. . . Autobiography

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In the muddle of my life, I became lost in a dark wood....

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Has there ever been a diary with a sense of humor?

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The main thing I learned by keeping a diary was not to trust my impression of events.

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Between vocations - What good is bullshitting when you don't have a field?

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The Hotsy Totsy Club is proud to announce the acquisition of a major new work by charter member Anselm Dovetonsils.

. . .

Sometimes I feel a little blue about having so thoroughly avoided the possibility of serious money during these many years of involvement with the Web. But then I remember what Gertrude Stein wrote about dropping out of Johns Hopkins Medical School --

Her very close friend Marion Walker pleaded with her, she said, but Gertrude Gertrude remember the cause of women, and Gertrude Stein said, you don't know what it is to be bored.
-- and I realize that I didn't even have to betray the cause of women. All right!

Underreported fact: Gertrude Stein's gravestone misspells her birthplace.

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Supperly Mobile: I come from peasant stock. The kind that makes good soup.

. . .

Tenuous Local Connection Made to Global Catastrophe!: The first earthquake I ever experienced was in Turkey, while my father was stationed in Karamursel. But I have clearer memories of the cute Turkish girl next door, the fights I got into in kindergarten, and the waterfront....

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Enough already with the Kinks jokes and the California governor jokes. I'm gonna get a lawyer and change my name to "Schnozz Ray." Then they'll be sorry. (via Simcoe)

. . .

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. . .

Last year, the Comics Journal split its double-sized hundredth issue between Chris Ware (proprietor of the well-griefed Acme Novelty Library) and Charles Schulz (still the sole artist on Peanuts). Critical wisdom, repeated several times in the course of the magazine, is that this provocative pairing works for only the first half of Schulz's career, and that by the mid-1970s the final sparks of viciousness and bitterness were leached from Peanuts, leaving it a thin collection of very soft gags.

Well, it's true that Schulz doesn't kick Charlie Brown around much any more. But there's still plenty of crummy mood left in the old guy, and for the last couple of decades, it's been channeled through a character left unmentioned by the Comics Journal: Spike, the beagle hermit who looks a little like Dashiell Hammett.

Only a week or two ago, he featured in a downright Warean moment: a single-panel strip of a desert thunderstorm, with Spike, small and centered, braced against a cactus and accompanied only by the thought-balloon "Mom!" (Or, as Ware would've put it, "M-m-mom?")

And my favoritest Peanuts of all time ever was a 1980s Sunday Spike -- I paraphrase from memory so's not to stir up the lawyers:

(Spike looks at cactus) "Did you ever hear how it was that I moved to the desert? When I was very young, almost a puppy, I lived in a house with a family. One day the family had a birthday party in their yard. A guest saw a rabbit and told me to chase it. And then everyone was shouting for me to chase it. I was excited and wanted to do the right thing, and so I chased the rabbit. The rabbit ran into the street and was run over. And so I came here, where I can never hurt anyone again." (Pause) "I've never told anyone that story." (Looks at cactus) "I guess I still haven't."
I think of that punchline a lot... it seems like it's hit something essential about fiction, and criticism, and autobiography -- maybe about all writing for publication.... "I've never told anyone that story. I guess I still haven't."

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Autobiography: Maybe 'cause I was a sickly kid, or maybe 'cause of my temper, or maybe just because I'm a drama queen, but I never really thought I'd live to see forty. Now I feel like a gambler who can't think of anything to do with his winnings but piss them away as quickly as possible.

. . .

Word of the Day: I was born on Hawaii but I've been incontinent ever since.

. . .

The New Diversity: Some of the darkest checkers of my checkered college career were supplied by Mr. T, a math teacher with a head like a pyramid and a voice like a Korean cappucino machine (link via Obscure Store). No one would call mathematics a universal language after sitting through one of Mr. T's lectures. Only his blustering protest "But you have this in algebra!" was parsible -- and that only through repetition, since it was his answer to any request for clarification.

But Mr. T realized that our grade security was closely linked to his job security, and so every student passed his courses satisfactorily enough to muffle protest.

Since I was a very bad math student, I should probably feel more grateful towards Mr. T than I do. OK, then: Mr. T, all is forgiven!

. . .

It's nice to find out that Lynda Barry is a fellow member of the Class of Jimmy Carter. During that high tide of financial aid, my fancy-pants liberal arts college was pretty much as affordable as Northwest Missouri State. And though the shock of those first encounters with the upper crusts was painful, it was also way too central and complicated an experience to regret.

Not that anyone was waiting for my opinion to resolve its ambiguity. By the time I graduated, a few years of Reaganomics had ensured a shock-free campus whose incoming class seemed split between rich kids who wanted to be the heroes in Animal House and rich kids who wanted to be the bad guys in Animal House.

Which is how it should be, says Nicholas Lemann, who I quote:

I'm more with the American people on this.
mostly 'cause of the patrician tang of that old speakeasy password "the American people": Nicholas Lemann, the American people; the American people, Nicholas Lemann... Nicholas Lemann is the one with the suit.

Lemann is appalled that scholarship kids, in contrast to preppies, are so often intent on selfish ends. But if we drop that nasty pseudo-egalitarian testing crap, how do we decide who should be allowed four years of private school? Simple: we only pick those who have already successfully completed four years of private school!

You should make judgments about people not prospectively based on a score but in real time based on how well they perform the activity for which they are being selected.
Which makes sense as long as you never want anyone to learn anything new. And Plato says you can't really learn anything new anyway, so there you go.

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The formula I've used since pre-Mosaic days still explains it all: The Web == low-cost very widely distributed publishing.

To put it another way, Alamut publishes for me, but he doesn't write for me. He doesn't have to (second clause), which is why he does (first).

It appeareth to me that the writing of history is a simple matter. Let each man, from the age of puberty, write of the things which happen to himself. So few men can write that not more than enough will be written.
-- Fr. Rolfe, Don Tarquino: A Kataleptic Phantasmatic Romance

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I got up at 4:30 am yesterday and walked home a little after 8 pm, and through fatigue and clouds the lunar eclipse looked for all the world like a wavering flashlight being played alongside a road -- something lost? somebody lost?

All that I have to say is to tell you that the lanthorn is the moon, I the man i'th'moon, this thorn-bush my thorn-bush, and this dog my dog.

. . .

"Thus an agreement may require constant reassurance and work at maintaining relationships to prevent breakdown. This, however, depends on the imperfectness of the conflict resolution obtained. It requires characters not to be quite sure of the common, conflict-free model to which they've converged. If they were sure of it, and it exhibited complete resolution, they'd have no need to bother about each others' feelings." (via Alamut)
At the end of June, 1989, my lover of over eight years left me without warning and without explanation. She came home a little late and was gone two hours later. Two friends told me independently that they'd always secretly thought our relationship was too content to be healthy.

She married a lawyer from her office. I collapsed like a tower of pickup sticks.

And I wasn't the only thing to fall apart.

Who was that pre-Socratic who called the universal binding material "love," as opposed to "the weak attraction force" or "Elmer's"? That guy, yeah. Well, cold turkey withdrawal of the local binding material reduced everything to its constituent elements, and those aren't an appealing sight. Favorite books became ugly over-packed stacks of graphemes. Food was kuk. I couldn't crawl into a bottle 'cause the major constituent elements of even nice wine turns out to smell like poison. The idea that anyone would make noises on purpose seemed absurd. And I reverted to a pre-Griffith state as far as movies went: I could sometimes manage the illusion of movement, but connecting individual shots into a narrative was beyond me. I remember sitting through Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and having no idea why people around me were laughing. (Oddly, I still have that reaction to Seinfeld....) I was a bug pinned to a perfectly blank index card.

Like with other recurrent infections, the best way to get a pleasure back is to weaken your immune system with a new strain: Robert Musil's cold-blooded analyses of emotional extremities revived reading; I also encountered some Language Poetry for the first time and said, "Hey, this makes sense!" I was nursed, weaned, and set back to film school with a little pat on my fanny by repeated viewings of Cat People.

And so forth. Not so much getting over it as planting around it.

After a few years, even the nightmares dropped off. The last one I remember was from 1993 or so: I dreamt I got a phone call from my ex. She was crying, and I had to work to find out what she was trying to say. Finally she told me that she was really really sorry, but she had to sue me.

"Sue me?! What for?!"

"Somewhere between five and fifteen thousand dollars; it depends on your assets."

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Lyrics server

Eating overripe figs and listening to "Ring of Fire":
Now don't tell me
I've nothin' to do.
(Actually, that was a couple of years ago. Last night I instead drank a bottle of Shiraz, looked at Lynda Barry stuff, and listened to Johnny Thunders, but big diff....)

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Nothing ages like senility: A tale of two libraries

The Little Leather Library is a set of teensy-weensy cheaply-bound booklets stored in a plain cardboard container about half the width of a sneakers box, marketed around 1920. My father had a set (presumably inherited from his father), and they made up a large part of my childhood reading.

The "leather" looks like the seal on rotgut bourbon, the paper is the color of burnt caramel, and the smell is pure nostalgia. Aside from that, the Little Leather Library's enduring appeal for me lies in its editorial hand, which rested heavily on "modern classics" (i.e., the fin-de-siècle). Here are some volume titles:

Salome by Oscar Wilde
  1. "Fifty Best Poems of England" (including representative works by Francis Thompson, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Georgina Rossetti, and Algernon Charles Swinburne)
  2. "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"
  3. "The Happy Prince"
  4. "Salome"
  5. "The Ballad of Reading Gaol"
  6. "Bab Ballads"
  7. "Barrack Room Ballads"
  8. "Short Stories of De Maupassant"
  9. "Man Without a Country"
  10. "Sherlock Holmes"
  11. "The Gold Bug" (the volume is filled out with a repeat of the first 30 pages of "The Gold Bug")
  12. "The Tempest" and "Midsummer Night's Dream" (and what other two Shakespeares could they possibly have picked?)
  13. and, for good or ill, most influential of the bunch, "Dreams" by Olive Schreiner
A heady mix for a healthy growing son of the US Navy...

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... and as a strapping middle-aged man, I was delighted to find the continuing education course that is The Golden Gale Electronic Library: a world-wide distributed database of texts viewable only with the the Golden Gale Book Reader program.

The program is -- well, let the coder without sins throw rocks at it; Greek font or no Greek font, I wish I could extract the whole text into an editor and be done with it -- but what a public service in these texts! Starting from the sizable splash of the leaden Benson brothers' upper-class Anglo-Catholic end-of-the-nineteenth-century public-school boy-mania, Golden Gale has captured over a hundred volumes of otherwise vanished ripples. So far, I've galed along to:

  • "Don Tarquinio: A Kataleptic Phantasmatic Romance" by Fr. Rolfe (Baron Corvo), a Renaissance adventure that grounds the Baron's personal obsessions solidly and satisfyingly in historical context and beat-the-clock narrative structure.
  • "Stories Toto Told Me, or, A Sensational Atomist" by Baron Corvo (Fr. Rolfe), the most popular of the Baron's work in his own time, and a typically queasy mix of pedophilic exploitation and Catholic aesthete speculation. The next best thing to tertiary syphilis.
  • "Plato and Platonism" by Walter Pater, first recommended to me by Samuel R. Delany.
  • "The Outcry," Henry James's novelization of a very bad Henry James play that attacks those beastly Americans who come over to good old England and start appropriating....
  • "William Blake: A Critical Essay" by Algernon Charles Swinburne: "But if we regard him as a Celt rather than an Englishman, we shall find it no longer so difficult to understand from whence he derived his amazing capacity for such illimitable emptiness of mock-mystical babble as we find in his bad imitations of so bad a model as the Apocalypse: his English capacity for occasionally superb and serious workmanship we may rationally attribute to his English birth and breeding...."
  • ... with more to come, I'm sure.
Toto by Baron Corvo

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In Old Manhattan

Ray, reading aloud from the plaque on a fence: "Also buried here are such 19th century notables as: Preserved Fish, the merchant."

Laura: "You should write a biography."

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calamondin's latest entries make me miss New York more than I even usually do....

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How Ahab Really Lost His Leg

I'm glad to say that the strength and mighty power of my love was never crushed by a Starbucks toilet, but once, while on my way to a job interview, my hand was gashed by the sharp metal edge overhanging a recalcitrant Starbucks toilet paper roll holder.

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At this point in the year 2000 the only thing about Bob Dylan that means anything to me is that he titled his crummy 1970 collection of mostly-cover-tunes Self-Portrait.

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on Software   Cholly on Software
On Managing Software

Goddamned kindergarten world
My geekiest college friends lived together one year off-campus, in a condo-like complex rented out both to students and to real people with families and jobs. Which could be rough on the real people, families, and jobs. Once when my geeky friends were coming home, probably while working out all possible variants of a Monty Python sketch, they met one of their neighbors leaving for work; as respective doors closed, they heard him mutter "Goddamned kindergarten world."

I used to think that I'd wind up as one of those sweaty guys you see pushing their way around the city muttering nonsensical obscenities nonstop under and occasionally way over their breath. But now I'm starting to think maybe I'll wind up just muttering "Goddamned kindergarten world" nonstop instead.

Or, what do you think, maybe I could do both? Like, one mutter for interiors and the other for commuting?

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Heehaw, dreaming in trash and white
[transient link]
A L L    D R E S S E D    I N    W H I T E    L I N E N
A Christmas Memory

The next night, Bruno is taken by his cousin Sylvie to her favorite Chillecothe bar, a hangout for divorced crackers. The air is murky and peppered with fragmentary singalongs to "Were You Born an Asshole?"

A pair of admirers treat Bruno's cousin Sylvie to a beer and resume a dispute around her.

(Charmingly self-deprecating) "Hell, I ain't no pool player."

(Appealing for arbitration) "I let 'im win, you know that."

(Mock heroic) "I got the other half of the thousand dollars."

The thinner, grayer, more damaged man keeps interrupting himself with the shout "Shut up, Mr. Sand!" but Bruno doesn't think his name is Mr. Sand.

The other man ("49 and holding. 21 and getting younger.") looks as if he's been embalmed with a twinkle in his eye. He redirects his attention to Bruno's cousin Sylvie: "You married yet?" (Tugging at her hand.) "Your hair's gettin' long." (Tugging at her neck.) "'Djou give a kiss for winning this game?" (Suddenly reflective) "This is my favorite song." And back to pool, quartering the table. "I think they're sharks, y'gotta be careful, I ain't seen 'em here.... It's an education." And back to Bruno's cousin: "I saw that trophy your son got."

Something Bruno misses, some trickle of blood scent, triggers open hostility. The twinkler starts nudging the damaged man, closing in. The damaged man retaliates: "What about when you got caught in the coal shed, Jack? What were you doin' in the smoke shed?"

"Shit -- excuse me -- I weren't doin' nothin', I was six years old, what'd I be doin'? I didn't start that early."

"Jack was in first grade but I was in eighth -- shut up, Jack!"

"You shut up, why don't you."

"She were sweet, weren't she, Jack? What you doin' there?"

"Gettin' coal, what ya think?"

"What was you doin' with the corn cobs, Jack?"

"Corn cob? Now you're improvin' the story, that ain't so."

"Rapin' her with the corn cob -- shut up, Mr. Sand!"

"Goddamn good idea."

And back to Bruno's cousin: "Your mom and dad are good people. Good people. We go back a long ways, you know. Didn't mean t' look like I was ignoring you."

Later, Sylvie takes Bruno to Chillecothe's rock club, where high schoolers shuffle and two-step to a "rap" version of "Wild Thing."

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Movie Comment: The Brandon Teena Story

"I wouldn't live there if you paid me to."
- David Byrne
"thinking: I didn't leave them like that! I didn't. It's not real."
- Samuel R. Delany
I went to high school in a crummy small town in rural Missouri. I was a pathetically odd kid, but maybe my flaws didn't glare so much in this setting; anyway, along with bigotry (mostly aimed at the world outside of town) and bored aggression (mostly aimed at teachers and long-standing pariahs), I found deep stores of acceptance, affection, and wit.

The fifty students in my class maintained their allotted Kinsey percentages, but homosexuality by definition didn't exist. The few kids who were active deviants were probably as active as they were only because they were already established as pariahs -- and even they were invisible to all but an inner group of their peers. As a fairly trustworthy peer who'd come from and who was obviously back on his way to "the outside world," I got to talk to a couple of kids whose confusions were particularly pressing. The town seemed (and seems) to me far too dangerous and confusing an environment for either gay or straight sex, and so I always advised caution in leaping to conclusions -- or, for that matter, leaping to anything, though wuddya gonna do? it's teenage hormones.

The kids who later on did get out of town incorporated new experiences and self-definitions in a dazzling variety of ways, some of which involved familiar labels and some of which didn't. The ones who stayed continued to live in a world that included revolving-door marriages, suicides, alcoholism, beatings, and fatal accidents, but not homosexuality. Sexual surveys of the people in town and the people who'd left would give you very different results, but inasmuch as you learned anything of value it wouldn't be about innate sexuality: it would be about the social effects of monoculture.

I believe that a moral imperative for narrative art (including discursive prose) is to present the "strange," the "peculiar," the "monstrous." Not in the professional ooh-aren't-we-naughty fashion that justifies the status quo with supposedly "dangerous" material rather than supposedly "safe" material, but in a way that, whether angry or affectionate or panicked or flat as a pancake, somehow does what it can to prepare its audience for "the outside world."

Of course, all this only matters because there's more than one "outside world" and more than one "monoculture," and as we make our transitions between them the moral imperative can start to get pretty contorted.

The other night I saw The Brandon Teena Story and saw depicted -- pretty much for the first time in a movie -- the familiar landscape, accents, mannerisms, faces.... About as intense a bad nostalgia trip as could be imagined. Just like going home too late to stop something.

Mostly I got to see my peers again. They're not wilfully self-consciously evil or hypocritical or stupid -- that cultural imperative I didn't see in full force till I left town and met America's ruling class -- but they do tend to be breathtakingly (in all senses) naive, in the way any monoculture is. It's a naivete that can easily turn hostile, vicious and violent. It can also be ironically self-aware and astonishingly amenable to argument and experience in a way that, for example, trust funded artists don't seem to be.

The transgender-warriors protesting outside the murder trial acted as if they anticipated a Scottsboro Boys travesty, while inside the courthouse justice was being managed with exquisite (if all too American) care. Righteousness external, righteousness internal; the former enraged me, the latter did not; both were too late to stop anything. What I saw in the documentary were my friends in a monstrous situation: confused, ill-equipped, damaged, but for the most part trying to survive with a sense of morality. What "the outside world" (that I'm now a part of) apparently saw were monsters.

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Cascade Desolation
"In the muddle of my life, I became lost in a dark wood...."
  Bound and determined

When I was a kid, I tried to do what I was supposed to. In my twenties, I tried to do what I thought of. In my thirties, I tried to do what I felt like. Now I try to do what I can.

It's at least as much a shift in perception as in performance. I used to get upset over questions like "When will he finish that second volume?" or "Why does she keep writing those puky songs?" or "How dast he stop weblogging?" Instead nowadays I figure anyone who makes something probably had nothing as their only other option.

- photo by J. Clark

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Fig. 42 42-Ulp

I figured this would be a low-key, even muffled, birthday. Who cares about 42?

So I wake up around 1 AM and realize that 42 is 3 times 14. So this is the end of my third fourteen-year cycle. So I start thinking about when I was 14 and when I was 28.

14 was when my father retired from the Navy and we moved from Chesapeake, Virginia, and its big integrated schools to a little all-white town in rural Missouri and its underfunded all-grades-in-one-building school. My first class was with the eldritch Miz Arms, a senile monster whose buttocks dangled past her ankles, who punished a miscreant by placing him in front of her chair under her desk (from whence we heard theatrical gasps, coughs, and scratchings), and who, after one of her frequent long silences, announced wistfully, staring out the window at some birds, "At least they have the instinct to stick to their own species." I read a lot of Bertrand Russell and the National Lampoon.

28 was my last full year in NYC and, in retrospect, uncomplicatedly blissful in a way I'm unlikely to see again. DINKs on the Lower East Side -- what's not to bliss? It's hard to pick details out, but that might've been when I introduced Laura Yanagi to comics by giving her a couple of issues of Love & Rockets.

So then I start trying hard to pick out more details because I realize that a sonnet has 14 lines, and so I should do a sonnet sequence with each sonnet devoted to one of these years.

So I ended up not getting much sleep before my birthday, but I still got too much sleep to do a sonnet sequence.

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Bryn Mawr Stories   The breakfast was nearly over, and the black waiters were serving the ices.

"Can you see Lilian Coles?" Blanche bent around an intervening neighbour to ask Katherine. Katherine, happy in the fact that she would get a degree on the morrow, looked across the tables just as Lilian touched glasses with a freshman, her lips moving in the chorus,

"Here's to Bryn Mawr College!"

It was Hester Grey who saw a solemn look on Lilian's face as they rose to join in "Manus Bryn Mawrensium." But at that moment it seemed to Lilian herself, that of all the "lætissimæ puellæ" she, in her way, was the most joyful.
Elva Lee, '93.

The hunt is up, the hunt is up, and it is well-nigh day....

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My Life of Crime (linked with the proviso that "State & Local" governments are clearly more villainous than "Big" government)

  • No trick-or-treating on Halloween.
  • No tickling of women.
  • No spitting on sea gulls in Norfolk.
  • No oral sex.
  • No worrying squirrels in Excelsior Springs.
  • No more than 16 women can live together (accessory after the fact).
  • No singing in bathtub.
  • No public arousement in Allentown.
New Jersey
  • No frowning at police officers.
New York
  • No flirting.
  • No hanging clothes on clotheslines without a license.
  • No jumping off buildings.
  • No talking in elevators.
  • No slippers after 10 pm.
  • No greeting by putting one's thumb to one's nose and wiggling one's fingers.
  • No body-hugging clothing on women (accessory).
  • Mourners may eat no more than three sandwiches at a wake.
  • No snoring unless all bedroom windows are locked.
  • No going to bed without a full bath.
  • No sex with woman on top.
  • No reproaching of Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost.
  • No Quakers or witches (accessory after the fact).
  • No kissing in front of a Boston church.
  • No crossing of Boston Commons without a rifle.
New Hampshire
  • No tapping of feet or nodding of head to music in a tavern.
  • Machinery cannot be run on Sunday.
  • No excretion while looking up on Sunday.
  • No oral sex in San Francisco.
  • Ugly people cannot walk in San Francisco.

. . .

Whenever I see "Live Free or Die" on a license plate, I think of a gluetrapped rat gnawing off its own foot.

. . .

The Indefinite Conversation, cont.

That very same dangerousmeta proprietor's response to my birthday greetings:

there's this guy who lives down the road from me. every summer, for a few days, he breaks out the 1959 austin-healy bugeye sprite, in the original baby-blue paint. so i get to "see" 1959, and how well it's aging.

the car still looks great, though the gears are non-synchro first and reverse.

maybe one could say the same for us?

. . .

Battle royal Punch
My attention has been drawn to a McSweeneys profile -- quite perceptive in its way, really, and any publicity is good publicity, but the odd thing is I don't recall ever even meeting a McSweeneys reporter. Maybe he was working from hearsay. Or maybe I had other things on my mind that day.

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The Gift of Fruitcake

Last week, Paul McEnery bemoaned to me the balkanized states of psychology in America: clinical psychologists ignoring research psychologists ignoring social psychologists when they could so profitably be building on each others' work....

As a layperson who likes snooping around half-understood academic journals, I've wondered about that myself.

For example, when reading a very widely noted report (Joan Freeman knows how to work those publicity machines!) that "emotional problems" and "mundane jobs" are more likely to come to intelligent children who are told they're gifted than to those "told nothing."

"Told nothing"? Enticingly vague, that....

Thus enticed toward a fuller summary, I find that Freeman's study "compared [after 27 years] the lives of pupils whose parents joined a society for gifted children with equally talented students whose parents were not members."

OK, then, what Freeman compared wasn't "children told all" vs. "children told nothing," but "parents who joined a society" vs. "parents who didn't join."

As Freeman herself acknowledges, high-IQ children are more likely to be singled out for special treatment if they already have behavior problems. Otherwise, they'll just be getting along quietly (and easily) in school. (It wasn't teaching myself to read that attracted my guardians' attention; it was acting like a horrid little monster in kindergarten. Only as part of trying to figure out how to calm me the fuck down did a counselor come up with the "gifted" label -- which may well mean that my sole "gift" was that of acting like a horrid little monster. "And what super powers do you have?") Right off, that skews the study to a "gifted" / "disturbed" correlation.

Then there's the question of what kind of parent would be most likely to join the society. Seems likely it would be someone worried about freakiness or about class mobility, either of which would up the tensions at home. As opposed to, like, all the smart-as-a-whip people I met later who came from families where big IQs weren't considered big deals: bohemian or genteelly academic or upper-middle-class or just amazing.

And it seems unlikely that society membership would be felt necessary if there was an obvious route already laid out for the kid -- something like the Bronx High School of Science or the Dalton School, where academic progress wouldn't require a misaligned age -- as opposed to having to decide between jumping grades in a regular old underfunded public school or staying stuck in a regular old underfunded public school.

Freeman's results may be secure as all get-out, then, but their only clear application is "don't think that joining a society for gifted children is going to be helpful for your child." They certainly don't support Freeman's extensive lists of recommendations, some of which seem benign -- don't assume the kid can make mature decisions -- but some of which seem less than realistic. (Despite the lasting inconveniences of that kindergarten badge, I'd have to insist that the most genuinely cheery times I had in school were due to the singling-out counselors and the few teachers not too exhausted to handle special-tracking -- though I still cringe remembering the agonizing opacity of fractions.)

Population studies work fine for spotting problems, but for spotting causes and treatments you can't beat lab work. Such as Mueller & Dweck's 1998 study showing that praise for intelligence or giftedness mimics learned helplessness, lowering both performance and motivation, whereas praise for effort or for the task itself increases performance and motivation.

Mueller & Dweck admitted their study's limits, but it ties usefully into other research, like Dykman's. And they also came up with plausible empathic explanations for the results: My attention having been drawn to myself, my goal becomes maintenance of my self-image by "succeeding at" the task, a starkly win-or-lose approach which hardly entices me to move forward: winning means I'm done, and losing means I lack the innate ability I thought I had. More fruitful is to define the goal as gradually improved competence, with setbacks expected and due to (surmountable) lack of effort or training.

(And, as a "To Be Continued" marker, their contrast of inward and outward attentiveness fits some central neuraesthetic speculations....)

. . .

A Message for Our Readers

117 KB WAV (via).

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Cri de cur

All I ever wanted out of life were a couple of pathetic delusions.

Was that really too much to ask?

. . .

Every man is an island, but he can make day trips when the ferry is running

Those who are curious but who for whatever reason couldn't make it to Friday's performance can be assured that it went, actually, surprisingly well. (Or at least the reception did -- for obvious reasons, I can't speak as to the quality of the performance, although a Chronicle columnist acclaimed it as "AMUSING!") Given the unhipness of the notion (that same columnist, I'm told, expressed misgivings about "attending a lecture on a Friday night"), the audience was astonishingly supportive and friendly, and I glowed like a fat old white guy after a sauna and rubdown even before I started spending my portion of the door's take on booze.

I may not quite be ready to make the Cory Doctorow career leap to professional speaking (I'll need to cover more than one night's bar tab for that), but I had a lovely time as spectator, listener, and participant, and I thank the organizers. You thank them too, OK, when you see them?

. . .

The Blue Party Candidate

Midway through my much-aided private college education, the Reagan administration started making Academe a gated community. The results were apparent by the time I graduated, but I always figured, well, at least the state university systems are available.

Talking to younger folks, though, I've hit plenty of anecdotal evidence that even state universities are now available only to those lower-class compeers who are willing to assume crippling -- I mean, legs-chainsawed-off crippling -- debt while simultaneously working like a dog and trying to study full-time. And reports like "Losing Ground" and "Unequal Opportunity" provide the stats: college has become an impossible choice for many Americans, no matter how many sacrifices they're willing to make.

But a good deal of the resulting journalistic attention has been focused not on the destruction of upward mobility, but on scolding those middle and upper-middle class parents who aren't sufficiently greasing their childrens' way.

A memory from the Revolution: At Joe's Digital Diner in 1994, surrounded by chatter in which the phrase "power to the people" kept surfacing, I sat next to Sally, a very nice sincere lady who gave me a card that read "Hey Kids Let's Put on a Show": "In fact, wherever it says 'company name' on a form, I always put 'Hey Kids Let's Put On a Show'."

Since it was a revolution, we naturally bitched about work. Her new job was at an all-girl preparatory school which charged eleven thousand dollars a semester. Sally was trying to get the parents to understand the importance of "the new technology" so that they'd pay more for her classes; she planned to show them the QuickTime movies produced by "the city kids" at the Digital Media Center.

"I'll tell them, 'They have access to all this equipment. Do you want your kids to fall behind them?"

Let the answer be yes, I silently prayed.

Meanwhile, even purely vocational-training jobs like computer programming now require a college degree from applicants.

Obviously it's a lot easier to freeze the upper class if the lower class is kept in its place as well. This complete blocking-off of upward mobility helps explain how the complete blocking-off of downward mobility -- which has puzzled me on and off over the years -- has been made possible. You know how it used to be that fortunes and incomes could (given enough tenacity) be lost? But after decades of Golden Parachutes, the subtleties of an Old Boys Club aren't needed: a rich guy can be openly incompetent for years, or even openly criminal, losing vast amounts of money for stockholders and ruining thousands of lives, and still sit on top of the world, dumping.

I can't tell you how depressing all this is. So I can only hope you share my depression without need of description or explanation.

I've never -- not even during my own upwardly-mobile scramble -- felt so trench-stuck in class warfare.

Or class massacre, I guess, 'cause it's not like there's been much fuss being made.

It would be nice to think this state of affairs can't last. But it can, for generations. Henry Adams, who had no trouble predicting the rule of "wealth individualised," couldn't help but assume a socialist backlash would follow. Instead, it sometimes seems to me that we've just been living for decades, barely, off the ever-more-rolled-back leavings of the New Deal and G.I. Bill.

Hell, I'd even consider joining MENSA if they were working to give their poorer brethren and sistren a chance at a better life. But nah, I just checked, and they're still glued to their fucking quizzes.

OK, sorry about the dyspepsia. I'll go back to sticking my head in the sand looking for diamond digestifs tomorrow.

. . .

The opinions expressed herein are
strictly those of the Muse, and
should not be taken to represent the
views of the editor or publisher.

I'm Forty-Three! What are you?
Are you -- Forty-Three -- Too?
Then there's a pair of us?
Don't tell! they'd cut us off -- you know!

How dreary -- to be -- Twenty-Eight!
Publicly -- to Flog --
One's name -- and book -- the livelong June --
In an A-Listed Blog!

. . .

Is there one who understands me?

Thanks to Aaron for becoming the second person to notice that I'm Cordelia.

The first person was Christina La Sala, who tried to get me to watch Buffy back in 1997 by playing up that Thalia Menninger angle. But in those early days I was very shallow and thought the show was simply not presentable. I only really became part of the gang in the third season -- which is still my favorite, although the most recent one might've supplanted it in my affection if they hadn't transplanted the ridiculous Magic-Is-My-Anti-Drug plotline from some hell-dimension version of Buffy onto the shoulders of the Real Life show -- and only very recently and while losing all my viewers have I started getting migraines and pregnant and mature and stuff.

Also, I Am Most Like Bubbles.

+ + +

Errata: One who should know assures us that, despite our evident admiration for Cordelia, we are not in fact ourselves Cordelia.

We are instead 50% Anya, 20% Willow, 15% Imperfectly-Supressed-Bad-Willow-Confronting-Giles, and 15% Xander-Driving-the-Dream-Van-with-Willow-and-Tara-in-Back.

We regret any inconvenience.

. . .

CV (via Looka!)

Ray Davis is a large man.
Ray Davis is from Casa Grande, Arizona.
Ray Davis is a native El Pasoan.
Ray Davis is an American born Kerryman.
Ray Davis is a English/Creative Writing major from Portland, Oregon.
Ray Davis is a Mechanical Engineering graduate of Purdue University.
Ray Davis is a licensed Captain who has sailed the waters around Tobermory for the last twenty years.
Ray Davis is planning a trip to the CAVE at UIUC.
Ray Davis is missing.
Ray Davis is brought onboard.
Ray Davis is a crop duster pilot who's largely oblivious to her sketchy financial habits, but loves their lifestyle of conspicuous consumption.
Ray Davis is in charge of compiling the data for the count.
Ray Davis is one of my teachers.
Ray Davis is all over the back of me again.
Ray Davis is the one with the deep voice.
Ray Davis is the only candidate who can provide you that leadership backed by experience.
Ray Davis is a one time deal.
Ray Davis is very personal and knowledgeable about on the road motorcycle radio systems.
Ray Davis is serving in South Africa.
Ray Davis is currently handling all DNS and FTP services.
Ray Davis is a paid contributor to The Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors.
Ray Davis is a perfect example.
Ray Davis is Whitko's winningest varsity girls basketball coach in school history.
Ray Davis is a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Ray Davis is guilty of murdering a 71-year-old woman.
Ray Davis is 12 years old and weighs all of 65 pounds.
Ray Davis is the Assistant Curator of Fishes at Sea World of Orlando.
Ray Davis is the Dickens of rock and roll.
Ray Davis is a rare man.
Ray Davis is only now thinking about retirement.
Ray Davis is down there sketching out our suspect.
Ray Davis is right on his tail with a 1.95 ERA.
The passcode is "UB", and Mr. Ray Davis is the leader.

. . .

Our Motto:

Waffle while the iron is hot.

. . .


Now for my favorite part of the weblog: ...what's that say? Reader responses?! Ooghh, this is always death.

OK, someone writes in from somewhere to tell us:

Pumping to protect salmon habitat
Thank you for good question.

And we're delighted that our toast to the computer game industry made someone think of a rock song, because what more can mere prose aspire to?

Two years ago, I solicited suggestions for a new site name and logo. This month, one arrived:
name: Robert Dean
logo: A Retard
It's not clear just which Robert Dean and Retard are meant to suppy our new brand identity, but I'm sure they'll be very nice.

From another browser of the archives:

who are you? and how long have yopu been going to the hotst totsy? I've been a member for 18 years so I demand you identify yourself.
Yes! Thank you for very good question. I've attempted to answer it before, but to summarize:

Ray Davis is in good standing at the University of Life and has completed all graduation requirements except the dissertation.

Hale fellow well met Paul McEnery suggests that we

Interesting sociobiology stuff from Steven Pinker, a man who overstates so drastically it undermines his thesis, which is too bad, because I think about half of it is right

On the plus side (for you) (perhaps), a pinko Darwinian reckons the Y chromosome is on the way out and we'll all be hermaphroditic slugs soon enough.

And around the same time that someone searched this site for "rumsfeld handsome," Beth "Blessed Relief" Rust provided news of a small press dedicated to what really matters:

No, not repentance, for when I thought back I saw no reason to regret any job Id pulled off, and in one case, that of the brute Id lashed for killing the white kitten, I patted myself on my back. Not that at all, but a new sort of view of life, given me in the first place by the Princess on that voyage in the Ning-Wha, and buttressed solidly by this meeting with real, human kindness.
Thank you all for good question!

. . .

Streets of Braymer
Photo by Ray Davis

Are you tired of traffic jams and road rage? Are you sick of breathing smog and polluted air? WELCOME TO CALDWELL COUNTY!!! As Economic Development Director, it is a pleasure to sell our county to prospective employers. Since September 11, 2001, many businesses have begun to look differently at where they want to locate their plants. Most want a "SAFE" place for their employees and their families. WE HAVE JUST THE PLACE!!!

Our dedicated workforce is both loyal and productive. Most of them have been raised on farms so they have learned to work hard and long hours. Our taxes are low.

- Your Guide to Historic Caldwell County Missouri

Photo by Juliet Clark

. . .

Sheepskins & Skin-the-Goat

One of the nice things about not dying young is instead of regretting all the things you never accomplished, you get to see other people accomplish them. Like, you can imagine my relief that Patricia Highsmith's reputation has advanced to the point that a critical biography is being written without me having to lift a finger. And the nicest thing about weblog memes (jargon for "dogpile on the topic") is that it takes less time for someone else to say what you're trying to figure out how to say.

Thus I've stayed on the sidelines of the world-wide town-gown rumble long enough that notorious gown-wearer Alex Golub beat me to the punch, and punched way better than I would've. (Besides being lazy, I'm a feeb.) What follows is merely supplemental:

I know of people who treat academia as a day job (the way I treat software engineering, say), but I haven't met many. Most of the academics and ex-academics I've befriended come in one of the following easily distinguished forms:

Both have the best of motivations (love) and both seem admirable characters. Both also seem intelligent enough to realize that equally admirable characters can have very different experiences and suffer very different outcomes. What's struck me most forcefully in my limited sample set is the overwhelming extent to which one's status as sheep or goat seems to have been determined by a single factor: the relationship with one's doctoral advisor.

That's not so much the case in the day-job world. A beginning software engineer may have a bad manager first time out and soldier badly on. But even aside from disillusionment with the Community of Learning, the power of the advisor is so absolute, and modifying a post-graduate study program is so difficult, and the amount of debt thrown down the school's maw (in the present USA, at any rate) is so horrifying, that a callous, narrow-minded, self-serving, deceptive, or simply incompetent advisor can do decades of damage to a life with astonishing ease.

For me, it's never been an issue. I'm with Harvard apostate Henry Adams: tying the collaborative role of teacher to the punitive role of judge drops us into a pit of corruption; associating the sacrifice of youth and money (nowadays more money than the youth is ever likely to see again) with bell curve competition elbows our brightest ideals into a drainage ditch. Undisciplined and openly hostile toward authority, I barely achieved a B. A. -- and that only for purposes of class mobility. I live for scholarship, but much of the research I've depended on and virtually all of the learning and teaching I've done were free of institutional ties. When I wish I could make a living by scholarship, it's like wishing I had fifty million dollars, or wishing I was ruled by the just. In short, I'm no academic.

But I depend on the academies for their libraries (and now, surprisingly enough, for my paycheck) and to supply my academic friends with worthwhile happy lives. So I wish the academies well. And in that spirit I offer the following advice:


  Dat GOD DAMN HAT, that SHIT FAKE WIZARD!! I been his aprentice over a year an he NEVER done a trick, he never taught me nothin' but ABUSE an PAIN! Advisor damage

. . .

Doctah, Heal Yuhself!

When I was very young, I read in a kid's book about heartfull lab scientists trying to save a chimp who was starving itself to death on account of being appalled by organic existence.

And what some bright scientist did was hold the little traumatized critter down and smush overripe banana all into its paws.

And the chimp, released, appalled, with no other way to get clean, licked the banana goo away and was saved.

I don't remember much from prepubescence. That book stuck, I guess, only because I'm pretty much just as prissy now as I was then.

Maybe overripe banana is an even better analogy than the charnelhouse?

  Cholly Kokonino

. . .

Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are

For years now, while marching to work or performing some low-grade chore, I've had this little song occasionally pop into my head.

Well, more of a chant. A really lame 1978 British punk band attempt at ska sort of thing, or a really lame garage band attempt at a Joe "King" Carrasco polka.

"Guilty Party Time"

(No MP3 available at any time)

Party time
Guilty, guilty, guilty
Party ti-i-ime
I'm guilty
It's party time

(Repeat with pronoun variation)

It could be worse, but still I wish my subconscious would find a safer message to simmer.


Atomized junior's tenacious subconscious has provided what might have been the source material for my tenacious (and derivative) subconscious's work.

. . .

"My Life"

I pictured it to myself, and at once people came to my memory, all people of my acquaintance, who were slowly being pushed out of this world by their families and relations, I recalled tortured dogs driven insane, living sparrows plucked bare by little boys and thrown into the water and the long, long series of obscure, protracted sufferings I had been observing in this town uninterruptedly since childhood; and it was incomprehensible to me what these sixty thousand inhabitants lived by, why they read the Gospel, why they prayed, why they read books and magazines. What benefit did they derive from all that had been written and said so far, if there was in them the same inner darkness and the same aversion to freedom as a hundred or three hundred years ago? A building contractor builds houses in town all his life, and yet till his dying day he says "galdary" instead of "gallery," and so, too, these sixty thousand inhabitants for generations have been reading and hearing about truth, mercy, and freedom, and yet till their dying day they lie from morning to evening, torment each other, and as for freedom, they fear it and hate it like an enemy.
- Anton Chekhov, from "My Life"


Ow. Oh, oh, ow.
The serial killer profile that the wusses adopted vis. animal cruelties was in some measure a note-for-note of the hidden cruelties of many boyhoods, kept secret from all but each other. I saw, and did, some awful things, though the worst was something I spoke against - and in the end you know, as far as animals, the unintentional carnage of the highway's been worst of all. But yeah, Anton - eviscerate them with your scalpel'd truth.

I should note that the story's narrator is saintlier than Chekhov seems to have been and much saintlier than I seem to have been.

. . .


(Pumped out for the sake of The Valve)
The use of the essay, for example, a kind expressing liberal interest at first, began with Humanism in the sixteenth century; and one of its forms, the miscellaneous familiar essay, ceased to be popular after the crisis of Humanism in the 1930s.
- Alastair Fowler, Kinds of Literature

At 9 PM on Saturday June 18, the Pacific Film Archive at UC Berkeley is showing a revisionist Western from 1972, Dirty Little Billy. All later muddy streets seem thin in comparison: puddled with New Age puke or John Ford horsepiss. Given its timing, a few of the Billy demythologizers may have benefited from personal experience of frontier communes.

Was the movie intended as history or satire? To some extent, whether you're mocking or creating is decided later, by who notices what and how they respond. Artmaking is largely about being distracted from your original purpose; sometimes you even wake up in a new neighborhood. If you want to explain Robert Browning's influence on Ezra Pound, you could start worse than with a Browning parody like "The Cock and The Bull":

I shoved the timber ope wi’ my omoplat;
And in vestibulo, i’ the lobby to-wit,
(Iacobi Facciolati’s rendering, sir,) ...

That's a recent addition to an ongoing retrospective of a Century of Imitation, along with Calverley's "Proverbial Philosophy":

A maiden’s heart is as champagne, ever aspiring and struggling upwards,
And it needed that its motions be checked by the silvered cork of Propriety:
He that can afford the price, his be the precious treasure,
Let him drink deeply of its sweetness, nor grumble if it tasteth of the cork.

Also Thomas Hood Jr.'s Poe, worthied by its expiring exclamation!, and Swinburne's "The Person of the House", which literalizes Victorian reticence as "That Only a Mother" later literalized pulp science fiction reticence and to similar effect, as well as another online copy of Swinburne's magnificent "Nephelidia".

In other serialization news, Paul Kerschen has just begun serializing a free translation of Franz Kafka's diaries, alongside the original German. And if you aren't already following the lifework of W. N. P. Barbellion, 1910 is the year his journal completes its transition from dissection of other species to vivisection of our own. As the few remaining years go by and he consults and reconsults his own archives, we'll see Barbellion develop a craving for precursors or peers. He'll read Portrait of an Artist and decide he and James Joyce have struck the same vein independently. Later still he'll excitedly decide he's just like Marie Bashkirtseff.... "Is there one who understands me?"

But once your isolating eccentricity does turn out to be a community, new issues arise. I believe Djuna Barnes said everything worth saying about surveys: "I am sorry but the list of questions does not interest me to answer. Nor have I that respect for the public." Yet since Mr. Waggish is a compatriot to whom I owe the deepest respect, if Mr. Waggish requests something, I must assume Mr. Waggish has good reason, and therefore:

Total number of books I've owned: I buy books because of not always having had access to a good library ("I will never go stupid again!"), but I winnow them because of moving fairly often in the past, but I still want to re-read more books each year so the collection does grow, and because I've lived in one place with access to a good library for a while I've been buying fewer books but unread bought books are piling up. So maybe four times the number of books I have now? Roughly. Within a factor of ten.
Last book I bought: It was a group. A translation of Heinrich von Kleist's Penthesilea, the new Hans Christian Andersen translation, Ron Silliman's Under Albany, and Justine Larbalestier's Magic or Madness.
Last book I read: This must mean what I'm in the midst of reading since the next query is the "Last book I finished"? Mostly right now Kinds of Literature by Alastair Fowler.

It's free of nonsense, and, for all its easy style, extremely concise: virtually every page of this library volume is mostly underlined, the table of contents bears a jot by each chapter title, and I found there a improvised torn-paper bookmark with the scrawled note "BUY WHOLE BOOK?" (It's out of print, of course.) Two-thirds of the way through and Fowler's heroic attempt to revive the form of the Anatomy became a worthwhile drama of its own.

In 1982, I would've argued against Fowler's low opinion of the works recovered by feminist critics, but, hey, by 2005, I bet he might argue against himself. I'm possibly more skeptical that something fixedly "literary" can be found in all the works that drift in or out of literature, but that disagreement means less in practice than I thought at first. I may know a bit more about contemporary American genres, but that's to be expected; Fowler is sensible with the parts he knows, and he has a far wider and more detailed grasp of literary history than my autodidacticism has managed. His biggest difficulty may be the usual academic one of distance from working artists. Genre doesn't just happen between books; it's also a way for the author to feel less lonely for a bit (before feeling betrayed). Publishing isn't just to make money; it's also to make contact (before getting an unlisted number).

Fowler's book was recommended to me by Wendy Walker. If Wendy Walker is a new name to you, for the love of god, drop that copy of Emma Brown and hie ya. I'd like to tell you how I came to get a book recommendation from Wendy Walker. I commuted daily between Nashua NH and Cambridge MA, and I read something about Samuel R. Delany appearing at some convention between, so I stopped there. Formal emphasis was placed on the most ambitious class of science fiction and fantasy, but participants also included small press publishers, readers of contemporary poetry, and listeners to contemporary music. Our conversations were intriguing enough to bring me back the next day. I kept in touch with some of the people I met that weekend, and one of them, Don Keller, kept suggesting I write down some of what I spun in conversation. I started doing so, and the practice eventually became habitual.

Wendy Walker's work is sui generis. But some genres are friendlier towards the sui than others. Her novel The Secret Service seemed to me one of the great books to be found in the 1990s, but who would find it? I browsed shelves randomly and was fortunate enough to live by shelves which included Sun & Moon Press, most of whose other contemporary authors were poets poets I admired, but whom I knew to be a sadly insular group. I gave copies to friends, recommended it, and wrote about it. Independently, so did Henry Wessells and Elizabeth Willey. Walker's cult was small but fervent, and, fearing that neither the writer nor her publisher had any clue as to its existence, I dropped him a note to suggest that an audience awaited.

The note was passed along. In a few weeks, Wendy Walker will be attending that uniquely ambitious conference in Massachussetts. It's a small world.

Or a big sign.

. . .

The Real McKee

It's true that "authenticity" generally signals snobbery, racism, or willful ignorance up ahead. That it drags the Elmer Fuddish hunter into holes they wot not of. That it marks the hoarder and attracts the forger. And that I've built dudgeons high agin it. Why attempt to judge the Bushes by the authenticity of their bark when the poison of their fruit's so evident?

But I feel Jiminy Heartworm stir. Despite (and through) my open distaste with the term, haven't I, in my own ways, profited from it? When I starved, haven't I played it up to cadge a meal? or get the loan of a book? or of an ear? When I lack even a (birth) certificate of authenticity?

And the double-edged crutches my own criticism leans on terms like "organic", or "grace", or "attentive", or (borrowing from the young Louis Zukofsky and the young Sal Mineo) "sincere" if I was forced to systematize them, if I reaped occasional rewards by dropping them in the nickel slots of academia or reviews or NPR, would they be any better than "authentic"? Truly?

Well, maybe a bit, if they address the workings of the song between us rather than denigrating-through-idealizing the singer.

Leave the art's conscience to the art. The only "authenticity" that should concern critics is their own.


True masks speaking through real veils

AKMA has a follow-up thread.

Ray Davis adds:

I won my first programming job over (probably) more qualified and (certainly) better groomed candidates because (the boss told me later) I'd "looked more like a programmer."

That's one reason I support affirmative action. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems unlikely that a similarly sullen, ill-prepared, shabbily dressed black kid would have "looked more like a programmer."

. . .

Why I Am Not an Analytic Philosopher

When someone comes at you on the street with a knife you just yell, you don't shake your head and say, "Forget it, I led the debate team at Mineola Tech."



. . .

In the Convention of the Hustlers, the Playa Hater is Chump

To "Jane Dark" and John Emerson

I'd rather prostitute myself than those I love.

Where the fuck did I get such a stupid idea?


oh dear. it isn't worth it! really!
it is worth it because these people will be running our world. playas in, playa haters out.
pimpin ain't easy

. . .

The Cluck of the Plow-Chicken

The flesh of animals who feed excursively, is allowed to have a higher flavour than that of those who are cooped up. May there not be the same difference between men who read as their taste prompts and men who are confined in cells and colleges to stated tasks?
- James Boswell
(via Caleb Crain at n+1 crossed with the Valve)

If my only duties were to range free and eat, I'm sure I would lay even more and make a even tastier stew.

On the other wing, I did duck that whole pecking order business....

. . .

Evening out

The right side of my face looks mad and the left side looks scary.


Ah, but which part's dangerous to know?
white people drive like THIS
But what a harmonious whole!

I don't know; there are all those bent notes....

feeling_a_bit_b ?
Try a different mirror.

Wow, if Frankenstein's monster had gotten as supportive a reception as this, Lee Marvin would've had one more quaint little castle full of Nazis to blow up!

From not far away, Matt Christie suggests:

Try looking at a more sapient, assymetric object. It all evens out.

. . .

Taxonomy? 'At's-a no good. Tax on-a you, she's more better.

Silenus and friend

I usually classify myself as a trimodal organism: peevish, giddy, and avuncular.

Possibly, however, the second and third states could be collapsed into silenian. If I'd been the first to get this idea for a company, I'd have incoporated even if it is a little like when a co-worker named his consulting firm "Sadistic Software". Me: "Do you think that's wise?" Him: "Why? Everyone loves sadism!")


The link to the consulting firm isn't original with me, but for the life of me I can't remember or uncover who supplied it. Was it you?

It was me... I presumptuously took over the Death Wish in American Publicity Material while the usual provider was in other climes.

Keep the home fires burning!

Does one bring the wine and garlands, or do they supply?

All team members are expected to bring value to the table at Silenus. The lead consultant will stay under it to coordinate.

. . .

"I told you I was sick."

Hypochondriacs are rarely as bad-off as they make themselves out to be but never as healthy as you'd expect. All those unnecessary diagnostics and treatments are in themselves damaging. And insisting on them indicates some sort of problem from the start, even if it's not the one hypothesized.

For spiritual hypochondriacs, that goes double.


you talkin' about ME??


You just hate God, is all.

Only when I'm trying to sleep.

Peli writes:

Plus, you know, every Hypochondriac gets to be right at least once. I find this comforting.
Hello. My compliments to a very nice website. I have a great time on your to see your lovely cat. Lots of succes in breeding.

. . .


We wake from a dream to enter, clearly, a daydream.
- Nick Piombino, 1980, as reprinted In the American Tree

I balked a bit at that last, writing about something I don't particularly understand or want to research for the sake of readers who don't particularly care. I've never acted suave with a fake ID I forget what my last name's supposed to be, all that.... So it's not by chance that I opened by asking you for correction and closed by advising you not to argue with a fool, or that mid-balk I went priggish over expertise, or that I began it around the anniversary of my resignation from the Valve.

Or that I've been thinking of Nick Piombino, who wrote discursive lyric prose decades before blogs provided a medium, who avoids fruitless debate, and who, I suspect, has sometimes been prompted towards more recognizably generic approaches.

Or that I've been reading his book, and noticing how easily this peculiar form moves between paper and browser, so that I can desire both the bound Eeksy-Peeksy and the re-clicked-through fait accompli with no hunger pangs, just a drowsy anticipation of surplus.

Or that I've been looking through my own notebooks, which, like Nick, I've mixed in promiscuously from the start, albeit without dates, not having noted them in the first place, and thinking I've prompted myself too far from those impulses, and it's time to renew promiscuity. How did Delany put it? "On the smell of old effort, new effort bloomed"?


Nick Piombino provides relevant contradicta and a gawjuss re-selection from In the American Tree.

. . .


Joke on it.


William Cornwallis disapproves.

. . .

Return to the Hotsy Totsy Club

And now that I'm fifty, I can even sometimes enjoy the journey from Too-Good-to-Be-True to Not-True. It's like watching an old bartender mix a new drink.


happy semicentennial! but please no historical re-enactments

. . .

Who is Ray Davis?

I read in a magazine the other day that I was mostly bacteria, and that sounds about right.

. . .

Guess Who This Is

Soundtrack by Ed's Redeeming Qualities; hear also, and

For most of my life I've mended the Cogito to:

"I think, therefore there are thoughts."

But if the truth of ego sum is not (you should pardon the expression) self-evident, why then do I (sometimes, on a good day) resort to the personal pronoun? This entertaining B&BS slugfest suggests that "I am" might simply be the most straightforward answer to the inescapable question:

"I know you are but what am I?"


you're clearly a thinking being

I am easily interpellated. I am so easily interpellated.

. . .

When you were raised in a barn, Athena really means something.

. . .

Mardi Time-Slip

Yesterday was unsettling. From early start to early finish, I would try to respond to something and after my response was done realize I had responded to something else entirely, some phantom stimulus. It was like enthusiastically greeting a stranger by the wrong name, except all day long. True, at the best of times I digress and disrupt, my relation to words being that of a meager dogwalker to a pack of Great Danes. But this became oppressive.

My life has been stable lately, as lives go. Maybe I'm becoming unable to distinguish events which are, structurally speaking, reoccurrences? Pacing a loop while the world strides towards August?

. . .

Suns of the sleepless! melancholy stars!

The visual may be applied as cold compress against verbal fever. I announced that discovery at age eight to my closest friend, the Navy wife with whom I used to debate the validity of UFOs and Edgar Cayce (I took con), like so: "I can concentrate myself to sleep!", by which I meant closely attending the phosphenes which stir and subside behind closed lids in a dark room.

Like most breakthroughs, it was actually a rediscovery one made that year by many of my elders, that it's easy to nod off while meditating just as thirteen years later in the yoga class I took for a phys-ed requirement I rediscovered the more disconcerting gusher of hallucinations which my teacher called "opening your third eye" and forty years later I rediscovered nodding off while watching TV after 9 PM.

I never found anything that could be applied as ice baths.

. . .

January 1990

Commuting, the sentence.

MX-80 Sound
drowned the rock salt:
It's not, it's not, it's not my fault.

"I feel like I've lived inside a box." Which is occasionally shaken, swabbed by oily slabs of fingertips.

I would like to become a better mouse.

"To look forward to the next month or season is to be impatient for one's own death. This is natural, since the elements trapped with the soul long to return to their former state."

. . .

The Furies

As a stereotypical Blank Generationer with carnal and spiritual all balled up, I can't directly enter stereotypical Victorian sex-fear. But I can approximate its consternated repression through another bestial sin: wrath.

Through the years some acquaintances have advised me to express anger more frequently and openly, but none who'd seen my face and heard my voice. It's a Mr. Hyde transformation, complete with William Castle visual effects: I literally see red. It halts converse, it's ended friendships, and if it doesn't exactly deplete purity of essence, still (since it takes no account of the size, hostility, or weaponry of its target) it could shorten my life. And the knowledge that it will finally be extinguished with my flesh lends comfort to mortality.

. . .


Pat defines sociopathy not by acts but by thoughts: labile memory, for example, and temporarily but vehemently held truths.

By which analysis, I'm a sociopath. Benign, I hope. "Casper the Friendly Sociopath," to paraphrase Justine.

. . .

c. 1991

Doing the business's bidding for your own survival sets you up as friendly adversaries: Flagg pulls Cash's ass out the fire so's he can punch out his lights over the doll with the big brown peepers.

Treading in place, you're dragged back; a panicked kick and roll. The projects: what you get out of.

Cheryl's catch-all term for introspective or cowardly behavior in herself, or when dismissing others: "geek". There are "geeks" and "poseurs" and some unnamed other group, partly glimpsed in one's friends and self, certain to exist fully somewhere for some hours, who combines the unselfconsciously decorated mind of the former and the surface integrity of the latter.

Contempt for one's living pushes just a heel behind contempt for one's life.

Devoting a year of purposelessness to a week and a half of escape.

"Fly from"; "fly to." Under what conditions does escape become achievement? Free fall: fly now, pay later. Groundless ecstasy. Bare-root transplantation vs. the paper-wrapped bouquet of tourism. The girls are on the west coast and the boys are confused but making plans. Deposit of no return: not a leave of absence. AWOL, a wall, which one is on the other side of.

'Hurray!' he shouted, 'Californy for me'

. . .

View from my parents' home in Braymer, Missouri, 2013 May 3

. . .

State of the Matter Address

  1. Etymology
    < classical Latin plasma affected modulation of the voice [...] "A great portion of his compositions is not poetry but only the plasma or matrix of poetry which has something of the same colour and material but wants the brilliancy and solidity."
  2. From the Gas Age
    "All that is solid melts into air." But from the air, precipitate; and wisps with will enough graze ground.
  3. Deep end of the pule
    I am Aquarius. Hear me drip.
  4. The Tannery
    A cathemeral wash of anxiety eventually stiffens the neural web. Might some further treatment at least ease chafe and splitting? to attain the rank of glove or saddle rather than reins or whip?

. . .

Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death

"War, in other words, destroys pretense." - some preening asshole in 2002

For all my life I've been called pretentious, and for all my life I've proudly accepted the charge. It seems to me a just label and a worthy calling. It has at any rate called me to all that's seemed worthy.

The opposite of pretension isn't sincerity. The opposite and the end of pretension is silence. First comes pretension, then tension, then sleep.


whether it's the intention of your intension or the other way round, it's pretty intense

. . .

The Intellectual Condition

Coated and hooded by pecking birds, struggling to shut himself into a phone booth for a few minutes of relative security. A flock descends.


Outside an old woman in rags goes along the bank of other phones, slamming the coin returns open, each one empty, but the hope...Plus maybe if he takes off this drip-dry suit underneath there might be a cape, and tights, and the memory of flight.

Within the sanctuary, unseen, unseeing, unheard, a fashion model slumps to the metal pebbled floor.

down the copper driveway a car with no one at the wheel enters the street, Gough, backward, makes a perfect turn and accelerates quietly, up there one eye cocked like a raven, tilt, the other one, tilt, he sees it, with his outstretched arms in the classic pose, the same red boots as always, the wind in the laundry sound of his cape flapping,
later the newscorp feeds will show the bee-line marked punctilious from Columbus and Grant to the warehouse in China Basin, the drone-Prius now running the lights on Folsom as, whang splinter crash, through the skykight down and swoop, votive lights flickering, a santeria chair with an early 18 c. piano shawl of shantung silk on its back, antique fringe on the crazy-painted rungs moving like synaesthetic visuals of a cheering rugby crowd, his perfect left arm under her perfect shoulders, and up through the hole he made coming in, the empty Prius turns off 4th onto Mission Rock, they're away before it purrs up and starts riveting the bay door with hollow point 16's and a gas cannon that detonates next to the altar, blowing candles all the way into the drywall,
bird's eye shot of Durant from 500 ft and some kind of swarm release, a cloud of sentient robot bugs, armed and as blind to cause as any soldier, rising up out of the hardiest trees in the East Bay, too late! too late!, they're edging the speed of sound, close up on her perfect face, she's too good looking for this shot, even knocked-out and slack-jaw drooling, pan out, out and back, p.o.v. Tamalpais, the dot of them arcing toward the Sierras, Sacramento down there muttering rutabaga wank to itself,
as they ascend canyon and ridge toward 49, Nevada City, Snyder's hat waving in exact temp with their syncopated breath and pulse, settling easy as a bag full of mouse diapers, down to the cabin he built up the Yuba from Downieville, and peace, domestic, unspoken mainly, love that holds itself close, together as can be for a week or two, both of them quiet, accepting, willing, she can cook! he's good with little things like lamps and firewood,
for now it's more than enough, it's redemption, temporarily eternal, these freaks each in their own iteration, someday maybe sure, some world out there yet unseen, not his not hers, where they'd just be two more unjungled creatures, making the day's account amid the steady quiet grace of an alien elect
tempo breath skylight/ edit your pleasure

Beat that, NYRB.

they're upside down!

Well, yeah; it's a weblog. But I've re-chronned.

Beat that, NYRB, 8 to the bar?

I'll even pay the first round.

. . .

Leaves from an old notebook

The world of Big Boys and Royal Crests and Pheasant Lanes drains into a tiny graveyard clogged with leaves and empty spring water plastic bottles.
An artificial flower with holes in the leaves. "Hey, this silk's got worms!"
The wet arm goes numb. The wet days go blank. Large dark leaves which seem to have dropped onto tightly bunched smaller lighter ones are instead straight-stitched in place by thin branches.
At the bank, adults indulge in slapstick; on the train, children sit sullenly with strangers. Dead leaves jam themselves into the window corner: "Please take us away from this terrible place!"
The bartender at Doctor Bombays said, "It's been a scary day. A huge guy came in this afternoon, really mean looking, bald, about 6' 5", with this beat-up leather jacket, no shirt. I think uh oh. He looks around real mad. Then he orders a Heineken. He takes it, takes a gulp, and paces back and forth really fast. Then he comes back and slams the bottle down as hard as he could exactly where you're sitting. Everyone looks, right? Then he walks out really fast. So Julie comes over to check the bottle, there's beer splashed all over the counter. She picks it up, there's about this much left in it. I'm like, uh, Julie, I don't think you want to pick that up just yet. Sure enough, about five minutes later the guy comes back in, looking really mad, grabs the bottle and starts pacing again. He takes another swig and slams it back down and leaves again. I can tell you, I didn't touch that bottle for the rest of the afternoon." (My theory is the guy really wanted a Heineken Light but was embarrassed to mention it.)

. . .

On or around Hammett's last two novels

The innocent live in a less complex world than the guilty. At their most intimate, that represents pure reflexive self-defense. A betrayer can afford to play flaneur: the false starts and blind alleys, the peaks and subterranean pipes, hold no threat; lingering tenderness can be revisited like an old diner in an old neighborhood. For the betrayed, that scenic view bristles with pikes, all converging on one target. Best by far to walk away quickly, somewhere smoother, someplace comprehensible.

When escape's blocked, the innocent would rather slit throats than let go of Occam's Razor.

Of course they're right that the mystery was important; it's only the solution that isn't.

. . .

The Glib & the Glutinous

Roger Ascham can read me like a book. (And vice versa, obvs.)

Quick wits commonly be apt to take, unapt to keep: soon hot and desirous of this and that: as cold and soon weary of the same again: more quick to enter speedily than able to pierce far: even like our sharp tools, whose edges be very soon turned. Such wits delight themselves in easy and pleasant studies, and never pass far forward in high and hard sciences.

Moreover, commonly men very quick of wit be also very light of conditions: and thereby very ready of disposition to be carried over quickly by any light company to any riot and unthriftiness when they be young: and therefore seldom either honest of life or rich in living when they be old.

In youth, also they be ready scoffers, privie mockers, and ever over light and merry. In age, soon testy, very waspish, and always over miserable: and yet few of them come to any great age, by reason of their misordered life when they were young: but a great deal fewer of them come to show any great countenance, or bear any great authority abroad in the world, but either live obscurely, men know not how, or die obscurely, men mark not when.

. . .

Character building

That was the last wallop of the sculptor's hammer. Later damage remained mere damage, weathering, regression to the mean.

. . .

Heritage Turkey

If you're getting drowsy, it's not the L-tryptophan, it's the bunk

I'm not entering this old nag in the Tragedy Sweepstakes; my bookie says the fix is in for Climate Collapse. Still, one of the most trivially persistent annoyances of living in interesting times is how much more boring it makes me. Conversation has always been my sustaining pleasure, but at age 58 I've reached stable and fully-articulated conclusions on so many common conversational topics that I can empty a room of interlocuters in half an hour. Since I'm not sure I want to ripen into full Harold-Bloom, I'm increasingly limited to uncommon conversational topics.


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.