Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 35.1 (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

Dostoevsky, Fyodor
The Karamazov Brothers


I salvaged this from a box of books Kyle Schlesinger left behind when he moved away from Buffalo. I still haven't read it. It's always interesting to see what people decide to leave behind when they leave Buffalo, which they always seem to be doing.

Anyhow, returning yesterday's adventure...

In the evening at Tikal we ate dinner in the dining hall at the hotel. At some ungodly early hour they turned off all the power and made us go to bed. This was actually a good thing, as we went on a sunrise hike the next day. Our guide rousted us from bed about two hours before dawn and took us on a long walk through the darkened ruins, guided by flashlight and moonlight. I remember how pitch black it seemed and how brightly the stars shone in the sky.

We arrived at the temple, I think it was number 4, and climbed an unimaginably steep wooden staircase that had been built along the side of the temple, I guess for safety and also to keep people's feet from wearing away at the stone steps on the front. I am afraid of heights, so climbing in the dark was the best way for me to do it because I couldn't see below. (Getting down was something else altogether).

When the group arrived at the top, we sat around a fairly narrow (and for me, harrowing) ledge that surrounded the peak of the pyramid. Our guide served coffee from a thermos and passed around cookies. After a time the sun began to rise and the sounds of the jungle animals waking began too echo off the stone pyramids through the park. The howler monkeys, none of which were visible, made the loudest sounds of all, shrieking at the sun, or so it seemed.

After the sun had fully risen, and I could see how far down I had to fall, my fear got the best of me. I spent most of the morning leaning awkwardly with my back against the wall of the upper portion of the temple. Our descent was terrifying, as I could now see between the risers of the staircase we climbed. 'Staircase' is really the wrong word, as the steps were only slightly more angled than a ladder's rungs, which is how it felt climbing down. Lori has a photo of me stepping gingerly down, both hands on the rails, looking like a frightened cat burglar in a cartoon spotlight.

My other memory of that day is of listening to the interminable yammering of the woman who lost her cellphone in the bus-jacking. The only time she quieted down was when she asked the tour guide where he learned his English. He said his mother was American and his father Guatemalan, so he grew up bilingual. She then asked what his father did. He told her he had been a revolutionary and that he had been tortured and killed by the CIA.

She was silent for a while, then I recall hearing her say something like, "people get the government they deserve. " The stupidity of Americans traveling abroad never ceases to amaze me.

from The Karamzov Brothers

Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov was the third son of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, a landowner in our district who became a celebrity (and is remembered to this day) because of the tragic and mysterious end he met exactly thirteen years ago, which will be described in its proper place. For the moment, I will only say of this "landowner" (as they referred to him here, although he spent hardly any time on his land) that he belonged to a peculiar though widespread human type, the sort of man who is not only wretched and depraved but also muddle-headed--muddle-headed in a way that allows him to pull off all sorts of shady little financial deals and not much else.

Fyodor Karamazov, for instance, started with next to nothing; he was just about the lowliest landowner among us, a man who would dash off to dine at other people's tables whenever he was given a chance and who sponged off people as much as he could. Yet, at his death, they found that he had a hundred thousand rubles in hard cash. And with all that, throughout his life he remained one of the most muddle-headed eccentrics in our entire district. Let me repeat: it was not stupidity, for most such eccentrics are really quite intelligent and cunning, and their lack of common sense is of a special kind, a national variety.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 35 (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

Dostoevsky, Fyodor
Crime and Punishment


Purchased at the English language bookstore in Panajachel, Guatemala. I wrote about our stop in Panajachel in an earlier post, so I'll write about some other highlights of our trip to Guatemala in 2004-5.

On our second day, we flew north to visit the ruins at Tikal, which are some of the most spectacular Mayan ruins in Mesoamerica. We flew to an airport about an hour from the site and arrived at about nine in the morning. The hotel where we were staying had two buses that drove guests from the airport to the ruin site. We loaded into the first bus.

Our driver and the driver of the bus behind us began playing games on the road, one passing the other, waving, honking, laughing. After a while, the second bus passed us and drove off down the road. About five minutes later we saw the second bus pulled off to the side near a field. A man with a scarf wrapped around his face and a rifle in his hand stood in the middle of the road waving us over to the side. I remember looking out the window, seeing the gun, then instinctively ducking behind the seat.

Then, for no apparent reason, the man with the gun waved our bus back onto the road and let us pass. As we did, I raised my head up above the top of the seat to see the all of the males from the other bus being led out at gun point with their hands clasped behind their heads.

Several of the other riders on our bus were from Texas. Once we were out of danger,their fear quickly turned to aggression. They started scolding the driver, telling him he should not have slowed down and that he should have run over the man with the gun. Then, one of the wives started making fun of me for ducking behind the seat. Apparently, the men were supposed to have done something courageous in this situation.

Fortunately for everyone on the other bus, it was just a robbery, most likely by local kids who were looking for cash so they could party on New Year's Eve, which was the following night. They arrived at the hotel safely about an hour later and we heard the whole ordeal through their stories as we wandered on a guided tour of the park. Apparently they took cash, electronics, and a few pieces of jewelry. They assumed that only the men would be carrying cash and that they wouldn't have permitted the women to do so, so none of the women's purses were taken.

A pair of little boys, who were obviously somewhat sheltered, spent the tour asking their father more and more fearful questions. One of them kept saying, "Daddy, I can't stop thinking about what happened. Is that normal?" Their mother, on the other hand, seemed completely unfazed, almost proud of the experience. The only thing that bothered her was that she was carrying a very expensive cellphone that was stolen, and what could they possibly use that for? She was very put out. She talked endlessly throughout the day about how one of the problems with Guatemala was that they hadn't developed a "business elite." That, apparently, would fix everything.

At one point a truck drove up to our group in the middle of the park. It was the minister of tourism for Guatemala, who'd come to apologize for the incident. He was actually an American, from Texas, visiting the park with his wife and kids. We ran into them again later on top of a pyramid, where he took a photo of me and Lori.

Anyhow, lot's of Dostoevsky I haven't read, so I'll continue with more from the Guatemala trip tomorrow...

To be continued...

from Crime and Punishment

On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. bridge.

He had successfully avoided meeting his landlady on the staircase. His garret was under the roof of a high, five-storied house and was more like a cupboard than a room. The landlady who provided him with garret, dinners, and attendance, lived on the floor below, and every time he went out he was obliged to pass her kitchen, the door of which invariably stood open. And each time he passed, the young man had a sick, frightened feeling, which made him scowl and feel ashamed. He was hopelessly in debt to his landlady, and was afraid of meeting her.

This was not because he was cowardly and abject, quite the contrary; but for some time past he had been in an overstrained irritable condition, verging on hypochondria. He had become so completely absorbed in himself, and isolated from his fellows that he dreaded meeting, not only his landlady, but anyone at all. He was crushed by poverty, but the anxieties of his position had of late ceased to weigh upon him. He had given up attending to matters of practical importance; he had lost all desire to do so. Nothing that any landlady could do had a real terror for him. But to be stopped on the stairs, to be forced to listen to her trivial, irrelevant gossip, to pestering demands for payment, threats and complaints, and to rack his brains for excuses, to prevaricate, to lie—no, rather than that, he would creep down the stairs like a cat and slip out unseen.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 34 (Stacy Doris)


Kildare
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Doris, Stacy
Kildare


I think James Sherry may have given this to me when I was working for him at the Segue Foundation in New York. Working for Segue and discovering the poetry scene were about the only bright spots in my last two years in New York. I had a terrible break-up that took at least a year to get over and then, just as I was able to walk down the street and think of something else, my father died.

I still miss the city, and every once in a while I get overwhelmed with nostalgia for it, so I was really surprised a couple of years ago when I opened up one of the journals I kept at the time to discover just how unhappy I actually was. The journal is filled with rantings about how much I hated New York and how if I could just figure out some place to go that had all the stuff New York has but with more space and cheaper rent I would just go there. I guess that is the escape fantasy of everyone in New York. Ultimately, you have to choose between all that stuff and the cheap rent/extra space, because they are more or less mutually exclusive.

From Kildare

Next, guava-round, our Homecoming Queen

(w/ her density oscillate)

marched to this system

(figured her nylons kept liturgically down)

in an Emancipation outfit

(landscape stuffed in the bust props)

and with numerous floats, old time

(extra blossoms the innovation: a sliding)

pace that upsets all;

its pounds scramble at the rear to uphold--


this favorite string
pulls light then

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 33.2 (Edward Dorn)


Gunslinger
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dorn, Edward
Gunslinger


Another title from the Just Buffalo library.

I remember watching Bruce Jackson's film about Creeley a few years ago at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. There's a kind of amazing scene featuring Creeley, Dorn and Dorn's wife Jenny. The three are sitting at a kitchen table. My recollection is that it is morning, but I also recall beer bottles and whiskey bottles and lots of full ashtrays, so it's possible it could be a different time of day, or that the three have been up all night drinking. At one point Creeley starts talking a blue streak, as he was wont to do. Almost on cue, Ed Dorn starts talking another blue streak, about something completely different. For the next several minutes, the two of them pursue simultaneous, uninterrupted discourses. They seem able to be talk to to one another and past one another at the same time. It's almost like trying to watch a three dimensional chess match, in which the players can pay attention to all of the chess boards at once, while the spectators can only see the one upon which their eyes happen to rest.

from Gunslinger

I met in Mesilla
The Cautious Gunslinger
of impeccable personal smoothness
and slender leather encased hands
folded casually
to make his knock.
He would show you his map.

There is your domain.
is it the domicile it looks to be
or simply a_retinal block
of seats in,
he will flip the phrase
the theater of impatience.

If if is where you are,
the footstep in the flat above
in a foreign land
or any shimmer the city
sends you
the prompt sounds
of a metropolitan nearness
he will unroll the map of locations.

His knock resounds
inside its own smile, where?
I ask him is my heart.
Not this pump he answers
artificial already and bound
touching me
with his leathern finger
as the Queen of Hearts burns
from his gauntlet into my eyes.

    Flageolets of fire
he says there will be.
This is for your sadly missing heart
the girl you left
in Juarez, the blank
political days press her now
in the narrow adobe
confines of the river town
her dress is torn
by the, misadventure of
         her gothic search

The mission bells are ringing
in Kansas
Have you left something out:
Negative, says my Gunslinger,
no thing is omitted.

Time is more fundamental than space.
It is, indeed, the most pervasive
of all the categories
in other words
theres plenty of it
And it stretches things themselves
until they blend into one,
so if youve seen one thing
youve seen them all.

I held the reins of his horse
while he went off into the desert
to pee. Yes, he reflected
when he returned, that's better.

How long, he asked
have you been in this territory.

Years I said. Years.
Then you will know where we can have
a cold drink before sunset and then a bed
will be my desire if you can find one
for me, I have no wish to continue
my debate with men,
my mare lathers with tedium
her hooves are dry
Look they are covered with the alkali
of the enormous space
between here and formerly.
Need I repeat, we have come
without sleep from Nuevo Laredo.
And why do you have a female horse
Gunslinger? I asked. Don't move
he replied
the sun rests deliberately
on the rim of the sierra.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 33.1 (Edward Dorn)

Dorn, Edward
The Collected Poems
1956-1974


Another volume plucked from the old Just Buffalo library before the sale.

When we were putting our archive together for The Poetry Collection at SUNY Buffalo, I came across a great photo of Dorn Reading for Just Buffalo in 1977. I sent a jpeg of it to Tom Raworth a few years back, which he posted to his website. I can't seem to find it at the moment, but if you look for images of Dorn, you'll probably find it somewhere. In it he is probably about 50. He stands before a pair of old windows, wearing jeans, cowboy boots, a black shirt and a leather jacket. His arms are leaning on what appears to be some kind of bar -- possibly a gymnast's apparatus or more likely a dancer's. He looks rather like a movie star. I think the reading took place at the Allentown Community Center, which I am told was Just Buffalo's original home. Maybe some of the older Buffalo crowd can add some of their memories of the event.

IF IT SHOULD EVER COME

And we are all there together
time will wave as willows do
and adios will be truly, yes,

   laughing at what is forgotten
and talking of what's new
admiring the roses you bought.
How sad.

You didn't know you were at the end
thought it was your bright pear
the earth, yes

another affair to have been kept
and gazed back on
when you had slept
to have been stored
as a squirrel will a nut, and half
forgotten,
there so many, many
from the newly fallen.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 33 (Edward Dorn)


Hello, La Jolla
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dorn, Edward
Hello, La Jolla


Purchased new at Talking Leaves...Books a few month ago at the original cover price of $3.50. Given my interest in Creeley and Olson and Duncan and the gang, I feel like I should really like Ed Dorn's poetry. Truth be told, this is the only book of his that I have ever read cover to cover. For all of the inventiveness and wit in "The Gunslinger" and his other works, I find that I just can't get through them. I try really hard, thinking that if I just read on I'll start to get it. But enlightenment never seems to come. This book, "like the pony express," says Dorn is "light and essential." I've read it cover to cover twice since I bought it. Having done so, I thought maybe, just maybe, I'd be able to read "The Gunslinger" afterwards, that I'd finally be let in. That I'd start to get it.

No such luck. But I am still trying.

A for Ism

A poets occupation
is to compose poetry
The writing of it
is everywhere

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 32 (Ariel Dorfman)

Dorfman, Ariel
Death and the Maiden


Sent to me by the publisher in advance of Dorfman's appearance in the Babel series in 2007.

This was the big play on Broadway the year I graduated from college. All of the broadway shows left student discount ticket fliers all over the place and I remember seeing these fliers sitting on windowsills and resting in folders stapled to bulletin boards around the campus.

The film came out around the same time that I left for Ecuador a couple of years later. I remember reading a review of the film near the time I left and that I was sad not to get to see it. I also remember renting another recent Polanski film, Bitter Moon, while I was in Ecuador, thinking I was renting Death and the Maiden.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to meet Dorfman when he came to Buffalo. I got so sick that I had to miss several events that week and required a substitute to fill in on stage for me. I did sneak into the event to see his talk, though. He was quite loquacious and entertaining and he wrote me a nice email saying he was sorry I couldn't make it and hoped I'd get well soon.

Here's a clip from the film:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Ls3WG8kNvw

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 31.3 (H.D.)


Trilogy
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Doolittle, Hilda
Trilogy


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I think this, like yesterday's book, was purchased for a course with Susan Howe. Or it might be that she gave us the first poem as a xerox copy, which inspired me to purchase the whole book. Regardless. if I were constructing a personal anthology of necessary poems, the first poem in this trilogy, "The Walls Do Not Fall" would be in it.

from The Walls Do Not Fall

1

An incident here and there,
and rails gone (for guns)
from your (and my) old town square:

mist and mist-grey, no colour,
still the Luxor bee, chick and hare
pursue unalterable purpose

in green, rose-red, lapis;
they continue to prophesy
from the stone papyrus:

there, as here, ruin opens
the tomb, the temple; enter,
there as here, there are no doors:

the shrine lies open to the sky,
the rain falls here, there
sand drifts; eternity endures:

ruin everywhere, yet as the fallen roof
leaves the sealed room
open to the air,

so, through our desolation,
thoughts stir, inspiration stalks us
through gloom:

unaware, Spirit announces the Presence;
shivering overtakes us,
as of old, Samuel:

trembling at a known street-corner,
we know not nor are known;
the Pythian pronounces—we pass on

to another cellar, to another sliced wall
where poor utensils show
like rare objects in a museum;

Pompeii has nothing to teach us,
we know crack of volcanic fissure,
slow flow of terrible lava,

pressure on heart, lungs, the brain
about to burst its brittle case
(what the skull can endure!):

over us, Apocryphal fire,
under us, the earth sway, dip of a floor,
slope of a pavement

where men roll, drunk
with a new bewilderment,
sorcery, bedevilment:

the bone-frame was made for
no such shock knit within terror,
yet the skeleton stood up to it:

the flesh? it was melted away,
the heart burnt out, dead ember,
tendons, muscles shattered, outer husk dismembered,

yet the frame held:
we passed the flame: we wonder
what saved us? what for?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 31.2 (H.D.)


The Gift
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Doolittle, Hilda
The Gift


I bought this for a course with Susan Howe at SUNY Buffalo whose syllabus, I notice, has mysteriously disappeared from the EPC.

The course was titled, "Preface: Or Seen Again for The First Time." The reading list centered on the set of prefaces Henry James wrote for his collected works and the reading list fanned out in all directions from there: Poe, Melville, W.C. Williams, Olson, H.D. Robert Smithson. I think Susan's friend, video artist Joan Jonas also visited the class that semester. Or maybe she visited Charles Bernstein's class. Or both.

I remember our first class took place in the Forrest Lawn Cemetery. We wandered around looking at the monuments and talking about literature. After about an hour, we retired to Susan's apartment on Oakland Place. We all gathered in a stark white room in which were displayed her deceased husband's beautiful sculptures. The room had the shared quality of a museum and a mausoleum, as I recall, and at first we were uncertain as to whether it was okay to sit down. Susan quickly made us all comfortable and served up refreshments and we spent the remaining couple of hours sitting among the sculptures and talking about the topic at hand.

I also recall the second class, in which Susan took us to the Poetry collection to see the handwritten manuscript copy of Wallace Steven's "The Man With The Blue Guitar." Stevens wrote his poem on sheets of legal paper in neat, block-like letters. Susan's excitement at being in the presence of the object itself was palpable and contagious. I think I wrote the first poem in my first chapbook using sentences from her lecture that day. Her speech has that quality about it -- you can take notes, then cut the notes into lines to discover that what you have written down looks an awful lot like a poem.

from The Gift

There was a girl who was burnt to death at the seminary, as they called the old school where our grandfather was principal.

For a long time we were under the impression that we had two fathers, Papa and Paplie, but the children across the street said Papalie was our grandfather. "He is not," we said, "he is our Papalie." But Ida, our devoted friend, who did the cooking and read Grimm's tales to us at night before we went to sleep, said yes, Papalie was our grandfather, people had a grandfather, sometimes they had two. The other grandfather was dead, he was Papa's father, she explained. But the girl who was burnt to death, was burnt to death in a crinoline. The Christmas tree was lighted at the end of one of the long halls and the girls ruffles or ribbons caught fire and she was in a great hoop.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 31.1 (H.D.)


Helen in Egypt
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Doolittle, Hilda
Helen in Egypt


I am not sure where I purchased this.

Possibly at Rust Belt Books, possibly not.

I remember having read "The Gift" and "Trilogy" and wanting to read more H.D. and thinking that this was the one I wanted to read.

I remember there a period of time during which I was thinking about buying and reading and owning this book.

I remember looking at it on the shelves of various bookstores and thinking I wanted to buy it and read it and own it.

There was a long period of intention. Of anticipation. Of wanting to buy it and read it and own it and not doing so. Of waiting.

And then somewhere along the way I bought it and read it and owned it and having done so I placed it on my shelf.

And that was that.

You can hear the whole thing read at Penn Sound.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 31 (H.D.)

Doolittle, Hilda
Hermetic Definition


Another volume plucked from the old Just Buffalo library before it got sold to Rust Belt Books (sorry, Brian!). Just Buffalo's library was mostly comprised, I think, of books collected over the years by the organization through its founder Debora Ott, and likely by her ex-husband, John Daley. We kept them on a large set of white wall shelves in our offices, always intending to use them as a lending library, but never really following through with a plan on how to lend them. So, they gathered dust, until we decided to sell them on the eve of a move into a smaller space downtown.

The offices that housed the library were located in the Tri-Main Center, an old former factory in Buffalo that had been converted into arts spaces, studios, and offices. Originally built as a Ford factory, it later built bomber engines and then windshield wipers. Just Buffalo was housed there for about ten years, along with Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center and several other arts organizations, several of which have now migrated downtown.

I acquired some choice titles from the library before we sold it (again, apologies to Brian Lampkin) including a set of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine that had been l=a=n=g=u=i=s=h=i=n=g on a shelf for years.

from Red Rose & a Beggar

[I]

Why did you come
to trouble my decline?
I am old ( I was old till you came);

the reddest rose unfolds,
(which is ridiculous
in this time, this place,

unseemly, impossible,
even slightly scandalous),
the reddest rose unfolds;

(nobody can stop that,
no immanent threat from the air
not even the weather,

blighting our summer fruit),
the reddest rose unfolds,
(they've got to take that into account).

Friday, September 18, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 30 (John Donne)

Donne, John
The Complete English Poems


I think this book also dates from my college days, which means I probably bought it at the Fordham University Bookstore. I remember taking a course on 17th Century Poetry, so I must have bought it for that.

I am almost sure I did, but I may have bought it in response to one of my college professors who mentioned him in connection with Eliot. Most of my professors came very much from the New Critical school, which means that they all worshipped T.S. Eliot in some way or another, and so canonized each and every poet about which Eliot ever wrote. Eliot loved John Donne, therefore John Donne must be taught! Which isn't to say I don't like Donne's poetry, I do, it's just that my early experience of it was always filtered through Eliot.

The other interesting filter through which we read Donne at Fordham was, of course, the religious filter. One of the Jesuits with whom I was friendly had written extensively on Donne's sermons and liked to talk about them over really expensive meals in Manhattan before taking me out to the ballet or the opera at Lincoln Center. At the ballet, when, he'd get really excited about something, he'd lean over, pinch me on the arm and say, "Oooo!"

I remember once reading the entire text of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Bells" on the message tape of my answering machine. The first person to call and get this message was the aforementioned Jesuit. He actually listened to the entire thing before leaving a one word message: "Jackass."

Personally, I find the the secular Donne a bit more entertaining than the religious one, but I admire both.

The Flea

Marke but this flea, and marke in this,
How little that which thou deny'st me is;
Me it suck'd first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled bee;
Confesse it, this cannot be said
A sinne, or shame, or losse of maidenhead,
Yet this enjoyes before it wooe,
And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two,
And this, alas, is more than wee would doe.

Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,
When we almost, nay more than maryed are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;
Though parents grudge, and you, w'are met,
And cloysterd in these living walls of Jet.
Though use make thee apt to kill me,
Let not to this, selfe murder added bee,
And sacrilege, three sinnes in killing three.

Cruell and sodaine, has thou since
Purpled thy naile, in blood of innocence?
In what could this flea guilty bee,
Except in that drop which it suckt from thee?
Yet thou triumph'st, and saist that thou
Find'st not thyself, nor mee the weaker now;
'Tis true, then learne how false, feares bee;
Just so much honor, when thou yeeld'st to mee,
Will wast, as this flea's death tooke life from thee.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 29 (C.C. Denny)

Denny, C.C.
Denny: Genealogy in
England & America


This book is a family heirloom. It belongs to my mother, but I hold onto it for safekeeping. It traces her family history on her father's side back to Combes, Suffolk, England in 1439.

Reading this book as an adult had the effect of altering my perception of my family, especially as it related to American history. My father came from Brooklyn, a first generation Irish (Catholic) American. He ruled the roost when he was alive and so we all grew up with an understanding that our portion of the American story was the classic immigrant tale: our grandparents left an impoverished Ireland in the 20's, arrived in New York via Ellis Island, and went straight to work having kids and trying to make ends meet, raising their kids to believe that education was the key to success. (Note: "they" is strong, it was my grandmother who raised them. My grandfather was a deadbeat alcoholic who left around the time my father was 5). The children of the first generation worked hard, went to college and made their way to the middle and upper middle class within the span of their lives.

My mother has some Irish blood, and she was raised Catholic in Detroit and so was able to easily subsume her history under my father's in the name of family unity. But her history, it turns out, is almost the complete opposite of my father's. She recently visited and asked to see this book, so I did some research in order to be able to tell her family's story. Turns out they're (gasp) WASPS!

I discovered that this book is actually searchable in Google Books and that there is a fair amount of information about the Denny family online. They arrived in America in 1715 and became some of the earliest settlers of Leicester, MA. Several fought in the American Revolution and one was a delegate at the constitutional convention. For most of two centuries the Dennys were prominent farmers and mill owners in Leicester. There is a place in Leicester called "Denny Hill," which is named after them. I even found a painting on the Worcester Historical Museum site called, "Looking East From Denny Hill," painted by Ralph Earl in 1800. My direct relative, Theodore Vernon Denny, was a pioneer who left the homestead in 1825 or so and became an early settler of Indianapolis, IN. His daughter married one John Wade Thompson, who gave my mother and her father their surname.

For years, my mother thought that her great aunt, Kate Thompson, had authored this book, but she didn't. It was authored by Christopher Columbus Denny and published in 1886. It turns out this was Kate's copy of the book. It contains extensive notes she made to herself, and to my grandfather, to whom she handed it down. In the course of my research I discovered that she was indeed trying to write a book, but died before finishing. Her papers are collected at the University of Indiana, Bloomington. I also discovered that some other relative, Sith Thompson, who was apparently an important folklorist, wrote a book based on her research that was published in the early 1960s. It's not online yet, but they have it at Cornell, so I am hoping to head there some day to check it out.

It seems the impetus to her research was to establish a family connection to the mother of Abraham Lincoln, which apparently she did. If I have it correctly, Abraham Lincoln's mother was my great great great great grandmother's cousin, which, I think, makes honest Abe my fourth cousin, once removed.

The book itself contains some interesting documents, including deeds, wills, and several letters sent from England by the mother of the original settlers to her sons in America. It also contains one depressing and horrible fact: the Dennys were, at least for a time, slave owners. There is a will in the book that deeds a "negro boy" from one brother to another in the mid-eighteenth century. I presume this state of affairs didn't last too long, given that they remained in New England, but it's not a very heartening thing to discover in one's family history, and it certainly mars whatever glorious past one hopes to discover there.

from a letter by Grace Denny to her son, Daniel, Feb. 18, 1723 (or 4)

Deare Sonn Daniell,

Yrs of the 25 Nob(r) came to my hand on the day of the date of this. it came to me by the way of bury from yarmouth where madam Lorkin now lives I understand by a letter from madam that mr lorkin would have seen me and sonn Thomas but time being short and something else in the way have prevented out seeing him indeed madam was so kind as to lett sonn Thomas know that her sonn would be at Ipswich on the 19 instant in the evening at the kings head in his Return to London but alass the small poxx have Raged soe much there that I dard not advise him to hoe upon noe account soe that I must content my selfe with hearing from you only by letters some of which have come very slow....

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 28.1 (Isak Dinesen)


Winter's Tales
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dinesen, Isak
Winter's Tales


This book is quite old. The pages are starting to yellow -- not to keep harping on the passage of time, but there's something melancholy about owning a book you purchased new that is now turning yellow -- further evidence of said passage through a no longer inconsiderable amount of time. I guess I shouldn't get too depressed about it until the glue dries up and the pages start to fall out.

I bought it at the Fordham University Bookstore for an undergraduate course sometime in the early nineties. I remember reading a story called, "The Dreaming Child," which I remember liking, but that's about all I remember. That bookstore was not on the campus, as I recall. It was across the street, on Fordham Road, in what at the time was one of the newer office buildings in the Bronx. It seemed like the bookstore was about the only tennant in the building.

Students would step off the green, gated, neo-gothic campus, cross the street to buy their books, then return through the gate, showing the security guard their I.D. on the way back in. They mostly stayed on the campus, a sort of floating Island in the middle of the teaming streets of the Bronx, except at night, when they roamed in packs out to several of the nearby drinking establishments that allowed for underage drinking. At some point or other most enjoyed the colorful experience of being mugged on the way home from the bar at four o'clock in the morning. I never got mugged myself. Someone tried once, but I got so scared I ran away and they decided it wasn't worth the trouble to chase me.

Having transferred Fordham as a means of escaping a fairly serious cocaine addiction, I realized after a few months that there was no way to get off of it unless I got off of all of it. Along with a friend of mine, I managed to quit drugs and drinking within a few months after my arrival. The effect of which was that I was more or less on the outside looking in throughout my college career, even among friends. So I became something of an observer.

As my friends were wildly cavorting in bars and dorms and apartments, I often sat in the corner, chain-smoking and drinking bottle after bottle of Coke, watching the action unfold with a mixture of envy and disgust. Every once in a while someone would approach me and ask why I wasn't drinking. For whatever reason i always earnestly explained that I had a problem and couldn't drink any more.

This was met with one of two reactions: silence, or confession.

In the case of the latter, people would often take the opportunity to explain to me why they were pretty sure they did not have a drinking problem -- they sometimes thought they were alcoholic but they weren't sure. Once they started drinking, they couldn't stop. They often forgot large chunks of time, woke up in strange dorm rooms, sometimes next to people they didn't recognize, sometimes even with mysterious injuries: cuts, bruises, scratches, torn clothing. But then they didn't drink for a week, and if they could stop for a week, how could they have a problem? They felt better when they stopped, but then there was a drink in front of them and they couldn't hold out. There would then be a pause during which the person would look me in the eyes, asking for either condemnation or absolution. My response was usually to say something like: the only person who can tell you whether or not you have a problem is yourself. This usually brought an end to the conversation. Often they'd put a hand on my shoulder and tell me with sotted sincerity how much they admired what I was doing before they stumbled back to the bar to get another drink.

from The Dreaming Child

In the first half of the last century there lived in Sealand, in Denmark, a family of cottagers and fisherman, who were called Plejelt after their native place, and who did not seem able to do well for themselves in any way. Once they had owned a little land here and there, and fishing boats, but what they had possessed they had lost, and within their new enterprises they failed. They just managed to keep out of the jails of Denmark, but they gave themselves up freely to all such sins and weaknesses--vagabondage, drink, gambling, illegitimate children and suicide--as human beings can indulge in without breaking the law. The old judge of the district said of them: "These Plejelts are not bad people; I have got many worse than they. They are pretty, healthy, likable, even talented. Only they just have not got the lack of living..."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 28 (Isak Dinesen)


Out of Africa
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dinesen, Isak
Out of Africa


This book belongs to Lori. I don't know where she got it. I have never read it. Neither have I seen the film. I am pretty sure I knew there was a film before I knew their was a book, as I was 17 when the film was released and not very much into books. I was in my final semester of high school, limping to the end. I hated school so much that I could barely drag myself out of bed each morning for the long car ride into the city with my father.

I think I failed a couple of classes in the winter quarter and so was in danger of not graduating at all. I remember meetings with counselors and teachers. By the time final exams arrived I had to go speak with each teacher to find out the minimum grade I needed to achieve on the exam in order to graduate. The real danger, as I recall, was a psychology course I was taking with a very demanding teacher. I think he later became the headmaster of the school. In order to get a D- in the course I was going to have to get a minimum grade of a B- on the exam. I was in his office every day asking for my grade. I found out I had passed about two days before graduation.

On the eve of that event, the school held a baccalaureate mass, followed by a reception in the school gym. The dean of discipline (don't you love the Jesuits?), Mr. Dempsey, in whose office I had spent quite a lot of my time, approached and asked, "So, Mike, are you getting the old blank check tomorrow?" He meant an unsigned diploma, signifying I wasn't graduating until after summer school.

"No, I spoke to Mr. C and he said I passed."

"Are you sure? Well, I'll be giving out the diplomas at the ceremony. I'll give you the signal when I open yours to let you know if it is signed."

I guess it was his little form of payback for all the trouble I caused as a student. I spent the entire graduation ceremony staring at him. When they finally got to my name, he opened up the book and stared out at me. I winked and smiled and he started laughing up there on the altar in front of all everyone. It was pretty funny, but a little cruel.

from Out of Africa

After leaving Denmark, where in December there are only seven hours of daylight, arriving in Africa has the effect of a bright light switched on when you have been asleep in the dark. You cannot get used to the glare. You would like to appreciate the fruity, flower-laden aroma of the coastal forest, and to rejoice in the chanting of the porters as they unload the ship--large bundles on top of turbaned heads, brown legs in loincloths wading from the log canoes to the beach. You would like to stare up at the baobabs, the elephants of the tree world, and wonder why they have been planted, as it appears, upside down. You would like to touch the brown shining-eyed children and ask their names, and to peer inside the stuccoed buildings lining the tunnel-like streets. You would like to know how this Muslim colony came to be here, and why a great coral fort rises over the entrance to the town. You would like to think about the slave and ivory trade that has passed through Mombasa port, and the coffee, sisal, and tea being shipped to England and points abroad from this small tropical island, joined by a bridge to the African mainland. But it is so bright that you only wish to get away, anywhere, out of the sun.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 27.2 (Emily Dickinson)


The Complete Poems
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dickinson, Emily
The Complete Poems


I guess you could call this my "reading" copy of Emily Dickinson's poems. I think I bought it at Rust Belt Books. While it's nice having the varorium edition, I don't often reach for it when I want to read one or two of the poems. There's just too much information on each page to make the reading enjoyable. (Unless, of course, one is working on a Dickinson essay or some such).

Even so, the Complete Poems is still a bit unwieldy. I once owned a Selected Poems, but found that too many of the poems I like were missing. Emily Dickinson is tough that way. She has so many poems, a good portion of which are great, but then there are a lot of poems that I could live without.

Maybe someday in the future, when it's all in the public domain, each reader will be able to make his or her own selection of the poems, then have them printed in an edition of one. I suppose this could be done now using POD. And who'd be the wiser?

639

My Portion is Defeat — today —
A paler luck than Victory —
Less Paeans — fewer Bells —
The Drums don't follow Me — with tunes —
Defeat — a somewhat slower — means —
More Arduous than Balls —

'Tis populous with Bone and stain —
And Men too straight to stoop again —,
And Piles of solid Moan —
And Chips of Blank — in Boyish Eyes —
And scraps of Prayer —
And Death's surprise,
Stamped visible — in Stone —

There's somewhat prouder, over there —
The Trumpets tell it to the Air —
How different Victory
To Him who has it — and the One
Who to have had it, would have been
Contender — to die —

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 27.1 (Emily Dickinson)

Dickinson, Emily
The Master Letters of Emily Dickinson


I am pretty sure I bought this at Talking Leaves...Books and that I bought it around the time I was taking my oral exams, though it was not on my oral exam list. I like this edition because it comes with an envelope containing folded facsimile copies of the manuscript tucked into it. You can unfold them and read them as if you'd received them in the mail. I don't really have any memories attached to this particular book, as I read it only once, and then not particularly closely. Except that they are stunningly beautiful:

Dear Master

I am ill-
but grieving more
that you are ill, I
make my stronger hand
work long eno' to tell
you- I thought perhaps
you were in Heaven,
and when you spoke
again, it seemed
quite sweet, and
wonderful, and surprised
me so- I wish that
you were well.
I would that all I
love , should be weak no
more. The Violets are
by my side- the Robin
very near- and "Spring"-
they say, Who is she-
going by the door-
Indeed it is God's house-
and these are gates
of Heaven, and to
and fro, the angels
go, with their sweet
postillions- I wish that
I were great, like Mr-
Michael Angelo, and
could paint for you.
You ask me what
my Flowers said-
then they were
disobedient- I gave
them messages-
They said what the
lips in the West, say,
when the sun goes
down, and so says
the Dawn-
Listen again, Master-
I did not tell you that
today had been the
Sabbath Day.
Each Sabbath on the
sea, makes me count
the Sabbaths, till we
meet on shore- |will the| and
whether the hills will
look as blue as the
sailors say-
I cannot
| stay | any |longer|
tonight |
|, for this pain
denies me-
How strong when weak
to recollect, and easy
quite, to love. Will you
tell me, please to tell
me, soon as you are
well-

Friday, September 11, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 27 (Emily Dickinson)

Dickinson, Emily
The Poems of Emily Dickinson
(Varorium Edition)


Purchased from Kristen Gallagher for $75 when she was clearing out her Buffalo library in order to move to to New York.

Coming to Emily Dickinson's work in Buffalo, under the tutelage of Susan Howe, which is how I came to it, is quite an experience. Before being able to quote more than a line or two of her work, I was thinking about all of the horrible things editors had done to it and whether or not the length of each dash in each poem signified differently than each other dash in each other poem and how some of the fragments in her fascicles were shaped like tombstones and others were shaped like birds in flight and whether or not the variations that comprise the varorium edition should each be included in one's reading of the poem or whether one should choose from among them and so on and so forth.

Susan Howe's enthusiasm for Dickinson has the quality of a force in nature and is quite infectious. I think everyone who studied with her found themselves at one point personally concerned with the aforementioned issues of Dickinson textual scholarship, whether they planned to study Dickinson seriously or not. Howe's readings of Dickinson are so personal, so infused with passion, that it is hard now to even read Emily Dickinson without thinking of Susan Howe's readings of Emily Dickinson.

The problem with trying to read Emily Dickinson "after the fall" so to speak is that your reading experience is forever complicated by these questions. Which version of each poem should I read? Has this version been properly edited? Has the poem at hand been grammatically regularized? Is there a political motivation to this regularization? Was the editor a man and how does that change our understanding of the text? Is it possible to read Emily Dickinson in anything other than manuscript form?

There's a part of me that loves grappling with these questions and then there's another part that just wants to read the words and hear the music and think about the meaning of the poem. But then I ask myself, which words? Which poem? Which Emily Dickinson? Whose Emily Dickinson?

My personal favorite Emily poem, 280, in manuscript form.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 26.1 (Charles Dickens)


Bleak House
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dickens, Charles
Bleak House

I bought this a few years ago at Talking Leaves...Books, just after grad school was over, when I was trying to discover how to read for pleasure once again. This probably wasn't the wisest choice in that pursuit. Apparently, I made it pretty far. My bookmark is still on page 505.

Unfortunately, there are over 1000 pages.

I recall being entertained at first, especially by all of the clever wordplay in the names of characters and so forth, but after a while, I just got bored. I began to dread picking the book up every night. Eventually, I chose not to pick it up and moved onto something else.

Alas, farewell Charles Dickens.

from Bleak House

In Chancery

London. Michaelmas
Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets, as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus,forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn-hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes-gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas, in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foot-hold at street corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if the day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping, and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.

Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time-as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look.

The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest, near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation: Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln's Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.

Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds, this day, in the sight of heaven and earth.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 26 (Charles Dickens)

Dickens, Charles
A Tale of Two Cities


I hate Charles Dickens, I love Charles Dickens...

Not sure where I got this, but I have a gut feeling it might be part of the small stash of high school text books I stole from my brother way back when. I can't read Charles Dickens. I have never been able to read Charles Dickens. I have tried to read him several times, but I find him so tedious that I can barely make it through a book. The only book of his I ever finished was Hard Times, which I read for a summer course in college. I have never read A Tale of Two Cities.

On the other hand, I owe the fact that I became a reader indirectly to my hatred for Charles Dickens. As I think I mentioned a while back, I went to public schools up until the eighth grade, at which point I was sent to an all boys Jesuit high school. I really, really wanted to stay with my friends in the public schools, and was very unhappy about the fact that I was going to have to drive an hour in to DC every morning to go to school with a bunch of guys.

Worse still, we were required to read through a list of summer books. I was not much of a reader, truth be told. I had read a lot of young adult books, but almost always under the compulsion of parents or teachers. I rarely read on my own and almost never for fun.

One of the books on the summer list, and the first that I tried to read, was David Copperfield. Can you imagine forcing an eighth grader to read David Copperfield?

My experience with it was, I think, fairly typical of teenagers forced to read something totally outside their ken. The characters didn't sound like me at all and the world they inhabited did not look like the one in which I lived. Thus, I did not see how any of this had to do with anything else or why I should spend my summer indoors reading a boring, out-of-date tome, when I could be out in the woods with my friends doing bong hits, smoking cigarettes and drinking vodka stolen out of somebody's mother's liquor cabinet.

Anyhow, I read about 75 pages of the book and hated it so much that I vowed never to read a book again. I subsequently received D's in English all the way through the eleventh grade. It's hard to pass English courses without reading.

In tenth or eleventh grade, I had an epiphany of sorts. We were assigned The Catcher in the Rye for class. Upon opening the book, I finally discovered a voice that sounded like my own, who inhabited a world that looked a lot more like the world I lived in than David Copperfield did. I discovered a character who, like me, was a complete alien in the prep school world. The epiphany occurred about two thirds of the way through the first sentence of the book:

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

And thus a reader was born.

from A Tale of Two Cities

IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 25.11 (Philip K. Dick)

Dick, Philip K.
The Divine Invasion


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I am currently reading The Divine Invasion. Last night before bed I read chapters 14 and 15. Before that Lori and I watched a couple of episodes of The Twilight Zone (original version, first two episodes), plus one episode from the rapidly declining 30 Rock. The latter was funny for about five episodes of season one and then went into a humor tailspin from which it has never fully recovered. Before that I watched about an inning of the Yankees/Devil Rays game. Before that I was on the computer for a short while. Before that we dropped Geoffrey Gatza and Donna White off at their apartment. Before that we drove from Rochester, where we had stopped on the way home for coffee, back to Buffalo. Before that we drove from Sodus Point to Rochester. In Sodus we went to a lighthouse on the shore of Lake Ontario, where a kindly older man gave us a three-dollar tour of the lighthouse that included a meandering history of the Harbor at Sodus Point and let us climb the winding metal staircase to the top of the lighthouse. Before that we were driving around, slightly lost, when, happily, we drove past the birthplace of John Ashbery, Ashbery Farm, a large apple orchard in the town of Sodus. We had gone to an 80th birthday party for Ashbery a couple of summers ago in neighboring Pultneyville, but hadn't actually seen the house he grew up in. Before that we drove from the other side of the bay to Sodus Point. Before that we took a long hike along the Chimney Bluffs on the other side of Sodus bay. We wandered through the woods along the top, then down the other side and back along the rocky shore. We looked for and found several small pieces of sea glass for Donna, who uses it to make Jewelry. Before that we had a picnic in the park that leads to the path on which we hiked. In addition to providing cheese and bread and fresh fruit, Geoffrey made several delicious dishes: one with shrimp, chicken and asparagus in a vinaigrette, another with black beans and fresh tomatoes; and a third with potatoes, corn, onions, and possibly hearts of palm. Lori made a blueberry crumble with fresh blueberries from Rust Belt Books' secret organic blueberry source. We topped it with heavy whipped cream. Before that we drove from Buffalo to Chimney Bluffs along the NYS Thruway. We drank coffee and ate belgian chocolate/peanutbutter/rasberry brownies that Geoff had made. Before that Lori and I rambled around the house gathering our things before going to pick up Geoff and Donna. Before that we slept. Before that, I fell asleep reading chapter 13 of The Divine Invasion.

from The Divine Invasion

It came time to put Manny in a school. The government had a special school. The law stipulated that Manny could not go to a regular school because of his condition; there was nothing Elias Tate could do about that. He could not get around the government ruling because this was Earth and the zone of evil lay over everything. Elias could feel it and, probably, the boy could feel it, too.

Elias understood what the zone signified but of course the boy did not. At the age of six Manny looked lovely and strong but he seemed half-asleep all the time, as if (Elias reflected) he had not yet been completely born.

"You know what today is?" Elias asked.

The boy smiled.

"OK," Elias said. "Well, a lot depends on the teacher. How much do you remember, Manny? Do you remember Rybys?" He got out a hologram of Rybys, the boy's mother, and held it to the light. "Look at Rybys," Elias said. "Just for a second."

Someday the boy's memories would come back. Something, a disinhibiting stimulus fired at the boy by his own prearrangement, would trigger anamnesis--the loss of amnesia, and all the memories would flood back: his conception on CY30-CY30B, the period in Rybys's womb as she battled her dreadful illness, the trip to Earth, perhaps even the interrogation. In his mother's womb Manny had advised the three of them: Herb Asher, Elias Tate and Rybys herself. But then had come the accident, if it really had been accidental. And because of that the damage.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 25.10 (Philip K. Dick)


The Simulacra
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dick, Philip K.
The Simulacra


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I was thinking that if I got really stuck for something to write this morning I'd just declare a holiday from my labors.

So, 2004, Spring. We went to Guatemala in the winter, as I said. I think when we got back I must have started planning for an event in the Fall of 2004, when we brought Arundhati Roy to Buffalo for several days. I'll save that story for when I get to her book, The God Of Small Things.

The election was gearing up. John Kerry? God, what a bad candidate.

I remember being very disheartened that election cycle because as much as I hated Bush, Kerry seemed like he probably would have been equally bad, even though I agree more with his politics. I felt further disheartened that so many of my liberal compadres became so blinded by their hatred for Bush that they didn't care who got nominated, as long as they could beat Bush, and that became the guiding logic of Kerry's campaign: I can win, vote for me. Truly inspiring, John.

God, that was a depressing election. I thought Kerry might win when my mother, a Reagan conservative, said she was voting for him. I thought, "Okay, if my conservative mother, who also happens to live in Florida, is voting democratic, there is hope." He probably did win, but it didn't really matter -- it was so close that flipping one state, Ohio, was enough to clinch a victory, which shows that Kerry was not interesting enough, and his ideas were not compelling enough, to break the scare spell the Bushies had cast upon the country after 9-11.

I remember being truly scared and thinking that I might want to leave the country. I think that was the year I began applying for Irish Citizenship, a process that has yet to come to fruition.

Thinking back to my post of the other day, in which I was complaining about the passage of time, how it seems to have sped up in the last few years, and how I associate that with the formation of habits: work, domestic life, etc., and perhaps to age and a changing relationship to time, I now look back on 9-11 as a kind of turning point, as a moment when time seemed to speed up because everything, the entire world, became focused on that one event, and remained so for most of the next several years. On one level, time was frozen, on another, it was sped up.

How can you notice the passage of time when you keep seeing the same event repeated over and over?

Answer: you can't. It just passes and then it is gone.

Happy Labor Day!

from The Simulacra

The interoffice memo at Electronic Musical Enterprise frightened Nat Flieger and he did not know why. It dealt, after all, with a great opportunity; the famed Soviet pianist Richard Kongrosian, a psycho-kineticist who played Brahms and Schumann without manually approaching the keyboard, had been located at his summer home in Jenner, California. And, with luck, Kongrosian would be available for a series of recording sessions with EME. And yet--

Perhaps, Flieger reflected, it was the dark, wet forests of the extreme northern coastal region of California which repelled him; he liked the dry southlands near Tijuana, here where EME maintained its central offices. But Kongrosian, according to the memo, would not come out of his summer home; he had entered semi-retirement possibly due to some unknown domestic situation, hinted to be a tragedy involving either his wife or his child. This had happened years ago, the memo implied.

It was nine in the morning. Nat Flieger reflexively poured water into a cup and fed the living protoplasm incorporated into the Ampek F-a2 recording system which he kept in his office; the Ganymedean life form did not experience pain and had not yet objected to being made over into a portion of an electronic system . . . neurologically it was primitive, but as an auditory receptor it was unexcelled.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 25.9 (Philip K. Dick)


The Man Who Japed
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dick, Philip K.
The Man Who Japed


Another unread title, purchased at Talking Leaves...Books (I almost wrote "Nooks".)

Well, even though I've never read this one, I did look up the meaning of the word "jape." It means "joke," and like "joke," it can be a verb or a noun.

Only two more after this one. Sorry if this has gotten a little tedious. Not only have I not read many of the PKD books that I own, but I purchased all of them at the same place and around the same time, and have found it difficult to dredge up specific memories. Maybe I am not trying hard enough.

I am trying to remember what was going on in the Spring of 2004. We were working on our other house, for sure.

In the winter I remember we spent almost a month traveling around Guatemala. I think we must have started reading the Dick books after Guatemala, because I don't remember reading them there. I remember I brought Tristram Shandy, of all things, with me to read, along with some of the Creeley-Olson letters. I remember buying Lori a copy of Crime and Punishment at an English language bookstore in Panajachel.

In Panajachel, we also took advantage of a "Mayan Sauna" that was offered at our little hotel. It's similar to a sweat lodge: a small stone building with a very low roof. A man sits outside stoking the fire with a foot-operated bellows. There is a shower, so when you work up a good sweat, you can go cool off before returning to the sauna. You also get a pitcher of cold water with lemon to drink. Every once in a while you pour hot water on the coals to fill the room with steam. Some kind of herb is mixed in with the coals, which gives off a pleasant vapor.

I also remember that in Panajachel we discovered dark chocolate laced with chili peppers. Mmm.

Panajachel sits on the shore of the spectacularly beautiful Lago Atitlan, a mountain lake formed in the crater of a collapsed volcano. Several live volcanoes surround the lake. One of them was smoking most of the time we were there.

We actually climbed to the top of one volcano -- Pacaya, I think it was called -- on our second day in the country. When we reached the peak we discovered that a little pustule had broken open on the surface. We were able to watch the hot lava flow out on to the crust that covered the opening. Every several minutes the volcano belched a little more lava through the hole, shooting it sometimes as high as a hundred feet in the air. We stood in awe only a stone's through away from the little eruption -- awe at what we were witnessing and awe that no one was forcing us to leave for our own safety.

There, I did remember something.

from The Man Who Japed

At seven a.m., Allen Purcell, the forward-looking young president of the newest and most creative of the Research Agencies, lost a bedroom. But he gained a kitchen. The process was automatic, controlled by an iron-oxide-impregnated tape sealed in the wall. Allen had no authority over it, but the transfiguration was agreeable to him; he was already awake and ready to rise.

Squinting and yawning and now on his feet, he fumbled for the manual knob that released the stove. As usual the stove was stuck half in the wall and half out into the room. But all that was needed was a firm push. Allen pushed, and, with a wheeze, the stove emerged.

He was king of his domain: this one-room apartment within sight of the--blessed--Morec spire. The apartment was hard won. It had been his heritage, deeded to him by his family; the lease had been defended for over forty years. Its thin plasterboard walls formed a box of priceless worth; it was an empty space valued beyond money.

The stove, properly unfolded, became also sink and table and food cupboard. Two chairs hinged out from its underside, and beneath the stored supplies were dishes. Most of the room was consumed, but sufficient space remained in which to dress.

His wife Janet, with difficulty, had gotten into her slip. Now, frowning, she held an armload of skirt and looked around her in bewilderment. The central heating had not penetrated to their apartment as yet, and Janet shivered. In the cold autumn mornings she awoke with fright; she had been his wife three years but she had never adjusted to the shifts of the room.

"What's the matter?" he asked, shedding his pajamas. The air, to him, was invigorating; he took a deep breath.

"I'm going to reset the tape. Maybe for eleven." She resumed dressing, a slow process with much wasted motion.

"The oven door," he said, opening the oven for her. "Lay your things there, like always."

Nodding, she did so. The Agency had to be opened promptly at eight, which meant getting up early enough to make the half-hour walk along the clogged lanes. Even now sounds of activity filtered up from the ground level, and from other apartments. In the hall, scuffling footsteps were audible; the line was forming at the community bathroom.

"You go ahead," he said to Janet, wanting her dressed and ready for the day. As she started off, he added: "Don't forget your towel."

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 25.8 (Philip K. Dick)

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, The
Policeman Said


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. Note the sticker on the cover: this is how Talking Leaves marks your books to hold when they have special ordered them for you. It contains your name, telephone number, membership number, the ISBN of the book, and either the date of the order or the date of its arrival in the store. That's how I knew the date of purchase on the cover of Time Out Of Joint, which lead to yesterdays musings on the subjects of time and death.

I honestly can't remember if I read this one or not. I don't think I did. There are 4 more titles left in the Dick section and I think I have read only one of them. I am halfway through another right now. There is also one missing: The Man in the High Castle. Lori says I loaned it to someone. Was it you? If so, please give it back.

from Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said

Together, hand in hand, they strolled along the evening sidewalk, past the competing, flashing, winking, flooding pools of color created by the rotating, pulsating, jiggling, lit-up signs. This kind of neighborhood did not please him; he had seen it a million times, duplicated throughout the face of earth. It had been from such as this that he had fled, early in his life, to use his sixness as a method of getting out. And now he had come back.

He did not object to the people: he saw them as trapped here, the ordinaries, who through no fault of their own had to remain. They had not invented it; they did not like it; they endured it, as he had not had to. In fact, he felt guilty, seeing their grim faces, their turned down mouths.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 25.7 (Philip K. Dick)


Time Out of Joint
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dick, Philip K.
Time Out of Joint


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I am now reading the second volume of Dick's final trilogy, The Divine Invasion. Last night, while lying in bed reading, I noticed that a sticker on the front cover had printed on it the purchase date of the book -- February, 2004. I hadn't thought five years had already passed since I read PKD for the first time.

That was our first winter in Black Rock. We were then, as we are now, feverishly working on our house. We were then, as we are now, just completing the kitchen renovation on the first floor. I was then, as I am now, reading Philip K. Dick. Whoa.

But that's not the feeling I wanted to describe this morning. The feeling I wanted to describe this morning was the feeling of absolute panic and terror I sometimes feel when I realize how quickly time is passing.

I often think back to the way I experienced time as a child, how a two-hour car ride could seem like an eternity, and how I don't even blink an eye anymore over a ten-hour or even a fifteen hour ride. How as a child thinking more than five minutes ahead was painful and how now I am routinely planning events and so forth that are more than a year away. And how that year feels like it is going by so fast that I won't have enough time to prepare. As with each day I become more aware of the finality of time, i.e., the end of my life, so I also become less aware of time's daily passage. I become almost blind to the passing of one day into the next.

I am suddenly remembering the character in Catch-22 who tries to stay bored all the time so that time will pass more slowly and his death will seem that much more distant.

Lori and I watched this amazing movie the other night by Chantal Akerman called "Jeanne Dielman: 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.." It takes place over the course of three days, and each scene takes place in something approaching real time.

In the first act, we become aware of her habits: she is a prostitute, a single mother, and a meticulous housekeeper whose cooking, cleaning, bed-making, sowing, and sexual activity seem to take place on a rigidly organized and managed schedule.

In the second act, she is forced ever so slightly out of her routine, and her appearance becomes visibly confused. The tension rises.

In the third act, she loses track of time, wakes up too early, and finds herself with idle time on her hands. At one point she sits in her living room for several minutes, unable to think of something to do, unable to move. We experience not only the passage of time, but also the agony of her boredom once she has fallen out of her routine.

I think it is that thing that frightens me, that feeling of having something of a routine and how that routine, as comforting as it can feel, seems to speed time's passage, so that I hardly notice it.

And then I'll be dead.

Good morning.

from Time Out Of Joint

From the cold-storage locker at the rear of the store, Victor Nielsen wheeled a cart f winter potatoes to the vegetable section of the produce department. In the almost empty bin he began dropping the new spuds, inspecting every tenth one for split skin or rot. One big spud dropped to the floor and he bent to pick it up; as he did so he saw past the check-out stands, the registers and displays of cigars and candy bars, through the wide glass doors on to the street. A few pedestrians walked along the sidewalk, and along the street itself he caught the flash of sunlight from the fender of a Volkswagon as it left the store's parking lot.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 25.6 (Philip K. Dick)

Dick, Philip K
Confessions of a Crap Artist


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. Apparently I got as far as the end of chapter five in this book. The bookmark is still tucked between chapters. One side of it contains white text on a black background, the other the reverse. On the black side there is a picture of a man in a white fedora and overcoat. Neither his head nor his nick is visible against the black background. His eyes are white slits with tiny black pupils slightly askance. Beneath him the text reads:

IS
SOMEONE
READING
OVER
YOUR
SHOULDER
?


The reverse reads:

GO TO
www
.
readerprivacy
.
org

and sign the
PETITIONS
to amend the
PATRIOT ACT
and protect
reader
privacy!

The Campaign for Reader Privacy
is a joint initiative of the
American Booksellers Association, the
American Library Association, the
Association of American Publishers,
and PEN American Center

God, remember the PATRIOT ACT?

from Chapter 6, which I did not read:

When I saw Charley coming up the path from the car with those two delightful apparitions I could hardly believe my eyes. It was the greatest present he could have given me, and I completely adored him for it. Putting down my book I ran into my bedroom and took a look at myself in the mirror. Why at this time had that little queer down in Fairfax chosen to cut my hair on one side shorter than on the other?From my closet I grabbed out my blue-striped shirt and began buttoning it over my halter and tucking it into my shorts.

"Honey!" Charley called into the living room. "Hey, look who I talked into coming home with me!"

At the mirror I put on lipstick, blotted it, brushed my hair in back, put away my dark glasses which I had worn into the house from outside, and then I hurried into the living room.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 25.5 (Philip K. Dick)


Valis
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dick, Philip K.
Valis


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

Digging through all of these Philip K. Dick books got me itchin' to read some of the ones I hadn't read, so I picked this one up on Sunday afternoon and finished reading it yesterday. I tried to read Valis once before, but failed. It's part of Dick's final trilogy, which is based on a series of religious visions he experienced in 1974. What made Valis so difficult to get through the first time was that for most of the book it felt like the insane ranting of man who had just had a religious experience. It did not feel like science fiction.

It does after a while, but you need to work to get through the first half of the book. even then, it is different than other PKD books. The typical PKD book begins in one place and follows a single story line until you are convinced you understand everything you are reading. Once you get comfortable, he peels away the layers of reality to reveal that everything you thought was true was, in fact, no so.

Valis follows a similar pattern; however, it is set in the present, and it is told by a schizophrenic narrator named Philip K. Dick. Whatever questions you, the reader, may have about reality are filtered through the madness of the narrator of his alter ego Horselover Fat. At no point are you able to resolve any of the questions you may have. Neither the narrator, nor his alter ego, nor the reader, are ever sure what reality is, or if there are multiple realities occurring simultaneously, each one being lived by a different part of the same personality.

These are familiar themes in PKD's, work, but here he seems to be deconstructing himself, revealing the inner workings of his mind , almost as if to show that his narrative bag of tricks is not actually a bag of tricks, per se, but rather a kind of lens that reveals the actual cracks and disjunctions of which reality is comprised.

from Valis

Horselover Fat's nervous breakdown began the day he got the phonecall from Gloria asking if he had any Nembutals. He asked her why she wanted them and she said that she intended to kill herself. She was calling everyone she knew. By now she had fifty of them, but she needed thirty or forty more to be on the safe side.

At once Horselover Fat leaped to the conclusion that this was her way of asking for help. It had been Fat's delusion for years that he could help people. His psychiatrist once told him that to get well he would have to do two things; get off dope (which he hadn't done) and to stop trying to help people (he still tried to help people).

As a matter of fact, he had no Nembutals. He had no sleeping pills of any sort. He never did sleeping pills. He did uppers. So giving Gloria sleeping pills by which she could kill herself was beyond his power. Anyhow, he wouldn't have done it if he could.

"I have ten," he said. Because if he told her the truth she would hang up.

"Then I'll drive up to your place," Gloria said in a rational, calm voice, the same tone in which she had asked for the pills.

He realized then that she was not asking for help. She was trying to die. She was completely crazy. If she were sane she would realize that it was necessary to veil her purpose, because this way she made him guilty of complicity. For him to agree, he would need to want her dead. No motive existed for him—or anyone—to want that. Gloria was gentle and civilized, but she dropped a lot of acid. It was obvious that the acid, since he had last heard from her six months ago, had wrecked her mind.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 25.4 (Philip K. Dick)


A Scanner Darkly
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dick, Philip K.
A Scanner Darkly


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

Richard Linklater is a frustrating filmmaker. After debuting with the highly overrated, yet nonetheless entertaining, "Slacker," he followed with one of the great high school coming-of-age comedies of the last two decades, "Dazed & Confused." It's been mostly downhill from there. I can't even watch "Before Sunset" and "After Sunrise" because of Ethan Hawke, but pretty much everything else he has made since "Dazed," except for maybe "School of Rock," has been a disappointment. His other Rotoscope film, "Waking Life," left me feeling like I'd been taken on a really slow roller coaster ride with no big hills.

When he's just trying to be funny and entertaining and perhaps moving, he's a fine filmmaker, but when he reachers for something more than that, he tends to get pretentious and his films begin to feel false, which I guess would be my main criticism of "A Scanner Darkly." (I think this also applies to Hal Hartley since about 1995, sadly).

This book and its movie adaptation together prove that just because a filmmaker has his own vision he must necessarily turn that vision into a successful film. It also proves that being too faithful to a book when you are making a film adaptation is in general not a good idea. It also proves that animation is not a "vision" for a film but rather a medium for telling a story.

A Scanner Darkly is one of the most interesting of Dick's novels, yet Richard Linklater's adaptation (in Rotoscope animation) is, to put it mildly, a complete failure. This, despite the fact that the film stars the great Robert Downey Jr., who is capable of rescuing even the most debased film from total failure just by being on the screen. Maybe RD's magic doesn't work in Rotoscope.

Nonetheless, because of "Dazed & Confused," I always want Richard Linklater to succeed and I always go to see his films (unless they start Ethan Hawke).

from A Scanner Darkly

Once a guy stood all day shaking bugs from his hair. The doctor told him there were no bugs in his hair. After he had taken a shower for eight hours, standing under hot water hour after hour suffering the pain of the bugs, he got out and dried himself, and he still had bugs in his hair. A month later he had bugs in his lungs.

Having nothing else to do or think about, he began to work out theoretically the life cycle of the bugs, and, with the aid of the Britannica, try to determine specifically which bugs they were. They now filled his house. He read about many different kinds and finally noticed bugs outdoors, so he concluded they were aphids. After that decision came to his mind it never changed, no matter what other people told him...like "Aphids don't bite people."