Saturday, December 26, 2015

Comic & Colloquy

Christmas comic. Denouement/sequel to those Breakup Comics from earlier this year. Hair of the holiday dog that bit you.
Click for the full comic!

This comic strip was brought to you by a new tablet donated anonymously from the frozen Midwest, and by the letter zi.

I really should have mentioned this sooner: a few months ago, Jon over at Mystery House Comics in beautiful sunny Boise asked me a few questions about comics, video games, The Zeroes, and other stuff. If you're hungry for a special platter of pickings fresh from me braincase, dinner's on.

Mystery House Interview Part 1
Mystery House Interview Part 2

Friday, December 11, 2015

Upgrade Now (Recommended)

Have I mentioned I'm really into Serial Experiments Lain? Well. I finally watched Serial Experiments Lain for the first time in September and I'm really into Serial Experiments Lain. (You can be too! The good people at Funimation have put the the whole series up on YouTube.) Doubtless it was a contributor to my late preoccupation with Dr. Marshall "Electricity Makes Possible An Amplification Of Human Consciousness On A World Scale" McLuhan.

I recently persuaded my roommate to run through the show with me, so we've been watching an episode every other night or so. From what I can tell, he seems to be into it. (He's not very emotive, so you have to watch and listen to him carefully.) For my part, I'm relieved that Lain holds up to a second viewing. It's definitely less bewildering and wrenching than it was the first time through, but I've been having a good time twigging all the stuff I initially missed because I couldn't have known to look for it. (The show doesn't really begin cluing you in on what's actually happening until episode nine or maybe ten out of thirteen).

There's other stuff I've noticed too, and that isn't necessarily related to Lain's abstruse plot or its psycho-theological-technobabblical-existentialist textures. Take Lain Iwakura's inscrutable tech enthusiast father. My having a somewhat better idea of his relationship to Lain brought a modicum of clarity to his early exchanges with her, which are mostly one-sided speeches about computers and connectivity:
You're in junior high now. Your friends are leaving you in the dust, right? I keep telling you that you should use a better machine.

You know, Lain, in this world, whether it's here in the real world or in the Wired, people connect to each other, and that's how societies function.

Even a girl like you can make friends right off the bat, Lain. There's nothing to be afraid of. I wonder why your mother can't understand that...?

You can't keep using that children's Navi forever. For communication you need a powerful system that will mature alongside your relationships with people. Understand, Lain?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Nocturnal Dream Missions

Vincent van Gogh, Nuit étoilée sur le Rhône

I have recurring dreams.

A lot of them are or have been of an archetypical strain: I'm well-acquainted with the teeth-falling-out dream (thank god it's been a few years since its last visit) and the back-in-highschool-somehow(-and-sometimes-naked) dream (which has also been on the wane, but the frequency of the the wait-I-think-I'm-late-for-work-oh-god-where-do-I-work dream is proportionately increasing). But a few of the reels on rotation in my covert theater are much more particular, and I'd like to take some notes here on two of them (I've had them both in as many nights), as much for the sake of just jotting them down for myself as to see if any passing armchair cyberpsychoanalysts might want to take a whack at interpreting them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Effort at Synthesis: Alienation, Tribalism, Inverse Operations

So. In spite of my efforts (best or otherwise), I'm still unemployed.

Money's tight. While I'm in not in any immediate danger of being rolled out into the street, I've all but declared a moratorium on checking account withdrawals for anything but rent, utilities, groceries, and the occasional cup of coffee. I don't eat out anymore. I don't have the disposable income to go to shows, bars, or the theatre, so the nightlife is off limits to me. I can't afford a rock gym membership, and I can't pay the admission price for the Philadelphia M:tG scene (though I'd be just asking for trouble anyway).

Not having any money is bad. Not having any obligations is worse. I can sleep until eleven, noon, two in the afternoon—and it makes no difference. There's nobody expecting me, asking about me, or depending on me. I have no business with anyone in this city, and nobody in this city has any business with me. I feel like J. Alfred Prufrock. Or maybe Waluigi.

On second thought, it's not true that nobody in this city has any business with me. I do have friends around town, and here at home. But for the most part they're widely dispersed throughout the city, and they all have jobs. By the time they punch out in the evening, I'm too emotionally and spiritually enervated from sitting in bed all day and reloading Craigslist between X-Files episodes to be very good company for anyone—and besides, it's often the case that when my friends get out of work, they'd not up for doing much but sitting at home by themselves and watching Netflix or playing video games to cleanse their psychic palates.

Several friends have told me they wish they had more personal time, shorter commutes, and a better work/life balance. It's funny: most people I know need vacations, and I need my fucking vacation to be over already.

But I'm not sure how happy a new job would make me. I seem to remember having two different jobs at two different places in 2015, and there were too many days when I went about my shifts with a cloud of invisible black luna moths flitting about my head whispering this is pointless, you are pointless pointless pointless

And then most evenings I'd go home and sit by myself. Or wander onto a bar patio and, well, sit by myself.

I know a lot of people who seem dissatisfied. They tell me they would love to spend their time more intentionally, more meaningfully. When I ask how, their answers usually involve volunteering in some capacity, or a vague yen to "get involved." To make a difference. To contribute to something; to be a part of something.

I wonder if that isn't an oblique way of articulating loneliness.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Unemployment diary (cont.)

Harry Clarke, Descent into the Maelstrom

October 8: Sent out fifteen resumes before noon. Took a break to read up on yoga and breathing techniques to slow my metabolism so I won't have to eat so damned often.

October 9: Had idea for supplementary income: charge roommates time and materials for hanging out with them. Not only do I need a job, but apparently I also need roommates who appreciate me.

October 15: Rough week. No calls. Slim pickings on Craigslist today. Don't smoke enough to qualify for the $100/week smoker study at UPenn; can't afford to buy more cigarettes.

October 19: Bought new slacks for office assistant interview. Forgot to peel the sticker off; had it pointed out to me by the man conducting the interview. Tried to save face by peeling it off, slapping it over his mouth, and telling him to shut up and listen while I told him why I'd be an invaluable, incomparable asset to his team. Don't have a good feeling about this one.

October 21: Epiphany. Job interviews in customer service are a fine conversational kabuki wherein the applicant and the interviewer both (as individuals and as a pair) pretend they don't despise the average customer. Dispensing with the mendacity and trying to level with the interviewer on this point—decidedly not recommended.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

And that's a wrap.

Earlier this year, The Puritan, an illustrious Toronto lit zine that has been kind enough to publish a couple of my stories in the past (ahem and ahem), asked me if I'd curate their blog for a month. My job was to come up with a theme, rope about ten other people into writing posts around that theme, and cobble together three of my own pieces. The subject, in a nutshell, was the position, evolution, and viability of (print) literature in the twenty-first century. The whole thing went down in October—perhaps I should have said something about it earlier?

Well, here's the whole kaboodle, then. My three pieces were:
And here are my lovely and talented contributors!

In related news, I have a short story called "Katherine" in the new issue of Four Chambers. It's behind a paywall (you have to buy the magazine), but come on, support the arts. The editors have characterized my story as "gnarly," which was indeed what I was going for.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

When words aren't enough / When you can't find the words

I live in a city called Philadelphia. When you view it from above via Google Earth it looks like someone dug out a patch of grass and shoveled gravel and concrete chunks into the hollow. What it looks like from the ground is more difficult to describe.

When you try to describe the sensory ingressions of objects rather than simply naming the objects, you glimpse the degree to which our most foundational technology (language) has estranged us from the pure vibratory profusion of reality. I stand at the corner of 13th and Pine and try to compose a catalogue of what I see without using the following words: Building. Brick. Window. Glass. Street. Asphalt. Sidewalk. Cement. Car. Traffic light.

I have a very hard time of it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Twelve Hits from Hell

Halloween is around the corner, and I'm pleased to announce the list of contestants for the fifth annual Beyond Easy Horror Film Festival! (BEHFF!), hosted at the historic Harold P. Warren Memorial Theatre! Tickets available at the box office. Not recommended for men with pacemakers, pregnant women, children, the elderly, or lovers of cinema.

The Hauntingish. A suburban house is inhabited by a socially anxious poltergeist that doesn't like bringing attention to itself. Essentially Meet the Parents with inexplicable continuity errors and spatial impossibilities a'la The Shining.

Objet d'terreur: A found-footage film in which a young video journalist is stalked through upper Manhattan one night by a serial murderer who likes to tape his kills. The juxtaposition of the footage reveals that the journalist and the killer are the same person, and that person is an obnoxious Columbia film student with a frightfully high opinion of himself.

The John. A young woman is left trapped in a porta-potty after a freak electrical accident kills every other person at an outdoor music festival. She begins to suspect she is not alone.

Delete Post. A haunted MacBook causes anything its user itemizes in a listicle to be erased from existence. The laptop falls into the possession of a freelancer writing for BuzzFeed. Within a week, every pop cultural product of the 1990s is extirpated from history. Pumpkin spice, UGGs, and other items popular among the Caucasian demographic soon follow. However, the disappearance of Beyoncé leaves too massive a hole in reality to go entirely unnoticed, and a plucky young paranormal investigator catches on.

How May I Kill You? A mysterious fog from outer space descends on a Trader Joe's store. The employees grow increasingly cheery and aggressively helpful until they become frenzied, dangerous lunatics. It its revealed that the fog is drawn to the radiation from credit card scanners, and soon Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, the Apple Store, etc. are affected. Retail shopping becomes a horrible life-or-death ordeal. (Sponsored by Amazon.)

Kangaroo Jack the Ripper: A macabre reboot of Kangaroo Jack.

Backstage: A Japanese body horror film wherein the the twelve teenaged members of a J-pop supergroup hideously transform, one by one, into members of their adult male fanbase, and beg their terrified bandmates for autographs and dates.

Buy the Full Moon: A laid-back New York stoner is bitten one night by a feral financier. From then on, the light of the full moon transforms him into an insufferable yuppie. He wakes up the next day with a copy of Fast Company magazine lying over his face, his bed surrounded by empty Starbucks cups, and finds himself vehemently reiterating points from TED Talks he has no conscious recollection of listening to.

The Monster at the End of this Film. The horror equivalent of Waiting for Godot. The rising tensions, boo! moments, and suggestions of the supernatural continually end up being false alarms, and then the credits roll after two hours of nothing really happening at all. The theater audience rises grousing from their seats and heads for the exit, only to discover that find brick walls have been erected behind the doors. As audience members panic, trample each other, and pound at the walls, the film restarts, with the volume seven times louder.

Toy Gory: Pretty much Child's Play, but with a murderous talking vibrator instead of a doll.

Tinder & Brimstone: A woman shows up for a Tinder date, and the dude talks at her for hours about craft beer, David Foster Wallace, and string theory. She realizes that her date is in fact Satan, and he won't allow the evening to end until she sells him her soul.

They're Coming: A suburban couple prepares for the impending zombie apocalypse by stocking up on ammunition and canned goods, becoming proficient in outdoor survival and mechanical repairs, and stashing guns and medical supplies in secret caches throughout the area. Everyone tells them they're crazy. "You'll see," they say, and wait for the zombies to come. The zombies never come, and the couple posts Donald Trump campaign signs in their windows because they're the real zombies, or something, and the movie is real life.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Mesolimbic Express

Philadelphia. Home, sweet home. For how long this time, who knows?

My new place is not internet enabled as of yet. Since I'm some kind of flipfone-snapping primitive, if I don't have wifi, I don't have internet. But I'm managing. In the relatively recent past I've gotten by for weeks at a time living in places without internet access. (It is probably understood that both you and I judge "weeks at a time" no small interval, no small thing to go without a noosphere plug at the ready. Strange that as technology fulfills our needs, it should multiply our necessities.) I won't say it isn't tremendously inconvenient, because it absolutely is, but at times it is vivifying. I enjoy these incidental vacations from the web like I enjoy those itchy and impatient weeks when I tell myself I don't need cigarettes, when, for all the aggravation, I do notice that I'm breathing more easily and rediscovering that there is a beautiful olfactory dimension to this existence. (Protip: if you're going to pick a day to lay off smoking a while, try to time it with one of the equinoxes.)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Cyclopean Edifice of Words Appertaining to ye Eldritch Scribe H.P. Lovecaft

Anybody who's spoken to me for any length of time in the last seven years will have some idea of my fascination with Herman Melville. If I'm being honest with myself, I'll call it what it really is: a crush. A mancrush. A braincrush. A soulcrush. I've called Moby-Dick a religious experience. It is the third testament: beyond the Torah and beyond the Gospel sounds the Whale. I'll vociferate against any abridged version of the book, as the interminable descriptions of whales and the tools and methods of the 1840s fishery aren't only necessary, they comprise some of the best parts of the novel. I sit in awe of Melville's inspired profusion, his roving, veritably apophenic eye for parable and analogy, his ecstasy, the tenacity with which he put a lens to the unresolvable ambiguities of human life. I've read four of his novels, a decent-sized chunk of his poetry, and most of his short fiction. I have no desire to depart from this life before I've gone over his entire corpus. (Yesterday I happened into a used book and record store near South Street with a copy of White Jacket on the shelf. It shall be next on the list.)

But Melville isn't the author nearest to my heart. That distinction belongs to Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

From The Haunter of the Dark: And Other
Grotesque Visions,
illus. John Coulthart

More than anything else, it was matter of timing: Lovecraft was the author who made the greatest impression on me during my teenage years. (John Steinbeck is a rather distant runner-up.) Somewhere on the borderline of middle school and high schoool, when I was still heavily into Magic: the Gathering (ask me later how I feel about the return of the Eldrazi, by the way) I tried never to miss an issue of InQuest magazine—once Wizard's sister-publication, treating CCGs and tabletop RPGs. It was in the pages of InQuest I first read about Cthulhu, the Mi-Go, and their neurotic New England chronicler. Most of the issues in my collection carried ads for the latest expansion set for the Mythos CCG, and the occasional "how to" article about setting the tone of a tabletop RPG session referred to Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu RPG. But it was the magazine's whimsical humor pieces (often penned by editor Rick Swan) that most caught my attention. Once a year or so, InQuest conducted what might be called the print precursor to the ComicVine character battle thread, pitting famous sci-fi and fantasy characters against each other in single combat. I remember very few of them: Paul Altrides (Dune) vs. Luke Skywalker (Star Wars). The marine (DOOM) vs. a Predator (from Predator). King Arthur vs. Elric (of Michael Moorcock's novels). One of the matchups was Sauron (Lord of the Rings) vs. Lovecraft's Cthulhu. I can still paraphrase how that one went:

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Out of the Gutenberg Galaxy

Too busy screwing together Ikea (company motto: "you buy it, you break it") furniture to do any writing or much anything else today. Here are some excerpts from Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy, which I've had a hard time putting down lately.


Scribal culture could have neither authors nor publics such as were created by typography.

Although we have seen with Hajnal a good deal about the scribal making of books, the assumptions and attitudes of authors about books and readers has not been looked at. Since it was precisely these assumptions that were to undergo very great changes, it is necessary to specify them, however succinctly. For this purpose the work of E. P. Goldschmidt, Medieval Texts and Their First Appearance in Print, is indispensable. His study of the habits and procedures of authorship under manuscript conditions leads him to conclude (p. 116):
What I have tried to demonstrate is that the Middle Ages for various reasons and from various causes did not possess the concept of “authorship” in exactly the same significance as we have it now. Much of the prestige and glamour with which we moderns invest the term, and which makes us look upon an author who has succeeded in getting a book published as having progressed a stage nearer to becoming a great man, must be a recent accretion. The indifference of medieval scholars to the precise identity of the authors whose books they studied is undeniable. The writers themselves, on the other hand, did not always trouble to “quote” what they took from other books or to indicate where they took it from; they were diffident about signing even what was clearly their own in an unambiguous and unmistakable manner.
The invention of printing did away with many of the technical causes of anonymity, while at the same time the movement of the Renaissance created new ideas of literary fame and intellectual property.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

McLuhan, the new tribalism, & the equivalence of thought and action

Umberto Boccioni, La città che sale

I was first properly introduced to Marshall McLuhan in 2013. I already knew his name then—remembered a couple of lectures by a couple of American history and media studies instructors who informed the class that the medium was the message, and it was this cat McLuhan who said so. And we were told what this meant was that the medium by which content is delivered matters more than the content itself—but before any of us in the class could apprehend the full span of the theory's ramifications, we were already on the next topic, the Vast Wasteland, the Vietnam coverage, etc. (There was a lot of material to cover and we were on a schedule, after all.)

But in 2013 I was doing some research for a writing project and landed on McLuhan's 1969 interview with Playboy. I read it from start to finish, and then went outside and smoked many cigarettes.

It was nasty medicine, and I had a hard time digesting it. Given my situation—cobbling together a second novel, working at a Quaker library that was in the process of being dismantled, getting short story after short story rejected by literary magazines that nobody who isn't trying to get a short story published has ever heard of, and noticing that people only really paid attention to what I was writing when I was writing about video games they'd played—McLuhan's confident postmortem of literate culture and predictions of a electronically entangled global tribe seemed, on both accounts, supernaturally prescient and profoundly disturbing. I wanted to dismiss his views as the wet dreams of another smug tech millennarian, but it wouldn't make them any less right. I felt much the same way about McLuhan as I did his contemporary (and fellow Catholic) Andy Warhol—I hate Warhol's art, but can't declaim it as anything less than the pure and perfect artistic product of post-WW2 Western capitalism.

Later on, rereading the last portion of the interview and looking over some other McLuhan-related materials, I discovered that this man, the patron saint of Wired, was in fact a veritable Luddite. The very soothsayer of the digital revolution foresaw what was coming and proclaimed it to the world—though he loathed it. He wasn't a tech evangelist—he was more like a doomsday prophet. My grudging respect for McLuhan turned to admiration. Yes, as a tech skeptic, I found him at heart an unexpected ally—there was that. But here was an investigator, a seeker who wanted to understand the world, who, though the findings of his "probes" appalled him, refrained from letting personal sentiment and prejudice color his conclusions and guide his course. That kind of intellectual honesty requires great courage. (I am reminded somewhat of the theologian Nils Runeberg in Jorge Luis Borges' "Three Versions of Judas.")

While McLuhan was the person who coined the term "global village" to characterize of our new wired world, today we often load the phrase with idyllic or utopian connotations that McLuhan did not intend. Quite the contrary. During a 1977 interview on TV Ontario's The Education of Mike McManus (incidentally McLuhan's final television appearance), the host asks: "Way back in the early fifties, you predicted that the world was becoming a global village. We'd have global consciousness. And I'm wondering now, do you think it's happening?"

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Secret of Mana & memory

Back in Jersey, but only for a little while. Off to Philadelphia next month. Don't ask me what my plans are. I have no idea. I've got a place to live, and for now, that's it. All this moving around is wearisome, but I'd like to hope it keeps me, to some degree, from going stale.

I've been taking advantage of this layover in my natural habitat to visit the woods I've wandered through for my entire ambulatory life. In spite of its reputation as America's grease trap, New Jersey has some very nice public parks, and these places are probably the leading factor towards the retention of my sanity through adolescence and beyond.

Having spent most of this year in the Caribbean, a setting where the term "season" is employed almost exclusively in reference to cyclical variations in tourist traffic, it is wonderful (in the literal sense of the word) to be in an environment where the declination of the sun in the sky exerts such a profound influence on everything beneath it. Much has changed since my brief visit in June. The skunk cabbage is withering—first to come, first to go. The wood thrushes have turned in for the summer, but the cicadas are still going strong. I listen to the tinkling ground crickets in the afternoon and the katydids at night. The ragweed has begun to bloom in just the last few days, and I expect to spend a small fortune on antihistamines in the coming weeks. Even in the last ten days, I've noticed the air cooling somewhat. Sweating balls is a way of life in the Caribbean, and I can't say I mind going outside for half an hour or more and returning with dry clothes—but we'll see how much I'll be missing the subtropical kiln come January.

The other day I went for a walk in Hidden Valley, a park I've visited as regularly as possible since 2008, when I went on that fateful hike with my sister and her adorable reprobate friends. I forget what was on my mind: I was just letting my thoughts drift. Seeing my brains' refusal to pursue any one line for any length of time, my legs didn't see any reason why they should go on following a straight path, and when the gravel trail veered right, my feet carried me left, stepping over fallen trees and mud, swerving around briars and clumps of poison ivy. Eventually I found myself stumbling into a scrubby meadow, nearly invisible from the trail.

In all these years, I never had any idea it was there. I swear to god I heard this chime in my brain when I pushed into it.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

News and Narrative

No person on Earth is capable of simultaneously observing, for any duration, every individual event (if there is indeed such a thing as a discrete occurrence). We know only what the locality of our own perceptions and our personal histories permit us to know.

Even if an omnipath did exist, the deluge of information would probably sweep him or her into a terminal state of epileptic confusion—unless the power of seeing all events as they happen was conjoined with the ability to understand how they occur in relation to one another. To witness something doesn't necessarily imply an understanding of its antecedents or repercussions.

Our understanding of the past and present consists largely of a small number of events and entities separated by wide blank spaces. Arranging objects and occurrences in terms of an overarching narrative—inducing the nature of the whole by examining how the known particulars fit into one another—is how we're able to function in the world in spite of our ignorance regarding most of its contents.

Two parties may agree on the veracity of a sequence (or more appropriately, an assortment) of events; both will grant that certain things did occur, and they might even agree on the chronological arrangement of said things, but can differ fiercely with regards to how the events fit into each each other, their implications vis-à-vis other events, and which events are most significant.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

St Thomas Slide Show


On Monday, after living on St Thomas for seven months, I caught a one-way flight back to the mainland.

I gave it an earnest shot. But in the final analysis, it's just not my scene. That's not to say there isn't a lot I'm going to miss about the island, though.

Over the last day or two I've been trawling my cameras and inbox for snapshots from the last seven months. I've compiled a small photo album to serve as an overview (not remotely comprehensive) of the stuff that caught my fancy during my life in the tropics. For a few years now I've fallen out of the habit of carrying my little hand-me-down Canon with me (and I lost access to it for a good three-and-a-half months during my stay), so most of the pictures were taken with my flip phone. Do please cut me a little slack for the poor image quality.

The view towards the top of the hill where I stayed with Hannah (ex-girlfriend) for the first three months of my residence on St Thomas. I never, never got sick of the view, of walking to the bus stop at dawn and listening to the coquí frogs peeping in the brush. Can't say the same about the walk back up. Fair to say it's about a mile, all uphill, and the farther you go, the steeper it gets. On good days I was able to hitch rides with Rasta dudes. On bad days I'd march half the distance cursing the blistering heat, and then make the rest of the trudge in the rain.

The front steps of Hannah's place, plus a golden orb weaver. I remember finding these guys all over the place when I was living on the east end, but after moving to the west in June I don't recall seeing even one. The perspective of the photograph obscures the critter's size: this thing is definitely a BBW (big beautiful weaver). We're not talking tarantula size or anything—but I'm not sure I'd be able to keep my cool if one crawled up my face, and I'm certainly not squeamish about bugs.

A tetrio sphinx moth in its larval form: the most terrifying caterpillar I've ever met. Again, the photograph doesn't really convey a sense of scale, but this bugger was bigger than my finger. (Here's a better picture.) I was a little disappointed to learn that it eventually matures into a somewhat ordinary-looking (albeit very large) moth. At the time I was convinced this thing would emerge from its cocoon as some kind of world-devouring antichrist.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Dismal Science

People involved in the humanities (whether by vocation or pathology) sometimes look wistfully towards mathematics, where numbers and symbols mean precisely what they mean and a right or wrong answer is exactly that. This is probably true where Pure Mathematics is concerned—"a refuge from the goading urgency of contingent circumstances," as Dr. Whitehead put it. As far as the layman can guess, it might also be true for physics and engineering: where questions of mass, voltage, tensile strength, etc. are concerned, there are solutions (or at least optimal values) to be found, and provided we're not dealing with an overly complex system, finding those values is as simple of knowing what to measure, how to measure it, and which numbers to crunch (and having the care to crunch them accurately).

But the areas where mathematics intersect with human affairs is another matter entirely. The obscurities of human activity lead to mathematical formulas, models, and projections that are tenuous at best, unreliable at worst, and deliberately obfuscatory at even worse than worst (which is sometimes why economics is called "the dismal science"); while the clarity of mathematics expresses the insolubility of certain human problems with such consternating clarity as to make a pessimist of anyone hopeful enough of a solution to conduct an investigation (which is why denial remains the best-selling coping mechanism for 10,000 years and counting).

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Rite of Passage: Online Dating Blog Post

It's not easy moving on in your thirties.

From the ages of eighteen to twenty-nine, the assessment of your situation after a breakup (once the initial shock subsides) is invariably: "fuck 'em! I'm still young, and there's plenty of other people out there!" From thirty onwards, it becomes: "fuck 'em! I'm still...and, well, there's plenty of...huh."

I'm not young enough to hook up with girls at college parties or goth clubs anymore. (Not that I ever really did, but for a while it was possible.) All of the women in whom I had an inchoate interest during my twenties now have husbands, children, and/or homesteads they guard with shotguns. When I visit bars, the only thing I can comfortably talk about is the music and how much I hate it. Basically, I have no idea how to meet people at this point in my life.

So I signed up for OkCupid. It's funny how the most reasonable solution to a problem can sometimes also be the most harebrained.

Friday, July 24, 2015

St Thomas Time

I can see my house in this pic.

As you might know, I've been living on St Thomas since January. For the most part I haven't said much about it—I suppose I've had other things on my mind. Well, today we're going to examine one of the most interesting things about this island. No, not the beaches. No, not the resorts. No, not the plant and animal life. No, not the deep scars of colonialism. Something much more fundamental.

St Thomas exists within a temporal anomaly I call the Tropical Time Envelope. Due to the locality and obscurity of the phenomenon, it has not been the subject of much research. Nobody can say for certain what mechanisms are responsible for the distortion field's existence, nor do we know whether the island is responsible for it or merely subject to it. Its influence upon island life, however, is plainly observable.

In the interest of science, I have cataloged some of the Tropical Time Envelope's most salient effects, and submit them for investigation by parties with more experience in these matters.

Friday, July 17, 2015

2 out of 3 and the 1%

Umberto Boccioni, Visioni simultanee


James sent me an email yesterday evening. (Perhaps you remember me recounting a conversation I had with him last month.)

Subject: wow, i didn't think it would happen like this

Granted the latest police assault on an African American happened a few days ago, but I don't think the story broke until today. I'm still rooting for the Pirates to win the world series


Lately I've been reading Capital in the Twenty-First Century by French economist Thomas Piketty as a dessert course to Karl Marx's Capital, Volume I, which I (finally) plowed through during the spring months.

Unsurprisingly, some very substantial differences stand between the nineteenth-century Capital and Capital in the Twenty-First Century. It's quite possible the very progenitor of Marxist socioeconomic analysis might have dismissed Piketty one of the "bourgeoise economists" he lambasts at least once every three pages in Capital. Piketty, by his own admission, is no Marxist: at several points he criticizes Marx and his method, and declares that capitalism is, historically, the best avenue for elevating the standard of living for the greatest number of people. (Which is not debatable in itself: twentieth-century experiments in communism tended to be concomitant with hard-handed totalitarianism and persistent poverty, which anti-capitalists and free-market skeptics frequently find themselves having to answer for in barroom debates.)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Return of the Comics Page Again

"Gasp!" he gasped. "Two new(ish) comics!"

I have fun making these, I really do. I wish they didn't take so damned long to produce, though. I don't keep a running count of the time from start to finish because I'm a little afraid of it. If there's a reason I prefer writing, that might be it. The total time it takes me to do one of these is probably on par with how long I'd require to write between two and four blog posts (depending on size and meatiness) or bang out the rough draft of one short story.

There's something to be said for the long-term satisfaction of watching the archive gradually grow, though.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Conversations with Friends

Juan Muñoz, Last Conversation Piece

I'm sitting across from James at a hookah lounge in Astoria. It's about 2:30 in the morning. James has revived some since getting out of work at 11:40, and now we're discussing dystopian fiction, The Economist, "Two Bad Neighbors" (The Simpsons), and the chronic grievances of the progressivist (which have lately come to include vituperative disagreements between progressive cliques).

I pass the hose to James and he leans forward and rests his elbows on the table.

"Listen," he says. "I'm going to give you James's Three Predictions for 2015."

"Shoot," I say.

He holds up a finger. "One. In the next six months, there will be another national outcry over the death of an unarmed black man at the hands of police officers."


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Smarter than the average bear?

A grizzly bear's brain. (From special interest site

Last night a friend replied (via text message) to some belabored joke I'd made (via text message) implicating dill pickles in the HUAC sessions, saying "Patrick, you are smarter than the average bear."

I don't know about that. Is it the mark of an intelligent man to be thrown for a loop by some conversational callback to a cartoon animal from the Dark Age of American Animation?

Smarter than the average bear. What does that mean, anyway? I'm not certain that human intelligence and ursine intelligence are commensurable magnitudes. Let's ponder this for a minute.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A (Very, Very) Quick Look at (One Scene from) Doom 2099

I swear I'll shut up about Marvel 2099 after this.

A completely unscientific poll (two respondents were surveyed; one of them was myself) has verified that the best title in the Marvel 2099 line was Doom 2099. The premise alone is pure gold: Dr. Doom mysteriously reappears in 2099, alive and well, but with some unaccountable memory holes. He resumes control of Latveria and enacts a plan to, in his words, instate himself as the architect of the world's future. And the thing is, the world is such an awful mess at this point that a global hegemony under Doom would almost definitely be an improvement. Doom 2099 casts the hammy megalomaniac as a benevolent dictator and antihero, and it's a blast to read.

At this point, if Doom 2099 is remembered for anything, it's for being the springboard for the career of Warren Ellis, who takes over the book from John F. Moore after issue #26. But Moore does a wonderful job at the helm, which came as a surprise to me, having already seen how problematic and glum his X-Men 2099 shaped up to be. I have to regard the two books as a kind of dialectical pair: X-Men 2099 is about a bunch of hard-to-like good guys (with some flecks of badness) who always lose; Doom 2099 is about a charismatic bad guy (which some flecks of goodness) who always wins.

Rather than review Doom 2099, I'd just like to share one of my favorite scenes. Like any event in a comic serial, some context must needs be supplied.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Funny Pages Footnote

I'm pretty sure everyone running a webpage with any kind of pageviews counter finds themselves checking their stats compulsively, even when there's really nothing at stake and they have no plans to examine or put to use their findings. I know I do.

While I was peering at Beyond Easy's stats some hours after throwing up yesterday's yesterday's post, I noticed someone had visited the archives to glance at this post from 2013, where I consider whether it's worth my while to keep doing comics at all. Between someone else discreetly pointing out how habitual these mini-crises have become with me, and what yesterday's comic implies about my talent for getting caught up in in loops, I feel more than a little absurd.

But it is pretty funny.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Return of the Funny Pages

In lieu of a post, I'd like to point you towards some updates over on the ol' comics page.

Parts three and four are forthcoming—probably. Given how irregularly I do comics these days (and an irregular webcomic might as well not exist), I'm beginning to wonder if I shouldn't just hang it up altogether and double down on writing, which comes much easier to me than illustration.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A (Very) Quick Look at 2099: Manifest Destiny

Having already peered at X-Men 2099, let's take a quick, a very quick look at Marvel's 2099: Manifest Destiny.

The Marvel 2099 imprint went under in August 1996, and its sole surviving scion, 2099: World of Tomorrow, was unceremoniously put down after only eight months. In 1998, the superheroes of the dark American future get their eulogy and epilogue in the form of a double-size one-off called 2099: Manifest Destiny.  The book was authored by Len Kaminsky, who is probably best known for his work on Iron Man in the 1990s, but he also had a hand in Marvel 2099, writing all 25 issues of Ghost Rider 2099 (in which a dead street hacker's mind is digitized and placed inside a Ghost Rider robot). I read it for the first time a couple of days ago (before last week, I hadn't even known of its existence), and in 48 pages, it's given me more to chew on (and spit out) than sixty-something issues of X-Men 2099, Doom 2099, and the sad six-issue run of X-Nation 2099 (which, interestingly, was Humberto Ramos's first Marvel gig).

Let's start with this: we've established that the mood and public outlook of the early 1990s was a prime determinant of the grim hue with which the Marvel 2099 universe was painted. You had the economic hangover following the Reaganomics coke binge, the entrance of Generation X (whose most impressionable years were defined by the word "malaise") into the spotlight, urban homicides hitting a peak in 1991, AIDS becoming the number one cause of death for American males ages twenty-five to forty-four, and so on. If the 2099 books, with their dire prognostications of a future shaped by violence, corporate greed, natural disasters, and accelerated social decay, were a perfectly apt comic book mirror for the national mood of the early 1990s, 2099: Manifest Destiny sings in the key of the late 1990s, which, like the economy, had bounced back up like a physics-defying UV-reactive beachball.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

A (Relatively) Quick Look at X-Men 2099

Every now and again I get a hankering to write something big and fun and frivolous, which usually results in a giant writeup about old console RPGs or cartoons. I've got the itch again, and so today I'd like to review today a comic book that has long been dear to my heart: X-Men 2099.

X-Men 2099: False Advertising

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Flaubert as Futurist

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Futurist words-in-freedom

Prescience is one of the prime signifiers of a fine and powerful mind. Gustave Flaubert knew what was up, as we can see from a letter penned in the early 1850s, while he was working on Madame Bovary:
What seems beautiful to me, what I would like to write, is a book about nothing, a book without any external support, which would be held together only by the inner strength of its style, the way the earth hangs suspended in space, a book which would have almost no subject, or at least in which the subject would be almost invisible, if that is possible. The most beautiful books are those in which there is the least matter; the closer the expression comes to the thought, the more perfectly the language clings to the idea and disappears, the more beautiful the style. I believe that the future of Art lies in this direction. I see Art, as it has developed over the years, becoming more and more ethereal, from the pylons of Egypt to the Gothic lancets, and from the twenty-thousand verse poems of the Indians to the flights of Byron. Form, as it becomes more skillful, is attenuated; it abandons all liturgy, all law, all measure; it deserts the epic for the novel, poetry for prose; it rejects all orthodoxy and is as free as the individual that creates it. This liberation from materiality can be found in everything, for example, in the way governments have evolved, from oriental despotisms to the socialist states of the future.
Obviously Flaubert was right. What he almost certainly didn't see coming was that the clearing of contrivances, of "matter" away from expression would be essentially the same process (or a closely related process) by which his own medium—continuous walls of static, unadorned text printed on paper—would come to approach cultural obsolescence, gradually pushed aside by audiovisual media, electronic games, and hypertext. But we can't judge him too harshly. The notion that the artforms predicated on the viability of printed literature, the unchallenged mass media queen of the nineteenth century, would be flirting with irrelevance in just 160 years would have seemed to Flaubert, on the face of it, as unthinkable to one of us today that social media, iOS games, or webcomics would be looked over as quaint cultural artifacts by 2099. (The "chips in our brains in our lifetime" millenarians might disagree, though.)

Nor could Flaubert have known how right he was about the "liberation from materiality" either; the key word of the unspoken but necessary corollary statement would center on the word "digital," which would have had no meaning to him. But so did the oracles of myth convey the gods' riddles about the future without necessarily understanding their meanings.

(Note: I recently attached this blog to the domain, spending twelve bucks to purchase some additional trappings of legitimacy. In the process, my blogroll was somehow erased. Working on restoring it now.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Madame Bovary, Facebook, Romanticism Old & New

Georges de Feure, La source du mal

When considering the social tectonics of the modern age, I do sometimes wonder if humanity hasn't succeeded in unshackling itself from the hitherto timeless aphorism of Ecclesiastes: there is no new thing under the sun. Maybe human life in the twenty-first century really isn't just the same old tune played to a different beat, on different instruments; could this epoch represent humanity's entry into a fundamentally different existence than the one it has danced for the last 12,000 years?

If I were adopt the posture of an King Solomon apologist, I might argue that it isn't the dance that has changed, but its speed. Communication has become instantaneous, human beings (or human objects) can traverse the globe in a matter or hours, and waiting longer than half an hour for anything is now an almost unacceptable proposition—but human beings as we see them documented by Homer, Thucydides, Guanzhong, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, et al. are still recognizably the same people we are, albeit differently socialized.

(What gives the apologist cause to hesitate is Hegel's observation that at some point, an increased quantitative difference clicks over to a qualitative difference—but when or if we'll hit that point (or if we've already hit it) is beyond any honest conjecture I can make at present.)

I've been reading Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary lately, and it makes me wonder if Ecclesiastes might still be correct. Throughout this mid-nineteenth century novel I've been frequently reminded of conversations and articles about (and personal experiences with) social media, the hot topic of the early twenty-first century (and hot topic maker of the early twenty-first century).

Thursday, April 30, 2015

NPM: Axe Handles

Stol'n from Classic Home Builders

To close out National Poetry Month 2015, we have a short piece by Beat poet, environmentalist, and dharma anarchist Gary Snyder, composed in his middle age. Maybe I'm posting it as an answer to something, or an explanation. Or because I've never been able to convey the notion that the present consists of transmissions of the past reaching toward the future as vividly as Mr. Snyder.

Axe Handles
Gary Snyder (1930 – )

One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
"When making an axe handle
      the pattern is not far off."
And I say this to Kai
"Look: We'll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with——"
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It's in Lu Ji's Wên Fu, fourth century
A.D. "Essay on Literature"——in the
Preface: "In making the handle
Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand."
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

NPM: Monet Refuses the Operation

Claude Monet, La passerelle japonaise

When I was sniffing around Google Images for an image to accompany Allen Ginsberg's "Ode to Failure" a few nights ago, I came upon a page examining a Lisel Mueller poem about renowned painter Claude Monet suffering from double cataracts. Where the logic of the poem is concerned, perhaps we should put "suffering" in quote marks. (There's pretty much nothing here that isn't lifted from the aforementioned Reckonings piece, so you might as well swing by there to see the poem treated in some beautiful detail.) For my part, I will just offer Ginsberg's "Don't Grow Old" as a counterpoint and Whitman's "To Old Age" as a concurrence, and then be on my way.

Monet Refuses the Operation 
Lisel Mueller (1924 – )

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don't know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and changes our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

NPM: Ode to Failure

Pablo Picasso, Le peintre et son modèle (unfinished)

Last night I borrowed a copy of The Portable Beat Reader from a friend's bookshelf. There's a fair chance that anything else I end up posting for National Poetry Month from here on out will come from its pages.

I've always found Beat poetry vivifying, and I suppose I need a shot of hot cider for my soul lately. I'm still a little weak in the legs from a breakup (this month would have been the three-year mark), and the spiritual anesthesia of island life has been getting me down. (It's real easy to just let go and stop giving a shit about everything in a place like this.) And while I don't want to say I'm in the thick of a forestalled quarter-life crisis, lately I find myself dwelling on the discrepancies between where my twenty-one-year-old self hoped and imagine he'd be in years, and my actual position as a thirty-one-year-old. But I think this is the rule rather than the exception where people my age are concerned.

Tonight this piece by Allen Ginsberg caught my eye. Here's the man who wrote pretty much the single greatest English-language poem of the twentieth century lamenting (in an ecstatic sort of way) how far short he fell of the mark. Maybe dissatisfaction (of some degree) is as congenital as talent and hard to escape as senescence. And maybe this poem is an admission that words might not count as much as we'd hoped.

Ode to Failure
Allen Ginsberg (1926 – 1997)

Many prophets have failed, their voices silent
ghost-shouts in basements nobody heard dusty laughter in family
nor glanced them on park benches weeping with relief under empty
Walt Whitman viva'd local losers——courage to Fat Ladies in the
     Freak Show! nervous prisoners whose mustached lips dripped
     sweat on chow lines——
Mayakovsky cried, Then die! my verse, die like the workers' rank
     & file fusilladed in Petersburg!
Prospero burned his Power books & plummeted his magic wand to the
     bottom of dragon seas
Alexander the Great failed to find more worlds to conquer!
O Failure I chant your terrifying name, accept me your 54 years old
epicking Eternal Flop! I join your Pantheon of mortal bards, &
     hasten this ode with high blood pressure
rushing to the top of my skull as I if I wouldn’t last another
     minute, like the Dying Gaul! to
You, Lord of blind Monet, deaf Beethoven, armless Venus de Milo,
     headless Winged Victory!
I failed to sleep with every bearded rosy-cheeked boy I jacked off
My tirades destroyed no Intellectual Unions of KGB & CIA in
     turtlenecks & underpants, their woolen suits and tweeds
I never dissolved Plutonium or dismantled the nuclear Bomb before
     my skull lost hair
I have not yet stopped the Armies of entire Mankind in their march
     toward World War III
I never got to Heaven, Nirvana, X, Whatchamacallit, I never left
I never learned to die.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

NPM: The Mockingbird and Mr. Frost

Mimus polyglottos

This week's episode of A Prairie Home Companion (my soft spot for Garrison Keillor is fairly well documented) was in especially fine form, particularly the musical numbers. It's five days later and I still can't get the Anonymous 4's rendition of  "Listen to the Mockingbird" out of my head. (I would link directly to it I could, but you'll have to do some scrolling and clicking here to hear it.)

Today we have the lyrics to that antebellum American classic (I'm hoping that by sharing it I can dislodge it from my inner ear), as well as a Robert Frost poem about birdsong. Variations on a theme, you see! (The Frost poem brings to my mind Madeline L'Engle's poem about the parrot, though the logic and tenor are quite different.)

Listen to the Mockingbird
Septimus Winner (1827 – 1902)

Last night I dreamed of my Hallie
Of my Hallie, my sweet Hallie
Last night I dreamed of my Hallie

For the thought of her is one that never dies

She's sleeping now in the valley
In the valley, my sweet Hallie
She's sleeping now in the valley
And the mockingbird is singing where she lies

Listen to the mockingbird, listen to the mockingbird
The mockingbird still singing oe'er her grave
Listen to the mockingbird, listen to the mockingbird
Still singing where the weeping willows wave

Ah well I yet remember
Remember, remember
Ah well I yet remember

When we gathered in the cotton side by side

'Twas in the mild September

September, September
'Twas in the mild September

And the mockingbird was singing far and wide

Listen to the mockingbird, listen to the mockingbird

The mockingbird still singing oe'er her grave
Listen to the mockingbird, listen to the mockingbird
Still singing where the weeping willows wave

When charms of spring awaken
Awaken, awaken
When charms of spring awaken

And the mockingbird is singing on the bough

I feel like one forsaken
Forsaken, forsaken
I feel like one forsaken

Since my Hallie is no longer with me now 

Listen to the mockingbird, listen to the mockingbird

The Mockingbird still singing oe'er her grave
Listen to the mockingbird, listen to the mockingbird
Still singing where the weeping willows wave

Never Again Would Bird's Song Be the Same
Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)

He would declare and could himself believe
That the birds there in all the garden round
From having heard the daylong voice of Eve
Had added to their own an oversound,
Her tone of meaning but without the words.
Admittedly an eloquence so soft
Could only have had an influence on birds
When call or laughter carried it aloft.
Be that as may be, she was in their song.
Moreover her voice upon their voices crossed
Had now persisted in the woods so long
That probably it never would be lost.
Never again would birds' song be the same.
And to do that to birds was why she came.

Monday, April 20, 2015

NPM: Millay Goes Down

Vincent Millay

Let's revisit flapper poet Edna St. Vincent Millay a moment. She's a class act, she is: one of the twentieth century's most renowned practitioners of the sonnet form, and certainly one of its most passionate. Although her poetry doesn't really broach the erotic, it pulses with a sensuality and longing that pounds against the walls of the verse in which it is framed. (If you've read more than four of her poems, you probably didn't need to glance at her biography to know she was polyamorous and bisexual.)

Today's poem isn't by Millay herself, but contemporary poet Moira Egan, who speaks for her in a piece that encompasses several of Millay's usual themes: desire, memory, and intimacy, and also oral sex. Enjoy! (The refrain at the top of each stanza is, of course, the first line and title of one of Millay's most well-known sonnets.)

Millay Goes Down
Moira Egan (b. ?)

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why?
And where? Yes, there. That summer in the barn,
he'd spread me on the hay bales, sixty-nine,
oblivious to scratches, clothes half-on,
we'd take forever. Salty, sweaty both,
and kissing back the taste, each other on

each other's avid lips. I learned a truth
perhaps more grown than I was then, so when
a lady I know says she won't do this,
that that's what whores are for, it makes me sad.
It seems a gift, devotion at the source
of all our humanness; best when, instead
of needing gesture, pressure, Please, go south,
he softly asks me, Do you want my mouth?

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why?
Why not's as good as why sometimes, why not
Seduce this boy whose face, in candlelight,
looks slightly older, almost appropriate.
Your fingertips might almost brush his hand
as you both dip bread into the oil.
You laugh and make it clear you understand
he'd rather hang out with a younger girl.
He says he's never had this wine, mourvèdre;
pronounces that he likes full-bodied,
strong and complicated wine (you think educable,
right on
) and then his hand is on

your shoulder, and he kisses you, his mouth
quite like a warm, mourvèdre fountain of youth.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Vernal Interlude

This morning I received a text message from Em, who's become my best friend on the island. "When you coming home?" she asked.

I wasn't sure how to answer. I'm returning to the rock on Monday. But coming home? That's a very different question.

I'm not sure where home is anymore. I live in the Caribbean. If I ever considered it my home, it was because the island is where she lives. But the circumstances have changed. Now the island is where I earn a paycheck, and where I live—even though I've yet to work out what to do about housing, now that our experiment in cordial cohabitation has arrived at a decidedly nonoptimal conclusion.

Seeing my friends from Maryland a few days ago was a joy; in all honesty I hadn't expected to see most of them again in this lifetime. (Maybe this will be the last time.) But revisiting Silver Spring reminded me why I can't live there anymore.

It's funny. Maryland was chosen as the setting for All the Lonely People rather arbitrarily: it wasn't Jersey, for one thing, and I lived in Columbia until I was three years old. When I wrote the first draft, I was still living in Pennsylvania, and hadn't the faintest inkling I would be moving to Maryland for love, for the sake of keeping a good thing going. By the time I was working through the last round of revisions, I was living in Silver Spring by myself, and saw All the Lonely People as my farewell and don't bother writing to the Washington, DC metro area.

Good people, but a bummer of a place. This often isn't the case: most of the time the people of a particular locale bring more to bear than the environs themselves.

On the way back to Jersey I missed 295 and continued northward up 95 out of habit, passing through Philadelphia and coming within a rosary bead's throw of the Quaker center. I lived there for two years, and for that time that place was home to me, without question. I still count this as one of the greatest privileges I've ever enjoyed. The last time I visited was in August. Even then, it was difficult to be there. My close friends, the dozen or so people with whom I overlapped during my time there—including Jason, my college buddy who brought me there, and Hannah, who I followed to Maryland when my term was up—they were the place, counted for more than the buildings, the arboretum, the institution itself. (This is a theme of Doug's book about the place, to which I'm proud to have contributed as an editor.) When I visited last August, only three of my close acquaintances remained. They've all moved on since then. There's no point in visiting now.

I only visited my alma mater once after graduating. It was ten months after I'd thrown my diploma in the trunk and drove back to Jersey. For two and a half years my buddies and I strutted and staggered about campus and smoked spliffs on the steps of the library like we owned the place. And now I was there and they were gone. The passage of ten months was enough to reduce me to an interloper, an outsider who came to sleep on a couch and had no real purpose being there. It's why I've never gone back since, and why I won't return to the Quaker center today.

It's hard finding yourself a stranger in a place that was once your home. Is it harder than finding a place you once called home becoming strange? (Is there a difference?)

During a road trip I took several years ago (which, incidentally, was directly catalyzed by an experience during that final visit to the campus) I wound up in Maryland and visited my parents' old house in Columbia, where we lived until moving up to Jersey in 1987. It was underwhelming, it was—I'm not sure I can say it was sad, but I don't know the word for the feeling of feeling nothing about a place that was your earliest home.

At what point does a waystation become a home, I wonder?

Now I'm back in Jersey, and I feel like I'm back in my element—even though Jersey is a place I'd be reluctant to call home again, for reasons which The Zeroes made patently clear. But I have friends and family here, and it's been good seeing and spending time with them again.

Today I visited the Tourne Park swamp with Jeff. This is only the first week of warm weather (I've been told), so there isn't much surface activity yet. But it's coming alive again: though it's still too early in the seasons for barn swallows and damselflies, we met some red-winged blackbirds (vocal but very secretive creatures), nuthatches, a tortoise, and heard a chorus of frogs in the distance that sang so loudly that I mistook them for a siren at first.

Jeff and I sat on a rock and listened to the chirps and trills and caught up for a while. He's still teaching history, and lately he's become a permanent member of the ska band he used to play with now and then. They've been recording some new songs lately, and sometime next month they're playing with Catch 22—not the first time he's opened for them, but the first in over ten years.

I was glad to hear it.

I picked a fine week to visit, at any rate. It's not that I haven't been impressed by spring in the past, but I feel like I've taken it somewhat for granted until the last few days. Maybe it's because I'm seeing it in an unusual light: in January I left winter to go live in summer, and five days ago I caught a flight back to spring. The perpetual viridescence of the tropics is wonderful—but the magnolia and cherry trees in full blossom, pushing out their everything for two, three weeks out of fifty-two, is astonishing an event as any I've seen.

Spring never lasted long enough for me. And on Monday it's back to summer. Wish I could say it was back home.

Would that springtime itself could be my home. To live where life is always in a state of becoming, all potential and unspent possibility.

But I suppose that's what life is, as long as life is, however much less it may appear.