Category Archives: writing

a tiny nibble from the loving teeth of history

I went to San Francisco today, and wrote the following sitting at an outdoor table at a Market Street café.

It’s been a while, 20th century.  Have you forgotten me?  I guess the question should be–have I forgotten you?  It’s a plausible question, given how uncomfortable my hand feels holding a pen, how I stumble over myself without the aid of spell check or the glow of a screen which suggests a luminous sentience watching over me as I boil away in the crucible of my own head.  I know it’s been a while, 20th century, that I had to clumsily ask a lad at the coffee shop where one gets a pen and paper, these days.  How inexorably we move from the artifact to the aether.  The library at Alexandria has burned; now we have Akashic records, knowledge that only exists if we believe in it.  If we have the proper equipment to receive it.  Otherwise, there’s only air.

Barely a page and I am already getting painful twinges in my palm.  But you should not feel as obsolete as all that, 20th century.  Here you still are: a pen with a soft nib whose ink calls itself “amethyst” and a notebook with a red cover that asks, “Name?  Date?  Subject/title?”  I thought it would be clever to title you “Artifact.”  I’m sorry, darling.  I can’t help myself.  You know how I am.  It is a beautiful Fall day in San Francisco and I just had lunch with a lovely young Frenchman who, like me, learned to write with a fountain pen–and now he seldom writes by hand at all.  Talk about a direct leap from 19 to 21!  And yet you are far from a negligible century.  Your body count alone is impressive.

I had a vivid dream last night.  In the dream I purchased a small white stuffed dog, a poodle I think, about life-sized.  Of course life-sized, as it started to come to life.  In the eyes first: a glimmering awareness that flickered on and off.  Then in the whole head, movement in the face and neck, a hardness and definition within suggesting the formation of a skull.  Then slowly, from front to back: limbs, ribcage, ass, tail–all were fleshed and boned.  All the cotton batting inside the animal was turning into live, pulsing organic matter.  I knew the dog was finished, that he was finally a real dog, when he began to take real shits as opposed to stuffed shits–squelchy, warm, stinky feces instead of small, scentless, fuzzy logs.

“Here you are, you little fucker!” I said to my new dog with great joy.  He had teeth that he used to bite.  He barked viciously at other dogs.  He took an evil delight at tangling his leash on everything, binding my legs to trip me up whenever possible.  In short, he was a total asshole, but I loved him anyway because he was alive.

Where have I wandered to, 20th century?  Am I still talking about you?  I have lunched with your remnants occasionally, 20th century.  Gray-haired men in suits who keep themselves fit and never take a young woman to a fine restaurant without knowing the exact location of the nearest hotel.  They call me “doll” and ask me what is in my “pretty little head.”  I smile pleasantly and seldom answer.  It is so charming.  Like dating antiques.  One day soon they’ll be gone, and I will be gone soon after.  One day soon I’ll be gone, and this paper will have rotted away in some landfill somewhere.  But if I transcribe this on my computer and post it on the internet, I can make these words not really exist forever.

After writing this, I walked to the Embarcadero to check out Tom Morello’s appearance at Occupy San Francisco.  Given that he is the lead singer of Rage Against the Machine, his presence was extremely apt.  He gave us a few rousing words and then handed out a hundred free concert tickets for his performance tonight.  I did not get a ticket because the ticket guy was immediately swallowed by the maw of the throng.  Whether I abstained from the tussle because of my belief in civic order, or simply because I felt protective of my broken rib (yes, folks, it’s broken), the world may never know.  I did a bit iphone photojournalism from the event, but wordpress is being an ass about letting me put together a slide show.  So, I created a public facebook album of my little adventure.  Check it out.

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A poem about being really pissed. What a topic!

I am
one who walks down a long dark corridor
to a tiny room with blood on the walls
I am
behind myself
I have a gun
Unbeknownst to me I pull the gun out
and shoot myself in the back of the neck
Soviet-style
before I ever reach the small room.
This, my friend, is clemency.

I am
an earthquake
that rolls its way through country
where the ground never shakes.
Didn’t expect me did you?
You are so rattled
and yet
I didn’t even kill anything.

I am
a cold clear day
laughter in the night
a sigh
I am
open legs
a moan
all things lovely
if you’ll let me.

I am
a holocaust survivor
who when interviewed by a documentary maker
hisses at the camera
SHANDEH
I am ashamed to be human
SHANDEH
I am a frail old little gay man
yet you are afraid of me
because my anger
is correct.

I am
all woman
I am
ten times the man you are
I am
an enormous mind
beholding itself
and
judging

I am
the whole world,
maggot,
and you never thanked me
for my clemency.

Doggies found a home!

Developments!

13 rue Thérèse was published as a paperback in the UK this week, complete with a sexy quote from Simon Schama right on the front cover (“a flirty, dirty tease of a novel” ROWR!).  Plus a nice review came out in various British papers from Pam Norfolk.

• Remember the gothic dog story I was talking about on this blog sometime ago?  It found a home!  It will be published in The Farallon Review in February of 2012.  Pretty sweet, no?

• This afternoon, I blew some bubbles at my cat and it TOTALLY EXPLODED HER LITTLE WALNUT BRAIN.  Her world was thoroughly rocked.  She kept sniffing the ground where they popped to try to figure out where they went.

• I have been doing all sorts of awesome research for my novel that I can’t post about on this blog because it’s pretty raunchy.  But I thought I’d tease and tantalize you by mentioning what I’m not going to talk about.  Yes, my dears, you’re just going to have to wait to read my findings in book form Lord-knows-when…

• I took an awesome vacation in Barcelona with some friends.  If you ever make it there, I recommend five things:

  1. Eat lots of ham.  The Spanish rock at ham.
  2. Check out all the Gaudi architecture.  That guy was the best kind of nut.
  3. Do NOT check out the sex show at the Bagdad Club if you ever want to sleep again.
  4. Bring bug repellent, unless you’re into sporting gigantic mosquito bites that turn into humongous bruises all over your body when they heal.  I mean, you might be into it.  Like, when people ask what happened to you, you can tell them you got into a bar brawl.  Or you could wipe a tear from the side of your eye and say, “I guess I just don’t listen.”  Your choice.
  5. Look up when you hear squawks!  Barcelona has a very sweet and entertaining population of small green wild parrots.

• My stomach is currently growling.  This is indeed a fascinating development.  One that will unfortunately require me to sign off and forage for food…

Emo artist is all emo.

Sometimes my cat will let out these heart-wrenching meows that sound like “Goodbye cruel world!” and will make me run in from another room expecting to find her holding a tiny gun to her head or weaving a rope to hang herself with from torn bedsheets.  But she will just be sitting there in the middle of the floor looking at me with big soulful eyes, waiting to be picked up and petted.  It’s a power trip, really: she wants to know that I will come to her.  And because I am a sucker, I always do.  I pick her up and coo, “Are we having feelings?  Is emo kitty all emo?”  Then she purrs like a diesel engine, and all is right with the world.

Sometimes I wish someone would pick me up from my writing desk and say, “Is emo artist all emo?”  Then massage my ears and make everything okay again.  (Kitty loves a good ear rub.)  I’m just saying, sometimes trying to write this book feels like peeling my skin off.  All these mini allegories I’ve been posting lately are my attempts to psych myself up.  They seem to be working, I think I can feel something coming up through the undertow.  At least I hope so.  I need it to.  My last conversation with my agent was about something annoying, and it ended with me saying, “Well, that’s disheartening.  No matter how little you think of the human species, it is–” (Here I paused.)  She filled in, “It is not little enough.”  Then we both laughed.

Well, at least my agent is awesome.  Know why else she is awesome?  She’s never asked me about my “author platform” or advised me to “build my personal brand.”  That latter turn of phrase especially must make poor Bill Hicks puke in his grave.

Let me leave you now with my Zen Koan of the Day:

So, if this blog is part of my author platform, is my author platform an anti-platform platform?

al-kimiya

Of all the alchemists, I make the strongest pharmakon.  Sacrament remedy poison talisman cosmetic perfume intoxicant cure.  Cure for what ails you.  Drink it to die.  Drink it to live.  It will rip its way through the center of you like a column of fire.  There is no other who can brew one like mine.  Ask all the peasants and they will point to my hut while averting their faces.  They are afraid of me.  But at night they crawl to me like supplicants and offer me coin to give them what they need.

I don’t need your coin.  I am the alchemist.  I turn pain into coin, and there is plenty of that everywhere.  I don’t need your coin.  The way your eyes widen when you swallow what I have to give is payment enough.

Even if I were to give you a list of all the ingredients of my pharmakon and all their measures, you could not make it.  You would scream when the ball of fire rose from the cauldron.  Your blood is not strong enough for it.  Only I can stand there in the center of the flame.  Only I can burn and burn and burn and not be consumed.

You get the leavings, the ashen scrapings of the cataclysm, and you are grateful for that.  Tell me what you would risk for the tang of me on your tongue.  Tell me all of what you are and maybe I will devise a special concoction just for you, one that will destroy the whole world and birth it anew in your searing eyes. Pharmakeia pharmakon pharmakeus, can you tell me what is inside and what is outside?  Can you tell me what is body and what is soul?  Can you tell me what is present and what is absent?  Tell me, if you have the brain the spine the heart the stomach for it.  Tell me.  If you can speak through the burn you may be strong enough to study my discipline.

The Malebolge

It must have been I am here because I have asked to see this place.  When did I ask?  I cannot remember and my guide will not tell me.  What strikes me as I travel down the circles is how scarcely populated they seem to be.  I had expected more people.  Are they all in Heaven?  The virtuous pagans cluster around small fires in the vast emptiness where they dwell, a place that must have been constructed for a much larger population.  At the second circle where the wind picks up and flings those who could not deny their bodies’ need to give themselves up, my guide gestures at all the damned carried by cold gusts and says, “You.”

“Yeah, I know,” I say.  “I thought there would be more of us.”

On through the icy rain, past all the ones who could never have enough, those who push and pull weights against each other, past all the ones who gurgle in impotent fury in their mire, we come to the flaming tombs of the heretics.  “Hey,” I touch my guide on the shoulder, “there’s nobody here.  The tombs are burning nothing.”  “Well,” he says, “turns out God doesn’t care as much about heresy as He used to.  But here, there are more people in the three rings of the seventh circle, look at all the violent.”

Here they are all boiling in a river of blood, those who destroyed things and hurt others.  I look over the screaming multitudes, and note, “Yeah, there are a lot, but you know, for the whole history of the world, it seems like less than I would expect.”  My guide shrugs and leads me on through the forest of the suicides.  I look at the gnarled branches on the squat little trees.  I do not have the stomach to snap off a twig to listen to one of the shrubs sing its story in blood.  “Seems you do not have any quips or questions,” my guide observes.  “You were almost here.”  “I may be yet,” I answer.  “Well, try not to be,” my guide says.  It’s not pleasant.”

Past the trees is a flaming desert with flakes of fire wafting slowly down from the sky.  There is no one and nothing.  “Who used to be here?” I ask.  “Blasphemers and sodomites.”  “I’m guessing, God doesn’t care for them as he used to?”  “It is so.  He is very busy, you see–with them.  With Fraud,” he says, as he gestures to what comes beyond the narrow desert.  The eighth circle, the place for all the liars, built in stone ditches.  The Bolgie.  They are packed, so that the damned cannot move, so tightly are they pressed together–down as far as they eye can see, waning off into the blackness.  I cannot find the outer rim of the center circle, the place where Hell freezes over.  It looks as if this Malebolge goes on forever.  Nearly all the souls that I can see are covered in human waste, and sealed into lead cloaks gilded on the outside.  “Wait,” I say, “this is not what it’s supposed to look like.”  “It didn’t use to look like this,” my guide explained, “but due to the sheer number of the incoming, we did not have the resources to determine which is the liars were guilty more of hypocrisy, which more of flattery.  So we took them all and gave them the punishment for both.  More efficient, and apt, if you ask me.  You see this infinity of false humanity?  This is where almost all of you end up.  Packed here.   There is no one in Heaven.”

I watch in horrified silence.  Where is the end of this place?  It seems there is none.  “How far is the ninth circle?” I ask.  “It no longer exists,” explains my guide, “the heat from all Fraud’s bodies melted all the ice.  And Satan is dead.  Only us now.”

Among the shit-covered, lead-cowled penitent, a solitary woman stumbles backward, naked and groaning, her neck wrenched to that her head faces the back of her body, fat tears rolling off her face and onto her back.  “A false diviner?” I ask.  “Yes.  If you make yourself too much of what you already are, you could be one of those.  Which is a kind of honor, very few of the false are something else than plain flattering hypocrites.  Good luck finding a simoniac.  They’re in there somewhere.  If you would like to visit a few of your nation’s presidents, I could take you to the lake of pitch where the barrators still drown.”

I would answer my guide, except I am mute with distress–for here you are.  Yes, you.  I’d recognize your blank eyes and your pretty mouth no matter how much shit covered your face.  Can you see me, or are you too preoccupied by the weight of your leaden priestly robe?  Seeing you here with all the others, my flesh turns into pain, and I fear I will not be able to escape my own hand.  You, and everyone–liars.  Is that not enough to tear myself out of my body and turn myself into a tree?  Look up, darling, on the Day of Judgement, into the forest of those who have killed themselves, and you will see me, my corpse finally returned to me, its limbs tangled in my branches.  When you see me, I will know, and I will quake to make my body shiver for you as it used to when I was alive.  When I was in it.  When you were in it.  And maybe, if God is watching, He will laugh.

Is this about sex or is this about writing? Sometimes I can’t tell.

There are not many women out there in the wild country.  It is not particularly sane for me to go, but it seems I simply can’t help myself.  The ones I leave behind chide me for my restlessness but it only makes me laugh.  I can feel from the hum of the train that the furnace is full up on coal, the engine so hot that the metal swells against its fittings.  I sit looking out the window wondering where you are.  Are you having doubts?  Did you get held up on some last minute errand?  Did the horse pulling your carriage to the station have a heart attack in the middle of the street?

My heart thrums against the restriction of my corset, my legs sweltering in all their petticoats.  The bustle, the little black leather boots primly laced over the ankles, the white gloves buttoned over the wrists, the collar keeping my throat in its airless grip.  I am pretty good at wearing the garments of my civilization, but I am even better at being divested of them.  I will ride this train all the way to its terminus, all the way to where the Chinamen have not yet laid tracks.  Alone if I have to, but I’d much rather you came with me.  I very much hope the top hat I see moving swiftly through the crowd out on the platform is yours.  Catch this train; it’s going somewhere good.

A jolt shudders through the length of the entire machine–oh is there anything like the feel of imminent departure?  Is there any sound more stridently arousing than the steamy wail of that whistle?

All aboard.  Last call.