An Ad in The New Yorker

I used to be in advertising, a copywriter.

I worked with an account executive who would come into my office minutes before he was to leave for a client meeting, in which he was expected to present an ad campaign and for which he had the layout but not the copy, and say, “can you give me a couple of lines of poetry?”

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O to live in a world of purified sentences.

Still life with sleep and fast food

On the road I ask myself, “am I someone who lives or only pretends to live.”

Everything  I’m interested in seeing is off the road, the further off the road the more interesting, but I don’t have time to see it, I’ve got to be somewhere else tomorrow. 

The mission at my age is to slightly expand my world, a little at a time, but not to overflow it.

Driving the interstate, one must be ever vigilant not to exceed ones limit of driving – that is, not to drive any longer than it takes to read a long novella at one sitting or a light entertainment, one of the detective novels by the late John D. MacDonald that I used to consume like candy when I was young: that is, two hours.

Driving the interstate the landscape is junk except when it isn’t and then it’s a parade of trees, lakes, rivers, and magnificent raptors soaring in from Mount Shasta. Common birds, if any bird can be called common, hug the interstate—crows, ravens—close to the source of their major food supply, roadkill. Trucks, carrying everything we need to build our houses and fill our shelves rumble along in the slow lane, except when one of them wants to pass another truck and takes over the fast lane, slowing cars, which they outnumber now 2 to 1, to a 60 mph crawl.

Eight hours of driving and I’m done. I haven’t had one thought I can hang onto. I pull off the road and check into a Best Western, asking for a quiet room because I’m a writer. Mason, the night clerk, puts me on the third floor. I plop down on the bed and close my eyes, but it’s no use it’s like I’m still driving. I turn on the TV. Every hotel room in America should be required to have C-SPAN, as every hotel room offers the Gideon Bible, but the Best Western doesn’t offer C-SPAN, so I hit the remote to ESPN and watch the Lakers play the Jazz. 

Painting perfect circles imperfectly

The idea—to paint circles by hand in homage to Giotto—was disrupted the moment I told someone that I was making a painting made of handmade circles in homage to Giotto, the artist who’s said to be the first artist ever to be able to draw a perfect circle by hand.

The circles I drew by hand were not perfect; they were so imperfect in fact that I had to use language to rescue them from their imperfections by writing, “as long as the circles I draw end up connecting back up to themselves I will consider them to be circles.” 

From that point forward, a point that occurred 4 weeks ago, after I had made dozens upon dozens of handmade circles, I saw that my mission as a painter painting this particular painting was to somehow bring all the circles together, the perfect with the imperfect. 

I use a brush to make my circles, applying paint to the brush and going from there and if that doesn’t work I use stencil, tracing a circle with a small pencil I keep in my golf bag to keep my score if and when I keep score. There’s something to be said about seeing brush strokes in a painting—for the painter to leave them there as they are and for the spectator to see the hand in them.

I’m now rapidly approaching that time in the life of every painting when the painter loses the painting and the painting he thought he was making doesn’t make sense to him anymore. This is the Reverse Gear of Actual Excitement, in which I’m strapped to a rocket ship and transported to a place as strange and unnatural as Daylight Savings Time.

My circles now appear to be overcoming or trying to overcome other circles, to cannibalize their brothers and sisters and propogate at the same time, so rapidly that I’m led to believe I’m creating a brand new planetary system in which the painting itself will soon outgrow its surface.

“Giotto”, painting in progress, acrylic on linen,  March 12, 2019, photo by author.

“Giotto”, painting in progress, acrylic on linen,  March 12, 2019, photo by author.

Story of writing

A story doesn't have to tell a story if it’s well written; this is true now as it wasn’t in the days before what is now known as literature existed, when everything written and passed down as worth reading had to have a story at its heart, e.g. ancient Greek literature, biblical lore, Aesop’s fables. Most pre-literature stories aren’t particularly well-written and, furthermore, might not or would not be published today, i.e. would not pass muster as being publishable to those in control of the literate media who now determine what is literature, regardless of the merits of the story being told. In fact, the quality of the story as a story might be held against it, or held in equal contradistinction to the quality of the writing, the writing itself having more weight, more heft than the quality of the story. Thus the newer moderately well-read reader may claim to admire writing that has little or no story, or a story that relies solely on the writing itself, or even a story that has no story, only simulates a story by having a beginning and an end. This newer reader is mostly offered, by those more intelligent than he and much better read, things that are so well-written that they don’t need a story, a story might only detract from the writing, the writing being paramount. The new reader reads a story for the writing, with as much devotion and love of literature as those in the past read when they were reading mostly for the story.

Painting in-progress, “Giotto”, a study in circles. Photo by author, 2019. 

Painting in-progress, “Giotto”, a study in circles. Photo by author, 2019. 

A little Hamlet

Have I become someone beyond caring?

Someone who doesn’t care, who’s let it all go  without knowing what he’s let go?

I can’t see a future without it, what I can’t see that is, what I don’t care about.

‘Hamlet’, the movie, 1948, starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Jean Simmons, an Academy Award winner.

‘Hamlet’, the movie, 1948, starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Jean Simmons, an Academy Award winner.

Functional San Francisco

I make the slightest excuse to visit even if it requires a detour.

Only place in town where I wish I had a dog. 

Reading Hannah Arendt’s foreword to the Walter Benjamin book, “Illuminations” and for the first time understanding why Arendt is held in such esteem by so many good thinkers. 

Understanding, as I read Arendt, the full meaning of the word ‘flaneur’, and how the meaning is embodied in the life of Benjamin, the time he spent in Paris, and the urban planning imposed on the city that made it possible for a flaneur to persevere.

Not looking at my iPhone and therefore granting myself my very own 15 minutes of complete privacy, which I imagine to be far better than fame,

Tasting the sun as I would a cup of coffee.

I wonder who lives in the grand tower building across the street, and if there is a doorman. 

Not having to go anywhere I don’t want to go or to see anyone I don’t want to see. 

Where am I?

Alta Plaza Park, looking northeast, San Francisco, January 24, 2019. Photo by author. 

Alta Plaza Park, looking northeast, San Francisco, January 24, 2019. Photo by author. 

“Stained Glass Stairs”: Thomas Fuller’s ravishing new painting

Thomas Fuller, the writer of whom I’m so fond, told me the last time I saw him that he was painting as much or more than he was writing That was some time ago, about the time of the publication of his latest novel, “The Classical World” (IF Publishing, 2018).

And so it was a nice surprise today to receive a letter from Fuller, saying he’d finished the painting but was afraid to hang it, feeling that by hanging it he’d be burying it alive, along with a picture of the painting itself leaning against a wall.

“Stained Glass Stairs”, oil and acrylic on canvas, 5’x2 1/2’, Thomas Fuller, 2019. 

“Stained Glass Stairs”, oil and acrylic on canvas, 5’x2 1/2’, Thomas Fuller, 2019. 

Pudd’nhead Wilson

Twain’s book is as macabre and terrifying as anything Poe ever wrote and, since I’ve never read Stephen King, I’d go as far to say that I can’t imagine anyone writing a book as scary or as true as Twain’s ‘Pudd’nhead Wilson’, written in 1895.

It was curious then that yesterday’s revelation of a family member’s unwise indiscretions confirmed my longstanding suspicion of this particular person’s hypocrisy and ingratitude without surprising me at all! I’d just finished reading ‘Pudd’nhead Wilson’ in which there is no mystery as to the identity of the murderer—the reader knows exactly who dun it—rather the mystery is in the duplicitous behavior of the main character, a twin swapped at birth to become a white person instead of the black person he is, and vice-a-versa. And while telling this tale, Twain poses a larger- than-life-itself question: why do people so often act in ways they believe are beneficial to themselves, when in fact the way they act is poisonous not only to the ones they profess to love but most of all, and most perversely, to the very person perpetuating the act?

Though Nature as we know it might be coming to its end—could we as a species be approaching the very first televised apocalypse in much the same way as we were once witnessed the first televised war? (Vietnam)—I’ve come to think that human nature never ends, in that it never ends astonishing, surprising, even shocking in its smallness, its petty personal concerns and selfish little rearrangements of the truth made to suit a two-faced narrative. The hypocrisy in the case cited above was both blatant and hilarious: blatant because the perpetrator operated in a way that seemed to suggest she wanted to be caught and hilarious because those of us who were the victims of the false narrative could only laugh at its ultimate ineptitude, in the end feeling nothing but compassion for the one who resorted to speaking from two faces.

Saying one thing to a person and then another completely different thing to another person about that person isn’t a crime, though maybe it should be; it happens all the time in our social, cultural, political, and personal lives. It’s just plain old sad, as sadly funny as Twain’s old novel, as true a narrative of human nature today as it ever was. In Twain’s telling it turns out that Pudd’nhead isn’t a Pudd’nhead at all: we’re the real Puddn’head’s, saying one thing to one another when we’re really saying another thing altogether.

Soda fountain at Maggie’s Place, a restaurant in Worland, Wyoming, April 2017.  I tell everyone I know that the milkshake’s at Maggie’s are fantastic and the waitresses are extremely nice. Photo by author.

Soda fountain at Maggie’s Place, a restaurant in Worland, Wyoming, April 2017.  I tell everyone I know that the milkshake’s at Maggie’s are fantastic and the waitresses are extremely nice. Photo by author.

Sunrise Hawaii

By 6 a.m. the Plumeria blossom is voted  most valuable flower on the island.

Back in the hills, in a little grass shack, the master photographer mixes organic compounds that will transform themselves into the scintillating hues soon be seen in the brilliant 80 x 100’ tapestry now hanging in the eastern sky.

Time gets a much needed makeover: it’s time for children to become the leaders and the adults to become children who not only share their toys but are happy that others have as much or more than they have.

The imperfect world hides for a few moments in the palm tree outside my window, letting in all the light that I can possibly see, the kind of light that surprises me and looks better and better the closer I come toward it.

Plumeria blossoms, Kohala Coast, Hawaii, December 29, 2018. Photo by author. 

Plumeria blossoms, Kohala Coast, Hawaii, December 29, 2018. Photo by author. 

Art in it

All art is some sort of exploration of what am I doing here or what are you doing here or what are we doing here. It’s that first moment of waking in a place you’re not familiar with and wondering where you are, knowing that you’re still you, that you haven’t changed being you, but the place where you are you has changed completely without you being aware it’s changed: art is the reconciliation of those two things—not knowing and knowing—that can bring forth something that you’ve never seen before if, that is, you see the art in it.

I woke up a few moments ago from a deep sleep, having no idea where I was, and took a picture. The light verified morning; and then slowly, second by second, I was able to make sense of what wasn’t in the picture, the rest of my surroundings and how I came to be surrounded. I would never claim that it’s art that I made here, but I know that it has art in it.

Hotel room, Waikoloa Resort, Hawaii, 7 a.m., December 24, 2018. Photo by author.

Hotel room, Waikoloa Resort, Hawaii, 7 a.m., December 24, 2018. Photo by author.

Painting stained glass stairs

Not knowing what to do is not the time to do nothing. 

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then it is to open up a tube of orange paint and believe it will emerge as red or as yellow.

The color blue is the color of blood vessels as they appear to the soul. 

A rose by any other name is coffee. 

Painting is the effort is to look at something long enough for it to either disappear or become something it’s never been before, something you can paint with your eyes closed. The preceding words are homage to the poet RC who wrote, ‘if you look at something long enough/everything becomes water’, or something like that.

What’s the next painting, the next great painting that can be made?

The next painting will be a picture of a big star, and the star is a house with doors and windows and a chimney, and the star will be suspended in the dark void of a moral universe made of shimmering shadows and purplish-gold points of light; and the painting after that will be a basketball in which the air inside the basketball is the central image, the symbol of God himself, invisible but captivating the attention of people worldwide.

But now, not knowing what to do, I go ahead without knowing, spread a band of yellow-green paint over a dry orange wash with a palette knife and then hose it down with a small wet brush.

Detail, unfinished painting, “Stained Glass Stairs”. Photo by author, November 29, 2018.

Detail, unfinished painting, “Stained Glass Stairs”. Photo by author, November 29, 2018.

Secret paint

All the secret of paint is locked up in the painter who starts from the bottom and works to the top, and then works down from the top to the bottom, making triumph after triumph and mistake upon mistake, covering up both mistakes and triumphs with more paint of different colors—blue, green, yellow, red, white, and their offshoots—until the purity of the painter’s original vision is diverted into a new purity, a colorful paradise in which the paint itself, not the painter, is in control, and the painter must resist the temptation, as strong as it might be, of mixing a light green wash in a bucket of cold tap water and pouring the whole thing over the painting that the paint has just created.

Painting, “Stained Glass Stairs”, work in progress, November 20, 2018. Photo by author. 

Painting, “Stained Glass Stairs”, work in progress, November 20, 2018. Photo by author. 

This is not a painting

Surfaces are so strange; not enough attention is paid to them though they’re where almost all the action is. The painting realizes this, as does the painter who says, “I can’t think of anything more exciting than the surface of things” * and the other painter who says, “my objective is to see my face in the palm of my hand.” **

The surface is where the painting does all its thinking: don’t be fooled into thinking that what you see in a good painting is some sort of Platonic rendering brought down from above or up from below to assume its transformation as The Form behind the Form. No, the paint has seeped through the painters’ deft preparation, very often through layers upon layers of gesso and duct tape, all by itself, in whatever shape it’s in, to make contact with the mind of the canvas itself, oozing through the crevices, finding its home as the thinking brain of the image; and finally, at last, all that can be seen of the painting is the surface.

Photo and composition by the author from an ad appearing in The New York Review of Books (Nov 22, 2018 edition) for the Bruce Nauman show at MOMA thru February, 2019.  *Alex Katz. **Jack Whitten. 

Photo and composition by the author from an ad appearing in The New York Review of Books (Nov 22, 2018 edition) for the Bruce Nauman show at MOMA thru February, 2019.  *Alex Katz. **Jack Whitten. 

I gave myself a TED TALK yesterday after voting

What’s worse than smoking a cigarette?

Throwing that cigarette, after it’s been smoked, to the ground, first stepping on it so as to extinguish the possibility of it creating a real fire, and then leaving it where it’s been thrown, in someone else’s private space.

The penalty for such a smoker? Either one year less or one year more of life: one year less if the smoker loves life and one year more if the smoker craves death.

Walking home from the polling place at 755 27th Avenue near Fulton, I give myself a TED TALK and then sign a document permitting my TED TALK to be released to the public—

“Rich people have always interested me but only to the point where I become uninterested and know I can never be like them, never measure up; and then one day I decided I really didnt want to measure up to anyone other than myself, that I’m far better off going it alone, that aloneness is the only way I can negotiate the world...”

(I’ve asked the TED TALK people to douse the stage lights in such a way that only my body can be seen, in homage Billiie Whitelaw in Beckett’s ‘Not I’).

My TED TALK concludes with the impossibility of it going viral. And so I continue shuffling toward home, imagining, as I shuffle along, the sort of person who throws a cigarette on the sidewalk or into the street, as well as the people, the other people, who’ve dropped their paper napkins, plastic spoons, forks, and knives, orange juice cartons, pages of the daily newspaper, straws, water bottles, clothing, cans of Coke, ATM receipts, business cards....

I’d expected to be filled with civic pride;  instead it’s a sad little walk I take from the polling place home; that in this beautiful city there seems to be at least one piece of trash for every citizen, and that so many of us walk by the trash as if it isn’t there.

28th Avenue, proceeding north on the east side, between Balboa and Anza, November 6, 2018. Photograph by author.

28th Avenue, proceeding north on the east side, between Balboa and Anza, November 6, 2018. Photograph by author.

Future curious

Morning delivers its windows right on time, and I’m eager to see out of them.    

Upon rigorous inspection I see that there is  not a speck of dust or a smear on the new windows, and that they are the perfect transparencies they were advertised as being.

Through morning’s windows I’m able to watch the sun rise, seeing the world come to life as if arising slowly from the sea, a submerged continent at once alien and promising, having shaken off overnight everything that had plagued it, silently vowing to show its newfound purity as the light that makes us—at least all of us seeing it this way—responsible. 

Sunflower grown by Larry Hedderman of Powell, Wyoming, as photographed in Hedderman’s back yard, July, 2018, by the author. 

Sunflower grown by Larry Hedderman of Powell, Wyoming, as photographed in Hedderman’s back yard, July, 2018, by the author. 

Walking toward Cape Disappointment

At the poetry festival I ran out of plans so I took a long walk on the beach thinking about what I’d say later at the ‘panel’ on independent publishing.

I walked south toward a large outcropping of earth and trees and wind, the opposite direction of the map I’d drawn up in my mind earlier of the path I’d taken in poetry from south to north—from Jeffers in Carmel to San Francisco to Portland to Seattle and William Witherup—should someone at the panel later ask me, “how did you come to be a publisher?”

I couldn’t say, “o, it just happened.”  

I thought as I walked along the big wide beach about what I would say, how what I would say might be helpful or encouraging or even interesting to the young people who would later sit before me and listen to what I said.

I walked and walked south toward the point. The point seemed to recede further in the distance the farther I walked toward it! How strange, how beautiful, for there was no other words for my walk, how unearthly in a way much like the logic of a poem I myself would like someday to write and then publish,

Cape Disappointment, the point, was unreachable—I didn’t have the time to reach it, it was time to turn back and walk north toward the place where I was supposed to be next, at the panel on independent publishing.

Long Beach, Seaview, Washington, with Cape Disappointment in the background. Author photo, October 20, 2018. 

Long Beach, Seaview, Washington, with Cape Disappointment in the background. Author photo, October 20, 2018. 

Art in the Time of Trump

Art as my only compensation, solace at the exact moment I need it (and Lea Ann’s, who spends more and more time in her studio making things out of clay). 

Art=making something of and from yourself and also standing by and looking at what you’ve made, taking responsibility for either keeping it the way it is, changing it so it’s the way you want it, or destroying it all together. Art=the only way I know (besides drinking and smoking) of negotiating this time that’s so terrible it seems to be lasting forever.

Re: Trump: I’ve never wanted time to be over so quickly. Time can’t go fast enough now. 

To escape the present, sometimes I turn to the past. But the past isn’t exactly flawless or even very friendly. So I leaf through photo books, searching for pictures of beautiful lakes and forests and mountains or pick up a copy of a book of an author I revere, in this case Chekhov...

Chekhov lived at a time when a person could still love/appreciate/revel in nature. Now nature seems somehow cruel, misguided, malicious. Somehow we have made nature our enemy.

I close my eyes and witness Trump’s heart. It’s pomaded with junk food and Diet Coke and sports a yellowish tinge.

It’s not a heart at all that I’m seeing, it’s a cellphone instead, making little liquid burps and beeps. The sound of it is so repellent that I don’t think I’ll ever stop hearing it.

From the author’s sketchbook, ‘The Black Heart of Trump‘, October 10, 2018.

From the author’s sketchbook, ‘The Black Heart of Trump‘, October 10, 2018.

Francis Ponge, eternal mentor

Thinking about my ego, the more I think about it the more I see it disappear; conversely, the less I think about it the more it insists on operating in what I call, “my life.”

Thus I return to the poems of Francis Ponge and to Ponge’s methodology, becoming myself a Ponge-like creature who writes one poem and then quickly re-writes that poem so that it becomes another. 

Asked to explain my latest poetic project, in which I’m reassembling 30 or so years of poetic endeavor, sometimes throwing out the new in favor of the old and sometimes throwing out the old in favor of the new and sometimes reconstituting old and new in an attempt to make something different,  I say “I really don’t know what I’m doing but thank you for asking.”

‘MacBook Pro and Lea Ann’s Coinpurse’, a photographic composition in the author’s private collection, September, 2018. 

‘MacBook Pro and Lea Ann’s Coinpurse’, a photographic composition in the author’s private collection, September, 2018.