Did I ever tell you my favorite jazz musician? I can’t remember.

Thelonious Monk.

Especially with John Coltrane.

Billie and Ella had wicked voices. And there’s Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington & Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Wes Montgomery & Miles Davis. Oh of course Miles. But Monk…

Monk lives perpetually in my playlist. He’s the first thing I load on a new device. When I run out of space, removing Monk is never an option, no matter how many versions of ‘Round Midnight I have.

I’m listening to A Love Supreme now and remembering I still have to rip my Coltrane CDs to mp3.

I’m walking to the store. It’s earlier than it is now, before darkness fell, before the snow began. I can’t think of anything I need, other than the walk itself. It’s the second day in a row I’ve been out in the fresh air, walking, trying to shed the psychic torpor that set in after Christmas.

On reflection, while I walk, I think there isn’t a true self. There’s only the self. A best self, maybe, a worst self, certainly. A happy self, an unhappy self, a complacent self, a satisfied self, a frustrated self, so many possible selves, as many selves as there are moments of choice. But not a true one. Not one you, or I, are meant to be.

And those holes, they aren’t damage in the perfect self; they’re the negative space. They give shape to the self.

The temperature on the thermometer isn’t so cold today, up to 0, but the damp Baltic air cuts right through me. I’ve been ill for some weeks–I think you knew that–not seriously, but still exhausting, and long enough I’ve sunk into sticky inertia. If I can’t think of something I need by the time I get to the shop, I’ll buy the ice cream I wished I’d gotten last night. The only thing I really need is the walk, but I needed the destination, the reason, to make the walk happen.

I am an existentialist, you know. Dyed in the wool. My own moral authority. What color would you paint an existentialist? The lunacy of Goya black, maybe. I still think we’re all of us existentialists, just some of us don’t realize it.

In our desire to set ourselves apart from (above) the rest of creation, we divorce our idea of ‘self’ from our physical being. I wonder how much our cultural indoctrination with the notion of some kind of an ‘immortal soul’ plays into this, even when we consciously reject the idea. We so often fail to differentiate the idea of soul from psyche. And we consider them both independent of the body, in the same way water is independent of the vessel that contains it, a substance to be poured, at will, from one chalice to another. As though a brain in a vat would contain the same self as a brain in a body. As though a brain in a healthy body could contain the same self as a brain in a sick or broken body.

I know the changes in my self that come with the changes in my body. Energy surging and ebbing with the rhythm of the biochemical sea. Moods rising and falling in gravitational thrall to peptides. I feel the weeks of lethargy and inactivity; I’m tired less in my body than in my mind. Tomorrow the forecast says sleet. I have a parcel to pick up from the post.

Every time I see your new name in my email, it reminds me of this Canadian television show my dad used to watch, The Red Green Show. I rolled my eyes at it when I was twelve. Boooooorrring. Now it’s pretty funny. Or maybe it’s still eye-rolling, but I enjoy it because it reminds me of my dad.

I’m doing laundry, drinking coffee, writing about love.

In the laundry. Books and laptop and coffee spread out on the folding table. Finished a poem. Maybe. Wifi is too irregular for distraction. The dryer tumbles a throw rug in white noise rhythm; everything smells clean and safe and I am thinking about fear.

I’m reading Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman. I like it so far.

“It’s called Malign Hypercognition Disorder. He’s an evil genius. It’s a disease.”

LOL

Books I read in January(ish)

  • Flood, Stephen Baxter
  • The Pesthouse, Jim Crace
  • Bite, Lily Yates
  • Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne
  • The Craigslist Murders, Brenda Cullerton
  • Blade of Dishonor, Thomas Pluck
  • Endless Night, Agatha Christie
  • Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Agatha Christie
  • Zombie, Joce Carol Oates

I’m reading Teipei. I don’t like it very much. I probably should have anticipated that from the comparisons of Tao Lin to Brett Easton Ellis, whose novels I don’t like. I wonder if Tao Lin writes in an “alt lit” style because that’s how alt lit writes, or if alt lit writes like that because that’s how Tao Lin writes.

Reading Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates. Nearly gave up on her; hate her latest stuff. Keep trying because I remember how much I enjoyed her earlier work.

Zombie’s good, so far.

I was supposed to get 6 of these from @createspace:

A little of the zombie sumpin' sumpin'

a little of the zombie sumpin’ sumpin’

 

Instead, I got 12 of these:

Tasty. But not what I ordered.

Tasty. But not what I ordered.

 

Go home, CreateSpace. You are drunk.

Joani Reese’s “The Skull Beneath the Skin”

Father’s Day sucks for me these days. I get it twice; Sweden and the US have it on different days. I think the American one is worse. It proliferates until it’s inescapable.

My dad is dead. Even two years on and counting, it’s still hard as fuck to really think about. When the reality pokes its ugly head up, and it does, I change the channel. Living on another continent, talking to my family infrequently with a year or more between visits, I can, most of the time, pretend like it’s just, you know, been a while since we talked.

But Father’s day, all the people talking about their dads, renders it unavoidable. I considered just shutting the internet off, calling it a day. Hiding. But everything is needles under my skin these days. What’s one more sharp thing?

I knew from the title, “The Skull Beneath the Skin” and the opening line, My father always loved to dance, that I didn’t want to read Joani’s story today. Probably not ever. Even the title reminded me of the last time I saw my dad, his skin translucent and shrunken to the contours of his skull. I tried not to look at Joani’s story. The elephant in the room.

Finally, I said: “Just fucking read it, Frankie. Get it over with.”

There is no happy ending. It’s exactly what I expected. The experience of watching someone you love slowly unbecome, losing them as they lose themselves, piece by piece. My dad died of cancer, Joani’s dad died of Alzheimer’s, yet the experience is much the same. The hospitals. The nursing homes. The confusion and exhaustion and emotional numbness, the submission to dispassionate authority. Joani’s story brought back the white sick feeling, the teary-eyed anger, of the helplessness I felt then.

It’s not something we talk about. Losing people like that. The slow but relentless decline. The hope & the gradual realization that this only ends one way. The fucked up feelings that linger afterward. The things I wish I’d done for my dad then and the choices that turned out to be mistakes and haunt me now, that will always haunt me.

And, in a fucked up way, it made me feel a little better to know Joani’s hurting that way with me.

Read “The Skull Beneath the Skin” by Joani Reese

Tyson Bley’s Drive-Thru Zoo

Straight up, I’ve been a Tyson Bley fangirl ever since I read an extract of Normal Service Will Resume Shortly on decomP and wandered over to his blog at Soapstain. I was super excited when I found out Gobbet Press was putting out an honest-to-god old school paper collection of some of Bley’s poems. Tyson sent me a copy of Drive-Thru Zoo, fondled by his own Cheetos stained appendages.

(I like to imagine he dropped it in a post box while he was walking a dog.)

I read it the day showed up in the mail. It was awesome. I read it again. It’s still awesome. Which makes it hard for me to write about. I get weird and self-conscious when I write about stuff I really like. And explaining Tyson Bley challenges my powers of description on my best days. Double whammy.

What the fuck can I say about reading Tyson Bley?

His poems are the noise which we plumb for signal. The idea that Bley is saying something, maybe something important, rubs up against me like calculus. Among the aborted robot fetuses and gorilla shit, redolent of 4chan and America’s next pop culture, ADD as a Higgs boson and disjointed as a Twitter feed, lurks something profound.

My girlfriend has for a number of years been an Elvis impersonator.
The ghost she puts on every night like a gown, just before bed,
wants her body. One day, it will have it. In bed, it is a species
of ambulance that emits dengue beams and whose sweat smells
like tap water. She has not yet heard its threadbare siren. She thinks
the noise comes from the ants living in the pipes.

from “JEDI SANDALS”

Tyson Bley’s poems are achingly human: confused, random, and beautiful with stabby bits and festering warts and hentai tentacles that make me want to shower like I’ve never been clean.
They smell like the Ewok lunch box I had in the second grade. They’re blocky chunks of animation in Thundercat colors. They’re the sick fascination the first time I saw Goatse.

And they’re funny. Tyson Bley is a funny motherfucker.

There are not many books that make me laugh, but Drive-Thru Zoo is among them.

BALANCE IS KEY

my inner ear is circulating hot earwax as all inner ears must
my balance is not out of kilter
but why is there a squishy sound under my shoe?
it’s unlikely to be Jerry
but it is Jerry
Jerry is the insect I’d welded together from tiny shiny parts
I’d euthanized Jerry because of his unbearable anxiety
I am a human
I am not a prick
I have a heart
I euthanize tiny mechanical insects when they’re in pain
I am not a shit

when I created Jerry, a certain hope became unhinged and
dribbled
through my innards in grains
I’d hoped to create a truly cute being

but why does Jerry make a squishy sound and not a crispy sound
when I step on his little corpse?

Brass tacks, Bley’s like sex or drugs; I can tell you what it’s like for me, but you’re gonna have to read it yourself to really understand the experience. Lay back and enjoy Drive-Thru Zoo for the sticky dadaist mindfuck that it is. The point isn’t to dissect each poem and suck intent from its cracked bones, it’s to enjoy the frottage as the weirdness in Tyson Bley’s panting brain presses up against you in the crowded media train.

(Check out the sweet cover by Matthew Revert, too. Shiny.)


You can find Tyson Bley at Soapstain. AFAIK, Drive-Thru Zoo (Gobbet Press; 2013) is only available via Amazon.

In which I prove that I am an insensitive fuck

Maybe Roz Warren, Isaac Blum & Kate Stone really did write Congratulations On Your New Diagnosis! (Greeting Cards for People With Mental Problems) to make fun of people with mental illnesses. In that case, they’re assholes, and I’m an asshole for thinking it’s funny. If this is your opinion, congratulations on having it confirmed, you may now go and share your enlightened outrage in your echo chamber of choice.

I admit, I wouldn’t have examined why I find it funny if it hadn’t gotten an over-the-top negative reaction in the comments. I’d have chuckled and clicked on to something else. But now I have thought about it, and in the best tradition of the internet, I’m going to take what could be a throw-away puff piece, stylistically similar to those chain emails your mom continues to forward you even though you’ve asked her to stop, and take it way too seriously.

The best comedy has a deeper meaning. It takes something conventional and stands it on end. It forces us to re-examine the subject, think about it in a different way from a different angle. It challenges us and, often, it offends.

Roz Warren’s piece does it right there in the title: Congratulations On Your New Diagnosis!

Why, when 11% of American children are diagnosed with ADHD and 11% of Americans over 12 are taking antidepressants and where one in four adults experiences a mental disorder every year aren’t there tongue-in-cheek Hallmark cards reading “Deepest Sympathy for the Loss of your Imaginary Friend” to celebrate your pal’s therapeutic breakthrough?

If you can get a “Good luck with your appendectomy!” card, why not a “Good luck with your electroshock!” card?

Is it better to do what we do now, tiptoe around someone’s disorders, feeling awkward and uncomfortable holding her rings while a friend finishes her hand washing ritual in a public restroom, or grasping for a subject change when a buddy mentions how his current drug cocktail is killing his libido? Try and mask our discomfort with sympathy and then avoid the person?

Maybe the takeaway here is asking ourselves why, when we’re awash in a DSM soup of ADHD & OCD & PTSD & BPD & depression & eating disorders & bipolar disorder & anxiety disorders & attachment disorders, we’re still not supposed to talk about them unless in hushed, respectful tones reflecting the seriousness of the topic. (And definitely not make jokes!)

Comedy gives us an avenue to explore the things that scare us; mental illness scares us. Maybe a comedian isn’t doing their job unless someone gets scared, gets mad. You can’t make all the people laugh all the time & maybe the most desirable reactions to a joke aren’t the chuckles. And maybe Roz Warren & co. aren’t making fun of people with mental illnesses, maybe they’re illuminating our fucked up reaction to it.