Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New Home for This Sleepy Blog:

[despite the fact that WordPress doesn't give you font control, I've finished converting everything]

[in fact: you've all got TWO new posts waiting for you over there]

[and don't worry: I've already figured out a sneaky way to code myself out of the font-shackles they tried to lock me into. I'm like the Samson of font-prisoners]

[so: I bid adieu to Blogger]:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sleep: In the Sick Pet Sense

[I am in the process of moving to Wordpress, thus the relative silence]

[Oh, stop. It won't be that bad]

[Look: their fonts and designs are a lot cleaner, and I'm sensitive to that kind of thing]

[Soulless design, you say? It should be. Shouldn't my writing be the soul here?]

[When it's ready, I'll post a link here, and you can all migrate peacefully]

Monday, August 16, 2010

Letter to an Invisible Church: No. 9

Dear Church of the Holy Abstraction:

I just don't get it.

I don't get why some people reject faith because it's not logical. But I also don't get why so many of your parishioners and authors try to answer their doubt by appealing to logic, like explaining Jackson Pollock to a group of eighth graders. It's just a bunch of dots, they say. Any five-year-old could do that.

And so: let's give the brush and the pulpit to five-year-olds.

The young do not rely on logic because it hasn't all added up yet. They survive on intuition. I have been afraid of children for a long time now, and it's more or less because of this very reason. They don't apply logic to their thoughts and actions, and words fall out of their leaking brains as fast they enter. 

The young, then, are sleep-walkers. 

When N sleep-talks, I start sweating with fear, thinking that the vulnerable person beside me is not the person who, in her logical mind, married and vowed to never punch me in the face. But who is she in dreams? I could be a moth she is trying to burn, the murderer she is trying to escape.

So: I am afraid of children and sleepers, though I resemble both.

But what if fear is just a discomfort with the laws of intuition? People are not afraid of what a logical brain will say, do, but they are frightened of people who bypass thought altogether and simply move.

Christ said that prophets are never accepted in their hometown, and the Jewish Scriptures give plenty of examples of citizens-turned-cave-dwellers due to their unabashed, inspired views of the future. Maybe it's not that they are telling the future, but that intuition lets them look back on the present.

It's not about getting it, I would tell that imagined group of middle schoolers. Rewind to their unwired ages, and they will more than likely respond to Pollock without first trying to place its logical method with its artistic worth. In the splatter they will see the images of the mind in technicolor. Teach them about cause+effect, the scientific method, economic trends, and they will cease being able to trace the shapes borne of the soul. Teach them about the irrefutable law of entropy, and they will stop acting as if death wasn't the end, that intuition was/is the key to eternity. 

So, when Christ said that heaven wasn't for those who had not "turned and become as the children," he wasn't saying that you must be childish, but that you must retain the capacity to glance at spilled ink and walk away changed without worrying why.

Waiting, Always,
a sleeper

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Letter to an Invisible Church: No. 8

Dear Church of the Holy Abstraction:

At the risk of slicing down whatever cred you/I think I have, I was thinking about this line from the Bush song, "Greedy Fly": 
We are servants to our formulaic ways.

It's that our that gets me: we create formulas, and then we not only follow them, we serve them, and not necessarily in the redemptive way you might use that word in a sermon. In fact, a formula is something through which to devise any system of consistent results--meaning, a blueprint for making habits of things. I have a formula for tea and coffee. For brushing my teeth before breakfast. For running twenty minutes before lunch because I've convinced myself it burns more carbs then running after lunch. The thing is, I hate running, and for the sake of my stomach, caffeine shouldn't be a daily thing. But I need these repetitive actions to help me navigate the new territory I embark on everyday.

I know what you're thinking: "This is why we have to be careful what we serve. Thou wouldn't want any false gods, wouldn't thou?"

Well, no. 

It's that kind of one-plus-one analogizing that makes many of your homilies too much on the repetitive end, and not enough toward the unexplored. Christ's daily ritual was to not have a place to lay his head--his morning coffee was to wake up and move to the new.

You have formulas inside your walls. A lot of you put on holy airs and call it liturgy, your eyebrows lifting on the lit, your lips pursing solemnly to let us know how sacred it is. But liturgy is mundane, quotidian, daily, routine, habitual, formulaic. And that's not a condemnation: we need the mundane desperately.

However, we'd be fine if tomorrow we lost every inky drop of liturgy, each suppliant letter of printed "common" prayers (common, meaning that a certain action repeats itself), and all the resounding gongs of commentary.

It would not be anarchy, and we would not have lost revelation. We would start writing just as deeply, succinctly, mysteriously as anyone from Hippo or a desert cave could. After all: We are servants to our liturgical ways. My fear is that not everyone would accept this passing. Many would dedicate their lives in search of lost liturgy, of habits with unknown origins. And in so doing, church would become an homage to the idea of church.

I am a memoirist, an archivist by nature. The past, too, can be new territory. But, remember that it is populated by the shadows of ghosts, a mythic armature dripping with a smoky liquor that will turn you into a cloud--that is, the illusion of being.

Waiting, Always,
a sleeper

Monday, August 9, 2010

Letter to an Invisible Church: No. 7

Dear Church of the Holy Abstraction:

I was pawing through the archives today and found a column I had pitched to a Christian magazine. I think it fits with what I've been trying to tell you, so I wanted you to see it. Especially since the magazine wasn't interested in it. Ok, that's not completely true. The editors there are brilliant and I love them dearly, but they were afraid that more conservative donors wouldn't appreciate reading a story about a church-search that didn't end with, "and that's when I learned to love everyone at Our Lady of the Frontal Lobotomy." The saddest part is that they are right.

So, I give you, "In Your Dreams, Pal":

My dreams have been very specific lately. It started when I had a dream that I stepped in poultice, and then when I woke up, had to look up what in the world poultice was (it’s an outdated medical powder that was applied to wounds).

A few weeks later, the narrative was drawn out even longer. In the dream, I was at a catered event,  though I was never sure of the purpose. [My old writing professor] Mark Stevick was sitting next to me as was, inexplicably, my Aunt Sandra, who we all call, inexplicably, Aunt “C." I recognized the main course as Tasso Ham, although I had no idea what that meant. I took a salty bite and struck up the following conversation:

“This ham tastes like charcoal.”

“It’s just like that Charcoal Ham I made last Christmas,” says Aunt C. Stevick, through all of this interchange, remains silent, but retains a knowing grin.

“What on earth is Charcoal Ham?” I ask.

“Well,” she continues, “You take a ham and cover it with walnuts. Then, you scrub it with a charcoal briquette. Problem is, I used one of the brands that was pre-soaked in lighter fluid. The whole thing burst into flames the second I put it in the oven!”

At this point, I turn, smirking, to Stevick, and say—as I imagine I would in real life—“Sounds like you had yourself a real hambĂ©.” We both laugh in that shoulder-bouncing way that only pun-loving word nerds seem to do.

When I woke up, I was still laughing, trying desperately to hold on to hambĂ©. But quickly, in that haze of waking, my mind does what it does best and analyzes things until I’m depressed. I was left with this question: “Am I so desperate for community that I’ve resorted to conducting witty banter in my dreams?”

I have big dreams. Most of them are selfish and involve what my bio will say underneath the jacket photo on my future, innumerable books, that will never sacrifice art for accessibility, yet somehow everyone from Wal-Martians to UTNE Readers will find something elucidating.

I also really want a farm. I want a plot of land with a community garden, and a barn with a music studio that, on Friday nights, is abuzz with the clangs and plucks of all my people.

In fact, that’s what I want most—people.

Discussing this with my freshman roommate-turned-groomsman, Ryan, on the phone, I said, with much conviction, “It would just be so awesome to all be living close—not in a commune or anything since they tend to look too inward and spoil—but some structure that people could visit at least once a week and catch up for a few hours.” I paused. Ryan was clearly stifling a laugh, erupting after I continued saying, “Oh. That’s called ‘church’ isn’t it?”

But here’s the thing: I’m tired of organs, of three-chord songs, of sermons that promise Americanized versions of Jabez-wealth, of groups that argue what to name themselves until they start calling each other names and then uprooting. I find power in dressed-up liturgy, but I also find it in a pub, where t-shirt garbed conversations feel like Holy Improvisations.

All my life speakers that promised a mighty move of God in New England visited my church. Over time, however, their numbers receded faster than their hairlines.

Many have told me that I can’t customize a church. That it’s not about me. And I get that. But it’s this kind of language that’s kept me in my spare room, quietly writing music for services that don’t exist. It’s this kind of language that pours money into restoring steeples instead of restoring people. Steeples and cathedrals started as the artistic dreams of humans, stemming from the desire to be together and take seriously what it means to take up our cross—our death, not just our burden—and not just ride out faith in the broken rollercoaster of a pew, waiting for someone to come and get the sparks going again.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard friends and acquaintances say something like, “I’m off to seminary in the fall,” or, “I’m thinking about the ministry.”

Well, where are you? I want to be your Director of Worship. Ryan wants to be your advocate for social justice. Stevick wants to eat your Charcoal Ham with a green salad grown in the garden behind a building where we’ll meet once a week for a time that our parents called ‘church,’ but has for too long been an abstract concept, something we would call a dream come true.  

Waiting, Always,
a sleeper

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Going to Sleep

[will be away from you, my blessed curse of the internet connection, for a few days]

[will be painting houses, breathing chemicals, inducing tendonitis]

[this being the only way to make money of late]


[see you/me soon, same swirling time, same invisible place]

[night night]

-a sleeper

Monday, July 26, 2010

Letter to an Invisible Church: No. 6

Dear Church of the Holy Abstraction:

A quote:
It is possible that all architectures, everywhere, are tangent to one another. One leaves a building only to enter its neighbor. A continual entering and exiting. - "Eight Short Films About Architecture," G.C. Waldrep

By now, it is a common present-day Christian thing to say, "the church isn't a building; it's the people." Of course, they are right. Of course, they are wrong.

Obviously, the success of a community is based on those who commune, not the room in which they break bread and eat reduced fat Oreos. But, I can't forget about the architecture, because it is everywhere, and in fact, we are human architecture, cartilage spread over bone like a brick wall, skin sealing us off from the possible pain of air. We are buildings, and we are a stack of closed doors trying to open.

So, yes, there are home churches, and churches that meet in cinemas, attics, subways, mountaintops, anywhere, really, but still, we bring with us the fears that have been nailed to the beams and steeples of the churches we grow up in/around, despite the fact that the bucolic white church is still just a product of architectural vogue. 

The philosopher Michel Foucault discusses Jeremy Bentham's idea of the panopticon--a structure (in his most common example, a prison) with a tower in the middle of a circle of high-rise chambers. In each chamber, the prisoner/occupant has no choice but to view the phallic tower, and has no way of knowing whether a prison official is inside watching her/him. This, as Foucault says, creates a non-violent means of control that encourages self-discipline. 

The idea of something we can't see watching us. Not a stretch for you and me.

When I first studied the idea of the panopticon, I had thought that Foucault was criticizing Bentham's all-seeing eye, as it would surely make everyone crazy with the paranoia of who is/is not watching at any given moment. As I look back over it though, it seems he was suggesting it was a good idea, and that it could be used in schools and for mental patients--any mass of people that needs to be constantly controlled. 

The architecture of power, then, is the architecture of fear. In "Eight Short Films...", Waldrep says there is no word for the fear of architecture.

The idea of God in the Panopticon isn't as scary as the thought of your leaders, pastors, reverends, elders, bishops, deacons, etc. camping inside the eyeball, watching us learn to be controlled. We cannot speak to you when you are behind the Pan-pulpit, and therefore your lessons become a power play. We are the unruly mob, and you are the one getting inside our head. 

I want the architecture to change, and to expand, and I want you to get out of the panopticon and preach to an empty stage, so that you can know, like I do, a little bit about what it's like to talk to yourself. Then, we can experience the blessing of leaving this building together and visiting a neighbor's building, and another, and, hopefully, the visitation will never stop.

Waiting, Always,
a sleeper

Friday, July 23, 2010

Drafting, pt. 10

Well, it happened.

Almost 2 months into the summer, and I finally finished revising a chapter. The reason it was difficult (minus all the other bouts of mania I've chronicled since graduating) was because it was a chapter that I submitted as a stand-alone piece to an essay contest at the Iowa Review (this year's was judged by one of my favorite writers, Jo Ann Beard). I didn't make it to the final round, and so JoAnnsies still doesn't know I exist, but I got a fairly lengthy--as rejection letters go--paragraph from one of the editors saying how much potential she thought the essay had. 

When I tell most people that I got a handwritten rejection letter, they don't quite understand why I look like a seven-year-old with a new Super-Soaker 200. I then explain that literary journals receive endless submissions, most of which don't even get a second glance. You get an impersonal form letter thanking you for trying, and that's it. So, if some flesh-and-bone hand takes the time to put down their mug, pick up a BIC pen and write, "no, thanks" on your rejection letter, it's like receiving a silver medal. 

Whenever I receive one of these not-quites I immediately stick it to my fridge. 

The note from Iowa Review said that my essay was surprising and powerful, but needed "a revision or two" more. They also asked to see that next version. Being that I had already spent a year revising this piece, I had no idea where to go, and the fact that they want to see another version amped up the tension even more. I was in that trap where it made total sense to me. I couldn't see the forest for the trees, or the tree from the forest, or however that impregnable phrase goes--I mean that I felt like a forest fell on top of me and the only way to break free was to cut my legs off with a dull Swiss Army blade. 

In Letter to an IC-5, I mentioned that I was disturbed by researching acid reflux. Well, the reason wasn't because I'm a hypochondriac who gets nightmares when he sees the words "Deep Vein Thrombosis," but because I was researching it for the essay--called "What is in the Filling" and is about what we put, keep, and can't keep in our bodies. Communion, indigestion, family reunions, and a girlfriend that wouldn't kiss me--somehow that all fit together in my head, but not on the page.

An excerpt from the new-and-hopefully-last-but-probably-not revision:
So, it is about the taking in of things. In this hospital, there are now files, images of my guts documented in the attempt to understand what I’m made of. There is a hollow, scraping feeling inside my gullet, as if I’ve swallowed and torn out a sword. I run the tips of fingers over my ribcage, wincing, and look down at the easily torn paper barely covering the bed I’m sitting on. I am not empty, but the feeling is one of a mass exodus. The prognosis is not so much that I’m choosing the wrong things to be full of, but that my body doesn’t quite understand what to do with it all. I am obedient in that I eat to live, but, like my father before me, obedience won’t keep you standing or keep you from stopping altogether.

It also has something to do with cups; with chipped Pyrex lips, and what kind of liquid will pass over its jagged edge—wine, spit, the burp of death, what else? In elementary school—and middle even—my answer to the question, How did he die? was always: “He swallowed glass.” My father’s cup had broken, and he drank it down.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Letter to an Invisible Church: No. 5

Dear Church of the Holy Abstraction:

Am I being cynical in all of this? 

If so, don't take it personally. It's not so much cynicism as it is an understanding of death that I tend to forget I understand.

A couple months ago, my close friend P was visiting from California. We were talking about the idea of 'movement' for one reason or another, and I remembered a quote from the book I'm working on in which I am referencing the fact that I moved churches numerous times during my childhood because they kept splitting up. So, I got excited to show him this epiphany: Movement is a myth we've created to symbolize change.

I expected his mind to blow. A hug would've sufficed, even. But instead, he just looked up and said: "Man. That's cynical."

I was speechless. Was it? It certainly didn't feel that way. In fact, when I originally wrote the line, I felt an eureka pang of joy, perhaps even love. It made sense to me: that sometimes in order to gloss over the stagnation of our soul, we physically move somewhere, and that supposedly means things have changed. 

I don't dress in black. I only listen to The Cure on rainy days. I think that humanity can and does progress. But I'm not going to pretend that the laws of entropy and thermodynamics don't exist. These kinds of statements often lead cynics to say things like, "I'm not a cynic. I'm a realist." By which they mean: they're cynics. 

But I'm not even sure I'm a realist, beyond the fact that I learned at age four that death happens, and will always happen. At funerals, I don't cry. But I also get slightly uncomfortable when people refer to funerals as a "celebration of life," because, of course, it isn't. There I go again. 

Darkness is the place of regeneration. The emotion of love can only come out of something we don't understand. Oftentimes, that means trauma. The fact that you can love a parent or a spouse during mundane hours where nothing happens is because we've made it through some catastrophic argument or tragedy at some point--together. 

Yesterday, when N came home, I was busy frantically making a tofu lasagna. In a matter of minutes, I was complaining about something, and before I knew it, I'd realized I was oddly disturbed. Because she's patient and doesn't throw things, we soon realized that part of my mania was coming from an entry I'd read on esophagitis/acid reflux (something I've had since I was 17). It is referred to as a premalignant condition. That prefix hooked in deeper than I thought. In this way, everything feels pre-cancerous, and the only way to not be identified as premalignant is to die of something other than cancer. Before esophageal cancer, my father had esophagitis. 

Then we ate lasagna, and I stopped worrying that every cup of coffee was a malignant harbinger.

So, I lied. Sometimes I listen to The Cure, or Godspeed You! Black Emperor on sunny-days-with-highs-in-the-mid-70s. I am in the light because I am inspired by darkness, because I had to realize that striking a match would move--and change--everything. 

Waiting, Always,
a sleeper

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Letter to an Invisible Church: No. 4

Dear Church of the Holy Abstraction:

I would like to say a few words in praise of errancy. And no, this isn't going to be a theological debate about the fallibility/infallibility of Scripture. At least, not on purpose.

Rather, I speak of my own errancy--my failings and inability to achieve what I and you think is probably a nice way to live, to put it mildly.

A few months ago (ok, I'll admit it, maybe almost a year ago), I was inside the walls of one your buildings. The man up front had some interesting things to say. Among them was possibly the most staggering thing I'd ever heard from behind a block of wood:

People think they should become Christians because it will make them a better person. I'll tell you right now: if you want to be a better person, than being a Christian isn't the answer.

Obviously, there's a little cheek-tonguing happening here. He wasn't advocating that if you want to feel better about your predilection for voyeurism, then you should start going to church. Rather, he was saying--I think--that faith isn't about self-betterment or the pursuit of personal perfection. It's about turning your guts inside out until you have no choice but to be immediately stung by the outside world--meaning, you have to respond to it when it comes to you about unfairly traded coffee, breakups, and oil-drenched pelicans.

This is why I'm afraid of your walls: that I'll stare at the chair in front of me for so long that I start to think I can only see my hideous reflection.  This would then lead to me only focusing on making myself better, as if it was perfectly natural to self-scoop out the rotting cancer behind my bones.

I love the idea of church picnics, and food pantries, and the annual Christmas drive and all, but in the end, it feels like it's designed to make me feel like I'm making a difference. Sometimes, I'm frightened that if I feel this way, it means that nothing is different, and I'm only playing dress-up in the bathroom mirror that's adjacent to the Toys for Tots bin in the lobby.

I, unsurprisingly, am not that great of a person. I spend most of my time checking emails, waiting for someone to say something nice to me. In fact, I spend even more of time waiting. Waiting to feel like a better person so that I can feel up to your standards and equipped to do good in the world. I can pray my psalms in the morning and feel saintly peace as I then eat my yogurt and granola. But I'm giving myself the spiritual slip by acting out the habits you taught me so that I don't have to feel useless by the end of the day. 

But I do. 

Waiting, Always,
a sleeper

Monday, July 12, 2010

Drafting, pt. 9

Time: 4:06 p.m.
Music: "Fading Stars I" | D_rradio
Mood: parched

I've never been one for time-consuming projects. This is, admittedly, a nicer way of saying that things that take more than 15 minutes frighten me into a lazy stupor.

Take today:

Being that I'm still unemployed with zero prospects (even a church-owned coffee shop won't return my calls--though, given my recent series, I guess I shouldn't be surprised), I find myself at home with loads of open time. In many ways, this is what I've been longing for: the uninterrupted time to write and finish revising the book. Last summer I was in the same predicament, but I still had one more year of my degree to look ahead to, not to mention I was being paid through a Summer Fellowship. I was officially, a "professional" in that I was being paid to write. So, the writing came easy (once I battled the demon of Acedia--something I didn't even know existed at the time).

Now, I'm not being paid to write. However, it seems the list of people who are very very interested in the book grows longer everyday. I don't know how many times in the last month I've been pulled into a dark corner at a party and more or less been threatened to hand over the book. It's extremely flattering, and reinforces the idea that I'm not talking to myself with all of this (this=the book; this=the blog; this=my life).

Even though I can say proudly that I'm being "compensated" via external validation, it can often add more pressure to the fact that I need to deliver the damn thing. I've always considered myself a great beginner--a virtuoso of inception, even. When my brain fixates on something, whether it be a book or the butterfly stroke, it doesn't take long before I've replicated some semblance of creating that act. It draws attention and a few hearty pats on the shoulder, but then I reach a point where I need to take another step forward. This is when coffee breaks happen a lot more often, and I begin reading a number of dense books in order to pad myself in brain jail.*

I mentioned in L to an IC #2 this idea of 'chronic guilt.' Call it a romanticized self-diagnosis, but I've been thinking about it a lot. By this point in the writing process, I've reflected on my experience enough to realize that guilt played an enormous role in the shaping of my ideas of faith. In the last year, I've proactively started to diffuse this guilt, in terms of how I view spirituality and the life of faith, but now I'm starting to think that it has its barbs in more than my religious hard-wiring. For instance, I'm viewing the side writing projects I've undertaken lately as helpful deviations to bring perspective on the desert-phase of revision. But when I stop and take that thought through a little more, I think about how it could be just another fearful, avoidance tactic. I've realized something is important and bigger than my own measly existence, and so the pressure to make it reach those heights makes me feel, well, measly.

Then, I think about how I just need to buck up and do it. And then it's 4:45, and I need to start making dinner. So, I feel guilty for wasting my unemployed time.

What is the difference between excuses and resolution? How am I supposed to know when I'm avoiding something, or simply just going through the human process of trial and error?

A possible answer lies again with that out-of-fashion word, "acedia." Kathleen Norris points out that it is a tough-to-define spirit-based combo of deep laziness and depression. Interestingly, it was considered by monks to be one of "eight bad thoughts" that interrupted valuable work. It was soon chopped from that list and replaced with 'sloth' in a list renamed the "seven deadly sins."

Now: how can I keep my thoughts from making a deadly conversion?

*I've also been known to start a blog.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Letter to an Invisible Church: No. 3

Dear Church of the Holy Abstraction:

What about the Desert Fathers?

I know, my knowledge of them is basic, wiki basic, even, and my nondenominational background certainly made no reference to any kind of history between A.D. 33 and 1970. But, still: a group of beards move out to the Egyptian desert to figure out this whole faith thing. It was escapist in the way that one escapes death--the sense that continuing to live in contemporary society was threatening their intuition as well as their jugular.

They were separatists and individualists. If this happened today, you'd call them un-churched, and tell them that they are "missing out on God's blessings." Instead, because it's ancient history, you call them saints, and place them in prominence in many of your established traditions.

I've never been to the desert. I imagine it hurts your calves, almost sinking with each step, leaving a depression that is not so much a footprint as it is a failed attempt at leaving one's subjective mark on the landscape--concave scoops of would-be wells that are filled in by the erasure of hot wind.

But maybe that's what they wanted--the parched reminder that it's not about becoming a better person so that you can leave tracks for others to follow. Paradoxically, this kind of self-denying lesson only arrives via periods of seclusion.

Here's an easy-to-find quote from one of your most respected DFs, that predates the Pascal idea I've discussed previously: Sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you all.

So, perhaps my Sort-of-Sahara isn't the period of dryness you think. A cell doesn't have to mean enclosed imprisonment. Only in the absence of sheet rock and stone can one be knocked over by unending sky.

Waiting, Always,
a sleeper

Monday, July 5, 2010

Letter to an Invisible Church: No. 2

Dear Church of The Holy Abstraction:

For me, anxiety seems to always be located in my ribcage. It is a shivering bird locked directly underneath the sternum. I often find myself running a finger or two over it, surprised at how lumpy the bone itself is. I guess I imagine that a sternum should be smooth, like a planed cedar plank, and so even regarding my own anatomy, I think that something is off, worrying that I've made things rougher than they need to be.

Recently, I was back inside one of your sets of walls. To be honest, I was surprised how uncomfortable it felt. I understand that at some point, chronic guilt has to be a projection--some perceived failure about myself that runs so deep, I've started to believe that it is pouring in, rather than emanating out. Have I mistaken a
deep, leaking crack for standing in the rain?

Even still, the words of the pastor felt like bricks being laid at my feet, cordoning me off from the truth that he continually referred to as a joyous, gracious thing. But where was that joy? Can one take joy in placing barbs into the bones of others? Again, I get the whole 'make them jealous by making them see your joy' but this felt almost spiteful--a showing off of that joy and grace, rather than what I perceive a true response to grace is, when trying to explain it to others: a humbled, tripping over of one's words in dumbfounded awe.

In other words, why be a salesman, when the Thing sells itself?

And again: that shivering bird rattles the shelled marrow.

It's hard to write it. To feel like I'm one numb cell against a heritage of bodies. But at least when I try and explain it, it feels like I'm in attendance, placing sweat-drenched coins in the coffer, and echoing the prayers of the people whose suffering is cauterized by searing joy. And maybe that's closer to it: that I find kinship in joy that has arisen from pain, rather than a urethaned smile that is sold to a person under the pretense that one's pain is first a cause for guilt before it can be grin-slapped.

I've always felt that my sternum was cracked, and though it's jagged and worn, it is, God bless it, fused.

Waiting, Always,
a sleeper

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Drafting, pt. 8

Part of the reason I continue to pursue this conversation with you, pretending that the you exists outside the borders of brain-jail, is because I'm interested in the collaborative and multimedia potential of art. I was a musician before I was a writer* and so I can't help but want be part of something that I don't refer to as My art, and say deplorable things like, "What I try to accomplish in my art..."

So, in an effort to help laterally dislodge the cork in the revision process of the book-in-progress, I'm starting a new, shorter (I think) book that is kind of about my artist friend Grant Hanna, kind of about his obsession with rabbits, kind of about me, and kind of about semiotics.

I want there to be multiple layers involved, culling the text from instant message conversations with Grant that had nothing to do with this book idea, rabbit dissection manuals from the 70s, and my few memories of the one cat my family had for a short time. Of course I can literally write/paste all that in, but I want the layering process to be visible somehow. Something like the centuries old method of encaustic (painting with translucent layers of hot wax) or--despite the grotesque sound of the word--a palimpsest (word origin is "scrape" and "again").

I'll save the definition for palimpsest and let you (me?) and wikipedia hash it out, but the general idea is that the work that is on the top layer is informed, heightened, and contradicted by the still-visible work below it. The act of reading then becomes a multidimensional act of reconstruction on the part of the writer and reader. It is a written work of art, but involves visual and tactile elements one experiences at an art gallery or a concert.

I'm still stabbing blindly with this one, but here are a few projected titles that'll most likely disappear in subsequent drafts, but here, in this electronic palimpsest, this vulnerable part of the creative process will remain intact:

1. The Rabbit Book in Progress
2. Little White Rabbit: An Essay on Progress
3. I Scrape Again

*I speak of levels of awareness. I try to avoid that whole, "I was always a writer because I drew comics in 4th grade about a chemically-mutated dog named Oddball."**
**My mother still has the only copy.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Letter to an IC, pt. 1: Post-Script

P.S. -

I realize I kind of sounded like a jerk. What with all that humble talk that wasn't actually humble. Don't think that it's because I don't like you, or want to be near you. I just don't know where you are.

Recently, I believe myself to be in the midst of an epistemological crisis. That is, I'm aware of what I know, but that seems to be as far as it goes. I can't apply that knowledge. Sometimes, I wonder if awareness is a trap--that so many lights go off that you go blind, or at least see dark smudges in front of the objects and places you desire most.

So, basically, it means that it's probably not a matter of you not being there, but that I've created dissonance that I first thought would lead to transcendence, but now it's just making me see spots.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Letter to an Invisible Church: No. 1

Dear Church of the Holy Abstraction:

I can't see you. I'm beginning to think I never will.

The thing is, I don't think you quite understand where I'm coming from--that I have, either by my own unwitting design or not, placed myself between worlds. Basically, regarding you and my prospected participation in your congregation, I will always sound elitist and prideful. Which will then cause me to act in 'humility' and say the opposite of what I just thought/said.

But is that really humility? Am I being humble when I first think that I would go to a church if they had a book club dedicated to reading Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, but then say, no, that's asking too much--the church should be shaping my ideas of it, not me shaping my ideas of the church? It seems that, in order to be humble, you have to expose your pride first.

Don't go turning that into an anecdote in your next sermon.

But really, though: is it possible to be humble when you are constantly aware of this fact? And further, how am I supposed to know the difference between humbling myself and selling myself short? When I catch myself daydreaming about a book tour, I immediately feel that if I'm daydreaming about it, it means I don't deserve it. Then I lament the fact that I'd never be able to sit through another office job whose duty to society was as some intermediary service to something else that may or may not be useful to anyone. Then I think about how egotistical it is to put myself above 60% of the American workforce. Then I feel awful that 60% of the American workforce is working to work. Then I think, who am I?

Then: I don't stop asking that last question.

So: at the end of these thought cycles, what am I left with? Where have I gone--or, have I already disappeared years ago, and when I thought I was humbling myself, it was my spine cracking as I shoveled sand over my head?

Waiting, Always,
a sleeper

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Essay in Embryo #7

Every few months I start thinking about what I would want as a tattoo. I go through the same litany of pros and cons, be they cliche (what would you want on you forever?) or guilt-induced by my upbringing in a generally tat-unfriendly culture (don't you know that your body is a temple?).

In the beginning was the Word

A few months ago, I had a dream that I actually made the leap and went to a tattoo parlor. I didn't tell the artist what to draw, so, he/she drew a rose on my arm, and wrote "Rose" underneath it. Image and text, married, but not happy about the union. "No! That's so obvious!" I yelled, and had them remove it. I then had an epiphany: I wanted a tea plant drawn on my shoulder blade, with the scientific name underneath it (Camellia Sinensis). Why this was any different than the previous rose is a Rose, I don't know.

And the Word was with God

In high school, I learned about Nazarite vows, the most famous exemplar being Samson. He was bound to God by strict adherence to certain dos/do-nots, namely, not cutting his hair or drinking alcohol. Even though things don't go so well for him, I took the idea of binding yourself to God as something I should do, and came up with my own version: I wouldn't dye my hair, pierce my ears, or get a tattoo. It was a ridiculous thing that wasn't officially vowed before anyone, and I saw it mostly as a reaction to the trend of dying your hair with Kool-Aid that was popular in the 90s. As a junior in college though, I had my ear pierced. It never healed, and when I gave up and removed it, it left a nodule scar of cartilage on the top of my ear. "Be careful of vows, no matter how idiotic," my soon-to-be father-in-law said.

And the Word was God

I had the idea today of getting something that used the idea from the opening of the Gospel of John, where he describes the coming of the messiah as a word being turned into flesh. While I doubt I'd ever actual do it (though, maybe in Latin? viscus vox? Doesn't Latin=Cool?) it made me wonder. As a writer, I'm constantly trying to turn words into flesh, via the imagination of my perceived readers. So, in one sense, are writers in general doing the work of messiah-bringers? But, then, I pull my content from the past--from preexisting flesh. So, really, am I turning dead-flesh into word, hoping it will re-flesh itself? Resurrect it into something restorative, transcendent? If that's the case, then something that was truly word first would be nothing short of word-world-warping. It would also explain why prophets are perceived as crazy: they're acting as if their words have already grown legs.

I am a voice shouting in the wilderness

Just that: a voice in search of an image, a body, a future.

*Italicized portions pulled from John 1, New Living Translation

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Drafting, pt. 7

Time: 10:27 a.m.
Music: "Sparks" | Tim and Sam's Tim and the Sam Band with Tim and Sam
Mood: distanced

Being that these notes are so linked to my process in writing a book, I am depressed rather than upset with myself that the date between posts is so long. It means that it is has been over a month since I had any real time to pay any close attention to revision.

I've said earlier that sitting and writing involves a lot of self-manipulation. First drafts are easier because the only real hope is that you'll get an idea or at least an image out of the nomadic scribble. Revisions have a lot more at stake. You're faced with the decision that it's either worth it or it's not.

A friend of mine recently lost a leg in a motorcycle accident. The first time N and I visited him, we were nervous. Would he be tethered to a chair, drooling with pain killers? Would comments like what's the point fall out of the ethered silence? Rather, he bounded out on his crutches faster and fitter than I'd ever seen him. He'd barely slowed down before expertly leading the charge into a hug, the confident weight of which was joyous, and not, 'please keep me from falling.'

He knew what our gluey surprised eyes were asking, and he said: You either give up, or you don't. And why would you give up?

It seems simplistic at first, almost cheesy even, like some re-hashing of Shawshank. But I've been reading Albert Camus' "The Myth of Sisyphus"--an essay solely concerned with the absurdity of living and the oddly logical path of suicide. In a sense, asking why would you give up is the only important question, and if I could say this without sounding cleverly cliche, the yes to continuing is already coiled inside that fetal query, an embryonic intuition that will become an idea, then an image, then something we can't live without.

So: my revisions leaned on a crutch this morning. It is small, but at least it is a yes, and so, for what it's worth: [from Chapter 1, in a section about being a paperboy at age 6]

I am terrified of knocking on doors. When anyone answers, their faces always suggest that they don’t owe me anything. We didn’t sign up for this part of the deal it looks like. Sometimes I stand on the steps for ten minutes, my hand raised but motionless. When I knock it feels like a kind of unwanted divination—that I’m always interrupting something grave. I listen for movement, for the placing, or dropping of something metallic, a click like hitting a pause button, and hear the muted slap of slippers on linoleum onto the stunted shag of the living room, getting closer, closer. On the occasions when no one answers, I think that it is my fault. It is as if they are waiting for the right person to call them back to the world, but it will never be the one who brings them the news. Still, when I hear no sound from the other side, a great weight leaves my chest. I run down and hop on my scooter before they realize that perhaps that noise that was haunting them was someone knocking.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

100 Minutes of Solitude

Essay in Embryo #6

In Aldous Huxley's
The Doors of Perception, the author takes mescalin under supervision to see what it would do to his brain. It leads him to requote Pascal:

"The sum of evil," Pascal remarked, would be much diminished if men could only sit quietly in their rooms.

When I read
Doors, it is unexpected. Living in a rented, furnished house in Rockport, Mass., N and I are lounging like tabby cats on a Sunday afternoon. I scan the owner's bookshelf and land on Huxley, settle down on the floor next to the record player, strap on big headphones, and listen to the following fugues:

1. Space 2001: A Space Odyssey (soundtrack)
2. Days of Future Passed (The Moody Blues)
3. Ben Hur (soundtrack)
4. Four Polonaises (Chopin)

I am unfamiliar with each record, and by the time I finish with Chopin, I've finished
Doors. A series of new, disparate sounds clamoring for space in the canals of my brain. Despite the long periods of voiceless sound, I am filled with voices that are, somehow, also shapes--a talking geometry that makes my organs itch.

is discussed as: voices; textures; a form of composition; a strict discipline described as boring, laborious; borne out of improvisation and thus the basis of idea; contrapuntal, or, "point against point"--things that appear as opposite, independent, but when paired, create something complex, inexorably human.

There is great space in minimalism, but when I cram my mind full of expansive, voiceless music, my first instinct is to write something down. I do not become the voice the music has left out, but just one that falls out of a cloud, trying to gather to the biggest drop I can before hitting the sidewalk, or, perhaps, striking an animal's tongue just as it gathers a whoop--silence a liquid in search of a voice.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Drafting, pt. 6

Time: 10:16 a.m.
Music: A Process in the Weather of the Heart | Radere
Mood: turned-in, turned-over, overturned

I have just sent out what will officially be the final version of my thesis, and it's not all that fulfilling (akin to being asked what it's like to "be 25" on your 25th birthday). The understanding this whole semester is that Thesis does not equal Book. And while this has made the process of revision far less scary, as there was never really any threat of failing, it has made the idea of finishing anything, ever, seem like a red herring sipping ambrosia from a holy grail.

While I made significant changes in the structure for this revision, changed some endings, and in one case wrote a new chapter, the main thing I took away from the experience is that there is much work to be done. With teaching and being in a fiction class this semester, the real revisions I need to make seem impossible to tackle. When revising a draft of a book--where the 'anything goes' style of original creation is no longer allowed--it takes a significant amount of time to get back into the book's voice. You have to sort of hypnotize yourself, casting the spell that you're not at your computer wearing PJ pants at two in the afternoon, but that you're actually an important writer with something worth showing an audience. Getting over the self-consciousness of this idea takes at least an hour of staring into space.

In order to auto-hypnotize, my process often involves: listening to incredibly long experimental songs, the more ambient the better, through big headphones--in this case, earbuds would be like a dutch boy's fingers trying to dam an exploding aqueduct. Then, I often find myself overcome by the speed of thought, so I turn everything off and plant my face in the couch. N has walked in on this a number of times. "What are you doing?" she asks. "Duh. I'm writing."

It can take hours for me to beat to papyrus pulp that self-conscious voice that loops, "I'm writing. A book. I'm writing a book," over and over. When I do, it will most likely take another few hours for a paragraph to emerge. It won't be until the next day that I can start expanding beyond that. So, even though I'm still in an MFA program, doing what I love, and being able to work from home for a majority of my week, it is not a schedule that allows for uninterrupted workweeks where I can manacle my mind with heady music or, stuff my face into a cushion.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Drafting, pt. 5

Time: 9:46 a.m.
Music: "Traversing the Fourth" | EloiSing
Mood: oatmealy

In keeping with the (self)conversation I started in the post All My People, I've been thinking a lot about this question of 'audience' and why I'm having such a hard time coming up with a clear answer as to who I hope reads this book (beyond the fantastical answer: everyone). As I'm slated to turn in my 2nd/final thesis draft in less than a week, I've written up a letter to my committee discussing the changes I've made. I go into the question of audience a bit, and so here it is in all its almost-makes-sense-ness:

A word on audience: S [a committee member] has been concerned, for a while now, whether or not this is a ‘religious’ or, for lack of a better word, ‘secular’ book. She mentioned that she was often uncomfortable with the use of Bible verses, and even the names God, Jesus, etc. Obviously, this is something I’ve been wrestling with for years. In my mind, this is a work of literature that I want everyone to read, regardless if they're atheists, Catholics, or satan-worshippers. I see my use of religious concepts as no different than Eula Biss’ use of research on telephone poles in No Man’s Land, or John McPhee’s research on, well, everything in the world (how does he do it?). The simple answer then, is to make sure I’m explaining things enough to let ‘outsiders’ in.

But there’s a bigger problem here. To get a bit philosophical, I think that my audience is defined by the book’s title. My audience are ‘Sleepers,’ for a number of reasons. In one sense, it is for the people who have had any amount of religious exposure, and have thus been left wondering what it all meant, and even more, how to begin talking about it. In another sense, it is my opinion that America’s capacity to parse religion has fallen asleep. Culturally, you’re either a Falwell or you’re an atheist, and heaven help you if you try to talk about God in any sense beyond the very broad, unassuming higher-power-however-you-choose-to-define-it manner. It is my belief that Christianity, from Catholicism, to Mormonism, and all the other wacky permutations, is the only allowable prejudice left in American culture. And no, I’m not saying that racism, sexism, etc. don’t exist anymore, but they’ve moved into a more disturbing latent form, rather than something professed openly in conversation, media, the classroom. It’s cool to hate Christianity, and laugh at its feeble-mindedness. We’ve gotten hung up on terms, on words that every individual reads their own experience into. To me, this renders the word “Christian” moot and useless. But, what I’ve learned from the few instances where people have indulged in the content of my book is that we’re actually dying to talk about the search for meaning, and not just in the relativistic post-modern sense. So, the title,
Wake, Sleeper is a call to myself to start dealing with these issues head-on, as well as, I hope, the same thing for anyone who has ever wondered what happens after death.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Call It What It Is(n't)

Essay in Embryo #5

The dialogue between my waking and dreaming mind seems to have moved from calling across canyons to chatting at a coffee shop. As in, my dream-stuff often sheds direct light on what I'm puzzling over when I'm awake (or, more likely, while I'm trying to sleep). Perhaps the mania of mild insomnia over the last three years has been building a bridge between the two worlds. Or, maybe it's like I've written the word create, and then smudged it with a dirty eraser until text and abstraction are a leaden swath of existence.

Ex.: I've been trying to think of a new idea for a short story for a fiction workshop. I contemplated writing something about someone (read: me) who has never punched anyone before. That night, in a dream, I somehow wrote a first line, and when I woke up, I decided it was actually worth pursuing. The line: "Tracy Billideaux swings and misses."

Your sons and daughters will prophesy

A common phrase I often heard in church was, "I felt the LORD telling me..." or, "The LORD gave me a vision about..." How were they so sure? What if they were misguided a bit? The consequences for putting words in God's mouth seemed steep. I also felt guilty, because, why couldn't I hear/see this stuff/Stuff?

your old men will dream dreams

Last week, at a party where there was much local beer and tea-infused gin, N and I headed upstairs to crash at the host's house. In a reversal of home-life, I was out in seconds, but N, despite the gin and Malibu, couldn't drift into dream. Then, amidst her buzz, she felt that she saw a pot in front of her, with maybe-God saying, Fill the pot. Fill the pot. In her state, this seemed logical enough, so she did. And slowly, as the pot filled, she fell asleep. "I don't know if it was God, or just me being drunk," she said. And in her admission of uncertainty, it seemed like the most believable Sacred Talk instance I'd ever heard of. She couldn't claim that she was a Holy Receptacle, and it was that humility that felt convincing.

your young men will see visions.*

A few nights later, back home and back to our normal sleep/sleepless roles, I couldn't make the sleep-leap. I was stuck in the drifting, just a touch too aware of the fact that I was falling asleep, and thus rendering the final nod impossible. Amidst the thought-parade, I saw a pot, and I was like, oh yeah; I guess I'm supposed to fill this. So I started pouring water from what was apparently 'my' pot into what was presumably God's pot (who, as it turns out, has the same copper-bottomed Revere ware as I do. It's just a lot more polished). But, instead of it staying there, the Pot kept pouring it back into my pot. But it wasn't water--it was an opaque golden syrup, or, maybe white wine--a sauvignon blanc, perhaps. Sweetening the pot, I thought, for reasons I'm still not clear on. Though, despite the lack of clarity, I felt rested by the whole ordeal. And that maybe going around convincing ourselves, and others, that God is always in the borders of sleep, could be soul-destroying. Something is lost in the telling, the writing, that reduces it to crazy or holy, David Koresh or King David.

*Joel 2:28

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Communion of Caffeine

Essay in Embryo #4

I grew up watching my father suck down Folgers and Maxwell House by the pot-ful. I knew he'd stop at Dunkin' Donuts--going out of his way--before work, and I knew that one of the first things he did when he got to work was tear a crinkly pouch of industrial coffee powder and brew a carafe for the rest of the office and auto garage workers, yes, but still, for himself. I knew he wasn't alone. The traffic outside our almost miniature Dunks was always heaviest before 8am, and right before 1pm, the cars snaking their way around the back drive-thru like a chain of rollercoaster cars that are slowly chugging up, up, but never arriving.

In the churches I grew up under, communion was always carried out with a unique and different introduction, always ending with Christ's words to "eat/drink this in remembrance of me." As a result, I don't remember anything they ever said.

My dad once gave me a sip, and I felt as if I had just lapped a puddle gathered in a sandbox. "It gets me through the day," he said. Right then, at age 12, I vowed to never give myself to the drink, especially if it didn't even taste good.

When I left for college, I, for all intents and purposes, stopped going to church. It started as 'a break' from the unwavering habit of my childhood, but eventually I figured out it was because of how nervous it made me.

At this point, I've gone from liking coffee only if it tasted like melted mocha chip ice cream all the way to espresso snobbery, single-estate and fairly traded. And I've lived up to my vow--I don't drink it in the morning (it turns my just-awoken stomach into a series of spinning concentric circles), and if I do drink it, it's as an afternoon 'treat.'

They often warned us not to take communion if 'our hearts weren't right' (an abstraction stemming from Luke's words in 1 Corinthians 11:29: anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself). I was scared my heart was never right, and whew, that would be a lot of ingested judgment.

The thing is, I still don't really like it. And, what's more, I've duped myself. While I don't start with coffee, I do start with a full pot of English tea. Never the American dust that Lipton and others sell. I go for bags that blacken the water like someone's turned out the light. And my coffee 'treat' turns out to be almost every afternoon Monday-Friday.

N and I have tried a number of churches, ranging from high liturgical to off-the-rafters charismatic. But it just reminds me of the fact that every church I was a part of as a kid split, severing the church's members like a mass divorce. In our attempts to freshen up Communion, we cut ourselves in half.

But I've turned the making of both beverages into holy and restorative rituals. I pour just boiled water into the tea pot, 'shocking it,' as the double-turned phrase goes, dump that into my mug to warm it, then pour the water over the tea bag, spinning the pot 360 degrees as the water flows in. When I dump the water out of the mug, I use the warmed porcelain to massage my right forearm, to loosen things up before writing/grading. My coffee ritual is similar. I just usually end up dumping 85% of the coffee out. This doesn't stop me from making it, however. On afternoons where I need a distraction, and there's no emails (never any emails), I make coffee so I can dump it out.

When people ask what church I belong to, I say, "still looking," the words like tainted water that I keep drinking, then spitting back into the cup, hoping that one of these times it will turn itself into wine.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Drafting, pt. 4

Time: 2:53
Music: "Sun Drugs" | Stars of the Lid
Mood: fractured

As is typical of a mid-semester week, I haven't had time to work on my book* other than think about it when I lie down at night, hoping that sleep will come before any reminders about what I didn't do that day.

Distraction #1: N gets home. I haven't started cooking lunch yet. I get up to do so. While's she's in the shower and the olive oil is heating up, I sneak back to the computer and:

It seems that perhaps the biggest difficulty in drafting this book is the pebbles of voices that have crumbled and rolled since I started. Having started the actual writing two years ago (and the thinking four years ago, or, maybe, a lot longer), each time I sit and do a significant bout of writing, it seems my voice has changed in some significant way (one hopes, for the better).

Distraction #2: The sizzle of the oil replaces the splash of the shower as N turns the knob. I get up and drop the onions and carrots in, thinking that I should've waited on the carrots, but my time keeps shrinking.

At this point, I see the book as having changed the pitch and depth of its voice four major times, usually some sort of semester-to-semester break involved. However, there are weeks, like this one, where teaching takes up so much time that it seems the voice I started last Friday is already miles, worlds away.

Distraction #3: I can hear N hanging up her towel, the sound of the vegetables screaming louder and louder and until, ok, ok, I'll be right there.

In one sense, the shifting of voice is good news: it means that I'm not content with how things went the previous time, so I should take some things out, add a few more, see how they feel, taste together. I wonder what I'm losing/gaining, hoping that I'm divining the right measurements.

Distraction #4: Lunch is on the table--a mish-mash of veggies, cheese and tofu we call, appropriately, a 'scramble.' N says, "Can I start eating?" and I say "mhmm" while I type out what will have to be the end of this. The distraction getting the final word.
*metablog moment: the same reason I haven't had time to post anything this week.

Monday, March 22, 2010

All My People

Essay in Embryo #3

Q: Who is your audience?

A: I don't know--their faces are blurry at the moment.

If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. - Mark 4:23

Q: Is your book for a Christian audience, or...something else not Christian?
A: I don't think that's fair.

Q: Don't get mad! Who do you think I am?!

"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" - Mark 8:29

Q: Why do you use Bible verses if you're not just aiming at Christians? It makes me feel guilty for not understanding what you mean!

A: Then, I think you get it.

Q: Get what?
A: The fact that guilt is a fence that keeps an audience hemmed, quiet.

Q: And calm?
A: Never calm.

Q: So, what does an audience without a voice look like?
A: Sleepers. Sleep-talkers. Sleep-walkers. Sleep-stalkers. Stalking sleep, as if it was something you can't catch, something that evades you at every turn by leaving pamphlets on death and birth, that death is the miracle, not birth, that birth means you can't sleep, because of the voices, because of the Voices, the Voice, your voice, the vices, your vices, the vice of not being able to close your eyes, but of simultaneously being blind, because what is the difference between the dark silence of eyes-open and the dark silence of eyes-shut?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

b vs. B

As of this past Friday, I have officially heard from all three of my faculty thesis committee members, per the first full draft of my book. Each reader was drastically different--one was concise and extensive, one was clipped and topical, and one was harebrained and convoluted. They all have their strengths, as anyone who has had anything submitted for approval, from a sestina to a spread sheet, knows.

It was the latter of the three that I have found the most helpful, as in, the one that made me want to dig in, rather than be buried alive by the prospect of a second revision. The reason for this is that it engaged with the ideas of the book, rather than of the structure/voice/audience formulaic commentary that is typical in art programs at any level. The formulaic stuff is worth its weight, for sure, but the difference between this kind of commentary, and feedback is just what the latter word suggests: someone was fed, and now is feeding you.

So, this sounds like a regurgitating pigeon. I guess I'm okay with that.

Quote from Harebrain:*
"...these [small, mundane] moments bring bryan [with a little b] to life, and the more you come to life as just bryan, the more we are interested in Bryan the seeker. Sort of like if this was a novel about Paul, we’d want more than ½ about Saul the tax collector. I think that’s what we fiction writers do mostly: we write about Saul. We’re interested in Saul more than Paul, although we live to know about the Paul buried in Saul early on, and how that Paul gets released. So, again, where there were moments of confused bryan-ness, I was into that."
Despite the fact that Harebrain is a fiction prof, and is responding in that vein, the whole lowercase/uppercase point is really helpful. Even though I'm writing about my life, I have to turn myself into a character, a type, even a multidimensional symbol. This is what separates it from writing a journal.**

The other plus about this kind of feedback is that it is a bit unhinged. Meaning, it chased after meaning. The response got messy because Harebrain dove right in, and gasp let it swirl into Harebrain's own person and history. Basically, Harebrain was okay with being harebrain as well as Harebrain. And i/I like that.

*meaning, one snippet from 7-page, single-space ecstatic mental nosedive.
**metablog moment!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Drafting, pt. 3.5

As a way to show the other spectrum of writer's block, here's a snippet of what came out of yesterday's daddy issues:

When my mother pulls our rumbling white Bronco up to the garage, my sister gets out without being asked and wrenches the door upward, its jaws squeaking and cracking as it prepares to swallow the chalky white pill. For the last time, my father gets out of a car and climbs the set of stairs leading up to our lemon yellow house, my mother guiding him on one side, a rolling intravenous stand on the other. She peels the screen door open like baleen, holding it open with her hip as she unlocks the front door, letting it lap all of us in. He waits as my mother strips the cushions off the woolen, brown couch in the living room and rips out the tongue of spring and mattress that is coiled inside. When the sheets are taut and pillows propped, she guides him over and lays him down, checking the connections and levels on the I-V stand, its tubes like veins escaping the rot that is growing in the middle of his body. She is a registered nurse and so she is quick, thorough, letting habit hide the fact that she’s placing her husband on his deathbed.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Drafting, pt. 3

Time: 11:55 a.m.
Music: "Fourteen Drawings" | Helios
Mood: heartburned

I'm having daddy issues.

The first thing I say when someone asks me what my book is about is, "what it was like growing up in a nondenominational Christian home, school, and church." It's become a tagline, and I can see myself using it for proposal after proposal. The thing I don't say, unless I've had more than three beers, is that it's about how my father's death (when I was four) has always informed how I view the concept of eternity and faith. Ending vs. Never Ending.

I avoided the topic for a year and a half, not because I felt it was too personal or raw, but because I was afraid of becoming a cliche memoirist--how some single great tragedy has informed every detail since.

I've 'fessed up at this point. The prologue and first chapter are almost solely devoted to him, and it makes its way into most successive chapters. But right now, I'm dead stuck, or stuck on death.

I'm trying to revise the newest chapter, "The Shape of a Ghost" (tent.) and can't seem to move far. In an hour, I have one new paragraph, and most of it is crossed out. What I am trying to explore is how the memories* of my father are voiceless, static. I have no recollection of anything he said, and in general, it feels like I'm circling the images as if I were a ghost, waiting for him as he slowly turns into one. In his last month, his deathbed was the pullout couch in the living room. In a sense, he became an object, a piece of furniture--having a defined shape, but no voice. Inanimate, but eternally fixed in his spot.

The night he died, I wasn't even in the house--the house that had become him. So, even his death becomes a ghost in my head; an empty shape that I keep trying to fill. But how do you write 12 pages about a scene that has no movement, no voices? And further, how do you quiet the stuttering voice in your head that says the death story has to be small-yet-epic, stirring, but not a head-on collision in central square of weepytown? Basically, make it about death without seeming that you're always talking about death.

*without ever using the word 'memories' since, duh, it's a memoir.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Waiting is a Ghost

Essay in Embryo #2

What does a sound bring?

A train belches its horn in the distance--sometimes it stutters like a jazz trumpet, and other times it's an elongated haunting breath. During the latter, N says, "It sounds like they're trying to warn someone."

The wind-stuffed shifting of air that breezes through my apartment as a car goes by, in one ear, out the other, always makes me get up and run to the window. Many cars slow down when they reach my apartment. Sometimes it is N or a neighbor returning home. Most of the time it is not. The sluggish cars always do the same thing: hug the right side of the one-way street as if avoiding an invisible accident, then proceed slowly, one eye on the road, the other on the river further to the right. "What are you waiting for," I think, oftentimes out loud.

What am I waiting for? I check email--all three addresses--almost as often as I blink, the understanding being that one of these times, the big news will arrive, the unflappable validation that I'm living correctly, and here's the means to continue doing what you love, and yes, your existence is progressing the existence of others!

Each time that specific email does not show up in bold, I wince a little, as if it was a complete surprise I didn't win the Life Lottery again, and I start trying to fill my time so that I can check again in ten minutes.

But waiting is the ghost of a verb--the ing suffix suggesting there's movement when in fact it's an endless circling of piles of tiny breaking hearts. It's a myth that life is just a waiting game; that there is a natural narrative arc to our span, and we've all got a crescendo in us, even if it ends as a tragedy or a denoument. But even if that was true--that our lives were as cleanly marked as the human invention of narrative--then waiting would be a vehicle carrying us away from that story, and we'd keep leaning forward towards the driver, asking, how long, how long, please say not long now, just you wait.