Stroll through muddy graveyards looking down
on headstones like an angel from heaven looking down
on naïve belief systems created from collective fears
of lonely deaths. Leave legacies counted in red flowers—
placed carefully on top of green grass like permanent markers
scrawling inadequacies on poster boards soaking up
the leftovers from the last time Satan beat his wife. This is
what it means to atone. To be afflicted with Stockholm syndrome.
To have bloody fists evidence willingness to not go out
silently in fights in mirrored rooms where broken shards
do not create thoughts of bad luck, just proof that certain elements
don’t perform like they’re supposed to when placed under
too much pressure. When placed behind squats’ golden-chained
locks that couldn’t possibly survive the force of a properly placed
steel-toed boot to the midsection if battery rams run out
of alkaline, and megaphone voices remain indecipherable.
Make them take you by force, but still go fetal if the
riot-gear robots storm your inner sanctum. It’s only noble
like the tear gas being choked on and coughed out on the floor.
I’ve got dyslexia like that kid in The Shining
riding his big wheels on the big screen
through the giant oligarch era of late night television.
Asking who the fuck is Ed Sullivan? And why
is Johnny here, and what has he done with
daddy issues? Don’t pass me a tissue.
I’m not sad, I’m doomed like Oedipus Rex.
I’m haunted like different versions of
the same ghost story. I’m spooked by realizations
that all stories are ghost stories. Spirits of former lives
with forward trajectories. Captured thoughts bound
in super glue. Hegemony came with a binary
zero and one, but forgot about two while I forgot
about shivering on hot nights when television
and movies hadn’t yet told me how to feel.
And yet there were always books, and romantic
crooks undressing me like a banana peel
that never even hid the bruises or the yellow
belly. Because it’s not the image so much that’s
important, but the reaction to a sensation. Like
starvation, art ceases to cause hunger pain when the
body goes into shock like therapy. Like the
heresy I feel when I refuse to participate in
a fixed game plotted like a word deliberately
spelled backwards. Distilled, and packed with
sugar. Poured over ice, melting frozen
intentions. I sat back and listened to the booms
of Dolby digital inventions, and still there must
have been a point when it went the other way.
The other side is alright, not great, but
alright like right turns versus left turns.
The simple pleasure of getting to go when
you’re supposed to stop. Of breaking rules.
Of reminiscing about the old school. Tradition
is so hard to break because it’s made out of
polypropylene, out of manmade dreams
that stink like dead bodies when they burn.
That stink like speaking out of turn when you
know you’re just supposed to listen.
We could be friends but the distance between
our experience doesn’t shift like magnets.
Like polar opposites. It’s too similar
for me to tell you you’ll have to go through
hell. A place designed for us by books,
but look, some of us weren’t meant to live
life. Only to survive it. To multiply it
with an exponential that is nondescript. Ineffable
sadness that isn’t so ineffable when you
just sit down and write (ride) it out.
Months of impassivity. Creativity
has to come again like a porn star.
It’s contractually obligated that you
stay hard like life. Like strife. Like
five minutes that can change your
whole life. Accident prone except
when it’s done on purpose to hurt us,
and three hundred sixty degrees still
doesn’t bring more pleasure than a
single slice. Pepperoni paradise
where the smoke is more a flavor
than an intoxicant, and still you get
hooked on it like a parasite hoping
deliverance doesn’t die. Your life
depends on it like adult diapers. It
gets shitty when you miss me. When
you forget that sometimes there is a key
that’s not metaphorical. Only shiny
metal that won’t rust if it doesn’t get
rained on like a parade. The shade
came from a shadow. It’s not callow
to point that out if it’s still a direction
It’s hard to describe what it feels like because I’m a writer, and I’m not supposed to use overused terms, clichés, obvious images, and the like. This is how I’ve been trained. Both in the academic sense and the artistic sense. I’m supposed to do something fresh, something new. That’s how you create art. That’s how you explain yourself. That’s how you create metaphors and similes. That’s how you go down as one of the greats. By offering something relatable in a way that no one has thought of before, or at least in a way that only a few have thought of before, and if you want to do this in some capacity as a way to earn a living as I do, you had better aspire to be great. Even if you don’t turn out to be, the belief in a possibility of achieving greatness is essential. It’s what creates the endurance to go on through the rejection letters and the poverty and the school loans and still want to pursue an ultimately low-paying, high-hour demanding, completely solitary way of life. And then you read, and you read, and you read, and you read some more because this is also what you’ve been trained to do. Maybe so you know what’s fresh through a process of elimination. Maybe so you learn the rhythm, and the sound, and the style, and the chops through a process of absorption. But when you’ve read as many classics as I’ve read, you can’t help but wonder if there is even anything new to say. And right now, I just can’t think of a new way to describe this.
At least I can say that I don’t believe in being stuck. In stuckness. At least it’s not that obvious. And it’s not writer’s block. The words always come when I sit down and give myself the time. They always start right up because they never exactly stop. You see, the words on this page at some point in time were shuffling through the interior space in my skull, probably through some fluid and some neurotransmitters, but it feels more like flotation and explosion, like an oil fire with enough fuel to feed it indefinitely. Like yap, yap, yap, YAP! YAP! YAP!, yap, yap, yap, YAP! YAP! YAP!, ad infinitum where yap = words and YAP! = MORE FUCKING WORDS! And so sitting at the keyboard is just a way to turn the internal yap into the external YAP! And judging by the ridiculousness of this paragraph, that’s exactly what I’ve just done, and so I’m not stuck. I’m not in stuckness. I’m not blocked. And so I’m not trapped in that cliché.
But I’m moving in another one. I’m in motion because I’m always in motion. I’m composed of atoms with electrons just like everything else, and if the smallest particles are always moving, than so am I. And so this is why it’s hard for me to put this on paper, because I’m moving backwards, and it feels like falling, and it feels like drowning, but people have been writing about falling and drowning since The Epic of Gilgamesh. But that’s what it feels like, like that leap off the roof of the house I made when I was twelve years old thinking it didn’t look that far down, and then feeling that infinity in the middle of what could have only been a second of freefall where your heart jumps into your throat and you can say a lifetime of prayers in an instant. It feels like diving down to the bottom of the deep end to do an Indian Tea Party, and then knowing that somehow you stayed under too long, and then the panic kicks in as your legs cannot seem to swim to the sunlight fast enough. And it’s true that I didn’t break my leg, and I never drowned, but infinities encapsulated in seconds still feel like infinities, like never-ending doom that has always already been there.
And the crazy thing is that I know it hasn’t always already been there, that’s just what it feels like. Four months ago, I graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s in English and a minor in Creative Writing. Considering I failed out of school the first time when I was eighteen years old, and then did a fuckton of drugs while I drank like all the alcohol in the world would evaporate if I didn’t get it in my gut in a single night every night, and considering I somehow made it back to school at twenty-five, and then left again at twenty-seven for a year to do more running out of style drinking, and then somehow made it back again and graduated with honors, well I couldn’t have been prouder of myself for finally having done something positive with myself. For finally having accomplished a long term goal despite all my self-destructive tendencies.
I was good at first. I made a decision that I want to go to grad school to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. I did all the research. I found the programs I wanted to apply to. I got professors to agree to give me letters of recommendation. I studied some for the GRE. I was working on my first book, and I was producing at record speeds. And then I lost my shitty waiting tables job a couple of months ago. Or I should say I walked out on it, in a rather immature fashion. Something that the crazy early twenties me would have done, but something I thought I had gotten over by now. And I realized it as a regression. And it somehow triggered something in me, something that’s always been lurking, that notion that I’m not prepared for the real world, that I wasn’t built right for it, that whatever combination of genome and environment that makes a good man got too many parts amotivation and too many parts bullshit detector to follow the rules, and that my plans for grad school and my plans to become a novelist are only a further symptom of this problem. I keep thinking that I’m a smart guy, and if I could just find a way to use my academic ability in a business type job that I’d be okay, that I could finally be successful, that I could make a lot of money, and I could finally ask my girlfriend to marry me, and I could help support her family financially because that’s what adults are supposed to do, and this extension of my childhood dreaming has gone far enough, and then I realized that this is just the bullshit American Dream route to unhappiness, and then I thought why do I feel so depressed that I can’t have this thing that I acknowledge as bullshit? And despite the fact that I found another job within a week of walking out on the first one, it was still another shitty waiting tables job, and it still felt like further regression, and then for some reason I can’t quite understand, I stopped writing, which was an even further regression that has waterboarded me in a Guantanamo mind prison for the past two months.
You see, ever since I really decided that I wanted to give this writing thing a full-tilt shot, I haven’t stopped. Every day, I’ve sat at my desk and written and edited and submitted to journals and read amazing novels. I’ve done all the things they’ve taught me to do in school and I’ve done the things I’ve learned on my own. I refer to myself as a writer because normally I write, and I write a lot. I have journals and computer files filled with my recorded thoughts. I have bookshelves and my kindle files filled with the right study material. I’ve been ready to do this. And I’ve needed to do this. Because writing has been the only thing that has ever pulled me out of a downward spiral successfully. When I don’t get my thoughts on paper, well, again with the stupid shitty cliché, but I feel like my thoughts are drowning, losing oxygen, becoming unclear, and paper is the surface where they can take a deep breath again.
So, I guess I have a confession to make, ugh, the trite phrases just keep coming, but it’s true, and I don’t think I can get back to my book until I put this on paper, and until I evaluate it, and until I decide once again that pursuing my dreams is a noble endeavor in a world full of sell-outs who just don’t understand. And until I can look at that next rejection letter and know that it’s not an evaluation of my talent. That for whatever reason my chosen expression of neuroses qua career choice is worth the effort I put into it. And so I guess this isn’t just a confession, but an attempt at a desperately willfull three-point turn. A chance to re-commit. A chance to change my motion.
I hope it has worked, but as any writer can tell you, the ending is the hardest part of the story, and this one doesn’t have one yet, but it does finally have a new beginning, and for that, I feel just a little bit better, and for that, I know that the process however torturous it becomes is sometimes always already worth it.
Hot fingers nimble down
a piece of color-changing glass—
black and scorched now—
he ran out of green
the last go round
and so he puffs
an empty bowl slowly
trying to put the leftovers
in a brown doggie bag.
Where’s the Smoke?
Dried up resin in a reservoir
ceasing its burn,
and now all that’s left are
the thoughts in a butter churn.
round and round, or
side-to-side like the sizzle
sound of inhaled butane.
Reasons that answer why
his throat is the only
gas again, an expression like
where there’s smoke,
keeping his hot fingers
nimbling always down
a piece of color-changing glass—
in only one direction.
Where’s the Smoke?
Staff Note: Just a little primer story to get the blog going! Submissions open July 10th for our first issue. Also, anyone interested in writing a single story or serial for the blog (separate from the issues), email email@example.com with your idea. Do not submit to this address. This is simply a point of contact. Submissions to this email will not be responded to.
Creepy Willis sat on all fours wearing a creepy cream stained wife-beater and otherwise remained naked from the waist down leaning ever the more slightly forward, towards the Macbook screen on the floor displaying the creepy photos—cleavage shots and upskirts—he’d taken at grocery stores and bars and the Laundromat across the street from his creepy apartment complex in the creepiest part of town—creepy photos taken from the creepy extra high definition extra digital extra high-strength zoom lens on his extra expensive camera. Next to the computer sat the source of the trackpad’s sticky sheen coating—a bottle of extra long lasting lubricant—purchased at the extra creepy adult bookstore with the extra jumping midnight parking lot full of other creeps like Creepy Fred and Creepy Joe and Creepy Larry. Creepy Willis’ face was turning blue just above the belt wrapped around his neck and tied to his bedroom door’s knob.
Bluer and bluer it turned as each beat of his fist grew faster and faster, and then it morphed again into a deep purple when Creepy Willis’ release happened. It was as if a year old golf-ball sized cyst in his soul had been punctured, and finally all the fluid was pouring out in droves and taking the pain with it. It was as if he had spent years obsessing on the perfect singular feeling, and then he found it, what he’d been waiting his whole life for. The completion of that life’s work. His opus. The perfect orgasm. Body, Mind, and Soul all combining and blending into a potency of paralysis and drool.
And then, well there’s no other way to describe it than floating on a cloud of double-D titties, bouncing up and down gently as if he were lying on an otherwise dormant trampoline. Up and Down, Up and down, up and down, each bounce growing shorter as he began to hear a train whistle in perfect C major, a sweeping sound that—along with the room emitting the smell of fresh garlic—left joyful tears running down his bloated cheeks. His jaw clenched, his teeth began to grit, and then he became blind as if he had just opened the exit doors to the movie theatre just after a matinee showing.
With the blindness came the realization that only pain could produce a pleasure so great. He knew it when he started to feel the stabbing in his gut—the pleasurable stabbing—the glimpse at femininity—what he’d never understood before. And then there was no more understanding.
Just the end of shame—caked into the carpet fibers with his last human creation.
Scientists will point out how
technically, we never touch
like magnets pushing and pulling
on forces they hardly understand.
When I was inside of you,
I was only inside of your atomic
forcefield, inside of invisibility,
like the words we whisper
to each other, “I love you
more than words can possibly
express” when “words can possibly
express” expresses “a whole
fucking lot” in a language
that moves like electrons
and feels like your lips
pressed against my chest.
We are frozen on tops of ponds
of liquid water like Jesus walkers
crying out, why have you forsaken me?
Why haven’t you found the key
I left under the mat? The most usual
trap. Stuck in between easy and
supposed to like Christopher Columbus
in 1492, carving out destiny
like a five-finger turkey drawn with
a purple marker. Sharper than
a razor blade cutting through
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.
He shuddered when he realized he
was all alone with the lights turned
down way low like a druggie’s eyelids.
She hid in the top of a tree before he
even counted to three. By the time
it was ten, the crickets sounded like
men weeping in a garage after
the children have gone to bed. Thinking
he was Better Off Dead like John Cusack.
Like the Muzack playing in the elevator
with curly pretentious hair. Stinking
up the air with sulfur. The celebrations
of independence floated like once-burned
paper while we were still there
melting away like a polar ice cap.
This is part of a series. Each piece can be read separately, but if you would like to read it in order, click here.
What the fuck are you doing bitch, Red Dodge Ram yelled as he revved his engine two inches away from Blue-Grey Civic’s back bumper, but she didn’t seem to even notice him there sniffing her exhaust fumes like a dog waiting to pounce. Just like a goddamn woman, never listens to shit, he honked out of the side of his mouth as he imagined putting his front end into her backseat without permission. If only that kind of thing were still legal. Like it was in the Good Ol’ Days. Red Dodge Ram wished he could have lived back in the Good Ol’ Days. The ones his grandfather told him about. The ones he honored with his retro body style and The South Will Rise Again bumper sticker he wore. The ones where it was still okay to put a woman in her place. Because that’s what a man was supposed to do, and Red Dodge Ram was definitely a man. He even had the steel testicles to prove it—hanging just underneath the trailer hitch from his heavy-duty black iron bumper. He wished he had the owner to prove it. That dainty little sad excuse for a cowboy with those pristine pleated expensive pearl-snap shirts and that goofy little bolo tie. And despite the tightness of his Wranglers, the man’s package still hid like camouflage against the flat denim zipper. At least he liked to go fast, and he treated Red Dodge Ram like a race car. Red Dodge Ram wished he could have really been a race car as he looked up to see Fast-Black Corvette sitting in the lane left of his and as he heard that stunning deep bass roar of a voice. I mean sure, Red Dodge Ram probably could pull about the same horsepower as Fast-Black Corvette, and Red Dodge Ram might even be able to compete in a drag off the line, and so he was certainly every bit of the man that Fast-Black Corvette was, maybe even more so, what with the steel balls and all, but Red Dodge Ram certainly couldn’t handle curves like Fast-Black Corvette, and his exterior simply wasn’t smooth. He wanted to be smooth, like a race car. Maybe if he had been smooth, he could have parked next to a whole lot of different cars, exotic cars, but he was stuck with that same plain goddamn smelly bitch old lady, Mercedes Diesel Wagon, parked next to him in the driveway every night for the rest of his fucking life. Proponents of arranged marriages always talked about how you get used to a person over time, but he didn’t think he’d ever get used to hearing that annoying voice every night. Why do you always have to drive so fast? Why don’t you clean that mud off your fenders? Would you mind not leaking oil in the driveway? Red Dodge Ram revved his engine again and sighed, motherfucker, as he looked at all these cars on the freeway. He just wanted to go, to go faster. Of course, he wasn’t so sure what he was in a goddamned hurry for. To go home and sit next to that cunt all over again? He signaled and moved into the exit lane two exits earlier from his normal exit deciding to stop off at Bubba’s Ice House to cool down a bit under the tree in the parking lot during happy hour before returning home to listen to more nonsense. He only hoped today that his owner would grow the liquid courage to go home and tell his own wife what he really thought of her, so maybe that might mean they could get a divorce, and maybe he could get a divorce. Jesus H. Christ! Would you goddamn move?, he yelled, this time at an old Classic White Cadillac in front of him, who was not moving despite the line of cars ahead picking up speed as they traveled off the ramp.
This is the first part to what will be a new series called “Foulmouthed Cars on a Freeway in Traffic.” It can be read chronologically or as a series of separate vignettes. Keep on the lookout for more!
Blue-Grey Civic let out a desperate squeal as she engaged her brakes and sputtered in a click-staccato, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit. Her owner was already running late for work, second time this week, and now this. Blue-Grey Civic was carrying doomsday scenarios in her backseat like screaming children. Are we there yet? No! Goddamn it! No…What…Don’t Cry…I’m sorry honey, I didn’t mean to yell. It’s just about two more miles to go (and two-million fucking assholes in my fucking way). Every minute on her dashboard clock ticked towards the inevitable unemployment of her owner, towards the non-payment of the car-note her owner could no longer afford, towards the Scary Larry Tow Truck and its Gap-Toothed Repo Guy violating her undercarriage with hooks and chains and pulleys, towards the gravel and dirt parking lot where she would sit, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting, her vital fluids thickening until some bald-guy in horn-rimmed glasses and a black-and-white suit at the finance company would realize she was no longer making them any money, towards the auctioneer putting her on a block like a plantation slave and fast-talking about her exterior to salivating slick sweaty stinky white men in plaid leisure suits who would be smoking cigars while touching their earlobes hoping to get a hot-wax cleanup of a bargain, towards one of these used car lot owners taking her to another parking lot—this time, a smooth, hot, concrete one—where she would again sit, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting, for the first schmuck willing to shell out the two-grand above blue-book value that her sticker price asked for. She could only hope it wouldn’t end up being a drunk or a drug addict or even worse, some sixteen-year-old boy. She could just imagine the constant slamming of his foot on her poor aching gas-pedal or even worse his premature ejaculate all over the upholstery of her backseat, the remnants of nights she was parked at Make-Out Point unable to defend the poor naive redhead who would soon get the first of many disappointments with an immature human male. No, she had to, she must get her owner to work on time—if only these goddamn idiots would get out of the way—because despite the burning wake up call she got every morning when her owner would splash hot coffee onto her center-console and despite her owner’s horrible mismanagement of time, otherwise, she was an alright lady. Blue-Grey Civic flicked on her blinker, and not fully paying attention to the road, cut off the giant fucking Red Dodge Ram behind her as she moved into the right lane trying to get closer to an exit.
A year marks another passage
of the earth around the sun,
but a year is not a unit of measurement,
not a way to see how far we went,
just a reminder that we got there,
and nowhere is this phenomenon
better observed than on those dates when
we celebrate what happened the last time
we were at this exact place
in the solar system.
I remember when I walked you
to your car, and asked you if I could
see you again, and you shrugged slyly
and smiled as you drove away,
leaving me to only hope, hope, hope.
And this is exactly what I was doing
a year ago, and what I am doing now
because bright futures are built on the foundation
that the best days are yet to come.
So I hope, hope, hope to see that
beautiful smile again at the end
of the next trip around the sun.
Sometimes, I think
I write because
some good ideas
are really bad ideas
and some bad ideas
are really good ideas,
but, mostly, I think
I write because
I should probably start from the beginning. That is the most obvious place to start. The only problem therein lies, what is the beginning? Well, in this case, I guess it’s an attempt at creating a meta quality to this essay to inform you that I know you’re reading this essay that I know I’m writing, but I don’t say, “I should start from the beginning,” and then ask “what is the beginning?,” simply as a form of style devoid of substance (or at least I hope not, I hope by the end, you, the reader, see the point to what I’m doing). Because I am interested in that moment when the writer decides to say something and then stares at a blank page trying to figure out just the right way to say it. Because I feel that all writing is an answer to that daunting, nausea-inducing question, what is the beginning?
So, let there be light, “I should probably start from the beginning,” and in this case, what is not the literal beginning to this essay but is certainly its main entry point, and certainly my actual beginning at placing words on a page, starts shortly after a trip to the Westheimer Street Festival in 1995 where among the crowd of patchouli-soaked hippies and stoned-silly Rastafarians smoking weed on street corners, Hare Krishna followers parading with tambourines and drums and pamphlets and serving vegan gourmet across the street from the Stop-N-Rob for free, big scary tattooed metalheads carrying Pythons around their necks that were purchased at the stand selling snakes and lizards that was operated by the guy wearing an eyepatch, drunken college girls exposing their breasts at the 107.5 The Rocket’s party truck, punk rockers circle pitting in the Big Frank’s Hot Dog Stand parking lot where one of many, and my personal favorite, stages for local music was set up, and off-duty police officers walking through the crowd stiff with their hands a little closer to their pistols than usual, the thirteen year old version of myself—with hair spiked up by Knox gelatin, wearing green cut-offs covered in patches of my favorite bands and a gas station attendant shirt properly adorned with a plaid necktie—found a booth selling zines.
I picked up or bought a handful of copies of various ones laid out on the table—they were free or cheap (like seventy-five cents maximum)—and soon, I would develop quite the collection of independent publications to devour in my bedroom while I questioned why my parents and teachers were always lying to me. Zines were mostly cheap self-published mini-magazines filled with alternative political views, offbeat poetry and short stories, essays on life, artwork, record reviews, and so forth. My favorite zine was Cometbus, written by the legendary punk rock drummer, Aaron Cometbus, who played in damn near half the bands in the East Bay/Berkley scene in the late 80‘s and throughout the 90‘s and wrote mostly about the punk rock lifestyle and what it meant to dedicate your life to opposing the greater system of economics and politics while learning to have a good time being rowdy and completely broke.
Other zines that held my interest were the local ones like Out of Order, My Wallpaper Could Kick Your Ass!, The Toilet Papers, and Ah Lost Taco to name a few of my favorites. These were all, with the exception of Ah Lost Taco—written by Butch, lead singer of the Houston punk scene legends 30footFall—produced by high school students like myself and sold on consignment at Sound Waves and Sound Exchange. I would later become friends with most of the writers after I would mail them and ask questions—and later find out there was a blossoming community of punk rock authors forming and sharing ideas at the park on Gillette Street next to the Allen Parkway Village, a place I would begin to frequent—as I put together what would be my first attempt at a literary publication, Crap For Thought.
Crap For Thought was modeled after its predecessors and featured a stack of standard letter size pages folded in half and stapled in the fold to create a half-size magazine. The pages were photocopy collaged with pictures clipped out of larger magazines and newspapers. These collages served as the background to the words, which were often a mix of radical political editorials and personal essays. I spent a lot of time those days at Office Depot scamming copies since the store operated on the “honor system,” and I could easily pay for only half of what I actually copied. While perhaps not my fondest memory of myself, my dishonesty did allow a broke high school student to get his message to the public out for practically nothing and allowed him to charge nothing for it. I would pass Crap For Thought out for free at school and punk rock shows, would sell issues at local record stores for the price of a stamp, and I would also mail them off to my growing mailing list of people my age (they could be added to it by sending me a book of stamps).
While Crap For Thought was certainly not a crowning literary achievement—in fact, reading old issues mostly makes me laugh at my naïve idealism and my tendency to believe in conspiracy theories as a teenager—and while Crap For Thought certainly stylistically was much different from the literary world I operate in now (back then, I stuck to more of an editorial or journalistic style), it would be hard to consider my overall arc as a writer thus far without considering what I learned in putting out my own publication as a youth. And what I discovered was that I felt a freedom in the written word that I did not feel in face-to-face communication. Whether or not I was imagining it, it seemed that people reacted to my ideas much differently and more openly when I had the time to craft them on a page. Perhaps, this is because of the buffer zone that tends to give the reader more time to consider and the writer a necessary distance to allow for a greater honesty. Whatever it was, I noticed that things friends and family might get mad at me or confused with if said in a conversation, they would praise me for or identify in some way if it were on paper. Additionally, then I wrote about my confusion with my life as a teenager, and my confusion with a world filled with so much hypocrisy, and now I essentially deal with the same thematic elements, except now my confusion is with adulthood, and now I tend to write more in the what’s either properly or improperly dubbed as “creative writing”—you know, poetry, fiction, memoir, and such—even though I would maintain that my rants as a kid were certainly creative.
Also, my zine was birthed out of my love for punk rock and the punk rock lifestyle, and had it not been for a lifestyle associated with looking for alternative talents in music, art, and literature, I may have never discovered Charles Bukowski. Bukowski was the first writer I fell in love with. Sure, there were many writers before Bukowski who I admired, and since I was a kid, I was always an avid reader, but when I found Bukowski, I read nothing else but his work for probably a year straight. And he was also the first writer who I can remember trying to completely dissect. Bukowski did not try to cover up the dirtier aspects of life or the dirtier aspects of himself. Bukowski approached the world of hypocrisy by owning up to the fact that he was a hypocrite. Also, in concordance with the punk rock music I loved so much, Bukowski did not try to flower his language up. He just said things the way they came out.
Funny enough, I found Bukowski at a time in my life when I had mostly stopped writing. About a year after I released the last issue of Crap For Thought. Music was my primary artistic outlet during that period, and drinking and drugs were so ubiquitous during my music career that I was, sad but true, rarely in a sound enough state to want to sit down by myself at a computer and try to create words. It would not be till a few years later that I would crash and burn and decide to go back to school to try to get my life on a better course that I would hearken back to Bukowski to find inspiration.
But before I consider his work as influential to my own craft, it would be important to note that I feel a certain kinship with Bukowski in our early lifestyle choices and the later writing careers that would spawn from them. Bukowski refers to a period of life between twenty-five and thirty-five that he did no writing and went on a “ten-year drunk” that landed him in the hospital and nearly killed him as a highly important time in providing him with the ammunition, so to speak, that he would later use in his stories and poems. While my “drunk” dry period as a writer was only seven years, it was that time period when I screwed so much up, and was in a lot of pain, and was angry all the time that I would later use as inspiration for my own stories and poems.
It was during my second or third semester back at school at age twenty-six that I would take a creative writing class for the first time. Two of my best friends had both recently passed away from drug overdoses only a couple of months apart. Both were writers of poetry and prose, and I remember feeling called to try to craft my own poems and stories. So I took a class, and my professor would later pull me aside to tell me I had a real talent as a writer, and that I should continue to write. When I decided to take her advice, Bukowski became an even more monumental author to me.
Because it was those moments that I sat at the computer trying to decide what I wanted to write, asking myself, where do I start, what is the beginning, that I would remember Bukowski’s work, and how I admired most that he just said what he felt no matter how ugly it might be. Because of this tendency, I feel that Bukowski gets a bad rap in academic circles these days. As Hugh Fox notes:
…300 pound whores (or any variety of whore), rundown bars, rundown apartments, beer, the D.T.’s, jail, slugging it out, screwing…this is the Great American Myth Bukowski…it’s this Bukowski that the young poet studs have hooked onto. The other Bukowski, a little scholarly, a little erudite, very “playful” with reality, has been put in the closet. (57)
Because of his treatment of women and taboo subjects, it seems that many cannot separate that outlandish and brutish Bukowski from the one who’s concerned with the confusion life produces and how we shall go about living that life. And one who is quite eloquent in doing so. Consider his poem, “notes upon reading The Christian Science Monitor.” In it, Bukowski writes:
while Camus died in a carcrash with another person
and he left me all these little red books
about the nobility of the Human Politic
that carcrash was the answer to all his
theories (lns. 12-19)
Bukowski goes on to say, “the command is to love” (ln. 26), but “even our fingers will/ die” (lns. 30-31). While at the core, the message seems nihilistic or cynical, the abrasiveness of the lines are concluded with a sort of lilting end. I feel here that Bukowski seems scared of a world where idealism and love and ultimately the written word fall to the great equalizer of death. And Bukowski does not know how to react to this approaching death in a world that seems more and more devoid of “truth.”
Jeffrey Encke writes:
By “truth,” Bukowski means an historically conditioned discourse, the process of definition that characterizes the use of language and development of culture. Accordingly, transcendental perspectives have no place in his truth, only familiar and fleeting theses and antitheses locked in fruitful opposition, rendering through interpretation more nuanced syntheses, which in turn become new theses against which their opposites are tested, and so on. Bukowski’s ordinary madness operates at the center of this dialectic; his “style” or “method” is to contradict constantly in an effort to generate lyrical insight, swinging back and forth between staged opposites, often contradicting his own likes and dislikes, just to keep you guessing. (55)
And it is in this idea of finding meaning in the contradictions of life that I think is one of Bukowski’s greatest contributions to literary canon, and this duality I feel is also what allowed him to find so much beauty in the ugly parts of life.
This is what I strive to do in my own work, to point out the contradictions between what I feel and the way I behave in my poetry. In my fiction, I try to create characters who struggle to find truth in the conflicting inner and outer messages they receive from themselves and others. I truly feel that we get closer to truth by giving equal time to both our positive and negative traits as humans instead of the normal tendency to hide away the worse parts of ourselves.
Additionally, Bukowski taught me that a writer must have a consummate approach, and I try to remember to always be writing or doing something that could lead to later writing. However, Bukowski’s consummate approach to me now involves too much anger, and while there was a time in my life when I admired Bukowski’s abrasive anger, and while there was a time in my life when that anger existed in my own work, as I grow older, I have found anger to be corrosive, and desire desperately to let go of as much of it as I can. This is why I no longer strive to be a Bukowski imitator. Besides, Creative Writing programs across the country have Bukowski imitators galore.
It is with this idea in mind that I turn my thoughts to another writer whose contributions to my own work are immeasurable in value, David Foster Wallace. I read Infinite Jest at the recommendation of a Creative Writing professor, and hesitantly I might add, six months or so after I actually purchased the book. The novel scared me, and in a way that is best pointed out by Paul Giles when he writes, “The grueling aspects for the reader of Infinite Jest (1,079 pages, including 96 pages of footnotes) consequently mirror the novel’s somber depiction of American culture as a spiral of obsessions and compulsions, a labyrinthine system from which there is no escape.” However, I did spend a month over summer break reading it, and it is probably one of the best decisions I have ever made.
In Infinite Jest, I found a writer who like Bukowski, was deeply concerned with the juxtaposition of truth and hypocrisy, and who also shared an affinity with Bukowski and with myself, for irreverent humor. But Infinite Jest was not the say what you’re going to say boldness of Bukowski, it was the struggle to say what you want to say in a head of whirlwind thoughts influenced by a society. You see, as I began to write more and more, I understood that the what is the beginning question was not so easily answered as Bukowski’s brashness, and David Foster Wallace seemed to communicate that struggle by just including everything into his writing. By being an utter “maximalist.” By writing like the desperate way that American culture causes us to think. But unlike Bukowski, Wallace’s struggle to find truth did not lead towards cynicism but rather, a search for transcendence in the struggle itself, and to illuminate this struggle, Wallace found experimental fiction provided a freedom that the minimalism of writers like Bukowski could not allow to fully show the pure breadth of such a human undertaking. As James Annessely writes, “It is this search for a synthesis between the elaborate codes of literary experiment and a plain and unreﬂexive humanism that informs Wallace’s work, a search that gives shape to Inﬁnite Jest” (131).
I had a visceral reaction to this experimental approach because Wallace’s prose seemed so in line with the way I thought. Still, early on, after reading Wallace, I did not attempt the literary experiment, preferring to stay comfortably in the confines of the minimalism of Bukowski and other writers like Carver, or Brett Easton Ellis, but I soon found, like Wallace, that this style did not suit the playful side of my personality, and limited me in trying to find better ways to answer the question, what is the beginning.
It is only recently in fact that I have begun to experiment with the fictional form, writing a story in the form of a manifesto, using email messages as a platform for a different story, writing a coming-of-age story that is told in the third person, but a third person that is really a first person, and using Facebook messages and song lyrics to imitate the thoughts of a dead person in another narrative, and I have found that these techniques have helped me to write about confusion in a way that doesn’t always lead to cynicism. And to write about confusion in a way that might allow others to embrace the ways in which they are also confused. I have found the fun in writing that was beginning to lack as I sort of continued to pump out good, but fairly generic, impersonations of these minimalists I liked so much.
And more importantly, I feel that I have finally found my authentic voice in using more meta and postmodern techniques but with the transcendent ideas in mind of Wallace and with the abrasiveness I admire in Bukowski. I don’t know where the story will end, but I like this new beginning and I am now realizing that the answer to that all encompassing horrifying blank page question, what is the beginning, is best answered in the willingness to have it be anything like Wallace, provided I say what I mean, and say it with passion, like Bukowski.
Annesley, James. “Review Essay: David Foster Wallace.” Journal of American Studies (2009): 43.1. 131-134. Print.
Bukowski, Charles. “notes on reading The Christian Science Monitor.” Chicago Review (1972): 24.3. 128. Print.
Encke, Jeffrey. “Run-of-the-Mill Lunacy.” Journal of American Studies (2003): 37.1. 47-58. Print.
Fox, Hugh. “The Living Underground: Charles Bukowski.” The North American Review (1969): 254.3. 57-58. Print.
Giles, Paul. “Sentimental Posthumanism: David Foster Wallace.” Twentieth Century Literature (2007): 53.3. 327-334. Print.
Stuff I Like
- A Novel
this is a poem of a novel,
in which everyone is bored,
no one talks,
descriptions bland, grey and trite,
no hollow trees,
the truth is in there
a world of flesh and bone
the hungry gnaw upon
searching for enlightenment
in dark corners, false...
- “When it was announced that the Library contained all books, the first reaction was unbounded joy. All men felt themselves the possessors of an intact...”
- Birth Of The Mermaid
All the sailors
not knowing that
all the women,
Sunday afternoons I still paint in the park
and the amputee still feeds the pigeons
We all know about phantom limbs;
I dreamt of fucking you again last night.
no love no ties no words even;
cries like cresting tides losing voice
before the plunge; in secret,
- romantic skyline
my eyes reach to look
at the picture you took
with nothing alive inside
natural only the black
night sky drop cloth
- The customer is always right.
Do you know the hardest part of a service industry job?
If you’ve ever worked a service industry job, you do. You have...