Web Site Remodel
Welcome to my remodeled web site. Leaner. Some things are in different place. Some things aren't here any longer. That's the way it goes. Check it out. I'll be migrating/adding more articles and other items as the calendar moves across the sky.
When I first crossed the border between the United States and Mexico in 2011, driving a Toyota Matrix, I was startled by how the semi trucks, coming from the opposite direction on a two lane highway, crossed into the middle of the road to get around a slower moving vehicle. There was enough space on the shoulder to avoid a head on collision (I’m here, aren’t I?), but I didn’t know at the time that “sharing” the middle of the road was an accepted practice.
These days, I do the same thing. When I travel the highway between Dolores Hidalgo and San Diego de La Unión, I pass tractors and slow moving truck junkers by straddling the no-man’s zone between one side of the highway and the other. Oncoming traffic moves over. I know the drill and so do they.
A single incident imprinted my life and changed it forever
The most significant moment of my life arrived one night many years ago when I was in my house alone. It arrived abruptly, unexpectedly. I was compelled to make an immediate yes or no decision. Yes for trust in something new, irrational – or no to stay hunkered down with the roots of my reality. I was twenty nine one years old.
How I started my wandering years through North America
About a forty nine years ago, on my way out of the military, the plane flew over the ocean and landed us at a military base in South Carolina. The brass asked me if I wanted another flight back to Los Angeles where my military stint had started three years before. If not, I’d get some extra money.
Easy choice. “Give me the money,” I said. I didn’t need, or want, a ride home.
Besides, I didn’t really have a home. My family was scattered and we were never that close. Plus, I wanted out. Now. Even a few more hours of flight to the west coast was too much.
If we can for the moment push the idea of human consciousness into the garden, we can see (anthropomorphically speaking) that a freshly planted tree understands – or at least believes – that its roots have entered the depths of the soil despite the fact that its penetration into the earth can be measured in inches.
When a human being explores the depths of their understanding and attempts to probe deeper to find previously unrealized realizations regarding the barrier between reality and the cage in which the human mind often finds itself, they are starting from a particular point, an island shore if you will, and they frequently do not have the experience and perspective to cross an entire ocean in one leap.
In the summer of 1970, when I was 18 years old, I walked down to my local Army recruiting station and signed up for a three year hitch. I had some vague, noble notions of serving my country, other urges of moving from youth into manhood, the desire to vent an amorphous anger with three round bursts, but my main objective was to make my father (a world war II vet) proud. One thing that I never expected, asked for, nor wanted was public acclaim. I knew as well as anyone that soldiers returning home during this era of the Vietnam war were often reviled for participating in what was broadly seen as an unjust action.
Four and a half decades later, I saw a post on social media of a soldier holding a cardboard sign asking for viewers to “like this picture.” “We need your support,” it read. Following were thousands of comments, mostly of the “thank you” or “God bless you” for your service variety.
I've been an outsider my whole life and I see no reason why that's going to change now - or why I'd want itto for that matter.
First thing they say is I need a university title, otherwise I'm lazy or a rebel or a goddamn insurgent who fucks rules in the ass with a screwdriver. Yet here I am crabbing away without one. Title, I mean. Got a whole collection of screwdrivers.
Don't get me wrong, friends. I'm a regular nice guy who likes pets, and doesn't beat his wife. But some days I get pretzel bent when I see the inanity and mediocrity that passes as thought these glorious days, crawling across my screen like a parade of insatiable ants.
Allow me to state up front that I’m not an expert on the culture wars. I’m not a specialist on what separates one faction from another in the ongoing conversation about who’s more aggrieved and why you should care, or what underrepresented group is more underrepresented than another underrepresented group. Therefore, if I stray from the dictates of what constitutes the so-called woken culture (formerly known as the PC police), please remember that my credentials consist merely of common sense and many years on the planet.
Using simple observation, I have seen more and more how people get upset, even infuriated, over smaller things, as if larger, more important issues that affect entire peoples and the planet itself are too big to take on. It seems that many people believe they must be offended at something. An off color joke. A piece of clothing. A small moment of indiscretion. Even an observation such as a black person isn’t white. For too many, outrage is a requirement these days.
Sometimes I just shake my head. With all the purity tests exacted and all the indignation over everything considered outrageable these days – which is most things – I often wonder how anything gets done.
A few days after Tom Egeland, writer for the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, posted to Facebook the iconic Vietnam War photo of a young girl, Kim Phuc, fleeing a napalm attack, Facebook removed the post and suspended Egeland for questioning their decision.
Much has been written about Facebook’s decision (which they later reversed due to the bad publicity), but the outcry and condemnation missed a vital point. Critics rightly argued that the nudity in the photo is not pornographic in any sense of the word, but is rather an important and powerful statement in respect to our shared history.
This is the part that scares me. If it scares you too, you may belong to my tribe. The tribe of incomprehensible blankness. Oh, I don’t mean blankness of mind, I mean that which is probably worse – blankness of spirit.
Allow me to explain. I have lived a million miles of landmines and have come to expect that the rest of world has too. Probably worse. So I feel that everything I might have to say has been said by people more worthy of their suffering. I’ve been hungry but I haven’t starved. I’ve lived under bridges but it was my choice. I went for many long periods without love, but it was of my own volition.
On September 11, 2001, I was at home in my office in Seattle when I heard the news that planes had crashed into the twin towers in New York. At first I was stunned, like most everybody I suppose. After the initial shock wore off and I had a chance to get some of the emerging details, I realized that this event would change everything, that this event marked the end of the United States as I had known it.
Within months, in the form of the PATRIOT act and the establishment of the Homeland Security Department, new broad and sweeping legislation passed that gave the government powers a nation not in panic would likely have rejected. Many lawmakers, in their hurry to act, didn’t even read what was presented to them. And so the United States, and to a great extent the world, went forth into a new era where fear became the norm, and anything to alleviate it, or even to pretend to alleviate it, became acceptable.
Over the years, I’ve attended many writing workshops, and usually enjoyed them to one degree or another. But little by little, they began to be less helpful. Too many times, the workshop leader attempted to steer the participants into the direction that worked for him or her. They were good writers but not good instructors. For instance, one iconic poet [no point in naming names] said: read the piece you brought to share, but “leave out the bad parts.” Another: “My book costs more than it says because I’m going to sign it.”
Attitudes like this don’t work well with me. I frequently have different ideas and am not afraid to voice them to the teachers, iconic as they may be. Not in an argumentative way, but to present other ways of looking at things, and mostly for the other participants. But some instructors don’t take very well to that, as if we aren’t allowed to have ideas of our own.
It sort of dawned on me recently what it is I don’t like about Facebook, or social media in general. For a long time, I’ve had this sort of inarticulate feeling that I didn’t bother to think about, a sense of looking through a window fogged by the cold into a large house with hundreds of parties going on simultaneously. I can hear but not follow the music; each party has their own sound system blaring as trumpets and tubas compete with screeching guitars and monotonous thumping trance beats to try and capture the fickle electorate of the dance floor.
Despite the noise, I can hear a few voices, but they’re mostly repeating other people’s words as everything is endlessly reposted, mostly without even the an interpretive comment. It’s as if nobody has an original thought any more.
It seems that most people who read poetry want to understand it. They want to be able to “get it.” If you’re at a table discussing somebody’s work, you’re likely to hear comments that focus on the meaning of the piece, comments that either (a) praise the unambiguous language as a direct line to the meaning of the work, or (b) seek to decipher the metaphorical and symbolic significance of the words.
It’s generally in the second case that we run into differences of understanding. It’s here that we enter into the uncertainty of interpretation. And it is here where we find the most complaints of inaccessibility, complaints that the work is not understandable, complaints that are based on a subjective ability to make sense of the words.
Recently, I heard an engaging and sympathetic poem about an old homeless man. As you might imagine, he was run down, shabby, wandering the streets. While listening: I am there, on an avenue in a busy part of the city. I am with the old man. I see his stained corduroy coat, his gray bristled shopworn face, his dirty jeans, and his jagged fingernails. I forget that I am sitting in a chair inside a carpeted room with the heat on. The gray streets, wet with drizzle and busy with colorful streaked cars stare back at me. The old man, as he makes his way through skateboarders, off duty waiters, and bus bench businessmen is a real person with needs, wants, his own brand of pride, a reason for being there – and a reason for living.
The poem then ended with: “Instead of helping him [the old man], I went home and wrote this poem.”
I am so SICK!, I am DYING MA!
Why you ask? Why should I die of an evil, evil illness. Allow me to explain, to stream the resonant reasons on the page. You see….
Odd Fiction For You
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Here's a quick list of currently available items.
- How To Survive The Suicide Lane
- The First Goodbye
- The Illusion of Depth
- The Idolization of Military Service
- Life On The Outside
- The Walking Woken
- The Other Idiocy of Censorship
- Every Man Is An Island
- Our Reaction To Tragedy
- Workshops and Critics
- Choo Choo The Faceboot Train
- Embrace Your Poetic Perplexity
- Insert Poet, Ruin Poetry
- Sick of Sickness