Sunday, January 29, 2006

Two paintings from Japanese surrealist Shiori Matsumoto

Complicated Step (2004)

Private Time (1999)

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Roy Lichtenstein (1961)

I’m writing from the weather
inside a dictionary of difficult words.
- from "(notes toward the spectacle)" by Noah Eli Gordon

Friday evening I spilled my prose all over a crowd of maybe thirty people, give or take. I read three things, went two minutes over my limit, and enjoyed it quite thoroughly. At times I got a laugh or two, even though most of my stuff isn’t very funny. When I finished, I stepped outside with K. and my brother, and this writer guy that I know comes stumbling out, tells me he’s been drinking while grading papers since noon (at this point it’s like 4:40) and he begins to give me his critique of my reading. Not an ounce of flattery, just a detailed account of my shortcomings. He pointed out that I messed up a few lines, that I shouldn’t have stopped in the middle of the third piece when I stumbled over the sentence, “Great crisp scaly shelter turned textile mod gaudy.” I thanked him for his keen observation. In the future, I’ll try to remember to be perfect.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Spring 2006 Paris Haute Couture show concludes today, ending Fashion Week in France. Here are a few observations from…

The art of Giorgio Armani Privé:

The retro space-aged cutesy of Chanel:

The ever daring Jean Paul Gaultier:

The prim and proper Valentino:

The blood and mayhem at Christian Dior:

Monday, January 23, 2006

Jackson Pollock
Male and Female (1942)

So, I'm reading my work this Friday at a tango bar in downtown Lincoln, as part of the graduate students' forum aptly titled The No Name Reading Series.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Marcel Dzama Untitled (2002?)

Esoteric academic humor follows from poet Ron Silliman:

Dear Silliman,
I'm having a fight with my girlfriend over her tendency to violently pierce the surface of a text and wrest meaning out of it. I'm tired of finding text-skins all over the house. I find her vulgar. I want to extricate myself without foregrounding contact. Any advice for me?--Agent Tochus

Agent Tochus, this is a classic new relationship problem. She's seeing "meaning" where there are only frames. In other words, it's a case of you say signifier she says signified. But don't call the whole thing off! She's probably also too involved visually to hear the sound of phonemes in the text. I suspect she's looking for the signified in all the wrong places and needs help distinguishing those works that foreground the signifier from those that foreground the signified. She's also complicated matters perhaps, by placing a secondary emphasis on the referential world. Don't give up. There are good cognitive linguistic counselors available.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Installation Art by Jenny Holzer, 1994

And so this evening I’m suppose to be working on the remix of my novel - and I am - but I need to take a break because my characters are irritating me. Their stories don’t want to coexist. I’ve been fighting the urge to cut one of the more developed characters completely out of the story. It doesn’t feel like work, per se, but more like wrestling, which is not an easy thing to do when you’re as (un)athletic as I am.

I found this snarky article in Granta entitled “How to write about Africa” and then I got discouraged and so I went to this Lulu Titlescorer thing where I found out the title of my novel, City of Floating Seashells, has a 63.7% chance of being a bestseller. Aside from the simple novelty, it was uplifting to have a machine create positive conjecture about my work.

Tomorrow all day grading papers.

Friday, January 20, 2006

This is a still frame, only moments before the man's straight razor slices the woman's eyeball, from the surrealist film Un Chien Andalou (1929) Directed by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí

My ENG 101 class watched this film today and then we discussed the idea of "meaning." So many of them are still under the impression that there’s such a thing as universal meaning, that there exists a right way and a wrong way to understand something.

Students said stuff like, “It didn’t make any sense.” or “What’s the point?”

As a teacher I’m excited to be the person who introduces them to the idea that there is no such thing as “meaning,” no such thing as “a point.” Just as there is no such thing as right or wrong, no such thing as good or bad - that the only thing which truly exists is our own personal perception of these things, our own personal truth, our own idea of what is good and bad. Not an easy concept to grasp when you’re 18-19 years old and you’ve been programmed by public education, religion, and American capitalism. But I’m impressed with their willingness to grapple with these new ideas. It was an exciting day.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

“I would like to swim against the stream of time: I would like to erase the consequences of certain events and restore an initial condition. But every moment of my life brings with it an accumulation of new facts and each of these new facts brings with it its consequences; so the more I seek to return to the zero moment from which I set out, the further I move away from it; though all my actions are bent on erasing the consequences of previous actions and though I manage to achieve appreciable results in this erasure, enough to open my heart to hopes of immediate relief, I must, however, bear in mind that my every move to erase previous events provokes a rain of new events, which complicate the situation worse than before and which I will then, in their turn, have to try to erase. Therefore I must calculate carefully every move so as to achieve the maximum of erasure with the minimum of recomplication."
- Italo Calvino (1923-1985)
If on a winter’s night a traveler

I’ve been on a little blog hiatus. Perhaps during the semester this will become a weekly blog instead of a daily? Or maybe I should just make smaller entries?

One of my favorite students from last semester is in my 101 class this semester. She wrote me an email last night to tell me how much she’s enjoying the book we’re reading: the one with the quote up above.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

"this is not a pipe"
- painting by René Magritte (1898-1967)

Tomorrow, aside from teaching my regular rhetoric class (ENG 150), I get to embark on the journey of guiding twenty-three undergraduates toward a better understanding of postmodernism in my other class, ENG 101. I decided to subtitle my 101 “Discovering Postmodern Identity.” Of course, my inclination is to spend the entire class period rambling about existentialism and Sartre’s seemingly defeatist (but ultimately, in my opinion, liberating) theory that we are all “condemned to freedom.” Maybe throw in a great quote from his play No Exit, where he says, “Hell is other people.” I’ll definitely devote time to Ihab Hassan’s table of binary oppositions between Modernism and Postmodernism: Hierarchy/Anarchy, Form/Anti-form, Purpose/Play, Design/Chance etc. I’ll mention metafiction, talk a bit about alienation and the idea of literary entropy. I may devote at least a quarter of the class time to an explanation of phenomenology, as best I understand it, in relation to the subjectivity of experience and its relationship to reading literature. And perhaps a little rundown of literary movements from like the Dadaists to Joyce and them on up to Calvino and the other Oulipo writers, using whatever shoddy timeline I can concoct considering my limited reading history. I intend to discuss the idea of postmodern meaning-making by showing them the 1929 surrealist short film Un Chien Andalou by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali, which runs about fifteen minutes, and depicts, among other things, a woman’s eyeball being sliced by a razor, a man with a hole in the palm of his hand with ants crawling out of it, another man pulling two baby grand pianos with dead donkeys under the lids across a living room. I’m excited to get their reactions.

Monday, January 09, 2006

the english building

Day one of teaching accomplished.

Students seem comatose. When I finished my introductory spiel and opened it up for questions, one student in my second class asked me, “Do you drink a lot of caffeine?” I told her, “No. I’m just super pumped about postmodern literature.”

The following is a poem by Frank O’Hara:


There’s nothing worse
than feeling bad and not
being able to tell you.
Not because you’d kill me
or it would kill you, or
we don’t love each other.
It’s space. The sky is grey
and clear, with pink and
blue shadows under each cloud.
A tiny airliner drops its
specks over the U N Building.
My eyes, like millions of
glassy squares, merely reflect.
Everything sees through me,
in the daytime I’m too hot
and at night I freeze; I’m
built the wrong way for the
river and a mild gale would
break every fiber in me.
Why don’t I go east and west
instead of north and south?
It’s the architect’s fault.
And in a few years I’ll be
useless, not even an office
building. Because you have
no telephone, and live so
far away; the Pepsi-Cola sign,
the seagulls and the noise.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Post Two

In mere hours, I’ll be standing in front of a classroom of students, preparing to introduce them to freshman composition. I have yet to decide what to wear. But more pressingly, I have yet to complete the course syllabi for both classes. I hope I can finish within a reasonable hour. But then again, I could always just show up tomorrow with a single handwritten list of ideas and try desperately to convince them I’m brilliant and super fun. That sounds like the likeliest scenario.

Tonight, I must leave on something funny:


I got a haircut and it is by far the worst thing to happen to me so far this year. My head looks like a radish. I may get mistaken for a soldier.

In the apartment below mine lives a huge dude who runs business like a smooth African American Tony Soprano. He’s always nice to me, tells me jokes when we bump into each other at the mailboxes or on the street. I call him Ike, but that’s not his real name. He’s got an extremely polite daughter named after a gemstone. Every time she sees me she says, “Hello. My name is _____. What’s your name?” I go through the same introduction I’ve been giving her for almost a year now. Does she forget me so easily? Or does the infrequency of our encounters make me seem like a blurry ghost? I almost wonder if that’s her way of feeling safe, is she does remember me but doesn‘t want to act like she does. I hate to beat a dead horse with this motif, but it’s a perfect manifestation of eternal reoccurrence. We literally play the same scenario out every single time, as if the child suffered from Korsakoff’s psychosis or Alzheimer’s. Her mother, Ike’s girlfriend, is always terribly nice to me. She smiles, says hi, and we share a moment of shaking our heads over the hilarity of children.

I came across a woman’s blog tonight that made me want to write a story. The blog seems to have only maintained a brief lifespan - but it may not be over. It’s written by a self professed “Gas pump virgin, small business owner, brain tumor survivor (hopefully), Mormon, closet diva, Leo, pampered wife, bookworm, recovering clog dancer.” But that’s not the compelling part. The title of the blog is Today I love Jared. Basically, this woman posts daily reasons why she loves her husband. One day she writes something sweet, like, “Today I love you because you are my favorite person of all time. The one I like to play with. The one I like to date. The one I like to laugh with and cry with and talk with. The one I want to call when something funny happens. The one I just enjoy being with.” Then she writes something a little enigmatic, “Today I love you because you said you would trade places with me.” And then something very curious, “Today I love you because of the tears and hugs we shared together in the Celestial Room at the temple. And because you are worthy to go to the temple. I look forward to having our family reap the blessings of the temple covenants throughout eternity.” If you’re intrigued, you can check it out here:

The following is the mélange of dvds I’ve watched over the last week: In the Realms of the Unreal, Grizzly Man, Murderball, Millions, The Beat My Heart Skipped, the Believer Wholphin disc, a pbs documentary on O’Keefe/Pollock/Warhol, a documentary on Noam Chomsky, and another doc called The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. I particularly enjoyed watching the parrots. What amazing creatures! I have to get sappy, so overt your eyes. To me, their most striking characteristic is that they physically need a mate in order to groom their heads where their own beaks can’t reach. The reason the movie gave for this being a necessity is that their feathers tend to grow like ingrown hairs, and so the partner’s job is to pluck out the ingrown feathers before they get too painful. Without a mate, a parrot stands to be in a world of hurt. But watching them pair up and rub beaks, they appeared to really enjoy each other’s company - beyond the physical need. They shared food with each other, spoke to one another, looked longingly into each other’s eyes. Reminded me of how penguins also have romantic, monogamous relationships - of course, sometimes those relationships only last for a season.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


Contemplating the universe on the beach in Santa Monica.

Shooting photos in the dark of night

Enjoying time with the Laker Girls

He's a fantastic person and a very dear friend. Happy Happy Birthday!!!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Today my mom brought my brother and his cat, Miike (pronounced: ME-KAY), back from their stay at my folks’ place. We ate dinner together, got some groceries, and ended the evening playing a game of Scrabble wherein my brother and mom fought over the validity of the word Filo vs. Philo. It was a good time.

In other news, my phone situation has greatly improved: new phone! Now the problem is finally solved, but I haven’t called anyone yet, nor has anyone called. And I can't figure out how to work the voicemail. Tomorrow I must get a haircut.

PLUS tomorrow is C.S.P.’s birthday. Inching his way ever closer to thirty.

Talked to doctor K.P. (I use the term doctor…symbolically) not so long ago and just the other day I got a nice follow-up email, which got me thinking about how I was thinking about cyclical natures. How life is just a repetition. A repetition. I thought about the heart. Gets me wishing I were teaching an entire class on Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being. Eternal reoccurrence and all that. I can’t wait until the end of the semester, when my ENG 101 class gets to tackle it.

Bonsoir from Lincoln, where a single green chair sits on my back deck looking like a parrot without a mate.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

“Why is the measure of love loss?”
- the opening line of Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body

I have eaten very little this week. At night I watch televangelists and self help gurus who promise to change my negative thinking patterns. But just watching their program does no good, you have to purchase something for the magic to happen. You have to send some money for your life to turn around. I wonder how many people slit their wrists on the way to their pocketbooks to fish out their credit cards.

I conversed with my buddy S.E. today over coffee at The Mill, a coffeehouse downtown, in the Haymarket District. This is a place I rarely go these days, but when I first moved to Lincoln it was the place I most frequented to write and get out of my apartment. Many nights I sat alone on the terrace of that place with a composition book and an insatiable fascination with the red neon lights shining on the brick building across the street. But today, I sat inside and discussed everything from his time living in an isolated cabin in Oregon to me having trouble organizing my novel.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Remembering Pasadena

Being light as a bug blinking over calm waters, a quiet walk down B street, up 18th to D street, turning before making it to E.

Yes, it is cold here, but not snowing.

On the television the Rose Bowl begins. I think of Pasadena. Driving solo over that gothic bridge from Highland Park, cruising down Figueroa to Colorado Blvd. Parking and walking the outdoor shops: Urban Outfitter, B&N, that pet food delicatessen that only sold fresh baked pastries for dogs and cats, that record store that only sold records.

Sometimes I went to movies by myself, in fact, I remember seeing Von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark" by myself at that oldtime Pasadena Theater that eventually got shut down.

I think of Christmas that year, how it was cold for LA and I wore an oversized black suit jacket to impress the costume designer I was with, and how she talked me into buying a present I didn’t really want to buy.

And all the while, the ocean was so close by.

I think of the Italian dinner with Fast Eddie and his sister, how she squirmed in her seat with excitement because I told her I studied consciousness with Dr. Raymond Moody at UNLV. Fast Eddy had never heard of him.

Then there’s the Pasadena I really remember. The nights Basquiat and I couldn’t sleep, worried about work, worried about friends, worried about loneliness and so we drove ceaselessly the streets of Pasadena; he, being a cat, enjoyed the passing cityscape without comment. But I spoke to him on those drives. I told him about my thoughts and feelings and I imagined that he could understand me.

He gave a lot of good advice.

But this is not Pasadena. And my cat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, disappeared in Las Vegas shortly after those drives.

I’m now many years gone from that place, but surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), I'm still as alone, except that now I’m driving solo down O street to get a gingerbread latte with no cat and no ocean close by.

Monday, January 02, 2006

“The sky was short - it was like a theater.”
- Jockum Nordstrom

Last night I dreamt I was visiting Cheyenne, but all of my friends from my entire life, from my childhood in Kansas to my current life here in Lincoln, were there and they were waiting to see me. I was driving all around, on the telephone with A.M.P. trying to convince him to come and join us. He sounds upset when he tells me that the authorities have just announced on television that people are no longer allowed to wear costumes in their vehicles. He sounds as though he might start crying.

“I wanted to see you,” he says, “it’s Christmas after all.”

I offer to go and pick him up, but he has a woman with him, a younger one, who I don’t know. He wants directions to the place where I am meeting everyone, but the problem is that I can’t give directions. I keep confusing Cheyenne with Highland Park, then Lincoln, then Las Vegas, then Santa Monica, then Chicago. I can’t keep the cities straight in my head. Was there a Drake Ave. in Los Angeles? Or is it in Cheyenne? Did we turn around in Kansas City and blow that tire? I continue to drive down dirt roads, behind buildings, and it slowly starts to dawn on me that K. is not in the car with me. Where is she? How can I go to this gathering without her?

“I have to find K.,” I tell A.M.P.

He tells me it’s too late, that I might as well go to the dance with my junior high girlfriend, who is waiting for me to pick her up; she’s purchased a new dress for the occasion. I pull into her parents’ driveway and she comes out as I remember her looking, gets in the car and shows me that after all these years, she has done nothing but wait for me. I look away. We are not in Cheyenne anymore, we are in Europe, but I’ve only ever been to Paris, so this can only be Paris unless it is a city I have created in my head from all the pictures and movies and stories I've heard of Germany. And then I blink and I am back to driving down Pershing Blvd. in Cheyenne, alone. I scan the streets for K. She has to be out there somewhere. I won’t stop driving until I can find her.