Posts Tagged ‘writing’

The nice folks at Two Hawks Quarterly have published my story Madagascar, my first attempt this year to send out something else besides Poetry. (Not That There’s Anything Wrong With Poetry). I sent it out on a lark just to gauge what would happen– what happened next was a huge surprise to me. It was encouraging at least. I’m digging like a badger through old journals for more salvageable stories. Hope you enjoy.

Last night I itched to write something and had nothing to say. I’d fallen behind, not writing much of anything last month, set aside usually for National Poetry Writing. What I did do though, was rescue and edit work I’d paused on. Word Camera is a webpage that converts photographs into text. I had three word camera documents on my computer based on three found photographs. Last night I opened them and began re-editing, re-assembling the text in collage form. Like William S. Burroughs Cut Up method, though not as random with multiple sources. It was more myself in conversation with old, found text. I combed through the blocks of computerized text, randomly broke lines, then changed nouns and verbs, cutting entire sections, moving things around, adding an original line beneath the computer’s line. I mailed all that stuff to myself this morning to print at work where I plan to do more shuffling and editing and conversing.

William S. Burroughs was one of my earliest inspirations, one of the first writers I respected because of his voice.

I became introduced to Burroughs sometime in the mid 80’s through performance artist Laurie Anderson. Bill had a cameo in her film Home of the Brave which, due to good reviews, I saw on the big screen in Berkeley at an Old Repertory House. (I probably saw it on a double bill with the Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense) Her music was white girl funky– curious and fun to my ear. Burroughs popped up briefly on her album Mister Heartbreak, doing vocals on Sharkey’s Night.

Eventually, during my digs through cd stacks at Rasputin and Amoeba I discovered an album, Dead City Radio. Burroughs had a hung over mid-western drawl that rattled and purred through reading his weird sexual sci-fi work. His writing was fun and dangerous and twisted. Though I’ve owned Naked Lunch for years, eventually saw Cronenberg’s film adaptation and listened to readings, I can’t read it cover to cover nor, really, any of his work. It comforts me having his books around, in the way I’m comforted by James Joyce’s Ulysses on my shelf, equally admired and mostly unread (Kate Bush once helped me eventually revisit the final Molly Bloom chapter, as did a BBC dramatization where an actress skipped through that meandering monologue while mid-way memorably squatting over a chamber pot). What connects me to him, what interests and draws me, is his voice and the sleepy confidence with which he reads. It is effortless and conversational. He is no orator. He is a philosopher with, as my former classmate once said, “the voice of them old junkies”. His was a voice I wanted to share with people, as if it were a song I liked. His being queer (Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That) didn’t bother me: “(The Mugwumps) secrete an addicting fluid from their erect penises which prolongs life by slowing metabolism.” I’ve never seen him photographed with, speak of, acknowledge, nor even take any photos with any artists or writers of color and I’m okay with having never heard or known his thoughts on race. But I still adored the way he constructed sentences and told stories. And his voice. His voice simmers. His manner, his spoken word tempo, paired equally nice with producer Hal Wilner’s NBC Orchestra needle drop samples on Dead City Radio as it did with crunchy electronic hip hop from the brothers behind The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy for the album Spare Ass Annie. Dub him via reggae, put a Kurt Cobain guitar solo beneath him, it all works.

What did I learn from him? How language can be a toy– a building block. A Lego. That, and the motor of voice. His voice made me better appreciate words, language. In reading for audiences or recordings, he was never nervously rushed or panicked to get out his work. He never sounded eager to please anybody– he let the work and images speak for themselves. Yet one could hear a sly pride in his reading of his often disturbed and challenging work. He read slowly hypnotizing audiences following his dream-imagery and surreal juxtapositions.

Burroughs was a superb reader. There are not many writers who do their own work justice. Dylan Thomas was certainly a master. Even Sylvia Plath’s stately manner in her recorded versions of Daddy or Lady Lazarus for example, she reads poems with the precision and form of a runway model. You can nearly hear her shoulders being pushed back and her chin lifted as she reads. She sounds like a 1950’s movie star, falling between Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwick. Burroughs in turn sounds as if he’s seated at a kitchen table haloed in smoke with an eternal shot of gold liquid within reach. He sounds sleepy, slouched, slightly aggravated and familiar with evil. A wicked grandfather who might slip you some extra rock candy if you place nice and pull your pants down.

I’ve rarely written or spoken of writers who’ve inspired me. Perhaps I’ll do more of these. But while working last night, I thought of Burroughs Cutting up blocks of text to get new fresh meanings and lines, or to cull weird word pairings and find new ways of saying things. He might have really dug that word camera page. It was greatly helpful to me last night while feeling anxious but stuck and uninspired, stoned and slightly drunk.

Follow up on more regarding Burroughs Cut Up Method here.

On the train coming into Sacramento, I spent the time shuffling back and forth through my notebooks, trying to come up with something of value, something deep to say, to a room full of 200 strangers about writing.

And not just writing, but the hardest of all: Humor Writing.

I’ve been fortunate with much gratitude beyond all measure.  Over the years, I’ve sat with, worked with, learned from, listened to some amazingly deep and well educated people. Almost all of them teachers in one way or another. However, I myself am not a certified teacher and I don’t feel as if I know anything. Especially about being funny and talking to a room full of people about using Humor to write memoir. How did I get in this mess?

The ball started rolling years ago. I wrote a essay in list form, entitled A Brief History of My Failures With Women. The piece was written in concert with loneliness, as I walked back through some of my earliest memories attempting to track where and why I felt such a social misfit.  Partially inspired by the casually vivid storytelling of Spalding Gray, partly a random writing exercise during lunch at a new job where I had few friends, it was a piece I wrote just to hold my own hand.

Spaulding

But there came a point when I was asked to submit material for a journal.  At the time, that piece– written initially for my own eyes and daring– was all I had and was what I sent. I expected a perplexed No-Thank You in reply, but instead it was published and developed a life of its own. One of the teachers in Sacramento is still using it in her classes some 15 years after it was written. And here I was returning to Sacramento to read it for an audience and talk about it.

That it was initially embarrassing to’ve existed at all is one thing. But that it was seen as Funny was… well… let’s just say I started seeing a therapist just in time.

I’m no teacher. Did I nervously admit that already?  And I found myself unable to prep a speech on paper. I was thankful for attending some Storytelling-Without-Notes open mics, but those were about true stories and memory, not teachable lectures. So, I made some ‘notes’ regarding writing. I Googled, I stumbled through the library as if I were drunk. I copied this and wrote down that. But eventually I felt I had to let go and do the bulk of the speech off the top of my head. Not from any illusion of confidence, mind you.  But this: Most audiences (myself included) would rather you talk TO them rather than AT them from behind the gated security of a bunch of notecards. But what exactly could I say?

I was told to fill 30 minutes, which soothed me.  Time-wise, 30 minutes is nothing.  It takes 10 minutes to read the essay.  I could futz around for 10 minutes introducing the piece.  That’s twenty.  All I had to do was find a dignified way to stop.  (SPOILER: I didn’t, I just stopped)

My coworker at the office, without knowing what I was doing that weekend, gave me a book by David Sedaris that he said he found pants-pissingly funny. I brought the book with me on the trip as if it were a good luck charm or an alternative bible, though I never opened it. I thought: you can no more tell someone how to be funny than you can tell someone how to sing. Even I can occasionally freestyle a well-timed joke, but not on stage like a stand up. I’m no comedic genius. I couldn’t counter a heckler.  Whatever was funny in my original essay, wasn’t intended to be funny.  It was just the way I saw it, remembered it, thought about it.  I looked through some books on humor writing and quickly became overwhelmed.  I didn’t have the confidence to talk about being funny.  But I felt I could encourage people to write and keep going, and hopefully encourage them to bravely tell the truth in their work.

I was surprised to not be nervous.  I was more surprised the room stayed with me.  They listened.  A laugh or two emerged though never from the entire room.  The room lights remained on and I could see well into the back as some appeared to take notes.  I was strangely relieved to see one person get up to leave, though I think they eventually came back.  I got through my speech without humiliating myself.  Afterwards, several people asked good questions.  And though I did record it, I can’t bring myself to listen to that mp3.

Below is a list of notes I made.  They’re the framework holding up whatever it was I said.  Some of these I used, some I didn’t.

*I’m here due to a horrible mistake / here to admit all my failures
*How do you dare approach your story (esp. using humor)
*Your story has unexpected virture
*Be Honest / Be Encouraged that your story already speaks for someone else. We are all the same. Its in engaging our humanity (our weakness as much as our strengths) where our commonality intersects.
* Know Yourself: be okay with your story and experiences and tread lightly across it.
* Your story has weight only because you’re carrying it.
* You’re a survivor of your life, NOT a victim of your life
* Part of being a survivor is learning to let go– let go of your assumption of control
* Be vulnerable. Be your own punchline. Soften your intensity. Soften your attachment
* Tell the truth. This kind of writing (memoir) is a kind of journalism.
* Humor/Laughter isn’t always about humiliation but recognition. A laugh is a shocked response/ something abrupt and unexpected.
* Mel Brooks: Tragedy vs. Comedy. Tragedy is me falling into an open sewer. Comedy is YOU falling into an open sewer.
* Mark Twain: Get your facts first then you can distort them as much as you please.
* Even in non-humorous writing, humor can/should be found. Humor makes a way of approaching the difficult. The heaviness of the subject matter leads itself naturally to humor. SEE: Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes

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Months before it opened, I was asked to participate in a poetry reading as part of a museum exhibit. When I finally went to the gallery, Generation to Generation at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, it was as reporter with a notebook slipped in my pocket. It wasn’t until walking through the gallery and being present with the material that I was startled by how appropriate it was for me. The theme was Inherited Memory, and for me as an adopted son, I felt all my memories were inherited and somehow not wholly mine. I maintain memories from both the family who raised me and the family I belong to by blood– memories, it seemed, that neither side was all that interested in engaging me with.

Another local poet, who turns out to be my cousin in my adoptive family, mentioned in social media something about his grandfather and great-grandfather. I knew both of those men, and because of my cousins age, I wasn’t wholly sure he did. I was at his grandfather’s bedside the afternoon he died, I remember his great grandfather capping on me for being a chubby kid crawling under the dining room table, wondering if I’d get stuck. Body shaming children. Yeah, that was the good old days alright.

I walked through the modestly sized gallery and stood for a long time with each work. I made notes, here and there, regarding everything I saw. As if I could take tiny DNA samples of each piece and work them into… something. Much of the art was fascinating, gorgeous. But of course there was one I was deeply drawn to. Unbeknownst to me, it was made by a brother, Hank Willis Thomas. The work, What Goes Without Saying, is a installation using a wooden punishment stock with a classic style steel microphone positioned before it. Somehow, that piece is indicative of my poetry life and memories. In its stillness and juxtaposition, it says everything I haven’t been able to put into words. Its the kind of art I wish I’d made.

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Thinking about Inherited Memory, thinking of my adoption story and my cousin, thinking too about that stock in the middle of the gallery, I started writing. The drafted poem was about my adoption and me being the holder of family story that no one has time to hear, nor wants to. The following week, I returned for a second lap through the museum, this time with one of my poetry friends. I wanted to see it again through her eyes, see it again for myself, see if anything new caught my attention for subsequent re-writes. A couple days later I had a solid second draft that felt good to go.

The idea was to pair a poet with one of the art works on display. I was open to read wherever I was assigned. But when I got the email from the event organizer saying she was having me stand with Thomas’ What Goes Without Saying, I audibly gasped and immediately texted my friend about it. I was to stand with one piece that really got my attention.

I auditioned a third draft of the poem at a open mic in Oakland, after which another friend came up to me and said: You just told my story! I hugged her, and said: I had to.

The event was held on “the last good night in America” as the following day was the, ugh, inauguration. There were about six or seven writers paired with paintings, installations. A museum volunteer moved a mic stand from one work to another while a second volunteer recorded it on a video camera, and another acted as curator introducing the name of the artist and the poet. We were given only a few minutes to read. Early on it felt like a remarkable and special evening, an event I would have gone to if I hadn’t been in it. Art excites me. Certainly this kind of event has been done before, but here and tonight it felt new and different. The audience herded from event to event and was open and attentive. When it was my turn people assembled into an arc around me and I read from my journal sending my voice to the people in the back peeking over shoulders. Years ago, I wondered if audiences could be engaged with my adoption story, if anyone could relate to an adoptees mindset, to my struggles with identity and family. Now, I no longer care — I write as truthfully as I can and let it go. If it holds meaning for you, awesome. Lets talk. If not, let the words wash over you in the abstract and we’ll soon move on to something else.

The event ended and I felt positive and energized. What is this on my face?? Oh, my bad– I’m smiling. I told the organizer she should do this every year. It would get my attention again even as an audience. My friend came to see the final show and even got to participate. The whole event lasted about an hour, afterwards we stood around chatting with folks until we all were gently swept out by patient security guards, one of whom, an older African brother, smiled at me–recognizing me from my earlier reconnaissance visits– saying he liked very much what I was doing and told me so lovingly and parental while steadily pushing me towards the exit.

haunted-house

HE awoke screaming again. His head steaming and raw. He coughed to near seizure while some slow moving slime thawed, dripping the length of his throat like mis-swallowed gum. His breath was reticent to move and once it did unobstructed he angrily pounded the bedding with his fist until flurries of sweat rose in swarms akin to fruit flies. The blackened room glowed red within his eyes. Nothing had changed.

A long, heavy chain of days had been spent here in this house that rattled and leaned from one side to the other like some lumbering, clumsy beast marching in place. He rose from bed as if snatched up by his collar and compulsively rubbed his eyes with ashen palms. The room percolated with a milky green haze. The walls were dim and out of focus in the darkness, but he could hear their agitated chattering and scratching

He limped to the bedroom door and opened it, looking out the hallway towards the staircase leading down to the living room. To the right of the stairs the darkness breathed and watched him. In response he coughed and spat on the floor, cursing. The mass welcomed this and smiled.

He scratched the roughed skin in back of his head and coughed a routine prayer: How long. How long.
Downstairs what modest furniture there was danced the rooms circumference as if the entire house was a ship tossed between angered ocean waves. The carpet curled and ripped between the furniture like meat chewed between black teeth.

The house was an ever evolving sickness that worked hard to expel him. The other houses in the suburb were all equally hostile. From one end of the street to the other, the row of them appeared swollen and bruised like severed heads silently snoring behind beards of blackened trees. Their windows depressed in eyeless sockets yet blinked with unnerving shadows floating within. Such horrible things to be assumed through windows greased black.

It was his daily act to walk the neighborhood, though there seemed to be no safe place he could go that would take him. Leaving the space would depend upon some arbitrary unseen matrix, would be as easy as opening a door or window or it would be a locked room puzzle. His hand felt palsied reaching for the door and to his surprise it popped open with no resistance. He stepped out onto the porch beneath an open wound sky. As far as he looked, each house along the row pulsed with an internal seizure, noisily blinking hiccups. Each house was a bully he learned not to approach no matter what show projected along its windows.

He climbed down off the porch glancing across the face of each house which seemed to reach towards him baring some acrid and dishonest benevolence. He walked the length of the block. The sky rolled like an ocean left untreated after a spill.

His memory stalled shyly and failed him. There seemed to be houses he approached before, courage tested, but his body ached having learned well enough to stay away from them. The street felt secure and unlike the houses, quiet. He walked along the reptilian asphalt gently. His daily walks, no matter the length, were depressingly repetitive until he discovered some four blocks away a huge gaping tunnel burrowing down into the earth. Daily he fixed his attention on it, but dared not approach settling instead for just watching it to see what may emerge from its darkness or enter it. It resembled the opened mouth of a drowning victim, selfishly snatching a final breath. It was imposing and dark and cold drawing nothing except his gaze and releasing only steady gulps of steam.

The neighborhood around the hole remained blackly silent and still. He walked onward until he clearly saw it exhale ringlets of smoke. The ground around it were like lips of ashen gray. Nothing grew close to it. What trees there were, were infuriatingly black and malformed as if they had spines that had broken.

At the edge of the hole, he saw something that startled him. Sitting at its entrance was a small boy seated on a bicycle. The man’s heart cranked one way then another. He stopped several paces behind the boy who quietly focused on the blackness sighing smoke. The child was clean and calm. He wore a jean suit with a simple white shirt lined blue and red. White sneakers glaring against the stubborn ashen blackness of the soil. The bike was a red mini racer with raised handlebars.

Where did you come from. He stammered.

The boy turned towards the man’s voice but not to look directly at him. The boy appeared more sad than surprised.

Stranger, the boy diagnosed. Then turned his attention back on the nucleus of blackness and its tongue of smoke.

I’m not going to hurt you, the man said. I don’t know how long I’ve been here. I don’t know how to get out. Are there others? Where are your parents?

The boy looked at the sticky black ground which churned slightly as if it itched.

Why is everything in ruins, the man asked the silence. Why is every here place haunted?

What you dream last night? The boy finally said, asking the dirt more than the man. Remember?

I..I… I The man shook his head, no, and remained silent. Then: I worked as a driver at a firehouse, he said. It seem like…one day the alarm went off. Everybody looked at me, waiting for me to start the truck cause no one else knew how. But we’d never had a fire before either. And everyone was waiting on me. Just standing around, waiting. And I couldn’t remember where the keys were or nothing. But, seemed like, I went through everything. And I found them and we get to the building, and its like, the building is painted in fire. Everybody runs knowing what to do. But I just drive the truck. And the chief comes and yells at me to help. I get on the ladder and it extends all the way but the building goes right into the clouds. I look and the fire and the clouds blend in to one another. I see people hanging out the windows but they’re so far up they look like seeds. My heart is just… And then. They all jump at once. Just start floating down to me. I got nothing. Not even a hose. I’m just at the top of the ladder. I yell at them to stop but they keep coming. Getting larger above me. And I just. I wake up. Right then. Choking from the smoke in my room.

Look, The boy said.

The man stepped forward. Within the nucleus of the ring, the darkness moved.

From within the darkness, the man saw the outline of a figure take shape and approach. A head, hanger of shoulders. An arm. A torso. The dim shadow made the man more afraid and he began to back away from the boy and the ring. Finally the man saw it was but another young boy, looking dazed. His skin ashen and his eyes saucer wide and glistening. He approached the boy on the bike who motioned for him to sit on the handle bars. He kicked off. They rode straightaway into an accepting darkness. Going towards no place as the man could see. No tiny lights awaited. The street just veered off into nothing, as did the boys.

The man began to run after them. Words shooting from his mouth automatic, every floral apology begging acceptance he could think of. They didn’t look back. The smaller boy kicking pedals, his weight shifting. The other boy on the handlebars held himself in place. The man’s lungs burned. The boys took straightaway down the street, getting smaller and more dim in the darkness until they were gone and the man was alone again. He stared deep into the narrowing distance, as trying to understand something and couldn’t.

He took one street then another back to his familiar residence. The yard was busy with black insects swinging back and forth through the air a kind of beaded curtain. They rose from the oil slick lawn like smoke. He passed through the front gate. The house stared down at him coolly, then opened its mouth letting him in.

raging-fire-from-charcoal-barbecue-grill
In two days time, there will be an office memorial for a coworker who died the weekend of my birthday.

I came back from my personal 3 day weekend and a secretary passed my desk, stopped and told me how over the weekend Linda had died suddenly. I’d worked with her about seven years and was surprised nearly to tears to hear that news. The story I’d gotten was how she was on the street (in the neighborhood of the office? during lunch?) talking on the phone and passed out. She spent the next day on life support and the day after she was gone.

I immediately thought a couple of things. First: how another co-worker of ours went to Emergency with her all of two months prior just after work one night and Second: how despite her being incredibly warm and chatty (ok, a motor-mouth) she NEVER talked about how ill she was, nor that she had cancer.

That I learned from the other coworker in question. A month ago, I went downstairs to visit him and Linda had sat across from him telling him a long, drawn out story. Her voice was light, animated, engaged. He kept mumbling Uh-huh, Yeah, I See, into his chest as if he were on punishment and continued to type while she talked and talked. I felt sorry for him.

And then, after hearing the news about her, I felt something different. I felt connected.

The other coworker told me that there were plans to have her cremated, but he also said her ashes were not going to be sent to back east where we all assumed she had family. Her ashes were going to be kept by a mutual coworker and friend. There was no family for her ashes to go to.

In that case, she and I were the same. Her hallway joke that I treat her like she was my mother, was but vaguely true. My heart recognized something in her I could never say aloud. I saw and understood her loneliness. I felt it in my own experience as much if not more than she did in hers.

This is probably why I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I found myself taking a break from the office and walking over to the library for my brief writing slash study session. Its a break I take on the regular, every other day if I can. And if just for an hour: to grab a book of poems and sit and read and try to work something out. On this particular day, I returned to the library for my session, but didn’t write anything. I felt like I was waiting for a call or text that never came.

After a few minutes sitting quietly, doing nothing, I got up as to leave But suddenly as when touching a doorknob gives an unexpected electric jolt, words occurred to me and I started writing. I balanced my notebook on the dusty window sill and expecting to write a sentence or two of notes, I instead wrote three pages. It was a mad scribble of words and ideas about death and loneliness and processing what I’d been told and I remembered about Linda and her predilection for telling spontaneously long stories.

I never expected to write a poem. But one immediately took shape and rattled me for its clarity, its specificity and demand to be born. I didn’t write it — rather, it wrote me. This sounds cloying and twee, but in truth it felt all but channeled. I came into the library with no intent or agenda and was just as happy to be out of the office communing with books. Then Suddenly…

And should Suddenly occur to you, will you be open for it?

I typed up the notes. Something began forming like an image though a slowly lifting fog. I thought of Linda, hyper friendly, eternal smile, and how often I was short with her to the point of appearing rude. Not always and not unfriendly, mind you. But once I realized she talked to people as if it were a condition that couldn’t be helped, and how warmly she accepted my lack of patience for her habit (I know you hate my stories, Cagney, but…) I sometimes playfully wouldn’t wait for her to finish talking. I stayed gleefully defiant to the social custom of patient listening.

While re-typing my notes for a poem inspired by her, I was also struck with a crazy idea.

Last July, I began writing a poem about BBQ ribs and how I bought an entire slab at the farmer’s market that I ultimately ate by myself. Here’s an excerpt from the original draft:

days of picnics, families having ended
A lineage of rhyming names remains having dissolved like sugar
Only the patrolling sun remains insistent to the point of hostility

There is you, the rottiserie truck and 30 dollars
rubbing in your pocket like fly legs–
You watch this man lay a rack of
blackened ribs on a running carpet
of aluminum sheeting then swaddle the whole thing
like a newborn. This youngster in a baseball cap and
apron blackened with sweet animal fat
handled the slab
ceremonially folding the crisp edges down sharp as an envelope

The poem had some cool lines, but I couldn’t get wholly engaged with it because… well, frankly it was irrelevant. All vegans, vegetarians had no entry point for it nor would they appreciate the language because, for them, its language wasted about meat and intended for meat eaters. I even dared opening the poem with the kinda humorous if off-putting lines:

Damn every vegetarian
and their anemic families
And their portable pulpit of entitlement

But all of us, myself as author included, were wrong. The poem was NOT about meat, but about loneliness. Its about my own isolation, which at first I couldn’t clearly see. It wasn’t about the purchase or even eating, but rather how in the poem, the purchase wasn’t shared. Couldn’t be shared. It wasn’t about greed, it was about a ‘need’ that the meat itself wasn’t going to fill.

So the poem sat idle for a while, until I found myself working through the poem for/about Linda. It occurred to me that I could take lines from the BBQ poem I fancied, and fold them whole into the Linda poem. The great irony being how Linda herself would NEVER participate in office lunches and gatherings, them being much too social (wink).

I allowed the narrative of her poem to run long and then… get off the subject, by having this other poem appear. It was weird, and perfect. The first poem about her was intentionally chatty. I thought of the security guard at the same library who’d always stop me to talk, then worked in conversational phrases people always say: …I’ll be short, I hate to cut you off, Let me tell you this one thing…

I wrote and re-wrote the poem a good four or five times over and was surprised how solid it felt, running a hefty three pages– too long for most open mics, but perfect for itself just the same.

Linda would sometimes side-eye me and say, You know, I was probably your mother in a former life. And for that reason, my mother cameos in the poem. The cameo is unflattering because its a memory of my mother perhaps a month before she passed away, and a memory I’ve referenced in another piece. But it also feels perfect. Because, like Linda apparently, I didn’t realize how important she was to me until she was gone.

I don’t know if I have it in me to share that poem at Linda’s memorial. Its pretty much sermon length. I’ll print it and keep it with me and hope the spirit… does with me what it usually does. Take over and drive me to a very unexpected but most appropriate place.

Grace Jones Live

Posted: September 28, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

grace-jones-chris-levine
I chose sleep over the blood moon last night and woke up to good news for a change. A poem I’d been tinkering with over the past few weeks surprised me by being accepted in a journal. I included a draft of it in a submission package a while back and its acceptance this morning made my heart lovingly rattle in my chest. Did the moonlight light up some darkened part of my chart? The woman at the bakery offered my the largest peach muffin they made. The bus driver, a queenly woman I’ve seen most days over the last couple of weeks, cheerfully honked and waved at me over the weekend while driving a different line. This morning on my regular commute, she said: Did you know that was me? and we exchanged names and I felt like a shy schoolboy for even asking.

That I was without any weed over the weekend made me very productive. I got out of the house first thing Sunday and went down to the café to write. More of a clearing my head: six unlined pages, shaking thoughts from my mind like a wet dog shaking water off itself.

A while ago I wrote notes for a poem inspired by laying on the beach at Pyramid Lake and being awakened by shooting stars and the choir like waves of the water. A couple of the best lines in those notes were used already in another piece. But looking over the remaining notes during my session yesterday, I was able to rescue the unused lines and thread them into something different.

Another rough poem, a memory piece involving my grandfather, has disappointed me yet again. At some point I’d typed and printed it and made a bunch of edits then left it unfinished. I took that poem and applied the edits but it still doesn’t have much of a narrative and worse, it doesn’t end it just stops. There’s value there, something’s going on, but it needs a radically different form or way of telling the story. I will have to break open the poem and my expectations of it and create something totally unexpected and new.

The little neighborhood café I was in began to fill and get busy and by the time it got noisy and crowded I was already a bit thought-fatigued and ready to take a walk. I got some supplies at the supermarket and went home and cleaned house.

Over and over I listened to Williams Blood by Grace Jones while I swept and Pine-solved my apartment. The night before, I saw Grace Jones live. I was neither drunk (I had a single shot of Maker’s Mark which was no more dizzying than a spoon of cough syrup) nor high and I’m going to use the words Thrilling and Breathtaking to describe that show, which could be one of the best live concerts I’ve ever seen. I expected something theatrical which I got, and then some. A body painted Grace hoola-hooping through Slave To The Rhythm I expected, but she brought so much more, in terms of fashion and fun and control of the stage. The hoola-hoop stunt would have been enough, but she encored with Hurricane while wrapped in a black cape while standing before an offstage wind machine and holding onto a strippers pole. Several times I turned to my friend and said: She’s 67?? He nodded yes. The aforementioned William’s Blood was a new song to me. She performed it in the middle of the show (“We’re going to church,” she said wearing, what best constitutes an appropriate Church crown for Ms. Jones) and it was enthralling. Both as she staged it visually and now my ear can’t get enough of it.

I went with my coworker who’s a couple years older than me, openly gay and said he expected to see “a lot of people from the past” out there. He did. A youngster in a tight knit cap that seemed like something he’d wear 24/7 that my friend said was probably ‘concealing some secrets’. It was a queer positive and diverse house. We sat on a cement planter just at the corner from the venue after the show was over, him smoking and me processing the experience. Of all the concerts I’ve attended, this is the only one I didn’t immediately leave. I sat with him while he finished his cigarette and watched the parade of people. Men and women, men in LED-lined fur jackets, women in mini dresses with delicious thighs. Dudes dressed as Urban Cowboys, Village People-style police, and a very skinny member of 300 people fresh back from Burning Man, people like me in jeans and a t-shirt, people dressed more formal, people in glitter. Ripped t-shirts and dinner jackets. Slick bald dudes with scraggly beards and a woman with three kids, maybe a 12 year old right up through college freshmen, I guess. All of us were brought together in love and got an extraordinary show. I don’t think I will ever need to go see another live concert. Grace, looking as if she were having as good a time as we were, killed it for everybody. As expected.