03/20/12

shit I can’t get over right now, part 1.

1. Paul the Octopus picked all the winners in the 2010 World Cup!

Of the final games, Paul the octopus picked 8 of 8 winners correctly. I had to look up how to do probabilities to figure out how likely that would be by random chance. .5 is the probability that the team he guesses is correct, right? he has a 50% chance of guessing right for every matchup. So .5 to the power of 8, and, ta da! Paul the Octopus has a .3% chance. Is that enough to make you believe in magic? I’ve made the leap from a lot less!

Germans are weird.

More incredible than that is how Paul’s soccer loving handlers came to this discovery in the first place. How many Octopi did they consult before they found Paul? Do you know that an octopus is as smart as a dog? They are clever, affectionate weirdos. Paul’s dead, incidentally. He had a good run.

This reminds me of a similar phenomenon I can’t get over right now: Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon really does sync up with the Wizard of Oz. I have actually done this back in high school, more than once. (On weed.) You start the album on the MGM lion’s third roar. “Great gig in the sky” plays during the tornado, it’s like they’re fucking dancing. The soundtrack goes “Cha-ching!” during “Money” at the precise moment the film switches from black and white to color.

Again, with both of these instances, it’s not just the phenomenon, but the sheer improbability that the phenomenon was ever discovered.

2. Separate Drinking Fountains? Are you fucking kidding me?

That’s so racist! I know that we’ve already done the scholarship on the history of institutionalized racism in America, but HOLY FUCK. The 1950s weren’t that long ago, you guys. It wasn’t some crazy time before we knew about germs or Jesus or electricity. How did a plumber install the pipes without stopping and saying, “What the fuck am I doing? Oh my god. This makes no sense! We’re all God’s children!” I can’t get over separate drinking fountains right now.

Look at this asshole.

These are stills from the film Mississippi Burning.

3. Oh my God, how is Michaelangelo’s statue of David so good?

Look at what a good job Michael did carving this marble into a statue! It looks so much like a human. Look how much his abs are just like a very fit man’s abs. People were probably very fit back then, and especially a mythical man. Look how vulnerable the genitals. You have to imagine that he has black hair, isn’t that weird? The statue was made in 1504! That’s only 12 years after they didn’t even know America existed. Think about how old it is and how lucky that it didn’t get broken. I read on the wikipedia that in 1991, a deranged man went at the statue with a hammer and broke off a couple of its toes. Why would he do that? Further, why don’t deranged men run at beautiful things with weapons more often?

Stay tuned for more shit I can’t get over in the next couple of days. Unless I get over it by the time I post again.

03/9/12

try to think of no one in particular.

Right after the Virginia Tech shooting, I was at a laundromat in Detroit, working on a little something while I waited for my clothes to dry. The attendant asked me what I was all about, and I said, “I’m a writer.” “Uh oh!” he said. “I’m scared of you!”

That’s right! He should be.

A lot of writers are just bad, which is a comfort. It’s the ones teetering on mediocre that are so upsetting. I imagine them spending hours alone, hunched over a desk in a lonely attic spitting out hackneyed prose, pitifully disconnected between their own ambitious thoughts and whatever magic spark it takes to engage an audience. Then one day they leave the attic, and snap! It’s finally time to share, and the audience is not moved. This is how people get killed.

Never mind the obvious fear that I’m the person I just described.

I remember this story from an undergraduate workshop I took at Wayne State. We’ll call the author Tom, out of respect or whatever, but also I can’t remember his real name. Tom was around 30. He was trim with short dark hair, forever clad in pastel polo shirts. He was a real blank canvas. He was the kind of person you picture when you’re trying to picture no one in particular.

The story’s protagonist resembled someone very much like the author who had a conspicuously close relationship with his sister. The workshop conversation went something like this:

“Does anybody else think it’s weird that he brushes her hair for a really long time in this scene?”
“I don’t think it’s normal for grown up siblings to brush each other’s hair at all.”
“There’s definitely a sexual undercurrent between the brother and sister character. I wonder why it’s here or what it contributes to the present action of the story.”
“I don’t think the incest is doing anything for the story and should be removed.”
“Nay, I think that without the incest, the story is nothing, and if anything, it should be amped up or made more explicit.”

As it turned out, Tom had not intended for us to read any funny business into the sibling’s relationship. What we’d done instead is shine a flashlight on deep-seeded perversions in his psyche for 45 uncomfortable minutes. This was only the first round of workshop. He never came back to class after that, although his spirit lived on in our memory.

Say your brain is a big house with many rooms. When you write a story, you’re saying,  ”Come take a tour of my house.” Maybe you’re not prepared for brats in your workshop to go exploring beyond the parlor, kicking doors open down hallways you thought you’d made clear were off limits, but that’s what brats do.

I envy people like Tom. I bet he went home, boarded up the room filled with creepy thoughts of fucking his sister, and he’s never been back to it.

I wonder if he still writes. Eh. Who knows. Maybe we were wrong about everything and the brother and sister really were just good friends.

03/5/12

things fall apart.

The writers conference I went to in chicago last week started off on a high note, and then everything began to unravel. Here’s a list/summary of what I learned at AWP.

  1. I went to the conference for two reasons: To read my stories into a microphone and to meet my twitter friends. All told, I hugged around 15 new people, which is beautiful, which is the point of life, which is meaningful and true. More than anything, I discovered that really, I already knew them. I am a very affectionate person and it meant a lot to me to express my inappropriate love for Internet strangers in the physical. To love and be loved, this is the point of life. Duh. Everybody knows that, even if they don’t know that.
  2. As for the readings, one was pretty good and one was sweet but terrible, which averages out to okay. They were just fine.
  3. It’s fun to go to panels and muse on the writing process and everything, but ultimately, for myself, School is Out. At one of the panels I went to, somebody in the audience asked a question about “theme.” What are your themes? How do you stay true to and interweave themes into your novel? I have a masters degree in writing and I don’t know what a theme is. It’s an issue of too much craft and not enough soul.
  4. Sometimes I heard myself trying to casually interject my piddly credentials into conversation (I was published here, I got this fellowship, I know this person, puke) out of a made up need in myself to make it clear that hey, I have a right to be here. Whatever, I’m an asshole just like everybody else, but what I hope to learn from that is, in the future, don’t fucking do that.
  5. I spent the whole last day of the conference walking around on the brink of tears and not knowing why. Emotional exhaustion, probably. You don’t believe in magic, blah blah blah, but whatever; physics agrees with me that thoughts are things and we’re all one. By the end of that debacle, we were swimming in each other’s feelings, which, in a sea of writers, are complicated and many.
  6. Ambition is the worst, and from now on, I’ve decided to abstain. I’ll keep writing fiction and trying to get published, but I’m over worrying about what caliber of journal I can get it into, whether or not I can get paid, who will read it and whether or not I can make some kind of lasting impact on the literary canon before I die. None of that really matters, right?
  7. I always say that a writer is a person who hates writing, which is cute and sometimes it feels true, but it’s not true. I love this shit. I love it so much. I would die without it. When I’m able to express a hard to reach idea through words, and people take it in, and I feel like I’m understood? That’s all that matters. None of the other shit matters. And finally, obviously:
  8. Write from your fucking heart.

Friday night I went out with an old friend from grad school, a writer I met from twitter and a couple of his friends. I’ve been sober for almost 6 months now, maybe you heard, I don’t know. It’s tiresome to always talk about not drinking, but whatever. (To quote Margaret Cho: “If Richard Pryor had a period, he would talk about it.”) What is drinking but a contract of cowardice amongst friends?We’re afraid to get close so we agree to go on a voyage together. Not drinking is like treading water alongside the boat. Or maybe I’m in the boat and everyone else is in the water. Metaphors have their limits, let’s move on.

Over the weekend I thought a lot about how it would have been if I were drinking. I feel like I might have gotten lost or hurt. I feel like it would have been unsafe, and it’s hard to imagine that I used to hurl myself into danger so often.

I worry that people who drink are afraid of me. I’m afraid I’ll never be able to get close to anyone ever again.

Around 2 am, I got on the train and went back to the couch I was surfing in Wicker Park, and the party continued on without me in a hotel room with party drugs and Romanians. What would it have been like if my old self had attended? Here’s what I think: I would have felt closer to them at night, and then farther away in the morning.

Since then, nothing has gone right. I figured I’d mosey on out of the city on Saturday afternoon, but I was too chill about making train reservations and I missed the $35 train out of Chicago at noon, leaving only the 6 PM train for $93. I felt that dumb, heavy regret of knowing I’d lost a lost of money and it was my own fault. It will take me two hours of watching a dreary holocaust film and another hour or two of writing up the review to recoup not even half the difference.

Money is depressing. Wasting it is depressing. Whenever this happens I have a trick where I project myself a month or so into the future, when it doesn’t matter anymore, and it works, sort of. But I always know it’s a trick.

The train broke down somewhere outside of Kalamazoo. The conductor came on to say, “Well, the computer is on the fritz. We’re going to try to shut it down and reboot.” Apple+Q the train computer. That didn’t work. He came back on and said, “Well shoot. You know, this doesn’t happen very often.” They got the rear engine working and we travelled backwards to a rondevu point.

Here’s the best joke I could think of for the occasion, maybe I texted it to you or you read about it on twitter: “How long was it before they all started eating each other in that Mark Twain story?”

Another train came along and we swapped engines? I don’t know, it all seemed insane. The whole thing took about three hours. I spent the time feeling lonely and thinking about friendship. The signal on my phone was bad and for a few minutes, I started to consider that it might be the start of a national or global apocalypse, and I wished I had a man around who was good at building things with his hands, or even just a friend to make jokes with. It was a tragedy of boredom and inconvenience. It’s not like we were on a boat or an airplane. There was basically no chance we would die, which to me, almost made it worse.

A couple hours later in Detroit, the train hit an abandoned car on the tracks. The conductor came on the horn and gave an impromptu speech filled with pathos and insecurity. “You’re probably wondering why we’ve stopped,” he began. I wasn’t, actually. We didn’t feel any impact. He assured us that no one was hurt, and he told us to stay calm and try to be patient. It was the “please stay calm,” part that was really unnerving. We waited another two hours on the tracks for the railroad police to come. All told I spent 12 hours on the Amtrak, but what is time?

Like I said at the beginning of this very long blog post: everything is unraveling and falling apart around me. My sleeping schedule is a little messed up. Sunday night I spent a few hours preparing my class lesson for Monday morning. I went to bed at 3 am, but I forgot to set my alarm. I was having this long, ornate dream where I took acid and engaged in all kinds of debaucherous lesbian sex. I do this all the time in my dreams. I drink or take drugs and I fuck women. What does it mean, Freud?

My Monday afternoon class starts at 1. I woke up at 2:13 PM, and that wave of disbelief followed by overwhelming despair and regret washed over me. I had spent the last 11 hours partying and fucking women in my sleep, which made it doubly wrong.

My students communicated with me through email that they left their papers on the desk, so I had to drive the 40 minutes to campus to retrieve them. My 95 Saturn won’t stop gobbling up oil. The oil isn’t leaking, it’s just burning away. Where does burnt oil go? It has gotten to the point where I have to fill it up around every 30 miles. The 95 Saturn is my ticket out of Purgatory, Michigan, and I find the troubled engine troubling.

I bought three quarts of oil at the gas station, and the attendant said to me, “Have a day.” That about sums it up.