Monday, August 29, 2011

After WWII, when television was really being widely marketed in America (since people could actually afford them for the first time) one of the primary selling tactics—aside from Keeping Up with the Joneses—was family. ‘TV brings families together’ was the idea. Advertisements showed Mom and Dad, smoking Old Gold or Newport cigarettes on the living room couch with little Jimmy drinking his Ovaltine, awash in the heady glow of “Howdy Doody” or commercials for laundry soap. Together. Social mores were created as the neighborhood kids would come over to watch it while mom served cookies made from a package (also a shift in tradition).

The Baby Boomers grew up, drenched in this new TV zeitgeist. And then, somebody voiced that famous cry, ‘But What About the Children?’ Suddenly, TV was to blame for all of society’s ills. Obesity came from sitting too long (it couldn’t have anything to do with the proliferation of fast food restaurants or pre-packaged foods, the shift from rural to urban lifestyles, etc.). Social cohesion was deteriorating because now—instead of one TV in the living room bringing everyone together, most families had one in the living room, one in the bedroom, one in Little Jimmy’s room, and one in the kitchen for Mom to watch while she waited for the Valium to kick in. The dream was over. TV—you bastard. Look what you did to us? We trusted you! Well, fool me once, buddy.

But I would like to go on record in defense of TV. I think the problem isn’t so much the medium as the amount of exposure. I will also say that many of the ills blamed on TV already existed—TV just exposed us to them. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. That same pampered generation who grew up on TV—and then turned on it (let’s not call them “The Baby Boomers.” Let’s call them “The Judas Generation”) have forgotten just how important and useful TV can be for family togetherness. I’ve had some great times watching TV. Some of my fondest memories are of watching TV shows and movies on TV with my older brother. To be honest, it probably didn’t matter too terribly much what was on; we’d joke and laugh along with Mel Brooks’ movies and episodes of “Saturday Night Live” or “In Living Color.” We’d watch “The Twilight Zone” or “Dark Shadows”—really, it’s likely that my love of horror and sci-fi films came from shows like this, as well as watching slasher flicks on TV with my sister. In college, my friends and I watched “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and did our own versions while watching bad, bad movies. Quotes and allusions to TV shows and films run on TV (though edited) continue to color our lexicon. ‘Bugs Bunny’ cartoons, “3 Stooges” shorts, “MASH” reruns; references to these shows pop up in conversations I have with my family all the time. They are references to good memories that we share.

I’m not saying these shows were all high art (or any of them were), but to assume nothing worthwhile can be gained from any art that isn’t deemed “high” is to completely fail to understand some of the more important uses of art. (And to be a jerk.) Art can do a lot of things—educate, incite social discourse, impact us emotionally, etc.—but one thing it does well is leaves us changed in some way. Isn’t laughter a change?

Of course, an argument can be made that many TV shows have been very important. I mentioned “MASH”—as the show progressed, it shifted from straight comedy to social awareness, presenting ideas that might easily have been foreign to some young (and old) minds. Take Oprah—I’m not a fan, but she is an African American woman who appeared in the homes of millions of Americans five days a week, a woman many other women, and plenty of men, turned to for advice, whose influence was widely felt and accepted. This is no small feat in a country that remained segregated in many, many Midwestern, Northern, and Southern towns and suburbs through…well, even now, frankly. I don’t even need to mention the impact new broadcasts have had on us all.

TV can educate in more basic ways. I spent many Sunday afternoons with my father watching “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” and learning about nature and wildlife. Do I even need to mention “Sesame Street?” (Pre-Elmo, of course.)

Of course, there’s crap on TV. But there’s crap everywhere. So we have to sift through it. Also, TV is full of advertisements, the dangers of which…well, that’s a different essay altogether, I think. But nobody watches commercials. You surf or go get a drink of water or whatever.

But what I’m dancing around, here, is that question I dropped but didn’t answer: What about the children? The question is, will I use TV as a surrogate babysitter? Of course not. That’s bad parenting. I should go on record at this point and confuse the hell out of everyone by stating that I don’t actually have TV—we do own two sets, but neither of them receives any channels. We watch movies on them. We simply don’t have time to watch TV, so we don’t pay for it. But I will watch TV with my daughter. Some. I will show her reruns or DVDs of “The Muppet Show.” I will show her “Sesame Street.” When she gets older, we’ll watch Mel Brooks’ movies together, and “Airplane,” and all kinds of TV shows. Hell, we’ll probably break down and get TV cable at some point. And we’ll laugh. And maybe we’ll learn something. And we’ll quote them to each other and nobody else will know what we’re talking about. Unless they’ve seen these shows. But most people will just think we’re dorks. And that’s okay.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Corey Mesler is one of the most prolific writers out there, and a real nice guy. He owns Burke's Books in Memphis, which is a fine bookstore with great prices and a hell of a selection. Corey has two new novels out as well as a new poetry collection...

Me: I recently read your new poetry collection, Before the Great Troubling. I don’t mean to tie you down but can you tell me what you had in mind with the title? I had a couple theories…

Corey: The title, like all good titles, is both specific and general. Specifically, I am speaking about a very personal troubling. It’s no great secret that over ten years ago I suddenly developed agoraphobia and panic syndrome. I say suddenly, but, of course, as a therapist would tell you, I was building my phobic life all of my days, from not being breastfed, to schoolyard bullies, to a bad first marriage, etc. So, in the poem of that title and in many of the introspective poems in my book, I was harkening back to a time when life seemed better, simpler, less treacherous. But, also, generally speaking, it can be any troubling, personal, professional, political (and those are just the “p’s”!). So, like many writers, I am hoping to hit on universal truths. Everyone has had a “troubling.”

Me: I noticed several of the poems in Troubling were about your kids. How has being a father influenced your writing?

Corey: Oh, Lord, parenting is the Big Subject, isn’t it? I mean, if you’re there, if you’re paying attention as a parent, you’re witnessing the world being born, as it is busy being born every day in thousands of different ways. A human life is a microcosm of the universe. I heard Robert Bly say that poets don’t write anything worthwhile in their 20s. They are just sitting around waiting for a friend to die so they have subject matter. I would say being a parent is a more positive way of agreeing with Mr. Bly.

Me: Who are your biggest literary influences? & how have they influenced you?

Corey: I could make a list as long as a Thanksgiving sermon but I will try to hit the highlights. William Carlos Williams, James Tate, John Berryman, Mark Strand, C. K. Williams, Steve Stern, Kafka, Sylvia Plath, Ikkyu, Merwin, Vonnegut, John Barth, Steven Millhauser, Walker Percy, Nabokov, Donald Barthelme, Iris Murdoch, Joyce, Beckett, Pinter, Albee, Mamet (before he turned into a Republican), Brautigan, DeLillo, Bob Dylan, The Marx Brothers, Leonard Cohen, Looney Toons, Rod Serling. Now, to get to the “how.” When I was young I wrote a lot of late night, sad bastard poetry, full of self-pity and longing for I didn’t know what. But I got to where I could pen a verse that was passable interesting. However, what I really wanted to write was fiction. I just assumed, without really trying, that I couldn’t do it. It was the word count itself that held me back. Then a talisman came into my hands that changed my thinking, and that transformative talisman was Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Little stories that knocked me ass over teakettle. And I thought, I don’t know how he does that in 5-10 pages but I want to aim at that. So I started writing little micro-fictions. That’s probably enough on this question except I want to add, I heard a friend say once, “I am working on a novel,” and I thought that was just about as fine an aspiration as any human being could dream about. A novel, to my way of thinking, may be mankind’s greatest achievement. Better than The Enlightenment, better than walking on the moon, better than tinfoil. And, later, after my 40th birthday, after my father had already gone the way of all flesh, I wrote and published a novel. Landsakes!

Me: What have you read recently that knocked you on your ass?

Corey: This is one of my favorite questions. I don’t meet many new people nor do I socialize much (see agoraphobia) but I can’t think of a better ice-breaker, or a better way to start a confab. I love talking about what I‘ve read. So, lately, let’s see. Kobo Abe’s The Women in the Dunes, Jesse Ball’s The Curfew, Emma Donoghue’s Room, Charles McCarry’s Last Supper, Hans Fallada’s Little Man, What Now?, Donald Westlake’s Memory. Those were all great novels. Probably the work of fiction I’ve been most excited about in the last couple years is Anthony Powell’s 12 novel cycle, Dance to the Music of Time. I am through book seven and I think it is one of the crowning achievements in 20th century literature. Oh and I’ve just discovered Alice Munro’s stories, which are spun from fine stuff. And let me re-emphasize my admiration for the Fallada novel. I had never read him before and now I want everything by him. In poetry I’ve been reading a lot of Stephen Dunn, Sharon Olds, Bei Dao, Gregory Orr, Roethke, Kay Ryan. I think my pal, Marly Youman’s new book, The Throne of Psyche, is dynamite.


Me: Your first novel, Talk, was completely written in dialogue. We Are Billion Year Old Carbon is a novel in collage. The Ballad of the Two Tom Mores is a kind of portrait of a town (as I suppose Carbon was as well), a very southern novel with multiple narrators and lots of humor. All of these books seem vastly different, stylistically. How would you describe the Mesler style or voice?

Corey: I know, I feel as if, to a degree, I backed through the novelist door by writing my first novel all in unattributed dialogue. I got that idea from reading William Gaddis, by the way. I do think each of my books is unique and, in that way, every one is an experiment. Does that make me an experimental writer? I ask this sincerely. I am shaky on the term but it has been applied to my writing before. I don’t think I have a voice that you can pin down easily. Maybe in the poetry. I try to do something different with every novel because that keeps me interested. I have another “collage” novel, this one set on Beale Street, coming out next year but it is very different from We are Billion-Year-Old Carbon. Thanks, by the way, for finding The Ballad of the Two Tom Mores funny. I think you and I and my friend Mark Hendren are the only ones in that club.


Me: You’re very prolific, Can you tell me a little about your writing routine?

Corey: When I was younger Ben Franklin took me aside and told me this: early to bed and early to rise will make little Corey wise. In middle-age I took that as my guiding principle. I wake every day around 5 and am at the keyboard usually by 6. At that time, on a good day, I feel how God must have felt before the whole 6 days of labor thing. When my wife and I bought the bookstore in 2000 she gave me a great gift, Fridays off to do nothing but write. Then the agoraphobia phenomenon sorta took my legs out from under me and I find myself home a lot. I don’t recommend agoraphobia as a component of one’s writing method but, when I contemplate how much time I am home alone, I think, Damn it, you better be prolific. It is a lonely way of life but it is mine.

Me: What are you working on?

Corey: I am about 1/3 of the way through the first draft of a new novel. Nothing makes me happier than working on a novel. I love the long haul, the Indy 500 as opposed to the 50 yard dash. And, what I am saying about this novel, when asked, is that it is more conventional; it is plot-drive, character-driven. In other words, I am experimenting with not being experimental. I also have a book of stories due out before the end of the year so I will be polishing that with the help of my perspicacious editor. And, always, I am pecking away at poems in the interstices.

Me: If you were to be remembered for one work, which would it be?

Corey: I want to be remembered for Ulysses. Oh, you probably mean something of mine. I don’t know. I am still very fond of Talk. And I am very proud of my new short story collection, Notes Toward the Story and Other Stories. But, if my Beale Street book comes off like I think it will, it may be my best writing so far, so I will want to be remembered for that. I labored long and hard over that book, over every sentence, over every word, and I think it is intricate and funny and off-center and full of anti-history and whimsy. At this point I hope, it, you know, works.

Me: I am looking forward to reading your novel Following Richard Brautigan. What is it about Brautigan that inspires you?

Corey: I came to Brautigan in my late teens and early 20s. He was possibly my first favorite writer. So, in a sense, I thought I owed him homage. My novel, in which he appears as a very persuasive ghost, was really begun when the phrase “following Richard Brautigan” floated across my inner screen. I thought, hm, that would make a nice title. And I’ve always wanted to write a road novel, having read the Beats about the same time I was reading Mr. B. So my novel was born less from being directly inspired by Brautigan’s loopy, winsome surrealism—though I still admire that about him---but more from a desire to touch the part of myself that first began to read books, my innocent younger self.

Me: One of your kids comes to you and says, “Dad, I want to be a writer.” What advice would you give?

Corey: It would make me extremely happy. And I would say to him or her what I would say to any wannabe writer: read a lot of books. Then read more books. Then write and write and write as if Old Scratch were hot on your ass.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I recently was able to review a short collection called White Spiders by Lisa Marie Basile, whose journal Caper has published my work in the past. Lisa is a kind of literary whirlwind--she runs Caper Journal, Patasola Press, hosts readings all over the place, and is a fine poet in her own write. (Sorry--bad pun.)

Me: What inspired you start to start Caper & Patasola Press? Do you feel that you are achieving your goals?

Lisa: Though Caper is in the process of being revamped and thus is on hiatus, I started it because I loved to read people's work and give people another opportunity to share their voice. I started Patasola Press because I wanted to create tangible pieces of literature, things people could hold and adore, things that would stay around forever. I want to provide authors with a positive and creative publishing process, and more so -- even the playing field for authors out there. Patasola's mission is three-fold: to provide a publishing avenue for new and emerging writers (some will publish their first book with us), promote underrepresented writers, with a special focus on women and multicultural writers and to, again, be an author-focused press. Part of my mission is also to create interesting books, interesting events and be a part of the literary community at large by promoting writers through our new interview series, partnering with literary and equality-focused organizations. I have big dreams, but I like it that way. The main short term goal is to find ways to keep it sustainable and present beautiful, unique work to readers.


Me: You’ve been fundraising lately for Patasola Press. How can folks help out? What do you have lined up for the future of Patasola Press?

Lisa: Patasola Press is and was funded out-of-pocket, with help from authors and friends. It is important that Patasola Press has a financial safety net, not money that we can spend quickly or thoughtlessly, but money that will help us when we need it on projects that come up. Sometimes a project here and there can make the difference in quality (design, printing) or outreach (ads, for one) and having back-up funds is really important. I am a working student and writer, so these funds really go a long way in helping me and my editors make choices that aren't largely dictated by monetary limitations. We're a small press, yes, but we want to have some leverage. The future of Patasola Press sees a complete Siren Series (chapbooks by female writers), partnering for projects with organizations within the community for the arts, a catalogue of diverse and strong literature and poetry, a distribution deal so we can really reach out, an online literary component.

People can a) donate their money to our Kickstarter or if they feel uncomfortable, they can email us patasolapress@gmail.com about sending money via another source. We have a goal (that we'd like to exceed) of $1,500, and as of this date, we're over $1,100. We'd love if everyone could send what they could, be it $5, $10, or whatever. Become a Chimera (Supporter) by donating under $100.00 or become a Siren (Sponsor) by donating over $100.00!

People can b) spread the word, blog about us, profile one of our authors, interview us about our Siren Series or other projects we're doing.

People can c) volunteer their tme as layout designers, illustrators, etc. The more people on board, the more vision and love goes into the work.

Me: Who are your biggest literary influences? & how have they influenced you?

Lisa: Cesar Vallejo, Isabel Allende, Marguerite Duras, Albert Camus, Lorca. I have to give Cesar Vallejo all of the credit. In college, I was writing what I thought of as 'good poetry.' That probably wasn't the case. When a friend gave me Vallejo's work, it changed everything. I was able to see how he strained the human condition through interesting words, giving it both a beauty and an accessibility that made the poem really vivid and meaningful. He didn't just write words, which I was doing. He was evoking something bigger, something tinged with the surreal and macabe. He had a defined yet fluid aesthetic, and he was sincere. In reading Vallejo I promised to keep my work sincere and interesting. Maybe I get it down sometimes, maybe not. But he's a complete inspiration. Another one of my influences is Marguerite Duras. She is able to write so clearly and make such specific literary choices that every sentence is important and lively. Camus, I love, for the same reason -- mostly for The Stranger. I love Isabel Allende because I'm in love with her magic realism and ability to really craft character.

Me: What have you read recently that knocked you on your ass?

Lisa: Marosa Di Giorgio's The History of Violets. She's a Uruguayan poet with Italian heritage, and she's just amazing. She writes of trinkets and shells and naughty ghosts and memories and light and butterflies and bits of things and macabre things and feminine, ghastly things. I love her aesthetic so much I want to live inside her books. She has really inspired me lately, and the more I read her, the more she brings out writing in me that I've supressed for reasons to do with writing painful memories and wondering if readers would like such imagist work. She is able to anchor the author in the worlds she creates. She writes:

When I look toward the past, I only see perplexing things: sugar, jasmine, white wine, black wine, the strange country school I attended for four years, murders, weddings among the orange blossoms, incestuous couplings.

I just love the Black wine. It's incredible.

Me: You recently published Rae Bryant’s collection, The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals. What made you fall in love with this book?

Lisa: I love Rae's writing because she has real command of her voice, is able to blend the surreal and the realistic really well -- through the magic and oddness, she shows you our world, and sort of makes you realize how our lives are all very bizarre. She's not afraid to confront to the painful, embaressing, cringe-inducing things in life. Sometimes I hold my breath when I read her work, because I'm embarressed for the character or for humanity or my own life. I know she's good because she's able to make me feel off-balance. Her stories are also very beautiful. She had me at her publication of Empress of the Riverbank in PANK, which was illuminated, odd, sad and lovely. She is good at her craft. Her language and writing is clean but not boring. She's not afraid, but she's thoughtful. That's a literary tight rope right there.

Me: Can you tell me a little about your own writing routine? How do you balance writing with publishing?

Lisa: I tend to let writing fall by the wasteside when working on publishing and other projects. I've been doing so much editing and press work that sometimes I forget who I am. In the end, I use their talent to inspire me to create sometime I'd want to read if I weren't me. I write sporatically. I used to be prolific. But I also wasn't as clever or thoughtful. I now write seldomly, and when I do I labor over everything. I like it better this way. I write when it hits, or when I absolutely need to draw it out like blood. I like to look at pretty things when I write, like the Brothers Quay or vintage anatomy illustrations, ghastly things. When I'm exhausted, sometimes it's just in there, like a storm, waiting. I have to sometimes put down everything and tend to it. So, there isn't a routine. It's just when I start to need to write. I suppose it's rather sexual in its analogy.

Me: What are you working on?

Lisa: I am working with the Poetry Society of New York / The Poetry Brothel on a chapbook called Andalusia, a chapbook about a dream state, written largely in prose-poems. This is my first collection that dabbles with prose-poetry. I'm reading with The Poetry Society of New York/ The Poetry Brothel at our house on Governor's Island this summer, which was granted by the Fund for Governor's Island, generously. I worked on the New York Poetry Festival with them, and read from Diorama, a chapbook my friend Alyssa Morhardt-Goldstein and I wrote together. I am also writing new poems, slowly but surely. They're changing forms, becoming longer. In a few weeks, I'll start my last year of my graduate writing program at The New School. I don't love the general concept of MFA programs, as I think they sometimes breed a homegenous sound; I have my own reasons for joining: making connections, noting teaching styles, being in an honest critiquing enviroment (when it is.) I'll finish a book this year as part of my thesis, and I think I'm going to work on a novella-in-vignettes that I started in 2008. I visited Spain this year (and the book is about Spain) so I want to infuse my memories into the writing.

In publishing, I'm putting together the Siren Series for Patasola Press, a new series of female poetry chapbooks. Our first is by the talented T.M. De Vos, called The Dimestore World. I'm also working on final edits for J.A. Tyler's Comatose and Mimi Ferebee's Seraglio, for Patasola Press. I'm also publishing a collection of mythological re-telling by the members of The Poetry Brothel, as a project co-edited by The Poetry Society of New York.


Me: If you were to be remembered for one work, which would it be?

Lisa: I don't know yet, I don't know the answer to your question. I wish I did, but I know my most important work hasn't come yet. I know it'll be there when I finally have to confront the saddest things in my life. And the saddest things haven't happened yet.

Me: You have a book coming out from Cervena Barva Press. Can you tell us about it?

Lisa: Cervena Barvas' wonderful editor, Gloria Mindock, is publishing my full-length collection, A Decent Voodoo. It's a book I wrote in college and was contracted in 2010, so it's been a while coming! It showcases a sensual world of bodies, ritual, location and my minimalist style at that time. A lot of it is about people and places and ghosts -- things I have never seen, people I've never met, places I've never been, and telling my own tales through them. It's about the lines between good and bad, sad and free. I'm in the process of editing it finally and getting endorsements. I'm really, really, really grateful to Gloria Mindock.

Me: Tell me about the poetry Brothel. What is it?

Lisa: I am a member of The Poetry Brothel, which is produced by The Poetry Society of New York, a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas. The Poetry Brothel, specifically, is one project of TPSNY, and it's lovely! I've been in the Brothel for a year now, and it's really inspired me.. The Brothel provides a unique reading and listening experience for visitors. Instead of being read to by a poet at a podium, listeners (Johns, or patrons) here live readings by a number of poets through out one night (there may be music, burlesque or magic shows between) and then they can choose a poet from their live readings or from a book of character bios (each Brothel poet has a character and background, in addition to their real-life poetic selves) and have a private reading. The private readings cost a certain amount of money and the poet takes the listener to a hallway, a bedroom, a chaise longue, a telephone booth (it depends on our location. We've had a residency at The Back Room, a speakeasy in NYC as well as on Governor's Island all summer in a colonial mansion we've decorated fully). The listener hears the poets, can interrupt the reading, ask questions, read poems to the poet. Maybe hands are help. Maybe whispers are heard. It isn't sexual at all, but it's play on the exchange of money for sex for money for poetry. It brings poetry into the arena as a commodity. There's a brothel in Barcelona, Montreal, Hanoi, Chicago, New Orleans, California, and many other places. We could show up at any port and be welcomed. It's a beautiful world that is bringing talented, published poets to listeners in a unique setting. In the end, even if the show is wild and gorgeous, it's about the poetry and craft of language, the connection between people and poets. My name is Luna Liprari. Would you like a private reading?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

It was 7:15 a.m., 15 minutes before my wife and I intended to wake up, when the head of maintenance, knocked on the door. He'd brought an exterminator to deal with the ants that had been overrunning the faculty apartment we'd moved into two weeks before. The apartment that hadn't been cleaned, or, apparently, sprayed before we moved in. The head of maintenance had a malicious glint in his eyes, as though he'd caught us sleeping in 'til noon.

We dressed and let the exterminator in, and I spent the next fifteen minutes or so showing him where we'd seen the ants, while he sprayed and complained nonstop.
"You just get back from your summer vacation?" he asked.
"Not really," I said. I had turned in the final grades for my summer classes the day before the movers came to deliver us to my wife's new appointment at a boarding school in a different state. We'd been unpacking and scrambling to get our lives settled in the week allotted before classes began. Paying the movers meant we had to live bare bones for a couple months, but it was for the promise of a more satisfying future, a better life.
"Exterminators don't get summer breaks. I work twelve hour days. I don't get any breaks," he said.
Being a teacher at a community college and married to a high school teacher, I didn't feel much sympathy for the man. And having grown up on a farm, the son of a farmer who really did work from dawn to dusk seven days a week, including a half day on Christmas, and never complained about it, I was even less impressed. Especially considering he'd woken me up, which I was prepared to forgive, until he started complaining.

The man walked through, miserably spraying behind cabinets, coating the baseboards, hitting all the places I'd already laid poison. I'm sure his job was difficult in certain ways. The tank was probably heavy. He probably spent most of his time on the road, which could be tedious, and the poisons were probably pretty toxic. He had to go into some unpleasant places--smelly basements, hot attics. He probably had to deal with some unsavory things, but he chose the job.

What I wanted to say to him was that if he was jealous of us teachers ("What, are we sitting on the beach drinking margaritas?" my wife commented after he left) and hated his job so much, quit. It's the easiest thing in the world. Quit, go to school, get a better job, one you can be proud of. Sacrifice a little bit; put your money where your mouth is. Most of all, I wanted to tell him to shut up and quit complaining. Do something about it. But no, the poor trod-upon exterminator (who was, I am certain, making more money per hour than me or my wife, especially if you actually looked at the volume of work each of us did) chose to stick with his current job and complain about it instead of improving his lot in life. Eyes full of disdain and self-pity, he looked upon our utilitarian furniture, mostly bare rooms, cheap, teacherly clothes, and thought, those lucky bastards. They get all the breaks.

My brother is the opposite. Years ago, he left the farm to work a factory job because my father felt there was no future in farming for either of us. After fourteen years at the factory, he was laid off when it moved to Korea, as has been the fashion with American industry for some time now. Even though they sapped his livelihood and his confidence, my brother feels no animosity toward said factory owners and will, in any conversation, take the staunchly conservative view of supporting big-business over the workers, even though big-business put him on unemployment. He's also the kind of guy who continues to blame the unions for the failing auto industry, for example, claiming, 'they had it too good for too long.'

Keep in mind, now, my brother lives with my father in a rural area with few jobs and refuses to commute or move in order to support himself. The jobs available in nearby towns or cities aren't good enough for him, he feels, but he refuses to do anything to improve his immediate situation, choosing instead to cash in his retirement early while also accruing a huge credit card debt. It's as though he expects someone to hand him a job, or maybe just a check. This isn't how we were raised and this sense of entitlement is the bane of my existence, so how frustrating to find it firmly ensconced in the heart of my own brother?

In the first three years after he was laid off--before he gave up completely--my brother held several jobs, only one for longer than a month. He worked at a Frito-Lay factory but complained about the drive (forty-five minutes with virtually no traffic. But this seems like a pretty common commute time. I drove that much, easily, to my adjunct gig, and my wife drove more.)Then he worked in another factory and complained about the conditions (which were unsavory, I will grant him.) After he got his foot run over by a fork-lift, he put in a handful of applications and gave up, even though he hadn't been seriously injured.

In the winters, he worked with my father or whoever he could, selling catfish as my father has for longer than I've been alive. My father grew up during the depression. He served in the armed forces at the tail end of WWII and built the farm up from nothing. He's had his share of problems, including losing a third of the farm and having to sell off the bulk of what was left to survive, but even now, in his eighties, he still walks the land, maintaining it. He continues to sell fish with my brother for purely altruistic means, and my brother, eighteen years my senior, still doesn't see this. This is an extreme example, but what I'm talking about, here, is ease.

It's easier to complain and just keep doing the job one hates than to work toward the achievement of lofty goals. It's easy to give up, to sulk, instead of to recognize a hardship and move on. It's easy to just get through life. Wake up in the morning, eat some breakfast, go to work, pay the rent, come home. It's easy to just make-do. And if someone makes you feel bad about it, it's easy to write that person off as a rich private school teacher or some son of privilege.

This was the attitude I met with for the five years I worked retail before I decided to go to college. I didn't like my life. I was getting by, sure, and I didn't mind my job as a produce manager at a grocery store. I took pride in doing a useful job that people appreciated. When the produce looked good, people complemented me. When it looked bad, they let me know that, too. But, as my father had said to me about farming, there didn't seem to be any future in it.

After I started college, I continued to work retail jobs, which were the only ones that would work around my class schedule, and it only got worse. Now, I was the sucker for going to school. My co-workers complained that they couldn't afford to go to school and scoffed if I suggested taking out a loan. They complained that they'd be stuck in the same jobs for their whole lives, but any suggestion of doing something about it was met with animosity. I was written off as an elitist, a "college boy." People acted as though I had never worked a day in my life, though, my first summer term of college, I worked sixty hour weeks in addition to taking a full course load, and I tended to work full time in addition to a full course load for the rest of the year, as well. But don't most people? I would feel vindicated in my own efforts, but if I mentioned it to one of them now, he or she would only complain about how unfair life is.

Which is true. Life isn't fair. I don't know who came up with the idea that it was, but we should find out and go kick him. Hard. If life were fair, I could've stayed on my father's farm, my pet dog Red from when I was ten never would've died, and there'd be something good on TV when I actually sit down to watch it. Life isn't fair, good things don't last, and fad diets never work.

I won't say that I'm making the big bucks now as a result of all my spent elbow grease (far from it) and it's true that my wife and I have a mountain of student loan debt to pay off, thanks to our efforts to seek out better lives. But we have something to show for it. We worked hard and we're getting to do something we love. Sure, the biggest thing we've gained next to our debt is the opportunity to continue working hard for the forseeable future, but work gives meaning and shape to our lives if it's the work you want to do. That's a basic human need - to work - and even my brother feels something is lacking in his life as a result of his refusal to seek and perform some labor, menial or not.

So, back to the exterminator. I wanted to explain that he could do better work, if he wanted to. But in all honesty, he probably knows that already. He'd rather complain and sound like a spoiled child than put forth the effort. Instead, I just showed him where to spray and got him out of my house as quickly as possible. Next time, I'll do it myself. That way, I'll have nothing to complain about.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

32. Subconscious, by Matthew Scott. This is a supernatural mystery. Very nice gothic elements reminiscent of an old Hammer horror film, making it moody with a good sense of place. Made me want to write a horror story.

33. Give Over the Heckler and Everyone Gets Hurt, poetry by Jason Tandan. Fairly dry collection that never seems to plumb the depths, emotionally. I think it’s supposed to be funny, but I couldn’t tell. But that might just be me; it’s hard to make me laugh. I don’t mean to be rude—the guy teaches at a writing program so I expect a little more…

34. And What Did You Want? Poems by Jay Arr. Some nice moments, especially when the author writes about his children and family. He appears to have a rich history to draw from. A little weak at times when he relies on clich├ęs.

35. Preacher’s Blues, poems by Benjamin S. Lowenkron. This is a themed collection dealing with “Preacher,” a Louisiana-Bukowski type character. Some really nice moments when Lowenkron pretties up the page with Bayou imagery.

I was interviewed recently, and one of the questions was ‘what have you read lately that really blew you away.’ I had a hard time with that. I haven’t read anything in a while that blew me away. I answered with a nonfiction book, but that’s not fair, really: the book didn’t blow me away; the events it describes did. So I’ve decided to go back to basics. I’ll be reading some older novels for a while, perhaps some Russians. There are a few recent books I’m looking forward to, though. Corey Mesler has a couple novels. Tom Williams has one. As soon as I can afford them…

Thursday, August 04, 2011

I have two poetry chapbooks that have just been published online. Leap Year just came out as an ebook from The Red Ceilings Press.

Also The Man Who Killed Himself in My Bathroom just came out at 10 Pages Press here.

So I got some really nice news today. A press is interested in my full-length poetry collection Riceland, which is about my childhood growing up on a rice farm in Eastern Arkansas. I've been working on this book for ten years, so hopefully it's a good one. This is a collection I've been trying to place for years--I actually had a press interested, but I backed out before anything was finalized. I like this press a lot and am looking forward to working with them, assuming nothing weird happens. This will be my 8th book.

So I'm off to tweek Riceland once more. I'm also wrapping up my steampunk/slave narrative/gollum novel tentatively titled Clay (or maybe Man of Clay). After that, I may dive in to some short stories or try to wrap up a novel I had to postpone a few months ago. But first, I have to feed my daughter.