LoV-Write

Archive for the category “Gross Generalizations”

Finding America: Election Year Reflection.

This year is 2016. It is an election year, and the candidates are concerned with “making America great again”. But as I think over my travels in this country and others, and reflect on my glimpses of History, I have to wonder whether the USA has had the time to be “great” in the first place. We are a young country, still rowdy and teenaged, with an identity built on some vague ideas of “freedom” and a strange nostalgia for a greatness we think we earned during the World Wars.

As I write this series and explore my country, I hope to find the things that make America America today, and the things we can do to shape America for tomorrow. Which is to say, this series is about the inhabitants of a continent: all the passions, conflicts, and failures that have shaped a nation, and my own hope that we will labor to make our country a great nation today and tomorrow, and not mourn some imagined greatness we accomplished half a century ago.

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Finding America: The Potato Drops

Finding America (Series I: Idaho): The 3rd Annual Potato Drop

The United States is full of awe inspiring places, people, and things- ghost towns turned tourist trap, archaic worshipping sites, old battlegrounds, vast canyons and mountain ranges, extinct volcanoes, and the stories of the people who have lived and toiled here. Thinking of these things, I realize that I have not yet met my country, and there are a many things to explore. But discovery is a process, and since I cannot learn it all at once I will start with where I am: Boise, Idaho.

I’ve been in Boise since September, 2015. During the past three months I’ve only brushed the surface of the sites and people that occupy this postage stamp of land. Though I could write about the Capitol building, or the Botanical Gardens, I will save these and others for another time. Instead, I will start this New Year with a new Boise tradition: the annual New Year’s Potato Drop.

I first heard about this event on December 30, 2015, and found the idea novel enough to attend. This year’s festival, ringing in 2016, was the Third Annual Potato Drop, and featured a 15ft Potato lowered for the countdown that initiated a fireworks display. Though I arrived at 11:45pm that evening and missed most of the vendors, it was great fun.

In final 10 minutes before the drop there was a short New Years Bachelorette program, where a young woman asked a series of questions to three eligible bachelors. She ultimately selected bachelor number three to sit with during the drop, while the other two bachelors were introduced to the runner-up bachelorettes. Immediately after this, came the countdown for the New Year and the ceremonial lowering of the Potato.

It was a bit silly, yes, and cold, but it was a nice way to remind us that life is more than ceremony. That life is full of cold days, times of loneliness, and other sufferings we must endure, but life is just as full, if we look, of the little things to make us smile, and of the 15 foot potatoes descending on a crane.

Book Blurbs (Eloquence by Mark Forsyth)

The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase, as disclaimed by Forsyth,is not a dictionary of rhetoric, nor was it meant to be” (234). Instead it aims to explain and clarify a number of rhetorical figures at work in the English language, “a clarity and knowledge that has been abandoned for a couple of centuries now” (231).Eloquence

The book is made of a preface; 39 chapters that discuss different rhetorical figures; a peroration; and an epilogue concerning terminology. It reminds readers that eloquence is a quiet undercurrent of language, and that these patterns of use are only part of writing well.

As Forsyth writes, “For though we have nothing to say, we can at least say it well” (232).

 

 

Forsyth, Mark. The Elements of Eloquence. Berkley Publishing Group: New York. 2013

Book Blurbs (Coffee: Epic of a Commodity by E. H. Jacob)

Coffee: The Epic of a Commodity by E.H. Jacob (1935), translated by Eden and Ceder Paul (1998) is an economic history of a popular product. Jacobs begins with a story about some Arab monks who observed the energized manner of goats, and from these goats discovered coffee and it’s regenerative effects. From this Islamic monastery, Jacobs traces the life of coffee as a commodity until 1931, when trade forces compelled the Brazilian government to burn vast quantities of coffee.

epic of a commodity

epic of a commodity

In the post script, Jacobs writes that, “Much that I had intended to include has slipped through the meshes of my net, because its inclusion would have confused the general impression, and because it was a refractory element. Not every interesting fact can be woven into a comprehensive survey like the present.” (pg 283).

Jacobs, E.H. Coffee: The Epic of a Commodity. 1935. Trans. Eden & Cedar Paul. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2015. Print.

Book Blurbs (Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain)

In the Preface to Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Anthony Bourdain writes, “What I set out to do was write a book that my fellow cooks and restaurant lifers would find entertaining and true. I wanted it to sound like me talking,” (xv). Throughout, Bourdain maintains this conversational style, and takes the reader on a day trip through his experiences with food, with cooking, drug abuse, and a number of the little things that formed the Chef he grew into. Kitchen Confidential

 

Bourdain, Anthony. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. Updated ed. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2007. Print.

A Writer

Am I a writer?

I haven’t published in over a month, my journal is out of date, my reading neglected, and my next novels languish as half-written sentences and outlines.

Yet I have the gall to tell people I meet that I am a writer.

I give the usual excuses for not placing pen to paper and not opening the computer: I’ve been busy lately; I’m working full time and moving; and, I do think about my stories all the time.

Am I a writer if I neglect my writing in favor of thinking?

I’ve heard that Milton dictated Paradise Lost and never inked a quill; that Joyce spent days thinking over a single sentence; that Austen thought works into being that are subtle critiques of her society. They are called writers, so maybe a Writer is someone who cares for their language and thinks before they pen.

I wonder if they feared to disturb the Universe?

Am I writer if I let life and fear prevent me from writing?

When faced with the uncertainty of the future I find my pen quaking and futility sprawling across my pages. The Universe is far too vast to be disturbed by the symbols of my small ideas, and the marks a mortal leaves are faint, washable things.

Even so, after a while I find my muse nudging me back to the pages and urging me to record her stories and poetries, and to form a linguistic image from the material granted me.

“Silence is a call to reflect” she tells me, “neglect is a chance to care, and forgetfulness the moment to remember.”

I am flawed and inconsistent, but I am a writer.

Michief’s Brewing

I’m terribly behind in my writing. Unfortunately, this seems to be a typical thing in the world of writers. Fortunately for us, however, the good lord invented coffee shops where we may sit and procrastinate in peace.

Better still, we look busy as we procrastinate because people who write often look busier than they really are. It’s the magic of having a computer open before you, and a coffee close at hand.

Moving on.

I have embarked on an incredible journey of unemployment and relocation, and I find myself with a great deal of time on my hands. Theoretically, this means I could work out and finish another book or two in the next few weeks as I apply to jobs and wait for responses. The reality, of course, is that I tool around and haunt coffee shops.

Not that I’m a complete bum.

This particular coffee shop -Mischief’s Brewing- is located in Libertyville, Illinois, and the owners have agreed to host me on August 17, 2014 for a third attempt at a book event. I can’t say I’m over optimistic, given the last two events were about as lack lustre as they come, but I’m content for the opportunity.

The shop itself has an air of a reclaimed train depot, and rests on the corner of Milwaukee Avenue and the Fox Lake-Chicago train line. There are a number of tables strewn along the walls and potted plants in the windows. Across from the counter, is a fireplace around which is a ring of black sofas.  From what I gather, the owners are hoping to become a kind of cultural hub for the city, and are the venue for a number of events each month.

I can’t say I know much more than that, but, if you happen to be in Northern Illinois anytime soon, it’s worth a stop for a cup of coffee, a quick round of connect four, and, maybe, a book signing.

Fictional Realism

Dear You,

I know it’s been awhile since I wrote, but I wanted to get your take on this idea I’m playing with:

The idea is that the world is a massive book: an encyclopedia which, like Hermione’s bag, can be entered and explored. How I picture it is as a maze of letters: rows of books within books and shelves upon shelves containing and composing the history of the Universe. It’s the Library of Babel and the number 42. It’s extensive, complete, and vast, but ultimately limited to the constraints of Time.

What this means, I think, is that the split seconds are recorded with intensive detail by some unknown “scribes” of this encyclopedia, and the day to day realities of life are reduced to a story which, in our histories, are perceived as fictions even though they really occurred. That is, Napolean is no longer a person, but a character in a story because we can only know the man through the written texts. And, like a character in a fiction, our understanding of these historical figures are limited by the information we have available.

In fact, every interaction we have in the day-to-day is reduced to a kind of vague document outlining the events, but lacking the minutia of the split thoughts and partial comprehensions.

This encyclopedia or library, then, is a multifaceted construct which preserves both the crust and the core of these histories. Some of the entries or books provide the minutia, while some relate only the vaguest of suppositions.

It’s difficult for me to digest, but it’s like this: the world is literature, and we are readers and critics assessing the story and pulling meaning from the words we understand.

I’m not sure how this thought came to my brain, I think, perhaps, from reviewing my old journals and realizing that I understand and imagine the past in the same way that I understand and imagine the stories I read.

I’d like to know what you think of this,

I’m not sure when I’ll write again, but I will when I will.

Until the previous time we’ve met,

Your friend

 

Bloomsday 2014: Sing In Me, Muse…

Aside from presuming to reference the Odyssey (which I’ve read only once in a Freshman philosophy course four years ago), I’m also presuming to write about Bloomsday, that is, Ulysses, by James Joyce.

Bloomsday, if you don’t know, is today: 16 June, 2014. It is a commemoration of the life and work of James Joyce, and it is based on his monstrous novel Ulysses which takes place on this day in 1904.

I’ll confess, I’m sort of jumping on the band wagon rather late: I only realized Bloomsday was a thing last month, when I visited the James Joyce Centre in Dublin. There I learned something about Joyce and his work, and today I’m just beginning to understand.

My understanding began when, in the spirit of the wagon, I wanted to know what people do on Bloomsday. Perhaps, consume a mutton kidney, or take a walk by the beach, or, in the evening- well, somethings are best left unsaid.

But it was this search for involvement that lead me to an article in Vanity Fair called “Bloomsday is a Travesty, but Not for the Reason You Think” (James S. Murphy). This article made me more aware of just how little I know about James Joyce and his work.

Murphy discusses the history of Ulysses as a vulgar, banned text, and how Joyce as a writer would probably be bothered by the holiness of the day.

“Bloomsday celebrations treat Joyce too much like a saint and his book too much like a gospel to be revered first and read later, if at all. By placing Ulysses on a pedestal, we lose sight of both its vulgar origins and its power to tell us deep truths about our world and ourselves precisely by keeping the earthy and obscene aspects of ourselves in view.”

So this makes me wonder about the text. I’ve started the text twice in the last three years, while attending college and taking classes, and both times I found that I could not immerse myself enough to get anything out it. Like a “gospel”, it is a text that requires a great deal of time and energy to read well, and a reader who isn’t prepared to immerse fully in the text will miss out.

But I’m presuming again, to talk about books I haven’t read as though I have some knowledge from my own understanding! What I’m writing here is still only a parrot of the mind of Murphy and, through Murphy, a man named Birmingham.

“Luckily,” wrote Murphy, “a new book by the literary scholar Kevin Birmingham, The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses, can help us recall Ulysses for what it was and should still be, a shocking novel that tore at decency and tradition as it clawed its way into existence rather than a “classic” that sits happily on an educated person’s bookshelf for eternity, never to be pulled down.”

Here, like the sinner in the pews, I’m finding moral conviction from the words of this literary “preacher”. And I’m beginning to experience Joyce as a fellow writer and human being. I can’t say I know diddly about his work, but I can say that I’ve started a journey with an uncertain end. I’m parroting these writers now, but maybe we all need the crutches of another’s words as we learn to speak for ourselves.

So here is the beginning of my appreciation of Joyce and general literature: the affirmation that literature is seeping, and slow-working. Though I’ll parrot Murphy again, he expresses this with a paraphrase:

“Birmingham compared reading Ulysses to taking a slow-acting drug that gradually reshapes our understanding of ourselves, working its way into our consciousness as we read it, unsettling who we are.”

So, on this Bloomsday, read well and read carefully, but be warned: you may find your understanding altered.

 

 

Rocky Road to Dublin: Post III

Dear You,

It was a Thursday night -in Dingle- and we had just finished drinking wine with a fellow named Wally and his buddy Peanut.

By “we” I mean myself and one other, who I’ll call Cyprus Rotor, had shared two bottles of wine in the course of three hours. Our first bottle was an Australian white called “Wally’s Hut”, and the second was a Pinot Grigio. I forget the brand. Hence: Wally and Peanut. When we had finished the second bottle, we walked back to the main street -we had been sitting on the shore along the marina- to a pub called “The Court House”.

We had been to the Court House the night before, and there we had met some locals as well as a fellow traveler. The locals were lovely. One, a young woman who sang and played guitar, was simply captivating. She sang and spoke with a wonderful confidence which is hard to explain. What I found most pleasing is that she sung “I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You” by Tom Waits.

The other local, a manager at the Grapevine Hostel, was a charming man. He played classical guitar and listened to the Beatles. He also knew “Romance” by Juanillo d’Alba and the song “I’m My Own Grandpa”. Essentially, both of these locals had a similar taste in non-current music that Cyprus and I also had.

The fellow traveler was different. He was a lad of 18, long dark hair and Californian with pleasent features and an endearing honesty. It was strange for me, in talking to him, to recognize a fellow spirit. This Californian had had an incredible journey of injury and sequences* which lead to our meeting and my giving him a copy of my book which, I hoped, would have something to say to him.

This was a fine evening, and both Cyprus and I stayed up far too late speaking with these people. She went off with Grapevine manager, and I went to a different pub with California and Singer. Though I could go into the minute details of this evening, the point is less the conversation and more the drink that I discovered while I was there:

It was Dingle Gin, and, like the people of that evening, I had taken only a short sample of its flavour and character. It is a beverage, however, (and they are people) who will linger for many years to come in my memories of Ireland.

*Sequences is an idea I’ve taken from the work of Patrick F. McManus.

 

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