Thursday, December 22, 2016

149. “Carolers are singing } underneath the mushroom cloud.”

“Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Christmas At Ground Zero” is penultimate on Dr. Demento Presents the Greatest Novelty Records of All-Time Vol. VI: Christmas (1985) and ultimate on Polka Party (1986), the nadir of Al’s commercial success. I don’t know on which I first heard the song, but my father is certainly responsible, as he bought both LPs. He didn’t like the song. At the time I assumed he found it sacrilegious, but in retrospect I realize what troubled him was the song’s manic despair.

“Everywhere the atom bombs are dropping / it’s the end of all humanity / no more time for last-minute shopping / it’s time to face your final destiny”

I like the song. It’s better than Al’s “The Night Santa Went Crazy” (1996), in which Santa Claus goes postal in the North Pole—this sounds stupid, but among its other weaknesses, “The Night Santa Went Crazy” lacks depth.

“It’s Christmas at ground zero / just seconds left to go / I’ll duck and cover / with my yuletide lover / underneath the mistletoe”

The reference to “duck and cover,” to the emergency broadcast “that let us know / that this is not a test,” the inclusion of a Christmas message from Ronald Reagan (“Well, the big day’s only a few hours away now, I’m sure you’re all looking forward to it as much as we are”), and the air-raid siren that finishes the track grounds the song in political reality. “Christmas At Ground Zero” is punk rock.

As a kid, anxiety about the bomb seemed a concern of the past. Mention of Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative—“Star Wars”—only irksome because it wasn’t about the real Star Wars. A little older, I worried more about the “hole” in the ozone layer. Gradually, I discovered I was anxious about the bomb, but it was a familiar anxiety, low-grade, constant, maintained by news of plutonium 239 smuggled out of a collapsed U.S.S.R., of North Korean missile tests, of Iran’s nuclear program, etc. Now, our commander-in-chief-elect Trump.

My father is not easily shocked. Maybe “Christmas At Ground Zero” was too flip for a man who watched “Duck and Cover” as a school boy, or who followed the news as Kennedy blundered through the Cuban Missile Crisis. Maybe it just troubled him to see me, at 10, blithely bopping my head to a song so utterly nihilistic.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

148. Dumb jokes from } the Upper Cutz.

I don’t like to be the choir, sung to by entertainers. I can’t listen to post-election, political commentary by comics. Trevor Noah, John Oliver, et al—toothless, broadcasting in an echo-chamber.

# # #

Taught “Kin & Kind” by Jonah Lehrer (“self-plagiarizer”); it’s about E. O. Wilson’s recent (2012) reconsideration of “inclusive fitness.” When Wilson declared he was wrong about inclusive fitness—that it was too simple an explanation for altruism, he “set off a scientific furor.” Protest, that is: “denunciations in the press and signed group letters in prestigious journals; some have hinted that Wilson, who is eighty-two, should retire.” When Wilson argued in support of inclusive fitness, in 1975, he “sparked a bitter controversy.” Protest: “Wilson was attacked by eminent scientists…. There was a group letter in The New York Review of Books.”

Lehrer is clearly convinced Wilson is right, which means Lehrer is convinced Wilson was wrong. Don’t be fooled. Wilson is either right, or he’s wrong, or he’s neither.

# # #

A map of protests appeared in The New York Times. “Thousands of people have turned out to protest….” Thousands? The map does not inspire.

I’ve noticed something else in the Times, and maybe it just stands out because it seems so weird: photos of protests show lots of white people; photos of Trump supporters are of black Trump supporters. See the photo essay, “Scenes From Five Days of Anti-Trump Protests Across a Divided Nation”; the last photo shows a young, black, Trump supporter arguing with a young, white, protester. See the photo accompanying the Times article “Many in Milwaukee Neighborhood Didn’t Vote — and Don’t Regret It” (Nov. 20): a barber shop, where “Four barbers and a firefighter were pondering their future under a Trump presidency at the Upper Cutz barbershop last week.” All in the barbershop are African-American. The photo caption reads, “Justin Babar, seated at center, said he voted for Donald J. Trump as a protest against Hillary Clinton.” Are these photos deliberate commentary, meant to complicate the idea that Trump was elected by uneducated whites?

# # #

If half the registered voters in the U.S. didn’t vote, we can stop saying that half the country voted for Trump or Clinton. Half of half the country voted for Trump or Clinton. And, as votes continue to be counted, it appears that more than half of those who voted voted for Clinton.

[ Photos, by me, of a bus shelter in Providence, R. I. That's my bag on the bench. ]

Friday, November 18, 2016

147. “…then we have problems” & } “the night.”

To my students: Music matters. To write matters. Art matters—and not just art that’s overtly political or confrontational: art requires us—artists and audience—to see. To see what actually is. What good practice that is.

Barak Obama in Berlin: “If we are not serious about facts and what’s true and what’s not, and particularly in an age of social media when so many people are getting their information in sound bites and off their phones, if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.”

Jay-Z, from Deconstructed: “The problem isn’t in the rap or the rapper or the culture. The problem is that so many people don’t even know how to listen to the music.” and “…the Fox News dummies. They wouldn’t know art if it fell on them.”

On election day, early in the morning, I read from the new SHARKPACK Annual, “the night.” Editor Joseph Spece writes, “We believe strongly in the duties of high art; the ‘intimate revolt’; the simultaneously inscrutable and substantive spirit of the avant-garde; and the Sublime that exceeds us.”

1 – 6 of my OUTLAND begins the issue (if a digital publication “begins”). [The image above is a working draft of OUTLAND 7.]

Except for OUTLAND 1 – 6, the poems can both be read and listened to; do both. Check out Nels Hanson’s retelling of Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” written in triplets with muted rhymes throughout—the second stanza: “children, said I was a shiftless / simpleton, idiot who couldn’t  / tell sun from rain. She swung”—“children” and “simpleton”—and the alliteration of “shiftless / simpleton idiot… couldn’t.” I was struck by the last couplet of Katie Howes’ “Have you been found?”: “She then climbed to the top / of the yellow shed and waited.” Brought to mind The Epic of Gilgamesh, when Sidhuri escapes to the roof of her tavern as the ragged Gilgamesh breaks down her gate, and saw correspondence with C. D. Wright's “What Do You Think’s In the Shed?” Struck, too, by Peter Longford’s line, “Lullabies, tender. Hoodwinks, loverly.” from “Majuscule.” He reads well, too. By Sue Robert’s “Meat”: “forgive me, I would say to them, / long dead, sourced and distal, even their beautiful long / bones useful.”

“In addition to letters,” editor Spece writes, “this issue features a mixtape of experimental music from Onga and the Italian alt-label Boring Machines”—he suggests we set aside an hour and “a spliff” and listen. I hit exhaustion instead. I like the mix—Everest Magma and, Mai Mai Mai: check out Mai Mai Mai's version of the soundtrack from Fulci's Sette Note In Nero (“The Psychic”)—AWESOME.

Penultimate, a pair of drawings by Colleen Maynard—graphite and charcoal; presumably close-ups, as in her Fossil Collection series. The way getting close can make an object hard to see. No, hard to know. The universe, as seen from Earth.

Friday, November 11, 2016

146. Protest } no. 2.

Police—lights and sirens—raced up College Hill to the corner of Angell and Brown; there they sat, visible through the tall windows of the Granoff, where Steve Stern related his Arkansas days with Caroline (C. D.) Wright, of the poets who gravitated toward C. D., of other friends—Hillary and Bill Clinton, in fact. (A detail from Stern’s account: Hillary’s thick glasses, ever-smudged.) Stern whispered, “Poor Hillary.”

When I left, a little before 10pm, the police were gone to different destinations.

Not gone. Police were visible everywhere I went.

Nov. 10,
4am, as I drove 6 west, past the house with a wooden “Trump Proud” sign nailed to a tree, I saw police all over, anonymous in their S.U.V.s. On those early AM drives, I drive paranoid. Interior lights low as they’ll go, cruise control at the speed limit—I’ve been pulled over too often for no good reason (“Do you know why I pulled you over?” “No.”—that officer practically apologized when he gave me a ticket: “It’s only a hundred bucks,” he said.) My paranoia was heightened. Who, to protect and serve, in the name of “law and order,” voted Trump?

Oct. 18,
sometime after 3pm, John and I walked through Norwich, CT., and spotted a house with a Trump/Pence sign. John, impulsive and theatrical, spat on it—just as I called attention to the police cruiser parked in the driveway.

Nov. 10,
2:18pm, at the Granoff for second tribute to C. D. Wright: I find comfort in the company of poets.

Nov. 9,
1:43pm: txt from my sister: “…it is so horrible. Everyone here is so sad. It is like being at a funeral.” Later, my wife forwarded to me a photo of my sister’s family—my brother-in-law and my niece and nephew in the streets with two signs—“We will fight for what’s right” and “Fuck Trump”—the latter held by my niece, and with the shadow of my sister’s arm and phone an “L” across it. My sister wrote, “The mood was consoling and angry but also sad. Many people saying how they felt better to be together and in the street.”

Nov. 10,
1:43pm, John asked how I answered Zet’s question [re. what to say to the girls about Trump’s election]. My txt: That Obama is still president. That we should learn about local politics and thus affect change. That we can’t panic even if we are upset and don’t see easy solutions. That I love them. ”

4:03pm, txt sent to myself: “Young people kissing, dog leashed at their feet.”

Sometime after 8pm, I watched another drone descend, hover before me, lift away.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

145. Protest } no. 1.

Nov. 9,
5:50am, at the bus stop, txt from Zet: “So I’ve been crying off and on all night. I don’t know how to tell the girls that trump won without scaring them. Because I am scared. I’m sad. What should I say?”
8:30am, to my class: I don’t usually discuss my politics with students, but I am horrified by the result of the election. I assume many of you are exhausted and may be worried, too. We must not succumb to anxiety, but figure out what’s next. I can point to a value we all share: education. We need people to be educated. Not told what is true, but educated so as to be able to read the world. For that, we need context: that’s why we study—not to accept what we’re told without question, but so we can question all with intelligence.
[I then attempted to transition into a discussion about the assigned reading—Hua Hsu’s essay “White Plight?” (published as “Pale Fire”). Assigned in August, but entirely relevant—Hsu writes, “as whiteness becomes a badge of dispossession, earned or not, it’s likely that future elections will only grow more hostile, each one a referendum on our constantly shifting triangulations of identity and power.” The essay is flawed—Hsu makes generalizations, is patronizing—but he identifies ideas he’s come across that I value. For instance, he summarizes a point Carol Anderson makes about “…our tendency to characterize moments of racial crisis as expressions of solely black anger…. The issue… was not just ‘black rage’… [but] the direct consequence of ‘white rage’”—which I usually hear characterized as, simply, anger.]
2:37pm, a txt to my sister: “Doing ok? I found myself weeping in my office & barely got through class—I kept choking up & one of my students burst into tears. I feel better now, but fucked up.”
[I went home early. Spent the afternoon with my family. When my eldest went out with Zet, I made a huge pile of leaves for my youngest to jump into and dealt with her scraped knee and blew bubbles for her to chase. I told my daughters that, whenever I am upset, I remind myself that I get to go home to them, and what a comfort that is.]

7:20pm, at Trump protest. I stood on the steps on the capitol in downtown Providence and listened to a man with a megaphone. Sent txt to myself: Men doing the shouting. A woman speaking is drowned out by the crowd & corrected by male leader. As I walked down the steps a drone buzzed above the crowd. The man with the megaphone shouted that I must reject my whiteness. A white teenager nodded his head enthusiastically. I stood beside a young woman and said I was frustrated that the men's voices drowned out the women's. She said, Thats society. Channel 10 news had a camera just behind me; I wanted to be seen there. I asked the woman if she was a student. She said no, she worked as a corporate adviser. She was an elementary school teacher, but was dismayed by the corruption she saw first hand. She introduced me to a student with a retainer and a Yarmulke. A man to my left introduced himselfanother professor. A professor of music. I was recognized by a woman who taught my daughter art at the RISD Museum. I overheard a woman say she has a pussy with teeth. Another woman explained to a girl that pussy wasn't profanity. Some people came to shout at us, that we knew nothing, but quickly lost interest. A band began a woeful tuneI'm pretty sure the same band that led the Halloween parade through my neighborhood. I turned to the music professor: "Would you call that a dirge?" He laughed, said, "It sounds like the blues to me." And then he caught it"It's 'When the Saints,' but messed up."

8pm, at Granoff Center for “Come Shining: In Tribute to C.D. Wright. Someone—a student, I presume—led me to a chair. The man to my left asked if I was a professor. I confirmed, and then recognized him. “Our paths have crossed before,” I said. Peter Gizzi. “I saw you interview Clark Coolidge at Flying Saucer.” We talked until the tribute began. Forrest Gander, C.D.’s husband, sat a row ahead of me, beside his son. We listened to a recording of C.D. read. To tributes and regrets. I mourned.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

144. A note } on ‘Salem’s Lot.

Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot is about two could’ve-been Stephen Kings—Ben Mears, a modestly successful literary author, and Matthew Burke, a high-school English instructor “two years from mandatory retirement”—who defeat a vampire named Barlow. It’s a dull novel. I wasn’t interested in any of the protagonists (Ben, Ben’s girlfriend, Susan Norton, Matt, Dr. Jimmy Cody, Father Callahan, and mature-for-his age Mark Petrie). The antagonists, Barlow and his familiar, Straker, never quite impress—especially Barlow, who writes notes and shouts IN ALL CAPS. And then there’s the parade of local residents, each introduced in a similar manner: name (first and last), occupation, general skill-set, their role in “the Lot,” how much they do or don’t drink, and if, in general, they are good or bad.

Some of these episodes are diverting. The corrupt selectman-realtor who essentially sells the town to Barlow, the gravedigger who buries and then unburies the vampire-boy Danny Glick, and the hunchbacked, rat-shooting, dump-manager—uh, I don’t remember what happens to him, but he entertained (he’s a proto Trashcan Man [from The Stand]; a King type).

Two ideas in ‘Salem’s Lot interest me, and King deserves credit for… probably not inventing them, but recognizing them (he’s an astute reader of horror) and incorporating them into his vampire tale: 1. vampires are an evil that pre-dates Christianity, and possibly predates the innovations of the Hebrews; therefore, while Christianity—specifically Catholicism—is the modern religion best equipped to destroy vampires, other religions were employed in the past, with success, against vampires—all this is implied during the confrontation between Barlow and Father Callahan; and 2. vampire-killing will invariably involve destroying what’s left of people you knew and maybe even loved, and that’s not going to be easy, and in some cases won’t even be possible.

It’s in service of that idea that King takes the time to introduce us to so many townspeople. He wants his reader on the hook for each vampire-staking. Every vampire has a name. When Jimmy and Mark yank a vampire into the sun where it writhes in agony, Jimmy feels sick, and lets the vampire crawl back into its hole.

Good ideas aren’t enough. King’s writing, fine in places, is too often hackneyed. I cringed at the novel’s lone romantic sex scene: “She was looking up at him, her eyes wide in the dark. She said, ‘Make it be good.’ ‘I’ll try.’ ‘Slow, she said. ‘Slow. Slow. Here…’ They became shadows in the dark. ‘There,’ he said. ‘Oh, Susan.’” And I laughed when Ben discovers all that’s left of Barlow—his teeth—and they snap at him “like tiny white animals.” Ben “whispered,” “Oh, my dear God. Please let that be the end. Let it be the end of him.”

# # #

There was a reason why I borrowed ‘Salem’s Lot from the library—but as soon as I left the library, I couldn’t remember what it was. I read the book to remember the reason—I trusted myself. Yet, I still don’t remember. I know why I also borrowed and read Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (also dull, a short story stretched out to barely novel-length). That was research. And, coincidentally, ‘Salem’s Lot contributed to my research:

on page 67 (of the Signet paperback edition, August 1976), Floyd Tibbits picks up a newspaper and reads the headline: SATAN WORSHIPPERS DESECRATE FLA. CHURCH. He skims the article, “…a bunch of kids had broken into a Catholic Church in Clewiston, Florida, sometime after midnight and had held some kind of unholy rites there.” And, “although some of the blood was animal… most of it was human.” When Floyd discusses this with Dell the bartender, Dell says, “The kids are going crazy.”

The late ‘80s Satanic Panic, which is what I’m researching, may have its roots in the decades preceding—the Manson killings in ’69 (a real tragedy linked to long-haired rock ‘n’ roll weirdoes [The Beatles and The Beach Boys, specifically]), as a possible origin point.

It's possible, though, that I just wasted my time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

143. “Ruby,” } I will see you in time.

Long ago, Danel Olsen used two short stories of mine in his “Horror, Ghost, & Gothic Fiction” course; “Weird Furka” and “A Line Through el Salar d’Uyuni.” I don’t recall the prompt—did one of his students ask me about “Weird Furka”?—but I sent a letter addressed to his students that revealed the true story behind “Weird Furka” and then, for years, struggled to make that letter a proper tale. And when Brian Showers asked for a story for his anthology Uncertaintiesananthology originally meant to skirt the edge of genre—I finally did.

Uncertainties was a fraught project. The deal, like Calrissian’s with Vader, was altered and altered again, until Brian decided he’d claim the book for his own Swan River Press. Lucky for me, because all Swan River Press books are beautiful.

Gary Fry reviewed Uncertainties volume II and, of “Ruby,” wrote, “I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Adam Golaski’s ‘Ruby.’ Its descriptions of drugs and music and the states they can invoke were slightly lost on me, but that is probably an issue that I should address rather than the author. Sorry!” Never apologize, Mr. Fry.

D. F. Lewis, of the “real-time review,” very nearly agrees with Mr. Fry, except—“I really like how Uncertainties volumes 1 and 2 are presenting all the various distinct varieties of weird fiction that I love… with some future classics of this distinctly constituted as well as multi-palimpsest genre. “Golaski is a case in point…”Ruby” is a fine example of his work, as I follow this man in blurred interface between distinct places and people of his life… but there is no way of describing this story’s ruby other than by reading about it in it. Believe me, this is class.”

[Oh and yes, D. F. Lewis wrote about every plate in the Color Plates—a review tour de force. He picked the cleft tail of Cassatt’s black ribbon and un-throated it ‘till the head’v’it tumbled free.]

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

142. Pastoral drafts } from the median.

Draft of [ Pastoral med – ian ], magenta Sharpie + type on W magazine fashion spread (a).

Draft of [ Pastoral med – ian ], magenta Sharpie + type on W magazine fashion spread (b).

Draft of [ Pastoral med – ian ], magenta Sharpie + type on W magazine fashion spread (c).

Draft of [ Pastoral med – ian ], magenta Sharpie + type on W magazine fashion spread (d).

# # #

Two poems, “[ Pastoral med – ian ]” and “Franc – / {AND} {is} / es.” appear in Vestiges _02: Ennui, published by Black Sun Lit; the launch was August 11 at Unnameable Books in Brooklyn. In keeping with the theme of the issue, it is wholly appropriate that I neither attended nor was invited. Several did attend, brought together by anti-ennui violence, including Haley Hemenway Sledge. Her short story, “Two Girls,” is my favorite work in the issue. Her middle name, Hemenway, is also the name of a street in Boston, where the mysterious [ M ] once lived on bagels and acid.