Thursday, January 5, 2012

Now That’s Satisfaction

Simple enjoyment. Why is it so difficult? I am sitting with a book, the whole stretching out before me. No job, the kids with the nanny. This should be the greatest of pleasures for me. But it’s not. I’m distracted. The people in this coffee shop talk among themselves. The music is not bad, but not really good either. Just loud enough to hear but not be truly distracting. Yet I cannot concentrate. It is even difficult to muster the attention to jot these meager notes. I cannot resist the urge to check my email. So I do, and feel bad. No new messages, but another break in my concentration. Maybe Facebook? No, I must stay focused.

The satisfaction I used to get from sitting around and reading a book all day seems harder to attain now that I’m an “adult.” It’s not that I don’t enjoy books as much—I do, I swear—it’s that I find it that much harder to get to a place of calm and quiet that is necessary to really lose myself in a book.

Of course, there is the kind of book that is just so great, it forces me into this place. Two recent example: An Episode in the Life of Landscape Painter, by César Aira, and a collection of poems tentatively titled You’re Going to Miss Me When You’re Bored, by moi. My book engrossed me, obviously, because it is mine, but also because I was on a flight and when I landed I would promptly head to an art space to give a reading, then do two more readings over the next two days. I needed to figure out what to read, and in so doing, wound up rereading the most recent draft of my book and making several changes. But that is a different type of reading. A pleasure, but also work. I digress.

What I want is for reading and writing to be like listening to a song, for it to be a different language I want to be drawn in, get maximum reward for minimum work. All I want to do is listen.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

You Know You’re Right

There is this feeling I have, a desire or dream—though I would not call it a goal because I am doing next to nothing to pursue it—to just simply be. Perhaps that’s not it exactly. What I mean is to find a way to exist in life, a position or arrangement, in which I don’t have to worry about much. To feel some sense of security, yes, but also to be able to focus, to not be distracted by worry and doubt, to not lose so much thought and energy to trying to figure out what to do next, to have enough in my life that I can go from one thing to the next with comfort and certainty.

It is an impossibility, a mirage, but one that I, beyond all reasonable explanation, foolishly believe in. You may think that this would require, first and foremost, independent wealth. For how can one exist in this way and be dependent on having to make a living? It’s a fair question, one for which I do not have an answer except to say that I believe it to be so. It is my hope (though a futile one I am certain).

But there is some part of me that feels that if I could just get good enough at what I do for a living, if I could just get smart enough about finding work, and once having found it, be able to hang onto it, my dream could become reality. In this manner, however, I am not what you would call ambitious.

Or perhaps it is not about a career. Perhaps it is more about simplifying my life materially. I could spend less, certainly, though every time I have tried it seems more like I spend more. These problems are not easily solved.

You could argue that writing is one way to achieve some version of the existence I seek. Many have said it before, and it is true, but for the problem of being a writer. When you are a writer you inevitably worry about publication, success, a career. Once this has happened, whenever you sit down to write you will wonder, “what do I do with this that I am creating? Where can I send it? Who will like it and why? How can I make it part of my next book? If I can, is it worth the effort?”

These are valid questions, ones that any writer must ask his or herself. And yet it is antithetical to the spirit of writing. The purity of the urge to put pen to paper and get something just so simply for the sake of it, the satisfaction.

(composed 12/28/11)

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

"For us, it's gonna be that at, at a certain point, that we're either gonna have to put away childish things and discipline ourself about how much time do I spend being passively entertained? And how much time do I spend doing stuff that actually isn't all that much fun minute by minute, but that builds certain muscles in me as a grown-up and a human being?"

David Foster Wallace, 1996

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Ten Years Later

I first started taking writing seriously—poetry particularly—about 10 years ago. I was 25 and wanted more than anything to be famous. Poetry was how I would achieve that goal. Possibly academia also. But mainly poetry. Because fame, to my mind, equaled greatness (though I knew many famous contemporary poets weren't that good, and some out right bad). If I was a famous poet I would by default be a great poet. And not your run-of-the-mill-great. I'm talking Rilke great.

I remember turning 26 and thinking, by this age Keats was dead. Springsteen had recorded Born to Run. I, on the other hand, hadn't even been published. I was failing.

Years passed. I moved to NYC. I turned 30. Got married and started a career as an advertising/marketing copywriter. It was around this time the poems that would make up my first book started coming together. The feeling I had then was best expressed by the Beastie Boys off of Check Your Head: "I got nothing to lose because I don't give a fuck."

It was also around this time that I went to my first AWP conference. At that point I still clung to a pretty idealistic view of poetry. All the latest trends sucked. Poetry that wasn't trying to be great in the traditional sense sucked. Basically, if you didn't have aspirations to be Milton or Keats or even some insane figure like Lowell or Berryman, you weren't going to be anybody.

But at AWP in 2006 my mind was blown by all the amazing things poets my age were doing. They were just writing, embracing the scene for what it was. Making the scene what it was. That's when idealized that to have any chance at being a real artist you had to risk losing your soul in the current trends. You had to risk selling out and being irrelevant. You had to finally say fuck it and do what you were going to do, be who you were going to be.

And fame, well, I was beginning to see that fame was dying. No one was famous any more, not even musicians. Or if they were they were totally irrelevant. The best artists seemed to be regular, approachable people quietly pursuing their lives and art. The stakes were suddenly so low and exciting. It felt like freedom. That's when poetry became for me less a goal to pursue for gain (I still had naive notions that a book or two would equal a tenure-track job somewhere). That was when poetry became a way of living and thinking and experiencing the world. And still is, despite the comparatively limited amounts of energy I now have to put toward writing and reading it.

I'm in my mid thirties. I have two children. I own a home and a minivan. I'm woefully out of touch with most of what's going in music, poetry and art in general. I read more magazines or books about political campaigns or the financial crisis than I do collections of poetry or critical theory. I used to think I would always be a poet, but I don't know any more. So many things I used to think are no longer true. I can't imagine much beyond today. I have to accept that there may come a point (besides mental incapacitation or death) where I simply stop.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Be Awesome and Do Dope Shit

In the interview I'm constantly having with myself in my head, one question I often ask is: What's my aesthetic? What the hell is it that my poetry does, that I try to do with it, that makes it interesting, different; or is it just the same-old-same-old?

The conclusion I've come to lately is that my aesthetic is: Be awesome and do dope shit. Arrogant? Yes. Pretentious? Maybe. Retarded? Definitely.

Some thoughts: Be awesome and do dope shit (BAADDS) is perhaps most closely related to the anit-lyric tradition of Spicer and co. By which I mean I am not interested in the mainstream lyric (though I do consider myself a lyric poet, or, short of that, am lyrical/draw on the lyric tradition).

I draw on the ridiculous but awesome shit me and my friends say to each other in person, email, over the phone, text, Facebook, Twitter, etc; conversations and emails from the office. To this end my poems can feel elliptical or associative. I want to surprise, but at the same time not necessarily be nonsensical. I want to make a different kind of sense. I want to entertain, be clever, imbue my work with novelty, but at the same time make something beautiful and that (hopefully) lasts. A kind of reverse idiocy (like Iggy Pop maybe).

(That last point is difficult because I have no control over that, so it may ultimately be just wishful thinking on my part. I touched on this, kind of, in an artist's statement I wrote for some poems I had in the Tusculum Review)

(I'm tempted to say that I want my poetry to sound cool, though that often invokes jazz and the beats, and that's not what I want).

In many respects, BAADDS is influenced as much, if not more, by pop music--specifically "indie" and "alternative" rock (god I love scare quotes)--and culture than it is by western literature. (THE BAADDS might make a cool name for a band.) The lyrics of Modest Mouse, The Pixies, Wolf Parade and many others have had enormous influence on me. Then of course there is the internet and social media, but really, who isn't influenced by that these days?

Others, off the top of my head, who might unwittingly be joining me in the BAADDS aesthetic: Sampson Starkweather, Paige Taggart, Dan Hoy.

Some of BAADDS' cousins might be: Elisa Gabbert, Chris Tonelli, Dan Boehl, Dan Magers

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Long Time...

It's been a long time since I blogged. There are multiple reasons for that, but none that would be interesting enough to go into here, though I feel as I write that sentence that I will indeed go into some of those reasons.

Here we go: For one, I've never been that good at blogging, in my opinion. I always used my blog to promote my book and writing in general. I never felt like I had much "to say," or more accurately I felt that I had to be "clever" or have some rigorous argument to work out. But in the end, it was all fear of sounding like a schmuck.

What I realize now is that I just want to communicate, even with only myself, to journal really (regardless of my inevitable schmuckery).

A lot of things have been building to inspire me to give blogging a real shot. Elisa Gabbert's blog, The French Exit, for one, but also the work she does on the Wordstream blog; and just this morning this handsome piece by Dan Boehl.

Also, the realization that I simply don't write enough.

In recent months, though, I've had to do some "professional" blogging at work, which has been fun, but what's more I got a much better sense of "how" to write a blog.

I'm rambling. The point, I'm back (as if anyone noticed I was gone), and am going to try to post much more, because having a job and two 1 year old kids leaves me no time to be involved in the poetry world, and I miss that very much. I need some sort of contact, people.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I Have No Aesthetic

My aesthetic is fun. I like saying things, though I often have nothing to say. No words.

I like Capitalism, the language of marketing. A friend the other day over some really great bibimbap bulgogi in Little Korea (or is it Korea Town?) told me that if I'm reclaiming the language of marketing and capitalism my work may be political.

Last night my 10 month old daughter told me "no" for the first time. I asked her to give me some of her Puffs. She shook her head "no" and ate the Puff I had asked for. My daughter is a genius.