Valentimes

lovecrystalbridges

*sigh*

Well, here we are again.  February 14th, a date which will live in infamy for most of us lonely hearts.  Valentine’s Day is the one day of the year when those of us who are alone are not allowed to forget that we are utterly alone.  For the last couple of weeks, we singles have been ruthlessly and relentlessly bombarded in person and in the media with constant reminders that we are, in fact, fucking losers.  As if I needed a reminder.  It might as well be cross stitched into a pillow in my living room.

loser pillowSeriously.

I thought I could avoid this “singles shaming” by not leaving the house today, holing up on my couch and binge watching The Walking Dead, but even a show filled with flesh-eating corpses still contains just enough romance to put a damper on the day.  And it really couldn’t have been a more perfect Valentine’s Day.  Cloudy skies and cold rain all day long– not once did the sun come out to shine, not even for a moment.  Ideal weather for suffering the tortures of the memory of a lost love.

Lucy knows what’s up

You’ve gotta give Lucy credit– at least she’s trying, though her pursuit of Schroeder is fruitless and completely misguided.  For god’s sakes, Lucy, leave the man alone– can’t you see he’s immersed in his music, not to mention he’s most likely struggling with his own sexuality?  (Does anyone else think Schroeder is gay?  I’ve always just assumed so.)  But you really do have to give Lucy props for putting her heart out there and taking a chance.  Exactly one year ago on this very blog I wrote a Valentine’s Day post in which I mentioned receiving some sage advice from a pretty girl about the importance of putting oneself out there, but at thirty-six years of age, my options are so severely limited that there’s just no point to any of it anymore.  My best option for meeting people is the bar and club scene, but despite my penchant for drinking, I don’t belong in bars.  These are locales where my misanthropy and agoraphobia can combine to make for an unpleasant cocktail.  I’m far more likely to get into a fist fight with some douchebag in a bar or a dance hall than I am to get a girl’s phone number.

Roxbury douchebagsSaid douchebags: “What is love?  Baby, don’t hurt me…”

[SIDE NOTE:  in high school, my hair and sideburns looked just like Will Ferrell’s in Night at the Roxbury]

What is love, though?  Hell if I know.  There have been a handful of times in my life where I thought I knew– I was certain that I knew– but I was ultimately proven wrong in each instance and left holding my head in my hands wondering what I could have done differently.  But there’s no use in wondering now.  The past is gone, and it’s gone for good– there’s no return to any idyllic garden.  Much like Adam and Eve, I’m no longer in paradise, but at least I’m wiser for it, right?  RIGHT?!?

[crickets chirping]

It’s quite the disturbing thing to be stuck in a perpetual state of despair and apathy.  Both states of mind seem to go hand in hand with one another, and it’s not the good kind of hand holding, either.  There’s no “off to see the Wizard” singing and skipping while holding hands bullshit here– this is the kind of death grip hand holding when someone who can’t swim is drowning, grabbing at anything and anyone they can get their mitts on and pulling them under in sheer panic and desperation.

[cue Debbie Downer music: waaahhhhh waaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh]

I’m not really that bitter about the holiday, though.  I sincerely hope as many people as possible are finding happiness right now in the arms of a loved one.  I really do.  As for me, I’m going to polish off the bottle of whiskey I’ve been nursing all day in the dark with Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown running on a loop until I pass out.

May Thoreau Be With You

forcewalden

I saw the Star Wars memes going around and couldn’t resist doing a shoutout to my homeboy H.D.T.  I deliberately (no pun intended) misspelled “sturdily” because the meme generator wouldn’t accept the correct spelling as the word “turd” was in it.  I mean, really?

The Prairie Troubadour

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My previous post about poet Stevie Smith got me thinking about one of the other prized volumes in my poetry collection:  Vachel Lindsay’s Collected Poems.  Discovered by chance while browsing the poetry section of a used bookstore in Knoxville, Tennessee [note: used bookstores in academic towns are the best places to find fantastic yet forgotten books of poetry], it was the first (and only) time I’d ever encountered the volume, and I bought it immediately.

One of the first things I noticed about the book (other than its wonderful illustrations) was its dedication page:

IMG_1093“this book is dedicated to Sara Teasdale, poet”

For those who don’t know, Sara Teasdale was a poet with whom Vachel was romantically involved and very much in love.  A man whose means were as modest as his self-image, Vachel was far too worried about his ability (or inability, rather) to provide for Sara, and over much hand-wringing managed to convince himself that no matter how much she might also love him, he just wasn’t good enough for her.  So she, of course, ended up marrying a wealthy businessman with whom she was ultimately unhappy.  (Ain’t life grand?)

For lack of a better term, Vachel was an “interesting” dude.  Handsome, brilliant, and too artistic for med school (he dropped out to pursue his calling as an artist/poet), he was a romantic at heart as well as a bit of a politico.  Nicknamed “The Prairie Troubadour” for the impassioned poetry readings he delivered as he travelled the midwest, he was known as a nationalistic progressive, which seems something of an anachronism now (believe it or not, there was a time when patriotic people could both love their country and want to change it without having to be labeled a Communist).  Never to be mistaken for a cynic, Vachel was an extremely sincere man who stood for his convictions and among those convictions was fighting for equality, especially among racial and socio-economic divides, as evidenced in both his writing and his life (he was an early mentor of Langston Hughes).

Vachel also believed strongly in the musical roots of poetry, most of his verse carrying an undeniable musical rhythm within its meter.  I’ve often wondered what he would’ve thought of the last forty years or so of musicians who fancy themselves poets, particularly the more progressive songwriters such as Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, et al.

vachellindsay“my precious,” as Golem would say

Like Stevie Smith, Vachel was also a draftsman (and a talented one, at that), and his art is scattered throughout his Collected Poems.  And like Stevie, he, too, suffered from depression.  But Vachel didn’t handle his depression nearly as well as Stevie did.  On December 5, 1931, he killed himself by drinking a bottle of Lysol.  I can remember reading about Vachel’s suicide when I was a child, and that image haunted me then just as much as it haunts me now– I cannot imagine a more particularly terrible or horrific way to go.  [note:  two years after Vachel’s suicide, Sara Teasdale would kill herself by swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills]

I’ll finish this post with one of Vachel’s poems.  It’s not his best poem, but it’s one I have always enjoyed for shallow and superficial reasons.  Though Vachel was from Springfield, Illinois, the woman he loved was from St. Louis, Missouri, and I’ve always identified with this poem as a writer from Springfield, Missouri.

vachel lindsay springfield

You Know You’ve Made It When…

My brother Cole is in The New Yorker.  The.  New.  Fucking.  Yorker.

Françoise Mouly, the magazine’s art editor (and wife of my hero, art spiegelman), called my brother up to ask permission to run some excerpts from his new book, Black Rat, which is hot off the presses from Koyama Press.  You can see the online feature here:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/cole-clossers-black-rat

I had the privilege of reading the galleys for Black Rat a while back, and I told Cole then that not only did I think it was the best thing he’s ever done– it was arguably the best “graphic novel” (who are we kidding here– it’s “comics”) I’d ever read.  To borrow a line from The New Yorker’s own snobbish television commercial, “it’s the best comic in the world… maybe the best comic that ever was.”  And I meant it, too.  It checks off all the boxes in everything I’m looking for in comics/comix/commix:  it’s beautiful, irreverent, clever, intelligent, avant garde, absurdist, interesting, low-brow, high-brow, existential, heartfelt, human, honest, and just goddamn good.

bowwhiteone of my favorite pages from Black Rat

In a graphic novel market dominated by simple and mediocre middle school narratives or trite and narcissistic autobiographical masturbatory fodder, Black Rat manages to transcend the garbage and detritus that is representative of the current state of comics publishing to bring something unique to the table that is at once both new and old school.  I honestly can’t remember the last time I enjoyed reading a comic so much– it’s been that long.  This is what comics should be.  This is art, goddammit.

I’m real proud of you, bro.  Real proud.

Ol’ Blue

In an earlier post I wrote about “going back to the beginning,” as Inigo Montoya once did, in the hopes of rediscovering who in the hell I am and also figuring out who I’m supposed to be.  Well, I did exactly that this week when I bought myself a late birthday present:  a forty-year-old typewriter.  Not just any typewriter, mind you– one that’s a spitting image of my dad’s old IBM Selectric, the same model I learned to type on as a kid and that my brother and I affectionately referred to as “Ol’ Blue.”  This is some real return to the womb shit right here, folks.

2015/07/img_9907.jpg“You’re my boy, Blue!”

The fucker weighs about forty pounds (it sure as shit ain’t no Macbook Air) but this Marlin Blue beast is a thing of absolute beauty.  Looks aren’t everything, though– it’s what’s on the inside that counts, by gawd, and I will slap my hand on the Bible and testify that this is perhaps the single greatest piece of machinery ever made by man– it’s the very pinnacle of mechanical perfection.  They just don’t make ’em like this anymore, and with good reason:  technology has rendered these dinosaurs beyond obsolete.  I mean, who in their right mind would actually want to use one of these things?  Nobody.  But what about those of us who aren’t in their right minds?  Well, I can only speak for myself, but I can tell you unequivocally that I wanted this big-ass IBM typewriter like a fat kid wants ice cream.

The trend among the hipster literati for the last few years has been the procurement of manual typewriters in the hopes of magically transforming themselves into respectable authors.  The motives behind this practice are mostly bullshit– I’d reckon they’re roughly 20% pragmatism, 30% poseur, and 50% faux-nostalgia.  Some have gone so far as to purchase behemoth typewriters the size of cash registers simply because that’s what their favorite author used a century ago.  It’s so strange to me to think about the lengths that some folks will go to in the hopes of emulating their heroes.   I mean, I like to drink Wild Turkey, but I don’t necessarily drink it because Hunter S. Thompson drank it– I drink it because it tastes good, it’s 101 proof, and it gets me really drunk.

image50% alcohol = 50% closer to my goal of getting lit

Given, many writers used portable typewriters back in the day, but “portable” in 1938 means something a whole helluva lot different than it does in 2015.  You can bet your ass that if Ernest Hemingway had access to even a halfway-decent laptop, he would’ve chucked his Underwood Portable into the garbage.  Freeing up fifteen pounds in his luggage would have meant he could have packed more shotgun shells for wherever the hell he was headed.

hemingwayunderwoodPapa Hemingway and his “portable” Underwood

Seriously, though, the hipsters are indeed on to something with the proliferation of old-school typing devices, as I discovered first hand after the purchase of my typewriter, and that is preaching the gospel of “distraction-free writing.”  When it comes to long-form writing, it pays to be unplugged.  I have the hardest time staying on track when I’m trying to write because I keep dicking around on the internet every five minutes.  I don’t think I have Attention Deficit Disorder, but I do seem to display the symptoms every time I try to write something for an extended period of time.  It’s akin to wearing an uncomfortable shirt–you just find yourself restless far too often, and you can’t get a damn thing done because of it.  Well guess what?  There’s no checking your e-mail or playing Words With Friends on your typewriter–it’s just you and your actual words.

But this isn’t the biggest benefit I have reaped from my “new” typewriter.  When it comes to writing, I am my own worst enemy.  I consider myself a better editor than I am a writer, and if I’m trying to write a long-form piece (especially a narrative) I find myself editing and re-composing the words I’ve just written over and over again to the point where I eventually come to the conclusion that what I’ve written “fucking sucks,” and in a fit of despair I will quit writing altogether.  Well, a typewriter obviously doesn’t afford you the same editorial freedoms found on a computer screen– you’re stuck with whatever words you commit to the sheet of paper sitting in front of you.  And while this might sound like a detriment, in my case it’s been a godsend as it has allowed me to just write.  It’s almost like a weight has been lifted in my writing process– I am suddenly unburdened because I’m unable to re-read or edit until the page is completed.  I’ve written more in the last few days than I have in the last long while, in part because of this improvement in my writing process, but also because I had forgotten what it was like to type on such a machine.  Manual typewriters are an absolute bitch to type on because you have to hammer the damn keys to get them to strike, and the keys can WILL get jammed if you go too fast.  Not so with Ol’ Blue– I type upwards of 120 words-per-minute (wpm), and the IBM Selectric can cover 150 wpm with ease.  I cannot begin to describe the joy I feel when I first fire it up and hear that distinctive electric hum come alive, or the tactile pleasure I get out of typing the living hell out of this old machine and the feedback it delivers as I watch it keep up with me.  It may be mechanical, but it really does feel magical– I reckon those hipsters might be right after all.

Dancing With the Daffodils

daffodils1

daffodils and a dilapidated fire hydrant

Well, as is evidenced from the multitude of daffodils in bloom and the stirring in the loins of the twitterpated birds and squirrels in my back yard, Spring has officially sprung.

We had some vicious thunderstorms roll through the Ozarks tonight replete with lightning, hail, and even tornadoes.  As soon as I knew it was coming, I managed to run outside long enough to cut the freshly bloomed daffodils from my yard before their inevitable destruction at the unmerciful hands of Mother Nature.  My living room now resembles the parlor of a funeral home.

Staring at all of these damned daffodils reminds me of William Wordsworth’s most famous poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (aka “the daffodil poem”), and I now feel obligated to put on my proverbial professor’s cap and give everyone a quick poetry lesson.  Accompanying this post are two photographs I took with a point-and-shoot camera a few years back, so please pardon the image quality.  They’re pictures of the daffodils which were once planted around my library.

[putting on professor’s cap]

Wordsworth believed that poetry should be “recollected in tranquility,” meaning that a poet shouldn’t compose a poem until enough time has passed (ideally several years) for the poet to recall the inspiration for the poem with a clean emotional slate.  Personally, I think this artistic philosophy is absolute bullshit because it runs contrary to what I believe to be the nature of art.  As far as I’m concerned, art is not only at its best when it elicits emotion, but also when it’s created with emotion.  Passion is essential to the creation of art, and passion isn’t something that can be “recollected in tranquility.”  But then again, he was William Wordsworth, and I’m not, so I’m in no position to argue with his creative process.

Below you will find Wordsworth’s poem.  It’s a little old fashioned, but it has one of the greatest last stanzas of all time, so I hope you enjoy it.

daffodils2

**********************************************

          I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

          I wander'd lonely as a cloud
          That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
          When all at once I saw a crowd,
          A host, of golden daffodils;
          Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
          Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

          Continuous as the stars that shine
          And twinkle on the milky way,
          They stretched in never-ending line
          Along the margin of a bay:                                  
          Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
          Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

          The waves beside them danced; but they
          Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
          A poet could not but be gay,
          In such a jocund company:
          I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
          What wealth the show to me had brought:

          For oft, when on my couch I lie
          In vacant or in pensive mood,                               
          They flash upon that inward eye
          Which is the bliss of solitude;
          And then my heart with pleasure fills,
          And dances with the daffodils.

                         -William Wordsworth

Football Season is Over

Ten years ago today, Hunter S. Thompson put one of his many guns into his mouth (in this case a .45 caliber automatic) and blew out the back of his bald head in the confines of his snowy Colorado compound.

His suicide note was surprisingly brief considering the writer’s prolific talent. It read as follows:

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No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun – for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax – This won’t hurt.

He titled the note “Football Season Is Over,” an allusion to the fact that the Super Bowl had concluded two weeks prior (coincidentally the Patriots won that one, too) and his favorite sport would not resume until September. I reckon Thompson was disenchanted with the prospect of facing another seven months without anything to look forward to.

The world lost a lunatic that day, but it also lost a talented writer and a soul courageous enough to stand up for what he believed in.  Thompson was one of the last true patriots and also one of the last true individualists–he was a man who ultimately didn’t give a shit what anyone else thought, and he was entirely true to himself.  Nothing could keep him from speaking his mind, and he never shied away from calling a spade a spade–never hesitated for a moment from telling it like it is, embracing his convictions and calling out the pigs and the fascists for who and what they were.  I shudder to think what kind of a force he could have been in the last decade–what kind of a voice he could have been, especially to the affectless youth yearning for something to rail against.  In our modern age of languid losers, H.S.T. could have been the voice we needed to get the listless to become listful.  There simply can’t be a revolution without voices like Thompson’s, railing against the injustices of the world and calling the fuckers out for their actions.  They just don’t make ’em like that any more, and this country (and this world, for that matter) is worse off for it.

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Maybe there is no Heaven. Or maybe this is all pure gibberish—a product of the demented imagination of a lazy drunken hillbilly with a heart full of hate who has found a way to live out where the real winds blow—to sleep late, have fun, get wild, drink whisky, and drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind except falling in love and not getting arrested . . . Res ipsa loquitur. Let the good times roll.

Six months after his death, a wild party was held in the guise of a funeral for Thompson.  The guest list was a who’s who of friends of Hunter, including old politicos like George McGovern and John Kerry and Hollywood A-listers like Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, and Bill Murray.  The funeral was more or less drawn up according to Thompson’s own specs–he had detailed exactly how he wanted to go out, which is to say his ashes were stuffed into mortar shells and fired out of the top of a giant Gonzo fist monument amongst fireworks and rock and roll.

hst_funeral

H.S.T.’s crazy ass funeral

I do want to make it clear that I am in no way glossing over or glorifying Thompson’s suicide.  While I did describe the man as courageous, I don’t believe his suicide was a courageous action.  Ultimately, one must accept that there’s very little courage in killing oneself, and I’d like to think Thompson understood that much.  But there’s also something to be said for living (or dying) on one’s own terms, and I think Thompson understood that as well.  There’s no denying that he sure as hell did both.

I’ll be enjoying a bottle of Wild Turkey in his honor tonight–I’ve got nowhere to be tomorrow, anyway.  God bless 101 proof whiskey, and God bless the memory of that madman, Hunter S. Thompson.

imageR.I.P., H.S.T.