Thursday, March 15, 2018

Old School, Or, It's All Meta Now

At this late stage in life, you do what you can. And what you can do is what you know, or believe, works. You do, which in this case, is write. That's not what you are supposed to do, though. Now it's about "outcomes," and those outcomes are the abstractions of doing. Students are supposed to learn to read and write "rhetorically," or to focus on audience, purpose, genre, and the big "situation." All that is fine, but how do they learn genres or how to reach an audience if they don't practice writing something, the "doing?" You are supposed to emphasize the "about" rather than the "do." You don't even really know what that means. No inspiration, no enthusiasm, no engagement, no reason, just "about." Teaching writing in the abstract is like trying to live on air for food. You want a bit more grounding, "doing" something. Are you supposed to spend your class time ruminating on the "about," the "idea" of writing? You guess so. That's the way now. All the awards, committees, and bosses say so. So what do you do? Where do you go? The door, my friend, the door. That and the world waiting outside, beyond. You leave knowing only that you know you don't know.

Things That Go Crunch In the Night

There he was, drifting in and out of old girlfriends, running waters, and other machinations of the dreaming psyche when he heard the cat door clomp. She triggered the motion-sensing night light as she padded toward the bed. A muffled mmmrrroooww told him that he was in for another treat. The muffled part of her announcement was a pack rat, the poor thing drooping helplessly in her jaws. Lights on. Get off the bed. But I don't want to. I brought it for you (for me really, but I wanted you to see it) her eyes said. Off! Okaaaay... sheesh. What a grouchy ingrate biped.... Lights back out. He tries to sleep. He hears scurrying, starts and stops, squeaks, then quiet. The first crunch rattles off the walls, echoes down the hallways. Then bones, tendons, and viscera send out their signature pop and crackle as they are torn into bite sized morsels. The symphony goes on for minutes, hours, days, years. Then she is on the bed, happy, purring, out cold. As she snores, he decides not to fill her food bowl when the sky lights the day waiting for him, the place he will mop up now that it his turn to find food, do the dirty work.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


The brain seized up again. Morning dropped me into a big, fat blank. I did not know where I was, what I had to do, what this body was about. I had to jump start the thing, do brain CPR, rub the extremities, massage, pull, and stretch it to get some blood flow. Still it stayed there on the other side of consciousness, dreaming away about some distant, sun-drenched river. The water was warm, clear, and I was about to strip down and go upstream in my brightly colored boat, naked, to a green pool, where I might find what I have been waiting for this long life. That state of mind was not going to get me through this day, though. Today I have papers to grade, classes to teach, meetings to attend. I have to throw the switch, shock the system, and get moving. Dreams of running water and tangerine colored boats will have to wait for the end of day, the darkness that hides what my heart knows it might never attain.

Monday, March 12, 2018

If Anybody Asks

Tell them I took a walk into the dangerous land of ideas. I did not mean to get lost, to never return, but that is the way it goes sometimes. I tried to send messages back, but the pigeons got mauled by hawks and the dolphins were caught in illegal drift nets. At night, I concentrated and tried to send word telepathically, thinking that love would somehow cut the distance between us. The ideas, though, they shimmered and danced. While not flesh and blood, we did love each other. They tried to feed me what I needed, and that worked, in part. My body gradually atrophied and dried up, leaving my little brain a glowing orb. My heart still beat for you, and I kept a direct line between it and all those thoughts. I tried to fuse them together, the ideas and love, but the connections kept snapping. I was left with a pile of rough drafts. They are worthless to others, of course. But, now, at this point of departure, they are all I have to leave you, paltry legacy that they are.

How He Became a Man

He is at home with himself, having done twenty years already, with only months to go. He refuses a folder to carry his work in -- precious contraband -- when I offer. "Give it to one of the younger guys," he says. He is calm, lean, clear, a regular in the prison workshop, and he writes with authority. Today he reads a long piece about being raped by an older woman, his first sexual experience. The woman taunted him with "Only fags don't have sex with women. Are you a fag?" She shamed him, pulled him into a closet while the other kids were playing hide and seek. He has since been seeking answers to how to be a man in the world of love. Some of his characters in his story advise "Don't give away too much," while others recommend "You can't give enough; the giving is the point." An undercurrent of taking what you want, even when the answer is no, haunts the telling. A woman he loves tells him the nice men are not the ones she wants. While he reads, the men in the circle are silent, spell-bound, transported; or at least I am transported. His account of moving through the mine field of Eros is told through the words of women he loves but can't have, women he can have but doesn't love, and the pitfalls of giving one's self away to another who will take it all and give nothing back. He listens to the wisdom of a man lost in love. They sit together at the beach. "There is nothing wrong with giving," the man says, "even if you lose it all." The waves crash and then he is done reading. The work offers no clear path, no easy answers. The characters have spoken, and the master drops the strings that animate his drama. It is the first serious piece he has written. "What do you think?" he asks.

Sand and Salt Spray

Is it a waste of time, all this tinkering, arranging, and hopeful word wrangling? Some say redemption from it is possible. Others say the way is wordless, beyond these tiny, self-generating miracles of thought and sound. Others say they are more reality than reality, whatever that is. You can't know a thing without them they say. Power they say. The raw material of self they say. We are made of water and words and sand and wind-borne salt spray. They are a bridge across the roiling seas of chaos they say, the story that takes you to the other side. I say they are both particle and wave, ephemeral, all that remains when the body is long gone. They are what we leave for those who follow, folly though they might be.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Once a Week

You put life on hold, in a box, up in storage on a shelf. You label it so you remember where you might pick up where you left off before you stepped out and through the perimeter marked by spools or razor wire. You have to travel there with only your wits and words. Everything else gets left at the gate. You are just a visitor, but even visitors feel stripped for a time. The place puts you inside yourself, makes you ask what you are doing, why you do it, and teases you with what you might do when you get out. That's the big question, one that makes survival possible. A human might starve here, slowly. The death comes on like concrete curing. You might turn to stone if you don't force blood into the extremities, the ones capable of remembering life outside the wire, what it might be if only you were there.