As I sat waiting for the blue line last night, I threw on John Coltrane’s 1960 album Giant Steps, the first jazz album I ever bought. I’ve been listening to this album for an entire decade now, and I still have an extremely visceral reaction to it.
If we’re looking at the highlights of human development, you have to look at the evolution of the organism, and then at the development of its interaction with the environment. Evolution of the organism will begin with the evolution of life… perceived through the hominid, coming to the evolution of mankind. Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon man. Now, interestingly, what you’re looking at here are three strings: biological, anthropological— development of the cities, cultures— and cultural, which is human expression.
Now, what you’ve seen here is the evolution of populations, not so much the evolution of individuals. And in addition, if you look at the time scales that’s involved here— two billion years for life, six million years for the hominid, years for mankind as we know it— you’re beginning to see the telescoping nature of the evolutionary paradigm. And then when you get to agricultural, when you get to scientific revolution and industrial revolution, you’re looking at years, years, years. You’re seeing a further telescoping of this evolutionary time. What that means is that as we go through the new evolution, it’s gonna telescope to the point we should be able to see it manifest itself… within our lifetime, within this generation.
The new evolution stems from information, and it stems from two types of information: digital and analog. The digital is artificial intelligence. The analog results from molecular biology, the cloning of the organism. And you knit the two together with neurobiology. Before on the old evolutionary paradigm, one would die and the other would grow and dominate. But under the new paradigm, they would exist… as a mutually supportive, noncompetitive grouping.
Okay, independent from the external. And what is interesting here is that evolution now becomes an individually centered process, emanating from the needs and the desires of the individual, and not an external process, a passive process… where the individual is just at the whim of the collective. So, you produce a neo-human with a new individuality and a new consciousness. But that’s only the beginning of the evolutionary cycle… because as the next cycle proceeds, the input is now this new intelligence. As intelligence piles on intelligence, as ability piles on ability, the speed changes. Until what? Until you reach a crescendo in a way… could be imagined as an enormous instantaneous fulfillment of human, human and neo-human potential. It could be something totally different. It could be the amplification of the individual, the multiplication of individual existences. Parallel existences now with the individual no longer restricted by time and space.
And the manifestations of this neo-human-type evolution, manifestations could be dramatically counter-intuitive. That’s the interesting part. The old evolution is cold. It’s sterile. It’s efficient, okay? And its manifestations are those social adaptations. You’re talking about parasitism, dominance, morality, okay? Uh, war, predation, these would be subject to de-emphasis. These would be subject to de-evolution. The new evolutionary paradigm will give us the human traits of truth, of loyalty, of justice, of freedom. These will be the manifestations of the new evolution. That is what we would hope to see from this. That would be nice.
You are a television as much as the next person is a movie. People pay to watch you in some shape or form. This is not a solemn view upon you, rather a good one upon the interest you continue to continue to keep.
Constantly I find you looking out the window, playing with your hair in one hand that is bashful in a secret way. It turns red when people look at it the way flowers turn blue when no one is looking.
My ocean is a secret in your screen. I feel you coming from a mile away, but I just lapse into sleep again before it is over.
I knew you before I knew you and I was sure I had met you there, but it was before we had spoken that tables turned and people preached. Time does not exist, but it does not stop either because in death we are all dissimilar and the same at once, forgetting the facts of reality while we sleep eternally and internally. Where the flesh is willing and the spirit is weak is where our week ends and the day begins and we recognize all the things we could make out before we made-out.
Our love is like water and necessary to everyone who needs necessity and lacks want.
Society tells us that love is imperative, but I believe we are imperative, whether we love or not, to one another on a social basis of regards. In recognition of this, we hold our hands high and speak in unison that we are not bi-products, but one product of one life; individuals.
We bless ourselves by blessing others and when the day comes to end, we sleep only because we have been taught to, our bodies have been taught to, and our souls are tied to.
Believing people have little or no soul does not take the soul from them, rather, it breaks the barrier between two people when silence is maintained and makes them connected by physical, opposed to metaphysical, distance.
Is this bad?
That is the question you must ask yourself every time you look out the window.
Why are you looking rather than searching?
Why are you peering rather than walking?
Why are you and not her (or him)?
Constantly you are reminded of yourself. Inside, you are growing.
Reminding you: constantly, you are reminded of yourself.
You are growing.
And that love is real and physical.
Like everything and nothing is real and physical.
These are not “yes or no” questions.
These are questions. Questions with or without answers for the sake of the human stimulation.
You are a television just as much as the next person is a movie.
The agitated nerves of a coffee-based adrenaline rush fill his veins. His eyes shake and his vision sharpens in a negative sense, realizing that he is fully losing control. The picture in the frame is of her, dashing back and forth, vibrating like an atom before the megaton explosion. She is beautiful and he is a wreck.
A tear runs down his face. He misses her like a man misses a dog he grew up with. You can’t replace this bond and you can’t force it either. This is a love that lasts, but even in her time of need, he can’t be there.
She’s sitting on the fence again, holding his hand in the park. They’re uncomfortable because though it is a short fence, the wood is bony the way their butts are. It’s cute and memorable, but he can’t stop crying.
He’s been trying to make his way back to her, but mistake after mistake becomes memory after memory. This is all meant to happen in some strict, predestined way. He isn’t well. The bags under his eyes have swelled the way an old man’s would have. He loses sleep each night thinking about her.
It isn’t the break up. Not that one. It’s the other. The other break up that happened. He felt completely in a rage.
Yet, she is still sitting on the fence, holding on for dear life.
He pulls out a knife and cuts his face out of the picture. It does nothing for him and he begins to regret it, but again, he tapes his face to the picture. This sense of regret is the way one would feel if they didn’t study enough for an exam, but knew it was important.
Their life together could have been that exam. That testament to them.
But he just ruins it, crying onto his jeans, onto his brand name tennis shoes, onto his blank, one-color t-shirt. The poison running through his veins has him on edge, but he can’t rid himself of the taste. He’ll be done soon if he doesn’t eat something, but he needs this.
She looks like jail-bait in age comparison. He’s almost well into his twenties and she’s fifteen in the photo. The trees take a breath in and exhale with resignation. The bees fly near him, but not next to him. A dog licks the salt of tears off of his shoe. It’s like he’s King of the Forrest, but unaware of his own title.
She walks to him, seeing him in his worst. It’s like she’s only aged a few years. She’s coming to this gray old man of a boy standing in the park by himself, brushing off stranger’s attention by saying, I’m fine, don’t worry about it, while they reply, Okay, I won’t.
She hugs him tightly and he cries heavy inside. His heart finally rests because it is her. This is it. This is what he’s been looking for in the photo.
In his younger days, he might have said something to her, something suave or romantic or playful, but he’s out of that now. His prime is gone, but he feels good. The wrinkles on his face finally come to rest and she smiles at him.
The words deep and shallow mean about as much to me as the words ugly and beautiful. A conversation does not take on a persona, unless the conversation itself is separated from the speakers. I’ve had friends and family refer to work as deep or ideas as deep, but sometimes their characteristics are rather simple, like existential philosophy or humanism. But when it comes to these types who say “sex” and “drugs” are shallow subjects, are the senses not all at once entertained? It seems like they are to more of an extent than the “deep” ideas, which seem pleasurable as long as the senses provide for them. It seems like morality is a rather shallow subject that dictates the whole of most of our conversations and doesn’t encourage thinking as a whole.
"What if there isn’t a God? What if the whole thing, our lives, is a charade? What do we teach our children then?"
When you study minimalism in Tom Spanbauer’s workshop, the first story you read is Amy Hempel’s The Harvest. Next you read Mark Richard’s story Strays. After that, you’re ruined. If you love books, if you love to read, this is a line you may not want to cross. I’m not kidding. You go beyond this point, and almost every book you’ll ever read will suck. All those thick, third-person, plot-driven books torn from the pages of today’s news, well, after Amy Hempel, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and money.
Or not. Every year on the itemized Schedule C of my tax return, I deduct more money for new copies of Hempel’s three books, Reasons to Live, At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom, and Tumble Home. Every year, you want to share these books. What happens is they never come back. Good books never do. This is why my office shelves are crowded with nonfiction too gross for most people, mostly forensic autopsy textbooks, and a ton of novels I hate.
At a bar in New York last year, the literary bar KGB in the East Village, Hempel told me her first book is out of print. The only copy I know of is behind glass in the Powell’s rare book room, a first-edition hardcover selling for $75, without a signature. I have a rule about meeting the flesh-and-blood version of people whose work I love. That rule I’m saving for the end. Unless Hempel’s books are reprinted, I may end up spending more, or making fewer friends. You cannot not push these books on people, saying, “Read this,” saying, “Is it just me, or did it make you cry, too?” I once gave Animal Kingdom to a friend and said, “If you don’t love this, we have nothing in common.”
Every sentence isn’t crafted, it’s tortured over. Every quote and joke, what Hempel tosses out comedian-style, is something funny or profound enough you’ll remember it for years. The same way, I sense, Hempel has remembered it, held on to it, saved it for a place where it could really shine. Scary jewelry metaphor, but her stories are studded and set with these compelling bits. Chocolate-chip cookies with no bland cookie ‘matrix’, just nothing but chips and chopped walnuts. In that way, her experience becomes your experience. Teachers talk about how students need to have an emotional breakthrough, an “ah-hah!” discovery moment in order to retain information. Fran Lebovitz still writes about the moment she first looked at a clock and grasped the concept of telling time. Hempel’s work is nothing but these flashes, and every flash makes you ache with recognition.
Right now, Tom Spanbauer’s teaching another batch of students by photocopying The Harvest from his old copy of The Quarterly, the magazine edited by Gordon Lish, the man who taught minimalism to Spanbauer and Hempel and Richard. And, through Tom, to me. At first, The Harvest looks like a laundry list of details. You have no idea why you’re almost weeping by the end of seven pages. You’re a little confused and disoriented. It’s just a simple list of facts presented in the first person, but somehow it adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Most of the facts are funny as hell, but at the last moment, when you’re disarmed by laughter, it breaks your heart. She breaks your heart. First and foremost. That evil Amy Hempel. That’s the first bit Tom teaches you. A good story should make you laugh, and a moment later break your heart. The last bit is you will never write this well. You won’t learn this part until you’ve ruined a lot of paper, wasting your free time with a pen in one hand for years and years. At any horrible moment, you might pick up a copy of Amy Hempel and find your best work is just a cheap rip-off of her worst.
To demonstrate minimalism, students sit around Spanbauer’s kitchen table for ten weeks taking apart The Harvest. The first aspect you study is what Tom calls ‘horses’. The metaphor is–if you drive a wagon from Utah to California, you use the same horses the whole way. Substitute the word ‘themes’ or ‘choruses’ and you get the idea. In minimalism, a story is a symphony, building and building, but never losing the original melody line. All characters and scenes, things that seem dissimilar, they all illustrate some aspect of the story’s theme. In The Harvest, we see how every detail is some aspect of mortality and dissolution, from kidney donors to stiff fingers to the television series Dynasty.
The next aspect Tom calls ‘burnt tongue’. A way of saying something, but saying it wrong, twisting it to slow down the reader. Force the reader to read close, maybe read twice, not just skim along a surface of abstract images, short-cut adverbs, and clichés. In minimalism, clichés are called ‘received text’. In The Harvest Hempel writes: “I moved through the days like a severed head that finishes a sentence.” Right here, you have her ‘horses’ of death and dissolution and her writing a sentence that slows you to a more deliberate, attentive speed. Oh, and in minimalism, no abstracts. No silly adverbs like ’sleepily’, ‘irritably’, ’sadly’, please. And no measurements, no feet, yards, degrees, or years old. The phrase ‘an eighteen-year-old girl’, what does that mean? In The Harvest, Hempel writes: “The Year I began to say vahz instead of vase, a man I barely knew nearly accidentally killed me.” Instead of some dry age or measurement, we get the image of someone just becoming sophisticated, plus there’s burnt tongue, plus she uses her ‘horse’ of mortality. See how these things add up?
What else you learn about minimalism includes ‘recording angel’. This means writing without passing judgement. Nothing is fed to the reader as ‘fat’ or ‘happy’. You can only describe actions and appearances in a way that makes a judgement occur in the reader’s mind. Whatever it is, you unpack it into the details that will reassemble themselves within the reader. Amy Hempel does this. Instead of telling us the boyfriend in The Harvest is an asshole, we see him holding a sweater soaked with his girlfriend’s blood and telling her, “You’ll be okay, but this sweater is ruined.” Less becomes more. Instead of the usual flood of general details, you get a slow drip of single-sentence paragraphs, each one invoking its own emotional reaction. At best, she’s a lawyer who presents her case, exhibit by exhibit. One piece of evidence at a time. At worst, she’s a magician, tricking people. But reading, you always take the bullet without being told it’s coming.
So, we’ve covered ‘horses’ and ‘burnt tongue’ and ‘recording angel’. Now, writing ‘on the body’.
Hempel shows how a story doesn’t have to be some constant stream of blah-blah-blah to bully the reader by both ears and ram every moment down their throat. Instead, story can be a succession of tasty, smelly, touchable details. What Tom Spanbauer and Gordon Lish call ‘going on the body’, to give the reader a sympathetic physical reaction, to involve the reader on a gut level. The only problem with Hempel’s palace of fragments is quoting it. Take any piece out of context, and it loses power. The French philosopher Jacques Derrida likens writing fiction to a software code that operates in the hardware of your mind. Stringing together separate macro’s that, combined, will create a reaction. No fiction does this as well as Hempel’s, but each story is so tight, so boiled to bare facts, that all you can do is lie on the floor, face down, and praise it.
My rule about meeting people is–if I love their work, I don’t want to risk seeing them fart or pick their teeth. Last summer in New York I did a reading at Barnes & Noble on Union Square where I praised Hempel, telling the crowd that if she wrote enough, I’d just stay home and read in bed all day. The next night, she appeared at my reading in the Village. I drank half a beer and we talked without passing gas. Still, I kind of hope I never see her again. But I did buy that first edition for $75.
Bored lately. People are routines. You meet them, you have your fun, they start to disagree with everything you say. They don’t want to budge. You see things from their perspective, they think yours is ignorant, childish even. Atheism is the new chic.
Bored lately. Music isn’t new. The same rhythms, same dissonances. Maybe a new difference (one or two notes or rhythms) here and there, but it seems like risk-taking is too far out of reach. The avant garde too frightening even for the player. Nobody like Coltrane wants to exist. Jazz is dead. Music is dead.
Bored lately. Philosophy is the same redundant search for non-human answers to a human question. Put the circular block in the square hole. Try again. It’ll work eventually. Religion does the same thing. All these Americans taking to Buddhism because it sounds nice. All these Buddhists taking to Christianity because its more grounded. All these Christians taking to Atheism because science is convenient. Yet, none of their lifestyles change. They get lazier, sure, but nothing beneficial. More passive, I suppose. More staunch and willing to disagree, definitely.
Bored lately. Wanting to create something new. It’s going to be easy. Nobody has ever attempted what I am about to do because they are too narrow-sighted, too caught up with history, too bored with religion. You want change but can’t accept it. I’ll give you a new friend, a new Music, a new God, and you’ll cry out into the night. Your shriek will tear your lungs. Your eyes will go bloodshot with a chaotic fervor. When your body lays into your spine and all your bones snap, you will know me by name.
Thank you for the recommendation! I'll certainly look into that book, and laugh about how it compares to two years of pointless Physics. :D
No problem! Theoretical Physics to me is much more applicable to “looking” at things, I think. Where it is foundational, like gravity, it’s almost… obvious. Lots of calculus for the sake of figuring out… things. Not everybody needs to study this stuff. Maybe you’ll come back to it.
Ishmael is also a good place to look, but it doesn’t really talk about public schooling as much as anthropology and I suppose agriculture.
You want a man with a beard who will beat the shit out of anyone who talks about the status quo. He’s got to have a record of gold with the occasional traffic violation, maybe running a red light or a stop sign, illegally parking, but nothing off the deep end. When you talk to him about philosophy, he’ll know when he’s gone too far into himself. His family isn’t rich, but they’ve worked for what they’ve got. You admire that.
You want a man who looks at Calvin Klein and sneers. Slacks over twenty dollars is a crime, but he’ll be willing to spend three hundred on a tuxedo if it brings him into luxury long enough to change it. He’ll get it fitted so there is no room to grow into it, no room for others to try it on. It’ll be his and you’ll love it.
You want a man who partakes in vigilante justice. He carried a knife to untie himself during a bank robbery. This sounds absurd when he tells you this, but when he’s on Television as the first one who stood up to the perpetrators, he’ll be a hero. And you’ll want him.
You want a man who carries the world on his back. He drinks five cups of coffee throughout the day and talks about how he can see something over the horizon, closer than ever. What this is, he says, is the coming of the new tomorrow, the tomorrow worth doing something for. Even if that is getting out of bed one more time, he says. He says you’ve felt this in your bones since you learned of injustice and the unfairness of industrial civilization. He says you’ve gone to college and gotten a doctorate and still don’t feel satisfied because you need two more weeks off of your life, two weeks to wander, to find out where it is your feet will take you when you’re completely on auto pilot. Smoke pot, he says. Take a hit so big you forget who you are. Drink so much you throw up. But, he remembers, make sure you are in good company, people who want you there. If they don’t, you’ll be constantly reminded you are not yet living.
I hate quotes like this. My entire creative process is thinking. Uninhibited thinking. Yet, boners like this continue to rain on my parade. I’m not saying anything I’ve done is gold, but a lot of great art comes from thinking. Maybe I’m just worn out on the completely passive and inactive western view of Buddhism. What happened to all the quotes about work? How your life is work? Life is suffering?
Yeah, these are just those happy-time, feel-good sessions from the mind of someone not willing to put both his feet forward.
Are you writing a novel?According to certain online sites, an element of new and inexperienced writers think that writing a novel is merely a matter of typing their story into a computer, wrapping it, sending it to an agent, then sitting back until fame arrives… They couldn’t be…
Some of this advice is incredibly bad. If these are rules, it’s a good idea for everyone involved to break them. Particularly #8 and #10. Four books that come to mind that break both of these “rules” are House of Leaves, Orxy and Crake, Fight Club, and Island. Perhaps even Nausea by Sartre. Readers are not always seeking entertainment. That marganilizes both writers and readers looking for something more out of a book. Ishmael comes to mind. Desolation Angels comes to mind.
Online writer’s circles are just about as reliable as friends and family in their bias.
And since when does an author need an agent? This seems almost like propaganda from an author (or more likely an agent) trying to create a world full of one-dimensional writers and readers.