Archive for October, 2021

Literaria Deformis: a history of my terrible writing.

October 29, 2021

Having been reading Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria — a biography of his literary life (sort of) — it occurred to me write one of my own, taking stock, though in my case the writing was frequently badly deformed — which I say somewhat hyperbolically but also having inside knowledge of how deep the unpublished valleys can be, how amateurish, never mind the character of the published or recorded peaks.

I’m going to take some time off from here, is my intention, if reflexiveness permits, and plan to be back in the New Year probably.


Highschool: bad rock songs showing no aptitude for or understanding of the spirit of the music, some talent for rhymes (Groo The Wanderer style). My best creations were joke songs. Moby Dick a game-changer in terms of taking high culture seriously: this was learned and wise but also hilarious — an escape from sitcoms. (I had an unhealthy attraction to very stale sitcoms.)

College: A lot more reading, exposure to more styles only made my ridiculous writing worse. Wildly turgid might best characterize it. Again, some joke songs, while totally egregious, and probably a sort of anti-art, were the only things done sincerely and well. A vaguely promising Blakean poem was written…. On reflection, I wonder if it is what we call the joke song that is somewhat at the root of what I call my terrible writing: not taking your feelings seriously, yourself seriously, being self-undermining — or having been undermined.

Between college and Mendoza Line: pivoted from Shakespeare imitations to Hart Crane and Rimbaud imitations. One issue: hadn’t found a contemporary writer I really admired. Also: a lot of focus on orally reciting my creations, narcissism…. I didn’t yet have any sense of just how bad my writing was.

Mendoza Line/ Athens: Very important lessons learned here, albeit imperfectly. The artwork must be humorous (not a joke: comedic) — that is to say, fun (something by the way DFW made a point of). [Perhaps that overstates the importance of humor to the artwork, but I would say that whether something is funny or not is generally a good barometer for whether it is anything at all or not — a much more reliable barometer than, say, whether it is beautiful or not, though that is also a barometer.] Second, the artwork must come out of something definite in the artist and be forcefully communicated. That seems, and is, exceedingly basic as a statement, and you would think something self-evident to anyone who has ever tried to write; but before this time I would characterize my literary efforts as having been more like academic exercises about which there was an oddly hypothetical character: as in, if one were to ever read this poem or listen to this song — which one wouldn’t, because it is laughably terrible — there are some interesting things you could say about it. You have to make things matter, was the important lesson I was beginning to glimpse.

Mendoza Line/ New York: Wrote a couple decent songs, a couple interesting prose pieces, but was really despairing by this point of ever “writing anything.” Would make a lot of fragments that never coalesced or developed. Ulysses began to figure prominently: the idea belatedly began to emerge that the mission of art was (a) to see and portray reality as it occurs in everyday life but also (b) that the only place where one could truly see the everyday was in (i) one’s own life and in (ii) very small increments of time.

Post Mendoza Line/ American Book Congress. Writing on and for the internet rather than in notebooks was a subtle influence. Also, having my head turned by all the things I saw people trying on the internet. David Horton, Flarf and conceptualism… but especially Anne Boyer, Sam Pink, John Latta, Spurious, Daniel Green. Started trying to incorporate visual elements in poems (the result of encountering Apollinaire’s Kalligrams and HTML around the same time). A period of lateral motion or regression writing-wise (I had now introduced Frank O’Hara imitations into the mix)… I did at one point write a traditional poem that almost seemed like the real thing.

Post Congress/ coffee shop. A sense of total isolation from other people writing, and a better sense for what a niche concern it all is. “Mad monologues” were my chief production around this time: when I wrote something absurdly bad, I didn’t need to erase it, I’d realized. I could instead incorporate it into a monologue spoken by the absurd individual who must have thought of such a thing. My turgid writing was an asset here: just needed to be flipped on its head. Made five to ten of these short works which seemed to come off alright. (Although I style this something I “learned”, these stories actually hearken back to my only published works, from the late 90s.)

Current. The idea, falling out of (if not directly stated by) Joyce and Proust, that life was this incomprehensible protean thing which the artist had the power to crystallize and render clear. The sameness of my routine and personal biography made it seem like an excellent laboratory in which to isolate and commit to cryogenic freezing several strains of the Proteus, but at this point the results are uncertain — it may wind up it is the laboratory that’s frozen.

Future. Want to pursue the irrational sources of songs and poems. Feel like I’ve been looking a lot at everyday experience and very consciously dutifully asking, “what is that? how do I describe that?” — the question also: “what is happening when nothing is happening?” Once I get done with my current assignment, I’d like to give my subconscious the floor. Contrary to intentional observation, writing only “out of something.” Concerned with story.

Final Reflection. I very much think of literature and pop-rock music as being different categories; I don’t think, for example, Bob Dylan is a poet in the same way John Ashbery was. However, I would say that it was through my close encounter with pop music that I got a sense for what is foundational to both art forms –making it matter– putting real spirit into a thing, which is hard to do and yet easy to forget to do.

Extraordinary powers of Summs continued

October 28, 2021

He had the power to rise and stand up, should he do that? (He did that.) He had the power to brush the twigs and dust and grass from his body and hair, should he do that? (He did that.) He had not the power, on the other hand, to repair the hole he’d discovered in his sweater, should that bother him? (But why should that bother him when it had been there a while. And why have the power to do what wasn’t necessary?)

He had the power to put one foot forward, then the other foot, the power to climb and the power to clamber and the power to ascend this whole hill if need be. He had the power to avoid the trees in his path, not running into them — he should exercise that power. He had the power to step over the roots that would trip him and the holes and pits that might cause him to fall or stumble — let him exercise these powers as well. He had the power to give up or to no to; the power to step back when things got complicated or frustrating, then start again once he’d recovered his breath, once calm had been restored, when he saw clearly again he had the power to advance: to put one foot forward, then another, making progress again and again, stride after stride toward progress and success (though perhaps now he was taking things a bit far, perhaps he was not quite as all-powerful as that).

He, all powerful Summs, moved this branch away from his face. He, all powerful Summs, side-stepped a projecting stone. He, all powerful Summs, swatted away (though gently) a stringing insect without fear. When he confronted a sudden steep acclivity, he thought what to do, then went around where it wasn’t so steep. Thus did Summs, almost unseemly in his awful strength, ascend the woody hill.

October 28, 2021

“I’ll be so sad if this place closes in a year,” said customer. One day at a time, said attendant. We’ll all be dead before this place closes, said customer. Attendant: Ah, well.

And then there are days when you feel you have done some demonstrable good in the world. That person’s thinking has been advanced by talking to you, that person’s mood has improved by talking to you, those letters you helped with and sent to the government were effective: that person is getting their benefits now.

October 27, 2021

Immigrant’s story: when he was “new” (newly arrived in the country) he tried to help a woman who was struggling to get on the bus. But the woman didn’t like it — what did he think he was trying to do? In his country, people helped people, he said, because they had to. Not like here. That woman was so angry, he laughed.

Let me put it this way, said attendant, it’s not that I believe in the mainstream so much, but you have to look at everything critically, because everyone’s got something to sell. And that’s Big Pharma, of course, but that’s also the guy who writes the alternative medicine bulletin and sells supplements that aren’t FDA approved. Everyone’s got something to sell.

October 27, 2021

Attendant is becoming so old, so unfiltered, it is often extremely near his lips what he thinks; and what he thinks, in this case, is that this customer he doesn’t know very nearly resembles one that he does; and only narrowly does he manage not to say it.

Attendant confronting smiling optimistic face of courteous young man. Never was I this enthusiastic, he thinks. Didn’t care about colorful or nice things, or fashionable or delicious things but had a preference for the grim and enduring– what is wrong with me.

October 27, 2021

Noticing when I’m told to do something that I usually do already, as a routine, as in “don’t forget to turn out the lights when you leave” — perhaps because I’ve neglected to do it recently, or because there’s been a perception of such neglect, or simply to ensure that I don’t forget on this occasion — I will forget to do it, not as an act of rebellion, but as if my routine of doing the thing has somehow been cancelled by the command I’ve received to do it.


October 26, 2021

To me this remake of Dune is almost exactly like the original Dune, and both follow the book very closely. (By way of being discriminating, I would say the first version had a lot more texture, is quirkier and preferable, while the new one is more ‘Hollywood’, — yet for that, has worse hunter-seekers and individual force shields. )

It is unclear why this movie was made; doesn’t significantly add or depart from what came before it; yet I am glad it was made, and have enjoyed watching it. My harshest word against the remake is that it seems to remake the movie not the book.

The interesting thing about this to me is that, as a youth, the first Dune was famous for being one of the first million dollar movies, and it bombed. I wonder what has changed that would make this story a big hit now? In a mystical vien, one might imagine it’s our relationship to oil and the Middle East that’s changed.

October 26, 2021

Moral of this: believe in the mainstream and in mainstream accounts. (Most of what there is to be outraged by occurs in the open.)

Moral of this: don’t be a revolutionary. (You’re really not seeing clearly yet how good you have it or how much worse it could get.)

Moral of this: everything takes much longer than you expect (You know this already but need to get better at baking it into your expectations.)

Moral of this: no amount of doing good for others equals any amount of doing good for yourself. (One should do good for others, and do good for oneself, but not imagine these are the same.)

Teaching the body English

October 25, 2021

Summs was a very young man by certain measures, but back when he was an even younger man, thirty and forty years ago, he had had ideas about “becoming a writer”, about which he’d had all kinds of vain egoistic delusions. That was all pride and ego, he had realized fairly quickly, when he got past the desire to be remembered through the generations, when he got past the idea of being taught about in schools and colleges, when he got past the idea of giving lectures for large stipends with all expenses paid, when he got past the idea of having his mere intuitions appreciated as deep wisdoms … when he got beyond the desire for all those mere worldly things, which perhaps merely reflected his sorrow for not having been more popular in highschool, and for not having a friend with whom to discuss his philosophical ideas, what did he find was left of his desire to write, what was on the other side?

In the old days, he would write out the entirety of the alphabet, but in more recent times he tended to concentrate on the latter half and particularly R, S, and T. Not only was this activity calming, not only was it the primary cause of his truly gorgeous handwriting, much remarked upon by everyone who encountered it, but in his opinion, it was a form of mental exercise which sharpened his capacity for what he called mental writing, really emblazoning these letters on the brain itself, as if with a cattle prod, teaching his own brain English and the alphabet, trying to give his body the tools both to speak with him and understand what he was saying to it. Once Summs had managed to teach his body English, he reasoned, he could tell it to lose weight, for example, and it would, or his body could tell him to stop eating, and he would. It was because his body hadn’t learned English was why it sometimes didn’t do what he commanded it to or why he himself sometimes made the wrong decisions.

True to say, part of what made Summs capable of looking past the idea and desire for fame as a writer was his total incapacity to write or otherwise communicate, which made him look on the practice with awesome reverence. It was both in one and not in one to write, he believed — for on the one hand, he clearly he had not gift for writing, no one understood him; but on the other, all those great things he saw written, didn’t he always read these things with a delight of recognition, as things already written in him by his own soul? And so that was another reason one must teach the brain to write… Another interesting aspect to Summs with respect to reading and writing was his penchant for underlining which, almost literally, if he was reading something he was underlining it, it all seemed so important, though these days he read only newsletters and the occasional alternative medicine bulletin.

October 24, 2021

with doing, with knowing,
with seeing, with verbs,
with images of life,
(and nouns and prepositions)
With practical Problem of occurrence of mice
With 2nd Corinthians, Broken Flowers,
Finally there was Mao’s complaint that,
without alcohol, he’d no longer be crabby
and miserable, he’d apparently said.
Something I read about today.

October 24, 2021

Customer was economics grad student, whom attendant pestered on inflation expectations… “Transitory or instransitory?” “Transitory, a year or two.” Thought inflation mainly dependent on the Fed. “But the Fed was having trouble meeting its inflation targets before Covid.” –“That’s true…. but, of course I could be wrong.” Did he think disruptions caused by climate change could be a source of inflation? Really thought Fed was primary factor. With climate change… it couldn’t be just a bad year. Would have to be a real disruption in the pattern. (Attendant had noticed about his ideas over the years that they were often “kind of interesting” and “outside of the box” –like that environmental damage was responsible for our present bout of inflation– but also kind of wrong or at least non-actionable in the way they were conceived. Nevertheless, couldn’t one say that Covid was the result of environmental damage and a demonstration of the kind of inflationary pressures environmental damage could create?… Technology increased productivity, thus was a deflationary force, but technology was also responsible for exterior costs, like Climate Change, which would one day need to be readjusted for.)

Auditory Memory. Customer ordered small iced caramel latte and plain bagel with cream cheese; customer’s friend ordered everything bagel with cream cheese and lox and small cappuccino; customer’s other friend ordered small cappuccino and everything bagel with plain cream cheese. Attendant faced moment of uncertainty as the toasted open faces of the plain bagel and first of the everythings were open before him –which spread went on which bagel?– but suddenly had an auditory memory of the customer having said “plain bagel with cream cheese” –the exact sound of his voice “played back”– and this unlocked his memory of the rest.