Tuesday, January 31, 2006

In January, 1991.


In winter of 1991 there was a fierce snowstorm. I remember because this was when Shane Cleveland and I invented our game "push the kid in the snow."

"Push the kid in the snow" was similar to King of the Mountain more than it was to schoolyard bullies, although I think we liked to think the name made us sound tough. And to his credit, if I remember correctly, Cleveland went on to get into a certain amount more trouble in the years ahead.

Essentially Shane and I loudly occupied a heap of slush and snow several feet high at the edge of the paved play space. The play space included markings for four square, a jungle gym, swings, slides, that sort of thing, though we were free to use the whole area cleared area outside the school (when it was light out, we'd play touch football, until the chaperones weren't looking and we tackled). This was a prime location, because Shane and I had access to the kids both on the pavement and off.

We'd then systematically yell insults at anyone we thought we could plausibly take. This policy was more clever that it may seem at first. The real troublemakers had been exiled to detention for pretty much the whole school year at this point, whereas most of the really athletic boys (Mark and Jeremy and Agust, etc.) considered shoving around a snow pile beneath them. (Though I did provoke Agust into punching me later that year, and fully deserved it.)

Most of my closer friends (Brad, Ryan, and Tim, etc.) while fit enough, didn't really think mixing it up with some kids during their fifteen minutes of freedom per day was worth it either. And of course, girls were off limits. Of course.

The upshot of all this was that Shane and I ended up wrestling a bunch of hotheaded, bark-worse-than-bite, fifth and sixth graders, that thought that they could somehow give us enough misery that we'd stop yelling at them.

It was a good game, while it lasted. Everyone involved ended up wet, cold, and bruised by the time we'd march back inside, single-file. Despite the fact that we called each-other poor, fat, and smelly, (and you can bet everyone's mom was involved as well) nobody seemed genuinely pissed off.

The game lasted for three days. After that Shane and I both wound up in detention. Our teachers had decided that missed homework should equate to missed recess, which is fine in theory, but what do twelve-year old boys (because it was almost entirely boys) do with all that extra energy?

Soon I'd be in over my head in completely new ways.

* * * * *

What were you up to in January 1991?


In March, 2005...


On the night of the first day of Spring, not much was going on at the Stockade. Sky came over and he hung out with Sam and I for awhile. I don't remember the exact details but there was some sort of drinking involved; presumably bourbon or beer. Maybe Sam's fancy brandy. And probably .mpgs and the like.

After awhile, Sky and I set out. I was a little tipsy but he was tipsier. He had to get home so he could be up in time for work the following morning. I tried to persuade him to go on a suicidally long but murderously joyful walk with me, but as usual, his sense of purpose and discipline trumped mine. We walked to Thorndale, and he said goodbye. I continued north.

It was a fierce gale of a night. The wind felt like a hollowed out marble, invisible and stories high that rolls across your back, crashes down between buildings, and returns. A swollen night. Spitting rain. It was distinctly wet, though it felt like sleet or hail, it was so cold and fast.

I was taking pictures along the way, having set my camera to the Vivid function, so that later when I examined them, the oranges and greens all flaired out. I walked north to Devon and up and about the Loyola campus. It was so cold, but it seemed like a promising beginning of spring. This was before we went through one of the longest droughts in Chicago's history. For all I knew it would continue to rain, with the flush skies growing warmer as the months went by, and the city responding with that aching black-and-green, peat-and-moss that Chicago does so well.

At Loyola, the newer brick buildings are thrown right together with their old reddish hewn granite hulks. They aren't as regal as those at the U of C, but their faces aren't as harsh either. Uglier. Friendlier. It was dangerously slick, the ice freezing as it hit the ground, but I navigated along the crusty grass, the silvery flagstones, and even the rocks that bent out over the roaring lake. It was quite empty. For all I might guess, the city had been abandoned with the lights left on. But the streetlamps were bold and orange and rioted on all the ice and wetness. It was almost daylight by the track that wound round, and down by the lake, the artificial sun set behind the two chapels and the apartments on Sheridan.

I didn't go on a suicidal walk. I ended up getting tired myself, and cold after just an hour. I walked back along Sheridan, as empty as the campus, and the new apartments, like those in Vancouver or Rio or Hong Kong and whatever other cities, threw out their bleak individualities... a strucco pattern, a paint, a name: Malibu East. That has to be said ironically, right? And I got home, downloaded my pictures, and went to bed.

I should have stayed out all night.

* * * * *

What were you up to in March 2005?


So much, so much... (murder?)


There are so many things I want to read about and write about, but the task of gaining even the most basic, superficial familiarity is grindingly slow. I've discovered this amazing song by an old industrial group, K-Nitrate called Massacre. The voice distortion gives the song its etherial magnetism, that sort of speaking into and through open-ended wind-chimes effect (which we probably hear with more familiarity in latter-day Marilyn Manson), and the beat is straight Depeche Mode. The problem is multilayered... I can't talk about industrial music with any credibility (and I'm not worrying about Amber or Damien ripping me a new one; I'm concerned with my own standards for setting up and spinning out an argument) until I read up more on rock and electronica and New Wave, and put in some serious listening. I'm doing this: knowing Sam and Sky has helped immensely. That might prepare me to talk about the acts we all know: Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Skinny Puppy. But how would I come to be able to talk about K-Nitrate, a group I scacely find mentioned on the internet? How can I talk about Massacre when lyrics that clearly reference specific atrocities are distorted to incomprehensibility?

It's a receding horizon of knowlege; each day I realize I know less and less. I learn a lot. I consume information wherever I encounter it, but the body of human knowledge is so immense and growing so quickly that nobody could honestly hope to keep up.

It may seem that this is more of a "concept" post but I do not want it to be, because I'm not writing about K-Nitrate as much as the desire to write about K-Nitrate.

I want to write about what is going on in the world, but here is the problem:

I could write about Iran, but I already know how I feel and how you few readers feel.
I could write about Palestine and Hamas, but I already know how I feel and so do you.
I can continue to sound off on the Catholic curch (and will continue to do so), but these are intricate, nuanced subjects.
Even James Frey, about whom I thought I'd knock off a paragraph-long polemic yesterday, has turned into a complicated, thourny mess (and hopefully that will happen this week).

And here's the real rub, because everything I've just said is nothing new; it's a daily problem.

Usually, when my allotment of passion exceeds my allotment of knowledge, I go back to a subject on which I can speak, rigorously and with authority: Flint. I've been thinking about Flint as little lately as I ever have, so the timing couldn't be better, right?

The problem is, what is going on in Flint that I can write about, pick up apart, analyze, try to solve? I've talked about Delphi and GM to the range of my ability. I've talked about Don Williamson and the City Council. I spent several months railing against Clyde Caldwell and the Housing Commission. Even if nobody else read these posts, they were good for me. Usually, scanning the Flint Journal gives some inspiration, but all that's going on now is murder.

That's right, murder.

2005 quite possibly put Flint on the top of the heap, nationally, for murder. (Locals keep your eyes peeled for the inevitable congratulatory T-shirts). Dramatically, too, with some 30% or 40% increase over the prior year. 2006 is off to a roaring start as well, with well on ten already. If we keep this up, we might best our personal record.

I read these articles because they're the only interesting thing cropping up right now, and I notice things. I've noticed that most of the murders are in three tiny neighborhoods (one in which I've lived at two addresses). I've noticed that all of the victims lately are under twenty or over seventy. I've realized with relief that I don't recognize any names yet.

But what more can I really say about murder?

I wish it didn't happen. I wish they'd stop killing each other. I wish I'd read about something else, anything else, happening on Alma, Mott, Philadelphia, and Rankin Streets. That's all there is to be said. It's not even that that is all that's reasonable to say. Quite simply, that's all there is to say.

I'm short on background and short on patience, and my final recourse for a rigorous discussion is a moot discussion in the first place. I'm angry and upset, and it's partly the fault of Flint and K-Nitrate, but it's really because I don't have anything so say about all this shit.


Nimbus 11, 28.


- YESTERDAY - Worked all day. Got a little emotional in the end as I was reading the news from back home, listening to Pat S.'s industrial compilations (There is No Time; I was looking for a track listing, but I couldn't find the thing anywhere on Amazon), and wading through a stack of surprisingly tangled Montana tax forms. If filing taxes was like that for me, I'd probably hate them too. The colloquium and class went well yesterday, but I was very tired when I finally got home.
- WEATHER - AccuWeather summarizes the weather in January:
People are starting to ask what happened to winter. Well, it is not officially over, but many locations across the country are going to report all-time record warm Januarys Wednesday. The reason for this is that the jet stream has remained well to the north over the past five weeks. This pattern has locked up arctic air over northern Canada. At the same time, a mild flow of air been flowing from the Pacific Ocean westward across the country. The result has been an unusually wet weather over the Northwest, while the Southwest is locked in a drought pattern. With the jet well to the north, the snow track has been mainly confined along the Canadian boarder. As the storms track east, a few have managed to tap into Gulf moisture, bringing rain, instead of snow to the eastern half of the United States.

- ASTRONOMY - Cosmo Dogood says:
Over the next week use binoculars to watch Saturn slip past the Beehive star cluster in Cancer.

I might take a stab at it.
- TODAY - Is Hegira, the Islamic New Year.

from Last Words.
- "Only from the cold, my friend."
- Bailly, Jean Sylvain (1736-1793)
Jean Bailly, a member of the French Academy of Sciences, became the first revolutionary mayor of Paris in 1789. Eventually, however, the reign of terror ensnared him and he was sentenced to death. On the scaffold, awaiting the guillotine, he was heckled by a spectator who noticed that he was trembling.

Which Disney character would you be?


Monday, January 30, 2006

I'm Spiderman!


Your results:
You are Spider-Man

The Flash
Iron Man
Green Lantern
Wonder Woman
You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.
Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz


Nimbus 10, 28.


- THE WEEKEND - Was busy busy busy, from top to bottom, with three challenging critiques to drill out for my workshop, and about three hundred pages of Laurence Sterne (I've another ninety to go by Wednesday). Plus I'm presenting my writing to the workshop a week from today, so I did two revisions (one following Jessica's ever useful comments) of the first two chapters of Adrift on the Mainstream. It was a very indoors weekend for me. Still, we managed to have some fun. On Friday, Jess and I had a nice meal of spaghetti, tomato soup, and champagne. I prepared it, and as she said, "it was very tomato-y." Saturday we met Matt for drinks in Brooklyn Heights and took a walk on the promenade. I've got a rash, however, I think from my dry skin, to that wasn't fun. Lot's of reading, lot's of rain, not much else to report.
- WEATHER - Warm on the east coast. Not so in the midwest. Stormy down south. Rainy on the Pacific. Another bizarro week in the life of early 2006.
- JANUARY - Is the month of Radon Action.

The New York Times: Rice Admits U.S. Underestimated Hamas Strength.

Which character in a Disney movie is hottest in your eyes? (ie. who would you "get busy with"?)

Which of the YTMNDs below do you find the gothic-funkiest?


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Gothic Funk YTMNDs


You'll need a relatively fast connection and decent sound to get much out of these. That said, they're worth the trouble. (Don't worry, I think this mini-obsession is rapidly approaching its natural conclusion).

Gothic Funk entries...

Jesus heals.
YTMND Japan.
Owen Wilson stares into your soul.
Math is Pwned.
Giraffes in the air.
Ninja works it.

A "series"...

Lindsey Lohan doesn't change facial expressions.
Paris Hilton doesn't change facial expressions.
Christopher Walken doesn't change facial expressions.
Darth Vader doesn't change facial expressions.
The Moon doesn't change facial expressions.
Google does change facial expressions.

I don't think these are Gothic Funk, but they're worth seeing. (The last is not worth seeing at work, however, as your coworkers will just be disturbed and/or offended).

Time Magazine
Tom Hanks Find New Harry Potter Book
I Lied!


Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne. 1. Impressions of Volumes One and Two.


Laurence Sterne

My impression at this point is disordered, though not objectively so. Even though I have four days of the week off from work and two weeks to spend on Tristram Shandy, I'm still reading one volume each day, with a number of other responsibilities at the same time. There hasn't been a lot of time, then, to go back and clarify uncertainties or even ruminate over what parts of this book might mean.




The choice of the title, "the life and opinions of..." seems to the point, although I almost wonder if "the opinions and life of..." would not be more to the point.

First, allowing for the expansiveness of eighteenth-century prose, most of Tristram Shandy tends towards deliberate excess. The easiest examples are the digressions, which include expositions on Tristram's father Walter philosophy or his Uncle Toby's fascination with military fortifications after being wounded in battle. But I think an equally (or more) compelling example is in the prose. Whereas the chapters-long digressions broadly impact the tone, steering it towards alternately conversation of didacticism, the verbosity on the level of sentences and paragraphs has a more elusive function. For example, when Tristram discusses the manner in which Corporal Trim delivers Yoricks sermon:

He stood before them with his body swayed, and bend forwards just so far, as to make an angle of 85 degrees and a half upon the plain of the horizon; --- which sound orators, to whom I address this, now very well, to be the true persuasive angle of incidence; -- in any other angle you may talk and preach; -- 'tis certain, -- and it is done every day; --but with what effect, -- I leave the world to judge!
The necessity of this precise angle of 85 degrees and a half to a mathematical exactness, -- does it not shew us, by the way, -- how the arts and sciences mutually befriend each other?
How the duce Corporal Trim, who knew not so much as an acute angle from an obtuse one, came to hit it so exactly; -- or whether it was chance or nature, or good sense or imitation, &c. shall be commented upon in that part of this cyclopaedia of arts and sciences, where the instrumental parts of the eloquence of the senate, the pulpit, the bar, the coffee-house, the bedchamber, and fire-side, fall under consideration.

And so on, for another page-and-a-half. It is transparent that such passages are parodies, and that they affect our understanding of the narrative voice as well as the tone of the piece. They do not, however, contribute to our understanding of plot and character in the same way that the digressions do. This raises three questions:

Question: To what extent does this verbosity criticize the prose it parodies?

Question: Who, specifically, is being parodied?

Question: Does the verbosity serve any section in the text beyond parody?


I've heard some people say that this is a novel without a plot. I don't believe in novel's without plots (that's what makes them novels instead of meditations or homilies), I simply think that some definitions of "plot" are too narrow and unyielding to accommodate all novels.

That said, I don't think Tristram Shandy quite as freewheeling in this respect as I've heard. Notwithstanding how radical it was at the time of its publication (and the fact that it predicts many of the many literary experiments of the 20th century), there's nothing in its lack-of-plot-ness to rival, say, Markson's This is Not a Novel. I draw this conclusion partly from the division of the volumes.

While they each contain numerous (and debatably unrelated) digressions, and carefully preserve the sense of disorganization by ending both mid-thought and mid-speech, there is still a defining arc and action to each volume that is the beginning of most conservative definitions of "plot."

In Volume 1, this is the disaster of Tristram's conception, which occurs on the very first page. The conception 1) predicts Tristram's birth, the point we arrive at upon the end of the volume, 2) establishes a topic of debate, namely the fact that transparently innocent individuals will be manipulated and deceived, and 3) establishes a context in which the subject can be debated by a variety of characters. This "debate" does not happen in the traditional sense of action and reaction causing tension between characters: the statements, dialogues, and meditations are cobbled together. There is however a unity of presentation.

In some ways Tristram Shandy better adheres to a classical models that it's critics were most-likely vamping off. Namely, that an individual or situation is brought up not chronologically nor in relation to a specific unfolding situation, but when its inclusion is most useful to comment on the situation at hand.

This, alone, I think is sufficient argument that the novel has a plot, however, the fact that it meanders from Tristram's conception at the beginning of the first volume to his birth at the end, and that the second is completely concerned with the day of Tristram's birth, implies a chronological progression of events, even if the actual digressions to not bear this out.

As I said, I'm still at sea here. Please comment with any and all thoughts.


Friday, January 27, 2006

Nimbus 7, 28.


- SORRY - Normally I try to get these things up in the morning. But if you'll let me explain...
- UNDER PRESSURE! - It's a good thing that I quit my second job, because there was no way I was going to stand a chance this semester while working full-time. The workshop load is comparable and probably lighter than the last time around. The seminar, on the other hand, is probably going to be the most intense class I've ever taken, and having graduated from the U of C, that's no mean feat. Our reading list is:

Tristram Shandy, by Laurence Sterne,
Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov,
The Third Policeman, by Flann O'Brien,
Ryder, by Djuna Barnes,
The Dead Father, by Donald Barthelme,
Naked Lunch, by William Burroughs,
Hopscotch, by Julio Cortazar,
Cobra, by Severp Sardiu,
A Form / Of Taking / It All, by Rosmarie Waldrop,
Wittgenstein's Mistress, by David Markson,
La Maison de Rendezvous, by Alain Robbe-Grillet,
and Invisible Cities, by Italio Calvino.

If the names don't mean much to you they are all associated with density and difficulty. Additionally, we are each to "introduce" one of the texts to the class (I will be introducing Ryder), write up a 1-2 page emulation each week as well as a series of three questions suggested by the text. Finally, at the end of the semester we have a critical paper due.

I don't mind this measure of activity at all; in fact, it's one fo the things I most enjoy about school, and especially college. Such hard work generally means I'm getting my time and money's worth, and I'm stingy with both these days.

But there will be no rest.

No rest!

I tested this theory out yesterday when, after exercising, I set off to Williamsburg to pick up a copy to Tristram Shandy. I've come to appreciate New York more and more the last few months, and in some ways, even admit that I has qualities I wouldn't mind finding in Chicago, Detroit, or Flint. That said, disparaging comments by Chicagoans and New Yorkers alike, hipster Williamsburg has nothing on hipster Wicker Park. Don't get me wrong, Hasidic Williamsburg seems to be awesome, as does Hispanic Williamsburg. But after scrounging around all morning for two tiny bookstores, one at which nobody had even heard of Laurence Sterne, and the other with a fiction section about the size as the shelves in my apartment... either there's an underground bunker somewhere or these are some very ill-read hipsters.
In the end, I had to take a train to Manhattan to get the book, meaning I didn't get home until after three.
- PRESSURE YESTERDAY - With the exception of fixing dinner for Jess and myself, taking an hour to watch the O.C. and maybe a half-hour to screw around on ytmnd, I spent the rest of the night reading. But I do mean the rest of the night. I read the first of nine volumes of Tristram Shandy, a short story by Shelly Jackson (my seminar teacher), three submissions to the workshop by other students, and spent an hour revising Adrift on the Mainstream (I'm submitting the first twenty pages to the class next week). I went to bed at four thirty.
- LEAD IN TO MY TARDINESS TODAY... - Meaning that getting up at 10:30 was an actually accomplishment, and after exercising, showering, cleaning, some routine chores, and now writing, it's going on 1:30 and I haven't put up the post-of-the-day yet! Oh no!
- WEATHER - We're finally getting something approximating seasonal weather, at least east of the Mississippi, though things are supposed to warm up on the weekend. This may just be a prelude to doom, however, since the jet stream is finally expected to make a dive south across the great lakes which will compress all the warm air we've been feeling and fire it out over the Atlantic. Meaning that New England (and quite likely NYC) may be hit by a storm and plenty of snow. Seattle, meanwhile, can have their rain.
- JANUARY - Is the month of Financial Wellness.
- TODAY - Is the beginning of the St. Paul Winter Carnival. TOMORROW - Blueberry Pancake day.
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY - Lewis Carroll, Thomas Crapper, and Mozart. Sunday - Anton Chekhov and Thomas Paine.

The United Arab Emirates.

What's under your bed?


Thursday, January 26, 2006

Nimbus 6, 28.


- No time now! It's Thursday and I've a million things to do... in Greenpoint! I'll try to post something good later tonight, but no promises.
- JANUARY - Is the month of Glaucoma awareness.
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY - Paul Newman.

You're the man now, dog.

What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
What movie would you most like to see made into a book?
(This is assuming that director, staff, cinematography, and authorship meet with your approval... within reason).


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Our Holiday Midwest Vacation


This will not be of interest to many of you, but I thought I ought to recap what happened on Jess and my vacation in the midwest before I completely forgot.

* Friday, December 23rd.

I rode the subway (yes, the florid, functioning subway) to work for my two hour stint at the writing center. Things had been a little hairy since various writing tutors had left for the holidays but their appointments were not blocked. To my dismay, both of my appointments arrived and I was not able to pass the time reviewing the CMS and eating Tostitos. After the tutoring sessions, I went shopping for Christmas elements at the Union Square market and took the train back home to Jessica.

We spent a lot of the remaining day cleaning, though we took a break to go to the French restaurant up on Myrtle. It's changed since the summer, though it still has the same velvet wallpaper. Somewhere along the way they picked up a southwestern theme, right down to the menu and cow skull over the tables. I kept expecting a Frenchman to step in wearing spurred boots and a cowboy hat.

Picking up the car... we rode the subway out to LaGuardia around midnight, but after huge complications involving mistakes made on Jessica and my part, as well as Avis, a free taxi-Avis ride to and from our apartment, and getting lost in Astoria-Greenpoint-Bedstuy, we finally made it home around 4 AM. We chose to push back our exit a couple hours to catch at least a little sleep.

* Saturday, December 24th.

Got up at 8 AM. Puff puff. Took a shower. Refresh! Loaded up the car. (Don't pack too much.) And finally, at 9:20 exact, we were loaded up and roared off into the sunlight. I've learned a few things about driving in New York City. The traffic can be fickle and variable. The streets were as clear as they are ever likely to get. Take the Manhattan Bridge. Ignore the signs that will wind you around the Lower East Side. Head straight for Delancey, than curve south. Always take the Holland Tunnel. Never take the Lincoln Tunnel. We emerged from the tunnel in New Jersey, (all roads lead to New Jersey), and managed not to take any wrong turns separating us from I-78. After a short while we cleared New Jersey and stopped for gas. Made good time across Harrisburg and I-76 with her four mountain tunnels and Appalachian Vistas. Pennsylvania is a beautiful state, and not as long as she's accused of being. The illusion is heightened by Pennsylvania's xenophobic resistance to posting the mileage to extrastate cities. The sun was just setting when we entered the Wheeling tunnel, skipped through Wheeling, and hushed across the Ohio River. Martin's Ferry. St. Clairesville. Jess has slept almost the whole way. I set a challenge to pull into her father's driveway without waking her, so I drove really smooth as we passed Cambridge, and played the last track of my Doris Henson over and over again to soothe her. I actually made the exit in time, but Jess woke up just in time to see St. Nick's in the twilight. Foiled! We'd made the trip in eight hours.

After a brief stop at the Jalbrzikowski house, we had to shove off again to pick up Julie then drop off the rental in Columbus. We made it back a couple hours later, with just enough time for a conversation and a quick nap before midnight mass.

The Mass at St. Nick's was the first time I'd been in that church since the wedding, and the very first time I'd been there at night. The service was warm and reassuring, but I was so tired throughout that I had to dig my nails into my hands to simply stay awake. Later, we returned to the Jalbrzikowskis and Jess and I wrapped our presents before going to bed.

* Sunday, December 25th.

We got up around ten and unwrapped our presents with Jeff, Chelsea, and Julie. Chelsea had gotten me in the gift-exchange, and she got me a stainless steel coffee thermos, some quality beans, and a reading flashlight. Also, Jess had gotten me a new shiny leather jacket (to which my book on sharks paled in comparison). After celebrating at the house and eating some homemade nutbread, we loaded in the car and drove out to the Fultons in Cambridge, to celebrate with them. We opened presents, which included a beautiful shirt, an a tub of goodies from "the grocery fairy," then sat down for a meal of ham and candied yams. I wish that I ate this well all year long. I wish that I was very, very fat.

After a couple hours, Jess and I returned to Zanesville to visit with the Jalbrzikowski side of the family. The house had filled, and uncle Mike and aunt Becky, and uncle Gary were there, as well as Mandy and Maria, and Beau played with Sharkey. Jess and I ate more good food, including more ham, and pie, and fruit salad. Everyone was asking about New York City (we said we liked it, but it wasn't Chicago), about the Transit Strike (we did a lot of walking), and about our CNN appearance (we still hadn't seen it).

* Monday, December 26th.

On the 26th, Jess and I spent the day visiting her relatives. We drove down on Maple to first see her Aunt Polly, and from there we visited Aunt Sue and Uncle John. Polly gave us a John Adams spoon, and we got some nice gifts from John and Sue as well. We stopped back at Brighton and drove out to New Concord to visit with Bill and Becky. We didn't get home until late, as often happens.

* Tuesday, December 27th

First we stopped for haircuts with July, and Jess got her hair colored. My hair was layered, a small deviation from the haircut I've essentially worn since I was eight (with the exception of the eighth-grade mushroom cut and the tenth-grade mullet). Later, we met up with Jeff and Julie at the mall (again) and finished off some last-minute post-Christmas shopping before going to Garfield's for dinner. Jeff treated. And then, back home. We watched Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

* Wednesday, December 28th

Today was mostly filled by the drive up to Michigan. We left around ten thirty, I think, and made a couple stops on the way, first at Mike and Becky's. We talked for awhile in the house, discussing travels and adventures and farming, then drove up near the road where the family is building a log cabin. The space was gorgeous, bright with the light-colored pine beams and wide views of the rolling hills and fields surrounding. In an ideal world I'd have a place like that as a writers' retreat... but then one might argue that in an ideal world there'd be nothing to write about.

We drove on to Flint, arriving at my parents around seven at night. From there we had a soup and saki meal that Jun had prepared with Cody's help... the crowd was my parents, Jess and I, and Cody and Jun. We sat for a little of the Michigan football game, then drove into Flint to Sam's where we also ran into Marcy and Joel, as well as the whole Perkins-Harbin family. We visited for the next several hours, and after Marcy and Joel had left, Jess and I went for a drive with Sam. We tooled around Flint as we usually do, the South Side, then the West, and finally stopping at Angelo's where I saw Ann who I worked with several years back. Finally, Jess and I headed out, though I told Sam I'd come down again in the morning to visit for a couple hours before he had to return to Chicago.

* Thursday, December 29th

I drove in to see Sam at around 10 AM. We were goign to watch War of the Worlds, but ended up just hanging around instead. Which was all I wanted anyway. I got to talk to Don and Liz and Emily some, and they invited me to stay for breakfast. Sam transferred my afterdusk account to hereisnowhy which means that Pual can shut down the site without me losing my emails for two years. It might now sound like much, but that's actually been a huge headache in the last some months.

At around one, I drove a short mile to the Flint Institute of Arts, where I met with Cody, Jun, and Jessica. We took our slow time rotating through the galleries, which have undergone a huge renovation in recent years. I know that the FIA has one of the best collections in the midwest, but it wasn't that long ago that I could still see everything on display in a couple hours. This time, after about three I still felt like I was gliding past some of the more impressive exhibits. The featered work, a collection of Andy Warhol's, had been set up in a large gallery near the front, not far from the FIA's own Starbucks. That's right: Flint has a Starbucks. In total, I had only one major gripe: they ripped out the reflecting pool, which I know was a headache for all of the adjacent buildings, but at night when the multicolored lights went on the fountain was spraying twenty, thirty feet into the air below the glistening dome of the planetarium... it's one of the most beautiful memories I have of Flint.

I'm sure they'll replace it with something equally beautiful, and at any rate, things must change. Right?

On the way back into Flushing, Jess and I stopped and visited with Grandma Coyne for a couple hours and then headed back to my parents.

* Friday, December 30th

Friday was probably as close as we came to a "relaxing day," and I honestly can't remember what I did this whole time, though I think some of it may have been spent organizing my room. I would normally guess reading, but I'd put a "reading ban" on myself to force me to "live in the moment" and "enjoy the holiday."

So I can't honestly recall what I did all morning. I do know that for about three hours in the middle of the day, we went to see King Kong, which I enjoyed immensely, especially due to, and in spite of, the scene in the spider hole, and most especially the toothed planarians. Yummy!

* Saturday, December 31st

On Saturday morning, my mother and I drove up to see my Grandma Mascroft at the hospital. She's been in for a broken hip, but seemed to be recovering well enough. We stopped for lunch at McDonalds on the way back home and had a long talk about life plans and desinations and friends and families and futures. The snow was blinding, blowing in our faces and a headed home along US-23 and I-75... I wouldn't have taken that for granted if I knew that I wouldn't be seeing much snow in January.

After we got home, Jess and I drove back out to the Crawford's. They were hosting their own New Years Eve party and hurrying about the preparations, but as usual we got lulled into the (unsurprisingly) more primal rhythms of coffee and conversation, and talked over and about John's recent adventures at the hospital, Sarah and Lindsay's plan, the Big Apple and our plans for the future, the wedding, and education in America. Big subject for two hours, and then we headed home.

By the time we got home Caitlin and Craig had arrived, and we spent awhile talking and hanging with them. We were only home for a couple hours when we got dressed up again (I had to wrap out presents to my family and stash them under the tree) and drove out to my Grandma Coyne's. We met my Aunt Georgia there for dinner, TV, cards and puzzles, champagne, New Years Eve. 2006 arrived. All was well. We didn't leave for over an hour afterwards.

* Sunday, January 1st

On the 1st, I got up to go to church, but either the mass time had changed or mass had been cancelled altogether (I can't imagine... it was a Day of Obligation). So I missed church, dispite my best efforts. However, since I was already in Flint, I took some pictures for my Urbantasm website and stopped off at the Atlas which was, of course, closed. Brown painted side. Unblinking globe. I miss it.

Back home, my grandma and aunt came over and we finally opened our deferred Christmas gifts. My parents got Jess and me a nice set of knives and I got fuzzy flannel shirts (which are as close as I'll get to wearing a sweater) and the new Sufjan Stevens CD.

After a "family portrait," Jess and I packed up and were on the road by a little after four. We stopped en route, Upper Sandusky, to visit with Mike and Sienna and Clayton and Cassalyn (some of you may remember Clayton, our ring-bearer, from the wedding), and continued on to the Columbus airport, where we picked up the car we'd drive back East the following morning.

We made it into Zanesville around eleven. Jeff was asleep, but Jess and I made tentative preparations for the next morning. It had been misting on the way; light fog and slight rain.

* Monday, January 2nd

With Jeff's help the next morning we were able to get on the road again about 9:30. We stopped off in St. Clairsville to visit with grandpa and grandma Fulton, and not long after that, we whisked across the Ohio river, through West Virginia and into Pennsylvania. The incessant rain and fog made the trip considerably more stressful than the drive west had been, but we made good time and pulled into New York at around sevenish. Our added preparation also meant that we crossed at the Holland Tunnel, easily navigating across Manhattan to the brdige. I dropped Jess off at the apartment, and we unloaded the goods, then I drove to LaGuardia to return the car. It went without a hitch, and one train and two subways later (ie. two hours - why isn't there a subway to the freaking airport?!) I got home.

Jess had made a nice warm meal, and combined with the warmth of a kicked on radiator and the mist curling outside our window signalling a lack of either gusts or snow, it was easy to settle in again.

That was our Midwestern Vacation, and I'm looking forward to the next.


It's January! Move to Flint!


The Historic Katz House in Carriage Town - $269,900.

I don't even want to think about what this would fetch in New York City.


The Conversion of St. Paul


Today is the feast of the conversion of St. Paul. Most of you are familiar with this story, but if not, you can read it here. At any rate, I am a convert to Christianity myself, although not in such a dramatic fashion.

* * * * *

I was raised Unitarian Universalist... the Unitarians were a Protestant denomination that took root during the reformation, first in France and later in Transylvania. The main pillar of Unitarian thought exmphasized the unity of God as one indivisible being (a refutation of the Catholic trinity) and the autonomy of the individual (a refutation of Calvanist and Prebyterian predestination arguments). As time went by, the Unitarians became more open in their interpretation of scripture, culminating in their merger with the Universalists in the 1960s.
The Universalists were a school with Enlightenment roots arguing that, since ultimate truth is unknowable, a rigorous search for truth is more important than what is actually found.
After the merger, the church became a draw for other groups of people. The church's liberal approach to theology attracted atheists on the one hand and paganists on the other. Denominational support of progressive causes attracted gays and lesbians and feminists with a variety of religious background and beliefs.

I still have many friends who were and are Unitarians, and I still enjoy Unitarian services when I have the chance to attend them. Starting in eighth grade, however, I started to wonder if this faith might not be for me. I clearly remember during the summer 1994, fueled by an obsession at the time with both Romania and the former Yugoslavia, riding my bike seven miles in the blazing heat to St. Michael's Byzantine Catholic Church outside Flint. I met with two priests there, who led me around the church, explaining the symbolism in the icons and the tumultuous history of their faith. I learned, firstoff, that the Byzantine Ruthenian church wasn't strictly Orthodox Christian, though it incorporated many elements of orthodox theology (ie. we cannot define what God is, but what God is not). The Byzantine Ruthenian church, like many in Eastern Europe, was caught and implicated in many conflicts between imperial powers, the Russians, the Turks, the Hapsburgs, the Prussians, and so on. The result in this case was a church (ultimately) formally allied to Rome, but allowed to retain many Orthodox christian practices, such as the iconostasis and the use of bread for host instead of wafers.

This was a lot of history to digest, and a lot of bike riding to attend these sessions. As 1994 wore on, I had new priorities. I eventually gave up on the Byzantine Ruthenian church and put organized religion on the back burner.

I spent a long time thinking upon other religions I'd encountered, though this was a more passive exploration. One full year of Unitarian Sunday school had involved visiting places of worship for different faiths and speaking with religious leaders. We visited a mosque, a synagogue, and a Hindu temple. At that time, there weren't any Buddhist shrines in the Flint area, but we spent several sessions discussing Buddhism.

In the end, my cultural distance from many of these faiths ruled them out. I did not find the midwestern Buddhists to be disingenous, but their lifestyle was so similar to that of the Unitarians, and so far removed from most of their chosen faith, that I saw little value in attaching myself to a religion I already knew except through cultural perspective. Unless I were to commit wholeheartedly to understanding that milieu. While I increasingly appreciated the theology and science of the Islamic Empire and Hindu civilizations, the Hajj was a distant concept to me, and castes even more so. If a culturally foreign faith was to convince me, it would have to overcome the additional hanicap of my unfamiliarity with its fundamental concepts. On the other hand, many close friends, mostly Southern Baptists, came from an intimitely familiar background and were more than willing to win me over by any means, including terror. Despite their determination and good-intentions, I never stepped too far down that path. The closeness, judgmentality, and their own cultural biases almost immediately informed me that I would never be "a good Baptist." I flirted with Judaism for awhile, but for all of its immense history and grandeur and elegance, it still felt to me like a play missing the third act. I wanted to reconcile the Mosaic texts with Tobit and Isaiah, and the Law didn't entirely convince me.

These are all my impressions, and while I shouldn't apply them, as if facts, to others' arguments, I would be just as remiss to make my own decisions without taking such impressions into consideration.

If I'm honest, I knew that I could be moved and I would be moved. A statement that I still stand by, and that will brand me a heretic in many people's eyes is that God goes by many names, singular and plural. More importantly, God is recognized, acknowledged, and obeyed through acts of faith unknown to us, and far more sophisticated than our clumsy and imprecise declarations and oaths. Humans, then, should focus on sincerity of action, rigorous altruism, and humility. Determining (discriminating?) the "name of God" is a necessarily inellectual process, and one which the Universe will win, not us. So: We should focus on our faith instead.

In other words, I wasn't looking for "one true faith" as much as the one faith I could most truly respond to. This took a lot of my energy, and so I put off the experiment through the rest of high school. Ironically, most of my friends at this time were Catholic. They went to Luke M. Powers Catholic High, were taught by nuns, sometimes had candles lying around their homes, and even knew snippets of Latin. Their stories and experiences honestly were a part of my high-school experience. It wasn't something we talked about. It was just there, in the background.

* * * * *

College gave me a tremendous burst of energy: moving to Chicago from Flushing, Michigan, to an intense academic institution from the laid-back acquiescence of Flushing High... a lot had already changed, so I felt equal to the religious quest once again.

For two years I gave Unitarianism an honest second stab. I even involved myself with the Campus Ministry group, which each winter performed a lay service at First Unitarian in Hyde Park and got together every month or so for pizza and a service. But I'd also intensified my study of Romania, which gave the Orthodox argument appeal, and had maintained ties with Catholic friends in both Flint and Chicago, while taking a couple furtive looks at my own family's history.

My family's own religious history is muddy and unusual. My parents were both raised Methodist. I know very little about my maternal grandfather, but my maternal grandmother was of Swedish descent, lived in Dutch-Reformed influenced western Michigan (near the town of Holland, in case you disbelieve), though her family at some point was Christian Scientist. Additionally, much of my mother's family has moved to Utah, and many converted to Mormonism.
My father's mother's mother's father (my great great grandfather) was a Methodist circuit preacher who started out in Massachussetts in a covered wagon and preached his way to Flint. My father's father's family, however, was largely of Irish descent. My great-grandfather Mark Francis Coyne, born during or shortly after the crossing had somehow picked up a venomous hatred for the Catholic church. Since they weren't coming from a remotely part of Erin (specifically County Clare) We've deduced two possibilities; the less interesting being a land dispute and the more interesting being a deliberate reinterpretation of Cohn or Cohen as Coyne, meaning that we may have been Irish Jews.

By the end of my third year of college, I'd essentially narrowed down the list to three final choices. I realize this is a very clinical way to talk about one's faith of choice, but as I'd proceeded some religions would reveal something that made me say, "that's not me." These three had been holding out: Romanian Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Unitarian Universalism.

This all came to a head during my visit to Romania and Ireland during the summer of 2000. At this point, the "credentials" of each faith in my life seemed equal to each other, and I wound up for a couple weeks in Transylvania, the one part of the world where almost everyone belongs to one of those three faiths. At some point I realized that, regarding Romanian Orthodoxy, as I had observed with Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism, I could not examine the theology of this faith distinct from its incubating culture. While I loved Romania and hope to return there, I never inhabited the soul of its people, and I have not found an Orthodox Christian faith to which I would comfortably belong. Back in Chicago, when I took my Catholic girlfriend to a UU Campus ministry event, and she was ignored by practically everyone else in the room, I realized that even a faith given to equality and a pursuit of truth does not always sustain these goals... and in the absence of another unifying theme, a foundation on which to lean, I lacked the access that I needed.

I finally made up my mind in January, 2001. Above all, I was convinced by the idea of the Catholic church not as a prosthelytizing church, but a catechising church, a church in dialogue with other faiths and beliefs, looking for similarities and differences and enquiring as to their meaning. A church trying to untangle, strand by strand, the elaborate puzzle of existance. That, and a church obsessed neither with individuals nor groups, but believing that the essense of an individual is suspended in the relationships they maintain with others.

* * * * *

Of course, that's the ideal Catholic Church, the platonic Catholic Church... in many ways the Church I joined has established itself on the opposite side of issues important to me. And while I couldn't have reasonably foreseen all of the developments in the recent years, I certainly knew the general direction of the wind. Does that mean I should leave? No. Paul didn't leave, although some might argue that he changed almost everything. It is my responsibility, now that I have found this faith, to cleave to it and adhere to what is true and beautiful in it, and decry and deplore what works against this beauty from outside and within.

All I'm saying is: It didn't get to happen all at once for me, with blinding light and a fall from a horse. My role is necessarily much smaller that Saul's or Paul's; I may be called to listen more than to speak. But I do speak and walk and listen. I have followed my nose on this one for over a decade, made a number of wrong turns, and hit a number of dead ends.

Many friends of mine are going through the same process, and they are headed, I believe, toward very different destinations. Yet this has never interfered with friendship.

Conversion and conversation. Consternation and concentration.

We're surrounding and immersed in these difficult and ongoing things.


Nimbus 5, 28.


- YESTERDAY - Worked all day and read all night. Dinner was steak and soup. All sore from my (over?) zealous workout.
- TODAY - Work, then, the first event of the literary colloquia, and after that, my first literary seminar session with Shelley Jackson. Then I get home circa midnight. Then I go to bed.
- WEATHER - Never-Ending January Thaw. I particularly enjoy the giant bottle of London gin perpetually floating over canada.
- JANUARY - Is the month of cancer prevention.
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY - Robert Burns and Virginia Woolf.

Market Manila: llang llang perfume tree.

How old were you when you got your first kiss? (In the romantic sense...)


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

This has made my week.




Sufjan Stevens 4: Response to Christian.


I'll take a break from the close reading to address some points raised by my colleague, Christian. To quote his post in its entirety:

I can remain silent on this issue no longer! So let's get some things straight: I've never listened to his music, and in truth I know almost nothing about him. But I do know this much--the man is a big league tool.

Reasons why Sufjan Stevens is a tool:
1. He's a hipster. There's nothing I hate more than hipsters. Thinking they're so hip. "Ooooh, look at me, I'm so coo-ool! I'm Sufjan Stevens!" You think you're better than us? Us? U.S.? U.S.A.? No way!

2. His brand of in-your-face Christianity sickens me.

3. What kind of a name is Sufjan, anyway? I bet it's not even his real name.

F. You're a gimp.

Here's a little advice, Sufjan: you had better damn well crawl back into whatever hole you came out of or I'll make it so you won't live to see New Hampshire.

Oh, Christian...

Actually, there's not a whole lot here I can dispute, inasmuch as much of it comes down to personal taste, and we really quickly arrive at lowest common denominators where that's concerned. And, for that matter, some his post is possibly ironic or possibly sarcastic (though I've never known Christian to be either). But I do want to address two of his points, in brief, because they did occur to me as I listened to his music:

#1. The Hipster point.

Most of my friends, and I myself, broadly speaking, cannot abide what we call "hipsters." Of course, what is a hipster is a tedious question, and there are many possible answers, but those most likely to induce eye-rolling involve trendy urban neighborhoods, berets, goatees, thick glasses, various classes of indie punk/emo/techno/hip hop/what have you, and mixed media artforms such as graphic novels or improvisation. I can't speak for my friends, but while all these different things come together to make a stereotype, what's really so onerous about the whole shabang is the quiet, aloof, and self-righteous air of critical detachment balanced against ironic indulgence. In fact, there is a correlation between these attitudes and they can take on a communal aspect. That said...

That said...

1. Methinks thou dost protest too much. Unlike many of the other cliques I've run into in high school, college, and beyond, those-who-would-be-called hipsters rarely called themselves hipsters.

2. Also, to my sideburned Castlevania-playing Family Guy-quoting friend (from a shade-wearer and Sufjan Stevens admirer), we should consider the mirror when making such declarations... to the outside world, our strife must seem overwhelmingly sectarian.

#2. The Christianity point.

Yes, Sujan's music is undeniably "Christian," something that's come up in numerous reviews and interviews. And this comes down to a matter of taste. It does, however, beg the question, I think, do we dislike "Christian music" because we don't like it is as music, or as Christian, or as both? Christian seems to be arguing for one of the latter two.

Myself, as a Christian, I have an easier time, but I enjoy music produced for other faiths, and truthfully, most of the music we all enjoy today has got some sort of religious history knocking around back there. Where, then, is the problem?

It may be that Christian scents something rhetorical, even evangelical in Sufjan's tone. I wouldn't disagree: he's trying to convince you of something.

The difference for me, and I'm speaking personally here, not qualitatively, is that Sufjan's conception of God is sufficiently broad and open, and his songs and anecdotes sufficiently rooted in the world that I think I would enjoy his music even if we didn't share the same religious convictions. For all his persuasiveness, his "in your face"ness, he isn't irrelevant or inaccessible, and I believe that in art, accessibility goes a long way.


Sufjan Stevens 3: Michigan.


Of the two Sufjan Stevens albums I know, the two that inaugurate the 50 State Project, Michigan is far and away the easiest to tackle. It may actually be difficult for me to come up with much to say. While this album really impressed me with its freshness and candor, I was so disproportionately blown away by Illinois, that I have difficulty making comparisons now.

Still, there's a lot for me to be invested in here; the album starts close to home. It would be difficult, actually, to invest me more from the very beginning:

Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid)

A brief explanation on Stevens' website explains that he has never lived in Flint, but that his own families' experiences parallel that of many Flintites. Moreover, if he spent much of his childhood in the Detroit area, he probably had at least a cursory familiarity with Flint. Flint is to Detroit much what Joliet is to Chicago, or Newark is to New York City. There are differences of course, but the similarities are significant. In this case, then, the subtitle, "for the unemployed and underpaid" is significant, as it not only grounds the song in Stevens' literal experience, but also clarifies the topic of the lyrics. This is a particularly explicit example of what Stevens' does throughout his work... the subtitles are actual summaries of the songs' subjects.

Of course, no song about Flint written by anyone not from Flint is going to focus on the negative, just as we don't think about the July stillness of Tiananmen Square (or whatever). That said, in my first impression of this song, I was impressed by the dignity implied in the lyrics, which was backed up by the sad, stoic, restrained use of the pianos and horns.

"I forgot the part. Lose my hands to lose my heart. Even if I died alone."

It ends on a fade into silence.

All Good Naysayers, Speak Up! Or Forever Hold Your Peace!

So okay. He didn't alienate me, and quite possibly sold me, on the Flint song. The transition to and beginning of Naysayers was even more captivating. The lyrics don't make much sense (I alternately intepreted them as first pro-union, then anti-union, and after reading his own online notes of the song, I don't think they deal with unions much at all), so I'm completely riding on the sound here. The song sounds like a Charlie Brown cartoon, particularly one of the segments where Snoopy, Woodstock, and Charlie Brown are on a walk through the neighborhood before they find all of the other kids and break into a jam. Similarly, the lyrics are clear enough (at least) to identify some of Michigan's major problems and then take up a proactive, optimistic approach to finding solutions.

For the Windows In Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti
Say Yes! To M!ch!gan!
The Upper Peninsula
and most of the others...

These songs blurred together for me. I have a limited knowledge of either folk or indie rock, but one comparison I made immediately, and one that has appropriate similarities is to the approach used by R.E.M. in Up. Both Michigan and Up feature songs primarily as character profiles. In Up however, the variety and variation of sounds was dramatic, giving each song an immediately recognizable signature. Stevens' doesn't quite achieve this on this album, and in some ways, I don't think he was trying to. The lyrics are lovely, the characters and stories moving and compelling, but the sounds are so similar from song to song that I still have a difficult time differentiating.

This is part of the reason that I have such a difficult time commenting on Michigan after having heard Illinois. Specifically, Illinois addresses this issue so well that I can only look at the similitude as one of the weakenesses of this album.

That said (and playing devil's advocate with myself) I'm hesitant to attribute this to a lack of experience; Stevens had extensive playing and songwriting experience even prior to Michigan but more with the subject he's engaging: himself. The demands of writing about a place he has not lived meant that Stevens had to take a more rigorous, disciplined approach in his second album, and at any rate, the stories he uses in Michigan are already loaded with meaning. The extent to which he reaches beyond his own experience in this album to color it for his listeners is something he must measure as a calculated effect against his own bias.

So this is a mistake, but an understandable mistake, and it's part of the distinctness of the album, not as a piece on Michigan but as a piece on its creator.

Tahquamenon Falls
and other instrumentals

They were pretty.

I don't know, however, that he's really got a solid hold on the direction he wants to take these yet...


All the time we spent in bed
Counting miles before we set
Fall in love and fall apart
Things will end before they start

Sleeping on Lake Michigan
Factories and marching bands
Lose our clothes in summer time
Lose ourselves to lose our minds
In the summer heat, I might

Something that continually bums me about about "lyric interpretation" site is that they overlook obvious and available information. In this case, I don't think that the song is referring to Stevens' stint at Hope College (which is in Grand Rapids, not Holland), but from comments on his website seems to be based on earlier experiences.

The website was very useful in taking the sometimes vague and muddy lyrics to a more precise meaning. This is an area in which I hope Stevens will grow as he continues to work. When the added explication of the website is continued, this became one of the albums' most gorgeous songs.

Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)

And then there was Detroit!

Surrounded by beautiful but soft and same-sounding songs, Detroit is (deservedly) the focal point of the mid-album. A lot of this is grounded in similarities with Naysayers! If Naysayers is about a proactive to the problems afflicting the state as a whole, then Detroit has a much more directed focus; one of the poorest and most violent cities in the nation.

The song half of the song breaks down into a list comprised of Michigan and Detroit references:

Henry Ford. Henry Ford.
Public Trans. Public Trans.
Pontiac. Pontiac.
Feed the poor. Feed the poor.
City Hall. City Hall.
Windsor Park. Windsor Park.
Saginaw. Saginaw.
After dark. After dark.
Tigers game. Tigers game.
Eighty-four. Eighty-four.
Industry. Industry.
Unemployed. Unemployed.
Gun control. Gun control.
Wolverine. Wolverine.
Iroquois. Iroquois.
Industry. Industry.
Public Trans. Public Trans.
Auto Cars. Auto Cars.
Jefferson. Jefferson.
Michigan. Michigan.

Some of these are places, industries, institutions, and symbols, all possible or presumed assets. The song, then, is broad in the Brechtian sense; it stands above the other songs on the album because it has both a different sound and a different subject.

The polarity of these songs and movements is part of the larger "problem" I've found in Michigan; namely that the songs are either one thing or another, their elements lined up like ducks. To compare with Illinois the song Chicago for all its epic sweep and sound is one of the most intimate and close-in songs on the whole album.

The second half of Michigan is almost wholly comprised of songs that sound pretty and contain trenchant observations or careful and intriguing characters. The arrangement, however, is not memorable.


Once when our mother called,
She had a voice of last year's cough.
We passed around the phone,
Sharing a word about Oregon.
When my turn came, I was ashamed.
When my turn came, I was ashamed.

Once when we moved away,
She came to Romulus for a day.
Her Chevrolet broke down.
We prayed it'd never be fixed or found.
We touched her hair, we touched her hair.
We touched her hair, we touched her hair.

When she had her last child, Once when she had some boyfriends, some wild.
She moved away quite far.
Our grandpa bought us a new VCR.
We watched it all night, but grew up in spite of it.
We watched it all night, but grew up in spite of it.

We saw her once last fall.
Our grandpa died in a hospital gown.
She didn't seem to care.
She smoked in her room and colored her hair.

I was ashamed, I was ashamed of her.

Romulus is a perfect example of what I'm talking about... I can sort of hum it in my head, because I like the story so much I've listed to it an above-average amount... but only just so...

Vito's Ordination Song
Marching Band

The album continues with increasingly breathy songs, stories, and anecdotes until the last two tracks hint toward a longer, larger journey.

First, Vito's Ordination Song named for a friend. The story involves a passing reference to Tecumsah and Hell, two small towns (Hell is barely a speck on the map) which might be considered journeys in and of themselves. And an ordination, just like a wedding or an introduction is thought of mainly as a beginning, not an end.

The final song on the album, Marching Band is as based in personal details and anecdote as most of the album, but it also captures some of the bredth of songs like Naysayers! and Detroit! (my, this man loves exclamations):

One dark day the trees began a trumpet sound,
trumpet sound
We sat listening patiently, the sky was near
and i felt the trembling motion
we ran out to see the future, from the ground

The imagery is some of the album's less ambiguous religious metaphor. In the end, however, the journey described is immediate, earthly, small:

We returned and set the table, by the door

So who, frankly, is surprised he wanted to move on and do another state?

* * * * *

I've spent most of this review harping on several (okay, one) point, and I don't want that to draw too much focus from my enjoyment of this album. It may not be a first album, but it feels like a first album, and I think a lot of that results from Stevens trying on a new project. He was still getting his sea legs, and for all the benefits of writing about a state he knows intimately is that he cannot know truly how little his listeners know if it intimately.

And yet, I've lived in Michigan for most of my life, and I had trouble differentiating songs.

I wouldn't have found so much in Michigan to criticize if it wasn't for the clear leaps and bounds Stevens took in producing Illinois. It is a great first album, but still, a first album.


Nimbus 4, 28.


- YESTERDAY - Was wonderful in the end... I don't know... maybe it was difficult last semester to feel excited about moving to New York after the wedding and our trip to Belize. At any rate, this time around I feel much more like I typically do at the start of a school year. It helps too that I'm moving into one of my favorite times of year, late winter, when the days get longer but we're still feeling the full effect of the cold (well, theoretically) and it's just warm enough for one to wear a jacket instead of a coat, rebelliously, though we know it'll chill the bones.
- Anyway, I've been compiling tax forms for Facts On File this week. Yesterday I did Delaware, Washington D.C., Georgia, Hawaii, and Idaho. Hawaii, as it turns out, had as many forms as the rest combined. Right now I'm doing Illinois, which makes me nostalgic. I heard back from Megan at the Writing Center and she was very gracious about seeing me go. I enjoyed working there, but I'm also happy to be able to plunge full force into studies and submissions this semester. In the evening I was going to do some reading, but was intercepted by Scott, Marco, Reinhardt, and Cammelia instead. They were meeting for peer group at Cosi but allowed me to tag along for awhile. Then I went to Workshop with David Gates, which is promising. He started by going over twenty or so common errors which we can now strive to avoid, or at least commit knowingly. There were exceptions to many. This is actually the sort of critique I like best. Now free-floating "what ifs," but concrete, but nevertheless circumstantially determined and relativistically expressed. That make any sense? Afterwards I went to Spain for awhile, went home and spent another productive hour before going to bed.
- This morning I exercised. How long you want to bed that lasts?
- WEATHER - There may be a sign of winter this week; at least for the midwest. The East coast is going to continue to be balmy. The northwest will get a break from the rain.
- JANUARY - Is the month of image improvement. Whatever that's supposed to mean.
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY - John Belushi.

from Last Words.
- "I know you have come to kill me. Shoot, coward. You are only going to kill a man."
- Guevara, Ernesto "Che" (1928-1967)
Che Guevara was an Argentinian revolutionary who became a prominent communist player in the Cuban Revolution. Later, he attempted to foment similar revolutions throughout Central and South America with little success. In 1966, he snuck into Boliva and formed a guerilla force in Santa Clara where he was soon was wounded, captured, and executed by the Bolivian Army.

How do you expect to die?


Monday, January 23, 2006

Nimbus 3, 28.


- NIMBUS - Well, kids, it's Nimbus, and that means time for exhileration. The background you see is the east river (technically one of the inlets leading into the Brooklyn Navy Yard) as seen from Williamsburg in Brooklyn.The foreground is the fire I witness and photographed last Tuesday. The main box shows the fire as seen from my apartment window. To the left is the Manhattan bridge between the tree branches. The other three photos are closer to the site, with many firefighters present.
- AND NIMBUS - Well, kids, it's Nimbus, and that means time for exhaltation. I think you'll find the links I've provided above useful to this end. Remember it's Carnival! There's no time of the year so suited to ripping cells apart.
- WWW.HEREISNOWHY.COM - All of the main sections are up and functioning. There are still some sub-sections I must insert, but keep poking around. It should tell you all you need to know about the master plan.
- CONAN O'BRIEN - On Friday, after working on the website, I rode the subway out to Rockafeller Center where I met Matt, and shortly, Peter and Katie for Conan O'Brien. The experience involved waiting in line for seemingly forever before being given our complimentary T-shirts and ushered into the auditorium (?), which is much different than it seems on TV (they acknowledged this before the show - "now you see how shitty the place really is," were his exact words I think. The crowd was removed from the stage by about fifteen feet, and the actual chairs and desk were surprisingly small and removed. Also, plasma screens hung from rafters just above the angle of the cameras, so the image of a high ceiling was exactly that: an illusion. But I wasn't disappointed. A large part of the fun of watching a taping is seeing all the tricks the network creates to add an extra sheen and luster to the production. My theatrical mind is all admiration.
We were primed for all this by a standup comic who introduced us to the ins and outs of the program, including the Applause signs. After this the band came on and jumped right into a jazz riff. The band was the most consistantly fun and impressive part of the taping. They were a louder and more visceral presence than on the show, playing through the commercials and showing more enthusiasm than I think I could muster after a ten year gig. And Conan himself, was of course, a lot of fun, tall and lanky in ways you can't see on screen, and just as much fun.
You'll be sat to know that the show is taped on the seventh floor; the windows that look out upon the Empire State Building are merely a setpiece. I'm sorry to disillusion you...
- AFTER THE SHOW - We said goodbye to Peter, who had a pile of homework in his way, and rode down to a Mexican place Matt knew in Alphabet City. From there, the usual conversations about universal health care and sex in the U.S. We stopped back at Peter's so Jess could pick up her backpack, then rode back to Brooklyn where we made an ill-fated and expensive stop at a most un-happening bar ($5 cover, $5 beers; payoff: a lackadaisical crowd hapazardly swaying to selections from Saturday Night Fever and the like). So Jess and I went home and tried to stay up and watch Conan, looking for ourselves. But we fell asleep halfway through.
- THE REST OF THE WEEKEND - I spent most of Saturday reading religious stuff and finishing Jernigan by David Gates, my (as of today) workshop instructor. It was well written and amazingly depressing, so I'm interested in the course of the next fifteen weeks. That night, Jess and I took a long (for her) walk down to the Brooklyn Ice Cream shop at the Fulton Ferry landing, but by then it had gotten chilly, so after our ice cream, we walked back home and caught some SNL.
On Sunday I went to church (a habit I shouldn't be breaking these days, what, with Carnivale debaucheries on their way). I spent most of my afternoon cleaning, finally taking down the Christmas tree and organizing my CDs for the first time in literal years... I seem to be missing a lot. Have you seen them? I finally fell asleep during Cheers, somewhere around 1:30.
- THE NEW SEMESTER! - I'm explicably excited... more in fact, than last semester, which makes no sense as I'm just more acquainted with the program, and I've gotten the instructors I've wanted all alone. I don't know... maybe I'm just in a good mood these days.
- I HAD A DREAM LAST NIGHT - about having kids. It was a good dream. Weird.
- JANUARY - Is the month of gourmet coffee.
- TODAY - Is Midwife Day.
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY - Andy Kaufman! (Actually, I screwed this up... Andy's birthday was on the 17th. Maybe he won't notice my goof.)

The New York Times: Ford to Cut Up to 30,000 Jobs and 14 Plants by 2012.

Which is your favorite of the seven sins and why?


Friday, January 20, 2006

Noctus 30, 28.


- YESTERDAY - Spent most of the day yesterday exploring the Stamr district of Williamsburg (Brooklyn). It was awesome. Later, sat up with Jess and read Jernigan by David Gates, my workshop instructor this semester. I'm enjoying it so far.
- BLOGGING THIS WEEK - I know it's been a mediocre week postwise, but I've been busy. And how was I to know no one gave a crap about Vathek?
- QUESTION OF THE DAY - I liked the answers I got to yesterday's question. I might explore the possibility of taking these questions in a more thoughtful direction, more often. Consider it an experiment!
- WEATHER - They're calling for "near record warmth" today and tomorrow. The upper fifties. The Red Baron is responsible, I think.
- JANUARY - Is the month of Bread Machine Baking
- TODAY - Is Cheese Day.
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY - Buzz Aldrin, who once punched out a man who accused him of fabricating the moon landing. Go Buzz! On Sunday - Lord Byron.


This one goes out to Kennedy, though I think others will appreciate it.
What is your evil moniker? What is your evil superpower? Why did you become so evil in the first place? What will signal your revenge upon the world? Who is your arch-nemesis?


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Noctus 29, 28.


- This entry will be brief, but that has more to do with me wishing to take advantage of what has been a truly productive week and not with a lack of things to say.
- YESTERDAY - After work, I commenced my annual book buying binge, though this one was more modest than usual. I was also under a bit of a time pressure, since I'd told Jessica I'd be home by eight, and at any rate, I'd promised to stop at Bravo and pick up some groceries, but Bravo closed at eight.
First I stopped at Whole Foods, which is overpriced and which I usually avoid. But: I needed cheesecloth. Why? Because Cosmo Dogood has told me to make my own yogurt cheese, and I'm intrigued enough to actually listen.
After that adventure I hurried down to Strand looking for a bargain. The effort cost me dearly: after sweating up and down the shelves I found only one of the books I was seeking The Monk by Lewis. I did, however, buy it for less than five dollars. I headed north across Union Square to the Barnes & Noble, and after finally finding their fiction section shoved in a corner of the fourth floor, only found one more book: The Italian by Radcliffe. I'd maxed out on the gothic, but most importantly, I was missing books my instructors last semester. I have to know their game, so I can read their comments against it, plus, knowing how difficult it is to support oneself as a writer, I think it's an appropriate courtesy, at least.
I walked two blocks to another Barnes & Noble, but came up drive. It was past six thirty, but I had only one option. St. Mark's Place bookstore is a smallish shop well out of my way... but they have a particularly endowed selection of contemporary writers. I had to essentially retrace my steps past all three bookstores I'd already visited and hurry down to St. Mark's Place... I walked from Fifth Avenue and 19th Street to Third Avenue and 8th Street.
With success. They had some of both of my instructors' books, and I also got a bargain book and a literary journal (with boobs on the cover!) recommended by Lisa. And I still (miraculously) made it to the grocery store and home by eight.
- BOOKS - Here, then, is my final take:
- Classic Rock Albums: Nevermind, Nirvana, by Jim Berkenstadt and Charles Cross
- Fence, Vol. 8, No. 1 & 2
- Jernigan, by David Gates
- The Melancholy of Anatomy, by Shelley Jackson
- The Monk, Sinclair Lewis
- The Italian, Ann Radcliffe
- The rest of the night was more relaxing... there was time have a wonderful pizza dinner Jess made us and watch the premier of Idol and the funny parts of Conan. (We're seeing him tomorrow). But just as significantly, I've finished two more sections of the website... I don't expect it'll be a done deal by the end of the weekend, but I think it will be close enough to start telling people and include in my newschool email.
- WEATHER - What is the weather doing today? I don't know! Hazy with a chance of Hell, I say...
- JANUARY - Is the month of Staying Healthy.
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY - Janis Joplin and Edgar Allan Poe. Sadly, they were two peas in a pod. (They, sadly, were two peas in a pod. They were two sad peas in a pod.)

Arkansas, the Natural State.

You have to take this question on its own terms in order for it to be interesting... run with the hypothetical: questions are oversimplified, but these things happen.
The question is, would you be comfortable and happy in a relationship with someone who differed with you politically? Would you date such a person? Possibly marry such a person? How different could they be without it upsetting the balance of the relationship? Where would you draw the line?
To provide some foundation here, let's assume that they 1) feel strongly about politics and are accustomed to talking about their beliefs frequently, 2) do not expect to change your views, though they might hope for it, 3) are nevertheless more interested in you than converting you.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Lisa's Visit


Here, then, is the summary of last weekend.

Jess went out for dinner with her friends on Friday, while I finished reading Lisa's work and much of what Reinhardt had sent me. (This break I've finally managed to catch up on much of the reading I promised I'd do for friends, though I still have a ways to go).

Lisa's flight had been delayed several times due to Chicago blizzards, but she finally arrived at about nine. Jess came home, and the three of us talked awhile, before Lisa and I went out for a walk. I took her down to the Navy Yard, and we walked along Flushing and Navy to Vinegar Hill. Then, we followed the cobblestone streets into DUMBO. I figured while stuck with the warmth and the fog, we might as well take-advantage of it to scope out some of the warmest and foggiest parts of Brooklyn. We stopped at the Fulton Ferry Landing, and from there crossed up to the heights, walked the Promenade, and cut through Downtown. We stopped at Junior's where the food is overpriced, but this time I tried the famous cheesecake and was not disappointed. Lisa and I talked about New York vs. Chicago, our general mood, our writing, the Situation and Urbantasm, and my experiences with the MFA, and her experiences in the Czech republic. Then, we walked back from Juniors through Fort Greene park, and got back to my place around one. We visited with Jess for awhile, until she went to bed. Then Lisa and I discussed the specific writing she'd sent me (I'd scrawled some notes earlier that same day, but was already having doubts about them) and got into a visceral discussion of the publishing industry and its efficiency or insufficiency. We finally went to sleep around 4:30.

On Saturday, we all took our time getting up. Jess decided to stay in; it was still warm out, but the fog had been replaced by a steady rain. Lisa and I discussed going to Manhattan, but in the end I suggested going to Williamsburg (which I still haven't explored much) in Brooklyn, and Lisa agreed. We zigged and zagged our way over... I don't have the area memorized... along Flushing and other streets to Union and then Broadway. We ended up at a Mexican restaurant in the shadow of the Williamsburg bridge, and we talked about places we could visit. (I suggested making a list of ten cities we wanted to visit and planning to visit those that made both of our lists... the only common point was San Francisco). At about four the sun was just going down, and we set out into the rain, which was falling more heavily at this point. We walked along Broadway under the el out there, and stopped to pick up some flowers for Jess at a wedge-shaped flower shop. On the way back, we meandered through a Hasidic neighborhood on Heyward Street which was, as Lisa said, "just like a movie set." The women were all wearing 1940s style long coats and high heels, and the men all wore caps different from any I'd seen before (they weren't yarmulkes. We continued into Clinton Hill and sat and talked for awhile at Tillie's, a coffeeshop I know well, mainly about starting our own literary magazine. Our minds made up, we stopped at Bravo for groceries on the way back.

At home Lisa made a salad and Jess made spaghetti. I took a shower to warm up after stomping through the rain all day. We had champagne with dinner, and then the three up us sat up well past one watching episodes of The Adventures of Pete and Pete.

On Sunday I technically was up in time for church, but opted to miss out from tiredness and wanting to visit. I'll make it up by going to a daily mass this week. Jess wanted to do the laundry, so she decided to stay home. I did the dishes, then Lisa and I set out for Manhattan in search of specifically local literary journals. The weather had changed dramatically, dropping some thirty or forty degrees during the night, so instead of a long walk, we took the subway to Manhattan and rode to Union Square. We walked to the Strand, then Barnes and Noble on Union Square, and finally St. Mark's Bookstore. We saw a lot of interesting books, but not, unfortunately, what we were looking for. After bitching, however, about the expense of New York diners and their stingy serving sizes, Lisa promised to show me an exception. I don't remember the name of the place, but it's almost a literal hole in the wall on 3rd Avenue around St. Marks. The whole operation couldn't have been more than 500 square feet and was just wide enough for one person to slide by single file between the bar stools and the tables. We sat at a table. This place delivered. My plate of eggs and potatoes, besides being beautiful prepared was around $4.50, almost comparable to Chicago prices and not-so-far above Flint, and the helping was enough to fill me up. And the fresh bread (free) was spongy and gooey-good. The tone of the place seemed to have been sucked from the fifties with the beaten in chrome decor and faded paintings on the wall, but the patrons seemed to have been beaten-up in the nineties. We got on our way.

We arrived back at home, not too late, and got pizza from Little Louie's (very good - Myrtle and Adelphi) for dinner. We spent most of the evening working on the magazine. We Kept It In A Bucket we're calling it. Jess came up with the name.

The next morning, I discovered I didn't have work, so that bought me a few extra hours for visiting. Monday was laid back compared to the other days, with Lisa showing me an archive of antique photos online and transferring a literal hundred pictures from the Gothic Funk party. (More work for me). And then, she was off to catch her flight, and I had to return the recyclable bottles to Bravo.

These short visits remind me how productive work can be when there is both inspiration and incentive. Look for more on We Kept It In A Bucket soon, and let me know if you want to come visit as well.


Noctus 28, 28.


- THE FIRE - As I was almost home from work yesterday, about three police cars and two fire trucks roared past me. I turned onto Adelphi and saw a massive plume of smoke billowing into the air less than half a block from my apartment. So... I dropped off my bag, grabbed my camera, and went and took pictures. It was a significant fire. Over a half-dozen fire trucks eventually arrived, and the tenement-style house was spewing flames from all three floors. I watched for about a half and hour, at one point being completely engulfed in a mountain of smoke that fell over the whole block. Jess said I smelled awful afterward. But I got some good pictures, which you'll probably see in a few days, when I update this blog for Nimbus.
- AFTER THAT - Jess and I had two "dinners," the first involving eggs, toast, and fried banana, and the second involving soup, biscuits, and Gilmour Girls. I got a lot of work accomplished, and submitted a fractal "short story" to Diagram, a literary journal.
- WEATHER - What's new? It's the weirdest January for weather ever. Right now it's in the sixties in New York, but it will soon be twenty degrees colder. Midwesterners will enjoy their wind, and the west coast will enjoy its rain. Alaska and Canada will enjoy the cold, because believe it or not, bitter cold is happening somewhere.
- JANUARY - Is the month of eye care.
- TODAY - Is Winnie the Pooh Day.
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY - Cary Grant.

Michele Stapleton: The tugboat brigade.

How many televisions are in your house/apartment? How many radios? How many computers?


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Vathek, by William Beckford. 2. Nouronihar.


You can read Vathek here.

William Beckford

Looking back on Vathek, what me might define as a character's "depth" - her complexity as defined by the sophistication of her understanding of her world as modified by a range of goals and priorities - is largely missed in almost all of the major characters. As an adventure based upon a personal downfall, the story compensates for this with its characters' intensities; the grandeur and power of their passions and their commitment to complete acts. Thus, Vathek is defined by his gluttony, and we can see his tastes in his palace, his lust for power, his sexual appetite, and even his "terrible gaze" as all being subjected to his overwhelming desire for good food which usually trumps the rest. Carathis is defined by her complete corruption, the excess of her crimes and her nonsensical disregard for her own demise when she descends into Istakhar. The Gaiour is defined by his backsliding evil; the fact that he is a deceiving and incredible force that nevertheless elicits great trust in others. The same observations could be said for the supporting cast: Marakanabad is ultimate reckless loyalty. Bababalouk is practical, but is constantly obsessing over the most trivial details considering the forces that his master engages.

There is only one exception in this book, and she parallels Beatrice in Shelley's Cenci... the antiheroine is given to the same passions and intensity of all the other characters while also conforming to the more traditional "depth" as I've defined it here.

As a reader, I empathized more closely with Nouronihar than any other character, first because her motivations were more subtle than the rest, but just as significantly because she masters the forces to which the others subject herself.

Nouronihar is the only character who elicits sympathy in the end.

* * * * *

These observations rest almost entirely upon the earlier scenes with Nouronihar. She makes her appearance when Vathek and his entorage arrive at the complex belonging to the emir Fakreddin. Her first moment, however, does not involve the caliph or his promises, but an elaborate prank upon Bababalouk:

Whilst he was issuing these mandates the young Nouronihar, daughter of the Emir, who was sprightly as an antelope, and full of wanton gaiety, beckoned one of her slaves to let down the great swing, which was suspended to the ceiling by cords of silk, and whilst this was doing, winked to her companions in the bath, who, chagrined to be forced from so soothing a state of indolence, began to twist it round Bababalouk, and tease him with a thousand vagaries.

In the end, the prank is more than a little malicious, but Bababalouk is ultimately unharmed. For her next appearance, Nouronihar appears with her playmates on a bluff overlooking the caliphs picnic, and she showers him with jasmine. Later, returning to her betrothes, Gulchenrouz, she reflects:

The unexpected arrival of the Caliph, and the splendour that marked his appearance, had already filled with emotion the ardent soul of Nouronihar; her vanity irresistibly prompted her to pique the prince's attention, and this she before took good care to effect whilst he picked up the jasmine she had thrown upon him. But when Gulchenrouz asked after the flowers he had culled for her bosom, Nouronihar was all in confusion; she hastily kissed his forehead, arose in a flutter, and walked with unequal steps on the border of the precipice. Night advanced, and the pure gold of the setting sun had yielded to a sanguine red, the glow of which, like the reflection of a burning furnace, flushed Nouronihar's animated countenance.

Given the detail with which these scenes are lain out, the uncertainty of her thoughts and temerity of her actions, Nouronihar is the only character portrayed as a moral uncertainty; that is, we're not allowed to know where she stands and to what she will commit.

* * * * *

What follows drawns an intersection between Moses and the burning bush on the one hand and Macbeth and the Weird Sisters on the other, and is ultimately the turning point for Nouronihar. Following her brief encounter with Vathek she plays with Gulchenrouz and her other companions as the sun sets, at which point:

In the midst of this festive scene there appeared a light on the top of the highest mountain, which attracted the notice of every eye; this light was not less bright than the moon when at full, and might have been taken for her, had it not been that the moon was already risen. The phenomenon occasioned a general surprise, and no one could conjecture the cause; it could not be a fire, for the light was clear and bluish, nor had meteors ever been seen of that magnitude or splendour. This strange light faded for a moment, and immediately renewed its brightness; it first appeared motionless at the foot of the rock, whence it darted in an instant to sparkle in a thicket of palm-trees; from thence it glided along the torrent, and at last fixed in a glen that was narrow and dark.

Nouronihar sets out to investigate; the others, of course, head back.

Her encounter with at light is both on of the novel's eeriest and most provocative images. She is promised the same fabulous, untold riches that have been offered to Vathek, if she will aid him on his journey. In the end, the promises win over Nouronihar; she'll later abandon Gulchenrouz and will be caught up in Vathek's enterprise and partake of his downfall.

In her autonomy, prescient over her conflicting interests and great aspirations, however, Nouronihar brings more voice and presence to Vathek then any of its other elements.