Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Chapbook of my poetry and prose and a quick update

It has been a very eventful summer, full of illness and accidents, new jobs, and even a move. I am now in Davenport, Iowa about to teach speech at a community college.

Not the most flattering picture I have ever taken, but I am pretty happy to have a community college teaching ID!!

My other big news that I wanted to share with you is that my first chapbook of poetry and prose that is not self-published has just come out. It is called Cubicleland and is being published online from Kind of a Hurricane Press. Click here to see it!

That's all for now! Soon I hope to be writing again, but for now, I am just working on getting my classes in order.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Review of Mina Loy on Goodreads

The Lost Lunar Baedeker: Poems of Mina LoyThe Lost Lunar Baedeker: Poems of Mina Loy by Mina Loy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mina Loy was an early feminist and an avant-garde poet and writer. This book features Loy's amazing poetry as well as her manifestos on futurism and feminism. My favorite poem is Songs to Johannes. It is basically just an edifying book for any woman working in the avant-garde who has been led to believe that the avant-garde had been a largely male domain until the 1960s. As more and more collections of poetry and biographies emerge on Loy, Baronness Elsa, and a host of other women, our contributions to the avant-garde and to poetry and art in general are being acknowledged and our stories told.

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Debate Over Conceptual Poetics

So lately I have found myself talking a fair amount about conceptual poetics, which I had also blogged about in 2008 when I went to the Conceptual Poetics conference at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. I was talking with a friend of mine about Conceptual Poetics and Kenneth Goldsmith's appearance at the White House and on The Colbert Report.

Then, lo and behold, my friend Arthur Durkee writes about Goldsmith and Conceptual Poetics at his blog, Dragon Cave in response to an article written by Robert Archambeau on the Poetry Foundation website.

So, I am adding my two cents to the conversation.

I was at the Conceptual Poetics conference held at the U of Arizona poetry center in 2008. Craig Dworkin talked about a desire to link a literary movement to an artistic one, which hadn't been done I think, since Dada/Surrealism. Of course, it's a self-conscious, rather than an organic linking. But I think the desire behind it is a good one.

I agree that much of the techniques employed are very similar to ready-mades and to cut-up poetry, Flarf, etc. I doubt that most of the conference participants would identify exclusively as conceptual poets, except maybe for Dworkin and Goldsmith, although hearing Goldmsith's work at the White House, it was a bit more "artful" than what Goldsmith usually practices and advocates.

I think of conceptual poetics as trying to update and expand on Dadaist and post/modernist poetry practices. I think it is useful for discussion of what poetry is and is not. I use some of Goldsmith's writings in my community education classes, which generates a lot of heated debates because ultimately, people DO want poetry to be charming or beautiful or to help people make connections between seemingly unrelated objects and situations. Ironically, I find Goldsmith himself, in his writings, on television,and in person, to be quite charming and very thoughtful about what it is that he does. He just wrote a very thoughtful blog on the Poetry Foundation's blog, for example, on coming across some of Jackson Mac Low's book collection at a book dealer that was very poignant and thoughtful, despite the glibness of the title, The Burden of Artists' Crap.

Like Surrealist techniques, I find Conceptualist Poetics to be very good for maintaining a writing practice, which can lead to creativity just by forcing one to sit down and write anything. (Keep in mind that visual artists learn to copy as they are learning and developing their own style.) It is very useful for stimulating thought (since Goldsmith would be against the idea of stimulating "creativity."). It can be helpful getting people to believe that everyone can write poetry. (I used to have this debate with people at open mics who would claim everyone is a poet. Not everyone is a poet, anymore than everyone is a plumber, a doctor, an accountant, or a dancer. But everyone should write poetry, dance, be able to do math, and take care of their health.)

There is much that can be borrowed and learned from previous art and literary movements rather than treating them as if they are merely dead relics to be crammed into museums and looked at, rather than a living practice. There is value in updating our venerated avant-gardes then, which, if they have any value to offer, can and should be updated. It is a tenet of modernism to declare what came before you as dead and to proclaim yourself the new hot thing. This, ironically, is both what conceptual poetics is out to deny by denying any idea of creativity in process, and a stance which conceptual visual artists frequently embrace.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Trip so far: unsuccessful!

Chicago Thursday -- Chicago must have the worst streets anywhere, and that includes Minneapolis! I have fallen twice tripping on broken pavement and now actually stepping in a pothole in the middle of the street and going down hard on my left side. Ankle looks like a grapefruit or more like an eggplant -- big and purple.

This hasn't actually been my MOST unsuccessful visit to Chicago. There was the disastrous job interview 20 years ago when I came out in a rain storm, went looking for my friends in the Art Institute, had to deal with snotty minimum-wage-earning desk clerk having just had a horrendous terrible interview and being totally soaked and in tears. There have been many many trips to Chicago that resulted in public transportation mishaps, getting lost, etc. But most recent visits have been ok until now. Getting sick and now having a sprained ankle makes this my most unsuccessful visit in recent history.

It took me until Friday for some reason to go and get an ankle brace. My host for this part of the trip offered to go get some things for me, but I decided I wanted to pick it out myself and I had an ever-growing list that included pain killers, cough drops, and an unhealthy amount of comfort food! Spent the whole day Friday in front of the television doing nothing but periodically sleeping and checking my facebook games to see who played song pop with me.

The disconcerting thing is that it is now Sunday, in Davenport Iowa. I have the house to myself as my hosts have gone to visit their fathers, but mine is in Florida, too far to visit right now. And I am doing the same thing that I did on Friday. Despite having much to do, or having new cities to visit, I just don't seem to have the brain power, willpower, coordination, motivation to do any of the things I need to do. Maybe I am just residually tired from being sick and am just being too hard on myself. I just feel my vacation being wasted and slipping away from me. Even this particular journal is lackluster!


Hope to have better travel journals soon.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Chicago Day 3

So here I sit in Caribou again. I will be out 10 hours, due to my hosts not being home until later this evening. The problem -- one which was unexpected in both cases -- is that in Chicago and New York there is not really the tradition of coffee shops apparently, which is why there are so many Starbucks and Caribous and other chain coffee shops here. Manhattan, which has everything under the sun, did not have an extravagant proliferation of local coffee shops and I have not found that many here in Chicago either. Then again, haven't felt well enough to venture out too far off the beaten path this trip. I know there are a lot of readings in coffee shops here, but they seem to be farther between than say, Minneapolis, where there is virtually a coffee shop of some kind every three or four blocks, and NOT just a Caribou or a Starbucks! Minneapolitans are snobbish about their non-corporate coffee shops!

Afraid to leave Caribou. I have this heavy computer on my back and I have a lot of work to do. Also, I am still a little bit sick and am at the stage where I am in the bathroom every half an hour, water pouring out of my body as if it has been three days since I was allowed to pee, not thirty minutes. So far, I am not making the most out of this trip or this city, but I do have 3 or 4 more days here, plus an overnight wait for my bus on the return trip. I am trying not to be anxious. This does not come easily to me. I have at once too great a sense of my own mortality, of the possibility that I may not come back this way again, and denial of my own mortality, the side of me that eats junk food and makes jokes while having chest pains and headaches. Today is my first day, or at least first few hours, without a headache in about two months, I realized while sitting in Caribou waiting for the next pee pang to hit me in the bladder.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Travel to Chicago, again or, Sickness in Chicago

So since the theme of my reading on Wednesday will be Surrealist Summer Travelogue, I was revisiting a lot of my travel journals, which mostly start with Chicago. All of the same things apply. It is humid as hell here. The city is still delightful and feels a little more accessible to me every time I visit here, no matter how long it has been since the last time.

And as usual, there is "an adventure" or some difficulty on the trip down. This one keeps on giving. While on the way here, the air conditioning on the Megabus could not be turned off, in what I can only assume was some kind of "Speed" scenario in which the bus would explode if they turned the air down. So I had almost nine hours of pure cold air blowing on me, no matter how hard I tried to close the vents. The bus broke down in Madison and I was grateful not the have the air conditioning on, at least.

So, guess what? That's right, I am traveling in Chicago with a full on summer cold. Sore throat, feverish, achy muscles, have to go to the bathroom every half an hour -- which in Chicago, takes some planning. I packed my phone charger in the other bag that I took out yesterday, so even though I am at Millennium Park, or Grant Park, or whatever you want to call it (probably Millennium Park distances it from the ugly history it had in the 1960s), I am unable to take pictures today.

So, what am I doing in Chicago for this afternoon? I am sitting in Caribou. That's right, in Caribou, which I can go to in Minneapolis. Caribou which is right next door to Starbucks. But, they have a public bathroom and plug-ins so I can write my fascinating rant/travel story to you right now. It is on Michigan Avenue and it is across from Millennium Park, which I did go to for about half an hour, most notably to the bathroom in the amphitheater, and then to the dome-shaped thing. Even though I cannot take pictures right now. I can assure you that this Caribou looks like every other. And I have been told that next year every Caribou in Chicago will change over to Pete's. That is the sum total of my experience for today.

Yesterday, got into town, went to my friend's house, and slept until noon. Then, I went out exploring the neighborhood after a while, which is a largely Puerto Rican neighborhood and had a great Mexican lunch for $5 and went and explored Humboldt Park, which is on the west side. Then I went home, listened to a little bit of the Tony awards, did some stuff on the computer, and fell asleep early. I had hoped to go the Green Mill reading, but the cold had already set in and I found myself pretty much unable to move off of the bed.
I feel like I should write another metaphor here, but I'm not going to get one as good as the lotto balls. So you write your own metaphor, something about a mannequin or a doll who plays computer games. You get the drift. Cut me some slack. I'm sick!

More about my illustrious trip later. Hopefully it will get better. Or I guess I will die. I am still having that pain in my head that I refer to as my aneurism. Stay tuned . . . .

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Final scene of my accursed novel

In late August, Clark didn't show up for the departmental meeting. Or the first day of class. Harry scrambled to fill a couple of Clark's classes temporarily, but had to cancel his senior seminar. The telephone offered only the knowledge that Clark had either moved or not paid his bill. The post office was no help either. Finding Clark became almost an obsesson. He tried to contact the local U-Haul company, but they had only Clark's old address. If Clark had a new phone, it was unlisted, if he was still in town at all.

The utility company claimed their records were confidential. Harry ran ads in the newspaper personals urging Clark to contact them. He contacted all of Clark's next-of-kin listed in his file. They had received postcards reassuring them that Clark was ok, but no information about where he was or what he was doing. His mother and father knew only that he'd had the summer off and was working on a book.

One of Clark's former teaching assistants spotted him getting on a bus one day. She called after him, but Clark didn't respond. Knowing how much Harry wanted to find Clark, she began riding that bus for several days until she finally spotted Clark coming out of his apartment building. She pulled the cord and jumped of the bus as wuickly as possible, but once again, lost track of Clark before she could catch up to him. She wrote down the address and took it back to Harry's office.

Harry stopped by the building several times, but it was a security building with a locked front door. He wasn't able to get in to knock on Clark's door directly, and Clark never answered the doorbell. Harry spent a half an hour to an hour each day parked in Clark's block, but never managed to find him. He varied the times of day he drove by, but it never seemed to matter. Finally, Harry saw someone entering the building with several small boxes in either hand and under her arms. He got out of his car and ran in the front door before it had shut behind her.

Maureen stood at the public phone in the McDonald's outside of Milwaukee. She pulled out her phone card and began punching in the access code that was probably more elaborate than the one needed to detonate an atomic bomb. She tapped her foot while the phone rang. There was on off-key beep and the automated operator came on. I'm sorry, the number you have reached is no longer in service. Please hang up and dial again, or call your operator for assistance. Maureen checked the number and tried again, muttering one more time about having to punch in 27 digits to make a phone call. When she heard the same beep, she did not wait around for the operator's instructions. She picked up her bag and got back on the bus.

The woman turned out to be Clark's landlady, and she informed Harry that Clark had called her last night. He said that he was out of town and wouldn't be coming back.

The landlady invited Harry to come in and look around, as she was going to have to clean the apartment and pack up Clark's things.

When they walked in, the found the bed made with a few empty hangers lying on top of it. On the kitchen table was a shoe box with Clark's manuscript and next to that was a letter from Maureen. Harry scanned it, trying to focus only on information about where Clark had gone. He found no concrete information, only vague references and congratulations on Clark's new resolve and new life. Maureen was proud of Clark for finally putting his convictions into practice, whatever that meant. Maybe they'd run into each other along the way, the card said..

The most cluttered part of the apartment was the refrigerator door. It was covered with brochures and clippings from leftist tabloids and newspapers. The People. Love and Rage. In These Times. Pamphlets from the Peace corps. Native American support project. Many of them had portions that had been cut out, apparently signing up for something or requesting more information. There was one small clipping--a classified ad that still carried a red ink semi-circle along its torn edges.

Tired of trying to change the system from within?
Don't leave it to the politicians and the U.N. Be a
part of people's revolutions around the world.
Really 'be all that you can be' in South or Central
America, Eastern Europe, etc. 736-9414.

There was another circled ad for a Kibbutz in Israel. And a postcard from Maureen of a commune in Oregon she had spent a weekend at. Harry began removing items from the refrigerator and putting them in his suitcoat pocket.

Harry sighed. "The sonofabitch. What the hell is he thinking . . . ?" The landlady shrugged and continued folding clothes into boxes. Harry thanked her and walked down the stairs and out to his car muttering "I guess I'll be doing more teaching than I thought this semester."

Harry looked up from his book and started when he saw Maureen standing in front of him. Her t-shirt was grungy, not having been changed in several days, and she had with her the backpack which had all of her belonging in it.

"Maureen, I thought you'd left."

"Well, now I'm back."

"I see that." Harry paused nervously and leaned forward. "What can I do for you, Maureen?"

"Where's Clark?"

"What's the matter? Are you . . . in trouble? Is that why you came back?"

"What the hell are you talking about, Harry?"

"I'm sorry. Have a seat, Maureen." Harry gestured to the chair in front of his desk, usually reserved for prospective new students or advisees coming in to discuss scheduling or changes to their major. Maureen set her bag down on the floor and dropped into the chair."

"I'm very tired and I came a long way to see Clark. Do you know where he is? He's not on any of the class schedules and none of your secretary toadies out there will tell me anything. Who's that living in the house? Did you fire Clark? Was he killed by right-wing terrorists? What do you know about this, Harry?" Exhausted,

Maureen started to cry. She sat straight up in front of Harry as tears ran impassively down her cheeks. There was no great love loss between these two, but Harry felt bad for the young woman.

"Did Clark leave you . . . in trouble? Is there anything you need, Maureen?" Harry started to get up and come around the desk. Maureen stuck her hand up like a traffic cop and motioned for him to stay where he was.

"Why won't you just tell me straight, Harry? Everything's fine. I just want to come home."

Harry grimmaced. "Then I think you should go home. Go back to your parents, and get on with your life."

“This IS my life, Harry. I know you never liked the idea, but Clark and I have been together for four years. There is no other life to “get on with.” Is he avoiding me? Did he tell you . . ." Maureen started to cry a little harder. Harry passed her a tissue over the desk.

"No. Maybe. Maureen, Clark is avoiding everyone. He's gone."

"What do you mean?"

"He just left. He took a sabbatical and that's the last I ever saw of him." Harry paused, remembering the stake-outs from his car window. "Here. That's the last I ever saw of him here."

"Do you know where he is?" Maureen sniffled and wiped her nose with the folded up tissue.

"No, but I know where he was."

Maureen nodded. She picked up her bag and stood up. "Show me."

Harry called one of the other professors and asked him to cover his afternoon classes, classes that were originally Clark's. He explained that an emergency had come up and escorted Maureen to his car in the faculty lot. There was an awkward silence on the way, and during the trip to Clark's small apartment, Maureen leaned silently against the car window. She watched the landscape of the university turn to dorms and apartments, and then through the nicer neighborhoods, where the professors lived, big old houses with porches and siding, some with manicured looking lawns. Past campustown, they got into what Maureen considered the funkier neighborhood, where the radicals and artists lived. She sighed. She wanted to go home. Mo and Harry drove past the street she and Clark had lived on and she was momentarily disoriented not to be turning the corner. They had driven this exact route together so many times over the past three years. Maureen picked her head up from the window and turned toward the block their house was on, looking for signs or clues.

"He finished his book," Harry interrupted.

"Really." Maureen shifted her body and turned toward Harry. "Is it any good?"

"I only read parts of it."

"Where is it?'

"I left it there. In the apartment."

"Apartment?" Maureen repeated. Then she became annoyed. "How could you do that? Just leave his manuscript behind like it was nothing. Do you know hard he worked on that? Do you think his landlady is going to save that?"

She turned back toward the window, picturing Clark in a dingy little apartment, with his PC at the kitchen table, up writing all night. She remembered how he used to pace the floor while he was working on an article and would run back to the desk whenever something struck him. Then he would write for a few minutes or an hour, as long as it took to exhaust that thought. He then stood up and paced, reading outloud what he had just written and making notes.

"Well, he obviously wasn't too concerned about it. Why should I be? Besides, his rent is paid up through this month, she told me. I just stopped in myself last week. I was trying to think of who to call. To come get everything."

"Then it's a good thing I showed up, isn't it?"

Maureen and Harry were silent on the rest of the drive. Gradually, the neighborhoods became a little more run down. The buildings were older and the streets were in greater disrepair. Still, Maureen liked the building that Harry stopped in front of. There was a large old elm tree in the front yard that gave a lot of shade. The buidling was square, almost modular looking. Maureen smiled thinking that in its day, probably the late 60s or early 70s, it was probably considered quite hip. She and Harry walked down three or four steps, to a sub-ground floor apartment whose windows appeared just at the level of the lawn, which was green, but not lush like the professors' homes.

Maureen peeked in the small square window of the front door and Harry took out his keys. Mo looked at him surprised. "The landlady gave me these. So I could clean everything out."

"I'll take it." Maureen held out her hand. "You can go. I'll take it from here."
Harry looked at Maureen, hesitating to give her the key. "I don't know, Maureen. Is that . . ."

But Maureen's face was determined looking. She continued to hold her hand out as she held Harry's gaze. "Just give me the key, Harry, and go back to class."

Harry was frozen. Maureen became more adamant. "HARRY! Give . . . me . . . the . . . key." Startled, he began to fumble with his keychain and Maureen softened her tone. "Let me say goodbye. By myself. Ok?"

Harry nodded and took the key off the chain. "I promised the landlady . . . do you . . . ? Do you know his family very well?"

"Harry," Maureen took the key and touched him on the shoulder, "I'll take care of it."

Mo waited until Harry's car had pulled completely out of sight before unlocking the door. It reminded her of her first student apartment. The kitchen table had thin brass legs and a cover like a plastic picnic table cloth, with faded yellow flowers, and three chairs that matched exactly. The oven was white with black knobs, the clunky round knobs that told her that the stove was probably brand new when the apartment was built. The refrigerator seemed somewhat newer, maybe only ten years old rather than twenty-five. When Maureen opened it to find it completely empty and spotlessly clean, she smiled, hoping that Clark had given any leftover food to a shelter or street person rather than throwing it out.

She sat down at the table and looked at the box that held the culmination of Clark's work since before she had known him. Down at the other end of the room there was a sofa bed folded out and neatly made up. She took the manuscript over to the bed and lay down on her stomach, flipping the pages over in front of her. Reading Clark's prose, the way his mind worked, making connections that other people might not notice, she was transported back to his classroom, back to the chalkboard dream in the bus station. She could hear his voice as she read every sentence. Tears fell onto the pages and she set them down carefully so that they would dry without ruining the ink and causing his words to be lost. Six months of assumptions rolled up into a heavy ball in her stomach. How could he not be there, tenure-seeker that he was, building a career and life she could come home to. She closed her eyes tight, trying to bring his face into her memory, but each time as she thought she had it, he faded again, leaving only the sound of scratching chalk, as she drifted to sleep, her arms around the thick stack of papers.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Another scene from my accursed novel

By 3:30, Clark decided to give in to his insomnia. He stumbled down to the kitchen to make some coffee. Then he sat down in the dark, mesmerized by the light of the stereo. There was a lot to be seen in darkness. He could see past lives that were more easily forgotten in the business of the day.

Not all of his memories were bad, either. Maybe they should be. People should be consistent. They shouldn't play with your feelings and leave you with ambivalence. They should be good or bad. Period. That would make it easier to love or hate them without any remorse or concern about their feelings or motives.

Clark threw the mug against the wall, embarrassed by the triteness of the gesture, but the movement felt good.

"Why do you always blame everything on me? You know, that's the problem . . . "

"No, that's the problem. The problem is that whenever I bring anything up, I'm blaming you, or I'm nagging, or, whatever. The problem as I see it isn't that everything's your fault. It's that nothing is your fault." She poked her head out the bathroom door and looked at Clark. "Let me put it this way, then, I know us."

"Don't you think we've both changed?"

"Not enough. Look, sit down, let's talk about it this time, ok? Not fight, not get defensive, just let me tell you how I feel." They sat caddy-corner from one another in the oversized red chairs. "I know that I'll want to start leaning on you, and you'll get scared and pull back and you'll get that trapped animal attitude. Then I'll get angry with you and we'll be right back where we were before."

"No we won't."

"Ok, you're right. This time it happens, I'll completely hate you. As it stands now, I'm starting to like both of us. Let's keep it that way." She picked up her purse and started out the door.

"Where are you going?"

It was 2 a.m. when Clark got home. He thought they'd never get the papers done.
He walked into the bedroom without noticing that Maureen was sitting quietly in the dark living room. She didn't say anything to him, either. She looked out the window. Her eyesight and adjusted to the darkness now, and she looked around the room.

Around noon, she shuffled out of the bedroom in a shaggy blue robe and elephant slippers. She yawned and looked blankly at Clark.

"Good morning." It took effort.

"You look terrible."

"Thanks. Love ya. I'll bet you say that to all the girls."

"Where were you last night?"

"Just sitting out here thinking. How'd it go yesterday?'

"You know," Clark said, moving towards Maureen and putting his arms around her, "after this semester I could probably get away for a while--take a sabbatical."

We both know,€ that despite all of your best intentions,€ you're not going to keep any promises you make about spending time with me. So this whole conversation seems pointless."

"So that's what this is about? You're pissed off because I haven't been spending enough time with you, so you're going to get back at me. 'No, that's ok, dear. I don't want you to give up your career for me.'

Bullshit!€ You know, most women would love for their boyfriends or husbands to drop everything for them."

"Look, it's early and I'm not awake enough for a fight right now."

"Well start chugging some coffee, because I am."

Mo woke up early the next morning with squinty eyes and a pained expression, as if there were oil drilling inside her head.

She laughed a little, but it only hurt her head worse. Wouldn't everyone be surprised to see her right now? wouldn't she be surprised to see them, since she was just getting out of bed? Ow. No humor. It was well-known that Maureen never drank and didn't even like the taste of alcohol.

But she had made an exception this weekend. "I just felt so shitty, you know?" she explained to Alice later on the phone. "Every little thing becomes a catastrophe. I decided if I was going to feel so bad, at least I should have a good reason."

The hangover started to wear off, though, as she moved around a little and got dressed. At least she was alone and didn't have anyone harrassing her about her weekend's activities.

She realized that weekend that she was, in fact, a workaholic. Work was all that she really enjoyed anymore. If she was drawing or meeting with someone or staying in an office from sunrise until sunset, it was o.k. with her. In fact, she was known everywhere as one of the most agreeable, hardworking people to be found. That reputation had been a large part of her success.

She had begun to think more and more about her "addiction." Would she end up alone for the rest of her life? Would she end up with eight or nine different husbands, each with a successful life of their own, but resenting a workaholic life? Neither proposition looked very eppealing. Well, ok. She probably wouldn't be Zsa Zsa Gabor or anything, but the prospects of one, healthy relationship didn't look too good, either.She liked the idea of independence, and certainly loved her work, but she knew that there had to be more in your life than just work to keep you from eventually feeling bored and restless with yourself.

Clark spotted Maureen across the plaza. He felt disoriented and couldn't quite place where he was. The plaza, or maybe even a piazza, was like something he had envisioned from a Greek myth. There was a small gazebo, round with white columns, slanting at the foot of a small, but respectable hill. The grass was more lush and green than he had ever seen before, and there were people standing around talking, leaning on tables. He shook his head as miniskirts appeared almost as togas. And yet this place was very familiar, too. He spotted Maureen and walked to her in slow motion and real time. When he approached her, she simply ended the conversation she was having with someone and fell into step beside Clark. Neither said where they were going, the just walked.

Suddenly Clark and Maureen found themselves inside a room. He lay her back on a table or an elevated bed of some sort and began to kiss her neck while tugging her shirt out of its tuck inside her pants. He felt a great melancholy as he did this, as his lips came into contact with her skin. She kissed him back, pulling his face to hers, twirling light the small hairs from his beard into curls. Distracted and without a word, silent as she had been throughout, Maureen stood up and walked out of the room and into the crowd. Clark tried to pull himself together and chased her out into the plaza. Without running or trying to avoid him, Maureen managed to always stay a few steps away from him. She never appeared to hear him--in fact no one heard him call out after her--and eventually, she disappeared into the crowd completely.

Clark continued to look for her, certain that once he was outside of the crowd, he would be able to spot her walking across a park or a field, but it was as if she had evaporated completely, decrystalized in front of him. He suddenly remembered where he was--this was the hill where the Washington Monument stood, the very hill where they had met up after being separated in the middle of the March on Washington for affordable housing. This was the place they always agreed to meet when they got lost from one another. Clark sat down on the side of the hill, scanning the crowd for some sign of what the people were rallying for today.

Over the next three nights, this dream repeated itself in various milieus--on campus, at a faculty party, and in the middle of a Greyhound station. Despite the change of venue, the dream was always the same. A rendez-vous, a tryst that was leading toward sex, but not just sex. It was very emotional for Clark. And then just as they were about to come together, just as clothes were starting to shed, Maureen would become distracted and wander off, as if he had never been there.

This much he knew--that Maureen was probably on a Greyhound right now, "finding herself" in middle America, or maybe dancing on the beach in San Francisco, trying to live a life that she had never lived but always wanted to. He knew it was irrational--what his flaky sister-in-law in all her 12-step self improvement lingo would call "co-dependent", but it hurt him to think that there was so much longing in her that Maureen that couldn't be satisfied in the world they had built up together. And now, no matter how much he tried to reach her, Maureen was now out of reach altogether.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The Protest: Scene from my Accursed Novel

When Clark walked into the house, he heard yelling come from the living room. He set his backpack down by the door and ran in to see what was wrong. Maureen was sitting on the floor stuffing envelopes and screaming at the television.

"You fucking lying bastard! How can you sit there and say that shit?!"


Maureen looked up at Clark. "Oh, Hi. Can you believe these guys?"

Clark leaned over and kissed Maureen on the top of the head. "I thought you were being raped or something."

"You're so melodramatic sometimes."

"I'm melodramatic? You're having a premature stroke watching Crossfire and I'm melodramatic? Mo, maybe you shouldn't watch so many of these things. This can't be healthy, even at your age."

"At my age? What should I be watching at my age? Bozo's Cartoon Circus?"

"I'm just saying, that you don't have to watch every news show just because it's there."

Maureen looked at Clark blankly, as if he were speaking Swahili. "That's what they want, Clark."

"There is such a thing as too much information."

"Sure. I can pretend it's not there and sit around watching sit-coms or docudramas and wait for them to show up at my door and drag me off for thought crimes. Or better still, they could find me so innocuous that they would ignore me completely because my brain is so addled and placated . . . "

"That's not going to happen."

"Tell it to a campesina or a Bosnian Moslem."

Maureen to continued to stuff and label envelopes without missing a beat. "I'm just saying," Clark continued, "that one day without being in a snit might actually be good for you. You push yourself so hard sometimes." Clark sat down on the sofa behind maureen and began rubbing her shoulders as she sat on the floor, back to the sofa, with a pile of flyers, a roll of printed mailing labels, and a sheet of stampls on the coffee table in front of her. She leaned her head back against his legs and sighed. Clark leaned forward and kissed her. "Tyranny will still be there tomorrow for you to battle."

Maureen snapped forward and began folding flyers again. "Don't patronize me, Clark. Just because you and your friends got tired and sold out . . . "

"Don't start on this again. If what I do is so shitty, why do you put up with me? Not everyone can throw themselves in front of traffic or chain themselves to the Armenian Embassy."

No. Some of us have to prop up capitalism while me make the pretense we're bringing it to its knees by writing positions papers and textbooks and putting on red face and doing our little Marxist minstrel show for the department heads."

Clark stood up and snatched a paper from Maureen's stack. "And how is this dead tree pulp going to bring fascism to its knees? Political assassinations through paper cuts?" Clark balled up the flyer and through it across the room. "I really want to know, Mo. WHY DO YOU STAY WITH ME? I'm so clearly inadequate. Am I your practice? If you can improve me, you can improve the world? Or is it just that you can't hang onto your rich Mommy and Daddy forever while you live in your fake poverty, so I'm the least onerous way for you to get a hot meal and a roof over your head and get fucked every once in a while?"

"Fuck you."

"Is that it? Does it make your clit hard when I recite Das Kapital? Or is it just the sexy way I draw out Hegel's dialectic?"

"Maybe I just wanted an A in poli sci."

Clark kicked the table away from Maureen. Stamps and papers went flying and the stapler landed with a thud inside the upended table.

"Why do you do this? You know we never dated while you were in my class. Why do you have to be such a bitch when you're mad?" Maureen cringed against the couch with her hands in front of her face as Clark stood over her screaming. "Why are you crying?"
Clarked stormed upstairs and slammed the bedroom door. Maureen could hear the deadbolt turn and Clark was slamming things down on his dresser. She started when she heard something smash against the wall overhead.

Maureen sobbed loudly, gasping for breath, as she got up and set the coffee table upright. Her hands shook while she gathered up the flyers and supplies. She fished around in the couch for the remote control and turned the channel over to a cartoon. Mechanically, she folded, stapled, stamped and labelled a few more flyers before finally giving up. She crawled onto the sofa and lay down, cradling a pillow in front of her. She stared blankly at the television, sobbing quietly.

At 4:10, Clark came downstairs and looked at Maureen, who had falled asleep curled around the throw pillow. He touched her gently on the arm and she jumped up, startled and scared. Clark sat down beside her, putting his arm on her shoulder.

Maureen snuggled against his torso, trying to go back to sleep. Clark lifted her to her feet. "Let's go to bed. You'll be more comfortable there. I'll help you with your mailing in the morning."

"What time is it?"

"After four. C'mon." He led her upstairs to their room, leaving the lights and television on.

In his small apartment, Clark woke up in the middle of the night, briefly disoriented. He lay on his side in the dark, trying to orient himself, to remember where he was. Once he finally remembered, and realizing he now needed to go to the bathroom, he rolled over in bed, fully awake now. He saw a very small man, no more than 3 1/2 feet tall, the same size as the divider between his kitchen and dining room. The little man had a wrinkly face. He was hunched over, wearing a dirty little trench coat. His face looked like a caricature, like a drawing of Jimmy Durante, with the big nose and big eyes. He put up a stubby, swollen wrinkled hand and waved at Clark, then before Clark’s eyes, disintegrated, decrystallized. Clark immediately jumped out of bed and began sorting socks and underwear. It was 5 a.m. Within 10 minutes, he was dressed and out the door, headed for the fluorescent lights of an all-night laundromat.

The next day, Maureen loaded up a few signs and began to drive around town, collecting her friends. The five of them had planned to drive to the nuclear power plant outside of town. No big deal, just issue a few manifestos, stand across the street with some signs, show that not everybody wanted to go inside the plant for a sanitized "tour" promoting nuclear power. As an older plant, this one could potentially have some real problems, and Maureen and her friends wanted to open the debate--a debate that had seemed absent in this community.

Not too far from her hometown, maybe 150 miles or so, the power company had put up a nuclear plant, promising the residents that the lake, built to cool the plant, would provide recreational opportunities. There were images right out of the Simpons of people boating, fishing and swimming right next to the twin towers of the plant. The thought of swimming in a lake that was created for and fed into by a nuclear power plant made Maureen's skin crawl. Not surprisingly, once the plant was open, the residents were unable to use the lake, due to the proliferation of unsafe microorganisms in the overheated water.

All over the country, unsophisticated small towns had been talked into nuclear plants. This one was on the river. Maureen loved living in river towns, and in fact, had vowed never to live anywhere that didn't have a significant lake or river. And she couldn't stand the thought that this plant was pouring unsafe substances into her river, just like all of the other manufacturers that dotted the shores.
Maureen had sent out a press release a few days before indicating that the local "Greens" chapter would make an appearance at the plant. In reality, the Greens chapter thus far amounted to her issuing position statements and having her friends stuff envelopes. That she had a full carload of people gathered for this event was a major coup, she felt.

Once gathered, the local Greens chapter as now configured, decked out in jeans and tie-dye, knee to knee with their signs and posters in their laps, cranked up the radio and sped off along two-lane highways out to the plant. As they got there, they saw both sides of the road full of police cars--county sherrifs, local cops, state patrol. There were more police cars than there were people in her car. At the same time, she saw no media vans or reporters and this was, primarily, a photo opp. It wasn't like they had any plans at all to shut down the plant or anything. Maureen felt at once terrified and proud of her public relations abilities.

"Shit. Look at all the cops. They must have been expecting a lot of people. Maybe I overdid it with the royal 'we'." Maureen slowed down, but did not stop. One of the police cars, perhaps noticing the proliferation of bumper stickers such as "US out of North America" and "Lobotomies For Republicans--It's the Law" began to follow them in a slow-speed OJ Simpson type pursuit.

"What should we do? I wasn't prepared for this. I just thought we'd come out, read a statement, nobody would notice us, like usual, and then we'd go have pizza."
Everyone in the car murmured "I don't knows" and "what do you think." After a few miles, the police car turned around and headed back, confident no doubt that he had defended the power plant from left-wing nuclear terrorists.

They pulled over and turned the car off. Maureen turned around to talk to her backseat activists. "Ok, let's do this. We go back, and if we see any media, we get out and talk to them. Otherwise, we just keep going."

So the white Maverick turned back and rode back and forth in front of the plant a few times but they were unable to identify any photo opportunities. They headed back into town and stopped off at a diner for debriefing and chocolate shakes. The headline in the next day's paper read "Greens Turn Yellow."

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

What chapter is this now in my accursed novel?


The phone call made Maureen homesick. She knew if she went home now, though, she'd never get back out. Twenty-five or not, they would find a way to keep her there, either through guilt or tears, or some kind of de facto imprisonment. She couldn't go home without money, that was certain. Maureen wasn't even sure if home was the right expression anymore. Seven years was a long time. She felt very detached from the whole experience. Who still lived in their small hometown at 25? Someone who was never going to leave. People who had married their high school sweethearts and had a few children by now. Most of Maureen's friends were gone, and the ones that had stayed had very different lives than Mo did. She felt a chasm. But she also need a touchstone right now. She walked to a bus stop with her back pack and headed back to the bus terminal, where she charted her path home.

Maureen sat in a booth inside the daytime empiness of a nightclub reading the newspaper and absent-mindedly reaching for french fries or a bite of her reuben. She glanced u at the row of clocks on the wall. Greenwich, Dublin, and local time: 3:30.
That it was 10:30 in Dublin suddenly made her anxious. Children were already well asleep, their parents preparing themselves for bed, making mental shifts, contemplating tomorrow's work, while they grapsed for the last waking minutes of their own.

Since it was Friday, no doubt many of them were at the movies or out dancing. Others were sitting in pubs just as she was now, bitching about their spouses, the boss, the lousy interminable week at work. Seven hours and a continent away, the day was ending and her own day was now slipping away even faster.

She sat back and looked around at this bar, where she had spent so many Friday and Saturday nights during summers and breaks, listening to music, stalking young men she had become fascinated with, sitting just as she was now, her back to the brick wall, legs stretched out over the brown paded seat, with one foot crossed over the other.
Here at home--The Land That Time Forgot--she had already run into some old acquaintances who offered no threat of exposing this clandestine visit. Across the bar, she noticed a hippie boy, with straight dark hair, thick eyebrows, and purple tie-dye who danced loosely with fluidity that few men ever managed. Her best friend, Karen, had been fascinated with him for several years before, herself, becoming a stepford girlfriend whose boyfriend had sickening pet names for her. Before she had cultivated three cases full of cosmetics, was on a first-name basis with the staff of the Body Shoppe, Mo remembered them standing together in below-zero ice storms protesting military interventions and wondering why no one ever started wars in June. Mo had nicknamed her Habib, Peace Bandit, because she would jump out of the passenger seat of Maureen's car with a small desk stapler, tacking peace signs to telephone poles in suburban neighborhoods.

Karen had moved back in with her parents, into the familiar house of her childhood. Mo had visited her once since then. In her mid-twenties, Karen lived in the same bedroom she had grown up in. Not even a move so far as the basement or the attic, with the same stuffed animals, the same posters of her teen idols on the wall. Like everything else in her hometown, stasis was the basis for Karen's life.

Sitting in the bar, Maureen watched the door, wondering if anyone she knew would come in. Stasis felt ok today. Unlike some of her old friends, Maureen felt she had been allowed to grow up but to come back and visit her old life. It was like growing older without outgrowing your first grade desk and chair, just slipping right into your smock and diving into the fingerpaints. Things should feel a little smaller, even if the smell of the chalk and crayons and the acid-based paper decomposing the phoenetics out the books all transport you to your first kiss under the monkey bars. The room makes you remember, until you sit down and realize that it's the teacher's chair that fits you now. But this afternoon, at 10:30 p.m. in Dublin, Maureen had assimilated comfortably back into that small school room.

Mo tried to remind herself that this was not just a routine visit home for Spring Break. No one knew she was here. Not Karen or her parents or her high school history teacher. She was on her way somewhere else. The grey-blue tables bolted to the brick facade had not changed in ten years. There were television as either end of the bar, with the sound off, showing baseball and soccer games. The tvs gave you something to look at besides the alarming front pages of newspapers or pink highlight-stained textbooks, less threatening than a lunch or dinner companion whose eyes force you to ask questions--or answer them. Eyes that force you to be present when you'd really rather not. Alone now, Maureen realized it was the luxury of absense she was enjoying so much about her excursion. There was no mother or father or Karen or Clark to be present for. Only herself.

Reggae music plays in the background, causing Maureen to smile. She remembered Clark's impression of Ebeneezer Scrooge being visited by Bob Marley instead of his old business partner Jacob. Get dee spirit, Mon.

It's this place--the grey tables and the ghosts of gathered friends where we don't worry about what will become of us nor do we lament what we've become, just giggle over absurd notions and stare at field goals, wondering what people are doing at Midnight in Dublin.

Maureen hopped on a city bus around town, one of only two routes, which would take her around most of the town. She wanted to soak up some more remnants of home before her bus shipped out later that night. As she passed her house, it felt strange not to get off and run into the front door, declaring herself home to Mom and Dad. She felt guilty as she saw the bricked in front porch. She could see her mother making dinner through the front picture window. Her father was leaned back in the recliner reading the paper. She slid down in the seat and sighed, hoping not to be noticed. The dog was chained up in the front yard, kicking up dirt and barking to a fellow traveler trapped on a leash jogging down a side street. It would be too easy to get off the bus and the next corner and trudge home, returning to her room which had been preserved as a shrine to her childhood. She and Karen could pick up as if the last seven years of their lives never happened. No Clark. No college degree. No domestic violence shelters or videos of detainees in China to block out in the middle of the night. Innocent and snug in her adolescent room, with a job her father would help her get, dreaming of other lives that she had gotten a glimpse of and never got around to living.

Maureen shivered, trying to slough off this vision. The bus continued on past the junior high and high school complexes, down was passed for the town's sorry mainstreet. It couldn't compare to the bookstores and used clothing shops of campus town. The new mall had a Gap and a Sam Goody and seven movie theatres, bringing them up to the 1980s.

Once when Maureen had been home for Spring Break, she had called up the local YWCA to find out what was going on in the area. The YW on campus ran the rape crisis center, and Maureen had been one of the first volunteers involved in setting up a women's resource center there. At home, the YWCA ran fitness programs for children and seniors. The history of the YW was that it was not always socially accepted for women to exercise and participate in sports, and so even the most seemingly innocuous events or course offerings could be traced to its feminist roots.

The hometown Y saw it somewhat differently. When Maureen called to asked about Women's History Month events, she started to wonder if she had forgotten how to speak intelligible English.

"Do we have what?"

"Women's History Month Events."

"Women's what?"

Was this swahili? Had she gone into an ecstatic trance, suddenly speaking a new tongue? The women on the other end sounded too young to have a serious hearing problem. Maureen tried one more time, more slowly. "Women's History Month. March. Do you have any events?"

"No, I'm afraid not" the woman finally said, gingerly.

Maureen hung up and went into the bathroom. Her mother was at the grocery store, her father still at work. Was it even possible for Maureen to have come from this place? Had she been dropped here by aliens? She fished around in the drawer for a pair of scissors. She pulled out strands of hair, cutting as close to her head as possible. I am not from here. I don't want to look like anyone from here, she recited as she cut. She heard the front door open as the last strand fell into the sink. Maureen locked the door and took out her father's electric razor, shaving down the stubble to matching lengths. She swept all of the hair out of the sink, rinsed it out, and stepped, bald, to face her unsuspecting mother.

Maureen pulled a Twinkie out her backpack surreptitiously, trying not to be noticed eating, which was in clear violation of city ordinances according to several signs along the top of the bus. As Maureen ate the Twinkie, pushing it up quietly out of its wrapper, Maureen's thighs started to burst the puny screws and slats of her kindergartern chairs, her paint colored smock burst open revealing grown up clothes and she started to float up out of the city bus seat. She hoped no one would notice, and vowed to step carefully, not crushing cars or small children, as she, the fifty-foot woman, tried to tiptoe quietly out of town.

The city bus turned the corner and Maureen saw her next Greyhound waiting in front of the terminal. She got off and went inside for her ticket and rushed quickly into normal sized seats that fit her grown up body. She looked out the window and waved goodbye as she looked at her home town one more time.

Maureen rolled over and looked at the clock. She was groggy from the pain of her cramps. Meanwhile, Clark blithely got ready for work, gathering papers together and humming something Maureen couldn’t make out. As she tried to soothe her sore abdomen, she wished Clark would feel his own testicles expand and contract, feeling every single sperm as it was forced out, the way her left ovary released its egg in a red wash. She wanted him to feel blood run from his groin drop by drop like the Chinese water torture coming from between her own legs.

Aspirin did no good on the first day. She was exhausted and woozy. There was no way she would be able to go door to door and ask for money for a cause today. She had several hours yet before she would have to call in. Tuesday was Clark’s early day. She was thankful that he would at least be out of the house by 8:30.

Clark came by and brushed his hand over her head. “What are you doing awake so early? Get up to see me off this morning?”

Maureen glared at him, but when her gaze failed to ignite his zipper to flames, she shuffled out of bed and into the bathroom with a grunt. A tiny spot on the sheet clued Clark in to the situation. He said a quick goodbye and muttered something to Maureen about behaving herself and not picking a fight with any cops today. She grunted at him from the other room as the bedroom door closed behind him.

Maureen walked down the sidewalk quickly. She passed a small storefront with a pink neon light: Psychic. A woman called out to her from inside the doorway. "Would you like a tarot reading young woman? Where you going?"

Maureen turned around and walked back to the doorway to see her mystical barker. A tall woman, Maureen guessed in her late 30s, with dark hair and a simple long, red skirt and white blouse. Maureen smiled at her. "How much?"

"Twenty-five dollars."

Maureen turned around to leave The woman stepped forward. "One card. Five dollars."
Maureen hesitated. "Nah."

"Come here. I'll give you one card anyway. You look like a nice girl."
The woman sat down at a small table and shuffled a round deck of cards. She set them down and asked Maureen to select a card. She set down a card.

"Ten of wands. Reversed. You're running away from people. From the ecstasy that comes from losing yourself and being part of a group."

For three nights. the tarot card floated in front of her closed eyes. Ten of wands. Dancing unafraid. Wild celebration and childhood. What we lose when we become adults, when we become aware of ourselves as clumsy and naked and awkward. The knowledge of apples and fig leaves. This is what we lose when we become aware of convention and standing out, not realizing that if we are all free, then we don't stand out for being free. Then we stand out for being stiff, for being frozen like monuments. We forget how to giggle and how to dance and how to move our hips and sway, until our hips beomce stiff and rigid and frozen into place and the slightest movement hurts. We forget how to speak outloud. We open our mouths and nothing comes out, the squeak of a rusted wheel or a baby bird (re)learning how to chirp for the first time. Squeaky hips and squeaky lips and dances and words unable to come out and be free. Dance and celebrate and remember your body and remember your dreams ad remember yourselves. Feel the sun turn orange on your back and dance into the night and into the dawn and just dance and dance and dance. Beath the drum and wave your arms and sway. Forget yourself naked and wild and forget the dark. Get your tan in the moonlight.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Two more chapters of my accursed novel


In April the bombs started falling. Maureen's stomach started to hurt as she looked at the picture on the front page of the newspaper, black smoke pouring out of a bright orange fire, against the dusky sky. It resembled some kind of post-apocalyptic impressionist fresco, perhaps recalling some long ago battle. It was a stunning, horrible photograph that she couldn't take her eyes off.

For once, Maureen didn't know how she should feel. Politics usually seemed pretty clear cut to her. Meeting violence with violence only bred more. Everyone she had ever admired said so. Gandhi, Jesus, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King. It was a principle worth taking even to the grave, refusing to take up arms, to take a single human life, no matter how viciously it was being lived.

She'd seen the photos of mass graves, reminiscent of those she had seen in history texts from fifty years ago. She remembered a story in Ms. Magazine, which told of an ethnic woman and her husband--Maureen couldn't remember if they were moslem or Croat--who had been captured by Serbian troops. The man had to watch as his wife's pregnant belly was cut open and their child removed and murdered, while she bled to death. Mo's stomach muscles tightened just thinking about the excruciating pain that woman must have felt. Maureen felt like vomiting. She closed her eyes, hoping to meditate on peace, believing that adding a little good energy to the world couldn't hurt, even if it wouldn't accomplish anything tangible. But all she could see was a large pregnant belly, open and bleeding like some kind of a horrible cocoon, with a woman's screams and gunfire and a weeping husband as the soundtrack. She frantically dug around in her backpack for her radio and headphones.


Maureen's father talked with an accusation in his voice. Why are you doing that sounded to her seventeen year old ears like an inquisition, not a search or request for facts and it was consequently returned with what the hell business is it of yours followed by deep remorse hours and years later as she wondered how she could have been so mean to her own father who liked nothing so much as to tease or crack a joke, even if his humor found its mark on a too-fragile adolescent ego or on her mother's rage and insecurity and years later when she tried to remember when she and her father had quit talking, had learned to become strangers, she found two main culprits.

The first showed up when she was thirteen and even though she was unprecocious and didn't know about set yet, she was awkward in my awareness of herself sexually. Maureen had come across an article on incest and the first time, it occurred to her that fathers were men and could even think of their daughters in "dirty" terms and even though her father was not like that, it made her feel strange just the same and then guilty for the estrangement. But a few years later, she became privvy to information about friends whose fathers and stepfathers were "like that".

The other shrift came when she started to respond agrily to the accusations she perceived in his voice. She blamed myself for both. She had begun to try, when talking to her father, to hear the words not the tones and sometimes to repair those chasms, but they had never had the full and deep honesty it would take to rebuild those bridges slat by slat and Maureen wasn't sure if she had the courage. So phone calls were times to laugh and share news about their lives and sometimes Maureen sat in her room, on the bus, in a cafe, hundreds of miles away and tears burned in her eyes not for lost years past, but for years not yet lost, not recoverable.
The operator came back on the phone and Maureen wiped each of her cheeks with the back of her hand. "Maureen" she had after the beep. After a few moments, she heard a click like a small door opening, like a priest pulling back the screen to face a new penitent. Only this conversation would not be anonymous. Her confessors knew who she was, if not the right dispensations to offer.

"Where are you?"

"Um. I'm not sure. I'm at a pay phone somewhere."

"Well, what's the area code?"

Maureen looked around on the phone. The number above the receiver was scratched out. "Don't know."

"Why do you always call collect? Don't you have a phone card?"

"Now you won't pay for my phone calls Mom?"

"I'm just saying. I bet you call your friends with your phone card. But if we want to talk to you, we have to pay for it."

"Yeah, whatever."

Maureen heard some mumbling in the background and the click of an extra phone being picked up. Her father's voice came on. "How are you doing? Are you ok?"

"Yeah, Dad, I'm fine."

"You ok for money?"

"Well, I'm starting to run a little low . . "

"I'll put some more in your account."

"No you won't!" her mother interjected. "If she wants to run around the country like this, I'm not paying for it anymore."

"What the hell does that mean, anymore? I've been living off my savings. Remember? Job--four years of college I worked and three years after. Don't act like I haven't
been paying my own way."

"Oh, is that what you call it? Paying your own way? Finding a daddy figure to support you these last three years so you can say you're independent?"

"Fuck you."

"Don't talk to your mother like that."


Her father continued. "Why are you doing this? Why do you want to run around like a bum? You should just come home and get a job."

"I just . . . this is just something I want to do, Dad."
"Why?" There was the tone. "Most young women don't do things like that."

"I'm not most people."

"That's for sure," her mother snorted. "Well, you can just pay for this little excursion on your own, young lady." Maureen heard a click on the other end.

"Why are you doing this?" her father continued.

"Are you talking to me, or Mom?"

He chuckled. "I know why she's doing this. I just don't understand you. This whole thing with your professor, and now this trip thing. What are you going to do with yourself?"

"I don't know, Dad. I don't need money. I'm going to stop somewhere pretty soon and get a job."

"What kind of job?"

"I don't know. Temping, maybe. I've got good computer skills. Maybe something in a little bookstore."

"That's what we sent you to college for? To work in a bookstore? To type in an office all day? Do you even have any work clothes with you? How are you going to go to an interview."

"Look," Maureen tried hard to keep her voice measured. Don't get annoyed. He's just asking you an innocent question. "I'll work it out, ok?"

"Did he do something to you? Did he beat you up? Did he have an affair? Did he run off with one of his new students?"


"You can't go around running away from things. You can't just turn yourself off and
go disappear."

"I just needed to get away. Look, just because I'm not around everyone, being melancholy doesn't mean I'm running away. You don't know me anymore. I've been gone for seven years now."

"We miss you. How long can you do this? Eventually, you're going to have to stop somewhere and settle down. Don't you get sore from sitting on that cramped little bus all the time?"

"Well, sometimes. But then I get off for a while. I go look around, stay overnight when I can afford it sleep in the park during the day." Maureen was sorry as soon as the words left her mouth.

"You sleep in the park? That's just great. When people ask me what my daughter does, I can tell them she's indigent."

"I'm not sure I'm ready to come back. I mean, yeah I'm a little lonely. I miss Clark. But this is important."

"How? What is so important about this? I want to know how you think you're saving the world running around on a Greyhound and sleeping the park"

"By finding out about it, Dad."

"Then what?"

"I don't yet. I haven't thought that far ahead."

"See, that's what I mean. You have to start thinking about things. About things other than what you want right this minute. The world's not like that,Mo."

"Look, I gotta go. I think someone else wants to use the phone." Maureen looked across the empty parking lot.

"I'll put a little money in your account. Pay it back someday. When you get a life, ok?"

"Whatever. I don't need it Dad . . . "

"You're mother and I love you. Stay safe. I don't want to come identify your body in Nebraska or wherever you are. Ok? Just be careful."


Maureen hung up the phone. She noticed a large old car, some kind of old cadillac or LTD circling the parking lot. Maybe they just wanted to use the phone, she told herself. But she was too spent to take any chances. She cursed her stupidity for picking a pay phone in the middle of a big, open, empty parking lot on a Sunday morning. She stepped down the curb onto another piece of pavement, and the car sped around and entered the other lot. She clutched her backpack to her and trying not to look like she was noticing them, walked faster toward the sidewalk . If she could just get to the street, which was busy enough for people to notice her, maybe the driver(s) of the car would give up on her. She thought she had seen two people in the car, but didn't want to look too closely, for fear of encouraging their company.
Maureen walked faster, listening to the car heading towards her. Her cheeks felt hot. Stay safe. We miss you. She started to cry and broke out into a run toward the intersection. A car slammed on its brakes to her left. "Watch where the hell you're going. What are you trying to do, get killed?"

She stepped backwards onto the curb and watched her pursuer(s) drive off. Shaking, Maureen set her bag down on the grass and sat on top of it, running her hands through her scalp and crying, watching pictures of her father and her mother identifying her body.

Thinking of her mother always made Maureen think of sadness.. And then guilt.
No one over sixteen wants to be thought of as a tragic case. But in her mother, she couldn’t help but see loneliness. Despite their worry, Maureen saw her own life as happy and independent life. Suddenly, Mo’s mother had develed what seemed to her a newer dependence on her, a new need for family, as if through Mo, she could either repeat or redeem her separation from her own mother. Maureen felt her own indaequacy as a daughter, worried and guilty about leaving her completely alone to fend for herself.

When Maureen imagined her mother the young woman, she saw dreams deferred--a small, slightly older version of myself, wringing her hands and trying not to cry at airport terminals. Trying. Trying so hard.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Chapter 11 of my accursed novel


With spring came the bombing of Kosovo. Clark found himself in the odd position of supporting a US military action. He could not find a single point of self-interest for the United States. There was no oil. The country was devestated from war. There might be economic gains in the future during the country's rebuilding, and yet we were bombing the Serbs--a group of white European background, who appeared to be emerging as the victors, the group that multinational corporations would someday want to court to locate manufacturing plants and sell soft drinks to the country.
For at least five years, if not more, the world had watched pictures of tremendous brutality. Stories of the rape camps, were moslem and croatian women were used as sexual objects. He had read articles and stories where the Serbian army had taught the rank and file to talk about their "enemies" as not human. And they seemed to believe it. Milosevic had been convicted of war crimes and atrocities several times. For the past twenty years, every skirmish was justified by painting our targets as purely evil. Saddam is just like Hitler. Noriega is oppressing his people and shipping drugs to the US. And yet, here was the closest justifiable comparison to Hitler --a leader with no regard for the human suffering of his opponents; a force that used phrases like "ethnic cleansing" to justify genocide--and yet no one was willing to stand up to him. For once, Clark felt shocked at the level of dissent against the bombing.

Yet Clark was not able to feel good about adding to an already devastated country. The picture on the front page of the newspaper looked more like painting, eerie greys and blacks, with a colorful dash of orange at the epicenter. As he watched the wall-to-wall coverage on cable tv, he thought maybe twenty-four hour news was a bad thing, commodifying what was a very serious situation. "The Bombing in Kosovo: Day 2". It came complete with quizzes about where the Mig fighters were being dispatched from and "the answer after this."

Clark decided to take a walk by the federal building and see if there was anyone there he knew. Or, more accurately, anyone there Maureen knew, as he suspected students were much more apt to be there than any of his colleagues. Arrests looked bad at tenure hearings. As he walked by a group of protestors, he heard someone shouting about how they were Serbian and they were worried about their families. Funny, in all this time, he hadn't heard anything about a large pocket of Serbian refugees living in the area. He walked up and began trying to talk to one of the protestors. He tried to calm himself down first. Feeling the blood rush to his face, he knew that it would do no good to be confrontational.

"So, if you're Serbian, how do you feel about what your people have been doing over there until now?"

"Not my family. It's not my fault what the army has done. It's not fair to kill innocent people like this."

"But, what about the innocent Moslems or Croats, or . . . Albanians."

"It is our country now. We need to have our own country. They can go back to their own countries."

"Then what are you doing here?"

"How dare you."

"No, I'm quite serious. If your country is so wonderful, go and defend it. You know, as an American, all I've done most of my life is apologize for my country and try to get them to stop doing what they were doing. Don't support the Shah of Iran, lift sanctions against Cuba, don't bomb Iraq. Blah blah blah. What have you been doing to prevent this bombing from being necessary?"

"Fuck you."

"I'm just saying, I've never seen you out here before to protest atrocities against the moslems, against people you probably grew up with. If your homeland is so right, why are you here looking for political asylum and not over there, defending your family and fighting for your cause."

A young blond woman came over, placard in hand, and starting shouting at Clark.
"It's a free country. We can stand here and protest whatever we want. What are you, some kind of a right-wing asshole? You think everyone should just go back where they came from so we can bomb them?"

"Look, little girl, before yesterday, did you even know where Kosovo was? Can you even pronounce Milosevic? Do you know a Serb from a Croat?"

The young woman started to clap and yell, and soon a chant had begun to swell among the crowd, drowning out any further opportunity for discourse. At least, thankfully, this was an anti-war protest, and so most of the crowd advocated nonviolence. At previous rallies, Clark mused, he was up against pro-war demonstraters, who had no problem with violence whatsoever. He shook his head, shoved his hands in his pockets, and wandered off. What a strange thing, to be defending a military intervention. And yet, despite such a shifting of the world, he thought, we still hadn't learned to talk to each other.

Clark had always had a sympathy toward eastern religions. Reincarnation had seemed to make perfect sense to him. After all, how fair can it be that with somewhere between one and 105 years, your entire eternity would be determined. And didn't premature death leave the playing field very unlevel. Sure, if everyone died at birth, everyone could go to heaven. Unless you were Catholic and unbaptized prior to Vatican II, and then you had to go to Limbo. And even though no one ever talked about those old nature vs. nurture debates, science was still trying to prove that everything about our personalities was chemical and determined by DNA and electrical impulses. It seemed just as plausible that your DNA imprint, your personality, was simply your Karma travelling with you. Why do two people, with identical backgrounds, do drastically different things. Why does one child who is abused grow up to become a rapist and a murder while another becomes a social worker? It was simply your Karmic imprint, continuing your personality and temperment from your previous life.

Yet, reincarnation seemed to carry with it a notion of progression. As Clark looked around him, though, he couldn't buy that anymore. He looked at the people on the bus, in the booths at the coffee shop, beating on their kids or talking about some inane bullshit like their car payments or what Elizabeth Taylor wore to the Oscars, or how they spent six hours a day mastering a new video game. He wanted to jump up and yell "You're going to die someday, and what will you have to show for your lives?"

Society at large didn't bear up too much better under the notion of human progression. We were still executing people for crimes, ridiculously schizophrenic over sex--both obsessed with it and shamed and embarrassed by it--and we hadn't found a way to deal with our neighbors on a civilized human level. No, if reincarnation was going to work as any kind of a believable doctrine, we were going to have to let go of the notion of karmic progression. Maybe, instead, one ran around in circles for a long time, like a dog chasing his tail. Each lifetime, there was something new and interesting attached to your tail that you tried to chase--money, sex, power. Only then, only when you had tired completely of everything life had to offer, only then did you actually advance to a higher level. So even though learning might happen between lifetimes, it merely propelled you on to the next thing, not onto a higher level.

Once, as a graduate student, Clark remembered grading a paper in which a student was writing about Siddhartha. He read a sentence that sent him off on a spiritual reverie: "Because Siddhartha still had desires, he would have to be reborn." Of course! Years of gurus had not been able to make eastern religion as accessible to him as this college freshman had--probably inadvertently, grasping for a way to explain a concept very foreign to him. Yes, it was not that you had to transcend your desires, but that you needed to experience them, get them out of your system, before you could get to nirvana.

It's sad to think we'll never exist on this plane, as ourselves again. Death is not only letting go of life. It is letting go of people, of thoughts and words and your soul ordered in a certain way. It's like losing your spiritual DNA, the collection of molecules and biological memory. It's leaving behind people who will forget you, who will be forgotten, and love and friendship and fun and words you thought you'd carved into their hearts, that you meant to write on the sky in indelible ink, that you carved into the trees and onto the sides of mountains like billboards proclaiming that you were here only to see them washed away, eroded for the next generation. The generation that will not mark the day you were here. Or the day you left. Or any of your days in between.

You have to content yourself with a silent legacy, with anonymity in every word you left behind, every thought you shared with every other person. Ancient artisans left no identifying mark on their work. Pick up a vase, or a plate or a ceremonial bowl, and you will never know who made it. Copyright a poem, patent a sheep clone, but nothing leaves my mark on the world. A silent invisible legacy that hoped for something large, something immortal, and left only ephemera.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Chapter 10 of my accursed novel

CHAPTER: Chicago

Twenty years ago, she might have hitchhiked her way out of town instead. Stuck out her thumb in front of a kindly cross-country semi driver, or jammed with a van full of hippies. Maybe she'd be telling her story to a nice older couple who reminded her of her grandparents--a couple who would listen politely and later, after dropping her off, be grateful that their own grandchildren where married or in school right now, not traipsing around the country aimlessly. But she had answered too many late night crisis calls, made referrals for rape counselors and emergency room treatments, to place that kind of trust in the kindness of strangers.

Maureen surveyed the 2:30 a.m. bus station. A couple of guys her age plunked quarters into portable televisions for 15 minutes at a time. A group of young black guys were animately playing pinball, shaking & slamming the machine. A few children were scattered around the terminal, sprawled over rows of seats, sleeping oblivious to their dingy, uncomfortable accomodations.

She looked down at the floor. It was unmopped, but there were no visible signs of life there. Maureen dropped her backback down into a corner and lowered herself onto the floor. Cupping her head & arms around the backpack as a pillow, she closed her eyes and immediately fell into that middle place between sleeping and waking. She felt her breathing change and the sounds of pinball and television and waking, crying babies drifted a little further away. It turned into a wallpaper of sound. Black wallpaper with dancing flowers blinking duller and brighter with decreases and increases of noise. In front of the wallpaper, she dreamed where she had been. She walked through rooms of Clark's house that led downstairs in the shelter, where children ate breakfast before school as if they were in their own homes.

The wallpaper fell, rolling itself down the walls of classrooms where she had studied Spanish and history. Clark wrote notes the wallpaper in incandescent marker, moving quickly from panel to panel, top to bottom, to fill the entire room. She watched his lips form words taht she was forgetting to hear and all she wanted to do was jump out of her desk and run over to him, but he was so busy writing that he didn't know she was there. And then a voice came into the classroom over the loudspeaker announcing "Now boarding at door 7, the 3:15 for Chicago and all points east . . . ."

The wallpaper faded to gray and then white as Maureen forced her eyes open and looked up at the fluorescent light over her head. The bus room sounds rushed back to her and she saw a small line of people--the tv watchers and a couple of the pinball players, and a young mother with two children--all with their suitcases on the floor beside them, waiting to board the bus.

Still sleepy and disappointed, she sat upright and focused her eyes on the young woman. This small family might have passed through a shelter like the one Mo was leaving. Maybe this was a midnight run away from a battering husband. The family looked a little grungy. The woman's toddler daughter flopped limply over her shoulder while the son, maybe 7 or 8, leaded against his mother trying to catch--or not to lose--a few moments of standing shut-eye.

As Maureen stood up and grabbed her backpack, heading toward the short line, she hoped that the bus wasn't already too crowded. All she wanted was a seat to herself to stretch out, without the obligations of conversation, to sleep. And maybe to re-eneter the wallpapered classroom to see how her dream might have ended.

Maureen stretched out with a book, grateful that she wouldn’t have to share a seat with anyone. She was prepared to advise potential neighbors that she had a long trip ahead of her and would want to stretch out to sleep. , which was true, despite the fact that she had no set destination. After a couple of months on the road, she was beginning to view as interlopers anyone who would be on the bus less than four hours--dilettantes of the road. As a hearty cross-country traveler, she has surely earned some stripes. Her legs stretched across both seats causing her feet to jut slightly into the aisle, a large knapsack riding shotgun, and her nose seemingly buried in a book from which she peered up furtively as people passed her seat, new passengers would stop in front of her then begin scanning the rest of the bus for more welcoming accommodations.

Comfortably dug in, Maureen moaned as the bus driver stood up beside the front luggage rack and turned on the small television sets perched throughout the bus. He popped in a videotape, informing them tha their family-friendly distraction for the next two hours would be Pollyanna.

Maureen tried to focus on the text before--a storebought copy of Steal This Book. Abbie Hoffman was, ironically, advising junior outlaws on how to get free greyhound rides by various nefarious machinations, and Mo was kicking herself for shelling out her money to the authorities for her trek. Despite her anguish over the system, though she knew she was too ernest to pull off a scam straight-faced, she convinced herself that it was just as well. There were always too many revolutionaries in jail, many, she suspected, for foolish rather than meaningful breaches of the law.

She was not anxious to waste her time and her bail money in that manner.
The television continued to draw her attention away from the manifesto before her and she could not help from staring up, mesmerized as she was repulsed. One of her favorite things about life on the road had been the lack of distractions. She could listen in on people’s conversations if she liked or stare out the window in a reverie, contemplating the long corridors of trees like a receiving line, pine trees lifting their skirts in curtsey, ballerinas skinny string bean pine trees with bird legs, olive oyl in green fur coats and tutus. But she could just as easily sleep or read or just entertain her own thoughts. She especially loved the dark quiet overnight bus trips, with the occasional small overhead lights turned in here and there in the bus, as night owls quietly read or stared into the darkness trying to make out barns and silos. But the television demanded her senses engage like an angry parent screaming for a child to pay attention or a neglected lover trying to hold onto their allure. The television screen reached out to her jaw and tipped it back each time her independent mind tried to reassert itself.

Images of Big Brother imposed themselves over the young face of Halley Mills, Stalin in a ruffled yellow dress, his flat square social-realism index finger poking in her face and informing her that despite the insistence of MTv, the counterrevolution would be televised. On the streets of the cities loud music was constantly coming out of overhead speakers on the street and in Minneapolis, Mo remembered noticing video cameras perched from atop streetlight poles. As long as you are never alone with your thoughts, unable to entertain private ideas, you will never cast off your shackles. A chicken in every pot a car in every garage and a television in every room.

Maureen intermittently set her book in her lap, her finger inserted in the book to hold her place, and picked it up again, trying to reassert her attention span. Midway into the movie she began to wonder how the name Pollyanna had gained such a bad rap. Did people really loathe the cheerful little girl more than the complacent sourpusses under the thumb of an aristocratic tyrant? Was meanness and cowardice really preferable to optimism? the bumpy bus ride was also starting to make her horny and she felt slighly blasphemous to think of sex while watching Pollyanna. She tried once more to turn her face toward the window and avoid the halogen gaze of a child who no longer existed. If she couldn’t read or think, maybe she could at least catch a short nap and ream of what might be at her next destination.

Heading west from Chicago, they were informed that there would be a long lunch layover in the next small town. Maureen craned her neck to see the approaching road signs: Dixon, Illinois. Boyhood Home of Ronald Reagan.

It had been a couple of days since she had managed a full shower, although she took sponge baths each day in whatever restaurant or bus terminal washroom was available. She felt a bit grungy, but stopping in the gas station restroom to check herself in the mirror, determined that she was still presentable to go out looking for food. She stepped into a bathroom stall to change into the fresh dress she had brought from her backpack. It was a sleeveless knit dress that fit like a t-shirt, perfect for the warm June day, with a bright yellow sunburst amid a tie-dyed milkyway.
She tucked her shorts and tshirt into the smaller bag she carried with her on stops and headed down the street, looking for a place to while away the afternoon. She passed several fast food restaurants, but kept walking, as she preferred to frequent small, family-owned restaurants, thus supporting the local economy. She found a small diner that appeared to be the remnant of an A&W, with the long davenport covering most of the parking lot and the inert call boxes still standing at each space.

Maureen walked into the restaurant and looked for an open booth, suddenly conscious of the fact that she was the only person there under 60. She tried to slide furtively into a corner table and began to study the menu, aware that almost everyone in the restaurant was staring at her. She was unable to find anything truly vegetarian on the menu and tried to query the waitress about her options. After a few surly responses, Mo decided on a small salad and grilled cheese sandwich. She pulled Abbie Hoffman back out and flipped through, trying to read while she waited for her food. The feeling of sextagenarian stares on her uncombed head and sweaty face was as distracting as Pollyanna’s cheerful interventions, and when her food finally came, she ate with her head down and her cheeks angrily burning, wishing she had gone to Pizza Hut instead where she could at least get a slice of cheese pizza without being treated like communist ex-convict from Mars. She paid her bill immediately after finishing the gooey Velveeta sandwich tossed in front of her and left a 25 cent tip. Once out into the town again, the streets lined with elm trees and clapboard houses, she determined that their “liberal radar” must have failed to activate the trap door that must surely lie just outside of town, waiting to keep out radical maurauders like herself. She went straight to the gas station that served as Dixon’s bus depot and boarded the empty bus, grateful for an extra hour of quiet at last.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Chapter 9 of my accursed novel


The bus shifted slightly as it slowed down She turned her head toward the window and saw that they were coming into a town. At the edge of town, they passed a cemetery with a sign at the gate: Closed for the season. Call for appointments. She became taken with the notion that cemeteries closed down for the winter, the dead hibernating in grizzly bear slumber. The ground in January would become too solid, too frozen for his great grandmother's spirit to come out and greet her, Mo's shivering hands trying to offer and out-of-season bouquet, her chattering teeth and white breath floating out to meet no one.

Better still was the notion of making appointments with the dead, as if they might have had other plans. Maureen could hear her grandfather excusing himself from a ghostly poker game. "Gotta go, fellas. My granddaughter's coming to visit. Same time tomorra?"

She started to think about otehr people with whom she might make appointments. How far in advance might she need for a tryst with Jim Morrison at Pere LaChaise? Maybe she could while away part of the day with Oscar Wilde before getting a few words in with the Lizard King. Or a trip down to South America for some advice from Che Guevara or Chico Mendes.

If there was any kind of justice in the world, Chico wasn't even in these days. She hoped he was still wandering the rubber plantations, speaking encouragement, rallying the trops, and making frequent visits to his murderers. Was his spirit still debating their consciences? Did their wives' faces turn to Chico's beneath them at night, looking up and winking just before the moment of climax?

The bus hit a deep pothole and everyone was jostled. A couple of backpacks jumped the rope railing of the overhead compartments, falling into people's laps or into the aisle. The driver's staticky ghost came back through the intercom. "Sorry about that, folks. We'll be pulling into the terminal soon. For those of you travelling onward, this bus will be departing again in one hour.

Maureen looked around the city outside her window, trying to determine if this would be a good place to stay for a few days. The city looked run down, full of old factories that may or may not still make tractors or dog food or lunch meat. Maureen leaned forward and asked the young man ahead of her where they were. "I'm not sure. I'm on my way to St. Louis. Where you going?"

A young black woman across the aisle from them was standing up, pulling down a suitcase from the overhead luggage rack. She nudged her toddler. "Wake up, honey. We're almost there." The woman looked over at Maureen. "Davenport, Iowa."

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Chapter 8 of My Accursed Novel


Maureen sat down on what passed for the beach and stared into the enormous lake. ignoring behind her the sculpted paved path on which joggers and elderly couples wandered by chatting, and glancing only occasionally into the lake.

Four birds stood just at the edge of the water, with round heads, duck bills, grey feathers and white breasts. Three of them stood to the left, tittered and ran backwards from the lapping waves coming to the shore. The fourth, just in front of her, stood still, unfraid of the water rush its spindly legs. Maureen and the bird stayed still, hunkered down against the breeze, staring into the water.

Maureen suddenly wanted to feel wild. Her skin itched to touch the sand. She wanted nothing more than to take off her tshirt and roll barebreasted through the sand. The solitary bird toddled off in front of her, not quite fully up to the others, always keeping a little distance before it finally and slowly joined its friends. One of the birds began to suqll, its head pointed upward, neck pumping up and down like a calliope, and they spread their wings out across the water, no form, no V, no leader, just an agreed upon path.

Maureen felt so peaceful that she began to feel restless. She should be doing something. She wouldn’t be able to sit here forever, so it became difficult to sit at all. How long should she stay here? She looked around behind her and noticed a small alcove further down the beach, which looked somewhat secluded. She picked up her bag and walked toward it.

Once there, she settled into the stones. The fit her perfectly. Crossing her legs into a perfect lotus, her back straight and the waves rolling toward her. She sat with her eyes closed, facing the lake and feeling the red warmth of the sun on her eyelids, smiling, and sunning herself like a lizard praying on the rock.

Maureen looked around. She could see almost no one. Just a few people on the walkway, but they were probably too far away to see her. She looked around one more time and removed her t-shirt and leaned back against the rock. She felt the stone beneath her shoulders and the wind and warmth of the sun on her breasts, which were rarely afforded such sensuous luxuries. She wondered if the people on the barge about a half mile out on the lake could see her. She pulled her tshirt in front of her breasts. She tried not to feel self-conscious, but to focus on the feeling of the sun on her shoulders. She titled her head toward her shoulder and closed her eyes as the wind blew up the nape of her neck like a lover planting a kiss. She wished Clark were there with her to sit and listen to the rolling waves, to cradle her like the stones did. She wanted to kiss him here on the shore, lie together in the sand. She wanted to call him up and beg him to come join her -- find a graduate student to teach his summer classes and sit here with her on the beach. She knew that Clark would never just walk away from his work like that.

The waves jumped up at her in a game of tag, never quite making it to the tip of her show or the leg of her pants. One large wave came close and she started, giggling. She became fixed on the tide going simultaneously in and out and the way the wind generated a cross breeze across the water, creating wrinkles, as if plastic wrap had been spread over the lake. Finally, she took her shirt down again, lay on her back in the sand, and fell asleep to the warmth of the sun and the sound of the waves.