Thursday, April 28, 2016

'the grandiose stimulation of the grandest illusion'

Sarah Sze, Night

Last week I read Philip Roth's prurient opus The Dying Animal (2001)—which I think I'll need to roll through a second time during the next month, and find someone with whom I can discuss the ambivalent exchange punctuating the novel. (Who's Kepesh talking to, what do we think he decides to do, does it matter, etc.)

Roth writes with the sharp precision of an acupuncturist, so here I have another paperback with the corner of every fifth page folded down. The deepest dog-ear isn't on the page introducing the tangential history of Thomas Morton and the scandalized Puritans of old New England, the incredible sequence where a bedridden, palsied stroke victim tries to undress the wife he's been cheating on for decades, or the page with the magnificent line: "Because only when you fuck is everything that you dislike in life and everything by which you are defeated in life purely, if momentarily, revenged." It's actually on the pages recounting the flair and festoon of the moments when December 31, 1999 clicked over into January 1, 2000. The inauguration of the new millennium. It's an exquisite reckoning of an event I remember and wrote about in The Zeroes—though with hardly a fraction of the incision and prescience Roth brings to it, which is why he's won a Pulitzer and I, uh, won't.
We watched the New Year coming in around the world, the mass hysteria of no significance that was the millennial New Year's Eve celebration. Brilliance flaring across the time zones, and none ignited by bin Laden. Light whirling over nighttime London more spectacular than anything since the splendors of colored smoke billowed up from the Blitz. And the Eiffel Tower shooting fire, a facsimile flame-throwing weapon such as Wernher von Braun might have designed for Hitler's annihilating arsenal——the historical missile of missiles, the rocket of rockets, the bomb of bombs, with ancient Paris the launching pad and the whole of humanity the target. All evening long, on networks everywhere, the mockery of the Armageddon that we'd been waiting in our backyard shelters since August 6, 1945. How could it not happen? Even on that very night, especially on that night, people anticipating the worst as though the evening were one long air-raid drill. The wait for the chain of horrendous Hiroshimas to link in synchronized destruction the abiding civilizations of the world. It's now or never. And it never came.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

[one reason] why I have no hope for the future

Bren Bataclan, 'Landfill'

(Meanwhile, a recent study suggests that sea levels will probably rise even higher than we thought—three feet—by 2100.)

So I have a job. It's not a great one. We've gone over this. At the risk of divulging too much about how I earn my paycheck and where, I'll say that one of my occasional responsibilities is to check on a few trash bins. If the bins are full, I am to remove the refuse-laden bags and put empty ones in place. The full bags are deposited into a large cart in a back room, and are eventually wheeled into the basement and unloaded into a couple of dumpsters by the loading dock. There are dumpsters for rubbish, single-stream recycling, and flattened cardboard.

The trash bins are clearly labeled. One says "TRASH" in adhesive white letters, stark against a hinged aluminum lid. The other lid bears the universal recycling symbol (♻). There is no ambiguity as to what kinds of materials are meant to be placed in which bin.

We Americans aren't exactly renowned for our scrupulousness with regards to consumption and waste minimization. This innit no third-world dictatorship. This is the land of the free, spacious skies, for amber waves of grain. I own a petrol-powered automobile and it's my Christian responsibility to drive it to any destination farther than two blocks away. I eat meat with every meal, beef five times a week. If the town wants to bulldoze another tract of woodland to make room for another Starbucks, Qdoba, and Target, I say wonderful, job creation, shorter lines at all the other Starbuckses. I won't be unplugging my clothes dryer, cutting back on hot showers, giving up air conditioning, or withdrawing my support for monocropped produce anytime soon. But I recycle! I recycle, god damn it, so don't tell me I'm not doing my part.

Recycling is the one no-brainer of personal ecological responsibility (particularly here in the northeast). More Americans recycle than vote. You'd think we'd be better at it.

Monday, April 4, 2016


For the first time in five years, Beyond Easy will not be celebrating National Poetry Month.

No, it's not that I don't like poetry anymore. I read The Writer's Almanac almost every morning; I'm stoked to get my hands on a copy of Herman Melville's Clarel (which is, incidentally, the longest poem in American literature); I consider the best thing I've read in a lit zine so far this year is Emily Schultz's poem "Everything of You Resembles a Human;" poetry collections are still some of my favorite material for bathroom reads. But I'm pretty much out of material to share. Most of my old favorites have been covered at this point. I'm no longer living above a library with a healthy and diverse poetry section. And I don't have the time or impetus lately to read stacks and stacks of journals and anthologies to cull and curate my favorite pieces. (I'm simultaneously writing/revising/finalizing/rewriting like three 10,000–20,000-word stories, and that's using quite a bit of my personal bandwidth.)

So yeah. That's that.

Oh—what the heck. Here's one for the road: a short piece (anthologized in The Best American Poetry 2013) by Tim Seibles, a poet born of Philadelphia, the city that's been lighting my cigarettes lately.


Sotto Voce: Othello, Unplugged
Tim Seibles (1955 – )

Iago, it was not Desdemona but myself

I loved too much. So many battles found me
unharmed, but the want of beauty struck

like a kind of death. My rank only served
to wound my head with bigger dreams.
Didn't I deserve better than the tricks

every season brings? All my years

had stumbled into shadow: my own
dark face, harder and harder to find

in this cold kingdom. You knew my soul
ached for a woman who could conduct
my blood——that I might be in love alive

with the sharp sublime flinting
her eyes. All mine! My heart nearly
doubled     until you made me doubt——

not so much Desdemona as my own
worthiness: if what I was couldn't make love

faithful     I thought better to be done with

her     than to know myself a smaller man.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

ignorance & infidels

Lately I get the sense that the term "ignorant people/ppl" is semiotically congruent with the medievalist appellation "Saracen." It has become a tribalist slur against an Other, an anonymous corporate entity somewhere out there that isn't like us, doesn't see things the way we do, and deserves nothing but our contempt.

When we accuse someone of ignorance, we're not stating that person is, to our regret, unaware of certain facts as a consequence of a lack of education of life experience. We're basically saying that person is an irredeemable heretic.

This is not to say that ignorance of the facts and of the world isn't a problem in any society. (Of course—in the the filter bubble paradigm, the question is: which facts, whose world?) And it's not to say it's not that the American body politic isn't embarrassing itself with the persistence of climate-change denialism or the horrifying viability Trump's candidacy. But the tendency of people—mostly on the left, from what I've seen—to use "ignorant" as shorthand for people with political beliefs at variance with their own has me worried.