Sunday, October 31, 2010

The book question

Write from a place of truth. Or write from your own truth, since "truth" is swayed heavily by perspective, depending on what part of the bicycle you've got your hands around (the seat is not the same as the handlebars is not the same as the wheel, but they're all the bike).

Even if you're inventing, it better come from your truth or no one will take that walk with you.

Seems like every writer, or anyone who has thought about or tried to write has pondered the book question. Can I write a book? I should write a book. You know what would make a great book?

In some cases a writer's self-worth is tied to the book question. It's the marathon of the writing life. Can I do it? As if a runner who doesn't run a marathon is less of a runner, untested, unproven. And yet, I think a lot of runners are pulled by the marathon question. I was. And then that question morphed to 50 miles, different courses, and a re-evaluation of what I want to do with running.

The Rumpus's advice sweetheart, Sugar, has an unbelievable, moving, probing take on the book question here, which culminates with one of the single greatest closings of any advice ever doled out, especially for writing, but applicable for life in general, I think.

For a lot of writers, the "book" in the book question is a novel. I'm currently reading and digging TWM's mind-fu&* of a first novel, KnoWare Man. He's somebody who should be writing novels--it's a form that lets his imagination spread out and inhabit the corners of the ceilings of the universe.

November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo in the Twitter, acronym, abbreviation-minded world. Everybody wants to write a novel. I'm not sure I do. Not that there's anything wrong with it (said in Seinfeld voice), it's just not a form that has wrapped itself around my aesthetic soul thus far.

When I think about the books and writers who have shaped or reshaped how I see writing, it's the aphoristic, genre-benders--William Blake, Nietzshe in college, Thoreau/Emerson/Whitman, William Carlos Williams, C.D. Wright's Cooling Time, Studs Terkel's Working. Books whose truths didn't fit nicely into categorization, so they bend or break a form to fit. Though Mark Twain is among my all-time favorite writers, I more frequently read something from Merwin or Robert Hass and think, man, I want to do that.

I like narrative, mixed with the episodic, with its armed wrapped around some glimpsed universal.

So I'm wrestling with my book question. I know I have one in me. But I haven't settled on what or how. But ultimately, I have a feeling Sugar at the Rumpus is right. That's what it's gonna take.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A game inherited

'How come you never played pro football?' I asked my dad. I was maybe seven. I knew he played in high school.

'I was never really big enough,' he said, standing 6-feet tall and weighing 180.

I nodded my head and went back to organizing my football cards. I could comb through football or baseball cards, memorize statistics and plot the players I still needed to round out the full roster of the Baltimore Colts. It could have been a month after that exchange when I was reading the card for the Colts middle linebacker Ed Simonini. He was listed at 6-feet tall. Remarkable.

I went to dad to let him know there was still hope. 'Dad, you're the same size as Ed Simonini. You could play for the Colts!' Simonini was listed between 210 and 220, but weight was irrelevant for a seven-year-old (Funny how Ed would be a defensive back now at that size).

Dad didn't change careers, but that story is indicative of the place sports held in our house growing up and the family bond it engendered. We routed for Baltimore, the Colts and the Orioles. My mom's father attended every single home game the Colts ever played and my grandmother missed only one,  pregnant at the time, with my mom. We routed against the Redskins and the Yankees and still do to this day.

My dad went to college at the University of Virginia, who had Ralph Sampson playing basketball when I was younger and we watched the Wahoos and routed against Maryland.

I remember my first Orioles baseball games at Memorial Stadium and being there with my dad for Game 1 against the Phillies in the 1983 World Series and being there a few years later for Mike Mussina's first game as an Oriole at home. I remember going to a Colts vs. Redskins pre-season game with my dad and my grandfather (mom's father) in Washington wearing my Bert Jones Colts jersey. I remember getting a fractured skull during Sunday School (another story) and being excited that I got to wear my Colts helmet to nursery school during the week.

I remember watching TV and seeing the Colts leaving town in the middle of the night in Mayflower moving trucks and being teamless, but still loving football and hating the Redskins. I remember talking with my dad about our excitement when the Ravens came to Baltimore and them drafting tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis in their first draft as Baltimore's team. And in 2000, when the Ravens won the Superbowl, and how I was 27 years old when our football team won their first championship during my sports watching days.

We were on hand for the Ravens vs. Colts Baltimore home playoff game and at the Ravens stadium this past Sunday for the return of safety Ed Reed and the 10-year anniversary of the Super Bowl championship team.

Sports has been and continues to be a bond between my father and me and my grandfather when he was alive and a dinner table conversation. It's still one of the subjects we talk most easily about.

And for our girls now, with a Baltimore fan father and a Pittsburgh fan mother--our eight-year-old has Ravens QB Joe Flacco and Steelers QB Ben somebody or other jerseys in her drawer)--our girls are also growing up in a sports household.

Anna's Ravens Flacco jersey was a gift, after all. From my dad.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"The same color as the hour"

"The same color as the hour," Merwin says in The Folding Cliffs and that stops me, who notes the color of hours.

Getting up to run in the dark, over the summer, when the sun makes the sky look like mismatched pages out of a Pantone book, each shade graduating to a higher brilliance.

And noting the star-moon shade of midnight, the clear hour, the black separated a bit so it stands out as a backdrop.

The pink hour of sunset, which is the reason to live near or be on the water, the sunset showing off for the horizon, but not cocky, just calm, smiling, sharing its news of hues and saturation and saying fuck separation, I'm just gonna blur/smear them across the sky and let you drink it in. Discuss.

Yes, I note the color of hours. I should maybe keep a notebook of them. My memory is full of these colors: Boone Creek seen through Budweiser pony bottles; the blurring of the Choptank and the sky; the white-yellow licking the greens out of breath along the trails at Tuckahoe; the pink-red-orange of of the hour of sunset on the Tred Avon on our wedding night that carried collective hearts and smiles.

And this morning, as the color of the hour can't be said, can't be pinned down because the color of the minute isn't constant, elusive, slippery--I blame you, Merwin, for pointing out that hours have colors.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ghosts of Halloweens Past

I wore a flimsy rubber Igor mask and jumped up and down in a makeshift cage. I was probably nine.

On most nights my father was Frankenstein's monster. He would lay prone on a stretcher while a mad scientist tried to give him life, then restrain him. Dad would snap the restraints and groan and roar and lurch at the onlookers, who screamed and ran out of the room while my dad wrestled with the mad scientist. That's how I remember Halloween.

That was the first of many Kiwanis Club haunted houses we were a part of creating. My dad moved on to chainsaw duty while my my friends and I would eventually set our own scenes in a haunted woods.

If I go back further, Halloween was about the kick-ass costumes my mom would make my sister and me, trick-or-treating around Oxford, and the coveted silver dollar we won every year in the best costume contest at the town fire department. I was an exact replica of a Jawa from Star Wars, with lighted eyes behind a black cloth mask; the next year I was one of the Sand People with a perfectly-shaped paper mache head; then the ultimate cool costume, bounty hunter Boba Fett, with a modified motorcycle helmet and jet pack; and finally I ditched Star Wars for rock and roll and rocked Ace Frehley, guitarist for KISS, with silver cape, boots and spot on make up.

If I fast-forward through the Rolodex of Halloweens past, KISS resurfaces on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, N.C., during my college years at N.C. State, with a KISS-obsessed friend who channels Gene Simmons, carrying airplane bottles of Everclear grain alcohol and a lighter and blows flames in the air upon request. Chicks dig dudes who breathe fire.

KISS even made a come back last year as the artwork on the cake for a day-before-Halloween celebration forever known as Joelloween, where costumes included Nacho Libre, Billy Mays and Patrick Swayze and "Baby" from Dirty Dancing. There is ample reasons why my wife cites Halloween as on par with Christmas as being the holiday she most looks forward to, seasonally speaking.

As a (semi) grown up, Halloween also means marathon season and the scores of costumed runners in the Baltimore Marathon (and certainly Marine Corps, though I've never run it). Try being spent and staggering at mile 21 of 26.2 and having Batgirl speed past you on an uphill. I can see how she makes it as a superhero.

And trail running and haunted houses came together a few years ago when two of us ran the Tuckahoe State Park 10-mile loop, starting in the pitch black of 5am October, running by headlamp and coming across dead bodies and aliens, unaware that the Adkins Arboretum haunted hayride was still set up. That may get the silver dollar for oddest, most surreal Halloween memory.

While Chaucer and Eliot have immortalized April, for reasons October might covet, October is a month I champion. For its cool temperatures, for its fall colors, for its creativity, for its costumes and for the memories created and those still to come. For KISS and Star Wars and running and Joelloween and family and friends.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Before Work, Thursday

6:20am - standing in Giant looking for unbeaten Honeycrisp apples. I recognize the lyrics from Guns N' Roses "Sweet Child of Mine," and realize it is Sheryl Crow singing. I'm not big on covers/remakes but oddly I don't hate it.

On the commute I can't get the word REDACTED out of my head from reading hebrewcat41 over coffee this morning. Until a circa 1970 white Dodge former Seattle Police car cruises by on Rt. 50. It looks like a cool vintage car until you see the badge stamped on the side, which propels it to Bluesmobile cool.

Driving over the Bay Bridge the rain and clouds and headlights have a cinematic commingling, making it seem like a movie pursuit scene with a Tahoe bearing down on me.

Kristin Hersh's album "Crooked" owns the drive. Hersh has got it and whatever it is, you want it. Inspiring, enchanting, provoking, possessing, her voice and lyrics, guitar riffs, tempos, melodies register beyond audibly to where after a single listening the album may be forever imprinted in your subconscious. I hope so. I never listened to Throwing Muses, but can certainly see her as a muse.

As I hit DC it's legitimately raining. Not cats and dogs or cliches, but maybe rat terriers since they don't fully count as dogs. It's raining enough that cars kick skimboardable wake and you've got to be sidewalk weary not to get drenched by a bus or car.

Cresting the Frederick Douglas Bridge, the Washington Monument is camouflaged into the sky, an odd color for sky, so I barely notice it getting uprooted as Optimus Prime clotheslines Megatron on top of it. The budget just went up for Transformers 3, being filmed now in the nation's capitol.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My grandfather slept in his truck

It's an allusive world. Or maybe only if you have an allusive mind. And mine cross-references like a one-armed bandit, pulling cherries or bars at random depending on who or what pulled the lever.

And if that doesn't turn a straight road, linear worldview into a greased go-cart slick track, my attention span is a shuttlecock smacked around by writers, friends, music, media. If someone whose take I jibe with points me at something cool, I'm off and after it.

This is a good thing, as long as I give myself a chance to catch up. Example: between The Rumpus, Twitter and TWM, over the course of a week my reading list has expanded to include Saul Williams's Dead Emcee Scrolls, Stephen Elliott's The Adderall Diaries, and John Fowles's The Tree, let alone just learning about and wanting to read everything Benjamin Percy has written. It's f-ing hard to keep pace...

Twitter is a dangerous thing for me in its ability to reflect like a prism at the hands of writers and poets and thinkers and cool people. Sometimes I'm too plugged in--restless leg syndrome for the brain.

Sometimes I've got to meditate or run--detatch from it all to cultivate silence and stillness.

My grandfather used to sleep in his truck. Nothing unusual. He drove a truck pre-Bay Bridge when you took a ferry across the Chesapeake Bay. If you didn't time it right, you sat. And waited. And slept if you were tired.

That's a lesson learned, there. A message he left me, without knowing--just by living and working. He wouldn't have meant it as an example.

But that's where the allusive mind kicks in, as I sit in my truck, with the radio off, listening to cars cruise by, waiting.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

On fall & the space between rungs

There is an energy that comes with fall, a cool that wakes up the brain, the body, the soul more fully than summer. Not unlike existential jumper cables.

For running it's banked that cooler temperatures lead to better runs--lighter legs, a curiosity to push a few more miles. But it's an aesthetic experience as well. On the trails in tidal marsh country, the bugs start to slack, poison ivy and damnable trail overgrowth pull back, leaves let go to open up the trail and give a view of what's around. Mid-Atlantic trail runs in the fall hold their own cool.

Fall means football, which has made me happy from the Bert Jones years of the Baltimore Colts, through the teamless vagabond years, into the purple Poe-inspired madness of the Ravens. Fall football is a shared passion in our house (even if for different teams).

From elementary school days, summer has been a time for letting the mind swing easily in a hammock or skip stones with its feet in the river. Relax and recharge. I think that continues into adultdom, whether or not we are conscious of it.

We're in the land of imperfect metaphors here, but fall is the time when the mind gets pull-started and has the leaves raked off it, in turn.

Ellen McGirt is a writer I dig. She writes about people, companies and ideas that move the word for Fast Company magazine. She was recently covering the Idea Festival through live tweets and was pouring forth listening to Phillipe Petit (high wire artist who walked between Twin Towers in the 70s).

McGirt's direct words summarizing Petit were "a ladder is two posts that has a 'festival of holes'--think space not rungs." This thought latched on to me, thinking not of rungs, but the space between. What is a ladder, after all, with no space between rungs, but a wall? And walls are much tougher to climb than ladders.

As I think about this fall and the busy-ness of it with kids in sports and dance and back to school and my wife back to teaching, I am going to cultivate the space between the rungs--those times like now, on a Saturday afternoon, as I sit barefoot on the back deck, scribbling in a notebook, alongside our dog who breathes heavily of the fall cool, nose in the breeze.

And I send thanks and props to fall, for hooking up the cables and giving my soul a jump.