19 April, 2016

Old friends, new soil, and starting over

Lay this unto your breast: Old friends, like old swords, still are trusted best. -- John Webster

There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.  -- Jean-Paul Sartre

Many demolitions are actually renovations. - Rumi

You're not the same as you were before. You were much more... muchier. You've lost your muchness. -- The Mad Hatter

What I'm worth here: one stale donut, probably left by grad
students who don't know how to clean.
Eden is built one shovel full  at a time. 

Yesterday I was out in my front yard, digging up the grass layer in a 4x5* plot of ground for a garden expansion. We've talked about this expansion for about two and a half years but, for one reason or another, hadn't gotten around to it.**

It's really unfair to call what now grows in our front yard grass. It's more like a picker's pack of weeds: three-leaf clover, crab grass, and the remnant of what used to be, I think, a flower bed. In characteristic fashion, the previous owners, The Beamus's*** chose to fill everything in with the cheapest fill they could find. Underneath the picker's pack of green weeds there's a lot of clay (not surprising for the region) with a mixture of plastic bits, pieces of walkway brick, and other debris I'm not sure I want to identify.

I haven't cleared a space of ground like that in more than a couple of years. This time last year, between my foot problems and the stabbing leg muscle cramps woke me up out of a dead sleep or would strike after any kind of physical exertion, I wouldn't have been able to tackle the project and hope to finish it. But this year, I did it -- because of some smart medical advice, some more attention to my own health, and the fact that I'm too damn stubborn to let the machinations of darkness win that easily.

Yes, the previous statement is dramatic. But I'm probably in a dramatic mood because today is my last at the University of Louisville, home to the corrupt as hell but still as of yet untouchable Dr. James Ramsey, in Kentucky, where our tiny tin pot fascist governor is going after higher ed ^ like  Richard "The Iceman" Kulinski.

My end of the semester exodus from this campus will most likely mark an end to my time in higher
The All-Seeing Eye above my cubicle. I'm leaving it for the
next inhabitant. I rarely feel lonely with it watching me.
Always. Always watching me. Like a tender,
patronizing, fascist
education. And while I'd like to claim I am marching out by choice and kicking the dirt off my work boots for its repudiation of me, the fact is these Institutional and Harrowed Halls have spit me out.

There's no room here for a guy like me. I make all the wrong kinds of noise and annoy all the wrong kind of people, in spite of the fact that I consistently do my job.  I've worked to improve my lot and the lot of other part-time cogs^^ like me, but all that's happened around here is nothing. A large swell of a wave, lots of potential energy biting to go kinetic, and then...


A pile of old dog shit in a KFC bucket.

After my retaliatory bum's rush from KCTCS, the drive to make any improvements dried up and disappeared because there was no one willing to step up be the next standard bearer.^^^

Part of my mistake has been, I think, my desire to behave like a far more diplomatic person than I actually am. When I try to act in a way incongruous with my basic nature, things always, naturally, go askew.

I am not a diplomat. I am not the person to go in and reach a compromise that satisfies no one and placates everyone. I am a contrarian. I come from a long line of contrarians. I'm a wrecking ball. I'm an embodiment of the whirlwind. Time and experience haven't dulled this about me, nor do I expect them to any time soon.

I was reminded of this recently, when a friend from my graduate school days, Stephanie, came in to River City for a conference. We met for drinks at one of my favorite downtown dives and talked for several hours. I've always had a soft spot for Stephanie. We're cut from a similar contrarian cloth. That's not to say we see the world in precisely the same way. But she reminded me that there's a necessity to calling out injustice, to standing up to bullies, to aiming for a higher moral and ethical standard. Old friends are good precisely because they can

  1. keep us honest, and 
  2. they have a longer view of our lives than we do sometimes, as we are stuck living day to day.

So, yes. I'm starting over. Again. I've gotten pretty good at it, actually. I'm armed with the same weapons that have gotten me here. Eden is built one shovel full at a time. Sometimes I shovel cheap fill. Sometimes I shovel shit. It all turns to fertile soil eventually. And as I move forward, I know I'm not working towards some Sunday morning Meet the Press commercial retirement fantasy. Poets and contrarians never retire.

I'm not investing in my retirement. I'm training for the next fight.
* Not precise. Yes, I eye-balled it. And it's a little crooked. That's what second growing seasons are for.
** Last year was a busy year. The year before that, we were broke, or damn near. Some plans have to wait for the situation to present themselves.
***May their names be struck from the book of careful homeowners.
^Yes, I'm aware of the lawsuit being organized by Andy "Don't call me Baby" Beshear. Keep in mind that under his Daddy, former governor Steven "At least I'm not Ernie Fletcher"  Beshear, the state budget cut higher education 10 times in a dozen years. Truth: Democrats like an uneducated population, too.
^^Because from an institutional view, that's all any of us are. Cogs that can be replaced. Usually with a less expensive one that's made out of plastic and manufactured in a sweatshop.
^^^ In classic military strategies, standard bearers marched ahead with the drummers to embolden the foot soldiers. NOTE: Standard bearers usually died first. It's a strategy of demoralization that still mostly works.

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12 April, 2016

Echoes along the dirty, sacred river: settling up with the past

 In this bright future, you can't forget your past. - Bob Marley

The past cannot be cured.  - Queen Elizabeth I

John William Waterhouse - Echo and Narcissus - Google Art Project.jpg
Echo and Narcissus, John William Waterhouse (1903)
 In the process of moving something around in the basement bunker where I write, record The Kentucky Muck Podcast, and try to play a little music now and again, ended up going through old files. No matter how much of a minimalist I aspire to be, nothing makes me feel like an gold medal level hoarder quite like going through my files.

I have a bad habit of putting things away in an attempt to not lose it, only to forget where I put such and so thing away shortly thereafter.

"Well shit," -- what I say to myself when I run into myself having made my life far more complicated than it needed to be because I found every 10 mm socket* I bought to replace the one I lost, only to find them all in the same re-purposed thing-of-a-jig box that was too too cool to throw away*-- which is to say, I found some old writing. I posted one of the poems on my Facebook page this past Sunday. I also found a book length draft of short stories I wrote while living in Illinois, including one mostly completed almost novella I had tentatively titled "Next Time, Plan Ahead." Although I'd left myself a notation that the it was on the second draft and that draft was complete, handling the pages reminded me of why it never made it past the second draft.

It was abandoned.

I abandoned it primarily because my second ex-wife*** was horrified by the fact that the bulk of my inspiration for my fiction^ came from my life -- which is to say, what was our married life.  I could provide the literary antecedents, or go down the rabbit hole of realism as a form of art. I abandoned what amounted to a year's worth of writing because, at the time, I thought I was saving a marriage.

Other than the fact that I more or less forgot about the work -- because I've been focusing on newer work, teaching, journalism, labor organizing, and getting married to the love of my life -- I haven't thought about the stories I wrote living in Illinois because... well, I'm generally in a happier mental place than I was the time. As an artifact, rereading the work brings back some really negative shit. Some of it's sad. Some of it makes me hate myself a little.

But, if I'm being honest -- and I'm always honest with you, Dear Friends and Readers -- little echoes of all that shit crop up more often than I'd like. Echoes of old habits. Old mistakes in dead relationships. Old feelings born out of the mismatched wiring of doomed relationships -- I'll tell one of those stories soon. But the trick, I've learned, is to face the echo and see it for what it is.

* 10 mm sockets are like socks that never seem to make it back from a laundry trip, except that instead of a lone, pairless sock that could, in theory, be paired with another lone pairless sock -- there's always more than one in the sock drawer -- you've got an entire socket set (24 separate doodads and watchadoodles) that are completely USELESS. 
** In addition to hoarding things with an archivist's passion, I also love to save things that I can then put other things in to save, only to put that thing I put things in inside a larger thing with basically the same purpose. My mind palace -- and my basement-- is  a never-ending garden of Russian nesting dolls. 
*** Yes, I have two ex-wives. I write about them both from time to time, though rarely through the lens of fiction.
^ Fiction, n. A narrative that may be based on real life things but it not bound to the honesty of the events. Fiction, rather, is bound to the honesty of the writer's intent and purpose, as well as bound to the integrity of the narrative.

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04 April, 2016

Poem Draft: Baptism in the Nose Bleeds

Hope rises expectant on Opening Day.
Last season’s transgressions are forgiven.
For a moment, we are wide-eyed.
For a moment, we are in love with the scent of a well-oiled leather mitt.
For a moment we are eager to knock off old dirt
and silence everything
except the welcome canticles of beer and hotdog vendors.
For a moment we shut out the prognostications of cynical game announcers.
For a moment unbelievers pray the Yankees don’t buy another pennant
and the faithful prepare to have their faith justified
or risk persecution by the All-Star Break.
For a moment all our digital distractions disappear –
politicians and their polished shit soliloquys are shushed
and all the noble rivalries rise to the surface.
You judge your friends by whether they watch the Cubs or the White Sox
and if they know Tom Seaver’s number
and if they embrace the dream of seeing Pete Rose in Cooperstown.
For a moment
the day, the hour, the minute, and the weight of all the ages past
rest upon whether that first pitch and the sound of the ball hitting the bat.

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