Petty Theft and Horsehair Singularity 8/25/2020

Plagiarism is the highest crime an artist can commit since we survive on our imaginations. Our thoughts are our currency. But as in every justice system there are degrees and contradictions. Petty thefts are not only tolerated, but encouraged. T.S. Elliot, in an oft-abbreviated quote worth reading in its entirety, states that “Mature poets steal.” Nearly all undergrad poetry students take part in at least one found poetry exercise where they are sent out to scavenge words from the fire extinguishers instructions, soda can labels, warning from student health pamphlets. Then back in class, they wrestle to massage their scrounged vocabulary into lines and stanzas greater than their parts; to see the splendor waiting in fragments. For the last few months I have shoplifted words liberally from my daily reading. When my own prose lags I go to my list  and read “whipsawed,” “raw-boned,” “carousel,” “luster.” The right word is waiting there to fall into place. Then I can go on. Never steal lines, but pocket single words on the sly. Beauty will be exonerated.

Do this. Go to a place foreign to your experience. Become a strip mall explorer. This week I wandered into a violin shop with no musical ability, history, or cultural touchstone beyond fiddles bowed wildly in the bluegrass dive bars of my youth. It was an empty midday and the owner, with nothing else to do, generously gave me a tour of each gleaming wood grained femme oiled with care. Violins from Norway with carved dragon heads like Viking longships. Body-less practice violins whose strings could only whisper notes. Violins the size of my hand meant for toddlers. He played a Stroh violin with its tin horn amplifier while telling stories of European street musicians long dead. I learned about horsehair strings, and the best rosin. Each instrument was its own handmade creature. The owner glowed; consumed with his singular passion. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t there to buy. I listened with genuine interest, and that is all anyone truly wants- to be heard and matter. I left serene, if envious that I will never have such a sole obsession in my life. My magpie mind roams to learn. It drifts to catalogue souvenirs and stories that glimmered.

 “There has to be an imaginary point, a  non-place, where language intercepts with our concepts of time and space. And he is a stranger at this crossing without words or bearings.”

Don DeLillo The Body Artist 

One of the books I read this week that I can’t recommend enough is Don DeLillo’s surrealist short novel The Body Artist. In such a brief work it strikingly interweaves questions of time, reality, consciousness, being, gender, memory, and art. It is one of the few books I’ve read twice this year, and I still feel as if there is so much there to mine.

My own writing is going well. The new novel is advancing with care. I am also line-editing my punk rock coming-of-age novel Dream Kids before its next full content edit. Punk rock is a hall pass; an invitation to devolve into the gross kids we were and love in memory. Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase,” becomes The Cramps “Naked Girl Falling down the Stairs.” We need dumb fun. We need to play. We need to remember to forget.

Read this:

Don DeLillo The Body Artist

 Listen to this:

Sloppy Seconds “You’ve Got a Great Body, but Your Records Collection Sucks”

Niccolo’ Paganini “Caprice for Solo Violin, Op.1 No. 4”

Bohemia Lost 8/6/2020

Bohemia Lost

For the last few weeks I have lost control of my dreams. They are too consuming; vivid as waking life.  Scenes heavy with symbols lead me through timelines, unlived but concrete. Shipwrecks. Empty highways. Cramped foreign apartment; the bed unmade. I see fingers woven into mudras, sweating in the Empty Quarter. Signs from a deaf language. They spring me awake at four in the morning. I could blame the flood endogenous DMT, or believe they are prophecies. But neither satisfies. There are messages I am failing to decypher. 

Even in daytime living I can’t help but think about dreams, both the Morpheus plays I remember and the aspirations I once clung too. The taxonomy of what to be. When I imagined being a writer I felt molded to be one of the broken ones who watched the world with orphan eyes. A blue-collar writer like Raymond Carver, escaping the orchards and processing plants of Yakima to return to it always. A beaten down poet like Kerouac shivering in a Colorado railyard, paperback tucked in his too thin workman’s jacket. A bohemian wander like Rilke desperate to be loved, only to die in the arms of his doctor in a sanatorium. 

The last seems least possible now. There is no pause for honest communion. In his life Rilke traveled near destitute across Europe where he met Tolstoy and Pasternak, Nietzche and Rodin. The image of the Bohemian artist, ever journeying to meet his own has been replaced by the immediacy of digital interactions that last no longer than a wink, a wave of the hand. But how can you know another’s art, their heart, if you haven’t heard their voice, eaten their food, or shared their drink? In my bohemian dreams artists would crash on each others’ couches, share work penciled fast onto lined paper, and sing until the streetlights fell dark one at a time. This was romance. And romance, like our highest prayers, is a phenomena of the mind. 

I dream of Lou Andreas-Salome. The forgotten muse who inspired Rilke and Nietzche, who was the center of the mandala from which poets and sculptors leafed and spiraled. The first female psychoanalyst, a prolific author, and a woman who demanded freedom despite the rules of society and the offerings of orchestrals and poetry. For this much is true: no mass movement of creation was ever sparked without the gravity of a woman. Men are too lost, too child at heart, to found a tide of wonder alone. Lou Andreas-Salome. You broke so many hearts, and now a century past, we know how best to break our own.

Listen to this

Friedrich Nietzsche “Hymnus an das Leben”

Read this

Rainier Maria Rilke “To Lou Andreas-Salome”

Watch this

Anais Nin “Talks about Lou Andreas Salome”