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  • Wood Life finally came out.
  • Some really dumb shit happened that I will not further comment on, involving some emotionally unstable people.
  • Death in Common became a Belfire Book.
  • Needfire was created over at Belfire.
  • I wrote Four Murders on my lunch breaks at WalMart.
  • Merchant’s Keep published Four Murders.
  • I finally was able to leave WalMart for lucrative self-employment (mostly involving writing about cars).
  • My home loan finally got modified for good (as of last week), after countless foreclosure threats from two separate banks, plus a year of non-stop turmoil and false promises by one of the institutions in question.
  • My mother has survived now close to three years with inoperable cancers (yes, that is plural, not a typo), largely due to experimental treatment at Sloan Kettering. However, that is all I’m going to say about that issue.

All in all, not a bad year. Not great by any stretch, but I have experienced worse.

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As I said elsewhere, I can’t begrudge WalMart for giving me a job when I needed one.  Truth is, however: I have not written a lot in the past two years. And, I can’t say I didn’t try. My new eChapbook, Four Murders, was almost completely written over my lunch breaks, usually at a picnic table outside of the store.  The ebook consists of four long-ish poems that take cues from other poets like Akhmatova, Shiki, Carroll, and Crapsey.  Basically, I took a line from somebody else and tricked it out into being a poem title. Then, I wrote with a sense of radical diversion. The result?   … Four Murders.  Really, and honsetly.  Each of the poems included are about a sense of “Murder.”  The eChap is only available via Merchant’s Keep.

Johnny Cash once remarked that he wasn’t “A Christian Musician” but a “Musician who was Christian.”  That might resemble a circular logical fallacy, but think about that for a second.  It’s actually quite a profound.  As a statement, it plays with the meanings of words, individuality, and role religion plays in one’s life.  “Christian musicians” are quite easy to find — just look at that victim of a tanning bed, Carmen, and the some of the people you might find on the Trinity Broadcasting Network who scream or shout “Christ” like they have a severe onset of Tourette’s Syndrome.   Those are people with religion on their sleeves, and if they had a “Christian” name tag, they would proudly wear it and let that obscure everything else.  Contrast that, for a moment, with an artist like Cash, who was a devout believer.  Yet, the name of Christ wasn’t in the forefront of everything he did.  Yet, one would be a fool to look at his song writing and think that he was not informed by something spiritual.  And so, this brings up an long running aesthetic debate about the value of polemic, sermon, and the place of “art” when it comes to an artist’s message.  Preaching is always the death of art.  This is why “Christian Rock” or “Christian Country” or “Christian What-The-Fuck-Ever (insert trademark or copyright symbols here)” can never compare to something conceived as “art first” and “spiritual second.”   Johnny Cash certainly cared more about writing artistically sound songs first and not foaming at the mouth in the name of Christ.   But, his songs are still informed by his faith.

I thought about this recently, while watching Denzel Washington in the Hughes Brother’s film, “The Book of Eli.”  This is not a “Christian movie,” but it most certainly is a film with Christian values.  And I say that as a devout Secular Agnostic.  Yet, I would suggest the the message the Hughes Brothers are trying to send would not be welcomed by Carmen and the TBN and evangelical set.    Denzel aka Eli walks across the post-apocycalypitic waste land filled with cannibalism and casual inhumanity.  He carries with him a copy of a King James Bible.  It’s the only one left in this world and Denzel aka Eli must defend this last remaining copy at all costs.  Yet, at one point, towards the end of the film, he is forced to let go.  This valuable book is forcibly taken from him, but instead of going back and having an epic shoot out to reclaim it, he continues on his journey.  He comes to a revelation, basically, and it’s hidden from the movie watcher at first.  But still, he comes to a revelation that “The Book” is actually within him.  He’s read it everyday for 30 years.  He can recite chapter and verse on command.  So, preseverving the “artifact” or the “object” of the book itself is not as important as preserving the content of the Bible.

Contrast that with the film’s antagonist, played by Gary Oldman.  He is hellbent on possessing the King James bible as an object, not as an intangible.  Oldman’s character think’s the book is tool for mind control and ultimate power, in a world where life is meaningless and casually dispensed off.  Yet, Oldman’s character obsession ends up costing him, dearly.  He loses a lot of henchmen at the hands of Denzel aka Eli, and the control over the town and society he wishes to build crumbles as a result into anarchy.

The conflict here is obvious, and it is not “good versus evil” but rather “material versus spiritual.”  Possessing a King James Bible as a material object compromises everything.  Gary Oldman’s character doesn’t really “learn” this, but it is what happens to him.  His desire to possess a Bible makes him lose sight of everything else, and as a result his control on things turns to shit.  Eli, on the other hand, dies anyway, but in the end, his quest is fulfilled.  Eli can die happy, and with satisfaction.

So, is “The Book of Eli” the pinnacle of spiritual film?  Of course not.  This movie has its shares of flaws.  But the spiritual topic matter resonated with me.  I have lived in the American South, near bible fanatics and people who thought they could sell just about anything if they stamped “Jesus” on it.  I once saw a Bible packaged and sold as “BibleMan’s Bible” — think of Batman styled super hero marked up with Christian iconography.  The publishers of that particular version of The Bible though putting him on the cover could “move copies.’  Still, I guess “the lesson” of all of this is personal.  I am used to Christians telling me how I should live my life, even though I may not subscribe to their belief system.  However, I have met far more militant Christians who were more concerned with shoving the “object” of their bible at me (while standing in my front door), than were willing to discuss how the carried that bible with them.

My life has been one big lurching from crisis to catastrophe over the past two years.  My mother has inoperable cancer in her lungs and brain, and on her spine.  “Inoperable” doesn’t necessarily mean “Terminal,” but every hospitalization is a cause for alarm.  Every phone call from my father that starts, “Um, your mother…” is a cause for worry; in the past two years, I have had to grieve multiple times, because I thought death had come to claim my mother.  Thankfully, she has pulled through every time, and that’s largely due to the treatment she receives at Sloan Kettering in New York City.  Still, it has been a constant emotional roller coaster.  Her illness will never go into remission, but there are bright spots where she is healthier than in other moments, and that breeds false hope.  And if one thing is certain, false hope is always shattered.

My mother’s health issues haven’t been the only thing distracting me.  The economy went into recession years ago, and because of a host of personal health problems of my own (Undiagnosed Adult ADHD and severe sleep apnea) my professional life suffered greatly.  I went from teaching freshman writing part time at Rutgers and a few community colleges to working at WalMart full time.  I will not begrudge (much!) WalMart.  They were there when I desperately needed a job with stability.  Even during my productive years of adjuncting in college, I always complained about the constant spells of unemployment.  WalMart employed me year round, and the company even taught me some much needed lessons in how to be assertive and organized.

However, Mr. Sam’s Empire was not the panacea I so dearly wanted.  I eventually stopped teaching altogether, but my financial problems countinued to mount.  Over the last year, I have had to fight Chase Home Finance and diferent lender on four separate occasions regarding “intent to foreclose” notices on my home.  Keep in mind that my wife and I, like so many other people in this country, tried to file for a loan modification under President Obama’s “Making Homes Affordable Plan.”  Nearly a year has passed, and I’m still getting threats in the mail, and my mortgage hasn’t been modified.  Hell, I had to pull my father out of retirement, give him a power-of-attorney, and unleash him on the banks.  Shakespeare once said “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”  I agree with that.   However, I must add, “Hell hath no fury like a retired Federal employee who knows bureacracy all too well.”  Jenny and I are lucky I have my father as a reasource.  If he wasn’t there there, and if he didn’t offer his services as a pitbull, I would have lost my home many months ago, like so many other home owner who have been crushed in this recession.

The truth is, I have been barely scraping by the last two years.  It got to the point where, between 9 hours at a WalMart store and marathon days on the phone with my mortgage lender and/or HUD — not to mention constantly grieving over my mother’s illness — that I have largely stopped writing, and my ability to edit has trickled down to “barely.”  I thought I could manage, but you know, if you look at what I have done, the answer to that is a resounding “no.”

Recently, I received a slightly annoyed email from an writer and an editor I greatly admire.  Unfortunately, I do believe that I have a history of annoying the hell out of him.    His causes for concern were completely justified, and I would understand if he did not want to work with me ever again.  Hell, being a “professional” means you can separate the stink of your personal life with how you can interact with other professionals.  Apparently, I have yet to really learn this lesson.  By default, that makes me far less than “Professional.”  That just makes me one guy who feels overwhelmed by nearly everything and hasn’t yet found a proper way to cope.

There is light at the end of this tunnel.  As much as I feel constantly crushed by circumstance, there are new opportunities ahead of me.  I recently asked for a demotion at WalMart.  I am staying there to keep my discount card, and to have an escape route if the prospect of self employment implodes after a few months.  But, basically, I am now a freelance writer, and my chief client is Demand Studios.  Basically, I write “How To” articles for eHow.com.   There are people in freelance writing who will frown upon this, and they will vent spleen all over the place about how providing content to web content mills is not true freelancing.  These people like to use words like, “Word slut” and “prostitute” because it’s Demand Studios, and not thumbing through a Writer’s Market, crafting query letters, and writing for magazines.  To those people, I honestly have to say, “Go fuck yourselves.”  I honestly apologize if my making more than WalMart wages is an affront to your morality.  A man and his wife have to eat and pay their bills.   Also, it helps to pay my mortgage on time — it gives the banks less reason to take my home from me.  This is why I’m more than happy to to write a string of articles about how to change wiper blades on a car.

The other truth is this.  Writing for Demand Studios pays a lot better than anything I ever did from 2000 to 2009.  Yes, that means that eHow articles are far more profitable than trying to scrap together part time college work.  eHow is better than WalMart.  In short, eHow will allow me to stop being miserable about money all the time, and now I can persue, with renewed, stronger vigor, the editing and writing projects I have dreamed of in the last two year.s

 

Right after my wife returned from the public library with a bag full of mystery thrillers (which normally would last her like a week).

And here is my cat with her butt attached to James Tate’s “Distance from Loved Ones.”  If you’ve read Tate, you’d find out rather quickly that this is quite apropos.

As has been noted elsewhere, I’m taking a job at Belfire Press as “Poetry Editor.” The details are still being worked out, but the terms were more than agreeable. So far, it entails heading up a poetry imprint called Needfire, which will publish a fixed amount of titles a year. Death in Common: Poems from Unlikely Victims will follow me to Needfire and will be one of those titles. These Apparitions: Haunted Reflections of Ezra Pound is also following me to Needfire.

At Bandersnatch, the Pound book was planned as a chapbook; however, since every press has different circumstances, the current length of the anthology is too short, and it needs significant expansion. So, I’m going to tweak the guidelines, the contact info, and then repost them.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t thank Jodi Lee and Louise Bohmer not only for the opportunity to work with them on a steady basis, but for believing in my abilities.

EDIT TO ADD:  And I’m a dolt for forgetting Bob Freeman as somebody whom I’m always grateful to work with.

Recently, a copy of Shonen Jump appeared in my Tire Lube Express’s waiting room.  I was kind of relieved, because it was a welcome change of pace from the gun, muscle, and car magazines Wal+Mart customers find available to them, while passing time as their tires get rotated and their oil gets drained and changed.    Not to get too grotesque, but muscle, gun, and car magazines do not make for good poop reading.  Sorry, but that’s just not me or my interests.  And, somebody either stole my recent copy of the American Poetry Review or threw it out — which I had left in the Wal^Mart TLE’s shitter so that I would have decent poop reading.

Enough about me excreting.  On to Shonen Jump.  As the title of this blog entry clearly states, I don’t hate manga.  There’s enough of it that I’ve enjoyed over the years — Ghost in the Shell, Akira, Appleseed, and Ninja Scroll are all good examples.   But, there’s just something about Shonen Jump that I didn’t like from the get go.

  • I feel like an old fogey, but fuck me, I’m not going to read a comic book from right to left.    Maybe it’s because I tried reading it while on shift at Wal*Mart?  I don’t know.
  • Also, some of the stories are just…just… stupid.  There, I said it.  Torriko comes to mind — the adventures of a muscular over-eater who wrestles animals and monsters, so that he can sell their meat to a gourmet market?
  • But then again, Viz Media are the same wonderful people who inflicted Pokemon on all of us, so why should I be surprised by half baked story/concept ideas?
  • I would feel annoyed reading Shonen Jump from left to right, why would I want to be further annoyed by reading it from right to left

To sum up:  reading Shonen Jump made me want to toss it aside in favor of one of the car magazines.  At least, that way, I might actually learn something about the products I’m supposed to sell, anyway.

I just woke up from a dream.  I was an astronaut, and it was the day I was supposed to be shot into space on a Soyuz styled capsule.   Once I arrived at the launch pad, I’m told that my mission has been cancelled, and an alternate astronaut has been sent in my place.  The reason I was pulled?  I had written a lot of nasty things about NASA, to which they found via keyword triggered, automated google alerts.  The kicker?  The person delivering me the news was a retail store assistant manager I very much don’t like, in the waking world.

I have hardly ever written about NASA, but my sleeping paranoid brian is trying to tell me something, here.  And, I do know what it is.

I have been thinking of Dana Gioia, a lot, as of late — but not the formalist poet of Interogations at Noon or the critic responsible for Can Poetry Matter?  I haven’t even thought of his tenure helming the National Endowment for the Humanities.  For me, it’s something a lot more basic and complex at the same time.  Dana Gioia has lived a double life, that as a man wholly absorbed in the arts, and that of a business executive who once had a career in corporate America.  That was something I used to laugh at, quite a bit, thinking the sides were wholly incompatible  Of course, life turns and bites you on the ass.  I laugh at Dana Gioia no longer.

He and I are nothing alike.  He was an exec at General Foods.  I’m a peon hourly manager overwhelmed by a dysfunctional automotive department at a New Jersey Wal*Mart.  Gioia left his corporate life for that of the arts.  I, on the other hand, spent close to a decade trying to get a full time job in academia, only to have some bullshit happen every time I got close — always the adjunct, never the full time instructor.  I left academia because Wal*Mart would provide some much needed stability, and it has.  So much so, I have been actively contemplating trying to climb the management ladder.  Sometimes, I think of trying to go back, just to teach a night class or two, and other times, I just cross my arms and say, “Fuck that noise.”

Despite my everchanging temperament at work, there’s one thing I’ve learned to identify with Dana Gioia, and that’s strange aspect of living and leading a double life.    I am, quite easily, the most educated person in my store.  I don’t say that to be snooty; I say that as a matter of fact.  I have two masters degrees in a place where many people are viaing for an associates in their off time.  Since this is Wal*Mart we’re talking about, the notable exception is the amount of senior citizens and older Americans on their second or third career.    When I was first hired, the Asst. Manager supervising me had an MFA in photography, so she could relate to my situation — although her life was complicated and compounded by Hurricane Katrina and how it had leveled her home in New Orleans. But, there are very few people — and she was one of the exceptions — that I share my background with.  This is practical, because many of the people I work with will not understand my circumstances.   Nor will they care.

I remember, a long time back, learning that I had sold my book length poem “Wood Life” to a publisher (And, trust me, a few glitches, but that sucker’s going to be out soon).  The news came to me via blackberry.  I was giddy, so giddy that I had shed my hard face for a broad smile.  A co-worker asked my why I was so happy, and I tried to explain, and they just shook their head and walked away.  That interaction reminded me of my core principle and retail work ethic: I’m not there to make friends or impress people — I’m there to do my 8-9 hours of wage-labor and then go the fuck home, try to write something, work on publishing somebody else’s books, and kiss my wife as much as she’ll let me.  

But, I cannot change who I am.  And I’m not going to lie about who I am.  So, eventually, the dreaded discussion always comes up.  Usually, the response is: “I never pegged you as that  sort of guy.”  Collegiate types, I’ve been told, are effete types who complain about the brand and variety of soymilk in their lattes and use words like “Antidisestablishmentarianism” while pondering the sexual state of commas in Jane Austen novels.  Apparently, they’re not six foot two men who don’t have problems lifting a lot of boxes.     Mind you, this discussion only concerns educational experience — throw in the word “poetry” and discussion becomes even more tedious for me, in terms of wading people’s misconceptions 

So, yes, it is a double life.  Maybe not to the same specifications as the one Dana Gioia led at General Foods, but in the but it’s one none the less.  The strange thing, however, is that I’ve grown to like it.  Sometimes, I think I’ll never go back to teaching.  The beauty of working at a Wal*Mart is that the bullshit stays in the store.  You don’t take the store home and grade it, and you certainly don’t have to spend your weekend trying to figure what to do in the coming week, and writing lesson plans/lecture notes.  Even better, if you work hard and try not to be an asshole, the management tends to notice, in terms of getting raises.  Whereas, over in academia, department chairs will fall all over themselves to praise you, and give you a feeling of comfort and possibility, but in the end, you’re still and adjunct, in a department crammed full fo them, and the prospect of being anything other than an adjunct are slim with too few opportunities and more than enough qualified people to staff thos opportunites six times over. 

Making a good reuben, I like to assert is a delicate art. First of all, no one ingredient should outshine the other, with one exception. It’s a corned beef sandwhich, so if one is only tasting the Russian dressing or the sauerkraut — you might have problems. So, if the kruat is too boldly sour, or if the Russian dressing (thousand island, heh) is too sweet, then the sandwich classifies itself as a failure. This is why I don’t like the reubens one can easily get at Arby’s. The dressing, on occasion, can be far too sweet.

So, the new reuben at Applebees? My answer: meh. My sandwhich was tamed down, so it wasn’t a case of one ingredient overpowering the other. I thought the actual sandwhich could have used more corned beef, but that’s what you get at a corporate chain. Skimpy portions, and generic cuts. There’s a profound difference, in this regard, between this and Boar’s Head, or, even better, a mom-and-pop deli that cures it’s own meats. At least, however, it’s a couple steps above Arbies. And, of course, with Applebees everywhere, it’s convenient.