Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Lesson Learned?...Probably Not

Two articles follow: The first is the cover story for Time magazine last week. The second is a piece I lamely shopped around to City Pages & The Rake last October. I post this for three reasons: 1) As a lesson to myself. The Time article is obviously vastly superior, because it is more specific & better reported. Still, I think that many ideas are very similar. Lesson: if you (I) feel strongly enough to write something, don't half-ass it--follow it through to the end. 2) I post with a chip on my shoulder, I confess. I still feel that at the time my article was worth a chance at publication. & 3) Now I have a place to put it; then I didn't. And no one would put it anywhere for me. So.

(Note: I doubt I would write the same piece today, but I didn't want to change it, because that would negate the purpose of the compare & contrast nature of this post.)


Time article



Mine:
Can’t Leave: A Democrat’s reasons why the U.S. should not pull its military out of Iraq
October, 2006



There is much talk in the political landscape these days of pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq as quickly as possible. This talk stems from arguments that the U.S. is losing young men and women needlessly, or as the Minneapolis Star Tribune put it, “spend[ing] more American blood… on a lost cause” (November 6, 2006). The crucial problem with this line of thinking is that it has little regard for all human life, and holds only U.S. lives to the standard that should be extended to everyone, U.S. citizen or not.

In the beginning of the war in Iraq those of us who were against it never bought into the idea that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat. Then, when our view was later justified by the fact that no weapons of mass destruction were found, the Bush Administration quickly changed its rhetoric to the tune of the war as humanitarian action, as in Saddam was a terrible man doing terrible things to many people, and it was only right and just for us to stop him. While this sentiment is true, those of us opposed to the war weren’t buying this justification either. Or, truer still, weren’t buying that any of the people making the argument for war really cared about the people Saddam was oppressing and killing. If we cared (care) so much for human life and its defense, where are our troops on the ground in Darfur and North Korea?

While no one supports the deaths of thousands of troops thus far, nor those inevitably to come, the idea of removing all our troops from Iraq as quickly as possible places a greater emphasis on those human lives than on those of the Iraqi people we claimed, albeit secondarily, to wish to protect.

This is not a thought process distinct to the U.S. All countries look to first and foremost defend the lives of their citizenry. And rightly so. However, the problem in our present situation is that, by starting this war we have made Iraq a more dangerous place for its citizenry. We have created a country that, depending on who you ask, is either bordering on a civil war, or is in the midst of a full-blown civil war. Semantics aside, the fact is that the number of people dying in Iraq each day has risen due to our presence, with mutilated bodies showing up in the streets by the dozens having become the order of the day.

Now, if those sentiments of a true humanitarian mission (i.e. Saddam was killing and had to be stopped) held any water, our country and its leaders would be far more troubled by this fact than anyone seems to be. If there were a real concern for human life, not just U.S. life, the fact that at the very least tens of thousands of Iraqi people have been killed since our presence began would outrage anyone holding those views.

If even in the midst of the strongest military power in the world these countless deaths are taking place, imagine what the scenario would look like without the presence of the U.S. military. Certainly if those who argue Iraq is only now bordering on civil war are correct, a complete evacuation of U.S. military personnel from the country would be the final step in allowing the teeter-totter to fall to the side of full-scale civil war, leading to even more Iraqi deaths.

In plain terms, and in words sounding too close to those on the right for my usual comfort, our country needs to finish what it started. Or rather, needs to fix the mess we’ve created. The arguments for evacuation do not include a plan for this, and do not address anything outside of the number of U.S. lives that would be saved. An important, but certainly not the only number to be addressed.

Having not agreed with the use of military action in Iraq from the beginning, I do not think that this will be done through military means alone. However, because of the present violence that blankets most of Iraq now, it does not seem possible to make the necessary changes through non-military action alone, either.

What needs to occur, and this is true of all decisions made by our “leaders” in a world that continues to get smaller and smaller each day and with each new technological advance, is policy- and decision-making based on a respect for all of human life, rather than just those who can prove they are U.S. citizens. Yes, it is true that we need to defend ourselves against those who wish to do us harm, and this would be more efficiently accomplished if our troops were more available to our needs at home (i.e. protecting our ports, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, etc.) and for actual possible imminent dangers (i.e. Iran, North Korea, et al.). But, we have placed our military in a situation and that situation has become worse for all parties involved. It is not fair to those whose lives are depending on the protection we, by creating the situation, have promised them to leave that situation as it stands now.

There needs to be a true humanitarian showing first by our policies, then enacted by our military present in Iraq. Look at the aftermath of the Israeli-Hezbollah war. Hezbollah, a terrorist group to be sure, immediately began a “humanitarian” effort of rebuilding houses and neighborhoods that had been destroyed by actions taken in that month-long affair. Within days roads were cleared and rebuilding had begun, and Hezbollah came off looking like champions of the people to those who could once again drive their streets. How often do we hear of the Iraqi infrastructure still being in shambles, with neighborhoods lacking water, electricity, and other necessities they once held?

Someone, undoubtedly much wiser than I, once said we are the greatest country in the world by default. It is time now to once again be the greatest country in the world, not because others fail to take the position, but because our actions throughout the world cannot be surpassed, only imitated by others. This must begin with an empathy for all human life, not just those we call our own.

Let us use the rhetoric given to us to cover a mistake and turn it into truth. Saddam was an awful person. He should not have been in a position of power so unchecked it led to the death of many innocent people. This could be said of many in power throughout the world. But we went into Iraq, not many other places throughout the world. It would be wrong to leave it the way it is now. But our efforts need to change, and it needs to be understood by the Iraqi people living in constant fear that those efforts have changed. We need to act on the message we have been telling these people throughout: that we are there for them; we are trying to make their lives better.

Pulling our troops out now would send the opposite message. Pulling out our troops now would not be an action taken by the greatest country in the world. Making the world a better, safer place beginning in the place we made worse and more dangerous would be an action taken by the greatest country in the world.

Let us be that country, not because those before us have given us the title, but because we have earned it.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Black Snake Moan--A DVD Review

I can’t say for sure yet what exactly the problem was with Black Snake Moan. I’m no movie reviewer*. My friend Dustin is, so I text messaged him right after watching it: Mr. Movie Review Guy. Quick question—is Black Snake Moan the most ridiculous shit ever or was it just me? Thanks, Wtf In NYC. He hasn’t gotten back to me, so I’m left to venture into this alone with no guidance from someone who knows what he’s talking about. Forgive me, but I feel I must say something.

I think I’ve narrowed it down to a couple of things, but as usually happens when I get writing, I’m sure a plethora of things I hadn't even thought of will come screaming their way into my thoughts as I try to get them down. So, again, forgive me if I go over two. I’ll try my best to restrain myself.

First, when the most believable thing about your movie is Justin Timberlake, don’t you think you should ask the rest of the actors to take it up a notch on the believability scale? Now I’m not going to pretend that I’ve seen JT in any other movie—& I know he has at least one—& maybe he is a very talented actor to whom I am not giving enough credit. Or maybe I still hold out too much faith that Samuel L. Jackson is going to provide moviegoers with another reason to go see him one of these times. (Christina Ricci I gave up on long ago. & for the love, girl, eat a burger or something. That can’t be healthy.) Either way, JT is meant to be a role player in this movie—a prop to give Ricci’s character something to fix while she gets fixed—& he comes across as the only thing for whom I feel any empathy.

& this isn’t completely for lack of effort on Samuel L.’s part. He’s still good at times. He can be believable as a troubled old guy just as he was believable as a badass hit man. But here’s the other problem: in this movie he’s not allowed to be enough of either. Just when you’re starting to feel something for this kind-hearted troubled old fella, he goes & pulls the badass card. But then quickly cools back down & calls a preacher. His character should have been one or the other & not tried to walk the line in between. If you ask me, he should have been allowed to run free with his badass self. Remember the scenes in Pulp Fiction where he spouts off the Bible verses before getting all “This is how it’s gonna be, M*%*#$ F*#%$#!” This movie was a platform for him to do that for 90 minutes. It’s all about redemption. He could have spouted off Bible verse after Bible verse, Fire & Brimstone this & God’s wrath that, & only in very small doses revealed his soft, heart-broken side. As it is we go back & forth—he gets that wide-eyed crazy look & tells his brother they can test whether or not he’d really take a bullet for him; he pulls a gun on his preacher friend; he tests the limits of JT’s desire to be a “man,” allowing him to hold a gun to his head. But all of these are followed too quickly by his reverting back to his soft, troubled character.

Maybe I just want an hour & a half of those bug-eyed Samuel Jackson speeches. Or maybe, this back & forth doesn’t work, because the movie does not allow it to work. I never believed these characters. Even in the realm of fantasy, an audience can suspend what they know to be “true” or “realistic” if the story & characters allow them to (in fact, that’s pretty much the definition of a movie). I am not going to think it very realistic that someone would actually chain this girl to his radiator. But, if done right, I’ll go with it. I just won’t go with it when she has sex with a twelve-year-old boy, while chained, & is found soon after by the preacher, all of whom--her, the pre-teen, & the preacher--along with SLJ, have a nice dinner of steak, corn, & biscuits that night, after which she seems to understand that a calm life where she can add cayenne pepper to the potatoes & be complimented on it by a preacher sitting next to a prepubescent boy whom she just had sex with sitting next to a heart-broken middle-aged man who has had her chained up for two days is really the way she should live her life. In other words, you know, more simpler times. And all while she’s still got the chain around her waist! Seriously, it’s like two days of this & we’re expected to believe that she comes to some sort of revelation. I don’t know about you, but no matter what decisions I might have made in life—good or bad—finding the peace & serenity to look at those decisions & decide how I might want to change my life might take a bit longer than two days if I were chained to a radiator in the backwoods of some farmer’s house after he told me I could scream all I wanted, ‘cause ain’t no one gonna hear me. But maybe that’s just me.

This movie could have been good. That’s what always frustrates me the most: when you know something could have been good & then someone goes and screws it up**. Everything was in place: A heartbreak late in life, a sex-addicted girl, a military man with severe anxiety. These are people we would be ready to feel for. But then the heartbroken guy turns out to be a Blues singer (I can’t imagine anymore cliché a job; why couldn’t he have just been a farmer?***) who falls in love again by the end of the movie (how far out are we at that point, a week? Must have been very tough to get over his wife of all those years). The sex addict girl is saved when the anxiety-ridden young man puts a smaller version of the chain she has apparently come to associate with redemption around her waist at their wedding (this thing is like one of those belly chains you see on girls in sleazy clubs. I thought we wanted Riccis’s character to be less of a slut by the end of this movie). & the anxiety-riddled guy who gets kicked out of the service because he can’t actually shoot anything but targets…well, I guess I still kind of feel for him when he gets nervous. Who would have thought a JT performance would have been wasted on this movie?****

________

Briefly:
Samuel L.—maybe you should leave any script with the words “star,” “wars,” or “snakes” off the “must-do” movie list for a while. For some reason I’m still holding out for those better days…even when I notice on your "official site" the following: “Afrosamurai (2007) (announced) ...No. 2.” Maybe you should add “Afrosamurai” to the list above.

Sincerely,

A Concerned Fan.



*I don’t even know if movie titles are supposed to be italicized.

**See any of The Streets albums after Original Pirate Material. I know yr British & all, but could ya cool it on the dance beats?

***We wouldn’t have felt bad enough for a farmer, & the mighty guitar couldn't have saved him.

****I’ll switch to actual footnotes next time.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

826NYC

For the last two weeks I’ve been volunteering at 826NYC co-leading a Fictional Radio Narrative Workshop. 826 is an after-school drop-in tutoring center that also offers workshops & in-school volunteer services during the school year. There are seven 826 locations across the county. All the services are free to kids & schools. In the Twin Cities some creative & motivated people (& I) are working to start something similar. While they are steadfastly working on the finer details of becoming a non-profit, connecting with schools, & creating a volunteer community in the TC, one of my main goals in coming to NY was to do some volunteer work at 826—to see it from the inside. Unfortunately summers are a little slow over there, but I am very happy to have had a chance to co-lead this workshop & I am hoping to volunteer at their event, Revenge of the Book Eaters, hosted by Demetri Martin, with music by Feist, Grizzly Bear, & others.

A synopsis: 826 did this workshop last year with kids ages 12 -15. This year we tried it with a younger population—9 to 12-year-olds. The results were fantastic. Stories ranged from a ten-year-old street magician in St. Lucia to a ferret escaping captivity at the hands (claws) of a hawk to a ten-year-old member of the society of secret agents on mission in Antarctica. 826 aims to give one-on-one volunteer-to-student attention in their workshops & that’s what we had for this one. Each of the students recorded their short narratives & ended the final day (yesterday) by picking music to go under each narrative to set its tone (think This American Life). Also on our last day Joan, the Director of Education, offered to make a chapbook (pictured below) for the group. 826 publishes amazing works of youth writing done through their workshops—including a voluminous creation of nine novels by young writers—but can also whip up very professional-looking chapbooks on-site. This was a nice little surprise, I thought—an added bonus. Thanks Joan! Check online in weeks to come to listen to the stories. And a thanks to 826 for letting me partake*!



Look Mom, there's my name!



*I was hoping to blow the staff away & be hired on spot. Sadly, I’m not sure this little fantasy is going to become reality. Every time I send out a resume I feel like it is somewhat disjointed—writing, editing, teaching, leading workshops, research, et cetera. 826 seems the only place in the world where everything I list as my “experience” falls into place & makes sense together. Now I just need them to recognize that.



In other news: Big ups & a huge thank you to Jonas & Molly for the too kind words about the blog. I'll try to keep it interesting; you try to keep reading.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

An Article

As I fumble around trying to figure out how to link to pdfs on here, my latest article--to be published in the August/September issue of Twins Magazine (pick one up if yr at a game)--was sent to me as a jpeg, which I can put right in here. So.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Sound Familiar?

The following is taken from George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language," 1946.

(If you're interested in words in general & not just how they relate to politics, I recommend the whole essay, which can be found
Here. It takes a while to get going, but once it does it's very good)


In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

"While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement."

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.

________________


A few clicks & scrolls on www.whitehouse.gov showed the following:

The President's proposed standard deduction for health insurance will reform the tax code to make private health insurance more affordable and to level the playing field so those who buy health insurance on their own get the same tax advantage as those who get health insurance through their jobs. For those who remain unable to afford coverage, the President's Affordable Choices Initiative will help eligible States assist their low-income and hard-to-insure citizens in purchasing private health insurance.

President Bush's top priority is the safety and security of the American people. Though America and its allies are safer since 9/11, we are not yet safe. We have important challenges ahead as we wage a long-term battle not just against terrorists, but against the ideology that supports their agenda.

"The men and women of the Coast Guard know how to navigate the storm. We're counting on you to help America weather the challenges that lie ahead. As you begin your Coast Guard careers, you can approach the future with confidence, because our nation has faced dangerous enemies before, and emerged victorious every time. Terrorists can try to kill the innocent, but they cannot kill the desire for liberty that burns in the hearts of millions across the earth. The power of freedom defeated the ideologies of fascism and communism in the last century, and freedom will defeat the hateful ideologies of the terrorists in this century."

President George W. Bush
May 23, 2007

The Federal government will continue to provide assistance and guidance, but the people of the Gulf Coast and their elected leaders must drive the effort to rebuild their lives and their communities.

"The law allows our intelligence and law enforcement officials to continue to share information. It allows them to continue to use tools against terrorists that they used against -- that they use against drug dealers and other criminals. It will improve our nation's security while we safeguard the civil liberties of our people. The legislation strengthens the Justice Department so it can better detect and disrupt terrorist threats. And the bill gives law enforcement new tools to combat threats to our citizens from international terrorists to local drug dealers."

-- President George W. Bush
March 9, 2006

And just for fun:

"The world is seeing the promise and potential of the peaceful use of nuclear energy. I emphasize that word, peaceful use, because one of my predecessors, Dwight David Eisenhower..."
--President George W. Bush




What?

Discipline is like Fertilizer
It smells but it is the only
thing that makes you grow

I read this walking home today in a business, the operations of which were undisclosed to passers by. Just like it is written there above, I read it on a sign stapled to the side of a cubicle near the window.

I have a couple of issues. 1) The minor of the two issues. Is discipline the only thing that makes you grow? What about aging? David, they are speaking metaphorically here, as in “grow as a person.” Fair enough. That is why this is the minor issue. 2) The major: when exactly, metaphorically or literally, does discipline smell? Is there some expression I’m not aware of, like “The smell of discipline” (I googled it, so I know that’s not one)? It sounds like something the redneck character in The Simpsons would say (his name escapes me. Trevor, a little help?). What exactly goes through people’s minds when they make things like this sign and place them into the world? There is just so much uselessness out there. Would you actually be motivated by this sign? Or would you sit in yr cubicle and wonder why someone thought you might be so stupid that you would actually think this made sense, much less be motivated by it?

What the sign should have said was, “Discipline is like Fertilizer. It stinks, but it is the only thing that makes you grow.” It still would be a horrible sign, but at least it wouldn’t be completely insane.

Try not to start noticing such things on yr walks home. It makes for long evenings of contemplation. And not the good kind.

And I didn't even get into the philosophical discussion of discipline and growth that this sign attempts to address.

Positive Hip Hop For Seventeen Years, Y'all

A (not so) quick recap of the last week:

Sunday – Wednesday.

Pretty mellow. Contemplated existence & life. Came to no conclusions (I promise to keep you posted if I eventually do).

Sent out a few emails about work, an idea that is becoming somewhat of a novelty. At least paid work, because remember, writer’s retreat.

Drank coffee.

Found a coffee shop that sells 3 for 1 day-old bakery items. Those of you who know me well will understand the importance of such a find. Blueberry scones galore! I’ll be damned if I pay for just one anymore!

Found another coffee shop & bought a blueberry scone, just one, for full price. So much for sticking to a budget.

Mostly likely, but not for certain, ate Italian Ice.

Walked.

Rode Bike.

Killed some cockroaches.

Listened to some of the 1059 songs on ipod on sweet Bose ipod deck just laying around this apartment. I know I’m late to the party on all things tech, but if you don’t have one of these yet, get one. Ah, convenience.

Baked for the first time ever.

Was introduced to a bar that serves free bbq. Drank sangria & ate veggie burger.

Went to K-town.

Tried to assuage excrutiating sunburn. Failed.

Juggled. No, I didn’t, but I saw a guy today juggling, so it’s on my mind.


Thursday. Where it gets good.

Went to see Arrested Development. That’s right. The Arrested Development. “Positive Hip Hop for seventeen years,” as Speech informed the audience upon closing the set. As usual I was late to the event* because I have apparently lost all capability to read a map since I moved to New York. And, as usual, I got all pouty about it, which led to some pontificating about the invasive nature of MySpace & how it will soon ruin a generation’s ability to actually interact with each other. And, as usual, those around me had better points on the matter. And, as usual, because I was pouty, I refused to accept them. And, as usual, I got over myself in time to enjoy the company of friends on a roof top with sangria, Budweiser, & hummus.

I watch, and am
As a sparrow alone upon the house top.
-Psalm 102

Only not alone.


Friday.

More good music. Bishop Allen (how ‘bout that, it’s not a MySpace page). Check ‘em out. They’re going on tour & worth checking out. The show was on a pier downtown & we drank 40s & wine & could smell the ocean.

Then on to more roofs. On Living in Clip Ani Difranco quips that patios in New York are just rooftops of other buildings, but this was a serious party rooftop, complete with wood paneling so you wouldn’t have to step on messy tar. It’s gross when it’s hot. Across the street we could see the rooftop we were on on Thursday eating hummus. We did not have hummus on the higher Friday-night rooftop. And no Bud either. This time we went a bit summer-ier—Corona & Red Stripe.


Saturday.

Went to Coney Island! I should hate that place—crowds, lights, dirt—but for some reason I love it. Rumor has it that it is going to be completely changed next year. Apparently it has been gobbled up by some large corporation that is going to do what big companies do (I’ve heard different versions of C.I.’s fate & can’t say for sure what is going to happen to it). I’m glad I am getting to see it in it’s old run-down form. It is, as one person I was with put it, Americana at it’s pinnacle.

On Saturday Siren Fest was happening, which meant a lot of people & a lot of music. Met up with some friends from college &, along with the rest of the crew, saw We Are Scientists (how ‘bout that). They weren’t my favorite, but they were pretty good & their web site is worth a visit, as it is f’n hilarious.

Later we all took a walk on the boardwalk &—this time I’m certain—ate some Italian Ice—cookies & cream, which I got scolded for by pretty much everyone. But I didn’t care. I knew how delicious it was.

We walked back to the stage to see what we could see of M.I.A., but she drew a huge crowd & we couldn’t get close. So we caught the train outta there.


Today.

Rode my bike into Manhattan to go to the Union Square Farmer’s Market only to discover that the Farmer’s Market doesn’t happen on Sunday. Really?! Now that doesn’t make one lick of sense. I stayed in Union Square anyway & read. I’m still reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavelier & Clay** & came across a part where one of the characters, Joe, is walking through Union Square and sees a moth. As I read I looked up & there was a moth sitting on the sidewalk. It made for quite a surreal moment.


That brings us to the present, almost Monday as I type. I’m trying to enjoy the city a bit more as I can see the end of summer, which means the end of my time in New York, fast approaching. There’s no sense having a bad time and complaining. There is sense in enjoyment, however you can find it. Still, I realize that reading a list of the things I did over the course of a week, which brought me enjoyment, may not make for the most enjoyable read. So, if you’ve stuck with me this far, a treat: someone else’s writing:

She walked into my father. Melody Nash met Henry Smart. She walked right into him, and he fell. She was half his weight, half is height, six years younger but he fell straight over like a cut tree. Love at first sight? Felled by her beauty? No. He was maggoty drunk and missing his leg. He was holding himself up with a number seven shovel he’d found inside an open door somewhere back the way he’d come when Melody Nash walked into him and dropped him onto Dorset Street. It was Sunday. She was coming from half-eight mass, he was struggling out of Saturday. Missing a leg and his sense of direction, he hit the street with his forehead and lay still. Melody dropped the beads she’d made herself and stared down at the man. She couldn’t see his face; it was kissing the street. She saw a huge back, a back as big as a bed, inside a coat as old and crusted as the cobbles around it. Shovel-sized hands at the end of his outstretched arms, and one leg. Just the one. She actually lifted the coat to check.
—Where’s your leg gone, mister? said Melody.


from A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle

If I can hype musicians by giving their web sites, I’ll be damned if I can’t hype some writers by quoting some fantastic writing. I mean, come on, "It was Sunday. She was coming from half-eight mass, he was struggling out of Saturday." That is just great.



*Everyone can stop worrying. Even in my tardiness I did hear “Everyday People.”

**Post on Reading Them Right Now about this. Hence the still reading.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Night Angels Took Over The Trains

Looking down he saw the waters of the East River appearing still, but rushing toward the Atlantic Ocean, through tiny slits in the wood planks of the Brooklyn Bridge (planks he worried would give way under the extreme weight now upon them). He saw this, and everywhere white.

It was a celebration of liberation, or so he was told, when it was screamed in his face by one marauder, a young man with streaks of paint owning the places where wrinkles would someday lay claim, when this young man would look back on his life and shed tears for all those times he had. This young man would be happy in his old age. Or he would die before he got there. But today he was here, conquering the Brooklyn Bridge. And screaming Liberation! Revolution! into the face of someone who was worried the wood holding together the Brooklyn Bridge would succumb to this revolution.

He looked for peace among the whirling white. He found it in the very young and the very old. Everything between was restless. But there, near the back, a woman who seemed to know the true meaning of all of this, held her umbrella on her shoulder, open. She caught his eye as he gazed at her, trying to understand as she did. He dropped his gaze again at the seemingly static East River.

When he was able to again look up, when he scanned the crowd for peace, a small child, a girl of no more than seven, sat perched on a large beam high above the manic cars zooming toward Manhattan. There is no time for contemplation when you are racing toward Manhattan. They did not notice the girl. But he did, and no sooner than he had, she stood, six-foot stilts wrapped to her legs, and meandered as giants move toward the city, contemplating all the while. Years later he would remember the peace in her face as she sat above those cars gazing upon her destination. But today he was here. And she was traipsing through the mass. And he had lost everyone he knew.

And they began to move. Thousands of them. Moving. Maybe they were following the girl. To the city. To liberation. But they moved. Red flags flying above to mark the way. All, even as they moved as one, would have been lost without the red finding their way.

When they reached the end of the bridge, his feet once again upon solid ground, and the East River raging behind him, there were explosions, as they all took to the streets amid different cars than the ones that had not noticed the girl perched above them. These were racing just the same, but slowed by their unwanted transformation into gawkers, spectators, voyeurs. What was this? And a drum beat loudly. A horn blew. Fire swirled into the close sky. And the cars moved on, the drivers left to forever ponder, as the mass took to the courtyard of a government building.

Revolution! It was here somewhere; he did not know it.

He had found some of those he knew. And they moved together around fountains and dancers and light. The ones he knew were a spectrum from astonished, all slack-jawed and amazed, to eloquent, all confidence and energy. He lay near the former, and they all moved on.

They left the government building. It would whisper to other buildings later how soon after they all left it had felt the greatest loneliness anything had ever known. It would tell of how it thought of what the next days would bring and how none of those days would bring all of this back. Years later, the boy with the streaked face, if he made it to years later, would walk through that courtyard again, and the building and he would remember each other fondly, if unknowingly. The girl would be long gone. She was not meant for this place, and everyone, including the building, knew this. It had tried to bow when she moved past, and could not, and was disappointed. The building had not felt until they came. Now, in their wake, it lay shocked and empty, forever a feeling thing.

They moved underground. Every one of them went underground, disappeared from the streets. The trains came and they roared. They roared on the trains. The sprites among them sprinted when the trains stopped and the doors opened. They were raucous and they were, every one of them, trying to be free. Upon each train sat a winged creature watching over each. They knew they were safe. They wanted to be free.

In later accounts he would hear of a man who could not handle all of them. Who, in is newly surrounded state, wanted his version of freedom, which was not their version, swung his arms and screamed and went away in his mind, unable to grasp anything anymore. He would pray for this man later and hope he found something resembling freedom. He would wish this man would have been near a woman he was with, the one with feathers nested on her head. She had calmed the confusion of many who did not understand, had changed the physical features of their faces. For now, though, he moved with everyone else on trains lifted slightly from the tracks by the angels fluttering above each. They were flying. And he did not know where.

When the angels finally put them down, all of them, except the man who went away, they put them down among lights. More than he had known. They put them among fires blazing across the night sky. They put them among music. And they put them down among contraptions that allowed the people to attempt to be like the angels, things that would bring them into the sky momentarily, place them flying briefly. This was all the people wanted: to fly momentarily. That is all they ever wanted, and that is why they did this. Some even wore wings, so going up, they could chance not coming back down. They always came back down. And when they did, the angels placed them among each other. Each new these lights and these angel-mimicking machines would not be here much longer. Even the building knew this.

But it was all here now, and once they all realized what the angels already knew, that they would always be together, some dove into the water at the edge of this world and swam for another. Others went back to the trains, freshly grounded.

He went to the trains. The girl on the stilts had, it was obvious now, joined the angels and was gone.





***This is an account of Bastille Day, celebrated on 7/14/07 in New York City when thousands of people gathered, dressed in white, and took over the Brooklyn Bridge, the streets of Manhattan, the courtyard of City Hall, the subways, and Coney Island.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Go! Hurry!

Meant to post this earlier, but I've had my head in the waves of the Atlantic most of the week rather than at my computer: If you are reading this in the Twin Cities, go see Chris Koza play tonight (StP) and tomorrow (Mpls.). Hurry! Tonight's show starts in like an hour. Just click on the link to the left.

Monday, July 9, 2007

How Did I Get Here?

Watching TV at a cabin or beach house (as I am now) is the last place this medium retains any of its novelty, some of the je ne sais quoi that it must have held in those early days. Sitting, as the night cools around you, the wind picking up off the ocean, through the trees, over the lake, and taking in a program—a baseball game in the summer, the news, a late night show—coming off the blue screen surrounded by old VHS tapes, you can once again feel like this thing is not a complete waste of time. You are transformed and set down into another time, when this was a way to spend a night outside of the city.

This place is nice. I'm on Fire Island in a home about six steps from the beach. After a rocky trip getting here--laying down upon a make-shift shelf to divide the back of a minivan for a touring musician does not agree with my ridiculous motion sickness--we hopped on the ferry and headed out across the Atlantic to this affluent beach community. After settling in to the home—small in comparison to some on the island; only three bedrooms and three bathrooms—and spending a moment sitting in the backyard where orchids stare at you as you take in the scene, we headed down to the beach and took a dip in the freezing, salty water. Coming from the Midwest the salt of the ocean always surprises momentarily, shocks fresh water fundamentalists briefly. After the swim, a nap on the beach seemed appropriate. I woke up alone (my companions having drifted in their own expeditions) and dazed, wondering just where I was on the planet, and once I located that in my clouded brain, wondering just how I had gotten to this place on the globe. The world is funny in that it decides to place us in locations where, taking a moment to notice, we are utterly confused as to how this all came to be. One of the first nights I was in New York I found myself on a rooftop patio with some people I had just met, one of which had flown in from Belfast, Ireland that evening. He looked out over our perfect view of the New York skyline and said, almost inaudibly and possibly to himself, "I can't believe I was in Ireland this morning and now I'm here." Add a pinch more confusion and a dash less amazement, and you have me waking up on the beach this afternoon, the Atlantic Ocean thundering as the waves moved over themselves from my left to my right. The sound is as loud as any outside my window in Brooklyn, but when natural, deafening can be beautiful indeed.

There are so many houses stacked so close to each other on this island, but somehow you feel all alone. It is because each home is surrounded by trees and flowers. Walking from the dock to the home, we passed bamboo growing twelve-feet high and a deer walking down a boardwalk towards the ocean. It is overgrown and it is lovely. And there is something so soothing about listening to the omnipresence of waves in the short distance, something that makes you calm, something that makes you understand. I have been lucky enough, at one point in my life, to experience this constant roll (off Lake Michigan) for any length of time and I have wished since to be able to return to that sound for greater lengths. This week it will be the Atlantic. And I will leave that sound all too soon and return to the screeching and clashing and cranking of Brooklyn. For now I will listen as well as I can. To this.

I find myself missing many people these days. I will listen and try to hear them. I will listen. For them.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Key To a Good BBQ And Other Things I Learned About Life This 4th of July. An Essay

Standing on the deck of a Brooklyn apartment owned by the bass player of a very famous musician—think Hibbing, Minnesota—with two young musician types (not the kind of guys who had spent a lot of time hovering over a grill) I imparted some grill advice on the troubadours: “The key to bbqing,” I stated as I took another pull of my Brooklyn lager, “is to not care too much if the hotdogs* are over done.”

Now I know this isn’t the advice of a grill master, someone who has plates of meat stacked high on the fold-up wood-slated table on the side of the grill, kebabs lathered in special seasoning all morning waiting on the island in the kitchen, and an arsenal of metal grilling tools with wooden handles and leather straps to hang properly in their place when not slinging meat. Still, these guys appreciated the advice, and after calling Liz out to show us how to start the grill, all ten of the packaged dogs were placed on the grill top and left there to cook in peace, without some self-ordained grill-god hovering over them, calling out every few minutes, “The dogs are almost perfect” and “Who’s gonna be ready for one of my famous Juicy Lucys*?”

The thing about a guy like this is he can never relax at an outdoor gathering where a grill is present (and most likely other places as well). Upon seeing the outdoor stove, his machismo flares up as though the grill pinched his girlfriend’s tush, drank all his beer, winked at him and, with a head nod, said, “Hey boss,” like the offenses hadn’t occurred, or, if they did, what was “boss” going to do about it anyway. These are the guys who take gatherings like these as opportunities to spout off all the useless information—or information to which they believe they are the only ones privy—that their girlfriends have gotten sick of hearing at home and pretty much tune them out so successfully that the guy stops spouting off at home. So, a bbq is his time to once again get behind his pulpit (the grill): “People think the Yankees just go out and buy their team, but the Yankees actually have a good farm system…” “I used to have one of these electric grills, but f that, charcoal, baby, that’s the only way to go.” “No, no, the greatest movie of all time, that would be Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Hands down.” These guys will forever judge you if you prefer to just sit at a bbq and enjoy the company of those around you. That’s what pussies do.

But that’s what events like these should be about. And that is why I imparted the well-done sagacity on these distressed would-be hot dog cooks.

I realized shortly there after that this advice is not only pertinent at the coal-driven events that pepper the summer months, but in all avenues of life. Obviously the statement needs to be tweaked a bit, but the sentiment remains true: the key to pleasure is accepting less-important things may be less than perfect if it means giving your attention more fully to the things that really matter. I would much rather spend my afternoon talking with friends and loved ones than making sure a burger is exactly medium (or a veggie burger is not too crisp along the edges). I prefer to hear the inspiring story of a woman I just met who is about to publish her first novel, which she wrote right after having her first daughter (It was the year of a million divorces, her and her husband agree with a laugh), than being chained to a piece of metal with another blow-hard comparing notes on the most appropriate positions on the grill to move the brat as it cooks—to, you know, keep all the juices in, but still cook it all the way. And in life I prefer the interesting people to those who expound on subjects they should accept they don’t know anything about. Are you really sure that’s how much sled dogs eat over the course of the Iditarod? Have you ever seen a sled dog?

All I’m saying is this: we have limited time. And we have an even smaller amount of time when it comes to events where people we like and love gather together in one place. We don’t have that many 4th of Julys left. When you get the chance to sit with all these people, enjoy them. You'll enjoy throwing the Frisbee with your friends so much that you'll forget about the grill for a while. You’ll be so fascinated by your cousin’s story of visiting Tibet that you won’t even notice that the hot dog is a bit on the well-done side. Everything will taste good, including life.




* These guys happened to be cooking hotdogs, but the advice holds true for any bbq-able items: burgers, brats, portabella mushrooms, et al.

* If you ever find yourself at a bbq where a deranged lunatic claims he can make a Juicy Lucy, politely decline—this will not be easy; he will try to force it on you—ask for a regular burger and move away from the grill. This “Juicy Lucy” will be nothing more than three pieces of cheddar rolled into a ball and shoved in between two patties, and you’ll end up scalding your face when, after two bites sans cheese, you reach the molten center and pull off a mouth full of cheddar with specs of burger clinging to it.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Hell's Kitchen

Why didn't anyone tell me about this show? It is hilarious! The chef calls the women's team Hell's Bitches! And gets away with it! I can't believe how seriously some people in the restaurant business take themselves. I've met some people like this throughout my time in the industry. There's nothing to be said about people who look at what they're doing as way more important than it is. Nothing. The problem is, a lot of those people are the ones making a lot of the decisions in this world. People like to think they are important, even when what they are doing has such a minuscule effect on the world as a whole. Still, that doesn't mean that some of the things that come out of this chef's mouth aren't funny. Plain and simple. Just like, in the grand scheme of things, cooking food.

I'm a hypocrite

The post I just posted spoke of patience in judgment of artistic endeavors. I wrote it not five minutes after the credits of No Direction Home rolled. Mia, is that what one might call Meta?

No Direction Home

I just finished No Direction Home, Scorsese’s documentary on Bob Dylan’s life and music. I know this came out in 2005, and I’m a little late to the party, so I'll try not go on too long here. It just struck me as so poignant as to the idea of art criticism. Here is a man who by all accounts now, was completely ahead of his time then, but so many people couldn’t tell what he was doing. Or why. I mean can you imagine being one of those ridiculous people in the crowd at the show in England? One of the ones captured on film after the show, calling Dylan a traitor? Or how about the person who yelled, “Judas” in the last scene of the documentary? What do you think that guy is doing right now? I’ve looked back on some discussions I’ve had in the past about music and later felt kind of stupid for things I’ve said, for holding my views a bit too strongly. But that guy…what would you do if you were him watching that?

It just seems that from the artistic perspective, one must try to surround himself with his own instinct and a few people who he can trust, and who’ll trust him--this seemed to be for Dylan his backing band, The Band, who Dylan calls "knights" for standing behind him. And from the observer’s perspective it just seems like we all might want to be a little less reactionary. Take it in. There is that chance you don’t understand it. One should approach with caution and humility. I’m not saying don’t have your opinions. Just understand that if you speak with too much conviction, you might end up just being wrong. There are countless examples beyond Dylan. And it goes both ways. We are often too quick to anoint someone as the second coming, only to realize later we spoke too soon. I think it may be time to stop trying to prove what we know, and accept art as an attempt to address what we do not know. Therefore, our observances of it should follow in line. I know this is hard, especially in society today, where everything is instant. But it might be worth considering consideration prior to judgment. To sit and mull something over. I believe that maybe, as we grow up, we accumulate more knowledge of all the things we have been wrong about, and this might not be such a bad thing, because it can help us to step forward with more patience and empathy. Or, if not empathy, it may, if we consider our past, help us to not look extremely foolish in a documentary years later.


One quote I didn’t like in the movie: from Bobby Neuwirth: “Artistic success was not dollar-driven…[those were] simpler times.” He’s speaking obviously of then and now. Then being the sixties. I kind of hate the term “simpler times.” Different factions have always judged things differently, and I doubt there was no one judging “art” of that time in terms of money. Not everyone was looking at the art with only concern for the art and the artist. Of course there were people wondering how they could make a dime off of it/him/her. Just as today not everyone judges art by the amount of money it makes.

One quote that I loved: from Bob Dylan: “You can’t be wise and in love at the same time.” He’s speaking of not inviting Joan Baez on stage at a show in England. Right after he says it he gives this little grin that is filled with so much: humor, arrogance, longing, knowing. I mean, come on, right, that’s a great quote.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The housemates went north

so after spending the first couple of days hanging around the place, I finally got out for a nice little Friday night. I went into Manhattan in the early afternoon, attempting to make my way to midtown and the huge public library on Fifth. I’m not one to ever have liked libraries, and that feeling is still alive and well. When I was younger, I wasn’t really a book person. I would get frustrated because I was such a slow reader, so I had a lot of trouble sitting down and taking in a good story. Dyslexia runs deep in my family, and I was the lucky one, in that it didn't hit me too hard. Still, words were a barrier in those days, not something I used for enjoyment. Somewhere along the way that changed. Not the slow reading, that’s still there, I just call it “careful” now. I suppose I could trace it to high school, where a couple of teachers got things rolling. But I think I can give the real thanks to my fellow business majors in college. Yes, I started as a business major at the University of St. Thomas. If I had not been so annoyed with these people, I just may have continued on the business course. They all would complain so much about doing the exact thing they were going to be doing in “the real world.” The only difference was going to be a paycheck. Keep in mind, at eighteen it wasn’t hard for me to dislike people. I was drastically confused as to what one was supposed to do with his life (does this ever change?), but the track these people, and I, were on didn’t seem to be the right way to go about things. That much I knew. So I began to search for something that would always allow me new opportunities to continue to learn, no matter what job I found myself in. After a brief stroll through the Sociology department, I ended up in English, and this time around I loved words. I loved words so much that when I would read them—no matter how long it would take me—I didn’t want to give them back. So, at this moment, I didn’t like libraries for another reason—I didn’t want to give books back. I wanted them to be mine.

So the library on Fifth didn’t really do much for me. It’s massive, and it seems like it has some unbelievable archives, but you need to be doing some sort of research and get cleared through an application to look at these. I snapped a couple of pictures on my phone (as soon as I figure out how to get them off I'll put them here) and headed out to Bryant Park behind the library. I sat in there outdoor “Reading Room,” and read a copy of Vanity Fair’s Africa Issue, where Bono is the guest editor and there are twenty different covers; dozed off a bit; and listened as the most annoying woman in New York yelled at her sister about going to a P Diddy party and their mother, a sweet, old, quiet woman sat there and undoubtedly thought, “How could I have raised these two horrible people?” I wanted to go take her by her old, loose-skin hand and walk her across the lawn, which was closed off, but I don’t think that, even in New York, anyone would have had the heart to tell this woman she couldn’t walk there. I’m glad I didn’t test that, though, because it’s easy to be disappointed in people out here.

Instead of that walk, I hit Fifth again, and started walking south with all the people just getting out of work on a Friday. There was a buzz, as there is anywhere on a Friday at five p.m. I cruised into Greenwich Village, and right into a bar on MacDougal for two-4-one happy hour. After the first two at a bar where the bartender acted like I had picked on him in high school and he was still holding it against me, I found a place where the people were much friendlier, and had a couple more. Then the call went into the social queen of New York, my friend Taya, who always, always has something entertaining going on. She was farther south, so I started walking again. After one more stop in a bar with two woman who had just gotten yelled at by a guy in a Taurus with Jersey plates, something to the extent of, “You f***ing C**t, get outta the road,” to which, in my four-beer, light-headed chivalrous manner, I turned around to defend someone’s honor. It’s not so much that this guy yelled, it’s just, c’mon, is there really a need to use that word in that situation? These two didn’t kick your sister’s ass or anything, guy. Calm down. Well, he was gone by the time I got back to them, which is probably good for me. They thought I was gentlemanly, so, since we were all going the same way, we stopped for a drink. After one eight-dollar bottle of bud (ahem!?), I bid them adieu, and went to meet Taya and some other friends.

The rest of the night is like a Guy Ritchie film: picture fast-forward camera shots, with drinks quickly moving to lips, glasses being slammed back onto bar, cigarettes burning from match to butt in a second, drunk people stumbling into friend's or stranger's arms (what's the difference at that point), all before a quick dance scene, all members of the party dancing in different manners, scarfing down an omelet at five a.m., and then getting off the train five blocks from your house where the world once again takes on it’s normal pace. This is where the last post came from. At the diner with the omelet we met some nice kids from Jersey, who were unsure as to how they were going to get home, and who proceeded to beat box and freestyle with a Polish kid who said he did this professionally. He could kind of beat box. Professional, though? I’m not sure about all that.

The rest of the weekend was low key. Went to Prospect Park again after picking up the new Miranda July book, No One Belongs Here More Than You, which is like Harry Potter for hipsters. Seriously, I can’t go anywhere without hearing about this book. It did come highly recommended from two people whose opinions on these matters I respect. And after reading the first three stories I can see why. Still, damn that’s a lot of buzz around a book of short stories. After reading for a while, I watched some cricket. I have no idea what goes on in that game. I can’t figure it out. How many freaking at-bats does one guy get? When is he out? Can he even get out, or does he just get bored standing up there for so long and let another guy take some swings? I suppose I'll never know. Or I suppose I could find out.

Now I’m home. It’s got kind of lonely around here. I’m glad there’ll be the usual minor bustling back tomorrow. I’m trying to figure out what exactly I’m doing out here. A friend called it a writer’s retreat, and I kind of like that. Still, it’s hard when you make this transition and try to do something with only the structure you are building. It’s even harder when you don’t have anyone to talk to all day and you just sit and think about how incredibly ridiculous some of the things you do with your life are. I actually had to think if I said one word at all yesterday. Turns out I did; I talked to my friend Zach. But that much time wears on your mind when you’re not sure of what you’re doing. Hopefully I figure it out. Obviously I’ll keep you posted.

In other news.

Two firsts: At my mother’s request, I had my first Italian Ice, and it was delicious. Thanks Mom! And, I sent a short story into a writing competition. I’ve done this with poetry, but never with fiction. Let the rejection letters begin!

About Me

David Luke Doody is a freelance writer and editor. He is a founding editor of InDigest Magazine (www.indigestmag.com), an online literary magazine and the blog editor for Guernica Magazine (www.guernicamag.com). His writing and interviews have appeared in those magazines as well as in The Huffington Post, mnartists.org, The Minnesota Twins Yearbook, and Intentionally Urban Magazine, among others.

This is how my nephew loves me

This is how my nephew loves me

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