Thursday, October 28, 2010

it's GOOD to get a "D"!

That's right. I've got another GOOD article out there on the interwebs, forever and ever, AMEN! You may now go look at it. And thumbs-up it. And hug it, and love it, and pet and play with it, and call it George.

a new blog

Forsooth: noticing that the world is really short on blogs these days, I have added yet another, which will be used to chronicle the teeth-pullingly painful process of trying to sell my first book to people with the power to buy it and then sell it to other people. I most likely shant be updating all that often, as selling a book is a slooooooow process. Nonetheless, I invite you to suffer with me.

This new blog is linked in the sidebar. And here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

to kill a yuppie (or at least, her pride)

I'd like to say I am writing in defense of mercy, but this piece probably has more to do with my desire to enact literary revenge all over a yuppie suburbanite named Rosillo. If this was a blog of a zillion readers I might feel worse about this, but since my readership consists mostly of my mom and a bunch of former students, I will disregard charity and blast away.

I don't know all that much about her, but my guess is that Rosillo is not a particularly bad woman. In fact, she is probably about ninety-seven degrees closer to the norm that I. She is a college graduate and probably works in a bank, or as a retail manager. Her slight accent and familiarity with our mutual acquaintance, Ulysses - the Mexican mechanic who fixed her bumper - leads me to believe that she most likely immigrated from that or another Latin country as a child and has worked hard to assimilate into this culture. I also know that she is thirty-one, because she commented on our shared age as she copied down information from my driver's license.

Rosillo drives a Maroon 2010 Kia sedan that for a couple of days, until I paid five-hundred-and-thirty-nine dollars to Wilburn Auto, had a three-inch by one-quarter-inch white mark in the middle of the back bumper, deposited there by the front license plate of the twenty year-old Oldsmobile sedan I happened to be driving when it decided it wanted a more intimate connection with Rosillo's jinxed Kia.

I know her Kia was jinxed because she told me that it was - that this was her third accident in the few months since she had bought the car. But I don't want to talk about Rosillo's spastic driving style. I want to talk, rather, about how mercy and neighborliness have all-but-evaporated in a culture of justice, Justice, JUSTICE.

The truth is that, ultimately, I tapped Rosillo's car with my own not because of her spastic driving but rather because she stopped unexpectedly at the exact moment when I let my attention slip from the road in front of me. According to the laws of this country (which, in this particular case, actually make sense) the accident was my fault, and Justice demanded that I pay the consequences. So pay them I did, and with gratitude both for the fact that I had the money available and for the fact that Rosillo hadn't insisted on calling the cops, an action which might have resulted in me being bent over the knee of the hegemonic insurance company in a Kafka-esque spanking that would have continued, most likely, until I was dead.

Still, insisting on making a guy in a twenty-year-old car and a ratty green sweatshirt pay five hundred and thirty-nine dollars to maintain your vanity about the paint job on a car you'll most likely smash into someone else's car within the month hardly seems neighborly. It's a bumper for the love of everything that is not yet perverse in this deranged society and... I mean, SERIOUSLY, ever hear of a bumper sticker?

Besides, Rosillo, you just gotta get over the ridiculous idea that a car is an "investment." It's not. It depreciates a few thousand dollars the second you drive it off the lot and continues to devaluifize every year after until one day, forty years down the road, some other yuppie is going to say, "Hey, look! There's one of those old Kia's from back before Google bought Korea and re-named it Wonder-Bread-Land! I think I'll sink six million dollars (ten grand, present-day USD) into restoring it and trade it to my local comptroller for a travel pass to visit my Aunt Maybeline over in the Kingdom of New Southern West Third Georgia! Shweeeet (unfortunately, they say 'shweet' a lot in the future)!"

So why oh why, Rosillo, are you stressing about a paint mark?!? It's frickin' paint on a frickin' bumper that will rust, decay, fall off and end up in a landfill right next to your frickin' overpriced, planned-obsolescence power suit and all that other garbage with which you fill your house and those two storage units you pay for. Get over it and stop taking pennies from the pocket of a guy who did not obsessively turn off all the lights in his house for the past two years just so he could take those savings and buy you a few more days vanity on your soon-to-disintegrate car.

Stops. Breathes Deeply. I'm all right. It's okay.

Like I said - I had the money. And it's only money. I don't blame you, Rosillo, for assimilating all too well into a culture as perversely un-neighborly and un-merciful as this one. Before I make my exit, however, I will leave you with a few choice words from our good pal, Willy. Take note:

"The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."

- The Merchant of Venice. Act 4, Scene 1 (written by Willy)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

*Sophia's Curse

A week or so ago I wrote a blog post about online dating, which I said I was starting to check out in order to fulfill the mandate given to me by Austin the Actor and JJ the Chef to "learn how to be friends with women I find attractive." A little while later I deleted the post because, as my Californica friend Seth wisely remarked when I told him what I was up to, "yeah, right."

You don't going on a dating website where the context is always the possibility of romantic entanglement and then try to claim that all you want is friends - that's just ridiculous. I knew it, too, which is why I deleted the post. It seemed disingenuous, and an important attribute that grows symbiotically with a love of truth (to which I aspire... or at least to which I want to aspire... most of the time) is a hatred of lies and  pretension.

The truth, of course, is that I am also often fabulously annoyed by my pesky dedication to the truth. It forces me to admit that on a subterranean level I got on a dating website because I wanted to drown out the anxieties and angsts I've got hovering over me by overwhelming them with the sort of electrical charge a fella like me can only get from a living, breathing woman.

I knew at that subterranean level that I was lying to myself, hoping to be able to disregard the facts of my life: like the fact that I am tied to a specific location and schedule by relationships with people whom I love fiercely; or the fact that I have a responsibility to give the kids I teach my utmost attention when I'm on the job; or perhaps even the reason that I sorta-kinda tacked onto that post about online dating - that I already have a lover, Art, who is jealous and demands my sweet, sassy ministrations on a regular, timely basis. I know these truths - feel them shaving off the seconds of my life and keeping them for themselves - but there are times when I don't want to know them.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and it is always only a little knowledge. No one ever knows much and the best they can hope for, I think, is to have a little bit of wisdom as well - enough to distinguish between actions that increase love and those that decrease it. That, I think, is what wisdom is - nothing particularly spectacular, just the occasional flash of insight into the relative love-producing value of any given course of action.

I may be wrong, but I tend to think of myself as being a somewhat wiser-than-average person. I don't know why this might be - whether it's because I wanted it more than most; or happened to read a few of the right books; or if, perhaps, God just decided to drop a couple of extra wisdom-anvils on my head. Because make no mistake - that's what it is. Wisdom is an anvil dropped on your head from a great height. Wisdom is pain. As far as I can tell, wisdom is a gift God gives to other people... you, the wise one, are just the heavy-laden pack horse.

That, I think, is why the Bible tells that story about Solomon, where God offered him anything and because he asked for wisdom, God honored him by giving him and power and wealth as well. Because let me tell you this, people: wisdom is as much a curse as it is a blessing, and the Bible is all about cheering for the guy who takes a curse on himself for someone else's benefit.

You're doubting me, aren't you? That's okay - it makes perfect sense to doubt a crazy person.

Let me try to explain it differently, though. If, as I have said, wisdom reveals to you which path will lead towards the most love, then as a creature for whom love is the highest pleasure, aim, and object of yearning (which, I am convinced, is a core human reality), it would seem that you would be thrilled to have greater insight into what that path is so you could take it. The problem arises, however, when you realize that Greater Love always includes in it Greater Love for Other People, and as much as you may want that love, there is another, strident yearning in your nature to just say, "Y'know what... screw wisdom and the horse it rode in on - I'm frickin' tired of looking out for what's good for other people in the big-picture-of-love sense. I wanna look out for me, right now! Big-picture love is a costly, time-consuming enterprise and I don't live in long time-stretches, I live in the right now. And in this instant, I want some frickin' mind-erasing pleasure!"

Back and forth it goes, these two elemental forces battling for dominance. The more you learn - the more wisdom you get - the greater the conflict. Selfish, right-now thinking is the oh-so-natural path of least resistance and only creates conflict when wisdom's love-o-scope blinks into operation. The presence of wisdom is not an inevitable precursor to wise choices.  Although wisdom may reveal the way of love, it does jack-bo-diddly to actually move you towards it - all it really does is make it exquisitely painful to step in the opposite direction. Wisdom happens in the head, while the real battle rages on in the heart.

I find that no matter how much I might sometimes want to spend some non-thinking time with a woman, making myself feel better without a thought in my head for what it will take to increase the love in her life, the more time I spend getting to know her, the more wisdom reveals the more loving alternative.

Casual dating, then, becomes a painful proposition, as does casual sex, casual conversation, and casual emailing. I don't feel that every person I say "hello" to on the street has to become my best friend, but I do feel as though each human contact is an opportunity for real love and an opportunity to make another other-centric connection. Love is not satisfied with casual... it wants more, every single time.

And here's the kicker. Wisdom keeps insisting that women are all these amazing, wondrous, mysterious creations and demanding that I love them all. It has been suggesting to me that the best way to love them all is to make art. To write; to sing; to paint, and in so doing to throw my love out, un-exclusively, to them all.

Maybe, just maybe, there will come a day when my situation will shift and I will be able to afford the time to love all of them through my art and one of them in a more focused, interpersonal way as well. This does not, however, feel like that day. It feels, rather, that this is a day in a long continuum of days in which love will have to grow slowly, by inches, between me and a larger world. As much as I may want to live exclusively in the ever-selfish now, wisdom keeps insisting that I at least attempt to live a broader, more expansive love.

I am, as usual, only fumbling towards clarity. I may be horribly wrong and I it is just as likely that I will ignore the insight that I am giving, now, to you. Nonetheless, this is the way it seems to me to be. So curse you right back, Sophia... curse you right back. I'll do what you say but, dodge gambit, I don't have to like it!

* "Sophia" is Greek for "wisdom."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

meet the jungle man

This week's offering for GOOD magazine brings together my past and present worlds by talking about a man who has an important role in both of them, Mr. Daniel Fast. It doesn't have any anacondas in it, but I think you might enjoy the read.

Monday, October 11, 2010

in print

When people ask me what it takes to be a writer - or rather, after I get my first book published and my publisher sends me on a book tour of small midwestern towns and some moon-eyed community college student asks me what it takes to be a writer - I think I will probably give the stock answer: read a lot of everything and write every day.

It sounds pretty straightforward, but it leaves out the part about rewriting. I spent this past week rewriting (for the quadrillianth time) my book and I have to say that it does not feel like writing. In fact, it feels a little bit like putting on nice clothes, hopping on a bicycle, and getting caught in a water-balloon rainshower. It's not that it is all that unpleasant - it's still writing and it's still fun - but it has more than enough of those, "I can't believe I'm doing this again!" moments.

Nonetheless, I think I have finally reached a point where my baby is almost-sorta-kinda starting to really show something without just telling it. Now where's that publisher?

Friday, October 1, 2010


Yesterday, Austin the actor/director thought it necessary to post on my facebook wall that my writing has begun to "meander" and that I need to "tighten up." My first reaction, of course, was to tell him that his abdominals and glutes were starting to "meander" and that he ought to "tighten up." Then I remembered that yesterday morning I wrote a Buddha-Jesus dialog and ended up with six pages of unadulterated drivel, so I figured maybe Austin was right.

The antidote to meandering, in my experience, is a list. Lists don't meander, so for your reading pleasure I present my blacklist.

Barkingreed's Blackest of Blacklists:
1. Austin Herring
2. Unfocused, meandering writing
3. Antiperspirant
4. Styrofoam
5. Yellow # 5
6. Genetically modified salmon
7. Plastic
8. Excuses
9. Fashion
10. The wedding industry
11. War
12. Hegemonies
13. Extremely popular vampire romance books
14. Extremely popular "christian" end of the world books
15. Box stores
16. McMansions
17. Politics
18. Being trampled alive by goats
19. My own arrogance
20. Blacklists