Tuesday, April 26, 2011

And back again

There was a woman on the plane who fainted or had a seizure. I felt a rush of emotions: I was nervous for her, nervous that she would be the first dead body I saw. I wanted the crew to make an emergency landing if it would save her life, but I feared the inane wrath of that collective of slave-drones, the animal-cracker-stealing suits. I was confused at how people (myself included) could go back to their books, their iPods and ipads and business ventures and naps, while there was a body on the floor by the forward toilet and the stewardesses were mobilized.

The chickens are restless.

A businessman switched seats to accommodate the woman. He sat next to me and began to take interest in the iPad, in Penultimate. I wondered how I could ever use that toy in public, could talk about its pluses and minuses without falling into games of masculinity. My tech toy is bigger than yours. Games of capitalism. My tech toy is more expensive. Games of the odious I profess to hate. I earned this tech toy even though it is built upon mountains of animal crackers that I have stolen from the airplane stewardesses.

I am chicken. Hear me roar.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cabin Pressure

The thing is, I'm like -- I wonder if there isn't truism to that thing they say. Not that there's the Devil in some music (all music), but that there's something the soul imbibes when it partakes of some kind of cultural production. I feel high, and although it is a body that's been up since 5 and has had oceans of coffee and whiskeys sour, it feels like a different high, the Tom Wolfe, the ragged Merry Prankster high.

Does Tom stand with the Pranksters or against them? On the bus, off the bus. Do I stand with them, or against them? There are sense impressions attached to texts like Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, ideas that weren't in Wolfe's head and likely aren't in any others. A grizzly man in his mother's basement, emerged only for his nephew's funeral; so much pain to move. Another man, black musician hopes dashed-prevailed-triumphant, alone in his apartment for so long (how long?) before he was discovered.

The thing is, there's this fit girl sitting next to me, feet up on the exit row, dolling herself up before the eventual (eternal) return. Tan skin, brown eyes, brown hair streaked blonde, popping against white tank top, black bra, Uggs.

The thing is, this suit comes out of the bathroom and snags a bag of Southwest airplane crackers. Shifty-eyed glance after the stewardess's back. He takes another. And it's like - man, here's the state of modern America. One guy engages in masturbatory intellectualistic trips; the girl hides how intelligent or genius she is by playing a different game; the guy who could buy a BJ warehouse stock of animal crackers with out noticing the cut in his bank account, the guy who'd be the first to spout about business ethics and MORAL ECONOMY and TAXED ENOUGH ALREADY, revealing himself for the cheating stealing terrible very bad no good heart of the great tree of American capitalism he is, the fountainhead, the fish rots from the head--

My ears start popping and my head explodes.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Confessions of a Demonologist

That's your problem, historians, in forgetting that there's a difference between subjectivity and objective truth. You can write whatever you want about something; you can write that it didn't happen, but that doesn't change what actually happened.
-My anonymous microhistorical primary source

Friday, April 15, 2011

Poetic you is me.

The wind swirls around you, its trajectory ostensibly affected by your presence, leaves curling from the Quad's straight shot around to get to Sunday classes. The grass bends. A hippie barefoot pedals, happily singing nonsense syllables lost inside his mountain beard. A little kid playing games like the ideal son of a university man. There are ways that one could live in a rural setting, if one were happy with other exigencies therein. You hesitate to admit to yourself how - what - with whom - you could comprehend such a dramatic shift in your sense about that place, hesitant to mark it down, hesitant that even your hesitancy has reified it beyond the acceptable.

There are moral choices; there are existential crises. Homer, when she was here for the weekend, said that my life is absurd. She said that I am ridiculous. You fear she might be right. You know.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The skies are made of diamonds

Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don’t cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist—but don’t think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you.
-ERNEST HEMINGWAY, in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald (courtesy this awesome site)
I bought a pair of shoes today.

I thought about an elegy for the pair they were to replace, about the materialist instinct that mourns the passing of consumer goods.

It mourns the lieu de memoire that is my pair of shoes. I remember: there were scary dogs and sleeping dogs and stray dogs that lie in the middle of the street. There were rivers' tides and riptides and voices that sounded from the deep. There were hills and fields and shadows. Puddles. Corn and grass in wild sunlit hues of burned and parched and life. Quotidian snippets. Hills and forests and graves. So many graves.

There seemed always to be graves.

Maybe I'll give the shoebox to the Vegetarian Veterinarian, for the next animal he has to euthanize.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Because I remembered she was dead.

It's probably weird for me to return to history after my last polemic effort, but I still feel connections to these people whose voices I've sought to hear for the past four years. My heart just broke when I read this letter from Vera Mukhina, two years before she died, when she was sent to a southern medical resort:
I've been in Barvikha for two weeks already, since August 24. I've already been lying down for twelve days, lying eternally, never standing, only to get to the table in my room for breakfast and lunch. [...] The doctors are closed books, and it's hard to engage them in an open conversation about one's health. It might be that it's necessary to do that; after all, why should a sick person know when he's going to die? But sometimes it's worse [not to know]. [...]

I can find no peace, I'm parched for life. I love life, I love the air, the sun, the earth; I love humans, I love actions. It's that which is killing me. It's obvious, this inactivity so necessary for me has torn me from my typical equilibrium, and I'm crawling up the walls. At the same time I understand why I must rest, I can't stop myself from reacting. They told me to lie down again today, and it upset me to tears - it didn't even upset me - and somehow stupidly insulted me. Can it be I'm already an invalid, can it be I'll never again climb into the woods for work... No one ever told me that I've become an invalid, but I can hear it in their words. I don't want this!
I still feel connections to these people whose voices I've sought to hear...

That seems like such a paltry understatement. What I mean to say is that this whole venture has been an attempt to reconstruct an imaginary analogue of these people -- but then I become sentimental when I succeed.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The truth comes out. No April Fools. A new manifesto?

My good? better? best? friend, Briullov, wrote recently about his rejection from academia, about how that rejection wasn't truly a rejection. Showing here. He's inspired me to write, finally, what I've been meaning to confess. What I've obliquely hinted at, in my own way
It's hard for me to describe my intellectual interests, even to the specialists in my field. It'll be still harder for them to swallow the surprises I have in store.
I haven’t always wanted to be a writer. Avoiding the opposite of that phrase, the trope “I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” was the advice I invariably heard from anyone who heard about my application to MFA Writing programs. It seemed, to them, a naturalized fact that anyone applying to such a program would have always wanted to write. Such a statement would be redundant, at best. To the contrary, I thought of writing as an escape route when I needed to detox from “real life.” I surrounded myself with philosophical treatises about the contingent individual and the postmodern context, and reassured myself that of the potentialities that once surrounded my existential being, I had chosen a definite path with a clear conclusion. This application is the physical manifestation of the thesis that I had not found such a path, not yet. The three years of developing professional and creative writing skills in pursuit of an MFA in Writing will enable me to embrace writing consciously in ways I hadn’t allowed myself to previously.

Using “escape” as the word to describe writing is in its own way ironic, for escapism, in hindsight, also fueled my previous career path. It was the most valid answer I could provide when I explained why I double majored in Russian and linguistics at the University of New Hampshire; how could one get further away from one’s roots in small-town New Hampshire than by flying across the world? Escapism - from the collapsing economy, from the job market - drove my flight into the “Ivory Tower.” I spent a year studying architects’ projects and rhetorical patterns at the Moscow Architectural Institute with a Faustian Contract, and secured myself a place in the entering PhD cohort at The University. I was fascinated by the concept of potentiality. Even though I studied architects who worked in the 1930s through 1950s, the height of Stalin’s terror and purging, the era defined in historical memory by the Gulag, I was less interested in rebellion and revolt than I was in the prospect of discovering how these individuals negotiated their spaces, enabled one another, and found creative outputs for their ideas. I could never have articulated it as such in the moment, but I was consumed by the reverberations of these aesthetes’ escape from the mundane existence of a terrorized Soviet population into their dreamworlds and fantasies.

Writing creatively was a tool for history. When I wrote for myself, the stories took on fantastical elements, as exemplified in the first story of my portfolio, “The Dream of a Radiant Future.” Yet as I continued to inculcate myself further with the theses and postulates of postmodern historiography, as I felt my mind bend (as any mind ought bend under the pressures of a quality education), I confronted the deep truth that the questions I asked were not historical questions, and were not questions that the discipline could easily subsume. Writing may have been a tool for history, but my interest in history was an improper expression of a deeper desire - to tell stories. When I accepted that idea, I realized I had always entertained the notion of a manuscript, a book deal, rescuing me from a PhD program in which I could perform admirably, but which I did not enjoy.

I have practiced telling this narrative, at least up to this point. A parallel narrative, about which I have spoken less because I am continuing to come to terms with it, regards my own identity. This past summer I came out as a bisexual man. The second story of my portfolio, “Should Ariel Be a Handsome Man,” arises from that decision. As I continue to accept myself, I hope to refine my thoughts and narrative techniques, to address the distinction between “gay and lesbian fiction” and mainstream literature. By that statement I do not mean that the only stories that interest me involve homosexual or non-heteronormative individuals. To the contrary, I hope to learn techniques in this program to address the normalized perception that there ought to be a distinction between gay writers for gay audiences and straight writers for straight audiences.

In contrast to the professorship I would surely have to pursue if I continued to study Russian history, I have opened myself up to a new set of possible outcomes and job opportunities. Allowing myself to contemplate three years of intensive creation and writing instruction imbues me with the hope that fiction writing will cease to be an exercise in escapism. Instead of perceiving an unbridled cluster of contingent paths, I am embracing the chance to write for writing’s sake, to practice ars gratis artis. In her article, “The Contingent Person and the Existential Choice” (Philosophical Forum Vol XXI 1989-90), Agnes Heller writes: “We cannot know ourselves, nor can others know what we ‘really’ are before we became what we are.” I may not have thought that I wanted to be a writer, but the concept of writing creatively always became a driving force in the ambitions I pursued.