Saturday, October 25, 2008

Another campaign video. Somebody stop me.

Sandberg for President

An incompetent man for a meaningless position

Below is a campaign video and some posters for Mr. Sandberg. Remember the power of your vote on Nov. 4. Remember that you can make a difference.

Then remember that you can vote for him instead.

(Man, I love this Mac!)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Dear Senator Obama:

Today, I voted. I'm not saying I voted for you, and I'm not saying I voted for Senator McCain. And I'm definitely not saying I didn't get confused while voting and accidentally figure the booth to be a urine sample collection booth or anything. So for now, let's keep this all in the hypothetical.

Hypothetically, if I did vote for you, it was historic. The first ballot cast for an African-American candidate. I should frame the "I Voted!" sticker I got, except I've already got another "historic" one. The sticker from 2006. When the Democrats took over in 2006.

Okay, maybe that's not a fair comparison. I mean, the Dems have been in charge before, haven't they? Sure they have. And even if they hadn't, your meteoric rise to power is nothing short of staggering, regardless of how one views your political credentials.

But two years after the Democrats swept Congress, look at the state of affairs we're in. The economy. The continuing war in Iraq that nobody seems to want to call a war. Job losses. Property foreclosures. And so on.

I'm not blaming the Democrats, you understand. A lot of damage was done over a long period of time. I just haven't had the kind of leadership I'd thought I'd voted for, and that makes the whole situation dangerous. Because Americans are idiots, and if immediate gratification isn't delivered from the party that just took power half an hour ago, they'll start clamoring for "change from change" and go back to the party that wielded the whip and chair over the previous decade-and-change.

So my prediction is, whatever you do in your administration, you're going to catch a ridiculous amount of flack over it. Which is fine, as long as you stick to your vision. Which is also fine, as long as you have a vision.

You do have one, don't you?

Just checking. I thought you did.

It could be a total disaster with you in the White House. If I voted for you, I might have had this cross my mind. Economists quoted in the elite liberal media to which I subscribe avidly point out that Americans will save more money under your tax plan than McCain's, but they're scratching their heads over how you're going to pay for some of your proposed budgets. You're right in pointing out Bush's shortcomings, and McCain's similarities to him sometimes scare the hell out of me, but seriously, what is your better plan for Iraq? And how do you plan to hold the mortgage companies' feet to the fire to ensure a stable housing economy, so I can get my property the fuck off my hands?

(The Economist advises axing the home ownership tax exemption, by the way. Would save us billions. Maybe look into that? But let me sell mine first, okay? Thanks, big guy. Wink.)

Still, if I were to throw my chips behind you, I'd realize that a black man in the Oval Office is going to generate a lot of waves. Not all of them will be good. Many will be pointless and stupid (does Obama wear a pin? does Michelle Obama love her country? next week, do your children really love you or are they just mouthing platitudes? film at eleven). But I'm hoping that, if you take the reins of power, your vision will soon emerge and evolve into leadership. And Senator, I am so ready to be led.

Sincerely yours,

Another damned blogger

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

And on the horizon, a beast slouching towards Bethlehem to be born: A novelist

Oh crap. It's almost November.

Oh crap. That means NaNoWriMo.

Oh crap. That means I'm going to be dumb enough to enter the contest for a third year in a row.

I. Am. An. Idiot.

It all started with Tso. All stupid things do. He told me, "So quit grousing about your job and go back to grad school. What's the worst that could happen? You flunk out? Which you probably will."

So I did. And I met Wiggo. Who, four years afterwards, while we were both struggling secondary educators, told me about NaNoWriMo: a novel-writing contest where quality is eschewed in favor of quantity, and a loyal legion of "writers" churn out crap copy and clutter the blogosphere and wannabe-publishing industry with their deadline-enforced literary efforts.

"I can't get into that!" I whined at the time. "I've got papers to grade! Plus, I'm starting a unit tomorrow, and I really should take a look at the book. Who is this Joyce guy anyway?"

"If you're that behind, then this won't matter," he said breezily. "In fact, it'll help. Joyce wrote in stream-of-consciousness. You can write that too. You'll have an inside look at the writer's mind. You'll be a star, a stellar nova, a Cultured and Distinguished Man of Letters. The students will revere you. You'll widen their horizons."

"Yeah," I said distantly, trying to watch House of Payne out of the corner of my eye.

"And you can get a t-shirt. Cheap."

I was immediately in.

This was \ two years ago. I took last year off. I had to. It was that traumatic.

So now I've got to start all over again.

Damn you, Tso. You suck.

In all honesty, writing a novel without clear direction seems to me as dangerous as driving a car with your eyes closed. Last time, I got far enough into my piece to realize that November ending was the best thing in the world for me. Without a forced conclusion to the charade of my "creativity," I'd never be able to end the damned thing. Mine involved a couple of brothers: one an alcoholic high school teacher (they say write what you know), and one a defrocked priest, both home over an extended weekend to deal with a family situation. I never figured out what that situation was. I never figured out why the priest was defrocked. I did manage to recount, in excrutiating detail, what the teacher liked to drink (Jim Beam on the rocks), and what the priest was wearing (jeans and a t-shirt), and what they both did the first few hours of Friday afternoon (teacher drank at a bar and ignored cell phone calls from a putative girlfriend; the priest went to the father's house and learned that he'd bought a new car).

Ulysses, it ain't.

And yet, to be candid, I had fun messing around with it. It became a kind of halfassed game: How far can I sink into this putrid collection of free-association and agonizingly-direct characterization, before I either get so sick of the whole thing as to vomit, or run out of time, or both? Not very far, as it turned out. But once you make the decision to write it and enjoy writing it, as opposed to writing to win a Pulitzer some day, the whole experience becomes, if not rewarding, certainly more comforting. Like riding on a second-rate roller coaster. Cheap thrills, no discernible payback, but you can wear a t-shirt bragging about your endeavor and people will at least raise an eyebrow in approval.

Screw it. I'm in. Hear that, Wiggo? Get your pencils sharpened, bitch. We goin' to have a cage match.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Signs I might not be cut out to be a poet after all

Camping in October. It's been a while. I had to dig in the basement for my wool hunting hat.

In the past decade or so since I cut loose and slept in the great outdoors during that time of year when "yellow leaves do hang upon the bough," I've managed to destroy my back in a combination of sedentary suburban life, frenzied midlife crisis activity, and dominatrix hobbies...I've said too much. What is safe to say is, a bad back plays hell with the wonders of Mother Nature.

The pain and I are old friends by now; sometimes, he's good enough to tell me how long he'll be around, while other times I have to guess. Sometimes the pain can be dealt with by imbibing a pint of stout and a large piece of red meat (the kind of food that's going to land me in trouble further on in life, at least, according to my doctor, the quack), but the last time I tried self-medication like that, I wound up bloated, drunk, and still in pain. I might have still tried it, you know, for recreation, but the park prohibits alcohol. Along with bestiality and voting Republican.

Other times, the pain has miraculously disappeared by submersion in water: a swimming pool, a hot tub, the beach. This occurred to me, but when I cast a look at the lovely waters of the state park, my optimism withered on the vine.

(And what's this I hear about drinking the water brain causing to my damage? Bunch of ass garbage face ask you me.)

So, for all I could tell, I was stuck with a back that wouldn't let me recline comfortably, sleep, kayak, or otherwise relax. All I could do was walk.

Walking provided my muscles the stretching I needed, and furthermore, kept me doing something besides sitting and thinking, "Jesus fuck, my back hurts." So as I walked, constantly grumbling to myself about the book I could be reading could I concentrate, or the papers I'd tried to grade on the way but gotten sick over, whether because I was reading them in the car or because they're so bad my eyeballs wanted to hemorrhage, I couldn't tell, I started to remember some lines from Whitman.

Yes, I recall Whitman in the midst of nature. Does that surprise anyone? It should. I'm a relatively late bloomer to poetry. I always knew what I hated in poetry: anything I couldn't teach. Which was mostly everything. My first year teaching, I got stuck with a lesson on "Song of Myself," and it took everything I had in me to not take the New New Criticism route on that puppy: "Whitman is singing about himself. He likes himself. Remember that for the test." Later on, I heard of Whitman's penchant for young men, long rambles, free verse, and belief that Shakespeare wasn't the author of Shakespeare's plays. But for years, in some mental file labeled "Whitman, Walt," all I could come up with for the longest time was "He liked nature." Shameful.

I started reading Whitman more heavily a few years ago, and I've dove into him this month for reasons I'm not ready to divulge yet. But the more you read Whitman, the more you get to dig his way of looking at the world. Precisely because it seeks to empower your own:
He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher.
There's a quote I'm not ready to share with my classes, for obvious reasons. But how about this:
Stop this day and night with me, and you shall possess the origin of all poems;
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun—(there are millions of suns left;)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books;
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me:
You shall listen to all sides, and filter them from yourself.
All of this is old hat to today's liberal arts public school educators: The student needs worlds to discover, don't step on their inner children (whatever that is), so on. But in his time period, it was revolutionary. And really, look at those lines! Roll them on your tongue. There are millions of suns left? And we can possess its goodness? On our own? Really? I have that kind of perspective in me? Golly!

So with those lines in my recent memory, little wonder they came to me this weekend. I only wished I'd had a copy with me: Whitman once remarked in a letter that "it makes such a difference where you read." He even almost got shitcanned from a printer's job because he took two- and three-hour lunches, loafing around with a book or chatting up dockworkers in Lower Manhattan or Brooklyn. My man. If only he'd been a drinker too, we could have been soul brothers.

Well, actually, as it happens, not quite. Because all in the space of fifteen minutes or so, I tried, and failed, to Become a Poet.

It wasn't as crazy as it sounds, to be honest. The Poet, by my way of thinking, doesn't wear dark clothes, smoke dope, feign an exhausted kind of boredom and world-weariness that may or may not be unique. The Poet, quite simply, sees. Writing it down is only a third of the job.

And I dig the idea of Seeing. It's such a plastic, tenuous thing. I "see" that my back is bad, and that I probably need medical investigation and rigorous physical therapy, but my actions belie my sight, as they do for most people, I suspect. (Not Kim, of course, who was off being an Explorer while I was a Poet--ask her about her neck therapy and you'll see what I mean.) I "See" the nuances of my life--we all do, it's not Divine Recognition or anything--but managing to capture it, via metaphor, symbolism, or otherwise engaging trope--is a skill I suspect everyone should have. We should all be poets. And then not tell anyone.

Others do it better than I. Honestly. I have my favorite poets. My casual acquaintance poets. My Poets I wish I knew better. My old favorite Internet poets and Internet poets worthy of new study. My friends who are poets but don't realize their own depth. And my friends who write poetry because they figure it's easier to insult me with haikus than their own halting vocabularies.

So here I was, a thirty-three year old male trudging a state park, surrounded by nature (and families, I might add, at least thirty percent of which were pretty trashy), finding myself untethered. The normal stresses of the week were gone. Thoughts of bills, lesson plans, obligations and trash to take out had flown the coop. All that was left was the singular voice in my head, and I decided this would be as good a time as any to put it to work. I would capture some of my surroundings, or what the surroundings gave birth to in my own consciousness. I would be a Speaker for the Ages. A Man with a Voice.

Here's what I came up with:
A back
that aches like my own sensibilities
like learning for the first time you're going to die some day


Why is it that those dysfunctional families are always the loudest?
Is it true that the squeaky wheel gets the grease
or is it simply that
some wheels don't roll properly?
Now, this isn't one of those "look how crappy of a sensitive side I have? hyuk hyuk" posts. I seriously tried to write some verse. Or at least, I tried to try. I don't know. Maybe my head wasn't in it. One thing I can promise, though--any verse I upchuck, unless it passes some sort of litmus test I can only imagine exists somewhere, will not rear its ugly head here. I've got enough sins on my head concerning wastes of cyberspace.

But it was sort of fun screwing around with it like that. I think I'd rather write iambic pentameter, unrhymed, exploring the haunting emptiness of a consumer-driven lifestyle. Clear, crisp verbiage; readily-accessibly analogies; allusions that will force even the most stultified, reality-TV-addicted casual peruser to sit up and go, "Whut? Whut's he talkin' bout? Gots to look that up. Where's mah Wikipedia?"

So, Becoming a Poet just made the List of Hobbies. Right between "Learn French" and "Re-learn the French you were supposed to have learned in college." I offer this not in the hopes of creating an audience, but simply because, like most things dealing with words, the announcement itself has power.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

For someone who prides himself on being a student (and occasional teacher and borer-of-students) of rhetoric, I've paid scant attention to the debates. In fact, the only one I watched start to finish was the vice presidential one, and I gotta tell you, What's the friggin' point? If all they're going to do is tout their running mates, that's not a debate. That's a couple of kids nosing up each other on the playground, arguing, "My dad could kick the crap out of your dad!" Entertaining, yes. Statesmanship? Give me a break.

In fact, I'm more soured about this election than I was the last one. I'm a pessimist. I'm not proud of it, but it's how I came out. My first birthday that I can remember, I thought to myself, How many more of these do I have to look forward to? Seventy if I'm lucky. At my senior prom, I was the one shoving Enya and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds to the d.j. And just the other week, I told a class of giggling girls to study their Nietzsche, to realize why they shouldn't be so giggly. For me, the glass isn't even half empty; it's also breakable, with water that will soon evaporate and is all-too-briefly enjoyed. So when Bush said, "Bring it on, Kerry," I thought, Well shit. The Lone Wolf is saddling up. Who can withstand that kind of persuasion?

But at least the last election afforded me the luxury of hatred. I hated Bush then. I hate him even more now. And now that he's on his way out of the office, I feel much like the CIA must have after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I've lost my scapegoat. My focus of contempt for the Republican Party. The anathema to conservatism touting conservatism. The boogeyman. And who do we have to replace him?

A smoov-talker and a war hero.

That's really all it's going to boil down to once the "filter" is cut through. McCain is selling a tax plan that every economist I've seen interviewed acknowledges is sticking it to the very middle class he purports to support. And Obama, as near as I can tell, wants to open the windows of luxury limousines and throw cash by the handful out the door to the starving masses. Pardon me while I vomit ebullience.

The debates (the scant portions I've seen) have told me nothing. When the moderators reprimand both candidates for dodging the question, you have to wonder how they'll stack up against Congress, or their national addresses to the nation.

The SCLM has told me little except that both candidates are prone to misrepresentations, and that they don't like each other. Also that Sarah Palin is entertaining, but possibly vapid. Hats off, folks.

And the polls? Don't get me started. If you polled every American on the face of the earth about the economy and the staggering and frightening dips the market is taking, make one of the questions, "How stupid are you with the economy" and watch the numbers rise. Vox populi my ass.

So my plan is simple: I'm going to find a hole, crawl into it, and come out in twenty years. By then, if history is any guide, we'll be through this recession-in-name-only, and well on our way to another major war, at which point we can focus on a new bad guy, let corruption run rampant and turn a blind eye to the financial sleight-of-hand that gave us prosperity in the short run yet stuck us in this cesspool of a situation at the moment.

And maybe by then, my pal Bush will be doing the lecture circuit or running for Congress. Now there's a fight I can win.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Reasons I can't tear my eyes away from pole dancing

Our culture is rapidly becoming destroyed by instant viewing video clips readily available. I'm good evidence of that. Sunday morning, I got a blast of the Sarah Palin impression on SNL. Two days later, some idiot put three bootleg clips of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight for me to gawk at. As I pore over video clips, my bedtime gets later and later, the sun passes me by like a thief in the night, and the pride I feel about not watching any (repeat: any) TV in the last few months is erased by my eternal, burning shame at staring at footage of adolescents skateboarding and cracking their nuts on outdoor stair railings in the process.

So when I was on JibJab the other day, the Pole Dancing demonstration caught my eye. It was bound to happen.

I don't get pole dancing. I understand, intellectually, what's appealing about it, but as a male steeped in a tradition of woman-ogling, it does absolutely nothing for me. All I can think of when watching it is, "Hey, she must be in shape. I wonder if I could find out where she does her yoga." Or, "If she can pole dance like that, I bet she could jump rooftops like Spider-Man. Man, what I wouldn't give to be able to web swing like Spider-Man."

So why (and I speak in all candor, friends and neighbors) can't I immediately drag my eyes away? It's like watching a spider spin a web.

Put a guy on the pole, I wonder if it would be the same reaction. I suspect it would. Maybe. Crap.

I need to get out more.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Vignette # 1216: Florida trip

It's 1998. I'm a first-year teacher on holiday break, traveling to Florida to visit, among other things/people, my aunt and uncle. We've been driving steadily for fourteen hours; Tso has adamantly refused to let me behind the wheel, so I've been whiling the time away grading papers, reading a novel, chainsmoking Marlboros and arguing heatedly about the quality of the upcoming Star Wars prequel. Tso, meanwhile, finds his serenity chainsmoking my Marlboros and dismissing the paperwork I'm currently grading as "not worth a tin shit."

We're both exhausted, but there's no other way to do these goddam trips besides driving straight on through till the morning. The poets call it an experience that will expand your perspective. I call it an experience that makes your ass feel like a piece of granite. This, in fact, will be my last trip to Florida for years, possibly ever. Driving south through the Midwest in winter sucks. Getting into the south, however, is encouraging: the air grows warmer, you start to see palm trees, and suddenly you remember that you're about to see sandy beaches and drink My Tais in outdoor bars while getting chatted up by other tourist pleasure-seekers. Not a bad way to spend your spare time. Oh, there are better ways, to be sure, but we take our comfort where we can find it.

A little after eight in the morning, we pulled into my aunt and uncle's. I haven't seen either of them since they moved down here a year or two ago, and the house immediately impresses me. A mile away from the beach, scrubland surrounding it. Fritz, an expert landscape gardener, has been at work here, and it shows. Later in the day, they will walk us through the surrounding area, showing us where they walk, where they socialize. Another year in the future, Fritz will install an outdoor shower that my grandmother will use, describing the experience as "unique."

"I'm beat," I complain to Tso as he hauls our bags out of the bed of his truck. "How are we going to handle this?"

He shrugs. "They're your family. You tell me."

"Let's just tell them we need to sleep for a while, and that there's a dinner in it for them. I don't think they'll be too bad with that."

"Let's hope so."

We walk up to the front door, and knock. A moment later, my aunt answers us. Visibly pleased. Hugging me. Shaking Tso's hand. She's steady. She's articulate. She looks like she could go teach class herself. Behind her, my uncle walks over. His smile is amiable; his grip is firm. He looks like a man enjoying his retirement immensely.

We spend some time talking about the drive down, but all of us realize this is only banter. The words, "I need to crash for a while; do you mind?" are on my lips when my uncle slaps his hands together.

"What can I get you to drink? We've got several kinds of liquor. Perk you right up."

Tso and I exchanged glances. Well, I think, we are on vacation...

Many drinks later, we're carrying on like it's New Year's Eve. Which it almost is, anyway, and besides, the hell with it, it's a New Year somewhere in the universe, right? No one is outrageously drunk; there's a palpable feel-good atmosphere in the air, and I desperately wish to take some of it and bottle it for the long, cold drive home and the long, cold months of winter ahead. But all of that is in the future, and for now, the present is something I'm wallowing in.

That was the last time I saw my uncle, who passed away yesterday. I wish I could see him one more time. Many more times. I wish I'd made the damn trip down south like I'd always intended to. I wish I wish I wish. Lesson in there, I suppose. Learned too late for my uncle, but at least it was learned.