Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Swamps and Black Mana

Stephan Martiniere (Swamp from Ravnica)

When I visited Jason at Earthdance last January, I left my EDH deck with him for safekeeping—not only for the deck's sake, but to ensure that I wouldn't allot all of my money and mental bandwidth to Magic: the Gathering in the months ahead. So when I visited him last week, you'd better believe we stayed up until three in the morning playing EDH games that went on forever. It was great. As an artist of sorts, I take great pride in how my Sheoldred deck functions like the well-greased Phyrexian nightmare machine Miss Shelly would have wanted it to be. (At least in two-player matches, anyway; in multiplayer the best I can usually hope for is to really ruin one person's shit before melting down on myself.)

Wait. Let's talk about something else. I need to think about something other than Magic. Once it gets back in your head, all the grooves of your brain become declined towards collection and cardflopping.

Actually, there's something about the basic premise and system of Magic that has started to bother me these last few years. Just a little, and not in any way that detracts from my enjoyment of the game and my admiration for its designers.

So in Magic: the Gathering, there are five types or colors of magic, which are each fueled by a particular flavor of mana drawn from a particular natural landscape or ecosystem. We all know this. For instance: white is the magic of light, healing, and protection, and is drawn from the sun-drenched plains. Green is the magic of life, fecundity, and growth, and is drawn from old-growth forests. So  far, so good. And black is the magic of death, cruelty, and greed, and is drawn from swamps.

I have to speak out on behalf of the swamps here.

If you're looking for a landscape that represents corruption and toxicity, swamps and marshes aren't your best choices. Few ecosystems are so dynamic or diverse, so rich, so teeming with the raw stuff of life. You can expect the soil to be much richer than that of a meadow, plains, or dry forest. The animal and microbial biodiversity of wetlands are staggering. If you want to see critters, visit a swamp or marsh instead of a dry forest or city park.

Ebony jewelwings, spangled skimmers, great blue herons, green herons, barn swallows, red-winged blackbirds, eastern box turtles, green frogs, northern water snakes—I'm just rattling off the animals I remember spotting during a half-hour visit to Jersey's Tourne marsh last July. There are more I'm not recalling, and certainly many more that I didn't notice.

This is a photograph I took with Hannah's iPhone in November; obviously I'm not used to taking pictures with one of these things. This is the marsh in Tourne Park. I must have known there was no way I could get a shot of it without a decent camera, but I tried anyway. (I took several pictures, but this is the only one Hannah sent my way. I don't know why this was the one she chose.)

What this (and every other) shot misses are the clouds of cattail seed drifting over the clearing. When disturbed by the wind (or by big dumb animals tromping around), tiny airborne seeds are shaken from the cattail seedheads, lifted up, and scattered by the breeze. When we first approached the scene, there was half a moment when I wondered if what we were looking at was a localized snow flurry that somehow touched only the marsh. I'd never seen anything quite like it before.

All I'm saying is that I'm not sure this is the sort of site you'd tap as a resource for necrotic death energy.


It would probably be inapropos to the medieval fantasy setting of Magic: the Gathering's original design, but if Richard Garfield wanted to be realistic, he would have had black mana coming from Wal Mart parking lots. Or warehouses. Factories. Office complexes. Or, hell: just any overdeveloped main street packed with strip malls on either side.

Places where nothing grows. Places with asphalt and oil slicks and overflowing trash bins and great big dumpsters out back where the rats get sick on the garbage and grease trap waste leaks out into storm drains and bleeds into the river with Starbucks cups and cigarette butts. Places full of tumescent ape bodies leaving trails of plastic and carbon as they maunder from Target to McDonald's to Dunkin' Donuts to the Exxon station to the liquor store to the smut shop...

You want landscapes that represent decay and amorality? Forget "natural" settings. Pick an anthropized landscape. After all, concepts like greed, deceit, and perfidy have no meaning in places where there aren't any people. Most every other biome tends towards fostering diversity; landscapes co-opted by human beings aggressively make themselves uninhabitable to anything that can't live on garbage and dung (and such species are often regarded as pests and systematically exterminated as such).

Loathing the ecology that keeps one alive must be a peculiar feature of people living in the modern age. Like a marriage where everything about your partner disgusts and offends you, but the sex is great and he/she is a reliably good cook—and where you can expect your life to become completely and irrevocably upended if you try to file for divorce.

My philosophy of deck construction in Magic has always been grounded in the classic Necropotence deck. On some gut level I seem to accept that I'm sustained by something that operates by sucking the life out of everything with which it comes into contact, myself included.

I need to get the hell out of Silver Spring.

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Haven't updated much this month. Had my hands a bit full elsewhere. A new Sisyphus and Sawtooth strip got started, but got put on the backburner while I work on the long awaited (by somebody, I'm sure) MOTHER 3 writeup for  SMPS. Hopefully I'll have that wrapped up before long. That and novel #2, which I'm going to be self-publishing in the next month or two...

I hope you enjoyed The Descent of Winter, or at least some parts of it. It's a strange piece, unwieldy and inconsistent and undeveloped, but candid and probing. Sometimes there are spicules of the sublime in marginal notes, sketches, incomplete thoughts...

Our own descent into winter concludes today. Happy solstice, everyone.

Maybe it's become more pronounced since Lin Yutang's The Wisdom of Confucius became a regular bathroom read, but over the past year or so I find myself drawn to rituals of observance when the ecliptic approaches its critical points. (Perhaps you've noticed.)

I had a few days off last week and thought it was a fine opportunity to visit Jason up at Earthdance in rural Massachusetts. I leave the mainland in mid-January. All it's done here in Maryland is rain and drizzle. This trip might be the only time I'll have seen and felt the snow and ice this winter.

I have mixed feelings about moving to the tropics. But it's a trip I have to take. Silver Spring is making me crazy.

No—even worse. It's making me sane in the worst kind of way. Sanity as the psychological state described by Celia Green: anthropocentric, emotionally and intellectually captivated by banalities, and possessed of a dullard's logical positivism.

Hence the flight to Massachusetts to visit seekers who never stopped seeking and make myself a little more crooked after four months of getting hammered into straight lines.

It was vivifying to stand outside, to sit in a cold bedroom with the window open and hear, if not silence, only the wind passing through the stripped canopy or the purling of a nearby stream. In Silver Spring I live in a house—in a room that's always ninety degrees for some reason—a house that sits about five blocks from Interstate 495. The Beltway. All I ever hear is traffic.

Over a week ago I received the last of the rejection slips from the last of the ten or so small presses to which I pitched a manuscript in a final, knowingly futile effort to see my second novel published legitimately. And there was a day that I just didn't, I couldn't get out of bed. And a chickadee landed on the awning over the front door, five feet from my bedroom window, and called out once, seven notes, before flitting away. It was like honey on my lips. To hear the voice of a wild, unknowable life instead of the mechanical hum of traffic. And the only stars I can ever see are the winter keystones, but it's always raining here. The clouds in Massachusetts weren't glowing like magnesium flares at night, and the untrodden snow and obstinacy of the stillness have a way of muffling the self-absorption of the urbanized.

But an occasion such as the approach of the hibernal solstice—the day, the moment that the Earth's axis is inclined furthest from the sun—demands a ceremony of observance. And so once again  I found myself in a little wooden shack in the woods with a room that heats up to 180° F when there's wood burning in the stove, naked in a half-lotus, sweating profusely amid the febrile shadows. (Jason prepared a concoction of water, salt, honey, lemon, and ginger to keep us hydrated, and seems to have inadvertently reverse engineered Gatorade.)

And when I got overheated I flung myself outside and stood out in the snow and ice and 25° air for as long as I could stand it, and watched the snowflakes catching the lamplight from the farmhouse and the steam billow from my limbs. Symbolic more than superstitious: a kind of tributary acknowledgement of nature, of the inexorable truth of the cold and the dark, the background of everything, that which bears down against us and every burning star like the shadows pressing against a candle melting down its wick. Feeling that which exists, that which the civilized of us can only survive by shutting ourselves in and shutting it out.

Someone like me, someone who grew up on games and cartoons and now reads and writes novels, is inclined to meet the world almost exclusively though his eyes and ears. But we are tactile creatures. We've built our environment such that we're made to feel the world as little as possible. Air conditioners in the summer. Heaters and humidifiers in the winter. Smooth surfaces. Ergonomic everything. Somatic neutrality.

That's why I want to feel the cold.

And why, during some summer nights when I lived in Jersey, I'd go out into the woods by myself and take off my clothes by the creek, and feel the leaves and twigs scratching and poking at my back and the abrasive wet stones on my legs and rear. Shut my dark-adapted eyes and just feel it.

Sometimes I chew on leaves and stems. And why not? Add taste to the ways in which you experience the world. To know that which exists by more than the light that bounces off it.

No. Actually, I don't chew on leaves much anymore. I've felt a kind of tunnel vision come over me. The tangle outside the straight lines becomes less relevant. If I see it, it makes less of an impression than it did a year ago, even six months ago. Like how you don't notice the fact of the sky's blue unless something directs your attention to it. It gets caught in the filter and shaken out into the ether with all the other bugs and everyday miracles...

And that's why I need to leave Silver Spring, rock gyms and friends and job be damned.

But to the tropics. Damned if I saw that one coming.

I don't see it as a flight to paradise. The hardy penuriousness of the temperate forest or marsh or meadow, even in winter, is fiber to fiber, grain to grain, feather to feather as beautiful as any tropical extravagance. Elegance as the issue of a cyclical famine. The contingencies of evolution: persistence by making do. Beauty as aptness to purpose. An ecosystem must be beautiful or its constituents would have otherwise diminished unto extinction.

Six in the morning. Probably time for sleep. Yesterday morning—around seven—I heard a Carolina wren in the neighbors' yard. I might try to fight off drowsing for a little while longer so I can hear it again. It had been several days since I'd experienced anything around here that seemed like it might be real.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Descent of Winter: 12/18

Paul Klee, Bust of a Child

   Here by the watertank and the stone, mottled granite, big as a rhinocerous head——cracked on one side——Damn families. My grandfather was a businessman, you know. He kept the ice house in Mayaguez. They imported the ice. He kept it and sold it. My grandmother, my mother's mother, would make syrups, strawberry and like that. He would sell them also. But his half-brother Henriquez, there's plenty of that in my family, would go there, to the ice house, and drink all day long without paying anything, until the man my grandfather had there complained. "You know Henriquez comes and drinks five or six glasses of syrup and never pays anything."He did that. Just drank, lived at the house, took anything he pleased. That's how, as my mother says, she came to know Manuel Henriquez, her half-cousin, better than she did her own brother who was away much of the time studying. Henriquez would never work, help or do anything until my grandfather had to tell him to stop. It was at about this time my grandfather died and this is how my mother came to hate and distrust the Germans. All my grandfather's friends were German, all but a few. "It was a man named Krug. I suppose he may have been father's partner anyhow he was his best friend, I don't know. When my father died, Krug came to my mother and asked her if she had anything because my father owed some money. She had an hacienda in the country that she had since before she was married, her own. She gave that. Then Krug came and said it was all gone, that there was nothing left. After that, he turned his back on the family (the skunk). It was the Spanish druggist Mestre who lent my mother the money to buy a few things and sell them to make a little business. He was a Catalan——they can't say Pepe, like a Castilian but he would call his wife, Papeeta. My mother would send to Paris for a half dozen fine shirts, but fine, fine shirts and a few things like that. My brother was in Paris studying. When Krug told my mother she must send for him, that there was nothing left, she wrote. He answered her that he would sweep the streets of Paris rather than leave. She would send him money she made on her little business. Sometimes, he told us afterward, he would keep a sou in his pocket two weeks so as not to say he hadn't any money. The students helped each other. Barclay, an Englishman, was one of his best friends. He helped him."

   That's why my own mother's education ended abruptly. Sometimes she would copy out letters for my grandmother, child that she was, to send to Paris. When her brother returned a doctor he himself sent her to Paris to study painting. But he married and he began to have children and he never collected any money——he had a wife too. So finally he sent for my mother to go back to Santa Domingo where they were living then. Mother cried for three days then she had to go and leave it all. When she got there her brother told her about his friend, Blackwell. A fine fellow, the best in the world, "pero no es musicante." Blackwell was in the States at the time of my mother's return home from Paris having his teeth fixed.

   When a little child would be bothersome they would tell her to go ask the maid for a little piece of ten te aya.

   When my brother was happy he would sing, walking up and down kicking out his feet: Si j'étais roi de Bayaussi-e, tu serais reine-e par ma foi! You made me think of him right away.


Monday, December 15, 2014

The Descent of Winter: 12/15

Henri Matisse, Woman with Amphora

     What an image in the face of Almighty God is she
     her hands in her slicker pockets, head bowed
     Tam pulled down, flat-backed, lanky-legged,
     loose feet kicking the pebbles as she goes



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Descent of Winter: 12/9

Emanuel Ologeano, Blue City

  Imagine a family of four grown men, one in bed with a sore throat, one with fresh plaster dust on his pants, one who played baseball all last summer and one holding the basin, four young men and no women but the mother with smallpox scars marring the bridge and the end of her nose and dinner on the table, oil and meat bits and cuts of green peppers, the range giving out a heat for coats on the backs of the chairs to dry in.

  Fairfield: Peoples Loan and Service, Money to Loan: and a young man carrying a bowling ball in a khaki canvas case. The Midland and a fern in the window before the inner oak and cut-glass screen. House and sign painting in all its branches. Fairfield Bowling and Billiard Academy. Architect John Gabrone Architect, U.S. Post Office, Fairfield, N.J. Branch. Commercial Barber Shop. The New Cigarette Three Castles. Real Estate and Insurance. Motor Vehicle Agency. Commercial Lunch. Fairfield Home Laundry, soft water washing.



Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Descent of Winter: 12/2

Georges Braque, Rio Tinto Factories
at L'Estaque

  The first snow was a white sand that made the white rocks seem red.

  The police are "the soldiers of the Duke." The great old names: Gaynor, Healy—



Sunday, November 30, 2014

racists getting fired (& getting racists fired)

Over the last few days I've noticed a lot of folks on the Twitter and the Face-book linking to the new Tumblr sensation. It's called racists getting fired (& getting racists fired), and its purpose is to find people saying nasty racist shit on social media, finding out where they work, directing their superiors to aforesaid racist shit, and getting them fired.

I kind of really hate it.

I'm not apologizing for racists. It's unnecessary to explain why not: their beliefs are ignorant and atavistic and should have no place in the twenty-first century (or any century, for that matter). But it makes me uncomfortable that many of the same people who were so livid at at the Gamergaters' doxxing tactics are the ones linking to and applauding Racists Getting Fired.

When you disconnect the politics from either scenario, what you essentially have are a group of motivated zealots targeting a total stranger who has offended them and proactively working to ruin their life. We would certainly be upset if, say, some mean-spirited trog outed somebody—someone they've never actually met face to face or spoken to—as gay or transgendered, or got them fired from their job at a Catholic relief services nonprofit by pointing to a blog post where they refer to undergoing in-vitro fertilization. But then we Like and Favorite and Retweet when someone performs the same sort of attack on a person whose views we don't like.

"Bullshit," you say. "People need to be held accountable for believing and saying things beyond the pale." Sure. Remember that when you arrive at a moment in your life when your personal compass doesn't align with the crowd's.

I think it speaks to how personhood has been revised by the internet. The people (assholes) on Racists Getting Fired aren't really people to us. They're just the part of them that says racist shit. It's really easy to advocate for a stranger's public humiliation, to go behind their back and divest them of their income, to hand out their phone numbers to thousands of acrimonious anonymouses when what you're dealing with isn't someone you see as an actual and complete person, but as a remote abstraction of a person. (Funny: don't we often think of racism as the reduction of a human being to a single characteristic?)

What bothers me most (as someone who would like to consider himself a progressive) is that tactics like these aren't going to be very effective in the long run. They're great for rallying the believers, but not necessarily for winning converts, which is what we want to do. The successes of the queer community towards achieving social acceptance over the last thirty years weren't achieved by an intimidation campaign, but by what was essentially good PR: by demonstrating to an ignorant and hitherto biased public that, gosh, these are people with feelings, aspirations, and contributions to make, just like anyone else. Winning hearts and minds. You don't persuade holdouts to change their beliefs by subjecting offenders to a digital auto-da-fé. More likely than not, it will leave their noxious beliefs unchanged or reaffirmed (how often is a forced repentance honest?), and help "SJW" further along its way to becoming a slur. We don't want social progressivism to become associated with vengeful thought-policing, with people who only care for free expression when what's being said is what they agree with. Not only will its proponents risk being discredited, but so will the cause itself.

People like Daryl Davis have the right idea. (I wish I had occasion to link to that piece more frequently.) We can't all do what he can, but the key is to make our ideological opponents into our allies. We can't very well round up and gas all the racists in the world; we have to give them cause to sincerely become non-racists.

But yeah, it's much easier and more immediately and viscerally satisfying to terrorize them via the internet, and it'll win you more followers on Tumblr. So carry on.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Descent of Winter: 11/28

     I make very little money.
     What of it?
     I prefer the grass with the rain on it
     the short grass before my headlights
     when I am turning the car——
     a degenerate trait, no doubt.
     It would ruin England.



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fires and Ferguson

I wish I could watch the violence in Ferguson with some satisfaction. This whole thing has just sucked, dismally sucked, from beginning to end, August to November.

"Everything in moderation, including moderation," I saw someone saying on Twitter on Monday night, when downtown Ferguson started to burn. This has been a salient theme in the Twitterati's response to the fallout from the Michael Brown verdict: the rioting is unfortunate, but if it isn't justified, then it exists in a kind of moral vacuum, isolated from and unassailable by the judgements and admonitions of anyone watching from the outside. Let it happen; it had to happen, the crowd had no other recourse.

It's interesting how this strain of social exegesis accurately, albeit indirectly, acknowledges that the actors in the Ferguson danse infernale were not behaving as totally autonomous agents (whose actions were determined by some obscure factor called "free will"), but as organisms doing precisely what organisms do: answering their present environment precisely how that environment has developed them to answer it.

A tautology: riots are caused by environments apt to cause riots. We can refine this by inserting the appropriate sociological diagnoses, but it is enough here. The social environment is much more at fault than the human beings or human behavior it produces, whether considered individually or as an aggregate.

Fires must be put out. Letting a blaze run its course is one way of seeing it extinguished; it demands the least effort of intervention, but is certainly the most costly in the long term. And that is why I can't condone the rioters, why I still have to be one of those sententious assholes who sits far away and yawps about nonviolent civil disobedience.

Where fires are concerned, it is most sensible to subtract from the environment the necessities for ignition: if no fires start, there is no need to put them out.

We are doing a very poor job of this. The Micheal Brown case has been like trying to extinguish a spark by smothering it with kindling.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson: Dispatch from an Alternate Dimension

A few hours ago the grand jury announced its verdict in the Michael Brown case, and I haven't been able to turn away from the videos of cheering and dancing in the streets. The system might be imperfect, but as we've seen tonight, it works. The people who enforce the law aren't above the law, and justice is colorblind. And that is truly cause for celebration.

Though it came at a grave and irreparable cost, the Michael Brown saga, from start to finish, has been a reaffirmation of the rule of law America. The eyes of the world were on us as the first outraged demonstrators took to the streets in August, and we can all take pride in the professionalism and calibrated response of the Ferguson Police Department as they sternly but quietly observed the protestors' right to peaceful assembly, even as they themselves were the subject of the protest.

It really is astonishing that the protests never grew violent. The discipline of the protestors has been almost unbelievable, as have the responses of government officials at nearly ever level. Remember how Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson's public address on August 11 went viral? ("The police exist to serve the community...and today the community is wounded.") And there was President Obama's impassioned speech in Saint Louis on August 15 when he promised, in essence, to investigate and scale back the militarization of local police forces, and House Speaker John Boehner's formation of an ad hoc committee to investigate police training and procedure. (It really is a shame that it takes a disaster like this to get congressional Republicans to agree with Obama on something.) Everyone rose to the occasion, but special accolades are due to St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch for gracefully stepping down from the occasion, acknowledging that any perceived conflict of interest or partiality would discredit the entire proceeding.

My friend James has been in Ferguson for the last few days, waiting on the announcement of the grand jury's decision. I asked him over the phone what he thought might happen if Darren Wilson escaped an indictment—were we looking at a Midwestern sequel to the 1992 riots in Los Angeles?

He just laughed. "Absolutely not. No way. That would solve nothing. Everyone here knows better than to shit where they eat."

I actually got another call from James a few minutes ago. Even though the celebrations are winding down, it was still hard to hear him over all the cheering and music in the streets. I reminded him that this isn't the end of it; Wilson still has to stand trial, and there's a chance—we can't guess how much of one—that he'll be acquitted in the end.

"Maybe. Just maybe we've been wrong about him. But we'll have to wait and see. Let the system do its work."

Judging from what I'm seeing on Twitter, most observers are sharing James' sentiment. People aren't out for blood or revenge here: from the beginning this has been a murky case with wildly inconsistent testimony, and what most us want is to get to the truth of what happened on August 9, 2014. Taking the matter to trial will ensure that it is given a fair, rigorous, and transparent examination.

I don't know about the rest of you, but tonight I'm proud to be an American. Despite its foibles, America has once again proven the efficacy of its justice system and the gentle rectitude of its people. Imperfect as we may yet be, we are drawing ever closer to the vision of "a city upon a hill" espoused by John Winthrop, the Massachusetts Bay Colony founder and governor renowned for his religious tolerance and commitment to an equitable coexistence with the Wampanoag tribes.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Descent of Winter: 11/24

Paul Klee, Comedy

  If genius is profuse, never ending——stuck in the middle of a work is——the wrong track. Genius is the track, seen. Once seen it is impossible to keep from it. The superficial definitions, such as "genius is industry, genius is hard work, etc." are nonsense. It is to see the track, to smell it out, to know it inevitable—sense sticking out all round feeling, feeling, seeing——hearing touching. The rest is pure gravity (the earth pull).

  Creations:——they are situations of the soul (Lear, Harpagon, Œdipus Rex, Electra) but so closely (subjectively) identified with life that they become people. They are offshoots of an intensely simple mind. It is no matter what we think, no matter what we are.

  The drama is the identification of the character with the man himself (Shakespeare——and his sphere of knowledge, close to him). As it flares in himself, the drama is completed and the back kick of it is the other characters, created as the reflex of the first, so the dramatist "lives," himself in his world. A poem is a soliloquy without the "living" in the world. So the dramatist "lives" in the character. But to labor over the "construction" over the "technique" is to defeat, to tie up the drama itself. One cannot live after a prearranged pattern, it is all simply dead.

  This is the thing (obvious and simple) that except through genius makes the theater a corpse. To intensely realize identity makes it live (borrowing stealing the form by feeling it——as an uninformed man must). A play is this primary realization coming up to intensity and then fading (futilely) in self. This is the technique, the unlearnable, it is the natural drama, which can't imagine situations in any other way than in association with the flesh——till it becomes living, it is so personal to a nothing, a nobody.

  The painfully scrupulous verisimilitude which honesty affects——drill, discipline defeats its own ends in——

  To be nothing and unaffected by the results, to unlock, and to flow (They believe that when they have the mold of technique made perfect without a leak in it that the mind will be drilled to flow there whereas the mind is locked the more tightly the more perfect the technique is forged) (or it may flow, disencumbered by what it has learned, become unconscious, provided the technique becomes mechanical, goes out of the mind and so the mind (now it has been cut for life in this pattern)) can devote itself to that just as if it had learned it intuitively or not at all.

  To be nothing and unaffected by the results, to unlock and flow, uncolored, smooth, carelessly——not cling to the unsolvable lamps of personality (yourself and your concessions, poems) concretions——



Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Descent of Winter: 11/22

and hunters still return
even through the city
with their guns slung
openly from the shoulder
emptyhanded howbeit
for the most part
                 but aloof

as if from and truly from
another world



Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Descent of Winter: 11/20

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, The Idiot

       Even idiots grow old
         in a cap with the peak
       over his right ear
          minding the three goats
       behind the firehouse
         his face is deeper lined
       than last year
         and then the rain comes down
       in gusts suddenly



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Descent of Winter: 11/13

Giacomo Balla, The Speed of a Motorcycle


   As the ferry came into the slip there was a pause then a young fellow on a motorcycle shot out of the exit, looked right and left, sighted the hill, opened her up and took the grade at top speed. Right behind him came three others bunched and roaring by, and behind them was a youngster travelling in fast company his eyes fastened on the others, and behind him an older guy sitting firm and with a face on him like a piece of wood ripped by without a quiver. And that brings it all up——Shakespeare——plays.

   . . . Its hands stuck up in the air like prongs. Just sticking up in the air, fingers spread apart.

Goethe was a rotten
dramatist . . .


Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Descent of Winter: 11/16

Pablo Picasso, Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar & Newspaper

   The art of writing is all but lost (not the science which comes afterward and depends completely on the first) it is to make the stores of the mind available to the pen——Wide! That which locks up the mind is vicious.

   Mr. Seraphim: They hate me. Police Protection. She was a flaming type of stupidity and its resourceful manner under Police Protection——the only normal: a type. One of the few places the truth (demeaned) clings on.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Some Thoughts on Ferdydurke

Though I am a fuddyduddy bookstore apologist, I confess my favorite mode of shopping for books is online—at three in the morning, after a night out with friends. It's great fun: you're back at home, still buzzing and crackling, you've browsed from your email inbox into some book review or recommendation, and your heightened suggestibility presently enters into conjunction with your one-click-enabled Amazon account.

Ten days later you find an unexpected package in the mail, and in that package is some 1937 surrealist Polish novel called Ferdydurke by a guy (Witold Gombrowicz) you're pretty sure you've never heard of.

"What the fuck is this?" you say to yourself.

So you read the book, because you suppose that must have been your plan all along. And you finish the last page and study the back cover for a few moments.

"What the fuck was that?" you say to yourself.

So: Witold Gombrowicz's Ferdydurke.

It's a weird book, especially to the twenty-first century reader dipping into it without much context, intimate knowledge of Polish society circa 1930, and who has to rely on a translator to convey what must very clearly be an idiosyncratic and neologistic writing style. But the surface of it is easy enough to follow: a thirty-year-old author, "Joey" (a surrogate for Gombry himself) wakes up one morning after an unsettling dream, and as he sits around mulling over the failure of his novel and seething at the fatuousness of the Polish literati, a schoolteacher barges into his room. The prof sits down, flips bemusedly through Joey's book, quizzes him on Latin verbs, and tells him it's time to go to school. "Chirp, chirp, little chickie!" And he takes Joey by the hand and leads him through town to school.

Things get kind of strange from there.

The Descent of Winter: 11/13

Salvador Dali, Cubist Self-portrait


   By writing he escaped from the world into the natural world of his mind. The unemployable world of his fine head was unnaturally useless in the gross exterior of his day——or any day. By writing he made this active. He melted himself into that grossness, and colored it with his powers. The proof that he was right and they were passing, being that he continues always and naturally while their artificiality destroyed them. A man unable to employ himself in the world.

   Therefore his seriousness and his accuracies, because it was not his play but the drama of his life. It is his anonymity that is baffling to nitwits and so they want to find an involved explanation——to defeat the plainness of the evidence.

   When he speaks of fools his is one; when of kings he is one, doubly so in misfortune.

   He is a woman, a pimp, a prince Hal——

   Such a man is a prime borrower and standardizer——No inventor. He lives because he sinks back, does not go forward, sinks back into the mass——

   He is Hamlet plainer than a theory——and in everything.

   You can't buy a life again after it's gone, that's the way I mean.

   He drinks awful bad and he beat me up every single month while I was carrying this baby, pretty nearly every week.

   (Shakespeare) a man stirred alive, all round not minus the intelligence but the intelligence subjugated——by misfortune, in this case maybe——subjugated to the instinctive whole as it must be, but not minus it as in almost everything——not by cupidity that blights an island literature——but round, round, a round world E pur si muove. That has never sunk into literature as it has into geography, cosmology. Literature is still mediæval, formal, dogmatic, the scholars, the obstinate rationalists——

   These things are easy and obvious but it is not easy to formulate them, and it is still harder to put them down briefly. Yet it must be possible since I have done it here and there.

   Such must be the future: penetrant and simple——minus the scaffolding of the academic, which is a "lie" in that it is inessential to the purpose as to the design.

   This will do away with the stupidity of little children at school, which is the incubus of modern life——and the defense of the economists and modern rationalists of literature. To keep them drilled.

   The difficulty of modern styles is made by the fragmentary stupidity of modern life, its lacunæ of sense, loops, perversions of instinct, blankets, amputations, fulsomeness of instruction and multiplications of inanity. To avoid this, accuracy is driven to a hard road. To be plain is to be subverted since every term must be forged new, every word is tricked out of meaning, hanging with as many cheap traps as an altar.

   The only human value of anything, writing included, is intense vision of the facts, add to that by saying the truth and action upon them,——clear into the machine of absurdity to a core that is covered.

   God——Sure if it means sense. "God" is poetic for the unobtainable. Sense is hard to get but it can be got. Certainly that destroys "God," it destroys everything that interferes with simple clarity of apprehension.



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Gentleman’s Guide to Long-Distance Relationships, Fig. 1

I've been doing some sketches for a new and probably fairly long Sisyphus strip, and thought I'd turn out a very quick "cube" comic beforehand to make sure I still sort of know what I'm doing. It's been months since I've drawn anything but marginal doodles.

(Click it if you'd prefer not to squint.)

I actually am going to a writers' conference this weekend. I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up being a big ol' waste of time and money (my time and money, I mean), but who knows? The secret to life (I've been told) is to just show up.

The Descent of Winter: 11/11

Pablo Picasso, The cat

A cat licking herself solves most of the problems of infection. We wash too much and it kills us.



Monday, November 10, 2014

The Descent of Winter: 11/10

Robert Delaunay, Rythme, Joie de vivre

    The shell flowers
    the wax grapes and peaches
    the fancy oak or mahogany tables
    the highbacked baronial hall chairs

    Or the girls' legs
    agile stanchions
    the breasts
    the pinheads——

    ——Wore my bathing suit
    four hours after sundown.
    That's how. Yea?
    Easy to get
    hard to get rid of.

    Then unexpectedly
    a small house with a soaring oak
    leafless above it

    Someone should summarize these things
    in the interest of local
    government or how
    a spotted dog goes up a gutter——

    and in chalk crudely
    upon the railroad bridge support
    a woman rampant
    brandishing two rolling pins.



Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Descent of Winter: 11/8

Maurice de Vlaminck, Landscape with River

Out of her childhood she remembered, as one might remember Charlie Wordsworth's print shop in the rear of Bagellons, the hinged paperknife, the colored posters of horses (I'll bet it was for the races at Clifton where the High School now stands). Once Pop made a big kite, five feet tall maybe, with the horses' heads in the middle and it flew and I couldn't hold it without help. They fastened it to a post of the back porch at nightfall, real rope they had on it, and in the morning it was still there. She remembered the day the old man painted the mirror back of the bar: He took off his coat and laid the brushes and pans from his bag on one of the barroom tables. No one else was there but Jake who sat with his head in his hands except when someone came in for something or to telephone. Then he'd unlock the inside door and sit down again watching the old man. It was a big mirror. First he painted in a river coming in over from the door and curving down greenywhite nearly the whole length of it and very wide to fall in a falls into the edge of another river that ran all along the bottom all the way across, only a little of the water to be seen. Then he put in a blue sky all across the top with white clouds in it and under them a row of brown hills coming down to the upper banks. Green trees he made with a big brush, just daubing it on, some of it even up top over the hills on the clouds, the trunks of the trees to be put in later. But down below, under the top river and all down the right side where it curved down to the falls he painted in the trunks first like narrow dark brown bottles. Then he drew in the houses, with white sides, three of them near the falls. "A good place to fish," Jake said. The roofs were red. On the other side of the falls, between two rivers, the houses were brown, two of them on brown hills with trees all among them. Then, after the paint of the rivers was dry, he began to paint in little boats, above and below—— She never saw the work finished, for the saloon had been sold and they moved away. The last thing she saw him do was paint in the boats, "Look out that boat up there don't go over those falls," Jake said. The rivers were painted flat on the glass, wonderful rivers where she wanted to be. Some day she wanted to go to that place and see it. Like the song she remembered in school and she always wanted them to sing when you could ask what song you wanted sung, "Come again soon and you shall hear sung the tale of those little green islands." She always wanted to hear the rest of it but there was never any more. They moved away.



The Descent of Winter: 11/8

Albert Gleizes, The City and the River

     O river of my heart polluted
     and defamed I have compared you
     to that other lying in
     the red November grass
     beginning to be cleaned now
     from factory pollution

     Though at night a watchman
     must still prowl lest some paid hand
     open the waste sluices——

     That river will be clean
     before ever you will be



Friday, November 7, 2014

The Descent of Winter: 11/7

Pablo Picasso, Woman with Pears

           We must listen. Before
           she died she told them——
           I always like to be well dressed
           I wanted to look nice——

           So she asked them to dress
           her well. They curled her hair . . .

           Now she fought
           She didn't want to go
           She didn't want to!

The perfect type of the man of action is the suicide.



Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Descent of Winter: 11/6

Natalia Goncharova, Cyclist

   Russia is every country, here he must live, this for that, loss for gain. Dolores Marie Pischak. "New York is a blight on my heart, lost, a street full of lights fading to a bonfire——in order to see their hats of wool on their heads, their lips to open and a word to come out. To open my mouth and a word to come out, my word. Grown like grass, to be like a stone. I pick it. It is poor. It must be so. There are no rich. The richness is everywhere, belongs to everyone and it is hard to get. And loss, loss, loss. Cut off from my kind——if any exist. To get that, everything is lost. So he carries them and gets——himself and has nothing to do with himself. He also gets their lice.

   Romance, decoration, fullness——are lost in touch, sight, a word, to bite an apple. Henry Ford has asked Chas. Sheeler to go to Detroit and photograph everything. Carte blanche. Sheeler! That's rich. Shakespeare had that mean ability to fuse himself with everyone which nobodies have, to be anything at any time, fluid, a nameless fellow whom nobody noticed——much, and that is what made him the great dramatist. Because he was nobody and was fluid and accessible. He took the print and reversed the film, as it went in so it came out. Certainly he never repeated himself since he did nothing but repeat what he heard and nobody ever hears the same words twice. Homekeeping youth had ever homely wit, Sheeler and Shakespeare should be on this Soviet. Mediæval England, Soviet Russia.

   It is a pure literary adjustment. The supremacy of England is purely a matter of style. Officially they are realists, such as the treaty with Italy to divide Abyssinia. Realists——it is the tactical spread of realism that is the Soviets. Imperial Russia was romanticist, strabismic, atavistic. Style. He does not blame the other countries. They fear what he sees. He sees tribes of lawyers tripping each other up entirely off the ground and falling on pillows full of softly jumbled words from goose backs.

   I know a good print when I see it. I know when it is good and why it is good. It is the neck of a man, the nose of a woman. It is the same Shakespeare. It is a photograph by Sheeler. It is. It is the thing where it is. So. That's the mine out of which riches have always been drawn. The kings come and beg for it. But it is too simple. In the complexity, when we try to enrich ourselves——the richness is lost. Loss and gain go hand in hand. And hand in hand means my hand in a hand which is in it: a child's hand soft skinned, small, a little fist to hold gently, a woman's hand, a certain woman's hand, a man's hand. Thus hand in hand means several classes of things. But loss is one thing. It is lost. It is one big thing that is an orchestra playing. Time, that's what it buys. But the gain is scattered. It is everywhere but there is not much in any place. A city is merely a relocation of metals in a certain place.——He feels the richness, but a distressing feeling of loss is close upon it. He knows he must coordinate the villages for effectiveness in a flood, a famine.

   The United States should be, in effect, a Soviet State. It is a Soviet State decayed away in a misconception of richness. The states, counties, cities, are anemic Soviets. As rabbits are cottontailed the officeworkers in cotton running pants get in a hot car, ride in a hot tunnel and confine themselves in a hot office——to sell asphalt, the trade in tanned leather. The trade in everything. Things they've never seen, will never own and can never name. Not even an analogous name do they know. As a carter, knowing the parts of a wagon will know, know, touch, the parts of——a woman. Maybe typists have some special skill. The long legged down east boys make good stage dancers and acrobats. But when most of them are drunk nothing comes off but——"Nevada" had a line of cowboy songs.



Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Descent of Winter: 11/2

Marie Vassilieff, The Dance / A Cubist Portrait


The earth and the sky were very close
When the sun rose it rose in his heart
It bathed the red cold world of
the dawn so that the chill was his own
The mists were sleep and sleep began
to fade from his eyes, below him in the
garden a few flowers were lying forward
on the intense green grass where
in the opalescent shadows oak leaves
were pressed down hard upon it in patches
by the night rain. There were no cities
between him and his desires
his hatreds and his loves were without walls
without rooms, without elevators
without files, delays of veiled murderers
muffled thieves, the tailings of
tedious, dead pavements, the walls
against desire save only for him who can pay
high, there were no cities——he was
without money——

                Cities had faded richly
into foreign countries, stolen from Russia——
the richness of her cities——

Scattered wealth was close to his heart
he felt it uncertainly beating at
that moment in his wrists, scattered
wealth——but there was not much at hand

Cities are full of light, fine clothes
delicacies for the table, variety,
novelty——fashion: all spent for this.
Never to be like that again:
the frame that was. It tickled his
imagination. But it passed in a rising calm

Tan dar a dei! Tan dar a dei!

He was singing. Two miserable peasants
very lazy and foolish
seemed to have walked out from his own
feet and were walking away with wooden rakes
under the six foot nearly bare poplars, up the hill

There go my feet.

He stood still in the window forgetting
to shave——

The very old past was refound
redirected. It had wandered into himself
The world was himself, these were
his own eyes that were seeing, his own mind
that was straining to comprehend, his own
hands that would be touching other hands
They were his own!
His own, feeble, uncertain. He would go
out to pick herbs, he graduate of
the old university. He would go out
and ask that old woman, in the little
village by the lake, to show him wild
ginger. He himself would not know the plant.

A horse was stepping up the dirt road
under his window

He decided not to shave. Like those two
that he knew now, as he had never
known them formerly. A city, fashion
had been between——

Nothing between now.

He would go to the soviet unshaven. This
was the day——and listen. Listen. That
was all he did, listen to them, weigh
for them. He was turning into a
a pair of scales, the scales in the

  But closer, he was himself
the scales. The local soviet. They could
weigh. If it was not too late. He felt
uncertain many days. But all were uncertain
together and he must weigh for them out
of himself.

  He took a small pair of scissors
from the shelf and clipped his nails
carefully. He himself served the fire.

We have cut out the cancer but
who knows? perhaps the patient will die.
The patient is anybody, anything
worthless that I desire, my hands
to have it——instead of the feeling
that there is a piece of glazed paper
between me and the paper——invisible
but tough running through the legal
processes of possession——a city, that
we could possess——

  It's in art, it's in
the French school.

  What we lacked was
everything. It is the middle of
everything. Not to have.

  We have little now but
we have that. We are convalescents. Very
feeble. Our hands shake. We need a
transfusion. No one will give it to us,
they are afraid of infection. I do not
blame them. We have paid heavily. But we
have gotten——touch. The eyes and the ears
down on it. Close.