Friday, April 29, 2005

In One Prison

The New York Times > National > In One Prison, Murder, Betrayal and High Prose

This article reminded me of one of my earliest (and few) mentors: Tom Utley, my freshman writing professor in Athens. He read voraciously and kindly introduced my flaccid mind to such great thinkers as Arthur Rimbaud (A Season in Hell) and Susan Sontag (Illness as Metaphor) and Andrei Codrescu (The Disappearance of the Outside) when I would visit his office or home. He was one of the few people I kept in contact with after moving, and until the cancer ate away his lungs, we wrote fairly often or talked on the phone across a handful of years.

To my undergraduate sensibilities, he seemed a giant despite his small frame and not-un-frog-like features. He smoked a pipe (which is, after all, just a pipe) and wrote poetry (which is--or at least was--nourishment if not the lifeblood itself). Even when he hated what I had written, he was positive and kind in his criticism. He seemed so learned and scholarly that I was shocked to find out he taught literature at the nearby prison. I couldn't see how an intellectual would want to even be in the same room with criminals.

And now I know that only an intellectual would have something to give to as well as be able to take lessons from them. Everything else is mere pedantry and dilettantism.

The last time I saw him, his body was hooked to so many tubes and wires lying in the hospital bed. But he still kept talking about poetry and literature and life until visitation was over.

I still have a handful of his poems printed out on a dot-matrix printer from the late '80s. And a few books: some he gave me, some I never had the opportunity to return.

When he died "it was like a whole library had burned down."

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Oh, Mary! (Brand New Red Dress)

I knew all along who the next Pope would be: another self-righteous sexual deviant. Welcome to the club, Benedict XVI.

St*rbux Busters

Just for the hell of it, I encourage you to screw with the “barister partners” of your one-and-only neighborhood coffee shop (since that coffee shop undoubtedly ran off all the independent & individually owned coffee shops that dotted your neighborhood before the Plague of Seattle was unleashed upon the world). Here are some of my favorites:
  • Refuse to use their branded size terminology; instead order everything as either a small, medium or large.
  • Insist on a receipt if you pay cash.
  • Bring your own mug from home to have filled. Then make sure you receive the 10¢ discount. (It’s even better if your mug is branded with a competitor’s logo.)
  • If ordering in, insist on a ceramic mug. There should be some discount for that as well; make sure to insist on it.
  • Ask about their recycling policy. Where does all that paper and plastic end up?
  • If the “barister partner” is foolish enough to make suggestions to you having no idea as to your tastes, allow him/her to run through his/her spiel, wrinkling your face in disgust at every suggestion. Then order what you were going to order in the first place. Or better yet: exclaim that you’re no longer in the mood for something from their menu.
  • Ask about their refill policy.
  • When ordering tea, always let them know it’s because their coffee tastes so bad.
  • No matter how much you enjoy the music, complain that that awful noise is too loud and that you can’t study/read/talk.
  • Ask how much of their profit goes to the poor coffee bean farmer in the Third World. Ask them to justify their prices. Then ask them how much their corporate graphic designer earns. Again, ask them to justify their prices.
Oh, the list could go on and on. Please make sure to contribute! I’m hoping that this pastime is passed on from generation to generation much like trying to get the guards at Buckingham Palace to smile. Except here, we’re trying to crack open wide the corporate mind as well as destroy its so-called culture.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Kalifornya Dreaming

I think I need to go to San Fransicso for a couple of sessions of this new treatment. Mz. Chrzanka, polish the whacking stick....

If not, I can always listen to SomaFM and pretend I'm already there. And already cured.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Brain Drain/Culture of (Unintelligent) Life

The tightness and tension of my sternum finally just released as I began trying to articulate something that I’ve been thinking about over the past few weeks.

When Jacques Derrida died, French President Chirac released a simple statement: "With him, France has given the world one of its greatest contemporary philosophers, one of the major figures of intellectual life of our time."

Stephen & I talked later that night and tried to imagine the impossible: What would our president’s statement be when one of America’s great intellectuals died? First off, someone would have to tell him who the person was because, despite his East Coast/New England privilege & Ivy League degrees, he wouldn’t have a clue.

A few weeks later, Susan Sontag died. The White House was silent (just as one of the sharpest critics of the White House was now silent). What does it say when the intelligentsia and the political administration wage war so tirelessly against one another?

But President Bush has had since then a handful of other opportunities to honor the men and women who influence our culture at the highest levels, most notably Arthur Miller & Saul Bellow.

So what if you don’t know who they are or haven’t read a thing they’ve written (or never understood anything that sprang from their heads), tell the fucking press secretary or the goddamned poet laureate to write something nice and trivial (perhaps a haiku) to honor these titans of the intellect.

It couldn’t merely be because Bush did not agree politically with the dead: he did, after all, pull some mighty fine fluff out of his ass for the pope: “The Catholic Church has lost its shepherd; the world has lost a champion of human freedom, and a good and faithful servant of God has been called home.”

I hate to be cynical, but perhaps Bush was merely appealing to the Catholic vote, knowing full well the cultural cache such statements about the pope would have among those people, while knowing full well that intellectuals, no matter how desperate, would never back such a dim-witted oaf.

The battle continues....

But even David Brooks (perhaps the closest thing the right has to an intellectual) can come up with some insightful words about Bellow.

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Entering Emptiness

Several weeks ago I went to see les Ballets Jazz de Montréal. The first half of the program was nothing spectacular, but the second piece—“The Stolen Show Excerpts,” choreographed by Crystal Pite—was some of the best choreography I’ve seen in years. This work was like if Charlie Chaplin smoked opium with Jean-Paul Sartre (still relevant after all these years!) while playing chess with Jacques Derrida. At a Russian circus. Backwards. Thank you, BJM, for making my snow-globe fantasy come true. Wink.

Sunday afternoon: sat on a picnic blanket with Stephen at the edge of Turtle Creek, eating cookies, reading & avoiding the droppings of the birds above. Happy breathing, and happy to breathe.

Five-and-a-half more weeks of the semester. Coasting (and breathing) until then.