Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Other than Dayquil and chamomile, of course. I have quite the sore throat, unfortunately, so I won't be reading any of it out loud. Did you know I usually read them out loud? Of course you didn't.
You might do the honors instead, if you're interested. Poetry is for the ears as much as for the eyes, if not more. These poems date from February to July of 2013, so keep that in mind for your pronunciation.
Have a happy, multi-sensory new year.
Real Strange Genes
There ought to be a song about
the way your fingers do that thing
they do sometimes, when you are trying
to impress a crowd of girls.
That thing they do is brave,
bizarre, and just a bit offensive;
"got himself some real strange genes"
they'll sing around a minor chord.
But no one ought to sing this song
in public, if they have good taste.
That thing your fingers do will get
us all arrested soon enough.
You will know me by the time I'm gone
You will know me by the time I'm gone
and you won't miss me.
You may wonder where I've gone today
but you won't wish that
you were with me:
it will already be so.
Sometimes I don't get sudoku.
Sometimes it seems arbitrary,
like there's no solution,
almost like the rules are changing
while I scribble in the boxes;
sometimes, it's a bother.
Other times I want to break them,
force the numbers into order;
sometimes I can do it.
Sometimes I take weeks to solve it,
then the obvious solution
kicks me in the stomach.
Sometimes I dislike my puzzles.
Law and Order
Anyone like me can see you're happy
in your little house, where
anyone who'd like to hurt you only
has to force the locks;
that's just life in human cities on the
walls of planet Earth, where
freedom and security are promises
of little talks.
Silhouettes can vanish from the window
of a little house, where
law and order keeps us happy, sleeping
in our little box.
That's just life in human houses under
stars and moonlit nights, when
anyone can soundly fall asleep in
little city blocks.
Nothing's red about red
and none of you can prove it;
keep your reds and I
will do with mine as I
If I see fit to deny it,
I will deny,
and if I see fit to claim it
then all the rest
will have to make do with other
hiding under every bed,
with what is right
and what is red
Hold your own and shake your head,
before you're beaten
on the field of crimson flowers
bloomed in triumph,
blooming in the sunset,
stained with crimson
Don't allow your fate to flower
in these fields;
hold your own and shake your head!
That's what father
in his wisdom
That is what I overheard while
listening that night
before the field was stained with red.
Glory is a Lie
Glory is a lie,
is a fiction that we tell ourselves
when other lies are stretched
beyond the breaking,
is the last resort of human minds
that must acknowledge truth
when they are murdered
by ideas - killed by politics,
bleeding out because of economics.
Glory is a lie,
a comfort to the ones
who face the Terror,
for the living and the dying, but
no comfort to the dead
or those who miss them,
or the ones whom Terror takes
without remorse. The violence
is not redemption,
nor a path to everlasting lives
with noble, selfless friends
who've lost their heads and
hands and heartbeats, but retain their smiles
at their duties done.
Their death is death
and glory is a lie.
How to Talk about Scallions
How to talk about scallions
in a format that is not a cookbook,
or esoteric journal?
The work of some alchemist
who wouldn't settle for less.
How to talk about scallions
in a way that
everyone would accept was worth the talking,
not a waste of alchemist's breath
or ink from inviscid pens?
How to talk about scallions
like a professional,
when what you really want to talk about is
and its flavors and its uses
and the peculiar facts of its
How to talk about scallions
without pausing to mention
without pondering the steps
by which an "a"
becomes an /i/
without anybody noticing?
Keep it focused, keep it flavored,
keep it peppered with the love
that is its due.
How to talk about scallions
in a poem about onions
that smells like a kitchen
preparing the most incredible soup
the chef has ever boiled?
How to say enough about
Memory is chemicals
and everything is chemicals
and everything we know and love's
a chemical illusion,
but we love it and
we wouldn't have it any other way.
Understand the chemistry
and everything's a mystery
in spite of everything you know:
the beauty of our love is
that the mystery
persists in spite of everything we say.
Memory is wonderful
for making love, and chemicals
can turn you on, and turn you off,
before you can remember
that you love it and
you've waited for those chemicals all day.
When I was young I learned from baseball
all I ever had to know,
that there was no sense in living fast, except
when chasing first or passing second,
rounding third or running home;
as long as there are sunny days
and summer afternoons for baseball,
standing still between the blades of grass
and hearing passing cars,
there is no sense in living faster
than the crack of bats,
no sense in speeding up.
Backyard Nature Reserve
The long grass rippling in the wind -
I will not mow the lawn.
This is where the deer have played,
and this is not my lawn,
this is no concern of mine.
Sun shines on the waving grass,
I will not cut it down
because I like to see it waving
on a blustery day;
it's no concern of mine, except
I hope the deer come back to play.
After careful thought,
consideration, and deliberation,
I've concluded that you're real;
on a leap of faith, I'd say the same
of planets, purple flowers,
Their reality I cannot prove,
but yours is indisputable,
beyond a reasonable doubt:
for all my powers of imagination
and my skills of self-deception,
I could never hope to dream you
up from scratch.
You must be real,
or I must be perfect,
and, my love, we know
the latter simply isn't so.
In this old house of mine, where I was happy,
I was angry, I was sometimes just
depressed, I am spending one more night,
and I am likely never coming back.
My memories cannot do justice to
a home where I knew shame and found release,
through triumph, and through quiet maturation:
where I screamed 'til I was hoarse and learned
that screaming was against my nature, and
I lacked the time to practice. Here I dreamed
about amazing futures in the stars
I fixed across my ceiling, and I held
her naked breasts behind closed doors, and made
ridiculous mistakes that will be haunting
me for years. My poetry cannot
reveal the pain and comfort, or the loss
and joy of living here, of leaving in
a broken state and coming home to be
renewed. I lack the words to say it right,
and all that I'm prepared to say before
I go is thank you, sorry, and goodbye.
The truth is the way
things have been since the day
she was born, and the best
of the truth makes her ache
in her conscience and tremble
with rage in her chest.
So she prefers fiction
and speaks "revolution"
and makes life a chore
for the comfortable people
who settle for facts
that they ought to ignore.
The Last Song on the Album
With a few hours left
before I fall asleep again,
I wrote that song, you know the one.
It ends the album on a quiet note,
but gets louder in the middle
like it still remembers glories past
and doesn't want to fade away
like so much noise from little speakers
in my head.
It gets the usual chords and then,
gets its melancholy lyrics,
then it fades against its will
before I fall asleep again.
Commentary is brief because I'm sleepy.
The title of Real Strange Genes comes from the lyrics of a Who song, and this is not the first time that has happened to me. The Who are just really good, ok? As for what the fingers in this poem are doing, I'll never tell.
Law and Order is my deep and meaningful commentary on our persistent vulnerability to improbable and unpredictable violent rampages. It is very deep and meaningful. Honest.
Cognitive Red, Keyhole Wisdom, and Glory is a Lie all go together like a triad. A triptych, if you will. Or maybe just a trilogy. A very bloody trilogy about strife and fighting and dying and all that good stuff. Like most sets of three, the middle installment is the weakest. I do like the metrical work on the others, though.
How to Talk about Scallions is a poem about poetry and trying to write it when you have no idea what you're doing. I never really know what I'm doing. But also it's about scallions.
Chemicals and Against Solipsism are both love poems for Tara, of course. I love her so much, I just keep writing her poetry! Here I express that love in more philosophical and scientifical (?) terms than before.
My landlords went on a long vacation last spring and neglected to arrange for the lawn to be mowed in their absence. Hence, Backyard Nature Preserve. I honestly liked it better that way.
I wrote Rockwell Court fully believing that I would never again set foot in the house where I spent my teenage years, as my mom was moving out soon and I was on my way back to Oregon. It turned out that, when I returned a few months later, I had to go back two or three times to help fix something before the new owners moved in. Life is never as clean as poetry. Anyway, it's a poem about being a sad, weird teenager in a setting that's doomed to disappear from one's life. Or rather, being a grown-up (?) with all kinds of feelings about being that sad, weird teenager. It's complicated and weird.
The Tragedies is sort of my tribute to girls (and other humans) who don't take shit from the crowd that says "that's just how it is." Rock on.
You know the songs The Last Song on the Album is about. If you listen to albums, anyway. Does anyone listen to albums anymore?
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Origins of Addiction
Addiction is defined as a great interest in something or a need to do or have something, and the dictionary suggests that the word originated at the end of the sixteenth century. However, artists and writers for many years had been concerned with man’s addiction to certain personality traits. As such a relatable and sympathetic trait, it can be used as a fantastic tool when creating works of fiction. One of the primary traits of many classicist texts is hubris, a key example being Icarus, who flew too close to the sun: while considering his flaws, the addictive qualities of flight and adventure, coupled with the tremendous feeling of freedom must surely be considered addictive. Many such human flaws are defined by the addictive qualities of emotions, and those characters which have remained timeless are those which drive relentlessly towards fulfilling these emotions. Even as the idea of addiction seeped into the language of everyday life during the sixteenth century, the chief writers of the day could be said to have evolved the concept. Is Marlowe’s Faustus not addicted to power, redefined as a thirst for learning? Is Othello not addicted to the love of Desdemona, jealous that it might be enjoyed by another? Shakespeare’s own sonnets demonstrate a craving and a lust beyond the simple yearning of a lover. These emotions, when viewed through the prism of addiction, demonstrate how truly great characters can be utterly addicted to emotion.
As addiction became more quantified and understood, and especially as addictive substances entered the mainstream, humanity’s ability to cope with addictive substances is doubted. Hogarth’s 1751 painting Gin Lane depicts the evils of drink in England, enough to form part of the argument for the creation of the Gin Act, a political policy which worried about the addict qualities of alcohol and the effect this might have on an impressionable public. The characters within the painting as depicted as debauched and criminal; Hogarth’s work is a throwback to the portraits of hell painted inside medieval churches, where addiction has become the new and fashionable sin. Although only officially repealed in the Sixties, a nineteenth century amendment reduced the power of these licensing laws. By then, not only had Britain become addicted instead to newly-imported, non-alcoholic tea, but the effect of alcohol was far less threatening. In its place, authors had found new addictions. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was a character essentially defined by his addictive personality. We are offered two key examples: Holmes, when bored, relies and feeds upon his cocaine addiction; however, when a suitably challenging case is laid before him, this is instantly replaced with an addiction to mental vigor. This is one of the first characters demonstrating a literal chemical addiction, and it seems fitting that it should be placed alongside a character renowned for their own hubristic narcissism. Holmes is the paradigm of addiction in fiction; he feeds relentlessly and tirelessly in a manner which is utterly engaging.
Throughout the Twentieth century and beyond, art and its approach to character has become a great deal more abstract. Now, thanks to post modernism, work is not only informed by the literal contents, but by the context, the creator and the consumer. Many works now concern themselves with humanity’s growth into a society of addicts. A notable depiction would be Huxley’s A Brave New World, wherein the people are in thrall to a drug called soma, unable to imagine life without the miracle medicine. But what about addiction holds such a sway for authors? What about the flaw makes us, as an audience, so fascinated, and how can this be turned towards the advantage of those hoping to write?
Addiction is an exercise in wish fulfillment. Feeding into so many character traits, addiction represents a maximized desperation for a familiar emotion. However a character might need to fulfill that craving, whether it be for love or money, lust or power, their journey becomes relatable to an audience. Like so many emotions in fiction, addiction is useful to the writer not because it is necessarily a realistic depiction of human emotion, but rather because it is human emotion on full volume. The character has a need, a desire and is now filled with an utter compunction to achieve their goal. When creating the arc of a character, making them desire something is simple. Give them a small taste of what they could have, and then take it away. The withdrawal and the chase then become the main concern of the text. Heavily reductionist though it might be, addiction is the perfect means by which an author can demonstrate a character’s desire for an item or an emotion. While it may not be a textbook case of addiction, characters in fiction are typically written as fiends, driving relentlessly towards their goal; Ahab is addicted to his white whale, addicted to the chase and the glory. We are not necessarily fascinated by the goal (a whale) but by the addiction itself (Ahab’s desperate pursuit).
An Additive Plot
Addiction is also incredibly useful as a plot device. As mentioned above, as society has grown to understand addiction, the properties of addiction can be used by an author as a way of structuring a plot. Consider the book and film Trainspotting. All of the characters contained within are addicts, chiefly dependent on heroin. Their journeys are defined by their successes and failures in relation to battling this addiction. We as an audience understand addiction; we know the dangers of sharing needles and the other inherent risks of drug dependence. As a plot device, the character’s relationship with addiction plays a huge part. We see them battle with, beat and lose to heroin, and many of the characters are defined in relationship to their addiction. Tommy is corrupted, Renton is the corrupter. Addiction itself is the looming overlord, dictating the paths of these characters. There individual traits are exacerbated by the properties of addiction and we view their actions through the lens of their dependence on heroin. As part of a society fascinated by addiction – drugs, drink, tobacco and consumerism – we can relate to the concept of addictive personalities. Even though we may have never tried heroin, it becomes a heightened facet of humanity; the audience’s sympathy created and embellished by their understanding of human nature.
The Chief Concern of Character
Addiction is a traditionally fertile ground for fiction. Humans are essentially built as addiction machines; instincts and chemical conditioning program us to pursue pleasures and desires often to our own detriment. With so many artists themselves victims of addiction, it should be no surprise to see properties of addiction seeping into so many works of fiction. Indeed, art not only exaggerates addiction, but exemplifies it, redefining it as compulsion and obsession. When so many people are addicted to so many little things, when culture is so intoxicated with the fascination and fixation, it should be no surprise that addiction is a core tenet of the creative process. Either as a motivation device for characters, or as a pillar around which to build a plot, the properties and nature of the addict can be the key to creating wonderfully engaging works.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
I may be half a world away, but no matter where a person may find themselves on this planet, certain things remain constant. In my case, that's Tolkien fandom. So for our first full weekend in Korea, Tara and I made sure to ride into the city to watch the latest installment of the Hobbit, known around these parts as 호빗:스마우그의 폐허. And I'll say this for the film; you have not truly experienced The Desolation of Smaug unless you've seen it as it was intended: on the big screen, in a packed theater, with Korean subtitles.
Joking and gratuitous Hangul aside, this was more or less the film I've been expecting since last year's Hobbit spectacle, truly spectacular in the most cinematic sense. Some things left me disappointed, while others worked better than I had hoped they might. It was often funny and never boring, which I suppose was the main objective all along. It's still not quite a right adaptation of the book, but perhaps it's taking shape as something truly worthwhile in its own right.
So once again, the name of the game is running across the natural majesty of New Zealand and the artificial majesty of New Zealand's finest computer software. Gravitas and fun mix in just the right proportions, keeping the setting both credible and bearable. We get a few more battles than the book might have lead us to expect, including some epic wizardry from Gandalf and some bucklin' swash from Legolas and Tauriel, a new character who truly enriches Peter Jackson's Middle Earth. Indeed, this movie makes even clearer the message that the Middle Earth of the movies has grown quite distinct from that of Professor Tolkien's own labor of love. Existing somewhere betwixt the realms of faithful adaptation and ecstatic fan fiction, it can only be fairly judged on its own terms.
There are a lot of little ironies in Peter Jackson's approach to the Hobbit series. The man who decided that Tom Bombadil was inessential and could be left out of the script, gives us a heaping helping of Beorn the skin-changer, whose presence in the book is not exactly critical. Maybe if Tom Bombadil could become an enormous CGI bear, he might have warranted a cameo in The Fellowship of the Ring. Legolas was one of the most fun characters to watch in the first trilogy, but while his insertion into The Hobbit does make a certain amount of canonical sense, the role of Tauriel in the story almost renders him unnecessary. In fact, Jackson invents an entirely new orc fight sequence (in the streets of Lake Town, though most of its inhabitants seem to have slept through it) more or less to give Legolas something to do, while Tauriel contributes much more meaningfully to the plot.
Speaking of Tauriel, there's a lot I'd like to say about her! Much as I admire the vision of J.R.R. Tolkien, there is no denying that women are hard to find in his works. In fact, if memory serves then the only named female characters in the original text of The Hobbit are Bilbo's dead mother and greedy cousin. Insofar as adaptation is about addition as well as subtraction, then the addition of more female characters is a perfectly valid choice for a more socially conscious age. Tauriel is a good example of such a character done right: she fits credibly into the world of the male characters without seeming like an exception, as though it were perfectly natural that the captain of the Elven-King's guard might be a woman. Legolas gets all the attention, but this movie could easily have been made with Tauriel as the central elf.
Now, amidst all the additions and other goodies, it can be easy to forget about poor Bilbo and the dwarves. That's a crime, because once again Martin Freeman's one-on-one with a CGI character is the highlight of the movie: the mighty Smaug is not to be denied the limelight. As glorious a computer graphic as was ever put to screen, Benedict Cumberbatch's voice work gives the dragon the simple fairy tale arrogance that defined him so well on the page. Smaug is Gollum writ large, less complicated and more bombastic, yet alike in their fierce intelligence and sinister playfulness. Compared to these, the Necromancer seems almost like a distraction.
I could go on and on about this and that, because The Desolation of Smaug is bursting with characters worth talking about. I'd like to write about how Thorin's evolution into a tragic hero is handled so sympathetically, or what the social and political conditions of Lake Town imply for fantasy fiction into the future. I'd really like to, but we could be here for days. There is an awful lot to take in, and multiple viewings may be in order.
I re-watched An Unexpected Journey recently, and while it holds up a year later, there is little question that The Desolation of Smaug is the superior movie. It still remains to be seen whether the third installment will tame Jackson's madder impulses and bring us a truly satisfying conclusion. When all is said and done, will the whole work be worthwhile? I sure hope so. But even if it ultimately fails in its artistic goals, at least The Hobbit will have given us plenty to talk about.
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Of course, as I mentioned, we have a blog for talking about Korea. I imagine more people are actually reading that one than this one at this point, but that's all fine with me! That's the exciting stuff, after all. This blog has always been more about illustrating my occasional fits of creativity or exploring my myriad obsessions. It will still be about that. It's just that, now I'll be illustrating and exploring from our little apartment in South Korea. You probably won't notice much of a difference.
Speaking of things like that, I saw The Desolation of Smaug yesterday, and you can be darn sure I'll write a review of it tomorrow. In America or in Korea, Tolkien remains a priority.
Other updates... since coming here, I'm poor as hell for the time being (I don't get paid until January Tenth) and I don't have wifi, which is kind of like being back in the 90s. All we have going for us internet-wise is an ethernet cable, which is actually pretty great! It means only one of us can use the internet at the time, but at least it's fast internet. So it's not quite like the 90s after all. We're working on getting wifi, but we need money and our Alien Registration Cards before we can make it happen. I miss using my tablet, but all things in their due course as they say.
Anyway, I'll be here doing my thing like I do, eating Korean food and doing my job (read about it on my other blog), and sharing my occasional brain stews with you. I hope they're delicious.
Saturday, November 30, 2013
As it happens, December is about to dawn and Tara and I, at long last, are within a week of finally seeing our work visas. I just got back from Seattle, where I turned in the final application at the South Korean General Consulate yesterday. Our visa issuance numbers were a long time coming (pending a much-delayed inspection of our work site), but they finally came through last Wednesday. Assuming no further delays, we could have permission to work in Korea by Thursday.
Sunday, November 3, 2013
You can sing me songs about pearls and rings,
But sooner or later, you know I'm a-get smart,
And you'll have to buy yourself a new set of strings."
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Indulge me once again, unlucky readers, for my thirteenth batch of fancy poetry. These poems were not meant for such an unfortunate designation; they just happened to have been written between December 2012 (you know, when the world ended) and February of this year. By this ill chance they were cursed to be a part of Poetry Jam #13. Apologies all around.
Usual commentary and nonsense, post script:
If America invaded Florida to
rebase the moon,
repair the seniors' homes
and hospital gates,
and save the alligators,
the world would be happy for us,
history would be kind.
That satisfying plug of entry;
now I know we're cooking with fire!
Put it in, plug it in, blue
and silently, before the hum
of industry, cool electricity
coursing through our wires
like the dawn of time and after.
When winds and waters sharply thunder "stop,"
reveal a polished path of ancient rock
and stand completely still, then
who will be so bold
to take the walk?
Not I, say I,
I don't intend to live so long that all
Those secrets shall be willingly unlocked.
My Lover's Favorite Song
My lover's favorite song is done
and I've forgot the melody;
I wrote it in the margins but
I can't remember how I did,
and anyway the paper's gone.
If she will keep the memory,
perhaps not all is lost, perhaps
the song will still play on for her
without my voice to hold it up.
Perhaps the echoes of my love
will keep the music in her heart.
No More Secrets
Relax my love, don't stop, hold still,
we have nothing to be scared of
from the open door beyond;
let the beams of sunlight bare
our secrets to the world, darling,
let our freedom burn the air
Night to morning break
and dawn to dusk I'll hold you near,
so don't you mind if someone sees;
we have no need of shame or fear,
and neither will we bother with
as long as they can see us clearly
through the open door.
The Song Incomplete
The music fades at the bridge,
and where am I left?
Among stars and vapors,
alone again in the mists,
as silent as then
when the music started:
before the beginning,
the strings in tune,
His face, she thought, was not too bad, and how
his armor shone beneath the sun! She sighed
and thought of Europe in the Middle Ages:
home of glory, inequality,
its castles and its squalor and the plague,
and how an Irish girl might fare with luck.
Determined not to be forgotten once
she'd had the chance to wear that shining armor,
would she keep the charge in her defense?
Apart from time, between the light and dust
of the museum, she could still believe.
Idle Questions of the Sky, Questions Soon Forgotten
How shallow is our misery
when up above the clouds
the sun is either shining
or replaced by brilliant stars?
What shadow on the surface
can compare to all of this?
Why bother with the rain
when you can fly?
If you're having trouble sleeping,
watch the flame give up the ghost
and think; if this is only fire,
if my consciousness will burn
until it smothers and no longer,
won't these blankets put me out?
Then sleep, and know that waking
will be kindled by the sun;
the light will surely come again,
and even if it doesn't
you will sleep.
"Sketch of Spain and Catalonia,
shadow on the paper sea,"
the sweet soprano sings to no one,
but her genius reaches me;
Across the false Atlantic sea,
from years ago and years above,
and scribbled on this manuscript,
a living map to someone's love.
But how I come to hear the sorrow
of the charter, I remember
nothing much, except the summer
that emerged from her December;
Trumpets in the afternoon
and clarinets as evening falls,
with sweet soprano lyrics hanging
on the paper concert walls.
A Simple Goal
I have a simple goal for us:
to love in spite of sadness,
and the onward march of days and years
that tread across our hearts.
A simple goal,
for people very much
in love today
who wish to be in love forevet,
love and never stop.
Somewhere in my town,
between the woods and hills and
Is an abandoned home.
I don't know if it's safe
to go there,
but I've been there once,
and between the other houses
this one looked alone.
There may be pests inside,
or insulating foam;
There may be traps,
there may be treasures
in abandoned homes.
Both of us have gone asleep
with the radio on;
tonight the DJ is playing
the strangest things
that I have ever heard.
Bossa nova, indie pop
and a tremulous jazz,
with static falling around us
like powdered snow
unfrozen in our hair.
Mournful trumpets in the air,
an incredible pause
and then the analog murmer;
the broadcast day
has ended like a dream.
Thirteen poems, we'll never live it down!
In my mind, Susan's Thoughts is not actually a poem I wrote. Sometimes I dream about teaching, and in one such dream I was teaching some sort of elementary school art class. One of my imaginary students put these words on a poster board for a project. In my dream, I gave her a high five.
I swear to god, I did not mean to write Blue Sparks as a sex poem. Scrub your filthy mind! It's clearly about the miracle of electricity and nothing else.
No More Secrets is pretty sexful, though. I was home for Christmas, and I was lonely. Loneliness also accounts for My Lover's Favorite Song, but that one isn't all that sexful.
Discovery is all about that cute little ending. Everything else is justified by the ending. MOVE ALONG NOW.
The lack of final punctuation in The Song Incomplete is intentional. Look at the clever guy!
I wrote Medieval Gloria shortly after reading Malachy McCourt's History of Ireland, having been impressed with the author's apparent eagerness to tell the stories of the island's most interesting ladies. It seemed to me that people ought to be inspired by the best examples of history, whatever their gender. The girl in the poem looks beyond the ordinary, male-dominated presentation of history and sees an integral place for herself in the story.
Trouble Sleeping is one of my candle poems. Sometimes, I am obsessed with candles.
I *love* Paper Soprano. I don't even think it's perfect. I just love the idea behind it. Art to emulate, art to recreate, never quite recaptured.
I know there's nothing simple about love, but I don't think that's love's fault. A Simple Goal is another poem for Tara.
I wrote Abandoned Homes after I walked past one on an epic hike with my friend Bau. We were trying to find the richest homes in Eugene. We found them, but first we found a sketchy, empty dwelling that I'm sure the neighbors were thrilled about.
I recall writing Broadcast Day on the whiteboard while subbing for a math class at Willamette High School. I was bored during study hall and thought about how nice it would be to nap with the radio on. Childhood memories did the rest.
Monday, September 2, 2013
If you've ever had the notion that the United States of America's place in the world is fundamentally untenable, you are doubtless concerned by what is happening with regard to Syria. Once again, we find ourselves on the brink of what we call "intervention," a term that can encompass all things from occupation to a few cruise missiles, artfully placed to make some kind of point. The future is open ended, but none of the ends are attractive. And in the era of the Imperial Presidency, we have become much too accustomed to being led into this sort of adventure.
Something a little different is happening this time. President Obama, who has thus far seemed to accept the premise that a president may make war as he sees fit, has invited Congress to make the decision of whether to punish Syria for the use of chemical weapons. That this seems new and different should be evidence enough that our system has plainly gotten away from us. Congress is not presently in session to make that decision, but it will be very soon. And when our honorable senators and representatives do finally meet, the ensuing events will matter hugely. This episode will make a fine case study in the role of constitutional government in foreign policy, and will say much about how our constitution and our nation will change in the future. But it will be even more significant for the people of Syria
America teaches its children that we are powerful and that this is a good thing. But while it is obviously preferable to have some power rather than none, occupying the hegemonic status that the U.S. does is inevitably problematic. Hegemons hurt weaker nations almost without meaning to (to put it charitably), and they invariably rest upon institutional inequality on all scales, global and domestic. Our power was bought with a bitter price, that will grow more unpleasant with time.
America believes its power to be a good thing, because it enables the doing of good things. In principle, I believe in that. How could I not, educated as I was, brought up in the midst of star-spangled flags? But in acting as the Great Bastion of Freedom, the U.S. has changed itself and altered its constitutional system. The words on the parchment stay the same, but the system has grown to address the concerns of power. For example, the Congress may hold the exclusive right to declare war according to the text, but the Cold War taught us to accept that a war was sometimes only a "police action," and that a declaration of war was usually superfluous.
So what will Congress do about Syria? Honestly, the question nearly makes me cry. Obama has asked Congress to give him the authorization to make an initial strike, apparently against the judgment of his cabinet. But this Congress is objectively terrible, and the only sure thing is that its members will use this opportunity to make fools of themselves. It is very possible that they will give the president what he asks for, simply because the subject intimidates them.
But suppose for a moment that they do not say yes. The idea of intervention is unpopular, and the Republicans might well deny President Obama out of their usual spite. What happens next?
Obama's secretary of State, John Kerry, said today that the President has the right to strike whatever Congress says. He's plainly not the only one who thinks so. But what does Obama think? If Congress tells him no, would he change his approach? Having overruled his administration on seemingly constitutional grounds, will he stick to that principle come what may?
It is obvious by this point that the Imperial Presidency is alive and well in the Obama administration. It evidently takes more than hope to dismantle the rationale of power, and it is that rationale that informs Kerry's opinion, to say nothing of the NSA's adventures in domestic spying and the persecution of whistle-blowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Syria's President Assad has called Obama weak already for deferring to Congress. An empire must abhor the appearance of weakness.
But Obama can do a great deal of good for the United States by respecting the decision of Congress in this matter. He can show with firm evidence that the spirit of constitutional government has not been fully choked in the thin air of global hegemony. If Congress tells him no, he should not attack Syria. If Congress modifies the plan he sent them, he should respect those changes. And if Congress rubber stamps him, the precedent of his having asked could still be useful. In any event, the effort to walk America back from an imperial foreign policy will be tasking. It would be wonderful to set a positive example of cooperation between the branches of government, especially given all the inexcusable nonsense that has made these years so hard.
I have advocated for changes in our Constitution in the past, on the grounds that such changes are desirable and necessary over time in any nation. It is not the Constitution of 1789 that is really at the crux of this issue, but the more general principle of constitutional government. This principle, not the text, is what sustains the republic. Thus far, Obama's approach on this specific issue is consistent with this principle, but much depends on what comes next.
All of this talk of principle, however important, ignores a crucial consideration. People are dying in Syria, and the situation is only growing more monstrous. Chemical weapons have been used and may well be used again. Assad is unacceptable, and though we've tolerated him in the past, that is no justification for tolerating him now. The rebels, should they succeed, may prove problematic down the line, but what could be worse than a hundred thousand dead?
The United States, for all its problems, is extraordinarily powerful. Sitting on all this power, it is hard to look at all this suffering and bloody stalemate and accept that nothing can be done, or that nothing should be done. Whatever consequences we create, there seems to be a moral imperative to do something to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people. If power really can enable good deeds, then why should it be of no use here?
But there may be no good to be gained, even by firing a missile straight down Assad's throat. We can't afford another war like we had in Iraq. We can't afford to take responsibility for Syria's reconstruction. And we can ill use another cause celebre for al qaeda should order break down after our intervention.
What the people of Syria need is a strong cease-fire agreement, with international peace keepers to hold back any breaks. It is not obvious how any purely American intervention will accomplish that. It's also not clear how we can move the United Nations to impose a peace, especially given the behavior of Russia. Any responsible observer must agree that our choices our dire, but inaction is no less so.
I don't know what we can do in Syria, or what we should do. I don't think anyone really does. But for us, this is a test of our historical character, one of many points that will influence where we go from here. We cannot lose sight of the big picture, and we must be prepared to deal with whatever consequences arise.
So watch what Congress and President Obama do in the next few days. You will learn a lot about where this world is going by how they conduct themselves.
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Over the years, Eugene has been more than just a place to live and lay about: it's offered a series of distinct blessings and pleasures to me. I got the best part of my education here, and met the love of my life. Different things have occupied my focus at different times, but they all made Eugene a place where I felt comfortable.
So with naught but ten short days to go, here's a list (in no particular order) of the things I will miss about living in the second largest city of our twenty seventh largest state:
- Live music and open mic night at Cozmic Pizza.
- Easy access to the products of the Oakshire, Ninkasi, and Widmer Brothers breweries.
- Hiking at the Mt. Pisgah Arboretum.
- Eating salmon and chips at Newman's Fish Market so frequently that the whole kitchen staff knows me on sight.
- Playing bass guitar in the company of my friends.
- Taking a nap on the couches in the EMU on campus even though I graduated in 2009.
- Substitute teaching at Elmira High School (among others).
- Drinking a little too much on Fridays at the Starlight Lounge with my grad school cohort.
- Walking around in light rain without a hood on and acting like it's all good.
- Strolling by rivers and creeks, looking for nutria and wishing they were beavers.
- Ordering movie-themed Eggs Benedict at the Studio One Cafe.
- Watching anime and playing video games all night with my friends.
- Camping in the prettiest woods in the world.
- Hanging around the Smith Family Book Store without necessarily buying anything.
- Sitting on the porch with a gouda cheeseburger at Jiffy Market.
- Watching hippies do strange things in public.
- Stalking the deer who stroll nonchalantly down my street.
- Listening to 91.1 KWAX, 89.7 KLCC, and 91.9 KRVM while driving around in my car.
- Taking long walks with my best friend while discussing issues of great import, or just nerdy nonsense.
- Ordering huge pizzas from Sy's and eating them with my friends until we feel like dying.
- Filling out my music collection with visits to House of Records.
- Feeling like a six-year-old on the rare occasions when it snows.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
I visited Saraha today for the first time, because I became aware that something was happening this weekend, and my curiosity was piqued. Presently, the temple is hosting a collection of Buddhist relics on tour. I decided to have a look at the Maitreya Heart Shrine Relic Tour, for the purpose of educating myself, and experiencing closer a part of the community I had essentially neglected.
When I approached the building, I already found it in a much different state than usual, with cars crowding the curbs and a huge line of people (and shoes) pouring from the entrance. In fact, I spent nearly an hour standing in that line, barefoot, trying not to feel conspicuous amongst a crowd of very serious people. Most of the people were older than me, but there were a few parents with small children, as well as a few dogs who were allowed in to be blessed. An older woman behind me was speaking German, and though I don't know much German it sounded like she was describing a Buddhist legend. I don't know how many of the people were Buddhists and how many were interested outsiders like myself, but everyone was very respectful and patient. I tried to be equally patient as the line slowly advanced into the main chamber.
The staff and volunteers were kind and welcoming, and they took the time to explain what was going on to me. The Maitreya relics inside once belonged, they told me, to various Buddhist leaders and teachers throughout history, including Shakyamuni Buddha, Gautama himself. If this is true, and I have no particular reason to doubt that it is, then the oldest stones and fragments of bones on the display table are about two thousand and five hundred years old. The relics are displayed in small, beautiful glass containers, and certainly looked the part for their antiquity. I entered with the expectation, of course, of dispassionately viewing some artifacts in a museum-like context. This experience was much more religious than that. People were actively meditating and worshiping to the side of the viewers, and the artifacts were plainly presented for veneration, not just idle display.
Though I am not a Buddhist, I was invited and encouraged by the volunteers to participate in a few basic rituals. While standing in line, I copied a line from a sutra (though I did not quite understand what it meant). I poured water three times over the head of the Buddha's statue, and lightly rang a couple of bells. I spun a small prayer wheel (incorrectly, as the little girl in front of me pointed out). Finally, I was invited to receive a blessing. As the woman who blessed me asked me to pray silently, I contemplated my upcoming journey to Korea with my girlfriend, Tara. Though I doubt its practical efficacy, the good will I felt from the temple during the blessing was heart warming in the best sense.
As I made my exit, I passed a container of holy water, blessed with the "energy" of the relics on display. A sign instructed me to take some of it home with me, to add to some water at home and use as part of my daily routine. Being from a Catholic background it had never really occurred to me to use holy water in this way, but I duly filled a small paper cup, walked back to my house, and made myself some tea. I don't know what effect I was supposed to perceive from the energies of the relics, but I have to admit it tasted good.
Today was the final day of the Maitreya exhibition at Saraha, and I'm glad that I took the time to do something a little out of the way. No matter how ordinary a neighborhood may seem, at times it may be touched by something larger. Rarity appears in surprising places.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
As always, a few notes and commentary at the bottom for those who like that sort of thing. Lord knows I must.
I was surprised to see my face;
I thought that I looked different,
but I guess I just forgot myself
from looking in a mirror,
and now I can't believe my face
is who I'll be tomorrow.
The right of self-destruction may be ours,
it may be plain for all to see
but isn't it odd that we claim it?
The right to misadventure for the young
wherever youth runs stray and free,
but isn't it odd that we claim it?
The right to burn our organs to the ground,
to douse our minds and light the smoking oil,
as evident as things could be,
but isn't it odd that we claim it?
How fine to see an hourglass alive
and dwindling, not diminishing, but turning
sand from top to bottom, bulb to bulb;
descending, frozen in a fluid moment,
stopped in space and passing time by time.
How fine to be reminded of the glass
that has been turned, and hasn't been, but will
again if someone finds it standing steady.
Every space an endless era, filled,
and emptied, spent, and wasted, filled again.
Mary Jane Around the World
Mary Jane is not at home;
tonight she sleeps in the arms of the sun,
blinded by the light of stars,
eyelids shut across the eyes
of Mary Jane and her beautiful one.
Mary Jane is far away;
today she lightly embraces the moon,
glides along the beams of grey,
silver on the glittering dress
of Mary Jane in the embassy room.
Mary Jane is gone for good;
a lonely thought in a wandering mind,
corresponding to a girl
gone to England, France, Japan:
the Mary Jane who has left him behind.
Noise and silence break the filter,
and that's the way the first song ends
like lightning crackling through a tube:
broken sounds like blues.
Thirteen songs to go before
the fade out
crackles out again.
Noise and silence break the filter,
split the speaker end to end.
Nightmares of Mine
I read your book before I went to sleep,
and yes, I liked it. But it gave me nightmares:
trees came tumbling from the sky, and saws
flew loops between them; women's faces sprung
from mirrors on the bathroom walls at night.
But I still liked it; yes, I mean the book.
I found it gripping, and I couldn't stop
myself from reading, even when my dreams
began. I'd turn the page, and owls would peer
from windows hid between the words and call:
We know that you'll be sleeping soon; good night,
and don't mind us, we'll just be sleeping too.
The Notable Gift
You've got the gift, and every one will love you for it,
everyone will love your gift,
They'll come from miles in all directions
Just to watch the way you kick.
So now you've earned a cheer, a kiss,
a headline in the student paper
for your single notable gift.
Una Vez en Español, Por Favor
El alma de mi fuego, levántate,
vuela tú sobre el sonido
de mi corazón ahora.
Esta noche, tú me levantas
y me duermo;
sueña tú juntos conmigo.
A Larger Fire
Our evening hasn't lacked for candlelight,
we burn beside a fire
many stages larger than the flames
of little wicks and wax.
Those candles melt away
but ours will burn until it ashes
several forests worth of wood
and brings this little restaurant down.
Angry trains at midnight
break the silence of the station
with their unrelenting whistles
and their endless clicker-clacks;
This town could stretch for miles,
but we'd always be in earshot,
and we'll never get to sleep
until the trains are off the tracks.
If I were writing of your eyes
I couldn't keep my hands from shaking;
discipline and self-control
are stupid notions when I think
that I could see you and be seen
by you, reflected in your lovely,
loving, incandescent eyes.
Painted on the sidewalks
and the uninspected walls,
sprayed across the concrete,
over bricks and private roads:
Omar the Relentless
keeps his head below the tall grass
so the public doesn't see him.
Tower Defense Queue
Four or five to go, I think,
perhaps as few as three; I hope
that I won't have to settle...
Only two? While we could play
with two, this only seems to
raise the question, if I
really need to play with you.
There is life inside this shell,
but its lifespan is determined:
there is no escaping that.
Every second that it lives
and consumes its precious matter
is an ash along the path;
When it slowly flickers out
there might still be a reminder
of the life it hasn't lived,
But the shell will be alone.
It will only be remembered
for the light it didn't give.
Now you are broken glass on the floor,
strained like sand and water and a chore
to gather up, a hazard for our feet,
A color-crusted window to the door
Something Important to Say
Natalia warned the speaker to
beware of falling icicles
when speaking in the frozen room:
"A single block could crush you dead,
the smallest point could split your head,
and then your speech would never carry
promise like it did before."
Natalia smiled, then she sat down
without betraying her dread.
The speaker bravely said her peace
because it had to be said.
I don't think Rights is very elegant as far as meter goes, but I like everything else about it. The middle stanza is weak, but I think the third one more than makes up for it in terms of content. I'm not a teetotaler, but I do think that our bodies are worth taking care of, and I have never been comfortable with the notion that being young is not only a license, but an invitation to hurt yourself.
Hourglass has some nifty metaphysics and philosophy going on, but mostly it's about word sounds. "Turning sand from top to bottom, bulb to bulb?" Sometimes I impress myself. I am easily impressed by plosive consonants.
Mary Jane Around the World, on the other hand, is more about images and feelings. Loss and liberty, you might call it, if you were allowed to title it. I have half a mind to re-title it right now. But I won't.
My notes indicate I was drunk when I wrote Music Machine. I don't want to give the impression that I always drink when I write poems, but I do often feel the urge to scribble when I've had something to drink. Sometimes, it's halfway decent.
Nightmares of Mine is almost a story, written as it is in blank verse. The title is literal: those are images that used to recur in my dreams when I was a small child. Some of them even feel like actual memories, even though the laws of physics preclude them from being possible. I wanted to give them a little touch of immortality through verse.
The Notable Gift touches on anxiety, about being hailed as brilliantly talented for being able to do one thing sort of well. I have this problem sometimes.
I am almost a little embarrassed to be presenting Una Vez en Español, Por Favor. Yes, I wrote it in Spanish. I didn't write it in English and then translate it, I went word by word in Spanish. If I've fucked it up in the grammar, please let me know and I'll fix it. I just really wanted to try something different. I don't know much about typical meters in Spanish poetry, so I treated the stress more or less as I would in English and did my own thing.
A Larger Fire and Wax Shell were both originally untitled and are both, more or less, about candles. I was surprised at how sexy the first one turned out to be! But the second is not sexy. Not sexy at all. Anyway, I like candles. I like the way they smell and I just like the way they burn.
Tara's Eyes is for Tara, but you guys can read it too. She really does have beautiful eyes. It's the biggest cliche ever for a poet to compliment a woman's eyes, but at least I successfully avoided the word "limpid."
"Rumo?" is based on some actual graffiti I saw in the park one day while I was walking home. The same person seems to have made multiple tags in different places. It looked like they were spelling "Rumo," but it was so stylized I couldn't be one hundred percent sure. So I reversed it (sort of) to Omar in the body of the poem, and I liked the mental images it gave me.
Tower Defense Queue is about StarCraft 2. In case you were wondering. I'm not often moved to wax poetical about online games, but it was a silly day.
I wrote Shatter-Colored Window to give myself something to do between classes when I was substituting for a ceramics teacher at Springfield High. You take some of the things you see around you, and sometimes you can make something really pretty out of it.
Something Important to Say appears, at first glance, to be heavily laden with allegory. It totally is. Trust your instincts.