar to me to only have a little time in the evening for seriously writing. I wrote that way for decades, so when dinner is over, lunch is made for the next day, clothes are laid out, and so on—at a time, that is, when normal people are settling down to watch TV, or fall asleep—I try to get a second wind, look at my notes, focus on the story, read the last few pages, and keep going. It can seem incredibly slow, with only one paragraph written some evenings, or less, but I know it works if you keep at it. I’ve written several novels this way.

I’m back at work on the most recent book, which I’ve been working on for maybe two years and not even remotely near to finishing. In fact, I just started over in a way, writing new chapters, though I’ll incorporate some of what is already written. I’m focusing in on two characters, slowly making myself get rid of the other characters who I like so much, but who scramble the story. I think Tolstoy has been a bad influence on me.

I’m writing, though, and everything seems better when I do that. Then I feel like I’m in my place in the world.

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Filed under Giving Birth to a Book (That's Why I'm Screaming), Writing While Living

Go, Litel Book

The Illusion of Being HereI stole the title for this blog entry from Chaucer (no, I paid him). It wasn’t as easy to find the quote as I expected, in spite of Our Lord and Master, the Internet. The title is a line from Chaucer’s poem “Troilus and Criseyde” (written in the 1380s), but in trying to figure out exactly how to spell the words, I found versions that looked like the original Middle English, with the word “book” spelled booke, bok, and boke. It’s actually possible, though, that Chaucer might have used different spellings. They had fewer English teachers in those days.

And now I’ve sent my own litel boke, The Illusion of Being Here, into the world. I wrote the book in 2003, and since then I’ve worked on it from time to time, and now it is time that it go. So that it will not be as lonely as litel bokes almost always are, I’ve set up a website to keep it company, at

So far the book is available on Amazon, both in ebook—or eboke—format (if you have a Kindle) or in actual-real-book paperback. I’m working on having more ebook versions as well as other places to buy it, but anyway it’s out. You can fly to Brazil, take a canoe upriver, and get a copy, if you don’t mind an occasional poison arrow from the shore. I recommend the paperback version because, well…I’ve asked the locals not to shoot as many arrows at people who buy real books.

I’ve waited an awfully long time for one of my books to appear in public, and now that one has, I can tell you honestly that I feel a need to practice being tough and hard, because anytime you appear in public, no matter what you’re doing, you’re out there for people to tell you how lousy you are, or how much they hate you.

Publishing a book has been, and continues to be, very educational, in the same way that time in prison might be educational. My God, what a tsunami of tedious detail. Unless you like that sort of thing. If it ever crossed your mind to write a book, did it also cross your mind to think about how wide it would be? I had to know that. I pulled a book off my shelf and thought “I like this size” so I measured it, and that’s what I went with.

The publishing part of this isn’t done, but I won’t poison your time with the details. If you decide to read it and like it, tell one hundred people about it (or consider adding a review on Amazon). But if you read it and don’t like it, even your mama don’t want to know that.

The Illusion of Being Here takes place in Charleston, South Carolina, and in Moscow (I’ve been to both places, though more often to Moscow). One of the characters is a diplomat who meets a witch in Moscow, and later in Charleston as he and his cousin search for a letter from Catherine the Great, he starts to understand some of the things the witch told him.

Here is a small excerpt:

“But you couldn’t know I was coming over here,” he said. “I didn’t even know until a half hour ago.”

She looked harder at him, and he remembered seeing those eyes, one green and one blue. “Why do you think I couldn’t know that?” she said. “Do you want to see it?”


Filed under Giving Birth to a Book (That's Why I'm Screaming), Writing While Living