Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Narrows

Here's a load of tripe, committed to destiny
rather than memory, a burden of a round
that goes to ground, unsung, unsingable.
No one wants to hear it now. A solo
for late night wineglass and solipsist.
Resources running low, worries running high,
disappearing starts to appeal. Just run away
from everything, become unknown, become
nobody anyone wants to know. Out there's
a desert not only of conception, but fact.
Sunflowers glazed in heat shimmer. Black rocks.
It's worse on darker days with no visible sun.
Heliotropes, confused, don't know who to follow.
Here's an intruding message from the mail,
reminder that no one gets away with anything.
You pack up all your worries with you. No motor
fast enough to outrun shades you don't want
to look at that lurk in the angles of any room.
The dead use a different kind of geometry.
They can ignore most walls, they run in circles,
although the worst of them, become demonic,
can only move in straight lines, and have to back
up, unwieldy tractors, to truck new angles
at the temple door, again and again. It's alright.
The sacred precincts are all out in the wilds,
all god's buildings erect by men are just decoys.
Nothing in there but field recordings. You can't expect
your weaker congregants to climb that mountain
every time. Little revelations come from littler gods.
It takes a real mountain to make a restless soul
into a rooted, deeply sourced well. Eventually
you run out of metaphors, left with just the facts
of change and worry. Don't expect to unpack
those bags too soon. What's learned can be
unlearned, but hangovers outlast a binge.
My scars remember every wound I'd forget,
if I could. Can't run too far on legs that limp,
muscles cramped and clenched on the past.
Time's required to undo each knot, time first
to crawl before you fly. Down in the arroyo,
long narrow passage dark before a waterfall,
shoulders curve under time's old weight, but
the rocks themselves support you, little gods
made of sand and time. The passage is too narrow
to allow for slouch. Stand tall or get stuck.
Even if you want exhaustion's weep,
there's no room. The geometry of surrender
is all upright. Then you're released, on your
knees again, but the air's fresh, wet and bracing,
here's a waterfall, let it do your weeping.
I don't know how to end this round, it's all
a circling intensity, a spiral labyrinth,
light and shade spun in a textured mist.
Go to ground, begin again. Silent song,
secret song, snow and stone, sung around.

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Happy Helloween from Spooksville

Happy Helloween from all the deadbeats down in Spooksville!
Just a quick vid for all the spooks on All Hallow's Eve.
Video brewed and soundscape decanted by Arthur Durkee 2013.

Just some gratuitous spooky fun. . . .

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Aubade of the Ghost of Loss

Some perilous joy, algorithm of loving,
of conscious geometry of tide and thigh and sand,
delicious salts of ecstasy,
sunlit, triple-mooned, quivering, solid,
this strand of pearl and praise, islets
adrift and melting, chocolate into ocean.

I quiver at our mutual agony, memory.
But you, you killed me, again and again,
fear creating you into what could not companion.
So lost, that room with one bed and three windows,
so lined with blind curtain and Venetians.
There was a time I wanted you or nothing.

Now this echoing re-emergence, so unfair, immaculate
resonant wipe out everything that ever happened.
We worked hard to retrieve forgiven mutuality.
It doesn't mean to work, this quiet mistrust silenced
and obscured. It means to forget, as though moving,
water like a brush on papyrus and wood, on.

Make it never happened. Make it gone. Demon lover,
I cannot let you back into my life. As though nothing.
It's the morning of a midnight just past. Dark, cold,
mysterious with spirits moving across the face of water.
How can you come back, once given and quit,
except to haunt, this night of a morning unasked.

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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Novels Are Not Non-Linear Enough

(This rumination was inspired by an essay by Jim Murdoch on how long it should take to write a novel.)

I love reading novels, although I think the ideal length for a novel is the novella, and most of what we get these days is pretty bloated. I read and re-read certain authors on a regular basis, and many of these are authors of novels. I'm pretty much always reading at least one or two novels at any given time. I read faster than most people, I have discovered, so I can read a lot more than many people do. I read broadly, with no loyalty to any genre of novel-length fiction except that which excites, illuminates, stimulates, and surprises.

I'm drawn to Virginia Woolf's least "narrative" novels, such as "The Waves," but also to "To the Lighthouse," one of the greatest novels ever written about the tension between the artist's temperament and the non-artist's inability to comprehend that temperament. I've read all of James Joyce, and most of Samuel Beckett. I've read all of E.M. Forster multiple times. I watch Doctor Who. I read theoretical physics, for fun, and because I'm interested in it and can understand the concepts if not all of the math. Richard Feynman is not over my head, but that's mostly because he was such a gifted teacher and thinker. I've read many of Michael Moorcock's books, including his literary criticism essays. I've read pretty much all of Nikos Kazantzakis, fiction and non-fiction alike, drawn to it because of his courageous encounters with the unknown mysteries that some call mysticism and others call existentialism. I read Peter Matthiessen's novels as well as his creative nonfiction, since he is a master of both. I read all of Jim Harrison's books, finding a voice therein that I feel kinship to out of similar experience and background, who is also different enough that I am stimulated with new ideas and directions of thought.

I read a lot of novels. Yet I don't read many bestsellers, as I find them very predictable. I don't many thrillers, which is what we call adrenaline-inducing suspense fiction written in the very plain "no-style style" of naturalistic narrative nowadays. And I don't read much "literary fiction," the genre of "naturalistic" fiction set in the present day, usually set in The Big City, that defines itself as being the only genre of narrative fiction that is not in fact a "genre" (as opposed to those categories booksellers use to help you find the books easier on their shelves: mystery; science fiction; self-help; etc.). In most thrillers and many mystery novels I usually figure out Whodunit well before it's revealed to the reader; the only time I don't know in advance of the reveal is when the perpetrator is deliberately concealed behind a screen of distractions, as I find most Agatha Christie type of mystery novels to do. I find John D. McDonald's and Raymond Chandler's mystery novels to be far more compelling, because they are character-driven rather than puzzle-driven, wherein sometimes their plots aren't very linear, their heroes and villains neither one-dimensional nor easily predictable. In most mainstream literary fiction, I am drawn to the outliers (Matthiessen, Kazantzakis, etc.) almost because they are considered outliers, a little bit odd, not quite in the mainstream. I was originally drawn to the Beats for the combined reasons that they were literary outlaws, and because several of them were openly practicing homosexuals. We find our (literary) role models where we can.

I do like to read stylistically experimental fiction (William S. Burroughs, Samuel R. Delany, Richard Brautigan, etc.), and metafiction (Jorge Luis Borges, etc.), but not because it's obscure and difficult—indeed, if I find it to be obscure mostly for the sake of being obscure, a kind of stylistc mannerism rather than form dictated by content, I throw it away—but because experimental fiction uses language poetically, in ways that shapeshift your mind into different ways of perceiving and experiencing reality. (Which is something that science fiction written from an alien species' viewpoint does too, at its best.) I like to experience thinking from inside the alien mind, even if that alien is a human from a different culture, or from a radically different psychology. I like to be surprised, and to experience new ways of thinking, of being.

So I read a lot of speculative fiction—which is usually called science fiction, or fantasy—because it puts your inside a completely different way of thinking about life better than any other literary genre. Speculative fiction is by definition a literature of ideas. Speculative fiction at its best gets my emotions engaged, because it is still telling a human story, even those told at a distance of centuries in the future, which actually is no more alien a territory than the profoundly human stories given us by Shakespeare centuries in the past. I've heard some critics argue convincingly that some of Shakespeare actually could be called science fiction, for the same reasons that Mary Shellley's "Frankenstein" is considered by many to be the first modern science fiction novel: fabulist tales told of incredible and amazing adventures in places not quite real, either in time or space, in which human beings act out the archetypes of story which such gripping writing that we are captivated and find ourselves mirrored in those distant and strange lives. Speculative fiction engages my intellect and sense of wonder, as well, because it is the literature of ideas. Sometimes it can be literally "wow!" mind-blowing, and you finish a novel that makes you think about things in ways you never had before. It can literally "change your mind," if you're receptive and open to that.

I read a lot of "regional" fiction, stories in specific times and places, stories written by writers strongly associated with particular places on the North American continent that happen to be neither New York City nor Los Angeles, the self-involved centrifugal linear accelerators of anointed Literary Establishment mainstream linear narrative novel writing. I like to read stories in places I know well, places I have lived in, places I love; places like San Francisco (which is always a character in any movie filmed there), Wyoming, New Mexico, Chicago, Ann Arbor, the Great Lakes region including Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin. Fiction set in places where you nod your head in recognition of both name-checked street names and locations, and the habits and customs of the local inhabitants. Of course, by this criterion New York City fiction is very much a regional fiction sub-genre (albeit often a very provincial one), and so is fiction set in Los Angeles. One of the things that draws me to "regional fiction" is, again, that it is marginal, not in the mainstream of the East Coast Literary Establishment. I have lived a significant portion of my life in the "flyover zone" between New York and Los Angeles, and I find that writers living and writing from within the heartlands of the continent often have much more to say to me than do writers of the New England or Southern California literary circles.

I also read a lot of shorter fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction. I probably read (and write) more essay and poetry than anything else.

So I read a lot of novels.

But of all literary forms, the one I am least, LEAST interested in writing is a novel.

Some of that is because I'm not patient enough to want to write something that might years to complete. It's not that I don't work at making art, and work hard at it, and give my complete concentration and dedication to everything I write. It's that I like seeing a project completed, and another one begun. As a writer, the creative process is what engages me, more than does the artistic product.

And there is also the issue of my fundamental mindset: I simply don't think in terms of narrative. I am science-trained and can think very logically and sequentially, but perhaps that's the problem: a carefully constructed linear plot doesn't engage me very deeply because it's too easy to skip ahead logically and figure it out in advance. I don't even think in terms of linear time (between theoretical physics, a lot of reading in mysticism, and Doctor Who, my experience of time hasn't been linear in a very long time), so making a story conform to the norms of a linear narrative simply does not work for me. I liked how Richard Brautigan used to break up narrative into small vignettes, not always strung together in linear sequence. I like Kerouac's stream-of-consciousness in books such as "Big Sur" and "The Dharma Bums," which is more like Virginia Woolf than anything on the New York Times bestseller lists. As a writer, I have no natural "feel" for plot, narrative, or even linear time.

I am not really a storyteller. Well, I am, because every teller of stories is a storyteller, but I'm not a "storyteller" in any conventional meaning of the term. Thomas Merton was a storyteller, so was Kazantzakis, but their stories were told in ways that no one invested in linear narrative fiction would ever really like. The kinds of stories I most like to tell, or to hear, loop around and around themselves, explore ideas from multiple directions, and step "outside" the linear narrative to look at it from a different angle. (Samuel R. Delany's "Empire Star" is a science fiction space opera that does this unlike almost any other, expanding the narrative viewpoint from straightforward linear narration to multiply-layered causal time-loops that drive the original story by making it happen after it had happened.) So when I act as a storyteller, I almost always get bad feedback from people who want easy, linear, narrative stories—I suspect because on one level they're comforting and affirming, a hedge against the chaos of life that gives comfort by giving chaos structure and order and narrative.

Yet Virginia Woolf said, and experience has brought me to emphatically agree: “Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." E.M. Forster in most of his fiction has some sense of unexplainable mystery, a break in the ordinary plot of everyday life, which often cannot be explained but which always has a profound effect on the people involved, from his "The Story of a Panic" culminating in "A Passage to India." Beckett, well, Beckett is actually very funny, people miss that about his writing; but it's gallows humor, hospital humor, the humor of those who have survived the unthinkable void at the center of destroyed lives and need to laugh because it's better than crying. Joyce experimented with stream of consciousness, but in a different direction than Woolf; some say he went too far into the terrain of the unreadable, and some have tried to come up with pat explanations for why he might ventured off the edge as they perceive it.

I am having some short stories published early nest year in a literary journal. But really they're prose-poems, and pretty nonlinear. That's how I think, that's how I write. Not in any normative traditional linear narrative style.

But I'm an artist. I'm heavily trained in science, and I know how to think like a scientist, and think logically and sequentially, but I am an artist.

Art is not engineering.

Engineering can be creative. My favorite uncle was an engineer, an inventor, a builder; I helped him build a deck on his house one summer, which he designed himself, and the deck is still there forty years later. He had a very creative attitude towards all aspects of life, which manifested as a problem-solving approach to many things, and which worked.

I see a problem when artists start to think that what they are doing is problem-solving first and foremost. (I see this a LOT among designers and graphic artists, who are also very creative people but whose work tends to consist of more problem-solving than inspiration.)

One of the reasons I don't read many mainstream literary fiction novels is that I find them depressingly predictable, especially the ones oriented more towards plot than character. I find many substitute style for actually having something worth saying. I've read Don DeLillo, I've read John Updike, Saul Bellow, and many other darlings of the East Coast (meaning New York) Literary Establishment.

So I'll probably never write a novel. It's just not a form that works for me as a writer.

Well, actually, I might. I have it in me to write a science fiction novel, maybe two. I've had the basic idea and plot in my head for years, and someday I might write it. I've started writing it two or three times over the years, only to leave it unfinished due to other things becoming more urgent and important.

Novels are generally not non-linear enough for me. The novelistic fiction that I am most drawn to breaks those "rules" of "naturalistic" narrative rather than affirms them. Like certain theoretical physicists and mystics, I view that entire form of linear progressive narrative to itself be a fiction. Or as Doctor Who once said: "People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but ACTUALLY from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey . . . stuff." Yeah. Exactly.

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In memoriam Dave King

My online poetry friend Dave King has passed over. (Thanks to our mutual friend Jim Murdoch for letting us know.)

This is very sad news. I will miss Dave, as will everyone else who got to know him. I can only speak for his friends online, many of whom became his friends, like myself, because of shared interests in art, poetry, and writing. My sincere condolences go out to his family and friends, and I will be keeping them in my thoughts.

Dave King was a prolific poet, and maintained a long-running blog called Pics and Poems that contained poetry, art criticism and appreciation, memoir, random bits of witty writing, and many close observations of people and nature. Dave's ability to observe and report was something I appreciated immensely.

One of the things that we bonded on was the history of art, of painting in particular, and its multimedia stepchild, ekphrastic poetry, which is poetry about visual art. Dave was sometimes very keen on the photographs I post on this blog, which regular readers know have often spawned haiku or other short poems.

There was always something cheerful about Dave's writing, as well as his online correspondence, that conveyed an unending wonder taken by observing the natural and human world. We commented on each other's blogs, critiqued each other's poems, and once or twice we communicated back and forth as though we were writing letters that were all short poems. More than once he produced a poem, or a comment, that made me laugh when I most needed it.

We shared a love of haiku. His were often funny and observational, mine a little more classically austere.

We also shared a love of writing about nature, and writing inspired by nature. One of our back-and-forth poem trades was haiku about the changing seasons.

We introduced to each other some writers we each liked, especially on the topic of creative nonfiction about nature. A few of these became writers that we equally treasured.

I will miss you, Dave. Have a safe journey, my friend.

The best eulogy I can think of is a poem.

Sometime in early autumn,
the tall tear trees wrap themselves
in wind and sunlight

now paling from summer's height,
thinner and complex,
bristles of a brush,

as though each leaf was endless.
Bones and blades and leaves. It seems
each brushstroke flicks out

past the page's defined edges
as though continued
past where the ink leaves

and subsumes itself in light,
much as we depart, unfinished
selves in the making.

Long strokes of wind make trees bow
low towards the sun.
I hear you smiling

out there somewhere in this light.

(for Dave King)

(Part of the homage in this poem is that it's inspired by some of what we shared and enjoyed. The form is a modified renga, or chain of haiku; note the syllable count. Another part of the homage here is that I went back and looked through some of Dave's comments; a poem and artwork of mine that he particularly liked got me going here. )

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Saturday, October 05, 2013

Dream States

Very, very vivid dreams last night. Full of people in various scenarios. Busy trying to do things and get somewhere, the sort of dream where I need to meet someone, or get somewhere on time, or meet a plane, only things always get in the way, the airport gate keeps getting farther away, delays and misdirections, things crop up you have to get done before you can get to the main thing, I can't find the room in the crowded busy place where the seminar is supposed to happen. And so on. I usually call these frustration dreams.

But in last night's dreams, of which I can retain three or four important scenarios upon waking, there was a difference: for once with this kind of dream I was not feeling frustration or anxiety. These kinds of dreams usually make me feel, while in the dream, frustrated, anxious, annoyed, all of that spectrum of emotion around frustration and being unable to cope. But in these dreams, for once, I didn't feel that way. I felt strong, and forceful, and able to cope, if only by getting stubborn and angry enough to push through despite everything going sideways. So the tone of these dreams was different, even though the scenarios were not. My reactions were different.

Maybe it's because I have enough of that frustration and anxiety in waking life. Gods know I've been more or less continuously triggered since last week, with lots of anxiety, worry and PTSD to fight through during waking hours. So I'll take my attitude in these dreams as a good thing.

The most vivid of last night's dreams took place in a crowded outdoor area, lots of people, something like a hillside concert amphitheater. The crowded event has come under some kind of biologic attack, like a scene in a movie when the aliens invade the movie theater or big city park. I am on the fringe, in and out of the rough scrub along the verge. People are running towards the dark park. We are being urged to escape, although its not clear exactly why. The fighting or turbulence is off in the distance across the landscape. There is something about a biological situation, or experiment, that has gone out of control.

Intercut are flashes of the crowd seen in the bushes at the edge of the park with the open field beyond, seen from the knees down, walking, running, dodging, moving. A pair of legs belonging to a man, seen in glimpse after glimpse between other things. His left foot is changing, becoming monstrous, slowing his walk.

Finally I get to the park exit, near the car park, with one of my friends. I can see my car in the lot just across the highway. People around me and my friends are screaming and running. There is a man who is in the process of becoming a monster, whose body has been changing as he moves. The right side of his body is normal, but the left side of his body has changed into a reptilian humanoid form, scales, red eye, horny claws on elbows and knees, foot like a claw for ripping and tearing. People are running away from him.

I go towards him. I'm feeling adrenaline, but I go near him and ask him if I can help him. It takes awhile for him to realize I am neither attacking nor fleeing. He has some aggression showing in that reptilian eye, but he is not at the moment violent. There is danger there, but it's restrained. I have to say, as calmly as I can, "Can I help you?" several times. But then he stops his march towards the road that leads downtown and slows and looks at me. In difficult speech he tells me he wants to get downtown to confront the bio-scientist who was giving a lecture to the crowd before all hell broke loose. He believes the doctor may be able to fix his changing form, as he may have caused it to begin with. I listen and continue to offer to help. I am thinking of getting him away from the crowd that he is scaring, so I offer to give him a ride. Communications are slow, but eventually that gets through, and he will wait right there with my friend and his friend while I run get my car and pick them up.

This kind of dream, where reptile consciousness enters and starts to manifest, and change people, is often a rising up of the reptile part of the lower brain, the primal unconscious. At least it usually is when I have a dream like this. Throughout the dream I might be afraid but I remain focused and do not panic, while all around me is chaos and other people panicking. I meet the reptile self, and we do connect, and communicate, and agree to work together.

Very ancient beasts, the vast beasts within us, sometimes rise up like this. I have had many vivid and powerful dreams where I've met the vats beasts within. They are the Wild Things, those ancient animal parts of the self. They are an archetype, and need to recognized as such, and acknowledge, and honored, when they appear in your dreams like this.

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