Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What Isn't Love?

No one has ever seen the next poem.  There was a period in which I was obsessed with a woman.  It was a terrible, destructive, painful experience. The woman enjoyed her power over me and used it to pull me in, push me out, toy with me.  She wasn't such a bad person.  She was simply in thrall to her own problems and the two of us constructed an awful parody of love.  During that period I wrote several poems exploring rage, obsession and the difference between healthy love and obsessive love.  I chose to include it in this collection because I think such experiences are not uncommon.  Many of us have been through the agony of obsessive, jealous, manipulative and enslaving attachment.

What Isn't Love?

Staring into space at work,
while over and over you rehearse
something you must say to wound your lover.
Or having to replay
again and again throughout the day
some way that your lover wounded you.
Listening to the sound
of cars homeward bound;
to extend the range of audibility
farther and farther down the street,
parsing motor noise as you wait:
car too big, car too small,
how long will he or she be gone?
Wincing when your lover smiles
through a party's unheard talk
with a too-attractive stranger;
it feels so much like danger.
To miss someone is sweet,
but helplessness is bitter,
and love does not taste bitter,
rejection is the acrid morsel on the tongue.
Trying too hard to be good;
trying too hard to be bad;
trying too hard not to feel;
feeling too hard to try,
and wanting to cry
when you beg for love
as if it were a drug,
then moan in shocked surprise
when you don't feel high.
And you grow more passionate
with each betrayal.
What isn't love?
Heat without light;
lust without compassion;
compassion without passion.
No word exists for what isn't love
but it's always been around
in promises that are broken
in the language being spoken
by those who cannot hear
its splintered sound.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Big Move: From House To RV--full time!

The View From Topside of our RV

            My partner and I have lived in a 38 foot motor coach since 2006.  We consolidated all our savings and paid cash for the big RV.  We moved from a cottage in the woods of Marin County to a pleasant campground in Petaluma, a small town north of San Francisco.  Our monthly expenses shrank for $2400 to $900.  That was very nice indeed!
          Now that the cross-country ride was over, we entered an interim period. We were living in two places. We were confronting the magnitude of switching into a wholly new mode of life, a life in a small space, a life where every object must be in its place. If there was no place for a particular substance or object, then it must either be tossed out or stored.
This was where the madness began. This was the trial of my relationship with Fox at its most intense. This was the time where the difference in our tastes, the variations in our personal hygiene, the needs of a man versus the needs of a woman had to be negotiated with utmost patience.
          Fox has a total inability to throw things away. Through the trials and horrors of her marriage, Fox held on to her family’s legacy. Fox keeps everything! She has her daughter’s first school essay. And the third, fifth, twenty fifth, sixty fifth. She has the most minute school document generated by two children from kindergarten to the graduation of college. She feels that all of this is precious history and must be restored to her children when they’ve married, had families and moved into their own homes. Meanwhile she will carry this titanic cargo container of luggage wherever she might go.
She has the trunk that her grandma brought from the old country. It is filled with mothball smelling sheets, pillowcases, linens of esoteric Swedish origin and serving trays of engraved silver.
In order to prevent her husband from stealing the silver, she had it stored for sixteen years in a secret locker at a Pay-n-Stor in Oakland.
Fox has twenty eight albums of family pictures. She has fourteen white buckets, ten gallons a bucket, of rocks and seashells.
This is to say nothing of clothes. Fox has clothes: a collection of marvels, of shawls and swirling skirts, of gypsy vests sewn with coins, of blouses from Lebanon, sweaters from Morocco, hats from Afghanistan, baggy trousers from Bosnia, scarves from Samarkand. When we had made our decision to move into a motorhome, we were renting a cozy cottage in the woods. We gave our landlord ninety days notice. Then we procrastinated for the next two months, not knowing where we might end up, which motorhome we might purchase. When the coach was found in Florida, we had twenty five days to go. When we reached Petaluma in the coach and parked it at the Kountry Kampground, we were down to eleven days.
In eleven days, we had to move out of the house. We had to store or dispose of all our stuff. Fox’s stuff and my stuff.
They were different kinds of stuff. In all fairness, it is acknowledged between Fox and myself that she has more stuff. But I have stuff too.
I have a Yamaha electronic piano with a synthesizer module. I have power amps, tuners, tape recorders, microphones. I have cameras, lenses, flash attachments, and attachments for the flash attachments. I have computers and computer hardware. I have telescopes! I have eyepieces, adaptors, binoculars, equatorial mounts. I have a bicycle, spare tires, pumps, inner tubes, cables, chains. I have big flashlights and small flashlights. I have the flashlights to find the flashlights that I’ve lost in the dark. I have red LED flashlights for astronomy. I have hat- mounted miner’s lamps, just in case I go into a mine. I just have a thing for flashlights. I love ‘em! I also love cigarette lighters. Even when I quit smoking, I love cigarette lighters. Oh, yes, I have books. I have star charts. I have maps, atlases, thesaurus, the obscure novels of Charles Williams, all the science fiction of Jack Vance and Philip K. Dick. Though I may have less than Fox, I DO have stuff. Major stuff. Never mind Fox’s face creams, emollients, hair conditioners, powders, brushes, combs, scissors, electric trimmers.
I almost forgot the pet stuff. How could I forget the pet stuff?
Here, Fox has a near-pathological weakness. I may have mentioned that Fox is a gift-giver. Fox has a list of gifts that must be given to friends and family members for the next ten years. She finds a bargain for cousin so and so that will be perfect for her fifteenth wedding anniversary in the year 2018. She buys it because it’s a bargain. She cannot resist a bargain. She stores the gift away in a box and then is unable to find it when the occasion for the gift arises.
As for our pets, no toy, health aide or grooming implement is too trivial. So long as it’s a bargain. She buys chewies and catnip toys and braided leather jerky treats. She buys cat castles, self-cleaning litter boxes that never work, pet beds for the window sills. She buys plastic mice and scratchy poles and replaceable cardboard scratchy boards and a wonderful round thing that has a pingpong ball in a circular track.. The cats love that one.
One day as I was about to sell the sofa, I moved it and found forty nine cat toys and thirty four missing catnip mice.
Eleven days! Eleven days! Do you understand, now, why we drove across the country in such a frantic hurry? Why we didn’t stop at the Grand Canyon and spit over the rim?
Something happens when it becomes a fact: that we are moving from a house of normal dimensions into a motorhome about the size of the very first submarine, the one designed by John Ericson during the Civil War, the one powered by two guys pedaling a chain-driven propeller. The one where they drowned on the first trial in Chesapeake Bay. We’re going to attempt to separate the necessary from the desirable and make distinctions that will enable to us to live well in a wheeled boxcar with awnings.
In that eleven days we drove ourselves on caffeine and anxiety, shuttling from the woodsy cabin to the campground and back. Some nights we stayed in the coach. Some nights we stayed in the house. Gradually, our bedding disappeared from the house, our coffee pots, our silverware.
Fox is a wonderful artist and craftswoman. She creates things out of all kinds of materials. She has leather strips, boxes of beads, bags of feathers, nameless baubles. She has healing work materials: long sheathes of sage, bags of herbs, bottles of essences, oils, salves. Everything must be stored or brought into the coach.
All of our many friends suddenly found that they had pressing engagements elsewhere. Fox and I were on our own: a woman with fibromyalgia and a bad back. A man with feet so sore they feel like they’ve been inside bowling shoes four sizes too tight.
I refuse to let Fox lift heavy objects. When I am away somewhere, she’ll sneak a lift on me. I’ll come home and find the forty pound bag of kitty litter has shifted from the steps to the storage bay. Then I sound like Ricky Ricardo. “Honey? You got some ‘splainin’ to do.”
Busted! Fox says sheepishly, “I thought I could lift it.” Her elbow is bent so that her left palm can press against her lower back, just beside the hip joint. She’s slightly hunched over.
She does this because her lazy ex-husband always screamed at her for being lazy. He was a liar, so he lacerated her with accusations of falsehood. He was a cheat, so he perpetually interrogated her about hatching schemes. He was unfaithful, so he called Fox a whore. He was a thief so he accused her of stealing. He was a terrible loveless father, so he called Fox a useless mother. This went on for decades, and Fox is still overcompensating. Lifting heavy boxes. Working like a mule. Gradually the message sinks in: I won’t yell, I won’t insult, I won’t accuse, I won’t suspect, I won’t philander, and I WILL love as consistently as I can love. I am White Buffalo.
Our move brought out all this buried material and put our relationship through a powerful test. I was irritated. I wanted to say things. I didn’t say those things. Instead, I realized that all this stuff is as important to Fox as are my computers, cameras and instruments. They are integral to her self –expression. She is a mother. She is a woman. She is an artist and a healer. Who am I to tell her that she has too much stuff? If it’s too much, she will discover that on her own.
We rented two storage units at a local facility. This place is a collection of old cargo containers painted beige, plopped down on a piece of property next to the Petaluma River and locked behind a security gate. For a hundred seventy dollars a month we squeezed all the excess into these two containers.
Our daily itinerary became a triangular ping pong game of house-storage-motorhome house-storage-motorhome. I had old papers in the basement, manuscripts I’d written thirty years ago.  I had notebooks of poetry that I couldn’t throw away. They were juvenile, they were terrible, but I couldn’t toss ‘em.
As I carried all those fifty pound buckets of rocks, I wanted to scream.
I kept my mouth shut. I don’t know how I did it, but I’m glad I did. I wanted to remonstrate, “Honey we will never need these buckets of rocks, these barrels of seashells! Why are we going to pay money to store them? Why, honey, why?”
I kept my mouth shut. It was one of the most profound acts of restraint I have ever achieved. I watched Fox keep all this stuff without uttering a peep. Some day, maybe a year from now, maybe five years from now, she’ll look at this and say, “what the hell am I doing, storing all this junk?” Not yet. Not today. I have to carry the stuff, all boxed up and wrapped in newspaper, load it into the car, take it to the storage place, pile it high, build towers of useless junk, not saying a word.
I am ready to explode.
A month ago the Petaluma River jumped its banks during a mighty storm and rushed into our biggest storage container, wiping out half its contents. After a few tears, Fox bravely threw out the ruined clothes, the soaked papers, the filthy supplies, the laid up gifts for unspecified cousins. I lost some things, too, but I was lucky. The electronic piano, standing upright, was half underwater. After drying, it still plays. Unbelievable, but it still plays.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

My Belly And I

My Belly And I

            I estimate that each of my legs weighs sixty pounds.  That leaves a hundred pounds for the rest of my body.  My head probably weights twenty, which leaves eighty for the arms and torso.  My belly, that piece of me that surprised me totally when it arrived in the years between forty and forty five, my belly must take up sixty pounds of that remaining eighty.  It is a large belly.  In making that statement, my ego will not let me escape without a face-saving qualifier.  It’s not a soft belly, it’s very muscular, I can still do the yoga exercise called The Locust, where I lay face down, put my fists under my thighs and raise the entire rear half of my body up in the air. Okay, I’ve saved face.  I can comfort myself by maintaining that I am still some sort of athlete, that I’m still fit.
            It is true, I eat too much and most of that eating is in bed.  Every night of my entire life I have munched or crunched something as I read myself to sleep.
            My private theory is that I am seeking a substitute for breast milk.  My early days on this planet were not a paradise of blissful bonding between my mother and me.
            During my futile attempts to rid myself of this belly I’ve done ten kinds of abdominal exercises, hundreds of reps daily, for months and months on end.  My belly didn’t get smaller.  It got bigger. 
            I should have expected this.  The most common goal of “working out” is to make bigger muscles.  So why was I exercising my six-pack this way?  What myth did I buy into?  If I wanted to get rid of my belly, I should have done absolutely nothing, right?  Why is everyone buying gizmos, electronic abdominal muscle stimulators? Why do they buy gimmicks with names like Abbacizers, Sixpackalongs, Abhancers? Why do people hang from bars and pull themselves up and back, up and back, or lay tilted on long boards, up and back, up and back?  There’s more than a little insanity in this vain pursuit.  The obsession with the six pack is about vanity and its monster shadow, insecurity.  Our culture pumps its toxic load of media venom into our collective psychic bloodstream so that we feel inadequate if our bodies don’t adhere to some contemporary ideal of beauty.  For the moment, that ideal has become horrifically thin; it forms the ironic counterpoint to the visible reality that Americans have gotten chronically fat.
            We’re a culture with a lot of food.  I mean, a lot lot lot of food.  There’s never been a civilization in the history of the world with more food.  It’s hardly surprising that everyone eats a lot, gets fat and the ideal of beauty is to have arms and legs so thin that you have to walk around storm drains lest you slip through the bars and get washed out to sea.
            I wish we could weigh thoughts just as we weigh butter, or scrap metal. How much would my daily output of body-shame weigh?  How many pounds, kilos, ounces, grams would every thought weigh, those thoughts that go, “Oh I wish this belly would flatten out, it makes me feel so unattractive, so grotesque?”
            Beneath the veneer of our society a drumbeat of subliminal command roars like an underground subway train.  It’s saying, rhythmically, “hate your body hate your body hate your body hate your body.”  Chugga chugga chugga chugga.
            People who are at war with their bodies spend money on ridiculous products. Teeth whiteners!  When did this obsession come along?  Who cares about teeth whiteners?  People who use them look ridiculous.  There’s a blinding beam of Cheshire Cat grin every time they open their mouths, a light so blatantly artificial that it obscures the rest of the face with its message:  “I am insecure and hopelessly vain.  I use teeth whiteners.”
            Recently I heard a radio spiel about a product that reduces shadows under the eyes.  Oh my god, here we go again!  The script describes the grotesque anatomical process behind eye shadows: a horrific network of bloated capillaries spreads beneath your eyes until they burst forth to spill a dark disgusting goo of congealing blood, thus producing bruised tissue, thus producing embarrassing and unsightly morning-after shadows, hanging and spreading and sagging until they’re the size of wrinkled leather saddle bags beneath your optical sockets.
            Eeeeeeww!  How humiliating!  Burst blood vessels, bruises, discoloration? Wrinkled leather saddle bags beneath my eyes? I can’t have that! 
            This is how to create a market for a useless product.  People will start fixating on their fatigue-shadows, examining the mirror for any hint of darkening skin.  The stuff will sell like crazy, as another reason to hate one’s body darkens the horizon of the national psyche.  This insanity is all about money.  People who hate themselves spend more money, spend compulsively, to cover their unhappiness.  It serves the interests of marketers to create a social condition in which self hatred becomes the paradigm.
            I have to ask myself the question, “Which is worse, being overweight, or being guilty, stressed and ashamed of being overweight?”  Which damages my health more?  I think it’s the latter.  I think that stressing and hating my body is more toxic than glugging down three milkshakes a day.
            How many ridiculous weight-loss products bloat the bandwidth of the media empires?  How many bogus concoctions feed on the fervent wish that one can lose pounds and become shapely without any effort?
            I have invented my own product to add to this glut for gluttons: “Thindreme”รค!  Here’s the commercial, presented by a blandly attractive blonde woman in front of a red- white- blue studio set enhanced by computer graphics showing fat bodies and thin bodies arranged for before/after comparison.
            “Do you dream of going to sleep fat and waking up thin? Now your dreams can come true!  Two tablets of clinically proven Thindreme before bed will melt the pounds away as you sleep!  The more you sleep the thinner you will get.  This new miracle compound acts upon the metabolism of your slumbering body and converts fat cells using the principle of DCE, or Dynamic Caloric Extrapolation.  It is a proven fact that Rapid Eye Movement sleep is an untapped source of caloric output.  In other words, REM sleep is exercise!  Thindreme has come along to utilize this remarkable opportunity.  The more you dream, the more weight you lose!  Within four to six weeks you can emerge a brand new person, thin, sexy, appealing, without any effort on your part! Forget about diet, exercise, lifestyle.  You don’t need will power.  Thindreme does it for you!  Now you can be the man or woman of your dreams! If you order in the next ten minutes, Thindreme will double your order, and at no extra cost, will give you this free nose hair trimmer. And there’s more!  We will also add to your order this stylish miniature folding piano! So pick up the phone, and order now! And remember, Thindreme is Clinically Proven.” *
            Now, the disclaimer is read quietly and quickly:
*Thindreme (wackazone hydrochloride) can produce side effects in a significant minority of users, including blurred vision, stuttered speech, nausea, excess ear wax, demonic visions, spastic extremities, impotence, frigidity, memory loss, extreme body odor, blurted expletives, colorful flatulence, Fixed Eye Syndrome, increased hair growth on the lower back, muscle cramp, constipation, diarrhea, logorrhea, Recalcitrant Plebny, and black facial warts.  If dreaming does not occur, possible weight gain is indicated.
            A Product of ExCon Industries”

            I’ve given up trying to rid myself of this belly.  I know that a group of cannibals would find me delicious.  My bicycle thighs would be a Kentucky Fried delight, the most giant Crispy ever to appear in a cannibal’s bucket. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Revolutionary Baldness Solutions For Men!

           Men, there are millions of you who share a common experience: it is that shocking moment when you face the fact that you are going bald.  The moment comes in many ways. You may be deep in concentration.  Your fingers go unconsciously to the crown of your head.  It’s a comforting gesture. It may express anxiety. You may feel that your head is about to explode.  Your hand goes topside, you expect to bury your fingers in thick luxuriant hair.
           There’s a moment of shock!  Where did the hair go? Your hand remembers hair.  What is this sudden wispy sensation, why are your fingers touching areas of bare skin?  It seems like only yesterday this was a head covered in hirsute glory.  How did this happen?  
            What can you do?  You’re an evolved male.  You can’t succumb to shallow vanity and get a weave, a plant, a rug, a little garden of plugs.  You must see it through!  Go bald!  Let no one think you’re such a pathetic loser that you need hair to feel virile and desirable.
            Men, I have good news.  At Bald-Tech Solutions we have answers to your problems.  Your angst will be soothed by the use of a combination of the MIRROR TOUPEE and the HAIR GLOVE.  With these two devices you can go bald peacefully and never experience the shock that accompanies an unpleasant but perfectly natural phenomenon.  With a little practice you can place the MIRROR TOUPEE in anticipation of any reflection needs.  Use it while shaving, at work or in the privacy of your girlfriend’s bathroom. 
            When you have mastered the MIRROR TOUPEE, the HAIR GLOVE will comfort you during years of progressing baldness. When you go for that unconscious gesture during concentration or worry, the HAIR GLOVE will be there to simulate the sensation of luxurious thick male tresses. With its patented miniature conveyor belt and titanium micro-bearings, the HAIR GLOVE feels just like the real thing!  Place it on your hand before work or when anticipating an argument with your spouse or lover.  The HAIR GLOVE feels like a full head of hair!  Use it anytime!  It comes in a buff-colored pouch conveniently sized to fit in your pocket.  It is made of only the most advanced space age materials to guarantee longevity.  You might even pass it on to your son, or grandson!
            Batteries not included.  Warranty void if competing products are used.  To order your MIRROR TOUPEE and HAIR GLOVE call 1-800-556-6655.  Visa, MasterCard, HomeLoan Lien, AutoDebit, VersaRipoff, Mystery Interest PickPocket Card honored except in the states of Nevada and the territory of Guam.

Coming soon! Bald-Tech Solutions For Women!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Guru School

Are you good looking?  Would you like a future in the Guru profession?  The School for Good Looking Gurus,  in Big Sur, California, is offering a fresh curriculum for those interested in becoming Meditation Teachers, Yoga Masters, Life Coaches, Insight Specialists, Psychodynamic Facilitators and Creativity Trainers.  Learn such skills as Growing a White Beard (for male gurus) or Wearing Colorful Mumus (for female gurus).  Our course on How to Attract a Following is beyond price for those lacking charisma.  And you must read our booklet on the Guru Lexicon, where you can master such phrases as "Poverty is a Curse" and "Isn't it Amazing that Karma Brought us All Together Tonight?" 

You can learn to throw your voice, improve your diction, or, when needed, garble your diction.  Our lessons help you master the Hypnotic Stare, the Crinkly Eyes, the Infectious Giggle.  This fall, we offer a special course on Guru Humor, taught by renowned funny man, Swami Gigglananda, who will lecture on "The Common Touch:  Sharing Zany Stories From Your Past". If you are sufficiently good looking, you may qualify for a scholarship.  If you are not sufficiently good looking, you may still qualify for the special exemption in the Homely Guru Division of our distinguished school.  We have many success stories of aspiring gurus who turned their obesity, bad teeth and lack of personal hygiene into compelling credentials for taking on the responsibility of spiritual teaching.

Send for our application now. All Credit Cards Honored
Come Visit our Vintage Car Museum

Saturday, March 12, 2011

How To Write And Publish A Book In Only Forty Years

By Art Rosch
October 3, 2010

            My VERY first literary sale was a short science fiction story to Playboy Magazine.
You can imagine my thrill as I opened a letter from my agent that contained a check for $1800. 
            I was stunned.  I was outside the downtown post office in Mill Valley, looking at a check for some serious fun money.  At that time, fun money meant drug money because I was already strung out on some nasty substances.  I hadn’t yet gone down the tubes.  I hadn’t lost my house, my friends, my car, my money, I hadn’t lost everything except my dog and the clothes in which I stood.  Not yet.
            About a month later, I got a package from Playboy.  Congratulations, the letter said, your story has been selected as Playboy’s Best Short Story for 1978.  There was another check for $500.  There was a trophy.  It was a clear Lucite brick about six inches tall..  In the center of this object, preserved like an ancient fly in amber, was a fake silver dollar with the Playboy Bunny stamped on its face.  The package contained an invitation to attend the magazine’s Twenty Fifth Anniversary Party in New York City.  Playboy was picking up the tab on everything, plane ticket, room at the Waldorf , clothes, food, anything I wanted to buy.  It was all on Playboy’s tab.  
            The party was a celebration of Playboy’s twenty fifth year in print.  It was also the party that rolled out all of the year’s “Best Of” awards.  It included a ceremony to honor the Best Photograph, Best Illustration, Best Interview; all the Best including my funny little sci fi story about a planet where there were six genders.  The story was about a night of club-hopping by a typical young Three..  On the planet Znor-fitt the gravity was weak, and it took a pile of creatures just to stay down long enough to procreate.  Everyone dreamed of being in a Six but that seldom happened.  Most of the Znarfs were Twosies, Threesies, and occasional Foursies.  The ultimate Six was strictly a fantasy.  No one really got Sixed Up except in their dreams.
            It was a good story.  I built this complex world from a mere thirty six hundred words. 

I was suddenly a writer in the spotlight.  I had an agent.  I had two novels that I was writing simultaneously.  You would think that I was about to break into that magical realm of  Known Writers.  I could take my place on that List kept by publishers to designate best sellers, medium sellers and good writers who weren’t selling but had enough potential to stay on the List. 
I had a few problems.  I was thirty and the best year of my life (so far) was now two years in the past.  The worst year of my life was two years in the future.  I was on my way down; I wasn’t rising into stardom.  I wasn’t getting on anyone’s list.
On the airplane to New York I met a musician.  As soon as we landed, we got a cab to his place where I was able to buy eight grams of opium. 
I was living in a daze.  The Playboy celebration was stuffed with famous writers, artists and haute monde celebrities .  This wasn’t a cheap bunny-bumper of a party.  This was the center of our culture.  At dinner I sat next to ROOTS author Alex Haley and macabre cartoonist Gary Larson.  I think.  I was a little fuzzy.
I didn’t puke, nod out, scratch my crotch or swivel my head in paranoid spins.  I danced with Playboy's fiction editor.  She told me how much she loved my story.  There was a ten-foot poster of the story illustration hanging on the wall.  It showed goofy aliens with tentacles cozying up to a bar, ala Star Wars.  My name was there in a gigantic font.  BEST STORY OF THE YEAR: ART ROSCH.
The story I’m telling now is really about my two books.  The science fiction novel was a finished manuscript.  The other novel, my fictional autobiography, was making rapid progress.
I didn't realize it, but I wasn’t writing well. 
I wonder why.

The agency had assigned a good editor to work with me.  The few days I was in New York we had the classic writer/editor lunches.  It was great, it was fantastic!  I felt important. 
If I couldn’t score more opium, heroin, dilaudid, fentanyl or something, I would have to scurry back to California in about three days.
My attention was somewhat unfocused.  I could still write.  I just couldn’t write well.  I couldn’t grow as a writer because something other than writing had taken command of my soul.
The science fiction novel, titled THE GODS OF THE GIFT, floated from one publisher to the next without being sold.  It was always a little too…something.  No matter what the editors asked, I couldn’t achieve a satisfactory result.
The autobiographical novel was called “audacious” by one of New York’s most powerful editors.  All I had to do was polish it and finish it.
I was in the middle of my real-life biography and I was just about to confront the biggest obstacle, the most dangerous villain, the most terrifying prison in the universe.
How could I finish my autobiographical novel when I was only approaching the first precipice?  Thus far I had written about my childhood and adolescence.  I had developed the characters of my abusive mother, passive father, sociopathic brother and spoiled sister.  The protagonist was plucky and soulful, determined to overcome the psychic legacy of his dysfunctional family.  It was grim but it was also funny.  It had that black humor and sweet pathos that make for good books. 
I was able to write during the first half of my twenty year addiction.  I still had a place to live, friends, associates, an IBM Selectric.  I worked on both books.  I wrote to a provisional conclusion in the autobiographical novel.  Its title was and still is CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN.
The second half of my addiction was barren of all creativity.  It was the Dark Night.
I dropped through the bottom of the world and imprisoned myself in a deep well whose sides were so slick with algae and slime that I couldn’t even get a grip to lever myself upward. 

            I could not write either book until I had regained enough command of my soul that I could be with friends who weren’t addicts.  I could not be an artist until I had restored the power of my words by keeping my word.  Always.  I could not be anyone’s friend, partner or mate until I had repaired the damage I had done to my character.
            Some things are more important than art.  I learned this lesson during the second ten years, when I finally let go of the ego-inflated camouflage of an identity labeled ARTIST.  I wasn’t an artist.  I was a bum and a criminal.  I wanted to be something better.
            Let us assume now that I am not dead.  That I am without HIV or other lethal infections.  That I survived the long ordeal and became a decent, honorable person.  I’m a bit weathered but otherwise doing fine.
            So what about the books?
            In 1996 I was seized by a ferocious energy and revised THE GODS OF THE GIFT.  I turned it into a much better science fiction novel.  I wrote ten, twelve hours a day, I couldn’t stop.  I revised the book again in 2006.  I solved major structural problems with the premise and the narrative.  Then I tackled CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN.  I revised it and added a significant middle and end section.  I was in my fifties and had a few experiences under my belt.  I felt qualified to write a fictional autobiography.
            I contacted the agency that had represented me.  The head of the agency had died.
The second-in-charge had taken over all editorial duties, and he worked with me.  It wasn’t a good fit.  This man had been a prominent science fiction writer.  He wrote the most awful things about THE GODS OF THE GIFT.  If you’re a writer, you don’t ever want to get a letter like the one I got.
            He liked CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN.  We corresponded for a year. He was not a kind editor.  His insights were terrific and for a while he helped me to be a better writer.  All writers must steel themselves to handle criticism.  That’s the editorial process.  But at some point a personal element crept into his critiques.  I felt as though he was angry with me.  Or he was just angry, period. 
            His letters got nastier and nastier.  In one letter he accused me of not taking my material and my readers seriously.
            That was it!  Over!  I had become a transference object for a bitter old man whose books were out of print.  The agency had once been a mighty power in the world of publishing.  Now it was slowly disintegrating.
            I may have many grievous faults but there is one fault that is not in my personality.  I would never fail to treat my work and my readers with respect.  It’s not in my nature.
            The result of working with that man was a two year case of writer’s block.  He shattered my confidence.  Still, I bounced back.  In the last decade I feel I’ve made immense strides in the craft of writing.
            Now I’m on my own.  I’m a barely-published writer with an old Lucite –covered Playboy bunny on my desk. 
The world of publishing has changed.  It has become a mobbed industry stumbling upon its own shoelaces as it evolves into the digital era.  It is a hexed sideshow of mass confusion, of millions of writers competing for hundreds of slots, of overwhelmed agents and editors, of publishers who seem to have good reasons to avoid taking risks.  No one has a clue what publishing will look like in ten years.
            I didn’t go through all this shit to disappear into the mass grave of unpublished writers.  I’m querying, blogging, Tweeting, Bookfacing, Zifflenooking, Doodly-poo-ing, Rump-A-Humping, all that stuff. 
            I’ve said enough.  You’ll hear about me.  I’ve written more books, more essays, blogs and poems, and I will not, as General Custer should have done, ReTweet!

Write Out Of My Head

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ten Cogent and Powerful Tips For New Writers


1. Have an idea. This is not absolutely necessary but it helps. If you don't have an idea, following these procedures will still result in quality writing

2. Have a place to sit. Alternatively, a place to stand will suffice so long as it's
reasonably private. Many great writers with hemorrhoids did their work standing up.

3. Have a device that produces marks that conform to the alphabet of your chosen language. Mate that device with a surface or medium to record the device's impressions.

4. Remain stationary for a long period of time while operating the aforementioned device. The recording medium or surface should be placed to maximize comfort. When the recording medium can't be comfortably placed, many great writers have alleviated their discomfort with whiskey, vodka and tobacco.

5. If you begin with an idea, it's optimum to use the language-marking-device to elaborate upon that idea.
If you do not have an idea, it's best to use the language marking equipment anyway, because great success has been enjoyed by authors without ideas.

6. Assuming that words are being employed, it's always best to put the words in a particular order, using the idea as a guidepost. If you do not have an idea it's still desirable to put words in such an order as to be modestly intelligible.

7. It's okay to have ideas change in mid-writing. If you can't incorporate the original idea into the new idea, start over. If this happens frequently, do the opposite: keep the original idea and all subsequent ideas. Put the ideas into an arbitrary or improvised order. Famous writers like Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs have used this technique to good effect.

8. If you have had experiences that were interesting, dangerous or humorous, you can use them as dressing to fill out the original idea or non-idea.

9. If you have not had any such experiences, you may borrow them from other people so long as they have not yet appeared in a widely circulated book or story .

10. A tip for young people looking towards a writing career in the future: learn to write with a quill and keep a good quill sharpener handy at all times.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Sons Of Anarchy: The Sopranos on Harleys, a review

           I must ask myself this question: How in HELL did the writers of this show get me rooting for an outlaw gang of bikers?  These ruthless criminals make a living selling AK47s to Oakland heroin dealers.  Their idea of a good time is to drink, eat and fuck until they pass out on the spot. They settle disputes by beating or killing their enemies in gruesome ways.  Their ethos is reminiscent of "Omuerta", the code of La Cosa Nostra, aka the mafia.
            One way they do it is to make the avatars of Law and Order look even worse.  The ATF, the FBI  and other Fed-types are smarmy vindictive little creeps wearing suits and ties.  Female ATF agent Stahl (played to a nasty pinpoint by Ally Walker), is working entirely in her own interest, shorn of ideals, motivated by greed for power and whipsawing one side against the other against the other (because this isn't simply black against white, this is all colors against all colors).  She allies herself with gangs when it suits her, betrays those allies in a heartbeat, and goes for the throat of her enemy like a Rottweiler taking down an intruder in a used auto parts lot.  She's so scary/creepy that the audience cheers when manacled convict Otto Delaney smashes her head into the prison's visiting room table.  Anyway, I did.
            Getting anything over on this too-smart bitch is a triumph.  Flattening her face in front of the guards on surveillance TV is a moment of profound emotional release.  We have been hating Agent Stahl so hard that nothing is too awful for her.  Fortunately for the continuing drama, we will be dealing with Agent Stahl for some time to come. 
            So, that's one way the writers get us rooting for these Hog-straddling werewolves.  The American psyche is loaded with  anti-authoritarian sentiment. It may at the present moment be latent or sadly corrupted, but it 's still there. Sons of Anarchy writers are fully aware of the allure of outlaw glamour.  When they include intense family loyalty and an unflinching code of Cycle Club solidarity, it tugs at our hearts and we want these guys to win.           
           What are they going to win?  Let's see what prizes are on offer.  Pull back the curtain, Ralph, and show the studio audience what our contestants might go home with!  First there is complete domination of the thriving unspoiled town of Charming, California.  Charming is Old School.  The bikers have held  developers at bay,  kept the town clear of malls, chain stores and corporate boogeymen for more than a generation.  While the rest of California oozes down the plastic fantastic drain, the town of Charming enjoys corruption the old fashioned way, the way it's supposed to be, where everyone watches everyone else's back, so long as the nasty stuff stays beyond the town's borders.  Police Chief Wayne Unser is dying of cancer.   He's got six months to live.  When he dies it will be Deputy Hale, the town's Captain America, who threatens to shut down all the fun and games.  Chief Unser  owns a trucking company.  Very handy for shipping guns and other hardware to Lodi, Oakland, San Bernardino and points beyond..    
            As we watch the episodes unfold, a few interesting things happen.  Our sympathies shift.  People we thought were disgusting turn out to be brave and soulful.  Both Chief Unser and Deputy Hale show themselves in greater complexity. Hale starts out as a naive idealist.  When he's exposed to the vindictive Agent Stahl, when he sees that the so-called legitimate interests are worse than the Sons of Anarchy he grows more flexible.  As this happens he also grows more likeable.
            Chief Unser's blatant corruption is built on self interest, but it's also founded upon an abiding affection for the people in the motorcycle club.  His friendship for club matriarch Gemma Morrow is one of the most endearing themes of the show.  As Unser faces death and Gemma faces terrors only a mother could know, they support one another in a way that shows true devotion. 
            Who is not moved by true devotion?  It's all too rare in real life; in Sons of Anarchy it's one of the themes that holds the drama together.  The motorcycle club has a history; it has traditions.  Fathers pass membership to their sons.  The Sons of Anarchy Motorcyle Club Redwood Originals, or SAMCRO as they are called, is a family, a community, a clan, a democracy.  And they love babies.
            Ron Perlman plays the club's President, Clay Morrow.  Hey, it's Ron Perlman.  What should I say about him?  He's Hellboy.  He's a face of nature. He's an old gnarly tree come to life.  He doesn't have to act.  He merely has to BE.  
            Katy Sagal plays Gemma Morrow, Clay's wife.  She is the clan's First Lady. It's Gemma who occupies the fulcrum character position in this series.  She won the Golden Globe for her acting.  She inhabits this role as if it IS her own life, and in some profound way, it must be.  She's married (in so called real life) to series creator Kurt Sutter.  Katy's husband also plays blinded con Otto Delaney.  So this really is a family enterprise.  The show's creator is married to one of the show's stars. The show's star provides her voice and songs to the soundtrack. 
            Katy Sagal's character Gemma calls herself "a fierce mother".  She's in touch with the archetype, with the protective implacability of motherhood.  She looks at people as if she is looking down from a great height.  She is an Earthmother queen who looks at people from the lofty defense of her fortress's tower. 
            Watching The Sons Of Anarchy can induce a peculiar worldview.  Is everyone just part of a gang competing for power and dominance over other gangs? Is it always The Sons versus The Mayans, The Nomads versus The Aryan Brotherhood?  Is it neo-Nazi thugs going "respectable" to edge the Sons out of Charming?  Is it Black Oakland heroin dealers ripping off Latino gangs?  Is everything just one big knot of revenge unraveling strand by strand and then forming new knots with every killing?
            In a word, YES.  That's the world.  Governments are nothing more than criminal enterprises serving the entities promise to maintain their power.  Didn't we once think we were better than this?  We did.  And we're not.
            As Clay Morrow so acutely observes, "The most violent gang of all is Old White Money."
            When Old White Money arrives in Charming it is in the form of Ethan Zobelle, played by smirking Adam Arkin.  He heads a shadowy organization of Neo-Nazis.  His thugs are well dressed, most of the swastika tattoos are hidden under their clothes.  They open a cigar store, a legit small business.  The store is the front from which to undermine and destroy the outlaw gang of motorcycle hoodlums.  When that's done, Charming can be opened up to land speculators and oodles of money can be made by REAL people with decent personal hygiene.
            Zobelle's ideological commitment  is expedient.  When he needs to manipulate black or latino gangs he has no problem being respectful to their chieftains.
            Adam Arkin's no great actor but he doesn't need to be.  The smirk does the work.
            At the center of all this strike and counterstrike is the character of Jax Teller.  It was Jax's dad who founded the Sons of Anarchy.  John Teller was married to Gemma.  When he died in a strangely murky road accident in the 80's, he left Gemma and his toddler son with little more than a personal manuscript containing his philosophy of life and his vision for the future of the club.  Some time later, Gemma meets and marries Clay Morrow (Perlman). It's a good marriage.  Clay's a wily  strategist and an equal to Gemma.  He's willing to raise Jax as his own son.
            Thus are laid the seeds for an old fashioned father-son conflict.
            Charlie Hunnam plays the central role of Jax Teller.  It's a complex role, an actor's dream role.  It asks  him to be tender, vulnerable, fatherly (oh yes, he now has a newborn son), yet ready to beat the crap out of anyone who crosses him or his family.  He's ready to use his automatic pistol,  fire an AK47, swing chains, throw molotov cocktails, throttle other thugs with his sweet, nurturing and compassionate.  He also woos his childhood sweetheart (who is now an MD returned to Charming for reasons too complex for this essay to explain).  Wow.  That's an actor's role!  
            Hunnam isn 't quite the actor to handle it.  In the first season  he was adequate to the extent that we didn't notice or even care that he was not in the same league with Perlman or Sagal.  In the second season I began to feel some irritation at Hunnam's portrayal.  By this time I had seen his repertoire of stock facial expressions.  His conviction seemed to fade.  He is supposed to be THE star of this series, but his second season's acting is tired.  I know, he's supposed to be banged up from his battles, beatings and busts.  It looks like he, the actor Charlie Hunnam, has had  his own extracurricular battles and that he brings the black eyes to work rather than letting Makeup apply them to his face.  Something isn't right.
            That's one beef I have with the series.  In the Big Picture the series Sons Of Anarchy may not be in a league with Rescue Me.  It doesn't match that series' psychological insight or insanely charged hilarious dialogue.  Still, it's a damn good bit of television.  They have already produced Season Three and contracted for Season Four.  I haven't seen the third season.  It will be released to the public some time in August 2011.  I'll be willing to bet there are cast changes, crew changes and an overall veering of the narrative towards a new horizon.  I have faith in the people who make this show.  They're very good.  They've left us in a position that is absurdly fertile for plot development.  In other words, the heroic, despicable protagonists in the SAMCRO  organization have ample scope to destroy the town of Charming or have themselves wiped out by their many foes.
            In short, they are in Deep Shit, and that's the best way to write a drama.

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