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Entries in WRITE CLUB (17)

Friday
Feb202015

Love, Man. Love.

When we turn to the subject of love, we think too frequently of love’s consuming and blood-quickening first blush. We think in terms of ardor and longing, of desire, of yearning.

“Love” is a Cthulhu kiss – a pair of tentacle-faced demons, enslaved by their hunger, lapping and yanking at each others slurping mouths – a kiss that sounds like you’re trying to drink a milkshake through a tracheotomy tube, or a Shop Vac shuddering as it guzzles up a puddle of greek yogurt. A dentureless grandma in a pie-eating contest.

The Cthulhu kiss aims to give pleasure, but only to the extent that it permits the demon to continue pulling apart the face of its opponent.

At the dawn of love, your genitals form the needle on your compass, pointing always toward the bikini area of your partner, and guiding you thereto.

Which, yeah, is true in the beginning. It’s all Cthulhu kisses and the magnetized contents of your underpants.

But later.

After this kind of heat has died down, after the quivering has stilled. What, then?

Well then, as with everything, time lays claim to us. What you take to be love gets buried under the passage of time, and sorrow, and circumstance; submerged beneath obligation and worry, expectation and regret. It gets buried beneath the blizzard of our experience – those billion flakes of distraction and discontent, of fatigue and frustration.

The phrase “a blanket of snow” – this applies only to snow we look at through a window. When we are out IN it, snow never resembles a blanket. It is a stinging and shitty thing we must endure. We trudge through snow. We curse as our leaky boots pierce its crust and plunge down into it. We squint at the blinding featureless landscape and muse bitterly about how much more of this shit there will be.

This forbidding hellscape, this wasteland into which you have wandered, deceived by your wiener compass to die like Shackleton, having eaten the last of your sled dogs, staring in bafflement at your stiffened and useless fingers, blackened by frostbite. With your last breath you curse your wiener compass, which has led you to this bleak and sorry fate.

To be clear: in this metaphor I am torturing, the snow is not love, but the complexities and constraints of life under which it gets entombed.

I have been married for fifteen years. We have been together for twenty-five years. Over half our lives. We have had two children together. We have two pets – a dog, brimming obviously with love, and a cat, who is sociopathic enough to barely qualify as a mammal. We have signed auto loans together and attended funerals, we have endured flooding and poverty, overwork and bedevilments of every description.

And the love of which I speak is not marriage – though there is love to had there. It is not parenting, though love and fear battle always for supremacy there. I mean love. For her. Absent all other factors. I have still love that is hers alone.

But when you are atop the snow of circumstance that stretches to the horizon in every direction, it becomes too easy to forget that there remain morsels of love below your aching feet, down where the tall grass has been pounded flat by the pummeling weight of the snow, down by the permafrost. It is only the cunning and stubborn among us who can adapt to these punishing conditions.

So if we resolve to hold fast to what love we can harvest from such a forbidding climate, we must become like the fox. During the long and lean winters, the fox will stalk its quarry from above, its sharp nose plunged down into the snow, its ears fanned out to trace the scurry of the vole, the furtive travels of the chipmunk – creatures who will sustain the fox for only a little while. But failure to pursue and capture these bony little snack animals ensures the fox’s death.

So it is with love longstanding.

The wind-blasted blanket of circumstance and habit and routine threaten to snuff out the fast-moving and bite-sized tidbit scooting deep inside the snow underfoot. You must remain vigilant, ear pressed to the rutted crust, listened with all of yourself for the tiny and telltale footfall below.

And when the time is right, you must spring. You must coil your haunches, and describe with your body an orange-pelted parabola, driving your head and forepaws to drowning depth in the frenzied pursuit of the panicked morsel. You must close your jaws over it quickly, so as not to waste a drop of its blood. You must gulp it down fast.

And while it is true that you must remain thankful for the sustaining little nugget making its way down your gullet, you cannot stop too long. Because you must keep hunting.

Because these are lean times, and it is the hunt alone that gives us purpose.

Tuesday
Oct282014

WRITE CLUB Anthology Due in December!

Wednesday
Jan222014

WRITE CLUB, Nice - 12/17/13

As the founder of this thing, I’ve written something like 70 WRITE CLUB pieces. I’ve performed the show in five North American cities. I’ve written to a wide range of topics.

And I can tell you this:

Nice is the worst fucking assignment I’ve ever given myself.

Not only am I temperamentally unsuited to the task of advocating for Nice, but from the standpoint of writerly craft, Nice is one of those gutless, toothless, limbless words that drive me right around the bend.

You know the ones. The words.

Nice.

Happy.

Like.

Great.

Cute.

All those fucking words that are so thumb-worn and degraded from centuries of having drizzled off the tongues of the insincere that they have ceased to contain any vestige of their meaning. Words so compromised and pissed-upon that they may as well be made-up non-words like “edutainment” or “nutraceuticals.”

In every office and coffee shop, at every bus stop and at the end of every bar, they sit, these words, by the bucketful. Used by the desperate in the wrong-headed belief that any utterance, no matter how hollow or false, is preferable to the silence that surrounds us always. People who would sooner say SOMETHING, because the prospect of a stretch of nothing said, a howling pause in the something-ness, well it’s more than most can bear.

[SILENCE FOR A BEAT.]

There, now. Wasn’t that nice?

It is no secret that many people labor under the misconception that I am not a nice person. I am quick to hatred, and live suspended in a molten pool of judgment and harshness.

But it is not for want of ABILITY that I am not a Nice person. It is because I believe that being NICE is not worth aspiring to. NICE people are well suited to standing in line till they die; NICE people make outstanding hostages. If you want a trainee for middle management or a lamb for the slaughter, call a Nice person. Nice people are good cannon fodder or medical test subjects.

In short, Nice people are mostly stupid and afraid. I also am mostly stupid and afraid, but I am nonetheless lacking in Niceness.

But setting aside the hollow and senseless aspects of Nice, the pleasing and vacuous and agreeable aspects of it, what do we find? What was the original intent of the word?

Well. Murky as fuck, as it turns out.

[PRODUCE Oxford English Dictionary]

Following are several archaic definitions of Nice, which will demonstrate that despite the vastness of my hostility, the nanoscopic scale of my patience, and the combustibility of my good will, I am, in point fact and despite the evidence of your senses, Nice.

“Shy, reluctant, unwilling”

“Wanton, loose-mannered, lascivious”

“Requiring or involving great precision, accuracy, or minuteness”

“Critical, doubtful, full of danger or uncertainty”

And finally “Fastidious in matters of literary taste”

Now then. On the surface, the misguided among you could argue that I am a bit of dick. But if one RETURNS to true nature of the word, it is plain to anyone that I am as Nice as I can be.

Where reluctance and being critical are concerned, where one has need of doubt and lasciviousness, one would be hard pressed to find anybody more fully empodying these attributes than I. I am a PARAGON of unwillingness, a TOWER of uncertainty. In fact, when you apply the right metrics of assessment, I rapidly emerge as THE NICEST PERSON YOU HAVE EVER MET.

It is precisely BECAUSE of my misanthropy and formless dread that I am so Nice. It is LESSER people, people lacking the courage to be judgmental and unforgiving that actually LACK in Niceness.

It is the people who seek always to be agreeable and civil, actually, that are the dicks, here.

Not this guy.

I am distasteful and truculent enough to recognize that it is those traditionally regarded as The Nice who ACTUALLY demonstrate the worst kind of cowardice and hypocrisy with their solicitude and tact and enthusiasm. It is the TYRANNY of jocularity and accommodation, in short, that have conspired to ensure that Nice Guys like myself finish last.

You have it in your power, however, to RECLAIM Niceness from the legions of the attentive, the armies of the cordial, the fascism of the friendly.

You have it in your grasp, here, this night, to seize for good and always the sense of what it means to be Nice. Do NOT LET this singular opportunity slide, ladies and gents. Do NOT permit these CHARLATANS to continue selling us the snake oil of their respectfulness. DEPROGRAM YOURSELF from this Cult of the Kind.

NOW is your time to stand and be counted. 

[FLIP THEM OFF.]

Who among you is Nice enough to return my salute?

Sunday
Aug042013

WRITE CLUB, Damned - 4/16/13

“Have a blessed day.”

Even in our very darkest hour, when we stand at the brink of slipping into the volcanic pit of our loathing and brutality; when humanity seems poised to send its last weak ripple out into the pond of the world; and the cowl of hatred and fury threatens to blot out the sunlight of kindness and clarity for the final time – there will be calls in these times for the relaxing… of standards.

I say: NO. Now more than ever, we must cleave all the more closely to what we know to be true and right. Whether free speech, or civil liberties, or common sense – there are cries to leave these by the wayside – if only temporarily. They can be restored to us at some later, more placid date.

But once the soil is eroded – it is gone for good.

“Have a blessed day.”

Of all the farewells in the language, this one stands out as the grisliest of the bunch. As grating as it is presumptuous, as patronizing as it is sanctimonious, and as hypocritical as it is vapid.

“Have a blessed day.”

Listen Flanders – doesn’t matter what’s happening in the world: if you catch sight of THIS FACE, and still urge me to have a “blessed day,” you mistakenly believe that you and I share a sense of what constitutes a state of blessedness; you further believe – again, quite mistakenly – I concur that you are by some means imbued with the power to draw blessings from the heavens and to bestow them upon me; and finally, you further believe – and again, I hasten to add how badly off base you are, here – that I want your shabby goddamn blessings at all, ever, for any reason.

For you to say “Have a blessed day,” as you press my change into my palm, would be like me saying “Hail Satan!” Which I almost never do. Because it would have NOTHING WHATEVER TO DO with the Tacquitos I am seeking to purchase in your establishment.

I would sooner suffer every anguish conceived by the demon mind than to have you trying to insinuate your blessings into our transaction – I came here for a thing of Skittles and some piping hot Tacquitos, not for your tepidly conceived theology. Mine are secular Skittles, friend, and I frankly resent your attempts to make them some kind of sacrament in your half-assed church-less liturgy.

Now then – if my rejection of your blessings constitutes my damnation, then so be it.

The fate of my soul – assuming despite abundant evidence to the contrary that I have such a thing – is not yours to determine. If my “soul” is to be consigned to your totally made up lake of flames, or your make believe castle in the clouds, then it ain’t gonna be you that does the consigning – you feel me, Tammy Faye?

And even if you WERE so empowered, if you were handling the traffic flow of the afterlife, I would choose the Damned over the Blessed every goddamn time.

Cause “the Damned” is an apt synonym for “the Interesting”.

Whereas the Blessed – whether in this world or the next – are to me is like a congealing tower of rice pudding – a featureless and lumpy expanse of Boring distinguished mostly by its enduring capacity for self-congratulation.

My allegiance is with the Damned. And if you’re honest with yourself, so is yours.

You gotta be suspicious of any word that lends itself to the pretentious version: “blessed” here becoming “BLESS-ED.” The one exception is “legged” – but ONLY where it is used to indicate an off-count, like “three-legged dog” or “one-legged man.”

BLESS-ED is the way your eight-year-old ass feels during hour two of a sermon on the unyielding oak of a church pew. Damned is the way your lungs feel on that first drag of the cigarette you’re not supposed to be having.

BLESS-ED is the opening strains of a shitty song wafting over your cubicle wall – a song so generic, it could well be playing at the party in the After School Special about the perils of underage drinking – a song made infinitely worse when it dawns on you that your new officemate is VOLUNTARILY playing Christian Rock WITHOUT A TRACE OF IRONY – this naturally collapses your remaining affection and regard for the species into a bleak little wad of monkey-brain hatred. At 9:17AM.

Because if there is any more effective means than Christian Rock to make you wanna go do a bunch of heroin in the break room, it has yet to be discovered.

Look, it’s very simple: Damned is Highway to Hell, Blessed is Highway to Heaven – so what’s it gonna be?

The guitar licks of Angus? Or the helmet-haired syndication piety of Michael Landon? Because Eric Ruelle is asking you to choose the helmet-haired piety of Michael Landon. Which, listen… if you can live with yourself throwing in with the helmet-haired piety of Michael Landon and his earthbound minion Eric fucking Ruelle, then so be it.

I guess you wanna be a giant hopeless douche-twat. Which is JUST what Eric Ruelle and all his superstitious, ignorant, quivering little helmet-haired Army of God shit sticks want you to be: a giant hopeless douche-twat.

I don’t want that for you. You don’t want that for you. You don’t wanna look in the mirror and see a giant hopeless douche-twat looking back at you. A vote for BLESS-ED constitutes the unapologetic declaration that you believe yourself to be a giant hopeless douche-twat.

Though Damned, we know you to be a person of quality, a person of valor and moxie. We the Damned welcome you – in all your frailty and imperfection, all your strivings and struggles. Join us. Join the Damned. It is the only way to avoid becoming for all time a giant hopeless douche-twat.

Thursday
Nov152012

WRITE CLUB Chicago Humanities Festival - Belknap DEATH - 11/4/12 & 11/12

Interesting. Used (slightly modified) piece twice. First bout (vs. the estimable Bilal Dardai) victorious, second bout (vs. the Live Lit bone-cracker Samantha Irby) a crushing defeat. Sidebar: the Poetry Foundation is just about the fanciest place into which I've ever been permitted entry.

If you could reanimate the corpse of your civics lessons, you’d no doubt recall that patriot Patrick Henry famously said: “Give me liberty or give me death.”

We think.

Given our context – a festival in celebration of… whatever the humanities are, in this TEMPLE erected for a literary form nobody cares about – I mean honestly: look at this place. It’s a fifty million-dollar bookcase. All those books back there? Poetry. Or worse: about poetry. Building this palace is like launching an aircraft carrier to defend stamp collecting.

But since we are here in this I’m ascribing to each of you and extraordinarily high degree of egg-headedness. As such, I shall operate on the assumption that you care about things like attribution and provenance – you recognize that as ideas are passed from hand to hand, there should be an anally retentive record of these pathways.

Anything short of this kind of butt-squinching documentation about the chain of possession for ideas sparks a frenzy of academic knife-sharpening that makes the average flame-war on Yelp!  or Amazon seem positively sedate by comparison.

I think it’s safe to say that this is the kind of crowd where if I speak the words “epistemology,” or “tautology,” or “semiotics” – if you listen carefully you can hear the nerd-nipples stiffening.

Like most Americans, I cannot with confidence tell you what “epistemology” or “tautology” or “semiotics” mean.

But academic hackles are known only go up where there is nothing at stake, which is what separates dork-fighting from the real kind. Only at Comic Con is it possible to witness slap-fights about the place of Jar-Jar Binks in the Lucas canon. Likewise, it is only in the halls of academia where bitter tears are shed by the gallon over disputed punctuation in the doctoral thesis nobody will ever read.

In fact, the ONLY time you’ll see historians retract their catty claws is when the detail in question is agreed to be of abiding benefit to the national narrative. Which, in the case of Patrick Henry’s alleged statement, is clearly what’s going on.

First of all, let’s just say it: Patrick Henry is a one-hit wonder – “Give me liberty or give me death” is the “Hey Mickey” or “Baby Got Back” of its time – a shallow, idiotic tune we should all be mortified for having danced to so lustily. And it’s a hit from era of such chronic lameness, men were expected to march to their deaths behind a dude playing the fucking fife.

The trouble? Henry never published the text of the 1775 Virginia Convention speech alleged to contain this line. The version we think we know was published 17 years after his death by his biographer. Who wrote it from memory. A full twenty-four years after the speech in question. Now, speaking as a guy that’s constantly walking into my kitchen and forgetting what I came in there for, I readily concede people were smarter back then – but even so, twenty-four YEARS is a long-ass time to wait before jotting anything down.

But even if we accept this quote as valid, and even if we set aside the false dichotomy of Liberty vs. Death, it’s STILL no contest. Look – in principle, Liberty is appealing. Who among does not think we want freedom? However, we invariably find that that Liberty, so virtuous in principle, turns out to be total nightmare.

Because in practice, Liberty is nothing more than the paralysis of too much choice. And this mind-cracking weight of choice squashes from us all sense of control and clarity like grapes in a wine press until we are ankle-deep in an ineffectual puddle of our own waffling.

America has been in this Liberty bidness for a long-ass time.

With too much Liberty, we become the fattest country in the world, where the national pastime is gun violence. We elect paunchy helmet-haired men who declare that global warming is not real from what has become the Atlantic coast of Kentucky; men who draft constitutional amendments that defines rape as being between a man and a woman; men who lobby to “solve” the society-smashing perils of gay-marriage with drone strikes, and immediately get caught in the airport bathroom trying to give a handie to the dude in the next stall while chanting USA! USA! USA!

This is where Liberty leads us. We can’t handle it, man. Because we tend to be selfish, ignorant, short-sighted swine. No disrespect intended.

In his acceptance speech last night, President Obama acknowledged this – in talking about the messy nature of life in democracy, he talked about this tendency for rancor and squabbling. He said “These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty.”

We suck at ramifications. We got no patience for consequences. Complexity is super-boring. We like tidy conclusions with only the most casual relationship to the facts – Americans will flatly declare things that are insane like “Racism’s over – we elected a black president,” or “Kim Kardasian is a star.”

And here’s what the Patrick Henry lobby, the fat cats in the pocket of Big Patriotism, don’t want you to know, brother: Death? It’s the completest Liberty there is. In Death, there is no rancor and squabbling, Mr. President.

When laid beside Death, is Liberty not a stingy little thing? A self-seeking and small-minded little thing? Of course it is.

Death is the Great Emancipator, because it is only Death that offers complete freedom from choosing. Anything. Ever. Only Death that grants the cessation of desire, the everlasting reprieve from longing and unrequitedness. Death alone that bestows freedom from all striving – and we, The Unfulfilled, know from bitterly won experience that our striving leads only to misery and want. Only in death, my friends, are we relieved of the chaotic snarl of our hankering, the restless clot of our hungering.

If you claim to cherish Liberty, then you know it is only in Death that real freedom is possible, only in Death that true Liberty abides. Counter-intuitive though it may seem, you must cast your vote for Death. To do otherwise constitutes cowardice of the worst sort, and only serves to declare your contempt for the Liberty of any lasting kind.