Tuesday, November 29, 2011

These Are My Funnies #10, 11, 12

Here are some more cartoons that I am unable to draw or animate.

#10 (70 seconds): A horse in surgical gear stands close to an operating table. The few lamps propped close by seem too weak to explain the sweat on his long face. The medical tent around him is tight and dark. On the table, a hamburger breathes through a ventilation tube. The hamburger’s legs have been damaged in such a way that they might be salvageable in a different setting but are not in this one. Part of the hamburger’s body is missing and a long incision has been made in his side. The horse stares for a long time at the space just to the left of the table, then looks around. Voices shout from far off but in this tent he is alone. Obviously tormented, he takes up a scalpel and leans into the hamburger. After a moment the beep of the heart monitor, so regular that we hadn’t noticed it before, becomes one long tone.

#11 (15 seconds): A child in a Santa suit stares into the camera and repeatedly says, “I’m so tired.”

#12 (104 minutes): A woman walks along a row of cubicles, then turns into an open door. “Hey!” she says to the man inside. “What did you need?” “Yeah,” he says, nervous. “I thought,” he says, obviously pulling together all his courage. “Maybe after work we could,” he says, hoping she’ll finish the sentence for him. She doesn’t.

Later in the evening, he leaves the office building alone and trudges toward the parking lot. At home, he opens his computer and types an email to his boss requesting ten days of vacation. He then checks his bank account and finds a somewhat impressive but not exciting sum. He opens a desk drawer and digs through receipts, pencils, unopened mail, until he finds a credit card. He stands and walks toward the door.

Some time passes and the apartment is quiet. Then the door opens and the man lumbers in with two bulky computer monitors stacked in his arms. He unloads these onto his living room couch, then goes back outside. He comes in with two more, and these he places next to each other on the living room floor. He takes the monitors from the couch and places them next to the others in a tight arc, then goes back outside.

Days pass. When we see the man again he is surrounded by a circle of monitors stacked on monitors, by an igloo of monitors. The monitors are so closely packed that the living room is only visible in cracks. The hum of electricity is so strong that we imagine it vibrates the fluid in our eyes. The man fingers a power strip and the dim screens around him all glow to life and suddenly he is seated cross-legged on a sidewalk adjacent to a gorgeously rendered park. The sky is clear and the people zigging around the park are happy and energetic. A Frisbee cuts through the sky over the man’s head and bounces off the hood of a small imported car, which skids to a halt. A young woman gets out, takes the Frisbee from the street, approaches the man, who is still seated on the sidewalk. “Is this yours?” she says, and doesn’t believe him when he says it isn’t. A 95-minute romantic comedy then plays out as the woman sends her live-in boyfriend to the man’s apartment, which is now a house, then sends a friend, then sends herself. Toward the end, when the man has finally won the woman’s love, he reaches to touch her shoulder and tips over one of the monitors forming her jaw. The entire scene holds except for one hole where her face should be and through which he can see a pair of old cereal boxes standing next to his kitchen sink.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Visual Explanations

Helen DeWitt was interviewed by Lee Konstantinou over at the Los Angeles Review of Books. It's worth reading and then rereading. Joey Comeau, Man's Best Friend, Powerpoint, Hysterical Realism, and:
Information design might enable the reader to see the world through the eyes of persons with different kinds of expertise — which is to say, among other things, to see the possibilities for misunderstanding among persons with radically different frames of reference. The alternative, too often, is fiction which presents characters drawn to precision rather than the expression of feeling as obsessive, alienated, autistic, antisocial. It’s hard to believe this impoverished view of the world can lead to great fiction.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Writing Like A White Man Is Even Harder For A White Man

I read this thing, on the internet of course, about race and poetry (sorry, way over simplified).  In the essay the author feels trapped between embodying his identity in his writing and using a language of privilege to do so.  I feel he forgot a very important aspect of poetry and writing and, more generally, life:  it's all a performance.  Our race, our gender, our sexuality, is all performed, internally and externally.  Some of us perform according to roles assigned by society, self, or biology (society is what other people want us to be, self is what ourselves tell us to be, and biology grows us to be).  We play the roles of husband, wife, student, teacher, lover, worker and we play them as close as we can to other performer's expectations.  We play them subconsciously.  We play them hyper-consciously.  These roles make us who we are... Or we can play them.  In writing, we can play them all day long.  In fact, that's all it is:  Play.
I got into a little tiff with someone on the Montevidayo blog once about risk, or danger, or something to that effect, in poetry, and really I don't think anything in American poetry is dangerous or risky.  It's a terrible thing to compare something that is truly risky, like sky diving or unprotected sex with a stranger or war or participating in protests against corporate greed, with anything that happens in a poem.  Poems are play-lands where we say things for fun.  

What's the worst that can happen to us from a poem?
The next, and most bothering, thing I found wrong with the essay was this statement:
"The privilege of whiteness in America—particularly male, heteronormative whiteness—is the privilege to speak from a blank slate, to not need to address questions of race, gender, sexuality, or class except by choice, to not need to acknowledge wherefrom one speaks. It’s the position of no position, the voice from nowhere or from everywhere. In this, it is Godlike, and if nothing else, that’s saying something."
The reality is, that whiteness, maleness, and heteronormativeness do not mean godliness or a position of a blank slate.  I can't ignore my whiteness, maleness, or my sexual preference.  I know my position, and it is not blank, and it is not Godlike.  Knowing from where one is writing should be an important part of writing.  The most important.  If you're going to perform, know your role first, know the roles of others, know how to slip in and out of character.  Ignoring the normal societal roles is the only way to subvert hegemonic demands for easily identifiable and correctable norms (see what I did there? I just played Marxism).  I know that I am white and male and it's terribly hard to justify my own presence in poetry world.  I get sick of all the white dudes that run presses or have books or run reading a series.  It seriously makes me sick.  Why is my voice that important?  I think it's because I know that I am aware, that I don't like the status quo, that I can support other subversive voices.  I know that I want to ruin worlds through words.
There is something I agree with, and I think a lot of people would agree with:
"I don’t possess a vernacular English that’s significantly different from that of plain old Midwestern English. As such, it seems I’m able to write from a perspective that doesn’t address certain realities about myself, and this makes me queasy as anything. The voice in my head is annoyed with the voice in my writing. The voice in my head says I’m disregarding difference, and this feels like a denial of self, of reality, of a basic truth."
Oh man, language is flawed and broken?  Yep, that's true...
I guess the last thing I should say is that in the hierarchy of cultural capital, poetry is on the top, especially when compared to its monetary capital.  Visual, musical, and performing artists make way more money than poets.  Even other writers make way more money.  Poets are the CEOs of cultural capitalism.  Being a poet is, in itself, a position of privilege.  This is also a realization that gets made in the essay:
"It (the previous quote) isn’t exactly intentional. It’s a product of being privileged."
But really, it's a great essay.  It makes you think, makes you feel things, makes you want to write things.  That's what good writing is and does.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Theft by Johannes Lichtman

Johannes Lichtman has a collage/story up at Word Riot entitled "Like a Spilled Purse." With a list of "Works Not Cited." Seems like that could get out of hand. It doesn't, though.

Technology for Reading and Writing, part 1

So I was supposed to meet Kurt Vonnegut my junior year of college. He was scheduled to visit Butler, where Tracy and I both studied creative writing. They told me about it like half a year in advance (the faculty) because they knew I loved him so much. I was asked, perhaps prematurely, if I might like to introduce him, I think. I don't remember the specifics well because I didn't believe it was possible, and so immediately discounted the idea, even as I said "yes yes yes" to whatever it was I'd been offered. It was likely I would shake his hand. The semester Vonnegut was going to come I was taking a class on the works of our visiting writers with Tracy. It was one of those unbelievably easy lit classes you treat yourself to sometimes. Anyway, Vonnegut fell down and soon thereafter died. It was awful. In the visiting writers class, we were supposed to write letters to two of the visiting writers. Well to be honest Vonnegut was the only one I really liked. Mary Karr was fine (we read The Liar's Club) but not my style and I found A Map of the World actively distasteful (with all its imprisoned noble savages and clumsy literary-isms). I wrote to a poet whose work I barely enjoyed then and would most likely hate now, and I wrote to Vonnegut's ghost. The professor passed our letters to the visiting writers. In the case of Vonnegut, his family came in his place; his son Mark read the speech; I told the professor not to give my letter to the family. Maybe I should have said to go ahead but the idea seemed so shameful, especially because I had tried to be clever and interesting in the letter, and I didn't think they should have to see me doing that.

One of my other professors, I think, told me to submit the letter to NUVO, our local alternative weekly. And I did. They didn't print it, but they published it on their website. Jim Poyser, NUVO's editor, wrote me and said maybe we should meet sometime. We got along well. (I'm sorry I don't e-mail him more often, now; I never know what to say, to him or anybody else.) He ended up reading two of my novels, the one I had just written and the one I wrote next. He was extremely supportive. He helped me get my first agent (as it stands, my only agent), who seems to have a good reputation but also seems to have stopped reading my e-mails because I am not as easy to sell as he'd hoped. At the time I thought that was the biggest thing Jim could ever do for me. In retrospect, here are the two things he did for me that were most important:

1. He danced with me at my wedding. The sound system was not very good and it was difficult to make people relax in the way that I wanted them to relax because no one is as comfortable dancing as me (except maybe people who are actually good at it). So Jim had to leave but I asked him to, before he went, come dance with me, because I knew he would relax (he seems so comfortable in himself) and it would be fun and maybe inspire other people to have fun. I was right about the first couple things, at least: we were jumping around four feet at a time. It was great.

2. He gave me great writing advice. Of course when you're in college anyone reading your novels at all is a huge deal -- I spent so much time on those, and I think about four people read each -- but then he even invited me over, sat down with me, and talked through his thoughts and reactions, which were so consistently perceptive and practical that I carry a lot of what he said with me in my writing to this day. One of the things he said that seemed like a small thought at the time but has sort of grown in reconsideration to a major cognitive gift was the idea that sometimes you should ask yourself, when considering a revision to a story, "What would I think about this if it were published?"

There was a plot point in one of the novels that seemed to Jim undercooked. (I can guarantee you that it was, in retrospect, really not there yet.) But he said--and would repeat, several times, in other circumstances--that he thought it might not have even occurred to him if the book were published, or he might have seen it differently. This is, among writers, a sort of heroic admission. We like to think a book is itself no matter how it is presented. And yet this cannot be true or we would not love beautiful books so much more than their ugly counterparts so often. Jim understood that the ethos of a published novel is fundamentally different from the ethos of a manuscript bound only by a rubber band; he understood that things sometimes seem important in drafts and totally inconsequential in finished, published fiction.

This can be a way of letting yourself off the hook. ("No one will even notice that gaping plot hole!") But it also provides some much-needed perspective to an art where it's exceptionally easy to make a huge deal about things most readers will never notice. A writing instructor once said that one of his friends read an entire novel of his without apparently noticing that half the chapters were in the past tense and half were in the present. It didn't even occur to him. And yet these things seem so important when we're writing, though they have so little to do with the real experience of most actual readers. They are looking at other things.

Again, you don't want to let yourself off the hook. But think of it this way: in a fiction workshop, a perceived inconsistency of story or character, tone or etc., can become the focus of an agonizing forty-minute conversation, when in fact no reader could possibly care less about the supposed issue of "craft," and in fact you can make your story much less fun in trying to fix it. I've seen that happen before and it's frustrating because you don't want to say "don't worry about it!" because we are supposed to worry about everything. We are making ART. But in other forms people are generally less careful about these things. They tend to ask themselves, "Is this awesome? Will people enjoy it?" And if the answers are yes, they let it stand, or they build on it to make it even better.

We can all think of books we read in a sort of disbelief because others enjoyed them so much and we find them wholly unpersuasive, shockingly artless. Perhaps we can also think of books we loved that others felt that way about: totally gobsmacked by the idea that we could love them. Writers inevitably alienate the majority of their readers. Not because fiction isn't great, but because readers and books are such particular things. When I'm not sure if I'll be alienating people in the right way for the right reasons (and the inverse as well), I often think of Jim's advice. I ask myself how I would feel about the book if it were bound and published. If the answer is that I would feel good, I try to relax a little. I keep going.

Someday I hope one of these books really is bound and published. That has been the goal for so long.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ariana Rienes Is A Giant

Mercury is a ball of liquid metal.  It looks as if you should not touch it, but should just look at it.  Look at yourself looking at it.  Look at yourself in it.  Ariana suggests shaving in its glow.  There are a lot of reviews of it already, so I shouldn’t review it.  I won’t.  I won’t tell you to buy it.  I won’t tell you to steal it.  Where would you steal it from anyway?  Powell’s doesn’t even carry fence books.  Why would your local book store carry it if mine doesn’t?  Would I steal it if it were here?  Maybe.  Maybe if I went to a bookstore that had Mercury and I stole it, the event of my thievery would lead the bookstore to believe Mercury was worth stealing, therefore worth selling, therefore would order another, or two others to make up for the money lost on the first one which I might have stolen. Why won’t I tell you to buy it?  I don’t know, because supporting poetry is about entering contests and reading periods right?  I do think people would like this.  Not just people who like Ariana’s work, but people who like big books and people who like weird books.  This book is full of the things people like about Ariana’s work.  Her work is honest.  It’s honest in the way writing can be honest because you can tell it’s lying sometimes.  It’s honest in the way it has flaws.  It’s honest in the way it has adornments and those adornments draw attention to their own adornmenthood amongst all the flaws like a chandelier in a shitty apartment.  Or spinning rims on a late model Cavalier.

When Ariana read she reminded me of when Ariana talked to people before the reading.  She was quiet and intimidated everyone by sheer fact of existence.  When she read the church gave out books.  They gave out books with words such as:  “What is art? Prostitution.” “A Dandy does nothing.” and “Love is a taste for prostitution. In fact, there is no noble pleasure that cannot be reduced to Prostitution.”  All of this is from Charles Baudelaires Intimate Journals and it’s a lovely book for a church to be handing out.  The church played music and Ariana read and it was too loud to make out anything that was real.  Maybe it was all that was real.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

These Are My Funnies #7, 8, 9

#7 (55 seconds): A tree frog and a cockroach drive a homemade truck over the uneven terrain of the rain forest floor. “This is amazing,” the cockroach says. “The construction was simple,” the tree frog says. “Sap, fallen leaves. The dark thing is I used some bones in the finer gears.” “Bones.” “Not from frogs,” the tree frog says. “Or cockroaches. Do you even have bones?” “I don’t know,” the cockroach says. “Do you feel like you have bones?” “This kind of talk weirds me out,” the cockroach says. “Well, what I was saying is, the really hard part was getting a license. Do you know what they put you through? Just the scheduling, getting to the shop, or the agency or whatever, then waiting. I had to take a morning off from work.” “That’s why I’ll never drive,” the cockroach says.

#8 (80 seconds): A woman stands in the dark of a late-night kitchen. She’s doing something, but we can’t see what. Greenish light, probably from the clock on a microwave, colors her eyes. Far back in the room, something shifts. Another woman says, “Get away from that cake batter.” She waits a moment, then hefts something heavy and metallic. “Get away from that cake batter!”

#9 (20 seconds): An elephant in a smoking jacket pours bourbon from a decanter, then carries it across the expanse of his den. Snow tacks against the windows but a warm light fills the room and a fire crackles somewhere close. The elephant drops into his favorite chair, splintering it, and carries on through the floor, through the basement. We hear the crushing of wine bottles, of an old bicycle. He breaks through the floor here and is suddenly in space, falling through darkness, a little speck growing littler as he is carried farther and farther from everything he knows.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

One Hundred Characters

Look at that horse on the right. No. Look at it.

Go read Sam Allingham's "One Hundred Characters" at Web Conjunctions. Won't take you long. Here are the first several paragraphs:

Your brother, the first boy you ever kissed. Your sister, the first person your brother ever kissed. Your mother, who has never kissed anyone, to your knowledge, since the age of thirty-seven.

      Your mother, a rebel in search of a cause. Your mother, a hurricane in search of an eye. Your mother, a crossword puzzle in search of one final long down solution that ends in X.

      Your father, a miner, a prisoner of the system. Your father, a lawyer, a prisoner of the system. Your father, a governor, a prisoner of the system.

      Your father, the captain of the HMS St. Lucien of the Inner Isle, married to the sea. The ship, his favorite child. The sea, forever retracing its doom-laden portents. The sharks, and their romantic hunger.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

These Are My Funnies #4, 5, 6

#4 (80 seconds): A couple lies quietly in bed. Moonlight blues the sheets and their faces. The man says, “What if we brought home another man.” “Like for sex?” the woman says. “For whatever you wanted,” the man says. “I don’t know,” she says. “Would he watch us or--” “Whatever you wanted,” the man says. “I think it could be a healthy thing for us.” “Healthy how?” “Just experimental, you know. Healthy in that we would like, be open to new experiences.” “Who would we find?” “I’ve found someone,” the man says. “He’s been lying beneath the bed.” “What?” the woman says. “On the dirty clothes under there,” the man says. A few clumsy knocks sound from beneath the bed, then the shuffling of someone sliding out.

#5 (25 seconds): We hear water splashing before we see it. A woman in a swimming cap digs at water with her arms, and we can tell that she is both very experienced and very tired. We pan out to see that she is alone in choppy sea. There is no land or boat or other swimmer in sight. The sky is dark on the horizon. She paddles on, growing sloppy with exhaustion. Her eyes narrow. She is focused on something in the distance. “I’ll hollow your head!” she yells, suddenly. “You fuck!” She swallows water, spits it out, swallows more, falters, regains her balance in the water.

#6 (60 seconds): A cat rubs against a woman’s ankles, meowing for food. The woman, dressed for work but still partially asleep, retrieves a bag of cat food from an overhead cabinet. She pours the food into the cat’s bowl without bending down. At first, nuggets bounce out and skitter over the floor, then are buried, then spill out to carpet the surrounding area. As the cat food forms a spreading, landsliding mound, the cat struggles to stay on top, moving, then stopping to eat, then moving, then stopping to eat. Food obscures the woman’s feet, then knees, then hips. The cat finds a stable spot and eats and eats, then vomits.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Do Women Writers Care About Surrealism?

Do Women Writers Care About Surrealism?  How many women poets make it into these types of lists/anthologies?  Are they thought of first as female poets, then as surrealist writers?  I don't know.  I was pretty upset by the list, by the lack of female participation in the conversation, and by the lack of women on the lists generated by men (what did they mention, six or seven female poets?  in the whole post?  c'mon?).  I'm not going to make a list/anthology of female poets who practice surrealism because I don't like the term 'surrealism' to begin with, but someone should.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

These are my funnies

It's been a while since I last posted here. It's because I've spent all my time living in the back seat of my Mazda, writing these cartoons, which I can't draw or animate.

1) (five seconds total) Open on a darkened living room. A bespectacled boy sits on the lap of his mother, who gently rocks while moving her fingertips against his temples. "Massage that bigass brain," she says softly.

2) (30 second total) A man and a woman, both nicely dressed, stand in a small but clean kitchen. Early evening light fills the space. The man is nervous, but not unreasonably so. He pulls a cluster of celery from the fridge, then a pair of potatoes, then a tall jar containing a miniature squid. When he unscrews the cap, the squid climbs out, blindly slapping the man's neck, the man's face, and falls to the floor.

3) (5 seconds) Holding a bursting bag of trash, a man opens a garbage bin outside his apartment only to be startled when a 75-pound bird flaps out and into the sky.