Tuesday, June 23, 2009

49, 48, 47

Three books this week. I'm officially on the slope downward.

Becoming Enlightened: Dalai Lama -I was supposed to keep a moratorium on philosophical/religious texts. They're slow going. You have to think about it. Otherwise, there isn't much point.

This is basically a more detailed overview of the path of being a Buddhist and works out some of the why --though with the lama's usual proviso: It's better to stick with the religion of your own culture if you can.

I got a lot out of it, but mostly it would be prattling to try and explain why it works for me. Suffice to say, the book gave me some comfort and illuminates my purpose. Rock on.

A Voyage Long and Strange: Tony Horwitz -A history and travel writer's retracing of the discovery, conquest and colonization of America by the vikings (roughly 1000 AD), the Spanish (roughly 1500), the French (mid-1500s) and eventually the English (1600s).

It's a fascinating look at the history that has been mostly ignored in average history class rooms. I learned a bunch, including about "The Black Legend" and "The White Legend" of Spanish conquest and the on-again/off-again nature of Columbus's popularity as an icon. I also got a good snootful about the basic universality of European cruelty and barbarism against indigenous peoples, who were largely pretty decent to the assholes who showed up uninvited. They didn't start getting angry until after their village stores and burial sites had been looted a couple of times.

It also managed to give more complex portraits of the men who came to conquer. Sure, they were greedy, homicidal and amazingly short-sighted, but they were also resourceful, brave and resilient. They were also the products of their time. It's difficult to completely condemn the conquistadors as murderers when the world of 1500 was all about domination and subjugation.

The book provided lots of little inside tidbits and showed how the marks left 500 years ago by explorers and lunatics, still remain in parts of the Americas. It was both horrifying and hilarious. Often, the history of European discovery of the West reads like a Monty Python skit gone terribly wrong.

The Monster Loves His Labrynth: Charles Simic -I don't read enough poetry and this really isn't Simic's poetry, but poetic sketches and random musings from his notebooks. Some are funny. Others are profane or touching. As might be expected, it runs a little on the self-absorbed side about the vocation of being a poet, but an interesting look at how Simic sees things.

Monday, June 22, 2009

From the crater

As expected, the past week mostly sucked. There's been a lot of turmoil and frustration, which has a funny way of translating itself into dreams and the music in my head. I keep dreaming about the same two people -neither of whom I've seen in ages.

This is all pretty much normal for the time of year, but I'm glad July is just over the horizon. The future always looks more promising than the present, even when it's the apocalypse. In the spirit of hopefulness, I sent off another five queries for my book this afternoon.

This, actually, was funded by my father --who slipped a couple of bucks in with a birthday card this time around. It covered the postage. Gracias, Dad.

The new book, which I am not going to talk about until I have a working story, is going okay. I'm taking it slowly and allowing a lot of free writing, but without much revision just yet. I want to get to the ending before I start slicing and dicing.

As for my other work... right now, the Cartersville stories work best as a collection of short stories and maybe a novella. I've got about ten of them, I think, which can stand alone and could probably use a punch up to get a little creepier. It's a fun place for me to visit, but a full-blown novel feels artificial at this point. I sent the first four off a few weeks back to Weird Tales in hopes at least one of them would attract some attention. So far, nothing...

I also sent a note to RELIX magazine. I'm headed to ALL GOOD in a couple of weeks. I almost wrote a story for them about it last time, but then they green lit the thing after the fact --not really sharp on their part. So, we're trying again.

Call this the silver lining of a life of regular failure: at least, I'm failing at something as opposed to succeeding at nothing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


So, it's my birthday...

It could have been worse. So far, there has not been bloodshed. I did get taken to lunch and I had pie for breakfast. Coworkers hooked me up with a couple of nice and weird birthday cards, and I spent part of the morning dressed in lederhosen.

This is all in the plus column.

In the minus column, it's been a rough week at points and the very thoughtful card my grandmother sent me was lost and probably devoured by our new dog --along with the check inside. Ouch.

It doesn't matter. I'm not meant to have two dimes to rub together. This is my lot.

There are no big plans tonight: no party, no celebration of any kind. I'll go home and make dinner after I buy some groceries. My mantra today has been: no matter what, you shouldn't have to eat beans on your birthday. After that, I'll do a load of laundry, wash up the dishes, clean up after the dog and help get everyone to bed. If it's not too late, I'll write for an hour or two, play my computer game (thanks again Corey) or catch up on my reading. I'll stay up until I can't stand being awake any longer, until the dark is deep and the quiet strangles the sound of even the crickets.

So much for 39.

At least, this year I wasn't overdrawn at the bank, wasn't sick, and didn't have to work tonight. Nothing I've written today should result in legal action. Overall, this one goes in the plus column. It was good enough.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Still, only one book this week. I'm in a slump brought on a recent flurry of creative energy and some decent orange soda.

The Virgin Suicides: Jeffrey Eugenides -This one is a re-release. I found it on the dreaded "new releases" section of the library and had been meaning to pick it up for years, but just never got around to it. I never saw the movie.

I liked it. The Virgin Suicides deals with obsession, angst and the unseen pressures of a traditional home life. It's funny, touching and shocking.

The story revolved around the five Lisbon sisters, their parents and a group of teenage boys fascinated by the girls, whom they watch and secretly worship. The five Lisbon sisters are like fish in bowl or hamsters in cage, continuously observed by the outside world and controlled by their environment. They're virtual prisoners and grow desperate and weird under the weight of the strain to be all those things they're supposed to be to all people.

Oddly, the girls don't seem particularly depressed, just under siege, a little annoyed and disappointed. Suicide becomes their method to rebel against their parents, the community and even their admirers. It becomes their particularly twisted and sadistic revenge.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


OK, so I lied about taking a break. Embrace the fear. Just move forward and do what you have to.

As friends, family and attorneys engaged by former legal relatives know by now, I tend to get a little more self-absorbed than usual around my birthday. It's not getting old. I don't care, though I kind of miss having my summers off. My birthday is just a train wreck of misery that seems to burn through what could be a really nice month. Lately, I've taken to managing it -like it's diabetes or a really bad skin condition.

It helps to consider that since it's your birthday, you're responsible for whatever cakes, gifts and party favors. On the upside, if I work out the details, there's a better chance I get what I want.

I'm a Buddhist -not a great Buddhist -but still a Buddhist. It makes sense to me. Anyway, in my recent studies, I've been reading more about karma. The thing with bad karma that gets missed in the popular interpretation is the bad things you do to poison your present or future also poison the lives of others. Karma is all about action and intention.

Most of the time we're all generating tons of karma just by breathing and being us. Just as we never completely know the repercussions of the good things we do, we never completely know the effects of the bad. Karma is a mystery. We can't see the source, but sometimes we can. Sometimes we know when our actions have caused harm. The worst kind of bad karma, I think, is the kind that festers, the stuff you've done that you never take care of, that you weasel out of or rationalize as a mistake made when you were young or drunk or both.

Really, if it was okay, you wouldn't think about it. These things burn and radiate like hot coals in your conscience. You always remember the people you meant to fuck over or hurt --even if doing so wasn't really about hurting them, but was just about doing what you thought you needed to do or even just what you wanted.

I've been thinking a lot about that: making good on some of my old debts to see if I can fix the messes I caused. The bonus challenge is going to be to make good even when they don't know I did anything. Sometimes the harm wasn't evident, but that doesn't make it OK.

I have no idea where this leads. I'd like to hope that it makes something better for someone. Maybe it does nothing but makes me feel better. I'm OK with that, too, but it would be great if by paying off the "karmic debt" I improved someones circumstances. So, that's my birthday gift to myself --a quest to do a few good deeds to counteract the bad deeds I did once upon a time.

So, another list for me to write... and a few stories at the end of it all. Not a bad gift and it fits.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Annual event

I hate my birthday. Most years, it's my karmic low point. Things go wrong. Things get bad. While Winter is typically the season where I have to white knuckle it all the way through as far as my finances, the weeks around my birthday are worse. This is when my car will suddenly need a new exhaust system, someone I know will die and that one check I wrote six months ago I've forgotten about will inexplicably post out of the blue and send my bank account into a tailspin.

This is where my luck runs out --most of the time. I've come to expect it.

Worse, there is little anyone can do to help. My wife has tried a couple of times, but the bad mojo gets stuck to her more often than not. I become withdrawn and not as appreciative of her efforts as I ought to be.

And sure, I've tried forgetting it. I've tried rationalizing since I'm a Buddhist, it doesn't matter. It's all just an attachment. That hasn't worked so far. Ignoring it doesn't make it go away. Somewhere in my imperfectly rigged mind I think I deserve to have one really good day every year. I have a lot of bad days. You'd think there'd be some sort of symmetry.

Anyway, it's starting again: the weird, bad luck. I thought I was going to draw a good year this time around. I do get those (about 1 in 5 or 6). I'm overdue, but I don't think it's happening. So... I'm not blogging about it. I'll do my book count (which isn't much more than what I've been doing lately), but that's it until I'm safely and sanely into July.

I hate June. See you on the other side.

PS: Looks like I was wrong about the tolerance thing in Charleston. Nobody read the drag queen story. I'm guessing somebody must have brought it up in a sermon or a meeting. The story ran over a week ago, but the comments didn't start trickling in until Tuesday. It really took off this morning. They weren't as bad as the k.d. lang fans, but funnily enough, some of them were along the same lines. Just kind of disappointing.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Another slow week. It happens. I'm not worried.

Tweak: Nic Sheff -- Well, not exactly a feel good book about overcoming obstacles. Tweak is an autobiographical account of one man's addiction to meth (and just about anything else he can shove down his throat or shoot in his arm).

Nic Sheff could have been a golden boy. He grew up in a good family, well-connected to the entertainment industry and decidedly upper middle-class in the way it was meant to be lived. People who can take month-long vacations to Hawaii are doing just fine, I think. Of course, Nic is a fuck-up, who uses drugs, uses people and makes one bad choice after another. It's not funny. It's not really even all that interesting to watch him do it.

The book, surprisingly, lacks grittiness. Certainly, it gives a lot of attention to the sudden, barely remembered ways he manages to torpedo relationships. He fucks family and friends over time and time again while either on drugs or while trying to get money to buy drugs. However, Sheff distances himself from the things he finds distasteful in retrospect --like selling his ass to gay men-- and instead focuses on petty larceny and theft. Not to say, stealing from your stepfather isn't bad, but if the message of the book is "don't do drugs because..." prostitution for drugs with freakish-looking men sounds a lot more convincing an argument not to do meth.

He also barely seems to give a shit in retrospect for the damage he did. I don't get a sense of much feeling of responsibility. It was always just the damned drugs, which may or may not have their roots in how he was raised by a too permissive buddy father and a cold, distant mother. Blah, blah, blah... It's always something.

My preferences for the author to debase himself a little more in print for my amusement aside, the book feels incomplete. There isn't much of a resolution. He goes to rehab --again. Maybe it sticks this time. Maybe it doesn't. There's not really a sense of closure.

This all sounds like I hated the book. I didn't. Overall, I liked what Sheff did. He just could have done a lot more.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Gay, Gay, Gay...

Well... so far, the fire storm of criticism and hostility I was told to expect today hasn't come. It doesn't mean it won't come, but so far -no e-mails, no phone calls, no flaming bricks tossed through the window (which would be fine. I'm well away from any kind of natural light in this place).

Why was I told to expect a stinker of a day here? Well, I wrote a story about a drag queen. What the hell, it's gay pride week. I figured if I can celebrate Christmas without being a Christian I could celebrate this gay holiday without ever wanting an elf to come unwrap my package. You can read about it here.

And the drag queens were nice people. I expected over-the-top antics, but really they were friendly, down-to-earth and nothing but respectful of the lone straight man in the room, who could not help but be a bit awkward. It was a little strange, but still a pretty good time. One of them even told me where I could get a decent cheeseburger on the other side of the county.

As far as the lack of hate mail, I want to take that as a hopeful sign -not so much for me getting through the day without being threatened with bodily harm, but for how people are willing to accept differences a little more. I'm hopeful.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Navel gazing

I've been thinking about the things I like to read. Of late, my favorite non-fiction usually deals with depravity, drug addiction and various kinds of human suffering. My favorite fiction isn't much better, though with both I make conscious choices to find stuff that is mainstream or useful. I read against what I'm drawn to.

So, why do I like reading about lepers, meth addicts, child soldiers and prison bitches? I don't do it because I like to watch people suffer. It is seldom I am not moved and even uplifted by their survival. It's pretty rare that I seek out something where the author didn't make it through.

Maybe I look for something awful to give context to my own life, to compare it against. I'm not really suffering. I'm not missing meals. Nothing is falling off and no one is threatening to have me killed. My issues are banal: money, relationships, work, self-esteem. Having a clear idea of what real agony is like is a balm against bitching too loudly about your stupid fate. It's pretty easy to tell yourself to shut the fuck up, when it's just dog shit on the floor to clean up and not your own bloody teeth. Worrying about the gas bill is less scary than worrying about getting poked in a prison shower by a nut with the tattoo of Richard Nixon on his stomach. You might feel like a slave at home. You might feel unappreciated, but at least nobody is shooting at you because they think you stole their dope.

It just strikes me as weird. I used to like reading science fiction; happy little tales about fighting for the future. Now, I like books about cannibals. I like books that offer realistic looks at history, where people were often careless, conniving and opportunistic. I like books about environmental disaster and how it's pretty much a given, we're fucked.

The things we read for leisure are the things we dream about. It just seems odd that I don't really dream about the future any more. It feels weird that I want to remember the past as being treacherous.

I guess it could be worse. I could be reading about politics.

Monday, June 1, 2009


A slow week brought on by too much time spent goofing off in front of the computer. Only one book this week.

Pygmy: Chuck Palahniuk - Imagine the movie sixteen candles foreign exchange student as a secret operative sent to kill Americans. Well, that's pretty much Pygmy. Palahniuk is back in form with this strange book about a terrorist sent to the U.S. as part of the student foreign exchange program. The country he's from is irrelevant, though it's something between Maoist China, Breznev era USSR and modern North Korea. Everybody over there hates everybody over here for being overfed, sexually warped and immoral assholes.

As far as satire goes, Palahniuk does a pretty good job of nailing America up on its cross for its sins. We're flighty and faddish. We're scary, thick-headed, and more than a little oblivious to the damage we casually do all over the globe. Even so, a lot of countries still want to get into our pants, even if they also want to kill us.

It's a pretty odd book, one of his better, though the pseudo-foreigner language patterns loses its charm after about a third of the way through. It becomes a little tiresome trying to translate the awkward, obscured phrasing, though it's often funny --in the same way Long Duck Dong was funny in Sixteen Candles.

Once this infernal 100 books is over I'll probably go back and re-read it.