Heat Nap

I fell asleep for a bit this after­noon and dreamed that I got a call from my agent. James Fran­co had request­ed me per­son­al­ly to teach him bird calls, specif­i­cal­ly Cal­i­for­nia shore bird calls, which appar­ent­ly were my spe­cial­ty. I was skep­ti­cal, not sure I could deal with a dilet­tante try­ing to learn in a week what had tak­en me my entire bird­ing career, but I took the job. When I arrived, James Fran­co was sit­ting on a met­al chair in a poor­ly lit con­crete bunker, in an orange t‑shirt and brown pants, whistling like a lunatic. Uncer­tain if I should inter­rupt, I start­ed to set up my play­back sys­tem, which involved reel-to-reel tape recorders, a Super‑8 movie screen, and cock­pit head­sets. Fran­co stopped me. He didn’t want to learn how to iden­ti­fy birds by their calls, he said. He want­ed to learn to whis­tle like the birds. I told him that wasn’t my thing, and he said, “David, we have to learn to speak to the birds. They’re nev­er going to learn how to speak to us.”


What does it mean when you dream you’re at a gallery open­ing watch­ing a video instal­la­tion of Madon­na in a night­gown and tear-stained make-up slap­ping a young, blond, naked Alec Bald­win with a gun ? (One mon­i­tor is a wide shot loop, one a wide slo-mo, one a close-up of the pis­tol nip­ping Alec’s stamen.)

Ask­ing for a friend.

The Odds Are Not In My Favor

I start­ed run­ning today. I’m not a gam­bler, but gun to my head, I’d say the odds that I con­tin­ue run­ning in the com­ing days are as close to 0 as as my ass is to the ground. Oh, wait that’s my stom­ach. “So you’re say­ing I still have a chance…”

Not real­ly. I’m 54. I haven’t run in 15 years. I’m what­ev­er word comes after “mor­bid­ly” in the obese con­tin­uüm. (My vote goes to “Mor­bid-Pro”.) Also, I hate run­ning, and I have an arthrit­ic knee, flat feet, and neuropathy.

So, I’m kin­da hot­shit, is what I’m saying.

Tonight I ran like this : one minute run, then one minute rest. Repeat that sev­en times. The good news ? On the last rep, I actu­al­ly ran two blocks before I gassed out.

The oth­er good news is I have done this before. When I was in my ear­ly 30s I decid­ed to start run­ning. I was in ter­ri­ble shape then too, and I start­ed the same way, increas­ing the time by one minute every week and slow­ly decreas­ing the walk­ing. And it worked. I was run­ning three miles a day in two months. At one point, I was up to sev­en miles a day.

So I know this can work, which does­n’t mean it will. Espe­cial­ly when I don’t real­ly care if I can run sev­en miles. Or three. I just want to be able to run and hike as eas­i­ly as I ride a bike.

Because as out of shape as I am when it comes to run­ning, I have sur­pris­ing­ly decent cycling con­di­tion­ing. After not rid­ing for three months (thanks to the holy trin­i­ty of crap­pi­ness : ill­ness, weath­er, and ill­ness), I got on my bike and was back to rid­ing 15 – 20 miles on my lunch hour rides in a few days. I want to bal­ance things out : glutes and quads, not one or the other.

Plus my cycling goals now are so time con­sum­ing. 100 miles a week, 50 mile rides once a week, 2500 feet of climb­ing a week, etc. That’s hours of rid­ing, which I would love to do, but I don’t real­ly have the time. To reach a huge run­ning mile­stone, all I have to do is run twelve min­utes with­out walk­ing. One mile. If I could do that, I’d call the Queen and take her to lunch — it would be a big­ger accom­plish­ment than rid­ing a century.

It’s not going to hap­pen, but I’m post­ing this just in case.

A Brief Life of Bruno Schulz

As a boy in a part of Poland that is now part of Ukraine, Bruno fed sug­ar gran­ules to house­flies so they’d have enough strength to sur­vive the win­ters. Lat­er, he want­ed to be an artist. He went to col­lege, but he was shy and thought lit­tle of him­self, so he had noth­ing. Some friends pitied him and found him a job as a school teacher. He didn’t like teach­ing, but his stu­dents remem­bered him as an awk­ward man who nev­er­the­less trans­fixed them with sto­ries every day from bell to bell.

He wrote sto­ries as well, but he didn’t think they were good enough to pub­lish. Nonethe­less, in 1933, at age 41, he trav­eled to War­saw with the hope that Madame Nalkows­ka would help him. As a favor to a friend, she agreed to give him ten min­utes of her time and let him read a few pages of his col­lec­tion to her. She kept the man­u­script for the day and phoned him that evening to say she would be hon­ored to help him pub­lish his col­lec­tion, The Cin­na­mon Shops. Five short years lat­er, he received the Gold­en Lau­rel Award from the Pol­ish Acad­e­my of Literature.

In 1941, the Ger­mans forced the Jews of Dro­hoby­cz into the Ghet­to. Schulz escaped the camps, how­ev­er, when an SS Offi­cer, Felix Lan­dau, admired his work and retained him to paint murals in his home. Lan­dau had a vio­lent rival­ry with anoth­er SS Offi­cer, Karl Gun­ther ; one day, Gun­ther walked up and shot Shulz dead, say­ing, “There, I’ve shot your per­son­al Jew.”

[This is a dis­til­la­tion of David Gross­man­’s fine “The Age of Genius” from the June 8 2009 issue of The New Yorker]

The Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work,

and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baf­fled is not employed.

The imped­ed stream is the one that sings.

– Wen­dell Berry

Something from Anthony Burgess

We prob­a­bly have no duty to like Beethoven or hate Coca-Cola, but it is at least con­ceiv­able that we have a duty to dis­trust the state. Thore­au wrote of the duty of civ­il dis­obe­di­ence ; Whit­man said, “Resist much, obey lit­tle.” With those lib­er­als, and with many oth­ers, dis­obe­di­ence is a good thing in itself. In small social enti­ties — Eng­lish parish­es, Swiss can­tons — the machine that gov­erns can some­times be iden­ti­fied with the com­mu­ni­ty that is gov­erned. But when the social enti­ty grows large, becomes a mega­lopo­lis, a state, a fed­er­a­tion, the gov­ern­ing machine becomes remote, imper­son­al, even inhu­man. It takes mon­ey from us for pur­pos­es we do not seem to sanc­tion ; it treats us as abstract sta­tis­tics ; it con­trols an army ; it sup­ports a police force whose func­tion does not always appear to be protective.

– From The New York­er, June 2012

The Long Goodbye

I copied this poster for Robert Alt­man’s The Long Good­bye from a tweet by Cass­ian Elwes. It’s one of my favorite films, an irrev­er­ent ada­p­ataion of Ray­mond Chan­dler’s nov­el. The poster is by Jack Davis, the great MAD Mag­a­zine car­toon­ist. I like how the poster uses the MAD for­mat to make itself hip and to poke fun at itself at the same time. The movie itself has none of this snarky com­ic tone, but it does­n’t mat­ter. The poster cap­tures the film and the era perfectly. 


Mr. Ha

Mr. Ha drowned in his show­er. Just an inch of water, but that’s all it takes, I guess. He died for a while and now he talks in a loud whis­per like he just got stran­gled. He can’t stop clear­ing his throat even when he’s just sit­ting behind his desk watch­ing us. He makes us write these things called do jons when we piss him off, so we’re basi­cal­ly always writ­ing. I was the first one to fig­ure out if I coughed he’d clear his throat like it was on fire. Sarai was wor­ried he’d kick me out, but as soon he start­ed to calm down, I’d cough again, and he nev­er said any­thing — prob­a­bly because he couldn’t remem­ber our names anymore.

And he’s a real Kore­an now. He whis­pers with an accent that he moved here from Seoul after his wife died, that he’s sor­ry for his bad Eng­lish, but he believes “Human­i­ties very much a uni­ver­sal lan­guage.” He says things like, “This is not time for talk­ing. This is time to write your dojeon”. I don’t think that means any­thing, unless he learned Kore­an when he was dead. Mr. Ha grew up here. There’s a pic­ture him in the gym run­ning track that says “Toby Ha, class of 86, gets last laugh, vic­to­ry, at CIF.” His wife is Ms. Sny­der. She teach­es Biol­o­gy and dri­ves him home after school.

We fin­ished Da Vin­ci and Michelan­ge­lo, and we were start­ing Kepler and Car­avag­gio, but now Mr. Ha wants us to for­get all of it. For­get the Great Vow­el Shift. For­get the Magna Car­ta. He say his­to­ry is a lad­der — we’re not sup­posed to mem­o­rize it, we’re sup­posed to step on it. I don’t know why the school doesn’t kill this shit­show, but they don’t. Maybe they just don’t want to deal.

Today he asked, “Is any­body here orig­i­nal?”. His voice sound­ed dif­fer­ent. We all raised our hands. Well, I didn’t. “A hun­dred per­cent orig­i­nal?” Sarai looked at me. She heard it too.
He stepped out from his desk and walked to my seat.

Why not orig­i­nal?” he said.

Noth­ing new under the sun,” I said.

I wasn’t used to him being so close. His arms were pale and slick, his eyes were wet — from being drowned ? Or is he still drown­ing ? “Very fun­ny. New dojeon,” he said, still look­ing down at me.

Write some­thing nobody has ever writ­ten before.”

Just him?” asked Sarai.

He turned to Sarai. “Every­body dojeon.”

He didn’t go back to his desk. That was a first. He walked up and down the rows while we wrote. When he was on the oth­er side of the room, I coughed, but noth­ing hap­pened. Grady and Eddie laughed, so I did it again, and this time he turned around and looked at me. He put his hand over his mouth and said some­thing. Yas­mine moved her chair at the same time so I couldn’t hear, but it sound­ed like “douchebag.”

When time was up, we put our do jons on his desk. Usu­al­ly he’d put them in his bag to mark up at home, or he’d grade them while we read. But, anoth­er first, he start­ed to read them out loud. And they sucked, so they made him super ragey. Flecks of spit popped from his lips like lit­tle fireworks.

Which is Sarai?” She raised her hand. He read : “The same time every night, I turn into a mon­ster. Hun­gry for soli­tude, while my par­ents argued over din­ner, I get up and run to my room where I can eat the dark until I’m full.”

He dropped his hands to his side and turned his head, slow, like a kai­ju ris­ing out of the sea. Yas­mine said it was sexy. Eddie said he nev­er thought about being alone like you could eat it. It didn’t mat­ter. We’d always be wrong.

’The same time every night?’ That not orig­i­nal,” Mr. Ha said. “What time ? Why vague ? It’s oat­meal on a baby’s lap. Time not impor­tant. Din­ner impor­tant. Hate par­ents impor­tant. ‘Hun­gry for soli­tude?’ I’m hun­gry for orig­i­nal­i­ty. Why you feed me oat­meal on a baby’s lap?” Sarai looked down at her lap. “You should say, ’I explode from my chair and stum­ble down the hall like some­one threw a har­poon into my chest and is reel­ing me into my room.”

She doesn’t hate the par­ents,” Sarai said.

He scanned her page again and then looked up at her. “Yes she does. Which is Gordon?”

I stood up, scrap­ing my chair on the floor. “I am, Sir”. Every­body laughed. Mr. Ha smiled too. That threw me off.

Pa rubbed his caldera with his big right hand and gave me smile to hide the hot lava about spew out of his face. By the time he hit me, his pyro­clas­tic hatred had cooled into pahoe­hoe fists that had no trou­ble leav­ing their mark.”

Holy shit,” said Grady. Shut the fuck up, Grady.

Sarai said, “Gor­don, that’s so…” Don’t say any­thing, please.

Bor­ing,” fin­ished Ha. “Every­body say anger is like a vol­cano. Big deal. We erupt in bed. We erupt with grief. We erupt with joy. Got it. Humans are big flesh vol­ca­noes. So what ? I don’t know this father, I just know the writer does­n’t know the father either.”

I want­ed to shove my pen in his ear and ham­mer it out the oth­er side. Motherfucker.

That’s not what I wrote,” I said.

Mr. Ha looked at my page. “You are Gordon?”

You know I am. That’s the old ver­sion. You told me to rewrite it.”

I can’t remem­ber.” Mr. Ha looked through his pages. Sarai was giv­ing me a look. Didn’t she know I was doing this for her ?

Are you seri­ous ? That was my only copy.” I sat back down with a loud cough. Mr. Ha cleared his throat.

”Okay. Tell me what you changed.”

How am I sup­posed to remem­ber that?”

You remem­ber.”

I stood up again. I remem­ber everything.

My father gave away his rage like a mon­key slings shit. I could see it com­ing, but I could nev­er get out of the way.”

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear DisasterVoic­es from Cher­nobyl : The Oral His­to­ry of a Nuclear Dis­as­ter by Svet­lana Alexievich
My rat­ing : 5 of 5 stars

Svet­lana Alex­ievich won the Nobel Prize for this and her oth­er books, but don’t let that stop you from read­ing this breath­tak­ing col­lec­tion. It’s as if Chekov and Gogol and Dos­to­evsky had a three way, and their love child died in the bloom of her youth while song birds, drunk on vod­ka-infused berries nabbed from a bowl by her bed­side, sang dirges that meld­ed with her fit­ful, flut­ter­ing soul into an ether that filled the lungs of these men and women laid waste by Cher­nobyl. Every­body here is lost, for­got­ten, sac­ri­ficed, for­lorn, but they are so god­damned alive. When was the last time you had to stop read­ing a pas­sage for a minute because it was so great you didn’t want it to end ? That hap­pened over and over. The scope and depth of all it is over­whelm­ing, and since I fin­ished it tonight, I haven’t begun to put it in a crit­i­cal con­text. But I’m a lit­tle drunk on the melancholy.

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Dalva Dal­va by Jim Har­ri­son
My rat­ing : 5 of 5 stars

Admit­ted­ly I began the book with a lit­tle dread. I just fin­ished Wolf, Harrison’s first nov­el and one I’d first read in grad­u­ate school in 1988. I have car­ried a high opin­ion of Har­ri­son ever since, but now I had to won­der why ? What I liked about it at 26 left me cold at 53, so I was pre­pared for a sim­i­lar reac­tion to Dal­va, espe­cial­ly since Har­ri­son would be writ­ing in the first per­son as a woman, and I’d hap­pi­ly wash out early. 

But Dal­va is a mar­vel — both the book and the char­ac­ter. Dal­va is in her mid-40s and liv­ing in San­ta Mon­i­ca and work­ing as a social work­er when we meet her. But as the nov­el unfolds, we real­ize this bare­ly her at all : Part Sioux, Dal­va is the great-grand­daugh­ter of a famed mis­sion­ary and hor­ti­cul­tur­ist who was more of a con­vert to the Sioux than a con­vert­er. He took a young Sioux wife and man­aged to find him­self in the mid­dle of much of the ter­ri­ble destruc­tion of the Sioux and their way of life at the hands of the Unit­ed States mil­i­tary. He also had a great deal of land. As such, Dal­va is not only rich with his­to­ry, she’s plain rich ; when she returns to her fam­i­ly home in North­ern Nebras­ka to search for the son she had with her 16 year old Sioux boyfriend, she brings along Michael, an alco­holic pro­fes­sor and her some­time lover, who has been grant­ed the oppor­tu­ni­ty to read & pub­lish Great-Grand­fa­ther Northridge’s per­son­al letters. 

Har­ri­son lets Dal­va nar­rate the first and sec­ond third of the book, while Michael takes over in the mid­dle. Har­ri­son also includes long pas­sages from Northridge’s jour­nals, so what starts out as a dis­arm­ing­ly prim and undis­tin­guished sto­ry is actu­al­ly the oppo­site. Har­ri­son writes beau­ti­ful­ly as Dal­va as she nav­i­gates her life today and as she recalls the events of the past forty years that have formed her ; while Michael is a com­i­cal, annoy­ing aca­d­e­m­ic, Har­ri­son still invests him with a wry wit, pathos, and some sur­pris­ing insight about Dal­va and her fam­i­ly. Northridge’s let­ters are a mix­ture of 19th cen­tu­ry benev­o­lent naiveté and a more mod­ern sci­en­tif­ic dogged­ness. These three streams of voice and time become a fast and loud riv­er that is as much about the Sioux and their destruc­tion as it is about Dal­va and her sor­rows and solace.

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