Free Writing

And there was play–great amounts of pleasure in the dirt and pavement of the alley. Immense imagined baseball games and championship marble championships. Handball on the side of the garage and stolen bases and snagged line drives and stolen home runs.  Massive climbs and maneuvers over the back fence and over the back concrete wall and the Abuelito’s shed. The tools always made the best imagined lances and weapons–machine guns in the wrenches and climbing tools in the hammers.

And the Jefe paid no mind–he had the business of the old Ford and the old truckito. The grind of pulling his massive cars onto ramps and changing the oil–checking the points and sometimes changing the spark plugs. Finding the right size wrench for the oil filters and spark plugs.

And even in Lolo’s day there were Tios to distract. Older men who hung out and hung back while the Jefe worked on the cars. Tios who filled the alley with smoke and drink. Men like Metedio and his lazy way of treating the day. He stole bottles of beer and stole shots of rum or whatever he could get his hands on from the Jefe.

And Metedio dressed like a hipster Chicano they way they all did in those days–dark glasses and white t-shirts. Sometimes a guayaberra or a short sleeved bowling shirt–cigarette behind his ear and a pack in the pocket over his immense heart. And Tio would feel for the kids who had nothing but the alley. He brought them bags of marbles and bags of army men from the liquor store. He gave them empty containers of chew for their imagined hockey matches and garden tool slap shots under the back fence. He brought them RC Colas and sometimes he brought them candy or gum–if the kids were real lucky he had handfuls of baseball cards or bottle caps.

In his truckito he brought cardboard boxes and empty buckets from job sites and from his work at the steel mill. He was a plumber working for the State Hospital and sometimes he had the remains of a day’s work andd let Lolo and the foster kids turn those items into pirate ships and space ships–they used them as turrets and bases for their endless games of war. Once he brought them a found basketball and a container of tennis balls the kids used for baseball games in the alley and the sad little crew of Lolo and Black Ricky and No-Name Lucero from down the street (he got that name because the Jefe couldn’t remember his name for the life o fhim or so the joke went and the name stuck.)

One sunday while the Jefe changed spark plugs Tio Metedio helped the kids fashion swords and shields from the cardboard he brought. They used his immense knife and wire cutters to turn small nail buckets in to armored helmets and masks. He had grease pencils from work and the kids drew their own crests and family names. Lolo had a horse and falt lines which he said represented the llano of New Mexico where his Tia lived and the rest of the crew had their battles and duels all afternoon up and down the alley. They even dressed up Metedio in his own suit of cardboard and bucket armour. He looked like a Frankenstein and robotic moving monster and the kids all screamed and ran around him. They fought him for waht seemed like horus until he collapsed under the back tree to the blows and lashes of the children. The kids had so much energy and anger to release on him for no fault of Metedios.

Lolo found he skinned his knees and ripped up his jeans and so did a lot of the crew. No-named Lucero ripped his lip and had blood down his already stained white t-shirt and was just about crying. They were finishing up a pretty lucrative battle when the Jefe screamed for his tools and for his wrenches–some sort of bucket he needed for his oil changes. Poor RIcky was wearing the bucket as his backside armour and Metedio had clipped a hole in it to tie the makeshift armour around and over the boy;s shoulders.

Jefe screamed at the kids and at his wife’s brother and ripped the bucket from Ricky;s back–called him names and slapped the boys butt with the same blow and intensity the children had in their battles until the little crewcutted boy cried and went on looking for his foster-jefita…

Kerouac’s Aesthetic

on-the-road2I could go on all day about my love for Kerouac–the first time I found his books but you get the idea. Anyway I’ve been reading his Belief and Technique for Modern Prose as well as his collected notebooks Penguin published last year and I am continually amazed at his obsessions. Hugo says that’s what we pick up first–we notice other writer’s obsessions and they perhaps give us insight to our own. I think Kerouac’s obsessions are for the writing itself–he is possessed with the idea of being a writer. In all of his notes there is never a hesitation to call himself a writer. His work ethic is indomitable.  

Other obsessions of course are with the country and with travel and with capturing and remembering–turning the everyday into folklore of the self–all in the daily practice of writing.

Of course spontaneous prose and the idea of not censoring one’s expression. I like the debate in Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch between the Ginsberg character and the Kerouac character. Ginsberg was a relentless reviser of work nd Kerouac wanted to sit and get it down–I know some writers like that. I find myself taking on both points of view–take it as it comes or form it up constantly.

Anyway I love his ideas on his own personal aesthetic:

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for your own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never get drunk outside your own house
  4. Be in love with your life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yrself
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19. Accept loss forever
  20. Believe in the holy contour of life
  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22. Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29. You’re a Genius all the time
  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven  

Self Publishing and the Question of Literary Quality and Audience

An old student of mine from last term was in the office and we were discussing the possibility of a student writing club and publication and he asked me an interesting question. He asked: What does every writer want for their work? He answered before I could–publication.

I think of this idea more and more as a failed writer. Well, because what makes a writer failed? Is it lack of time to write or lack of inspiration in terms of story? I have plenty of stories to tell and lately I have been writing–free writing but writing none-the-less and that doesn’t seem to be the problem. My Cornbread Project is up to 135 pages and I do see a sort of way out of that narrative–I won’t say ending but I will say way out. That is sort of the way I look at it.  So I don’t think that is what makes me a failed writer.

Well, then, is it the ability to self-revise or to look at the work objectively. Well, I have just spent the last hour revising the Highland Stories and I have those mailed out all over–and I think  that is a solid book. Or at least solid in the sense that that is the level of work I am capable of. I mean I looked at it pretty objectively and roughly and I am fairly certain I have ripped as much out as I possibly can in terms of flat or stilted narrative. I can honestly say–this is as good as I got.  And D reminded me just how much work I have put in to the Huerfanos Project and until I reread that I’m nout sure if this is true but I feel that is as strong as I got. So perhaps that is not what makes me failed–I still have a lot of editing to do to the Cornbread Project though.

So I guess it has to be the sense that I am not getting my work out there as much as I possibly can. And I have seen so many people in the local news celebrating publication and yet when I click a few clicks on the computer I get to the screen or website that tells me they self-published. Tracy Daugherty and his editor had pretty strong thoughts on that and peronally I am not certain what to make of it. I want to be accpeted by a small press and given some sort of validation from an editor. Some sort of reading apart from me and D. Some sort of readership though as I write and think of it I don’t  consider the reader too much. And the Rimbaud letters and movies I watch remind me of the strong feeling he ha about publiction–it still sounds good even if it is from the mouth of Leonardo DiCaprio. Rimbaud says–Nothing matters but the work; everything else is just literature.

So when I see a writer self publishing and going on about readings and book signings–I am left with this question of literary quality and audience. Follow the link to see what I mean–he is a genre writer but the idea still stands.

I think what also might make me a failed writer is that I cannot imagine who would want to read about Manito or about Lolo–other than me and my uncle. Maybe my sister. The Grandfather doesn’t know how to read or at least that is his joke. They could understand a film I guess and I do have dreams of taking my camera and quitting my job and making a film to edit on my computer–and when I say dream I mean a literal dream where I do it in Colorado and have no worries of bills or anything–but I digress.

So, is self publishing realy publishing. Tracy Daugherty’s editor told a group of stuents if the book isn’t reviewed and if there aren’t smaller publications that add up for the collection–well it might be better to write a novel which is why I wanted to write a novel instead of another collection of short stories. And now the Cornbread project has turned into another novel–a longer, more in-depth story than shorter sprints.

And I do know the history of beginning new presses and D’s son is a musician and created his own label to put out his music which is so crafted and beautiful music. But in the music or musician world I guess it is just more accepted that you put out your own cd than to put out your own book.  That is just how you get people to hear–again this question of audience. I wonder who D’s son imagines will purchase his music–or does he think a bigger label will pick it up? Or is it all for the experience and validation of getting your stuff out there? And there are tools to get your music onto ITunes and the like and I am sure that is what he is following.

I’m sure this question of publishing and literary quality will go on as I write and work–and I read an article in the State Journal Register here in Springfield that takes on a harsh position against self-publishing and if I can find it I will comment more on this soon.

PS–Sent out the Highland Stories to Black Lawrence Press.

Free Writing

(Voices seem to want to take this Cornbread story to a weird place.)

A lifetime of bad thoughts followed those few days with Romes. I hear his voice over and over again in my dreams. I’ve heard them for 15 years. Years later living in New York State, California and then Oregon I hear his new found wisdom of that summer. I sweat and turn while he talks to me–over and over again in my goddammed mind. 

You fucking pussy, he says. I told you to make a move on Bea years ago. She was all yours and now she’s fucking tainted and shit. Goddamm nemesis of the family has fucked her.

What?

I told you to be a fucking man and now look. She’s lost it to that fucking Rudy Montoya and you can’t do a damn thing about it.

I didn’t want to fuck her, Romes.

Too late now. You’ll never know what you wanted.

I know. I know, Romes.

But she’s been with other men, cabron. So don’t feel too bad.

What?

I hear she fucks guys.

Who’s she been with Romes? Who?

Adolfo. The guy down at ben’s bike shop.

Adolfo. No shit.

And the kid down at Bessemer Pool. The fuck that cleans the pool and works for the Park’s Department. You know, the whetto.

Bartechi?

Yeah, that’s his name. He drives out to the park with her in his park’s truck.

Fuck you, Romes.

I just hear she fucks guys, Manito.

Lolo and Cornbread told me to watch her. Practically fucking begged me. but I had shit to do. I was working. Mowing lawns and making bank for college.

You went in for 6 months. That couldn’t have helped.

That was your fault, fucker. You and your fucking ‘rides’ out to New Mexico and with your fucked up friends. I was working too.

What? Shit. Your little mowing jobs. Fuck that ain’t work. The Abuelito worked in the Coke Plant for 42 years.

It was work, Romes. I was working.

I’m just saying. You should have gotten her some more money and gotten her the hell out of this neighborhood. Out of that house on Spruce. I got out. I did it.

What the hell, cabron, I say. Did you want her to join the Army. She’s only 15. I’m only 16. I was only 16.

You know that was what killed him?

Who?

Montoya, fucker. The whole point of this shit. You read the newspapers. Obituaries and shit. Don’t you research it all. You have all the answers. Hell, you probably narced him out. You probably called.

Called who?

Baca, cabron. Ain’t you following this narrative or whatever.

I thought you did it. I thought you called him.

I didn’t do it. I was married and ran out of town that month. I had my own shit. Armenda married me and then she was pregnant. Bun in the oven, Manito. My daughter was on the way. 

Who ratted Bea out then, Romes? Tell me, Romes? I have to know. Bea would never tell me. We never talk about it. You know everything, Romes. I don’t have anything about all this.

Ask your Tio. Ask your Tio, Manito. Ask him. He’ll tell you. Follow him around in your mind. You love him so much and think of him so much. He’s got all the answers for you.

PS: Submitted Farmhouse in the Lanes to the Missouri Review.

Naked Lunch and the Addiction of Writing

Yesterday I obsessively watched David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch and found the film not to be about the bookas much as entirely about Burroughs and all of his writing–it seems as if scenes were taken from every short story and novel–Naked Lunch and Queer.

I was particularly interested in the scenes witht he writing machines as bugs or focuses of addiction. I was amazed at how the dirctor–and of course Burroughs–sees language or writing as a disease or addiction. The conflict came from the lack of typing machine or loathing of particular bug-like typing machine. Now that I think of it there were kinds of writing or word machines inthe film–British and American. At one point Bill Lee trades in his gun at a pawn shop for a typewriter and so I satarted to think of all the machines I have had. I remember using the Abuelitos old type writer for high school papers and also for college papers when I went away to school. I bought an electric typewriter back in the day until I bought a clone computer the size of a dresser. Then I had a Mac laptop that was given to me at work until finally a Dell laptop. I have always been lugging something around to bang words off of.

I was interested because I have a typing machine in every room of the old apartment now and at work and in all the classrooms I work in. I wonder what Burroughs is trying to tell us about the sensuality and the viscerality of words and language and how we possibly fetishize our own complex reading and writing–to the point of self destructive addiction. The creative literacy feeding on itself.

In this scene, Bill Lee seems to be introducing drugs to author Jane Bowles and having some sort of shared experience with drugs and writing.

PS: I sent out Farmhouse in the Lanes–to TinHouse– and Rabbit Story–to Glimmer Train.

Failed Free Writing

When Lolo was 8 years old he told the Jefita that he was going to go downtown and get a tattoo of dragons and dinosaurs to his arms and his back–maybe centipedes and millipedes and creeping crawling monsters to his back and legs. Perhaps bats and scorpions wrapping around the arm and his unusually small neck. He saw a man at the State Fair working the rides with similar patterns and he immediately wanted the coverings and envisioned immense inked skulls and fire demons to his neck and shoulders. In his coloring books he chose the colors and he chose the body parts drawing and coloring in biceps and torsos with immense patterns of gore and depth. His mind swimmed in those colors.

The Jefita gasped and told her youngest son that if he wanted to break his mother’s heart then to go right ahead–but he would have to wait until far after her death. And his father’s death–and possibly the death of all his Tias and most of the comadres from around Spruce Street.

She held him in her wide arms as he struggled to get away–he reminded her that the Jefe had tattoos. Marine tattoos on his both of his forearms. The Jefe never held Lolo the way his mother did but Lolo studied those tattoos and used them in arguments with the Jefita on a daily basis. The eagle and the Marine Corpse insignia to each arm that danced as he flexed his arms were the only evidence to the boy that his father had left the old neighborhood before he was conceived and killed men as in the movies or on the television. The ink was faded and contained no creatures but Lolo wanted them just the same–to the young Lolo that was the mark of a man. That was what men did and what they wore. To Lolo and the other round faced brown skinned boys–around Baystate and Box Elder streets–the unpaved streets down by the highway where the boys rode their bikes and wrestled and played massive tournaments of marbles and wrestling–tattoos were what made you hard and what showed you were a man. That and finding scorpions and spiders and even snakes. These were the things–tattoos and scorpions–little 8 year old Lolo associated with being a man.

Failed Free Writing

I’ve seen pictures of the Abuelita before she met the Abuelito. The day she moved out to Colorado from New Mexico and changed her life. I’ve seen the pictures of her in blue jeans and sitting on top of the Tio’s 39 Hudson. Her jeans are folded up exposing just a bit of leg and Her hair is long and her black and white skin is young and fresh. Short sleeves on a hot summer day–keeping still for the camera and for the conversation of summer and the front yard.

the-abuelita

In those pictures the old neighborhood has promise and has the look of wood and trash pit–brick and mortar wonder. I can close my eyes and go there when I have dreams. The neighborhood and those images stick in my head–waiting to be caught by the camera–to be trapped in my memory.

She looks so far from herself. She doesn’t have the weight of ‘that man’ to her and she doesn’t havethe eyes of the neighborhood on her as she would soon find. Before the shame and the bruises and the arguments. Before she was ashamed to speak only spanish and before she found her need for cigarettes and before my father and before the Lolo or Ricardo. Before the steel mill meant anything to her and before she had her own work at Dundee Cleaners. Before the sister was lost to her and before she crossed that line into marriage and into keeping a house.

Failed Free Writing

The men could not resist gathering in the backyard on warm summer nights and into the mornings the call to play their poker. The neighborhood was an immense gambling neighborhood. ‘Their poker’ was how the Abuelita described it–as if she wanted nothing with the sessions. I’m sure she felt this way because of the drinking and the yelling. I’m sure she felt this way because of the loud voices carrying down the alley into other family’s windows and kitchens. There were marathon matches going on for hours. The Abuelito and Lolo playing for 12 hours and 18 hour sessions. And the games attracted so many men from the neighborhood.

There was Robert Garcia the steelworker and Chapulin his best friend and the son, Nacho. Sometimes my cousin Kiko and his friend Fatso and then old man Hernandez and his bankroll. All the men played and laughed despite the main object of the games which was to steal the other man’s bank roll. That was the main attraction of these sessions.

In my mind these sessions have turned into legend. The time Robert Garcia went out to his car to find his Saturday Night Special police issued pistol after losing all of his money in order to bet. I remember how he emptied the piece of bullets and then dropped it down onto the middle of the Abuelita’s makeshift picnic table. The time Kiko bet his motorcycle and lost it to my Tio Lolo and the two almost went toe-to-toe in the alley when Lolo tried to collect. The time Chapulin lost all of his money down to his leather boots and kept borrowing more and more money from anyone around him so he could win back his rent money–he was so crazed he wouldn’t let any of the men leave with his money and so they played for hours and hours and were still playing in the late morning when I woke to mow my lawns in the neighborhood. The time Lolo woke me up in the middle of the night to borrow my money from the hiding place in the concrete foundation in the basement. I remember as he puleld the money he told me, You gotta make your bets with faith and then pull them over on them all fake, Manito. he also told me how I had to take care of my Tio because I had no one else in this world.

There also was the time the chojas pulled up following up on a call of the noise and the music coming from the back yard well into the morning hours. The Abuelita was on the porch in her nightgown and crying for the chojas not to take her husband from the house. She pleaded and begged with the uniforms and the flashing lights. She cursed and she spit–she smoked a cigarette and held her hands and forearms. Nothing good comes from these damn poker matches, she thought to herself. These cabron men, she thought.

Early Morning Imaginary Voices

After another early morning session–5am really works for my writing somehow–and looks like I have some directions to think about–more imaginary voices to answer to and follow.

Romes is trying to tell me that men and woman both treat people badly and not to judge all men or all women. Also Manito has a choice this morning to either snitch on Bea or perhaps live with deceiving Lolo and possibly Cornbread. So in this organization or fraternity of men he finds himself in on Spruce he has to make a decision. (I am stealing that fraternity of men idea from Leaonard Gardner’s Fat City.)

And I know the idea of a snitch is an ancient concept–not just from modern rap music. I remember DeNiro’s snitch speech to Henry Hill from Goodfella’s: “Never  rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.”

I also am reminded by Romes that I need to go back and give a scene or comment on the idea of snitching to Manito and Lolo–Baca would want the two to watch over his daughter as if they could save her. As if they could save anybody. As if anybody could save anybody–Thank you, D, for that one. As if anybody could be saved from their own actions.

Whispering to Imaginary Friends

This morning after waking up around 5AM and finding myself unable to sleep I tried to utilize that energy to get Ch 22 down–at least in my notes.  I used to do that pretty regularly–I liked the idea of writing before I spoke to anyone or even before the sun was up. My first year in Illinois I would do that and I have to say I didn’t want to return but I find that way of drafting very productive. Of course, my teaching schedule and grading seems to go against that process. But the time is nice and quiet and calm. There is no distraction of the morning news or the morning cable news or any noises from the neighborhood or the neighbors. A nice quite place for me to type and get ideas down. Later in the day I am just too distracted.

If I can get the Romes material down and I know the Cornbread project needs Romes and those passages to send the enertia of the narrative woards the end. I need to get Romes to sprun Manito on or someone on to inform on Bea to Cornbread which causes the main problem in the book. How do I do this. That should be the challenge of early mornings to come. I want to finish this or at least finish the drafting so I can begin new chapters–I’ve got this idea for a whole chapter on the Abuelita’s novelas–Days of Our Lives and Santa Barbara.

I also have this idea for new projects. I have been toying with the idea of drafting a new project in 3rd person focused more on Lolo and more on Lolo’s youth with the Abuelito’s. The Rabbit Story I drafted based on some old stories helped to see that I might be able to do that. I mean I’d love to follow Lolo in this big sort of myth I am drafting about the Abuelito and Lolo’s place in all that.

PS:

A while back a friend told me that writers spend most of their time whispering to imaginary friends and I am more and more beginning to believe that.

Failed Audiences

No matter how long I teach and no matter what odd circumstances the classroom gives, I never cease to be amazed at the lack of enthusiasm and lack of professionalism and civility I feel from my students. More this term than any term. And perhaps I am an idealist–or perhaps I just expect so much from my students. But I cannot believe the amount of students over these last two terms who are so under prepared for the classroom setting. I have students who do not bring their books to class–students who waste class time text messaging and sleeping– and I have students without writing utensils and without notebooks. I have students who slam doors and laugh and giggle–that’s right I said giggle–acting as if they never finished high school.

Perhaps I am getting old. And perhaps I am starting to see with some hind sight. And I do not mean to romanticise but education never came easy for me.

Students feel as if their time were wasted discussing Pulitzer Prize winning material–as if it is rebellious to act as if they do not want to be in school. Students who I believe are privileged to be attending college and receiving a top notch education from qualified and caring instructors seem to simply not care or treat the business of literature not as art but just as words. Words with no meaning for them. And try as I might I find it more dificult each term to create that meaning for them.

Sometimes in class I mention how previleged we are to be in school and discussing questions of meaning and interpretation. For example, the US Census Bureau in 2004 listed 15.9 million students attending college and I know Chomsky throws the number 3 out of 10 in his lectures as the number of students that make up the educated class as he calls it. 3 out of  10 privileged enough to attend college. Maybe I feel this way because my sister only attended a few classes and my parents never attended college. My Grandparents never finished high school and so education has always been an ideal–something sought after. I remember worrying and planning how to pay for school and how to prepare for every class–I remember working hard and believing that the work I put in would pay off.  And so I feel I have to instill discipline and professionalism into every class and lesson plan I put together for my students.  Even if that makes me unpopular and even hated. I feel that more and more–I feel hated by my students for being so serious–for being too intense when it comes to my course materials and classroom time.

And I can relate to being pretty capricious and thoughtless in my own youth–I’ve flunked my share of classes and I have been kicked out of my share of classes. I remember Mrs. Wodishek’s English 10 class. Cursing and joking in class and being asked to leave the class to write one thousand times–I will give creative writing a chance. And I do remember the paddle that was hangin above the desk of my grade school principal’s desk.

And I wonder if my students understand how my own personal experiences have built my own personal pedagogy.

Failed Freewriting

Sometimes Bea and I would just talk. In the days and weeks that followed the death of her mother and the escaping we both were into at the time. We drank and smoked weed. We ate Chinese food and walked around downtown.

Do you ever wonder where your mom’s is at?

What?

Your mother, you know.

Don’t think of that shit, Bea.

I’m just asking. I mean my mom’s gone and yours is in California.

Don’t talk about that, Bea. I’m serious.

Don’t give me that shit. I’m talking about your moms.

Yeah, well, my moms calls me. She writes me. Sends me cards. The Abuelita makes her.

She makes her?

I heard her on the phone. Tells her to think of her kids. All her kids.

That’s harsh, Manito.

It ain’t the same, Bea. I love you but it ain’t the same.

Oh, right, you love me. Well, I love you too, cousin.

Later she told me the story of our Tio Louie. He was a Korean War vet and always cornered Bea at the Abuelita’s house and told her about his time as a prisoner of war.

He told me he ate bugs and shit to survive.

No shit.

Drank himself to death over his whole life after that.

I never heard this story.

Lived off of his veterans benefits. Could never work. Just lived in Black Forest with his sons. My mother told me. She also told me his son’s lost their mama in a car accident and so the old guy raised them all himself. I used to see him all the time.

What made you think of that?

Well after his kids grew up and left the house to their own kids and shit he married his first cousin.

What?  And had kids?

No. He married the cousin after the wife. My mama told me she saved him. Took care of him and then got him to stop drinking. They got together and I never saw him drinking as much.

That’s supposed to be gross.

My mamma said he always loved her. His whole life and then after his wife was gone and buried he found her again. The Abuelita hated it. Her brother sleeping with a cousin, you know…

Shit.

Well, she used to say whatever saves you, you know. Can’t blame them too much.

Yeah, I guess.

Yeah.

Well, we’re second cousins.

Yeah, I know.

the Latest Failure

Received a letter today from the Crab Orchard Review. And I don’t know how to take it. Well, I’ll put it this way: Years ago I received a rejection notice from a publication I can’t remember the name of and the letter was hand written from the editor. The letter pointed out strengths and weaknesses of the document and suggested I keep in touch and return my work. That was a failed connection on my part. But Will Hochman–my teacher and mentor at the time–assured me this was a win and not a failure. He assured me that is as much as you can get in place of a publication.

Anyway, today I received a letter signed ‘the editors’ from the Crab Orchard Review with the suggestion  I consider their publication in the future–perhaps in March for their new publication and for their fiction prize. This was a clear rejection–nicely worded and friendly–and still a fail. Yet I find hope in the comments on the page. I also know I did not insert a self-addressed stamp envelope because, well, I forgot. So they did take one step out of their way to send me a letter.

So I guess I am saying this might be a small win. Or am I just getting more open to failure–or the heuristic of failure as Will Hochman would say. Learning to read and learn from failure more closely than before.

Failed Freewriting

The Abuelito was a liar. And a thief too now that I think of it. The Abuelita was always calling him out. Throwing dishrags and glasses of ice at him on the back porch or in the kitchen. Sometimes she would roll the paper up like my Tio would go after the dog. She slapped at him and yelled. I saw her take his hair in her hands and shake his head after staying out all night and playing poker with his crew of cabrones.

The poor Abuelita. That poor old lady. She poured out his wine and his rum and his cases of RC Cola. She poured out whole sixpacks of beer and margarita mix. She poured out his orange juice concoctions and the cheapest of wine–Boonescreek, old crow and red label port wine that came in big jugs. Whenever he brought them home she knew the weekend would be trouble. She smelled that old rat and just knew. And she always said that too–I smell that old rat again, I smell that old rat again. She knew what he was up to. She had the goods on him and for a time no one in the neighborhood understood but her.

When she went out shopping the old man would drink his beer and run out as fast as he could to get another replacing the original. Then I hid the evidence or he had Lolo run out and hide the bottles and the cardboard. I remember the clank of bottles and the piss smell of warm beer spilling from killed bottles. I remember the screaming of men in the back yard for their Denver Broncos and the beloved 1977 playoff season. I remember they cursed Red Miller and cheered at their beloved orange crush defense.

Later in the post-season they would send me and Lolo out for supplies. Craig Morton won’t wait for you, boy, the old man would say. Get my beers and my cigarettes. You ain’t doing nothing.

The Abuelita could only wonder at the oceans of beer they drank that winter watching their games in the small bit f floor that made up the wood paneled living room while she worked. The Abuelita went out for her Sunday shifts down at Dundee cleaners and the burning, sweating work of running the steam press and that endless rack of greasy clothes and wire hangars while these cabrones drank and cheered.

Once I asked the poor old woman why she put up with the man for so long. Why she went home to the crash sites of dirtied, beer stained furniture and cigarette ashes on the carpet. Why she put up with compadres and cousins and dirty faced steel workers around her home. But she never answered and could only match my questions with her own–why do I do it, mi hijo? Why do I do it? she would say. The sweet woman would drink her coffee in the late morning while the men in the house slept–my Tio and the Abuelito–and she would say softly, What can you do with such men?

Deborah Brandt’s Literacy in American Lives

It seems like most of my posts begin ‘back at Oregon State’. Well, the time there was very influential and informed my literacy and my writing aesthetic and so I can’t help thinking back with fondness. Fondness for working in Dr. Lisa Ede’s course and working with the individual writers from the fiction work shops I attended.

And as for the subject of literacy, I think Deborah Brandt’s book Literacy in American Lives–the text I experienced in Dr. Ede’s literacy studies course-influenced my thought process and perhaps even my political viewpoint in such a profound way. Most importantly her book gave me the idea of literacy sponsorship–the idea of how and perhaps also why we value literacy the way we do. It helped me to think of how I valued literacy–reading and writing and thinking–when I was young.

This idea made me ponder my own literacy development–how the Grandparents kept no books or anything in the house. How school was something down the street and not in the home. The old man read the newspaper and once and a while read a magazine abandoned in his house but other than that I feel literacy or institutionalized literacy was not valued in the Grandparent’s house. In contrast, my sister almost never reads–perhaps only at stop signs she sometimes jokes. So growing up that made me feel that literacy did not matter. I had to get out to the public library to find Catcher in the Rye and John Coltrane tapes–material so influential in my own personal literacy development. But I felt I had to steal it and take control of my own literacy development.

And as a professional I feel so lucky that Deborah Brandt has agreed to speak at our own Literacy Seminar we are putting together at my own little community college. I am so happy at the possibilty of her influence and her words inspiring other instructors–perhaps also high school instructors is the goal–will also be inspired by her words and by her ideas. 

The event is tentatively scheduled for May 2–or April 25–and I hope the event will be well attended and will be as influential in bringing writers and teachers together for at least a small discussion of literacy and literacy development.

Before Night Falls

nightI have put off writing about this amazing movie D and I watched a few weeks back–if you could see the stack of literary analysis papers on my little desk you would understand. I saw this film before but D had not. I first saw it on the Independent Film Channel and I was taken by the story of the young man’s creative literacy development–the young writer developing and learning about his craft.

The film is based onthe life of Reinaldo Arenas and his upbringing during very turbulant times in Cuba–around the time of the revolution. The beauty of the land and the beauty of the words worked so well in my viewing. Also the cameos by Sean Penn and Johnny Depp were pretty interesting.

I also appreciated the narrativity or the movements back and forth in time as the older Reinaldo puts together thoughts and tries to understand his past experiences. The way the narrative returned to his mother and his grandfather.  I am hoping to write more about this film and also the life of Reinaldo Arenas as I just ordered his first book Singing from the Well and soon I want to order his memoir–I found the book online for 9 dollars and I have a long 7-10 days to wait before I can read.

I am always struck at literacy narratives but also creative literacy narratives–stories highlighting writers, artists and poets.

PS:

I have been trying to get used to WordPress. I am certain most of the sites I manage and update will soon be moved over to WordPress because it just looks better. I spoke to a student the other day who swears by Worpress but I have found a couple of bugs and after spending the last 4 years on Blogger I find I am a slow learner at a new system. But the pages just look so much better and the interface is fairly easy to use.

More Failed Free Writing

The Abuelito would mow his lawn on weekday afternoons. Like most chicano men the day was outside and about the work of the yard–the backyard and his Ranchero. Mostly he drank to pass the time and talked to compadres over the side fence to catch up on the union and his beloved steel mill.

Hay Que cabron, he would say. What the fuck is goin’ on down there?

Or he would say, What the hell they doing now?

They’d tell stories from back in the day. The first days after the war when they lost work with the Army Ordinance Corps and then found work again with the steel mill.

Later with a big cigar hanging from his lips he would carve out parallel lines into the patches of grass outside of the old house on Spruce Street. He forced his compadre Julian to hold the chord to the electric mower that he would borrow from across the street from Fred Martinez. Stole the thing really.

What’s all this shit attached, Julian?

For mulching, cabron, the Compadre would say. For mulching.

Gaddamm electric lawn mower. What the hell with they think of next, Julian.

After a few drinks the Abuelito could talk Julian into doing anything. From syphoning gas from the primer colored 3/4 ton pickup to walking into a neighbors open garage and borrowing Fred Martinez’ power tools.

Man’s got to work, the Abuelito would say. Man needs his tools.

I hear you, Julian said.

Even if it is just working on a little piece of sod.

Shit I know, Julian would say.

Where’s Lolo? they would ask. That boy’s gotta be around.

The little thievery was in addition to their usual hiding so that no one would see the two men drinking all day in a garage or in a tavern.

And then inevitably it would come down to Lolo. It would always be about Lolo. The little boy reading his comics and shooting marbles in the dirt alley. The little boy with muddy knees and holes t his jeans. The boy who ran around endless amounts of bases and imagined stolen bases in the schoolyard while the other kids played tether ball. The boy with baseball cards in his back pockets and bubble gum cigarettes in his front pockets. The Lolo of my family’s stories and the Lolo of my imagination. The Lolo before it all went wrong–before the family’s madness and eventual crash site.

Damn it, Lolo, they would say. What happened to your knees? Where do you get them all ripped up, boy?

I don’t know, papa, the boy would say. I was just out back and–

Get your ass over here and hold the trash bag for Julian? We ain’t mulching and I don’t want my lawn stinking of dead grass. So hold the bag, cabron. Hold the bag…

Failed Poetry

Back at Oregon State Tracy Daugherty talked about the idea of finding past literary faces in old documents and old manuscripts in files–sort of like identity found in past drafts. And I always thought that was an interesting concept but I never felt it the way he spoke of it until perhaps just this morning. I happened to search for ‘poesy’  on my computer this morning at work in between tasks and finding documents for class–the drudgery of photocopying.

I happened upon three files filled with bad poems–some from the University of Southern Colorado and some from days in Oregon. And it was enlightening. I was amazed and puzzled by these poems I haven’t seen in literally years. Hard to believe I have been in Springfield going on 4 years and so wouldn’t have had occasion to look at these poems until this week. I searched them out because I like to write the assignments along with my students–for solidarity reasons and I wanted to steal one from the large amount of abandoned files.

I remember the first time I applied to grad schools back in the day that I applied as a poet student for the MFA programs in CA and in CO. I am so heavily vested in the fiction I write now and it seems so far from me to think I used to introduce myself and talk to people as if I wanted to only write poetry. I don’t see myself as someone who only thinks or writes ina certain genre. I like to think I’m like Sam Shepard and just gives in to the authorial mind or the creative literacy and that gives me fiction at the moment–I’ve also worked so hard at developing my fiction sensibilities and to develop those fictive/creative spaces–especially in graduate school. I guess it was just oddly exciting to open documents from 1990 and to understand Tracy Daugherty. Now, I do this with fiction all the time. I found a novel idea I sketched out in the 90’s and the Ballerina project I want to pick up some time about my spending time in New York State back in the day–wow, was it really 98 or 99. And I also remember finding poems about a man who is dating a woman with an autistic son.

Anyway, here is one of the poems.  In fact I remember talking to David Keplinger about it but at the same time I have no memory whatsoever of writing this poem.

Polyphony

The wood was faded
skin just out of hock

and her posture perfect down a thin leg.
Bad thoughts were in my head.

Oily stations left on the fretting board,
My hands were

scratches as she tuned.
No one is going to hear,

she said.
Don’t be afraid.

Failure of Memory–Another Post about Process

So much of my writing seems to be remembering–or failed remembering. Was the porch on the Abuelitos‘ home concrete? And–was the concrete covered with an elaborate rug I tripped over all the time? Did I spend the weekends there with my cousins a few times and did we play kick ball in the backyard? Or was that another relative’s house? Was it the Baros house or maybe my Aunt’s house where I was shot in the head with a BB gun? Was I 12 or 13?

These are questions I feel consume my time and my work and writing. I do this on the phone with my sister sometimes. What was that song Abuelita sang to us when we visited her in the nursing home? What street was it on? Were you married then or were we in school? Was I 12 or 13? Was I older?

In my mind the most interesting things happened to me when I was 12. Or at least I think.

This summer my sister and I did this quite a bit. Especially after the death of a kid who lived in the old neighborhood. His name was Everett, right? I remember my sister was in a fist fight with him. On the front lawn or maybe it was at the park? I remember she wailed on him and he had to run home so it must have been on the front lawn. I remember he always wore a green sweat shirt or maybe it was grey.

I do know he was disabled. His mind immature and free and the older girls didn’t want to hug him or dance with him but he tried. He also tried to kiss them. We felt sorry for him–didn’t we? We never teased him did we? Did I hold his arms while you punched away? Well, I do feel sorry now anyway. And I hope we never did hurt him knowing that he died in a home in Colorado before his mother and father. The newspapers told me some of the facts.

I remember after that incident we crashed our bike because we never had a car or someone to drive us around so we had to ride that old ten speed of my sisters. We rode into a parked car and my sister skinned up her leg. Didn’t she? Was it payback for what we had done. Or maybe that was another time?

It all comes out in the writing and, lately, I’ve noticed so much of creative non-fiction–and even my fiction–is preoccupied on this idea of whether or not life played out the way we remembered it. The way we remember ourselves, instead of who we actually were.

In Tobias Wolff’s memoir In Pharaoh’s Army he writes in the chapter entitled civilian about a particular Vietnam war story he wants to convey to a bar audience of his old friends and a new love interest. He writes:

How do you tell such a horrible story? Maybe a story shouldn’t be told at all. Yet finally it will be told. But as soon as you open your mouth you have problems, problems of recollection, problems of tone, ethical problems. How can you judge the man you were now that you’ve escaped his circumstances, his fears and desires, now that you hardly remember who he was?

And it seems odd to me that storytelling and lying or spinning–whatever we want to call it–happens in our fiction and non-fiction writing so rapidly and so quickly we perhaps lose all truth and create all truth. Create identity. In class we define the perils of subjectivity and the need for objectivity in non-fiction–in writing in academic writing in general. But as the instructor–and as a writer–I realize how far objectivity is from the creative literacy. How the creative literacy is so dependant on lies we tell ourselves.

More Thoughts on Process

A year back I found myself in the living room of the poet John Knoepfle and Peg Knoepfle. We drank wine and ate grapes and cheese and talked about writing and I was charmed with their stories on writing and activism. I met them through D’s kindness and because I had appeared on Peg’s public acccess show on a local cable channel which was quite the unique experience and I also wanted to meet her husband as well as invite him to come and speak to my Lit 110 poetry course.

In that afternoon John tells me about Robert Bly and his teaching in east St Louis. I notice he is very disheveled and unkempt in appearance and a little distracted–his hair is a mess on his head and I find him to be very grumpy and at one point he talks about a critic/writer he wants to shoot–I’ll get back to this in a bit. But that shocks me and D but we stay loose. He also tells another story about a man who broke into his house and Peg keeps him on task with very few words. Peg is a very strong and confident woman. She hugs D at the front door with a monster of a hug and later tells me of her work and her writing group. Peg’s show Works in Progress is a unique show giving local stories and also focusing on local writers.

In her living room I found John to be quite grumpy and yet very open with his career and his work–I found later he was in the middle of a biography which must be why these critic and break-in stories are on his mind. Anyway, he shares only a hair of his process or his work in the form of a poem on the wall of the kitchen that D says is her favorite poem of John’s. In fact, he goes so far as to openly say ‘I don’t want to read anybody’s writing.’

In the living room I think of Frank Waters and how I wished I could have sat in his living room and I also think of the Abuelitos and their living room and their kitchen and I feel sad and awkward in the social moment. I find myself thinking of this quite often but I pretty much keep it all down. I also think about how I have no dialogue left with the Abuelitos but I still find the voice to ask John to come to my class–plan on what we might discuss and he lends me a copy of his books and a locally produced video about him and his work.

Now, the critic he mentions. I was shocked that he talked about killing a guy with such passion but he was passionate and I assume he was exaggerating. But later he mentions another writer/critic that he loathes and that he hates. He brings up this man who I can’t remember the name of to save my life. Anyway he hates this writer and this mindset. He says, ‘the guy writes well but can never finish any thing. He can’t finish any manuscripts he begins.’

I think of this today because I admire John and Peg and I associate them with my own lost Abuelitos. I see them as the adult figures I don’t have around me right now. Figures who make thoughtful decisions–adults who care for writing and reading and people who enjoy sitting in living rooms and drinking wine and talking about writing anf writing groups. These are people I feel are rare lately. Especially at my school where even the professors/teachers don’t seem to care about writing. Sure they teach writing but don’t seem to keen on actually writing and sharing that writing. The professors study fiction and critique fiction but they call it literature arts.

So in this moment with John and Peg I feel awkward because I want to be one of these people that writes and discusses writing–but more importantly I want to be one of John’s writers who finish and complete. I don’t want to be a writer who begins interesting sounding drafts and has interesting sounding ideas for projects and books and yet never has the drive or energy or talent to somehow get those manuscripts completed.

And as this clip from American Movie I feel that I have it in me to succeed–meaning I have it in me to create and complete rather than to just drink and dream.