The shirtless man who stumbled into the bar clutching his side and yelling, "I’ve been shot." His hand dropped away from his wound to reveal a splash of red that looked like a carnation pinned to his skin.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
The drought dragged on for years, and the people kept anxious eyes on the heavens.
“Oh to live under a cloud,” the priests said, but the fathomless blue of clear skies persisted.
Finally, roiling clouds gathered over the near dead earth and the ground received the downpour. Puffs of dust arose as, not raindrops but, spiders struck the terrain. They clogged the streets and swirled down the gutters into the sewers, and within days all yearned for winter when crabs would lie in brittle drifts against the sides of empty houses.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
“To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades the driving force behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable to those without it,” he said. “The public option is only a means to that end—and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish that goal.”
Oh really, Mr. President? How very telling and explanatory when one stops to consider the current morass of the health reform debate.
President Obama’s characterization of the entire impulse of health care reform as an attempt to merely end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable preserves the primacy of insurance companies and sees as central the profit motive of those companies…just don’t make the cost too dear, please. It helps explain why single-payer gets scant attention, dismissed as being too disruptive to those already insured. What? This doesn’t square with the President’s own claims about the driving force of the debate. How would a system that would drive down the costs of the insurance companies making insurance overall more affordable be, at the same time, disruptive? This is to say nothing of providing universal coverage.
As far the ideal of universal coverage, I’d like to remind President Obama that it is this ideal—not narrow business interests, not a tweaking of insurance company procedures and practices—that has been the driving force of the health-care reform debate. Furthermore, it is in pursuit of universal health care coverage where the character and morals of our country that Senator Kennedy spoke of reside.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Pushed to the back of kitchen drawers, abandoned to empty purpose, are the keys to missing locks.
Perhaps in a stranger’s kitchen a wide-eyed youth discovers a cache' of shiny locks,
And stalking the world, liberated from myth, the mischief of the gods to which keys remain the signifier.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
By day's end I feel as if I've been beaten about the head by tiny rubber mallets. AHHHHHHHHHHH
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Monday, August 24, 2009
Thursday, July 23, 2009
I have a simple criterion for fiction; it should delight. As a participant in innumerable writing groups, much of what I’ve read falls short of that standard. This isn’t because of the journeymen status of the writer, but of a lack of the writer’s imagination in the story. In the absence of the imagination the reader is confronted with mere words on the page. What can catapult reading from the act of “running eyes over words” to the experience of a “seamless dream” is imagination.
In our current “based-on-a-true-story” preference we evaluate our stories by their adherence to the facts. We frequently read critiques of such pieces singling out a lack of fidelity to “reality” as the damning dismissal of the piece in question. We confuse facts with truth, and in doing so diminish our expectations for fiction to those of mere reportage.
Tim O’ Brien’s essay Telling Tails appearing in the current Atlantic Monthly( and I urge you to follow the link. READ IT) explores imagination as the raison d’erte of a fiction writer. Good fiction is not merely a narrative, a plodding recitation of details that paint a scene in which the merely mundane events of life occur to a character. It is not a presentation of “sincerity” but, as Jim Harrison has argued, a presentation of the quality of the writer’s mind on the page, a presentation capable of engaging the reader.
O’Brien insists this does not rule out realism. Only think of the widely read Hemingway story Hills Like White Elephants and you can see O’Brien’s point. All of the oft touted bromides of writing groups – the telling detail, verisimilitude—have their place in fiction, but they are not enough. As David Byrne of the Talking Heads so aptly put it:
facts all come with points of view/facts don’t do what I want them to.
And what I yearn for in fiction is that dream wherein I'm transported, and in the act of being so moved, am also transformed.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
In the days since my last post I’ve considered writing on a number of topics. I’ve thought I’d comment on Stephen Kinzer’s book Overthrow America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq as it skillfully places recent U.S. foreign adventures into historical context; I’ve thought about expressing my admiration for Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carried. In my opinion this book is tied for 1st Place with Graham Greene’s The Quiet American for best novel regarding the Vietnam War; Having recently (re)experienced a debilitating bout of back pain I thought I’d write more fully on that experience; I recently applied for a writer’s residency and thought the process worthy of comment; And in the past week, I’ve learned of a “new” approach to the treatment of addiction that looks promising, Integral Recovery and contacted its founder John Dupuy to explore professional opportunities.
All of that is to say I’m still here. Still churning with ideas and intentions. Still coming up short, however, on follow-through!
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
In the absence of any upshot from last Friday’s MRI, I remain ignorant of causes and cures. I put a call into the doctor and I continue to wait for his call.
Yesterday, I returned to work. Within an hour I was a caricature of Igor, the hump-back lab assistant and major domo to Dr. Frankenstein, dragging my left arm after me like a sack of laundry and mouthing, “right this way, master” to my boss who looked on appalled by my antics. I wonder if Herr Doktor could bolt a new arm/neck onto my carcass and send me forth to frighten villagers and spawn a host of B-grade movies?
Speaking of entertainment, tonight, as part of the continuing celebration of 14 years of marriage to T, we are going to see Dr. John. I’m counting on this doctor to have a gris gris bag of musical voodoo with which to cure what ails me.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Pushing through the pressure I feel between my eyes, I fall into a pleasant journey. I’m on a barge propelled by unseen engines that purr quietly enough that I can hear the languid current of this river swirl against the side of the craft. Towering trees of blossoms line the shoreline, and a garden scent floats on the air.
On board, a gazelle gently nuzzles my hand. Peacocks parade on the deck. I pass beneath the dark eyes of lemurs murmuring blessings. I’m uncertain of the destination, but having embarked from a place called Pain any other venue is fine, fine, fine.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Saturday, June 13, 2009
“Write smart now, Greg,” Rick said. “You’re getting hand-written rejection slips because your stuff stands out. Knuckle down. Bring it up to the next level.”
While it was pleasant to hear such encouragement from a published writer, my heart sunk. While Rick’s words rang true, and I knew intelligence and effort were required, I despaired at what it would take to follow his advice. The next day at my desk I reached down for that something extra and found….nothing. I packed away my manuscripts and turned my attention to earning a living.
For a number of years since then I’ve made forays into writing. I’ve done some good work, yet I did so without the corresponding thrill I’d felt previously. I felt split somehow, that all of the relative ease of creativity had been replaced by hard work that I lacked the heart for. On top of working a job and meeting my financial responsibilities I felt old and weak against the demands of the page, the drive of a narrative.
I do not mean to dramatize my situation, or to elicit sympathy. What remains with me is the desire to write. It is bedrock I return to again and again; it is a way for me to be present. It is something I can’t not do.
As I return to Rick’s words, I get hints of meanings I didn’t at first discern. Perhaps writing smart is taking care of the story AND my self. It is about being present on the page AND in my life. It is about traveling with awareness from doing the dishes to writing dialog. And that kind of awareness in the midst of the activities of my life—be it writing or employment—IS knuckling down.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
I suspect that Obama’s recent about-face on the issue of releasing the so-called torture photos is more about preserving cherished cultural mythology than the stated “protection of our troops” from attacks in the far-flung reaches of American Empire. Shaken by the revelation of the torture at Abu Ghraib, the mythology that argues for American high-purpose on the world stage is shaken. Thus shaken, the debate has devolved into particulars; that is, Abu Ghraib, extra-ordinary renditions, and Guantanamo were aberrations occurring during the watch of a cowboy president and the only debatable idea is if such methods were effective in protecting the American people.
On one side of this debate is the bloviating former vice-president Dick Cheney claiming that the premium the Bush Administration placed on security trumped bothersome restraints such as treaties, human rights, and humane values. On the other side, President Obamarefuses to release the photos, breaking a prior commitment to do so, justifying his about-face with the platitude that “nothing new is revealed in the photos.”
In a sense, Obama speaks the truth. Even a cursory review of the history of American imperial development reveals that torture has been a constant feature, yet a feature obscured by an elevated rhetoric of divine providence. As Noam Chomsky reminds us in a recent article from Alternet, our national self-concept is framed by the phrase “city on a hill”, borrowed from the Gospels by the Puritan John Winthrop in 1630. Something of the “divine right of Kings” entered the American psyche, blinding us to our own worse excesses and providing a “civilizing and humanitarian” rationale to our expansionist project. In other words, the poor blighted peoples of the world need our intervention, and woe to those who resist. One need only consider the genocide of the Native American peoples to realize that as regards our national destiny, nothing will be allowed to stand in our way.
Yet examples distant from us in time are often met with dismissive shrugs. Even the more recent record from the 1980’s in Latin American—the disappearances, executions, torture, and death squads that operated and were funded by the Reagan Administration—cannot penetrate the distorted mantel of heroism with which Reagan has been draped.
Torture, as Chomsky reminds us, is a tool of empire. And for all of our embrace of “American Exceptionalism” as an animating force, we have in the past and continue through today to behave as interventionist thugs. But like a knight of old defending the honor of a maiden, our national mythology will survive whatever revelations are allowed and the illusion of our virtue will remain intact.
Monday, May 18, 2009
GQ Magazine recently published a story with accompanying photos regarding intelligence briefings originating from the Department of Defense and furnished to The White House. The cover-sheet photos of these reports showed triumphant images of US. Military actions in the Iraq War appearing beneath biblical quotations. Frequently, these reports were hand delivered to The White House by then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield.
Having endured several years of Rumsfield pronouncements I was familiar with his self-righteous rhetoric; with the revelations of these bible verse laden reports it is apparent that what I had considered self-righteous, Mr. Rumsfield himself (and presumably other top officials in the Bush Administration) considered RIGHTEOUS.
Certainly, Rumsfield isn’t the first government representative to seek to ally The Almighty to military adventures. The Bible itself is full of armies putting the unbelievers to the sword. A central symbol of Christianity—the Cross itself—moved to representative prominence with the vision of the Roman Emperor Constantine who, it is said, was granted military victory by his embrace of Christianity and by emblazoning the shields of his soldiers with the Cross prior to battle. Prior to this peculiar alignment, the religion of Jesus represented itself with symbols of life—fish and bread. From Constantine on, however, Christianity became known by the Cross, an instrument of torture.
The critic George Steiner in his book “In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Toward the Redefinition of Culture” implicates monotheism in providing psychological wounds to human kind still being worked out in our civilizations. The graphic representations of hell-fire and damnation, prominent in our Western Tradition provide the “rough sketches” for Inquisitions, pogroms, Death camps, and the current idea of a “permanent state of war” waged on terrorism. In a linear conception of Time such as we understand History, all life moves toward a final reckoning, an Apocalypse, an End-Time.
The dangerous hubris of what the Rumsfield reports reveal is the identification of narrow national interest with complex symbology, manipulated for geo-political gain via the U.S. military. The military itself, having been evangelized, increasingly views itself as doing “God’s Will.” Theology these days comes form the barrel of a gun.
Religious language of any religious tradition is laden with metaphors, which, if taken literally, become dangerous realities of degradation and domination. Subtleties of language are ignored at great peril. Onward Christian Soldiers marching AS to war—a reference to spiritual battles, becomes in the zealot’s mouth justification for holy war.
As the poet and novelist Jim Harrison remarked, “There is no such thing as a free metaphor.” I fear we will be paying the price for the appropriation of these metaphors for generations.
Monday, May 11, 2009
That world! These days its’ all been erased and they’ve rolled it up like a scroll and put it away somewhere. Yes, I can touch it with my fingers. But where is it?
Last week Democracy Now observed the 39th anniversary of the massacre at Kent State when four students were shot and killed. I was in eighth grade, confused and shocked by what the Ohio National Guard' assault on students that day. Education, I was taught, brought opportunities and lead to a richer fuller life. The startling images of dead students stood as refutations to the lessons I’d learned.
It was a strange time. Protests against Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia thundered across the country and around the world. High schools and middle schools twitched with unrest as the student bodies thereof absorbed the division of the greater society around them. As I walked down the hallway of Otsego Middle School, a discreet black armband on my sleeve, I was grabbed and slammed against the lockers. “Are you with those ass-holes in the streets?” Wild eyes and hot milk breath of blooming adolescence blew in my face. I had no words for a response. Otsego was a small town, and this incident lay between myself and my assailant throughout our high school years. It rode with us together once when he picked me up as I hitchhiked my way home. It was summer after graduation. He was headed off to the Air Force Academy. I later heard he dropped out. I heard he was dismayed that the Academy wanted to remake him, change him; and to his way of thinking he was everything they’d want him to be.
* * *
The great Brazilian theatre pioneer Augusto Boal died last week at the age of 78. Founder of the renowned Theatre of the Oppressed, Boal was serving time in prison when I visited Brazil in the summer of 1973.
At seventeen I was excited to see again Jose’ the exchange student who the year previous had lived with and enriched my family. He introduced us to wine, broadened my appreciation for music, and told me stories of pristine beaches populated with scantily clad, beautiful women. At 17 how could I have not been excited to go to Brazil?
I knew other things of Brazil, a darker history of military coups, imprisonment, and a governing body of generals; the Brazilian flag proclaimed “Order and Progress”, but it was a progress to be done without progressives. Students, union leaders, intellectuals, artists, and actors were rounded up and sent to the gulag or exiled.
In honesty, however, the country’s underside didn’t much impinge on my awareness. I wandered the beaches, slack-jawed at the beauty I saw. In a small beach side village, macumba drumming pounded into the night, and walking the beach the next morning I found bouquets of flowers washed up onto the shore. As I bent over to pick one up, Jose’ warned me off. “Macumba,’ he said as he made the sign of the cross. Yet for all of my blissful absorption in beauty, a darkness of authority and repression was part of the atmosphere. Armed soldiers patrolled the streets, and military bands blared strident, brassy marches. I was counseled to keep my papers with me always.
Walking downtown with Jose one day, we were clowning: a string of puns, wisecracks and one upsmanship. Zinged by a cleaver retort, I affectionately grabbed Jose around his shoulders.
“Stop it,” he said.
Of course, I continued to hold him and started to shake him slightly, laughing and pushing him to and fro on the crowded sidewalk.
“Stop it,” he insisted, looking over my shoulder.
“Stop it,” I mocked him, laughing all the louder and, truth be told, enjoying the ease with which I was physically besting Jose’.
“Greg. Stop it now. We could be arrested by the soldiers for this.”
Augusto Boal was arrested, imprisoned, and tortured before being released into exile. Years later, after the rule of the Generals passed, he was allowed to return. He continued to work with the oppressed, to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, to have the experience of oppression speak through him. His work spread around the world, his dream reaching beyond Brazil; a dream of freedom for the world.
Rest in Peace, Augusto Boal!
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Friday, May 1, 2009
I’ve enjoyed making collages lately, bemused and sometimes shocked by the juxtapositions of images and the context that emerges from combining disparate elements. Sometimes my mind struggles to achieve a broad enough view to encompass, say, the image of Henry VIII and a crowd of war refugees from the conflict in Dafur. What narrative could connect these persons, these historical moments?
Recently, I’ve come to appreciate collages especially as I attempt to get my mind around the torture issue as it is played out in the media. The startling juxtaposition here is that torture emerged out of a context of “spreading democracy”, and that the active agent of that effort, the United States, views itself as “a city on a hill” a beacon of freedom and justice. At once the instances of torture were viewed as the work of a “few bad apples” who were certainly acting outside of the established protocols. Then, a messy trail of memos indicated that torture was a matter of policy, the implementation of which was justified for the sake of “national security.” These are, after all, dangerous times that call for “enhanced techniques.” And now that we have moved toward calling water-boarding what it is, namely torture, our leaders tell us that we should, however, “move forward” with the pressing need to address “current” realities.
This call to “move forward” is consistent with the ahistorical mindset of America; we take pride in our past to the extent we ignore its darker troubling traditions. And so we tout our occupation and conquering of what is now the United States, what we still call our Manifest Destiny, but never fully allow ourselves to consider the displacement and destruction of the native populations and cultures or the enslavement of a people whose toil and suffering made our wealth possible. Our “approved history” is like gauze to cover the deep wounds to our national psyche. In a way, leaping across time to the shame of U.S. torture, what is coming to light is hemorrhaging through this veneer, this gauze of exceptionalism.
According the Professor McCoy at the University of Wisconsin Madison, the United States has a history of utilizing “enhanced techniques”, torture. On this morning’s Democracy Now he traced a lineage of horror that includes the infamous Phoenix Program of the Vietnam Era and the Death Squad practices common from the 1950’s forward in Latin America (practices that the United States funded, trained, supported, and participated in). Following the disclosure of these events there was an outcry of disapproval, a wringing of hands, and then…amnesia.
The critic George Steiner in writing of the genocide of the Jews by the Nazi’s pondered the agonizing reality of Time that allows for such a horror to occur alongside the occurrence of happiness. How can a moment hold such contradictions? We struggle with the intimacy of such moments, and the failure of our moral imaginations leads—as it has in Europe and elsewhere—to denials that this genocide occurred at all.
That our national history holds similar contradictions provokes in us the shrill notes of patriotism, the brash refutations of Limbaugh, Hannity, and others who assert, “America does not torture.” Our national inability to look history in the face and attempt to reconcile our highest ideals with ugly realities distorts and perverts our politics, our economy, and our faith in democracy. The modicum of outrage mustered gets muted by cries of traitor or by blanket assignment to membership in the “blame American first crowd.” Forgetting becomes the only way out of shame, and so “moving forward” toward the future becomes the prescription, and “real Americans” only open their mouths to swallow this bitter pill.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Waking later than usual this morning, I peel away the sleep. I recall a restless night of dreams while writing in my notebook, flashes of images throughout the day: my father manipulating tendons on my younger brother’s hip in a room so refrigerated that, I’m told, I complained aloud in my sleep; shadows, and a sensation of fleeing something; skeletons and laughter.
Later, around mid-day my son accompanies me while I run a household errand. It is a familiar route, one we’ve taken together often over the years. I drive through memories: adolescent frustration and worry, tight-lipped rides of stewing anger, hurt feelings and hot tempers---Like signposts. Milestones.
Back home it occurs to me that my dream regarding my brother had to do with my father’s senior worries. He is old. He wants to be certain his sons are positioned to take care of themselves, that they have standing…that they can stand on their own.