A Living Saboteur

Tonight was a night of stories by two authors: James Baldwin and Ha Jin, both of which write rather magnificently and leave little to be desired should you come to them looking for very different things. We had a discussion today in W401 regarding the identity of the white middle-class male writer and reading these respective stories tonght has me wondering about this “something” that has been bugging me for a good long while: what the hell do I write about?

James Baldwin, son of the Equal Rights movement during the middle parts of last century, writes about blackness and its endless episodes and prescriptions during that time period. He draws from a hotbed of material events and his point of view as a hyper-literate racism victim keeps me turning his pages. That and his style borrows from centrifugal Baptist preaching, a rapid pirouetting that makes your head spin and agree to believe him no matter what he says. That’s what I admire most, but by and large I don’t have much trouble being myself and articulating in my own manner, just as he does. I have trouble with material, and it’s at those times when I my background and class status weigh heavy.

Jin, a Chinese writer of typical Eastern style, also has interesting material having grown up during Mao’s reign. His stories, not unlike a lot of Eastern lit, are rooted in “tale” and represent a joining between that and the cruelty visited upon the people by their government. Ichiguro does this also, but more whimsically, and Jin is very close (at least from my point of view) to Yu Hua, his elder statesman. The language is plain, which is supposed to be our impetus in our search for beauty in these stories (from a cultural standpoint) but I have an endlessly hard time reconciling a plainness of language with such engaging material. It begins to feel like salesmanship. It says to me: “Hey! My upbringing and life experiences are idiosyncratic by default and pulling stories out is like fishing with dynamite!” It’s infuriating.

This isn’t true across the entirety of Eastern literature, but seems to be a rule among the Chinese, at least. I’ve yet to encounter a Chinese writer that really pulls me in and floors me with their language and so half of me feels deficient in some way that I can’t recognize what award-givers recognize and the other half of me throws his hands up and says “So what!”

Maybe I’m feeling the walls of my own cultural influence; why do I need starkly beautiful language?



Rick Warren speaking…giving all props to God…history is your story…you are the compassionate and merciful one, loving to everyone you have made…we celebrate a hinge-point in history…first african-american…a land of unequaled possibility…give to our new president Barack Obama the wisdom…compassion…generosity…remember that we are Americans…when we forget you, forgive us…may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims…civility in our attitudes…work for a more just, a more healthy and prosperous nation…all nations and all people will stand accountable before you…lead us not into temptation…and the glory…amen…

he did a good job

aretha franklin! my country ’tis of thee…she’s got a great big bow on her bonnet…flag whipping in the wind…she’s got pipes…of thee i sing…let freedom ring…this is a celebration…this is a happy day for us…we aren’t republicans and democrats in this moment…shots of aretha are on even keel…obama from above, humbling him…goosebumps; damn she’s good…

bells ringing

robert bennett takes the stage

great honor to introduce john paul stephens…all please stand…people are laughing in the crowd…biden is a fast talker…that i will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…that i will well and faithfully discharge…so help me God…Biden kissing everyone…

Yo Yo! Itzhak Perlman…these guys are RIDICULOUS!!! Anthony McGill! This is beautiful…god damn perfect…enthusiastic…smiling…singing highs and sighing lows…a jew, a korean (is he japanese?), a black man, the new face of America is NOT white or middle class and it’s about time…these men are electric…YAY!!! wide applause…they did so well…

john g. roberts, JR

OBAMA is so damn sharp…he FORGOT THE WORDS!!! But we have a new president, finally. Celebrated with cannon fire, how appropriate for America. and now…

BARACK OBAMA!!! people screaming, hands waving, he is CELEBRITY, chanting OH-BA-MA…my fellow citizens…humbled…grateful for the trust…thank president Bush for his service to our nation…still waters of peace…raging storms…founding documents…we are in the midst of crisis…our nation is at war…greed and irresponsibility…failure to make hard choices…jobs shed…fail too many…the indicators and crisis…sapping of confidence…challenges are real…they will be met…we have chosen hope over fear…proclaim to the petty grievances…worn-out dogmas…we remain a young nation…set aside childish things…reaffirm our enduring spirit…all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness…greatness is never a given…not the path for the faint-hearted…risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things…endured the lash of the whip…we might live a better life…greater than our differences of birth or wealth…we remain the most prosperous and productive nation on earth…dust ourselves off…remaking America…build roads and bridges…restore science to its rightful place…we will harness the wind and sun…system cannot tolerate big plans…imagination is joined to common purpose…does it work…spend wisely…do our business in the light of day…a charter expanded by the blood of generations…America is a friend of each nation…we are ready to lead once more…finally, a leader…nor does it entitle us to do as we please…the tempering qualities of humility and restraint…forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan…WE WILL DEFEAT YOU…our patchwork heritage is a strength…we are drawn from every corner of the earth…the lines of tribes shall soon dissolve…we seek a new way forward…your people will judge you on what you build, not what you destroy…nor can we consume resources without regard to effect…it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people…firefighter’s courage…willingness to nurture a child…the instruments with which we meet them may be new…honesty and hard work…tolerance and curiosity…can stand before you to take a most sacred oath…let us mark this day with remembrance…the snow was stained with blood…the depth of winter…the city and the country, alarmed to a common danger…let us remember these words…THANK YOU. GOD BLESS YOU. AND GOD BLESS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

the american people are in for a treat! people love him. here’s that woman again.

american poet: Elizabeth Alexander

big breath…

praise song for the day

each day we go about our business

walking past each other

catching each other’s eyes or not

about to speak or speaking

all about us is noise

all about us is noise

yadda yadda

her poetry is NOT MOVING

Lowry…DINOSAUR, and he growls like one…bless our feet…high office, low moment…you got the whole world in yer hands…our faith does not shrink although pressed by the flood of moral ills…mend our broken-ness…we thank you for the empowering of our servant…yes we can…we seek forgiveness…turn to each other and not on each other…hold on to the spirit of fellowship…our mosques…tanks will be beaten into tractors…none shall be afraid…brown can stick around…when the red man can get ahead, man…AMEN…AMEN…what a funny old dude!

What the fuck is a “Sea Chanter”? /stands

and that, my friends, is that. let’s get crunk

Cadmium and Cardamom

Anxiety. That’s what I woke up with today. First thought went straight to graduation and beyond and then the cat, who’d been on audio surveillance at least for a few hours, heard me stirring and started whining for breakfast. Fed him, shot off some e-mails, and now I’m listening to this god-awful band named Odelay from the UK and popping the keys. My school books haven’t arrived yet and it’s the third day of classes; I ordered them six days ago, and they (per the emails I’ve received) should be here. I have tons of reading to do and then the writing. Lots and lots of that, which is fine.

Oh shit! Are those my books? Nope, just the UPS man being lost, and now I’ve got Goddamn pants on. Take that, me.

Also, thoughts have turned to money, which is a strangler. I’m already feeling like I’m backed into a post-graduation corner. A big part of MFA consideration is to keep my deferments rolling. I’m hoping for a miracle, I think. That’s how it feels.

Today I sing a hopeful song in minor chords, cross-hatched by a thousand vocal tracks over a single, driving, bass drum. See you tomorrow.


A new endeavor, soon to fail but nevertheless a worthwhile effort: every morning I’m going to set aside time to record the first thoughts/residual dream impressions on this site. A redundant measure to keep me writing creatively, it just appeals to me as a perspective not often gathered and valuable, even. My ear’s to the ground, you know. The people at large hunger for the oft-neglected “groggy” opinion, right?

So I suppose this is the proper place to post anxieties, pin them up so I can see how silly they are flapping in the wind. My mind lately has been on grad school and trying to survive in general after graduation. I’m feeling a great pressure to put out creatively and, as you would guess, it’s stifling. At gunpoint I can produce but my mind’s a desert otherwise. What to do? I’ve looked at the top ten MFA programs in the country and half of them look good. If anyone’s thinking of doing the Columbia thing in NY: DON’T. What silly bastards they are on their website. They talk all kinds of bullshit about how prestigious their program is, which implies that they are advertising to a shit-fucking target audience the likes of which I could do without. They apparently still subcribe to the “tear you apart” workshop model where you grow a thick skin from having your ass handed to you as a rule each day. This, I’ve decided, worked in years past when it was still hip to “protect” “literature” like the whole hipster culture protects music, say, but as I go I’m leaning less and less toward exclusion of anything, even if it mass-produced tripe appealing to the lowest common denominator. Everything has something to offer, no?

I’ve also been thinking a lot lately of information conveyance. “Cool, Levi!” you might say, or “Get a life!” It’s dorky, sure, but here it is: things are changing faster than ever. Big news has a blogger stake in its heart, and no one’s hiring. I kind of feel like the economy’s adapting markedly slower than the technology that drives it, and the discrepancy’s going to butcher everyone that holds on to conventional images of what a “job” is. There isn’t much talk about technological evolution juxtaposed against human evolution (rate) and it smells to me like an interesting phenomenon is brewing: we’re lapping ourselves around the track. Does that make sense? None of our other systems (law, religion, government) can keep up with brains in the IT industry…okay. I’ve become distracted and don’t even know what I was talking about. /sigh

My bane. I never was much for practicality. Tomorrow we continue with things that may or may not have anything to do with reality. Cheers to that.

Long-Distance Relationship, Day One

So I’m purposely noting feelings surfacing as I go through stages of…grief? Is that what you call it? It’s the kind of grinding sadness that accompanies shades of loss. What is lost has a great deal to do with how severe these feelings are, at least in terms of a person’s perception of what that “what” is. In my case, the girl I’ve spent the last six months getting to know has left for four months to excel at an internship at NPR’s science desk in Washington, DC. This counts as the first time I’ve ever attempted a long-distance relationship and, as I’m discovering, it’s a little on the difficult side. Let’s start (unartistically) with the morning.

For months now I’ve been waking up next to Megan, and now in dreamy twilight, when your eyelids begin to crack open and you aren’t certain whether the lover next to you is more dream or alive (but without a doubt is a combination of both) I reach for her and come away empty-handed. That wakes me up more than the sun ever has. It’s a raw way to start the day, and makes me not even want to take a shower. I roll over onto my back and just stare at the ceiling and imagine her waking up because I shifted in bed, and slinging an arm and leg over me and laying her head on my chest to snooze. That, at this point, may be my most comforting memory/hallucination.

That’s all for today. Stayed up unti 3 last night just zombified in front of the television and had to work at 7:30. Since the middle of December I’ve not had a day to myself, and won’t get one over break until the day before school begins, when I have to prepare for that. /sigh I’ve had worse vacations, but none busier. Probably this is just the beginning. Toast the death of romance with professional cups.