Poems About Bars: The California Clipper (09.30.11)

I only write poetry about bars. This is from a few years ago. I promise my next poem about the Clipper will be more David Lynchian.

via Bars Without TVs

'The California Clipper (09.30.11)'

A bubbling sewer
A blue light flashes
A moped in the distance
               and a bicycle bell rings at the stoplight

Time to mask my breath
              with a stiff drink


Joan Didion - 'Slouching Towards Bethlehem"

Finally introduced myself to Joan Didion. This book is a collection of essays written between 1965-7, primarily taking place all over the West Coast, including a reminiscence of her childhood in Sacramento, following John Wayne to a movie set in Mexico, an in depth look at the Haight-Ashbury scene in San Fran, an essay on self-respect and more. I might have glazed over one or two of the twenty collected essays, but for the most part I was quite captivated in subjects I didn't think I held much interest in.

The title of the collection (and my favorite essay of the bunch) comes from a Yeats poem, quoted in the epigraph. I was almost turned off there since Romantic poetry ain't my jam, but I kept an open-mind. But the first essay, describing the trial of a husband's alleged murder by his wife, gripped me from the start. Didion was quite enmeshed in the West Coast culture; she understands it on a more personal level than Thompson's drug-punctured mind, though their comparison may only be apt in regards to the Haight-Asbury essay. In 'Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream,' Didion talks about the appeal of the West, how in 60s (and probably still today) it still holds the illusion of frontier. "The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past."

Other out of context yet aphoristic lines that shimmer like gold as I, the reader, pan through her prose like a 49er:

"...the revelation that the dream was teaching the dreamers how to live."

"But Durango. The very name hallucinates."

"The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself."

"Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves, drains the will, and the specter of something as small as an unanswered letter arouses such disproportionate guilt that answering it becomes out of the question."

"Perhaps in retrospect this has been a story not about Sacramento at all, but about the things we lose and the promises we break as we grow older."

On fiction vs. non-:

"...not only have I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters."

And more proof that any online thinkpiece you read about the "death of the novel" is bullshit:

"Right now he is talking about Marshall McLuhan and how the printed word is finished, out, over." (written in 1967)

If there's one thing I want to hate Joan Didion for, it's for spreading the secret that only those of us that wield language as our weapon formerly knew. "Writers are always selling somebody out." It seems like one of those romantic and generalized notions of writing that I read all too often on pretentious twitter accounts, but I can't say I'd want to read a story where nobody got hurt.

Ear Relevant: 05.03.14 - 05.09.14

Here's what's good for your ears, albeit a bit abbreviated this week. A new mixtape, album, and DIY galore!

Taylor Bennett (why does that last name sound so familiar...) released a new mixtape. Check it out on soundcloud.

Montreal based experimental folk artist YouYourself&i released a new album called Octembuary.

Check out this mini-doc about DIY joint Hostel Earphoria.

Speaking of DIY joints, two new places are looking for funding. Read about then donate to Pure Joy and Chicago Arts and Music Center


Jhumpa Lahiri - "The Lowland"

The Lowland was my introduction to the works of Jhumpa Lahiri, the London-born, Indian-American author. The novel follows the lives of two brothers growing up in 1960s Calcutta. The brothers are total opposites: Subhash is the more obedient of the two who moves to America to pursue advanced studies, and Udayan is a Marxist who aims at affecting political change at a contentious point in India's history.

The book spans the time period from the 60s until present day (where Lahiri cleverly alters the spelling to Kolkata, the Bengali pronunciation). The settings change from India to Rhode Island and California, varying as Lahiri follows multiple characters and dramas that unfold over the half-century. She subtly engages how globalization has altered India in the span of a few decades. Where tragedy once struck the neighborhood of Tollygunge, now the growing middle class has no recollection of life without a subway system.

I think it's safe to put Lahiri in the collection of writers, like Aleksandar Hemon and Teju Cole, called "bicultural writers." All three have an elegant understanding of two cultures and the bridges that connect them, as well as what keeps them distinct. More important, they all recognize changes that interact within each culture.

Cole in particular writes in both Open City and Everyday is For the Thief about how quickly the collective consciousness forgets. Usually he perceives this as a negative thing, but none of these writers weigh in on the positive. Sure I can argue that since as a white male, I'm always the benefactor of this forgetting, it does allow for cultural interaction. I think of Roger Sterling in Mad Men who refused to work with a Japanese car company because of Pearl Harbor. Is it possible to let bygones be bygones? I'd like to think of my life as richer being able to have a conversation with someone of Japanese descent or Vietnamese (or more personally, German) and not blame the actions of their ancestors on their hopefully more enlightened offspring. It is the topic of an unpublished short story I've written, inspired by Vietnamese students I met when I was studying in Shanghai, who were always friendly with me and other Americans, yet I couldn't help but wonder if there was a deeper-seated hatred bubbling beneath that positive veneer.

But back on topic, Lahiri created a compelling story, that despite some issues I have with her writing style, kept me turning the pages. Which is the most important thing any novel can offer. For some reason I can't convince myself it was a great book, but it had me reading. The story offers a unique perspective, even outside of that of an Indian immigrant living in Rhode Island. There is great internal tension, both domestically and politically which does more than raise the eyebrow. The characters are all well-rounded and the non-linear format allows for their formation to creep in slowly like a gas leak; before you know it, you've succumbed to caring about these characters and knowing how they live out their lives.

Previously: Jhumpa Lahiri featured in my Literary Chicago series

Literary Chicago - Jhumpa Lahiri, 'The Lowland'

Literary Chicago is series where I try to capture the essence of the city by how it is described in fiction, primarily from books that don't take place in Chicago.  

via Calumet 412
"In the second year of his Ph.D. Subhash lived on his own, now that Richard, who'd found a teaching job in Chicago, was gone."

pg. 62 The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (2013)


Ear Relevant: 04.12.14 - 05.02.14

So apparently I go weeks at a time without listening to new music! Weird! Anyway, here's what's good for your ears that I've heard recently. New mixes, music videos, film soundtracks, and albums ahead!

DJ /rupture helped curate this mixtape inspired by the film The Act of Killing. Heavy on the African and Middle Eastern vibes. Some older tracks, some electronic. A very different world of music than I (and probably the five of you reading this) normally listen to. Now I must watch that film.

Teju Cole tweeted that this song could be the soundtrack to the fantastic "Everyday is For the Thief." Get down with the sounds of Nigeria:

Good friend of mine Otherly contributed to the improvised soundtrack for the upcoming film "Burnt in Memory, My Lover has Steel Legs and Street Lights for Eyes" about Chicago. The film's description:
"An homage to Dziga Vertov and Koyaanisqaatsi, Burnt in Memory chronicles life in Chicago. Its impressionistic tableau has no dialogue, no characters, no story, and no acts. It is just a glimpse of people and their places, their in between places, and their forgotten places. "
 Sounds cool. Looks cool. Can't wait to see it. Watch the first of three trailers right here.

I interviewed Beijing group Carsick Cars after their show at the Burlington in March. They released their third album, 3, a couple months ago. But you already knew that, right, RIGHT?!

Local dudes Archie Powell and the Exports also released their third album Back in Black. Listen to the Exports at their most Pixiesist on Bandcamp, and catch their record release show tonight at Subterranean!


Clothes Make the Man

We hear these phrases:

"Clothes make the man."

"Dress for the job you want, not the job you have."

I think of routines writers have. I forget who, but one writer would wake up every morning, shower, shave, dress, take the elevator down from his apartment building with all the other businessmen, but instead of getting off at the first floor, continue to the basement where he had a desk and a typewriter. For him, writing was like any other job, and required the same routine.

This is where I'm torn. I can appreciate a writing routine, even though I've found it difficult to get into one. I'm just one of those hacks who writes "when I feel like it." When I have a deadline, or when inspiration strikes. Or when I've had too much coffee. Or alcohol.

It's work, but it's not "work" for me. Maybe because I have other committments and a varied schedule that comes with waiting tables and a penchant for exploring nightlife (i.e., I like to get drunk at the Empty Bottle). But it's hard for me to say "I can wake up at 8 am, shower, eat breakfast and write and write and write til 5," if for no other fact than that I go to "work" before 5 PM.

Maybe it's because I'm unfocused in my writing. I do critical pieces or profiles for Frontier Psychiatrist, while also exploring my mind on this blog, while also working on fiction. While at the same time, some days I just want to read a book. Should I focus more on reading on give up on writing for a bit then come back to it? Do I need to go to such extremes?

Can how I dress really affect my mindset? I'm in my pajamas right now, with a t-shirt and hoodie on. It's comfortable, it's forgettable. I will admit that sometimes I feel more professional when I have a button-up and jeans on, that I'm in "the right mode" to write. But inspiration will strike regardless of what I'm wearing. Especially when no one besides the cat is going to see me until I go to "work" tonight.

Here's a fact: I've never been paid to write a single thing I've written. Here's another fact: I have shelves of free books, wristbands from free music festivals, gigs of free (legally) downloaded music, and countless handstamps from free shows. I've gotten out of this habit a bit. I like to support artists with what little money I do have and feel better when I pay for where I'm at (except Lollapalooza, fuck that place). I like to think I can keep myself to a strict deadline, even when there's no real consequences; I like to think I have my atheism to thank for that.

The point is, If something needs to be written, it will be written. I view blogging as practice. Do musicians get paid every time they practice? Do painters get their money back for acrylic wasted on a canvas with a piece that turned out really shitty? No. So why should I get paid for something I choose to do on my own volition? I will say if I'm asked to write something (that'll be the day), I would expect some compensation. But until then, I don't mind spending my waking, caffeine-addled hours chipping away at the keys of this laptop and converting it all into a magical world of 1s and 0s for your reading pleasure.

Now if you'll excuse me, it's time to go put on some pants. 

Here's more routines from famous writers. Surprise, I identify with Miller the most out of these.


Literary Chicago - Maxine Hong Kingston 'China Men'

Literary Chicago is series where I try to capture the essence of the city by how it is described in fiction, primarily from books that don't take place in Chicago.  

"Ed's legs ached. At about eleven o'clock, he spoke the bitter verses of "The Laundry Song" by Wen I-to of Chicago:

          A piece, two pieces, three pieces - 
         Wash them clean, 
         Four pieces, fives pieces, six - 
         Iron them smooth, "

pg 63. China Men by Maxine Hong Kingston (1977)


Simultweet: "Daft Punk"

Tweets happen so constantly, that coincidences are natural to occur. When they happen a tweet or two away in my timeline, I can't help but wonder about the collective Twitter-subconscious. 

These two tweets about Daft Punk happened one tweet away in my timeline, and  2,595,145,769 tweets away overall. 


Teju Cole and Aleksandar Hemon: Bicultural Writers

A couple weeks ago, Teju Cole and Aleksandar Hemon had a conversation posted on Bomb Magazine's website. Cole is possibly my favorite contemporary author, after I was blown away by Open City two years ago. His twitter account is real-time literary insight. The Lazarus Project by Hemon was my only real knowledge of the author until I read last year's memoir, The Book of My Lives, which compiles autobiographical essays written over the past decade.

In the conversation, the two talk about the distinctions between fiction and non-fiction, photography, wandering, urban culture, and more. The two are very illuminating and seem to have a natural sense of humanity they reflect off each other. Says Hemon:
"If we ever find ourselves writing only for the present—which would essentially mean that tweeting is all we can do—I would feel absolutely defeated as a human being and a writer."
And Cole on cities:
"But the other side is that they are simply so congested with material history and the spiritual traces of those histories, including some very dark events. Your contemporary Chicago is haunted by the Chicago of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Chicago of innovation and of systematic exclusions." 
The whole interview is fascinating and more than worth your time. I will never be able to recommend Open City enough (until I read Everyday is for the Thief at least). For the Chicagoans out there, Hemon's The Book of My Lives is a great read as well. It encompasses stories from his childhood in Bosnia, to his immigration to Chicago. His early days in Ukrainian Village and Edgewater are a particular fun read (while still thought-provoking), and the final chapter about his daughter's illness is sobering.

Cole was born in Nigeria but calls NYC home now. Hemon refers to him as one of the foremost "bicultural writers" (for lack of better term). Whatever the term may be, Hemon is up there as well; I'm glad he's decided to call Chicago his adopted home, expanding the literary scope of our city with a unique perspective.