Category Archives: photos

return to spain

Just like three years ago I went to Spain, the south this time, I lost my passport for the second time in seven months, I miraculously found it, my friends are the most amazing people ever, I ate bread every day, I read The Beast by Óscar Martínez and My Struggle 2: A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard (both amazing, excellent, I will review them soon), I came back to England, I’m working on my edits, I’m working on my PhD, I have a few weeks left of teaching and marking before summer, I still work in the library but no longer in the outreach office, I have a part-time gig marking papers online for extra cash, I told my landlord I would stay in this house for one my year, my cat got into a fight and had to wear a cone for ages but has now recovered, I went hiking in Thetford Forest, it was extremely sunny today, I am ready and waiting for summer, summer, summer, summer!

(Here are some photos, and two poems:)

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To My Twenties (Kenneth Koch)

How lucky that I ran into you
When everything was possible
For my legs and arms, and with hope in my heart
And so happy to see any woman–
O woman! O my twentieth year!
Basking in you, you
Oasis from both growing and decay
Fantastic unheard of nine- or ten-year oasis
A palm tree, hey! And then another
And another–and water!
I’m still very impressed by you. Whither,
Midst falling decades, have you gone? Oh in what lucky fellow,
Unsure of himself, upset, and unemployable
For the moment in any case, do you live now?
From my window I drop a nickel
By mistake. With
You I race down to get it
But I find there on
The street instead, a good friend
X—- N—-, who says to me
Kenneth do you have a minute?
And I say yes! I am in my twenties!
I have plenty of time! In you I marry,
In you I first go to France; I make my best friends
In you, and a few enemies. I
Write a lot and am living all the time
And thinking about living. I loved to frequent you
After my teens and before my thirties.
You three together in a bar
I always preferred you because you were midmost
Most lustrous apparently strongest
Although now that I look back on you
What part have you played?
You never, ever, were stingy.
What you gave me you gave whole
But as for telling
Me how best to use it
You weren’t a genius at that.
Twenties, my soul
Is yours for the asking
You know that, if you ever come back.

Oath to my former life (Bob Hicok)
It used to be enough to be bigger
in soul by any means,
whether climbing the water tower
drunk or coked or driving
to the frozen lake on mushrooms
to throw up as the ice breathed my skin in and out.
I can offer no more literal
description of pilgrimage
than seven black pills
and holding my hand
over fire when pain
as the extent of the world was perfect clarity.
If not my overturned dog
moaning at the wanderings
of my fingers across her teats
and just a beer shared with my wife
as two girls across the street
in t-shirts etch their thoughts
with sparklers into the air
is the life I want of all
possible miracles, I promise
to remember how to roll a joint
while steering with my thighs.
How to stand in one corner
of a room while looking at myself
waving back at me. How to have
a mouth but no brain, to sell oregano
to men with guns, to fall asleep
in the middle of a room
like babies do, with my ass
in the air and face on the floor,
to wake in this posture
with sunlight washing my skin
and go out for coffee and a slower
life. How to say yes like a river
jumping off a cliff.

 

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Medellín Fiesta del Libro / Book Festival

Thanks to a grant from my beloved host graduate school institution I got to spend the past three weeks in COLOMBIA, tierra de mi alma y corazón. I fly back tomorrow via Madrid... at least I won't have a 12-hour layover this time (!). I still have 40% of

Thanks to a grant from my beloved host graduate school institution I’ve had the opportunity to spend the past three weeks in COLOMBIA, tierra de mi alma y corazón, specifically in Medellín.

Fortunately some things in Colombia never change, like the Tintin sundae at Crepes and Waffles (beloved restaurant chain of many childhood birthday celebrations).

Fortunately some things in Colombia never change, like the Tintín sundae at Crepes and Waffles (beloved restaurant chain of many childhood birthday celebrations).

These Mr. Bean advertisements were definitely new for me though. AY QUE RICO indeed.

These Mr. Bean advertisements were definitely new for me though. AY QUE RICO indeed.

Besides eating ice cream and drinking Mr. Bean-endorsed tintos, my main purpose in Medellín was the following: to be present at a talk with Mexican writer Jorge F. Hernández about borders and short stories.

Besides eating ice cream and drinking Mr. Bean-endorsed tintos, my main purpose in Medellín was the following: to give a talk alongside Mexican writer Jorge F. Hernández about borders and short stories, for the Medellín Fiesta del Libro y Cultural (Book & Culture Festival).

This was an amazing event and I highly recommend for anybody to attend should they ever be in Medellín in September. There were talks by Colombian authors Evelio Rosero, Hector Abad and Pablo Montoya (among others), as well as Anne Mcclean (whose translations of Rosero I've enjoyed very much).

This was an amazing, extremely well-organized event. If you are ever in Medellín in September I highly recommend that you atttend. There were talks by authors like Evelio Rosero, Hector Abad and Pablo Montoya (among many, many others), as well as Anne Mclean (whose translations of Rosero I’ve enjoyed very much).

Best of all there were book stands set up EVERYWHERE. Comics books, used books, art books, Random House books, Penguin books, independent publisher books... this vampire-priest one in particular caught my eye ;)

Best of all there were book stands set up EVERYWHERE. Comics books, used books, art books, Random House books, Penguin books, independent publisher books… this vampire-priest one in particular caught my eye ;)

There was also great artwork and poster displays set up, which my terrible photography skills have completely failed to properly capture. Cortázar! Cervantes! García Márquez! All of the great ones and more! My sister got me a Franz Kafka mug which is basically, like, the best present for me that anybody could ever possibly get. I got a Borges bookmark for myself.

There were also tons of great artwork and poster displays set up, which my terrible photography skills have completely failed to properly capture. Cortázar! Cervantes! García Márquez! My sister got me a Franz Kafka mug which is basically, like, the best present for me that anybody could ever possibly get. I also treated myself to a Borges bookmark.

These displays were particularly striking: selected passages from Colombian novels, illustrated by artists in a glass display case. This one is of Evelio Rosero's Los Ejércitos (

These displays were particularly striking: selected passages from Colombian novels, illustrated by artists in a glass display case. This one is of Evelio Rosero’s Los Ejércitos (“The Armies,” a book that truly deserves its own post on this blog someday soon).

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I was also very moved by these displays, scenes of Colombian citizens confronting the legacy of the armed conflict. I believe these photographs were affiliated with Museo Casa de la Memoria, a museum of exhibits dealing with the civil war.

The talk itself went very well IMHO... :) As a Virgo on the introvert-extrovert spectrum I am not and never will be a huge fan of talking in front of large groups of people, but fortunately the atmosphere was very informal, which I very much appreciated. It was especially great to meet Jorge F. Hernández and the talk convener, Octavio Escobar. Really, really cool guys. Jorge especially had the audience in stitches :D Google 'em!

The talk itself went very well IMHO… :) As a Virgo on the introvert-extrovert spectrum I am not and never will be a huge fan of talking in front of large groups of people, but fortunately the atmosphere was very informal, which I very much appreciated. It was especially great to meet Jorge F. Hernández and the talk convener, Octavio Escobar. Really, really cool guys. Jorge especially had the audience in stitches :D Google ’em!

And now it's back to England tomorrow. Why does time go by so fast? Why does it go by so slow?

And now it’s back to England tomorrow, sadly without this copy of La broma infinita… I fly via Madrid… but at least I won’t have a 12-hour layover there this time, a truly godforsaken experience that I do not recommend. I also still have 40% of My Struggle: Volume 1 to finish on my kindle, and have just purchased A Little Life as backup, just in case.

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march to midsummer moments

Portland half-marathon was fun, crowded and HOT (the fact I overdressed didn't help).

Lisbon half-marathon was fun, crowded and HOT (the fact I overdressed didn’t help).

I stayed in Lisbon for a few days...

Still, I got to walk around the city …

...visited a moss-grown abandoned monastery (those tiny monk cells, the cork-covered walls!)...

…visit a moss-grown abandoned monastery (those tiny monk cells, the cork-covered walls!)…

... and visited the most western point of Europe. No wonder the Portuguese were such sailors...!

… and see the westernmost point of Europe (with scenery like that, no wonder the Portuguese were such sailors…!).

I even popped into a few bookstores.

I even popped into a few bookstores.

Models of Azorean fishing boats! Just like the ones my family's ancestors would use :) The naval museum by far was my most Favorite Activity.

Models of Azorean fishing boats! Just like the ones my family’s ancestors would use :) The naval museum by far was my most Favorite Activity.

In Cornwall we hiked through the EXTREMELY windy & rainy & atmospheric moors...

In Cornwall we hiked through the EXTREMELY windy & rainy & atmospheric moors…

... found the famous stack of stones called the Cheesewring (is that what a ring of cheese looks like?) ...

… found the famous stack of stones called the Cheesewring (is that what a ring of cheese looks like?) …

... and camped out in a permaculture-farm-hostel type place completed with alpacas, sheep and a fuzzy bunny called Pablo.

… and camped out in a permaculture-farm-hostel type place completed with alpacas, sheep and a fuzzy bunny called Pablo.

Our campsite was in Bude, famous hippie-surfer-Tori Amos town.

Our campsite was in Bude, famous hippie-surfer-Tori Amos town.

We went on many, many seaside cliff walks and they were all drop dead gorgeous.

We went on many, many seaside cliff walks….

I even got to stand outside Doc Martin's house, he of the famed English television show so beloved by my mother.

… and I even got to stand outside Doc Martin’s house, he of the famed English television show so beloved by my mother. (It is still a private residence, hence the Private Property sign.)

We visited many little towns...

We visited many little towns…

... and walked, walked, walked!

… and walked, walked, walked!

In May I got to see Jenny Erpenbek win the IFFP prize!! WELL-DESERVED *fangirl swoon*

In May I got to see Jenny Erpenbek win the IFFP prize!! WELL-DESERVED *fangirl swoon*

Back in Norwich it was time to go enjoy Cromer beach...

Back in Norwich it was time to go enjoy Cromer beach…

... and the flowers in Sheringham Park.

… and the flowers in Sheringham Park.

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In NY I got to briefly enjoy the skyline…

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… before crossing the San Diego border to visit old friends & old haunts.

Some things never change!

Some things never change!

Like the candy market...

Like the candy market…

... chilies for sales...

… chiles for sales…

... though the graveyard graffiti was certainly new and interesting, ...

… though the graveyard graffiti was certainly new and interesting, …

... as was this Diego and Frieda mural

… as was this Diego and Frida mural

The border beach wall was still there, naturally...

The border beach wall was still there, unfortunately…

... but it had some new stuff too.

… but it had some new stuff too.

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I got to briefly visit a corgi in Eastern Oregon, and then it was off to summer school job on the East Coast. The library here is filled with Lydia Davis, Mary Ruefle, Ben Lerner, Nell Zink, Donal Ryan, Kathleen Founds, Miranda July and Michael Taussig books that ye merry ole English libraries either a) don't have in stock or b) take foreeeeeever to order. It's gonna be a good summer. Like Chris Pratt and his zookeeper stance before his lil' raptor posse in 'Jurassic World', i'm like BRING IT ON.

I got to briefly visit a corgi in Eastern Oregon, and then it was off to summer school job on the East Coast. The library here is filled with Lydia Davis, Mary Ruefle, Ben Lerner, Nell Zink, Donal Ryan, Kathleen Founds, Miranda July and Michael Taussig books that ye merry ole English libraries either a) don’t have in stock or b) take foreeeeeever to order. It’s gonna be a good summer. Like Chris Pratt and his zookeeper stance before his lil’ raptor posse in ‘Jurassic World’, i’m like BRING IT ON.

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January

I took a break from reading in January. Like Ross and Rachel in that one season of Friends, we needed some time apart, an “off” phase. I did read Hilary Mantel’s short story collection on the airplane, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, and loved it, especially this story. I just finished Jenny Offhill’s Dept. of Speculation, which I also loved. What an amazingly experimental, moving book, reminiscent of Renata Adler yet so, so, so much more emotionally involving for me. The break-up chapter which just consists of a page of “soscaredsoscared” typed over and over again is probably one of the most emotionally realistic things I’ve ever seen represented in fiction–a total Wow, have I ever been there moment. I am not there now, thank God (haha!). Where am I then? Carrying on in England. Reading Eliza Robertson’s Wallflowers and Jenny Erpenbeck’s The End of Days and relishing both. I reread some Bolaño essays in Beyond Parentheses and particularly enjoyed “Our Guide to the Abyss”, specifically its definition of writerly courage and humor. That’s why I love reading Bolaño, I think–I feel like he provides me with a guide, a roadmap of sorts, of how to live a life. Emphasizing hardcore qualities like KINDNESS and EMPATHY and OPENNESS and LOVE OF LITERATURE. Characters like Leopold Bloom make me feel the same way (up to a point, haha). Why else should we read if not to find out how to live, right?

That’s all for now… but here are some winter wonderland photos from a recent all-too brief visit to Portland and Bend.

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This photo is from the Portland Art Museum, of an elephant being captured after rampaging in Washington. I really want to track down the newspaper story about this!!

This photo is from the Portland Art Museum, of an elephant being captured after rampaging in Washington. I really want to track down the newspaper story about this!!

Swedish pancakes!! AMAZING. More like doughnuts, really.

Swedish pancakes!! AMAZING. More like doughnuts, really.

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In the Portland airport, carpet memorabilia is already for sale.

 

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Moar Boooks

taipei

Taipei (Tao Lin)

I haven’t technically finished this book yet (have one more chapter to go) but still wanted to write about it here. I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time since the Internet exploded with reviews about it around a year ago, comparing Lin to Bret Easton Ellis (whom I’ve never enjoyed) and calling him the first author to accurately represent the Internet-addicted, Adderall-taking age (which piqued my interest more… I was intrigued by the idea of someone attempting to depict “the age we live in” without turning it into a morality tale). Another interesting fact is that Lin’s agent apparently is Bill Clegg, whose crack-smoking memoir I read two years ago during my addiction memoir binge (eew, “binge” feels like an inappropriate word to use in relation to addiction-themed literature… but oho well).

I approached Taipei with the same eerie fascination with which I approached Elizabeth Wurtzel’s More, Now, Again and Clegg’s book–the mindset of “wow… life is so simple when you’re an addict. Everything boils down to just one thing.” What is interesting about Taipei is I don’t know if any of the characters would identify themselves as addicts. They’re not constantly taking MDMA or LSD because they NEED it–it’s more like it’s just something to do. Also, I haven’t reached the end yet, but I highly doubt that the main character is going to change his lifestyle. It’s almost like the kind of novel that Cat Marnell in her heyday would have written–a book where the characters don’t repent from their hedonistic lifestyles, but instead keep moving numbly, emptily forward.

Also, maybe I’m just a really sick person, but I find Lin’s style absolutely hilarious–not break-into-laughter funny, but definitely shaking my head at certain sentences. Here are certain passages that appealed to my black, bleak sense of humor:

Matt said he drove a rental car without a plan to Maine and ate seafood in a restaurant alone, did other things alone. “It was really good,” he said, and briefly displayed a haunted and irreducibly unenthusiastic expression before reaching for chips. (59)

He rolled over and gathered a blanket into a cushiony bunch, which he held like a stuffed animal of a brain. (130)

“Do you sometimes feel like it sucks–to just, like, live in the world?”
“What do you mean?” Paul said slowly.
“Like, that the world can’t provide us with enough to satisfy us.”
“No,” said Paul after around ten seconds, and covered his face with his hands. “I mean… the world is good enough, based on evidence, because I haven’t killed myself. Like, if I killed myself… I could say the world is bad, on average.”
“Like definitively,” said Alethia.
“On average,” said Paul through his hands. “Since the urge to kill myself isn’t so strong that I actually kill myself, the world is worth living in.” (127)

Technology is also a big theme throughout this book: lots of references to outer space, characters using their MacBooks to film themselves, stalking exes on facebook, reading Wikipedia, feeling like an endless series of open browsing windows. I’m sure lots of people are going to choose this book for their future dissertation topics about technology and alienation and stuff:

Paul laid the side of his head on his arms, on the table, and closed his eyes. He didn’t feel connected by a traceable series of linked events to a source that had conveyed him, from elsewhere, into this world. He felt like a digression that had forgotten from what it digressed and was continuing ahead in a confused, choiceless searching. (67)

To be frank, I find it amazing that I can read this book without being bored–how does Lin do it? Am I just predisposed to be interested in this kind of story, in which people close to my own age wander around doing random things, like buying kale and toilet paper at Whole Foods or going to parties in New York? Why am I so captivated by its complete lack of affect, as opposed to bored?

One thing that helps is that there’s a lot of dialogue. The other thing is that for all its lack of affect, a lot of “things” (i.e. events) do take place in the book–there’s even a Las Vegas wedding. We’ll see what the last chapter is like, but for now my favorite part so far has been the MDMA-infused tour that the main character and his Vegas bride take of the first McDonalds ever built in Taipei, in which they maniacally examine the posters and visualize the models as futuristic Chicken McNuggets or Cameron Diaz’s children. Good lord.

Once You Break A Knuckle (D.W. Wilson)

I enjoyed this book a lot and thought it was very moving, beautifully poetic and powerfully written. The author is an alumni from my beloved graduate school institution and boy, can you tell that he worked like heck on these stories. Que ejemplo. My favorites were the ones that were linked (there were quite a few too–I wonder why this wasn’t marketed as a linked collection?) or the ones set in childhood. There’s lots of moments of brutal, unexpected violence in these stories, most memorably in the one involving a rope swing (ugh, see if I don’t take notes of individual story’s names, then they just inevitably fade forever into the ether). I feel like I learned a lot about the Experience of being a Rural Canadian Man from reading this–i.e., being gay would be really hard. And I liked how a lot of these pieces focused on characters’ every day lives–going to work, the bar, hanging with the family, etc. I was also really impacted by this sentence in the title story: “Once you break a knuckle, you will break it again.” Uff, talk about a sentence that sums up the legacy of familial abuse and violence. Simple but straightforward–there’s a lot going on underneath that sentiment. Que fuerte.

Bark (Lorrie Moore)

I love Lorrie Moore! I loved this book! I was underwhelmed by her last novel, A Gate at the Stairs (its political themes felt too gimmicky and forced–to be fair, I might have to give it another shot; I was going through a REALLY rough time when I read it). But with this book I am officially back in the Lorrie Moore as Goddess Fandom club. Who else is so funny? So kind? Who else makes something that is so hard (humor) look so easy? She still officially remains one of the two authors who’s literally made me laugh out loud (the other being Terry Pratchett).  I also think she did amazing job of balancing political and social commentary in these stories–the references and themes never feel heavy-handed or forced. The endings of these stories are also incredible, real sucker-punchers, so unconventionally unresolved and unsatisfying. My favorites are “Debarking” (LOVE THESE CHARACTERS; I could read a whole book of with them, seriously), “The Juniper Tree” (surprisingly poignant and moving, an interesting twist on the ghost story) and “Thank You For Having Me'” (I love that the collection ends with a story set at a wedding! What a way to go out with a bang!).

Some of my choice fave sentences (definitely so many to choose from; this is just skimming the surface):

“I said, ‘Are you on crack?’ And he had replied, continuing to fold a blue twill jacket, ‘Yes, a little.'” (181)

“She had always chosen the peanut allergy table at school since a boy she liked sat there–the cafeteria version of The Magic Mountain.” (183)

“The bridesmaids were in pastels: one the seafoam green of low-dose clonazepam; the other the pale daffodil of the next lowest dose of clonazepam. What a good idea to have the look of Big Pharma at your wedding.” (187)

“‘Bummer,’ said Ira, his new word for ‘I must remain as neutral as possible’ and ‘Your mother’s a whore.'” (11)

“He did not like stressful moments in restaurants. They caused his mind to wander strangely to random thoughts like ‘Why are these things called napkins rather than lapkins?’ or ‘I’ll bet God really loves butter.'” (14)

“He wished this month had a less military verb for a name. Why March? How about a month named Skip?” (22)

“‘I would never time travel without a pen,’ he said.” (43)

“The menu, like love, was full of delicate, gruesome things–cheeks, tongues, thymus glands.” (41)

Ahh, Lorrie Moore. We’re so lucky to have a writer like her in the world.

One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses (Lucy Corin)

I am sorry to say that I didn’t enjoy this book very much, despite being very excited about its concept. One hundred micro-stories about apocalypses (as well as a couple of similarly themed full-length short stories)! One of my favorite subjects in the world! So why didn’t I get into this? Why did it end up leaving me cold? I think… I am maybe just not the target audience (IDK who would be, though–someone who is a bigger fan of experimental flash fiction/prose-poetry than I am?). It simply wasn’t my cup of tea. I also might have had expectations that were way too high–the reviews I’d read were glowing, and I loved the title as well as the concept (or at least the idea of the concept, I guess–the execution was a different story). So yeah–reading this book made me feel fuzzy and alienated. I was also really bothered by the full-length story “Madmen” for reasons that I won’t get into here, but to say the least, I would never, ever, ever want someone who is suffering from mental illness to read this story. Like… it is kind of offensive? Or maybe I am just too sensitive? But I thought it was gimmicky and icky, like a bad George Saunders knock-off.

I respect this book’s experimental nature, though. And there were a few of the short apocalypse flash pieces that I liked, though I can’t say there were any that I loved. And there are definitely none that I can remember off the top of my head, three weeks after having finished it. This book made me respect Lydia Davis all the more–writing this kind of experimental, short-short fiction is VERY hard to do without leaving the reader feeling cold or alienated. Or maybe feeling alienated is an inevitable consequence of the form? Maybe I just need to read more flash fiction and get more familiar with it? IDK, it’s true that even with poetry, I tend to like stuff that is more readable/easy to understand/reminiscent of straightforward prose (like Raymond Carver, Bukowski, Robert Bly), rather than stuff that is more trippy and weird (though I definitely like reading that from time to time too… just in small doses). Who knows. But again, kudos to the author for taking a big risk with this book and trying something that is decidedly new.

The Good Cripple and The Pelcari Project (Rodrio Rey Rosa)

Still loving Rodrigo Rey Rosa. I have another book or two of his waiting for me in the library this weekend, yay. He’s the perfect author to binge read: I LOVE SHORT NOVELS!

So yeah, neither of these two books were as good as The African Shore but I still enjoyed and was highly impressed by them. The Pelcari Project especially is extremely eerie–something out of a surreal nightmare, a Kafkaesque riff on the mad scientist story, told mainly through salvaged diary entries. This book in particular is a terrific example of how to write about the horrors of Central America in the 1980’s in a way that is very memorable, risky and innovative. The Good Cripple also deals with violence and is probably the most “conventional” of the three Rosa books I’ve read so far. It’s a fast read that provides several unexpected twists for what you think is going to be a classic revenge story. Instead, you’re left with uneasy questions and no reassuring conclusions. Overall, both books read as allegorical commentaries on the violent culture of Latin America, and I’m probably going to have to think about their themes and ideas in a lot more detail over the coming weeks…

That’s good for now… just for fun, here are some photos of Epic Edinburgh Marathon Weekend (!) that I’ve stolen from other amigos’ social media accounts, since Lord knows where my camera cord is. Continue reading

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Camina conmigo

I went hiking for two weeks in Spain! Specifically the coastal route (camino de la costa) of the Camino Santiago (St. James’ way) in Northern Spain. It was amazing and also one of the hardest physical things I’ve ever done. I walked around 250 km in 10 days. I barely read or wrote the whole time (apart from journal entries and whatever I could find available in the albergues/hostels). It was great. In the hostels, I read Virginia Woolf’s debut novel The Voyage Out, Murakami’s short story collection After the Quake, and The Kite Runner. Today (back in Norwich) I read Balancing Heaven and Earth, a memoir by the Jungian scholar, Robert A. Johnson. Here are some quotes and some travel photos:

For the methods by which she had reached her present position, seemed to her very strange, and the strangest thing about them was that she had knot known where they were leading her. That was the strange thing, that one did not know where one was going, or what one wanted, and followed blindly, suffering so much in secret, always unprepared and amazed and knowing nothing; but one thing led to another and by degrees something had formed itself out of nothing, and so one reached at last this calm, this quiet, this certainty, and it was this process that people called living. (Woolf) (pg. 306)

I now believe that loneliness occurs when our lives are somehow missing one-half of a pair of opposites–being or doing. We can be very busy and surrounded by people yet still feel intense loneliness because our lives are dominated by ‘doing’; there is insufficient time for attentive solitude with our thoughts and feelings. I know many people in this situation, surrounded by others and yet suffering from intense loneliness. We often try to address this problem with still more doing, such as calling up a friend, going out on the town–anything to get rid of that painful feeling of separateness–but all to no avail. This is the loneliness of a life filled with doing, and I have found that most intelligent people in the West today have far too much doing with little or no time for being. When your life is filled with too much doing, the only cure for loneliness is a strong dose of solitude. (Johnson) (pg. 46-47)

Instead of asking what is good or what coincides with our personal interest, ask what is whole-making; what is needed for wholeness in any situation… This requires realigning yourself each day, each hour and each moment. (101)

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Dharma Bums

This was a really nice book to read while traveling nonstop for a month through California and Oregon (my big farewell to the West–oops I mean LEFT–coast). I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed this book so much if I hadn’t been on the move so much myself, but there it goes. I was surprised by how much this book both reminded me of The Savage Detectives, especially in passages like this one:

“Then I suddenly had the most tremendous feeling of the pitifulness of human beings, whatever they were, their faces, pained mouths, personalities, attempts to be gay, little petulances, feelings of loss, their dull and empty witticisms so soon forgotten: Ah, for what? I know that the sound of silence was everywhere and therefore everything was silence. Suppose we suddenly wake up and see that what we thought to be this and that, ain’t this and that at all? I staggered up the hill, greeted by birds, and looked at all the huddled sleeping figures on the floor. Who were all these strange ghosts rooted to the silly little adventure of the earth with me? And who was I?”

Overall this book made me feel happy and excited and appreciative of my wandering, rambling youth. It’s kind of like a Buddhist “On the Road.” It was also fun to read a book in which Gary Snyder (most famous alumni of my alma mater!!) is one of the main characters. The best parts of this book made me feel like a happy smiling Buddha sitting on the edge of a hiking trail, surveying the sunrise as I think back pleasantly about my weekend getting crunk in San Francisco.

My one complaint about this book is the treatment of the female character, Rosie, who ends up killing herself (sorry for the spoiler, but whatever). The narrator’s reaction to this seemed a bit cold to me and it kind of irked me–I guess he was just a typical macho male not able to deal with his feelings? Whatever, I think Kerouac is famous for not being super great at writing female characters anyway–I guess he just couldn’t cope with the Feminine Mystique. One of these days I’d like to write a book or story in which FEMALE characters do Kerouc and Cassady and Ginsberg and Into the Wild-type things. Why should the boys have all the fun, right?

In the spirit of travel and adventure, here are some select photos of my own epic Summer of Fun, taking me from Berkeley & the Bay Area, to Morro Bay and Sebastapol, to Ashland and Bend and beyond.

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:)

These are all from a while back. From the bathroom at the Backspace, haven of the Portland Poetry slam:

What a nice image to randomly find on my camera!

Tipico Portland coffeeshop art.

I recognized one of the winning poets that night; he'd lay in the bed across from mine that morning in the donation clinic. Isn't my life insane?

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Books and Art in New York

I sauntered over to New York last weekend to pay my sister and other friends a visit. It was fun. I like travel.

Trippy walkway in Chicago airport.

Sauntered over to the Met.

Street performers, cheerful and harmonizing despite the cold.

I like modern art, even in all its "my-kid-coulda-painted-that" glory.

Saw me some Pollack. I definitely couldn't have painted that, not even as a kid.

Dali is always good.

Love Georgia O'Keefe! New Mexico must do something to artists (see Tori's "Under the Pink" as another example).

I'm pretty sure that an imitation of this used to hang in my high school library, the work of precocious students.

Earnest Norman Rockwell.

I loved this piece! It was a painting of the Connecticut landscape, and the artist had written faint sentences about moments from his life all over it.

A close-up.

More Dali. I can't decide if I like the ants crawling over the eggs or the lion with the missing face more.

I wandered into the Oceania section and found it absolutely fascinating, especially in light of my trip to Indonesia.

Such creepy Polynesian puppets!

This section made New Guinea seem like it would be fascinating to visit.

A book of Indonesian magic spells! HOW COOL IS THAT.

God knows what it says.

The Native American section was also fascinating. This was a ledger book that people would apparently draw in, imitating the ledger books they saw/acquired from passing pioneers.

I try to photograph museum text from time to time when I want to remember what it says.

The Brooklyn flea market was also awesome to visit.

Shopping cart filled with books! LOVE IT.

Old photographs for sale.

It’s been a long week. I’m excited for the weekend. I’m tired and don’t seem to be able to write in anything other than declarative sentences. Better update to come later, then.

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Poetry Slam

On Sunday night I went to a poetry slam at the local hip coffee show downtown, the Backspace. I believe it was my first ever poetry slam, unless I attended one in college that has completely escaped my memory. It was definitely not my first time at the Backspace, though: the first time I went there with a friend and the guy she was dating at the time, who had a tattooed face and believed (yes, genuinely believed) himself to be an alien. It was a very Portland experience, to say the least. 

Sunday night also felt like the quintessential Portland experience. No wonder there’s a TV show documenting this kind of culture and dress and attitude. I always miss it when I’m gone: the alternative hairstyles, the black-framed glasses, the secondhand T-shirts that are so soft from having been washed so may times.

It’s fun to do things for the first time, though. I enjoyed the poetry very much. The Amherst Writer’s and Artist’s Method made me feel weird about the whole “voting” for the better poem (an awkwardness that to his credit the MC acknowledged), but it’s a slam, so I guess having a winner is point. I liked the guy with the vaguely British-sounding accent, whose last poem ended with the line “Sometimes I wish my face was your bicycle seat.” I also liked the very first guy, whose poem was about streets and asphalt, comparing them to warm-blooded creatures, and called street lamps “gargoyles.”

I liked the MC's Valentine's Day T-shirt.

The poetry slam made me think about poetry as a combination of both literature and performance. When a particular piece was well-received by the audience, it wasn’t just about how well-written the work was, it was also very important how well read and performed it was. Some people recited theirs by memory, but this didn’t seem to be the defining quality of what made the performance exceptional or not, as the two finalists (the British guy and a girl who made me think of an Anime character, with a super cute haircut and black-framed glasses) both read theirs, from either long thin white slips of paper or a red hardcover journal respectively.

It was this “performance” aspect of it that made me feel nervous about the potential scenario of me ever reading work in public. I still think of myself as a relatively shy person (despite having two jobs that involve speaking in front of large groups of people a lot of the time!), have definitely never participated in theater. I don’t know. I definitely like the idea of SHARING pieces.

The appreciative audience

I haven’t been to that many performances in my lifetime. When I think about truly exceptional performers I have seen, the first person who comes to mind is Tori Amos. That woman really knows how to put on a show for her fans, which makes sense—she’s been performing since she was 9, for goodness’ sake! She has all these little moments: flipping the bird during “Father Lucifer,” the crotch grab in “Precious Things,” the piano slapping in “Take to the Sky” that fans like me come to both expect and look forward to. She is truly a seasoned and well-honed professional performer in every sense of the word.

Apart from the poetry slam things have been pretty fine. I am very tired right now. On Sunday night I was up until 2AM re-reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s truly excellent novel Never Let Me Go, and I still haven’t been able to catch up on my sleep. It was totally worth it, though. What a great book. I definitely appreciated it a lot more this time around than when I first read it, back in 2005. I was very moved by how poetry and painting was used by the teachers as the way to prove that the cloned students had “souls.” It made me think of that ineffable, inexplicable quality of art, and how it is often discussed in the context of being “good” for us, in the sense of it being good for our souls, as somehow being something that proves we are “human” (whatever THAT means!).

I was so moved by the image of the plastic bag caught in the barbed wire at the end, I very nearly cried. I kept re-reading that passage over and over again. There’s just something so sad about how that image is connected to what one of the other characters said earlier, about how they’re modeled “on trash,” cloned from the dregs of society. There was also something just so eerily prophetic about the headmistress’s comment, about how the image she gets from the song “Never Let me Go” is of a little girl facing the new world that was emerging, an efficient but cruel world, and asking the old world not to let her go. It makes me think about technology and the rise of social media. Like my sister said in a recent conversation, ” i want to be like george orwell and go back to the time of the shire with little brooks and rivers.” But until then, I guess we have blogs to update, emails to answer. At least we have art and poetry. But like another one of the teacher characters says near the novel’s end, if the students had known 100% clearly from the very beginning their purpose in life (to provide organs and just die), none of them would have bothered with the painting or the writing, because “it would have seemed pointless.” But then this is refuted when the male character, Tommy, continues drawing his weird cartoon animals despite knowing that they’re not going to help him escape from his situation. So. I wonder what this book is ultimately saying about poetry and art and its relationship to the human soul. Is it hopeful? Defeatist? Resigned? Does writing poems and performing them at a poetry slam help us cope with all the brutal ugly things in life, or is it a petty distraction, an escapist illusion, a bougy fantasy?

This book was just tragic in general, but extremely bloody well-written.

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