All the pretty projects

There wasn’t enough room in a tweet for me to answer @empire_of_dust fully and I didn’t feel like chopping up my words.

New ideas are so full of potential. They are pure, as yet untarnished by our clumsy failures, as artists, to bring them forth into the world.

For every work I’ve finished, there are dozens of aborted beginnings on my hard drive, in notebooks beside my bed, on the shelves above my desk, left fallow in cabinet drawers.

I begin. And then I stop because the shape of the thing I am trying to create—I can see it in my mind—seems too much for me. I think to myself, “I love this so much, I can’t make it now. Not yet. I’m not good enough. I will make this someday, when I am a better writer.”

Then I start a new project with an idea I don’t love. I think, “This is a good idea, but I do not love it. It will not crush a piece of my soul if I fail to make it what it could be. This will be practice for the art I’m going to make from the ideas I love.”

Sometimes I grow bored with what I am making and I think, “Why am I wasting my time working on something I don’t love?”

Sometimes I slowly fall in love with what I am creating until I can see it in my mind, all grown up and beautiful. Then I think, “I love this so much, I can’t make it now. Not yet. I’m not good enough. I will make this someday, when I am a better writer.” 

For context, this is the tweet that started the conversation:

I am writing poems in Pinterest today. I follow some great boards/users on Pinterest, people that share lots of great art and articles and links. Clearly they are the minority because when I look at the main page it gives the impression that Honey Boo Boo ate the Real Housewives and then puked them up on the internet.

It seems to me there should be a more creative use for a medium like Pinterest than just pinning and repinning wedding shit, fantasy nurseries, disgusting recipes and sketchy home & skin care tips.

So this is what I did – Chupacabra Blues

I’d love to hear what you guys think. Or if you’re making poems on Pinterest too. There should be more of us. Tweet @ me.

Thoughts on editing & the indie marketplace

This post isn’t a cohesive dissertation on the subject; it’s not meant to be. It’s just a series of thoughts I’ve had recently on the topic of editing in the selfpub/indie scene. It started with the Dear Author post “When I bought your book, I didn’t sign up to be your beta reader.

It continued during a discussion on Twitter between Marc Nash & Dan Holloway & myself about difficulties of indie reviewing.


These are my thoughts; don’t blame anyone else. I’m not finished thinking them yet. 


As a reader, I have an expectation that when an author enters a book in the public marketplace, as a product exchanged for actual money, that it’s finished to the best of the writer’s ability. This means I expect the book has been edited (and copy edited) to a professional standard.

I never (knowingly) buy work riddled with copy errors because the author can’t be bothered to check their own speling and, grammar, and make sure their using the write words in the write places.

I never (knowingly) buy premature drafts released because the author mistook customers for a pool of schmucks willing to pay for the privilege of performing editorial service.

If I pay for a book and discover that kind of (lack of) editing, I’m pissed.

Don’t sell me unfinished shit. There is no fucking excuse.

If you buy a book and it’s a disaster, return that shit


“But traditionally published books have errors too!”

A disingenuous argument, and the people making it know that. There’s a difference between a couple errors, a typo, something that slipped through (or was introduced in the process), and work that hasn’t been edited. We’re not stupid; readers can tell the difference.

Sometimes I imagine that if some of these writers were denied word processors, their manuscripts would be written in crayon with backwards Rs.

Lets all stop pretending that bumbling, barely literate writing doesn’t matter. It’s dishonest.


Indie reviews consistently comment on the quality of the copy editing. You know what “some grammar and spelling errors” means, in indie review parlance? It means, “This book is a hot mess and the writer didn’t fucking bother to proofread in the mad dash to upload their manuscript to Amazon and rake in the Kindle gold.”

When you see this in a review, just skip the book. If a writer can’t be bothered to proofread (the easy part), imagine how little attention they paid the rest of the editing.


There’s a difference between honest mistakes that happen despite writerly diligence and those that are ignored because the writer is lazy fuck who says, “If my story is good enough, the writing doesn’t matter!”

(This may be true for some stories, but don’t assume yours is one of them.)


Have you ever heard a painter say, “As long as my vision is good, it doesn’t matter how badly I paint it!”

Have you ever heard a musician say, “As long as my song is good, it doesn’t matter how badly I play it!”

Yeah, you haven’t heard that because those would be fucking stupid things to say.


Every typo should embarrass the fuck out of you. Even if there’s nothing you can do and it’s not your fault. It should embarrass you whether you’re aspiring to art or just a commercial hack trying to make a buck. It should embarrass you whether you’re an indie, responsible for your own editing, or traditionally published with a team of people that should’ve caught that mistake.

It should embarrass you because language is your tool, whether you are producing art or product (or both) and to use language badly, carelessly, is to create inferior art, to offer an inferior product. Even if it’s someone else’s mistake, it still has your name on it.


Indies don’t need writing collectives; we need editing collectives.


Writing is a solitary activity, a thing that happens alone in a room. I think it has to happen this way, the really good writing, because we cannot tap into our deepest truest self and bring that to the surface in the presence of other people. Really, look it up. The physical presence of other people affects your brain.

Writers need feedback. Also clarity of vision and voice. 

The relationship between readers and authors has become so much closer in a way that was impossible pre-internet. Writing in public and editing by committee has become pervasive through online critique groups & insta-pub sites. The crowd is like an ocean and, if you let it, will wash away all the rough bits and jagged edges of your work until there is nothing left for the reader to hold on to.


When I buy music, when I buy a piece of art (a keyword here is “buy” — you know, with my money), the musician doesn’t keep releasing “revisions” of the album based on listener feedback.

How pissed would you be if you bought a song and the musician revamped it based on criticism from the crowd and then reuploaded it, replacing the version you loved with something mediocre and adjusted to the bland, formulaic taste of the mob?

How irritated would you be if you bought a painting, and the artist came over in the middle of the night and swapped it with a “better” version?

So why do writers think this is ok?


The only time it’s ever acceptable for a writer to replace a purchased ebook without the explicit consent of the reader-customer is for basic copy-editing & format corrections. Not for changed content, renaming characters, adjustments to the story according to the whims of the readership en masse.


I know I don’t have comments. It’s because my blog is a place for me to express myself, not a place for dialog.

If you want to talk about this, write a post on the subject at your own blog; tweet me the URL @frankiesachs and I’ll drop by your place to see what you think & add a link below. (Or if you’re on Tumblr, just reblog & add your commentary and it will show up automatically in the notes.)

Things I pretend when I am home alone

The rain is coming. It’s not due until later but a mass of heavy clouds is piling up in the east. We need the rain; the blueberries are already dying. I leave some windows open, the ones sheltered by overhanging roof. The wind is rising and brings the smell of rain. It passes through the house and the colored candle lanterns sway. I burn gravljus in the lanterns when Em is away.

Gravljus: grave lights; candles in small plastic jars that we light for the dead in the cemeteries on All Saints Day. I use the gravljus for practical reasons; they are larger than tea lights, they last longer and burn brighter. They resist the wind. 

When I am alone and afraid of the world and the worst thing I can imagine is that Em will not come home, I imagine the lanterns are tiny lighthouses to guide him safely back. I pretend, as long as they glow orange and red, that his plane cannot crash, that there will not be a bomb or a train wreck or an earthquake, that his hotel will not catch fire, that there will be no stupid and senseless accident. I don’t believe that lighting a candle will keep him safe; nothing has the power to keep an implacable, uncaring universe at bay. Sometimes I just need to pretend.

I took a picture of a slug and it reminds me of Tyson Bley.

Not that Tyson Bley looks like a slug. At least, I don’t think so. I’ve never actually seen Tyson Bley, so he could look like a slug, but I like to imagine that Tyson Bley is your average normal-looking guy. The kind of guy that you probably wouldn’t mind sitting next to on the train during your morning commute. Not at all the kind of guy that might suddenly extend a tentacle your way or leave slime on the seat. A guy, who, if his neighbors ever find out he writes poetry, they’ll say, “He seemed like such a nice man. Kept to himself, you know? We never suspected anything like this.”

Specifically, this is the slug that reminded me of Tyson Bley:

This wild free-range slug roaming the outdoors (which, I think we can all agree, is where slugs belong), reminds me of Tyson Bley’s anecdote about slugs fucking in his kitchen.

I looked up slugs on Wikipedia to find out what the parts of a slug are called. It’s important to know the correct names of stuff if you’re going to write about it. It makes it more authentic. I always like when writers don’t just call a tree a “tree” but call it a “magnolia” or a “dogwood.” Not that I know what the fuck a magnolia tree looks like, and maybe the writer doesn’t either, but the name’s got atmosphere.

I learned something else from Wikipedia:

Apophallation is a commonly seen practice among many slugs. In apophallating species, the penis curls like a corkscrew and during mating often becomes entangled in the mate’s genitalia. Apophallation allows the slugs to separate themselves by one or both of the slugs chewing off the other’s penis.”

I wanted to ask Tyson if maybe that wasn’t a packet of sperm that the “female” slug ate, but rather the chewed off penis of the other slug, but I couldn’t think of any non-weird way to put the question. Also, I think if there were horny slugs in my kitchen engaging in penile cannibalism, I’d rather no one told me.

One more slug fact: carnivorous slugs hunt other slugs by following their slime trails.

I’m not really obsessed with slugs (or Tyson Bley, for that matter). The whole thing started because I wanted to test the macro function on my new camera and bees are too fast, unlike slugs. Thank you, internet, for giving what should have been a delightful little picture of a determined-looking slug crossing a road weird and disturbing undertones.

and let the 1% sleep smug in their beds

Our moments define us.

Girl Arrested

They crystallize the things that matter right now. Freedom—economic as much as political. Idealism born of despair. The servants of authority struggling against their own good, their own humanity. Tell me, which side are you on?

I once had a soldier say to me that it is the soldiers, and only the soldiers, that stand between me and subjugation. I wonder, does that make this girl a soldier?

I read James Lloyd Davis’s resonant “There is no honor in this.”

In the comments alongside James’ description of the photograph, of the girl, of the world, there is anger and unity. Yeah man, I feel you right here. And there, too, our own greatest obstacle to overcome—ourselves.

James writes,

“Fat cops, thin girl.”

People explode. “What if the girl was fat! Then how would you feel?”

No wonder America is in so much fucking trouble if Americans can look at pictures of the conflict in their streets, the struggle for economic equality, for political accountability, for a voice, and they think the really important thing to talk about here is how much the women in the photograph fucking weigh.

Let’s talk about the weight, then.

The cop, yeah, she’s fat. She’s fat and emblematic, a servant and an embodiment and a victim, all at the same time. Fat cats. Fat wallets.

A fatted calf.

The girl, she’s thin. Not rich thin. Not personal trainer, personal chef, designer organic produce thin. Not even gym membership and Whole Foods thin.

She’s poor thin. Don’t got enough to eat thin. Choose between food and rent thin.

It’s part of what makes this picture—this moment—as moving as it is: the unpremeditated symbolism of the weight of the authority vested in that uniform bearing down on an impoverished waif with the face of a Madonna.

Or, as James says,

O brave men and women in blue with badges, guns and gravitas, brave guardians of order protecting the rights of threatened bankers from her delicate, beautiful anarchy.

You can’t engineer your icons to fit your sensibilities; you have to capture them as they come. That’s what makes them true. That’s what makes them powerful.

It happened just like that.

I want to paint this scene onto every wall of every vacant building in America.

Me too, James. Me too.

An Indie Writer’s Guide to Picking Up Readers*

(In which I tell you how to seduce me.)

  1. Write awesome stuff. This is purely subjective.

    For me, this means you’ve got wowful style that makes me quivery in my belly and shivery in my knees and a little breathless when I read you.

    It also means that spell-check is your friend and that your promising beginning doesn’t peter out somewhere in the middle, leaving the rest of the story to drag itself along on its forearms like a junkie that’s been hit by a texting soccer mom in an SUV, until finally it manages to roll into a ditch and die (much to everyone’s relief).

    If you can’t, or won’t, edit your own work, get someone else to do it before you start asking readers to pay for it.

  2. You have to pursue me.

    You, the writer, come up to me, the reader, where I’m sitting alone at the bar, swizzling my straw in my Tom Collins and looking bored. I give you the once-over, because, you know, I’m used to writers sidling up to me and whispering blurbs in my ear, then pinching my ass and sliding me a matchbook with their Amazon link written on the inside cover. Right before they slither on to the next reader, playing the numbers.

    If you spend some time with me, make me feel like person, not just another notch in your Kindle list, and you’re not pompous or smarmy or pushing too hard, and I like the twinkle in your eye, I might take your book home to bed. (And if you show me a real good time, I’ll be open to future releases.)

    I’ve got two library cards, and, at a conservative estimate, enough books and magazines (print and e) to keep me occupied for the next ten years. I don’t need anything to read. I have Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin and Virginia Woolf and Tyson Bley and Ibsen and a stack of the New Yorker I still haven’t read; make me want you.

    And if you want to pick up readers, you’re going to have to leave the safety of the writer-sausage-fest and go to where the readers are.

    “But!” you splutter, “Writers are readers too!”

    “Yes,” I say, “But they’re a small subset of all available readers. And most of them are at least as busy as you are trying to get read. They’ve got a backlog of books to read and reviews to post for other writer friends trying to get read. And they’re spoiled for choice. If you were trying to sell sex, would you go looking for clients exclusively among your fellow prostitutes, on the basis that prostitutes like sex too?”

    “Your analogies are starting to weird me out.”

    “Yeah, sorry about that.”

    Forget that you’re there to sell your book. (You’ve already linked it in your profile, anyway, right?) Go ahead, join the Sherlock Holmes fan forum or the Murakami discussion group. Whatever rocks your socks. Let your inner bookworm hang out.

  3. Stop acting like a badly programmed spambot.

    If I’ve friended, followed, or circled you, I already know about your book.

    Read that sentence again. It’s important.

    Just because you caught my eye in the juke joint (see no. 2) and I’ve gone back to your place for a nightcap doesn’t mean you closed the deal. If you go all supercreep and turn into Mister Hands now, I’m still out the door.

    Social media is supposed to be social. That means give and take. Conversation. The web is not a broadcast medium, it’s an interactive one. When your stream is a constant flood of “Read my blog! Buy my book! Like me here! Vote for me there!” it’s a big ol’ turn off.

    And for the love of god, don’t resort to third party software that will emulate you acting like a badly programmed spambot because you’re too lazy to do it manually. I mean Bookbuzzr, specifically. It annoys the fuck out of me. I develop negative feelings about books based solely on the fact that the author has chosen to sully my Twitter feed with Bookbuzzr spam.

  4. Don’t whine about your sales.

    Crying to readers about how nobody is buying your book is a straight-up dick move. It makes me feel weird and uncomfortable, like you’re just looking for a pity read. I e-like you and everything, but the only reason I’m going to buy your book is because I want to read it, and no passive-aggressive bullshit on your part will incline me toward that. And if I am one of those “nobodies” that bought your book, try and guess what mistake I’m not going to make again.

    You can talk about money and the financial realities of indie publishing, but once you start whaling on the guilt button, you’ve gone from keeping it real to sleazy and manipulative.

    Remember this: just because you wrote something doesn’t mean I’m obligated to read it.

  5. Be authentic.

    “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.

    — Holden Caulfield, Catcher in the Rye

    The reader doesn’t fall in love with the marketer, the spammer, the salesman, or the huckster. The reader falls in love with the writer†, and simply being writer-you is the greatest enticement to reader-me. Authenticity is the foundation of that love affair, and that comes from the writing, whether I encounter it first on the screen of my Nook, or in a post on a blog, a message in a forum, a reading at an open-mike night, or even ink on paper. It’s the enchantment not just of the story, but of an inner life laid open.

    Go find your future readers and start doing what you love. Right in front of them. Some of them will love it too.

*At least this reader.

†Or more accurately, the writer’s work—though sometimes the nuance is lost, and not only to readers; a number of writers also have difficulty with the distinction.

Note: this is the result of a Twitter conversation that made me want to clarify what, exactly, makes me buy a book by an indie writer. (And what tips me the other direction and puts me off an indie writer.)

I haven’t written anything for this blog in so long that it’s become self-reinforcing. I feel like silence gives birth to expectation, that whatever comes next must be fucking amazing.

And I am not up to the task.

Fictitious Heteronormativity

Some years ago, my dad visited my house for the weekend. He borrowed some books when he left—my dad was a voracious reader, always borrowing books. He’d say, “Read anything good?” and I’d give him a stack of whatever I’d enjoyed recently. He’d bring them back with dog eared pages, broken spines, and motor oil thumb prints.

I’d frown and sigh and grumble, but I’d give him another stack before he left. He was my dad, you know?

That visit, Sacrament by Clive Barker was among the books I sent off with my dad. I’ve enjoyed all of Clive Barker’s work, but Sacrament is probably my favorite.

My dad called me up a few days later and said, “What did you give me this gay book for?”


I was talking to my mom on the phone. I said, “We’re going to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

My mom said, “It was pretty good until they all turned lesbian.”


This isn’t about how my parents are bad people who find homosexuality offensive. They aren’t and they don’t.

It’s about how heterosexuality is so dominant in mainstream fiction, whether books or television or film, that having an openly gay character is seen all out of proportion and becomes the dominant theme.

I’ve read a lot of criticism of the portrayal of Tara and Willow’s relationship in Buffy—that Tara dying and Willow turning evil is punishment for having gay sex, even though sex is pretty complicated for all the characters in Buffy. They don’t have to be gay to end up evil, dead, or both. Way before Tara got killed and Willow went nuts, Angel had one little (heterosexual) orgasm, lost his soul, became evil, was stabbed by his lover and shoved into a hell dimension to be tortured for hundreds of years.

But Willow and Tara are gay, which, to some people, automatically makes everything that happens to them about being gay.

It’s not that being gay isn’t an important part of who a character is, but it’s only a part. To see a character only as gay, to interpret everything that happens to them as being about their sexuality, makes them into caricature.

The burden of creating gay characters not defined solely by their sexuality or based on stereotype and cliché is the responsibility of the writer. To look past a character’s sexuality and see their humanity is the responsibility of the reader.


I’m thinking about this a lot because I recently read Songs From the Other Side of the Wall by Dan Holloway, and I loved it. To me, it was a story about a young woman coming of age in a changing world, the conflict between east and west, future and past, dreams and heritage. Oh, and Sandrine’s gay.

And when I finished reading Songs, I wondered, who can I recommend this book to that won’t say, “Why’d you give me this gay book?” or “It was good, except for all that lesbian stuff.”

Dan’s writing is beautiful, his story is resonant, and I would hate to see Songs marginalized or dismissed because of who Sandrine falls in love with.

Vagina (mine)

I like the word vagina.

A man once told me not to call it that. He said it sounded too clinical; it was a turn off. It wasn’t sexy. I wondered why he thought it was up to him to decide what I should call my vagina.

I like the word vagina.

It feels good in my mouth; It’s not loaded, there are no connotations. It’s just vagina.

I toyed with euphemisms—when I was younger, I called my vagina “my lady parts” when talking with my grandmother. She thought I was daring for even mentioning it and I didn’t want to upset her propriety. Now, when we talk about woman things, I just call it my vagina. She loves that I’m scandalous.

Pussy is soft and accommodating and compliant. It’s amenable and unresisting. Cunt is brazen and offensive and defiant. Those are words with expectations and agendas.

But god, give me pussy or cunt any day over the cutesy infantilization of va-jay-jay or vagoo. (Ew.)

Mine is still a vagina.

Oh don’t pretend, ’cause I don’t care: reader punk


I used to just read. You know, back when I was younger and more naive and didn’t think that people would judge the fuck out of me based on what I read, didn’t read, and most importantly, what I was seen reading.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in a place and among people where (outside my own family) reading itself was seen as a little outré. I had a couple friends that read sci-fi and fantasy. One girl, she read romance novels by the bucketload. I tried a few, checked them out from the library before I knew I should be embarrassed being seen with a handful of Harlequins. To the librarian’s credit, she didn’t bat an eyelash. Or when I requested just about every book Harlan Ellison ever wrote through the interlibrary loan system.

That was my literary circle. For a really long time. I’ll tell you some stories someday.

Then I started writing. Restarted. And there are stories about that, too, but not now. The more I write, the deeper down the rabbit hole I go. Somehow I ended up here.

Here being the kind of place where you get shit like the > kill author Indie Lit Community Survey[1]. Up front, I enjoy > kill author, and I love what they’re doing. They say clearly that there’s no subtext intended in the questions. But read the answers. There’s a whole fuckload of subtext being answered. And I applaud every motherfucker who’s owned their social neurosis.

But, seriously, what the fuck, people.

They are books and stories and poems. They are a private act between you and the author, the closest you will ever come to being inside another person’s brain. There is no experience more intimate, more exposed, more vulnerable, than that between writer and reader. And it goes both ways; the reader gets to enter the writer’s mind, but god, the things that happen in there. That is literature.

And it is a mindfuck.

We’re doing surveys on this? Really?

The indie fiction world is so fucking tiny. And so fucking dependent. There is no media machine, just readers. You want people to read your shit, you gotta get them by word of mouth.

Which brings me to what started this thought-train along its inevitable tracks. This is the locomotive, baby.

Spreading the word is not accomplished by being ashamed to talk about what you’re reading, what you enjoy reading.

I can put whatever shit I want up on my Goodreads banner. I can review it in all the right places, comment on all the right blogs. I know what’s hip, who’s overrated, who’s up and coming. I been told, and I can pass for indie, pass for literary. While I’m reading Dan Brown on my Nook.

Oh yeah, that’s right. Not one of those indie-popular authors. Not even Amy Tan or Junot Díaz. Dan motherfuckin’ Brown.

Don’t you fucking judge me, either. You’d never know if I didn’t tell you.

There’s this fear, being among people who are so fucking talented and so fucking smart. I’m afraid they might catch me out. They might realize I’m not smart and I’m not talented. That I’m not one of them. That I’ve got Dan Brown on my Nook.

And here’s the kicker:

There are people that have been indie for, well, eons. Before it had a name. Before it was cool. Way before. The people that laid the groundwork for what has become “indie.” There are people with a surfeit of talent, and by talent, I mean they are some hardworking motherfuckers who are shaping the destiny of independent literature in what is the most revolutionary time for literature since Gutenberg. Those smart, talented motherfuckers I was talking about before. And they are so inclusive and so non-judgmental, they will welcome you with open arms. They don’t care what you read.


I’ve got this thirty-second rule.

In a new space, new faces, I give myself thirty seconds for the knee-knocking, bladder-weakening social fear. “Omg, what if they don’t like me, is my hair okay, I’m gonna sound stupid, I don’t think I should’ve worn this, does my breath stink?”

Then I turn that shit off. Because I am awesome. Because I am fearless. Because it’s gonna be a shitty party if I spend it hiding in the coatroom.

And at the end of this really long, really rambling, really alcohol-fueled blog post, that’s what I hope you, dear reader, gentle reader, kinda hot reader, will take away.

Read whatever the fuck you want. Comic books, Playboy, Harlequin romances, Dan Brown, Twilight, Dzanc. Whatever you love, own that shit. Celebrate it. Not everything has to be about image and what’s indie (and what’s not).

I’m not gonna judge you.

There aren’t enough of us.

[1] The Indie Lit Community Survey 2011

I’m sorry you didn’t like it; or, criticising the critic

My strange and sick fascination with the overrated writers kerfuffle is waning. I have a short attention span and it’s such a little tiny drama. Like rubbernecking at two people swapping insurance information; sure, there was an accident, but it was so insignificant as to be inconsequential. “Oh, look at the ding on the door there. I bet that’s gonna cost a couple hundred bucks at least! The paint is even chipped!” It’s only interesting because it’s in your neighborhood. Some of the neighbors[1] are still real excited. What can I say? Not much happens around here.

I wouldn’t have noticed if I didn’t follow J. Bradley[2] and Brad Green[3] on Twitter. (I don’t know them; I just like their poems.)

At first there were some maybe interesting ideas about criticism, its value and its duty, what constitutes good. Nothing smashingly original, mind. It quickly descended into frenzied ego frottage, smarmy and boring in equal parts. And no, I’m not going to write an entire essay explaining why. Fuck that noise.

See, I think we live in a post-critical society. Hardly anyone fucking cares. Nobody has the time.

Jason Jordan’s post[4] is exactly what the philistine masses[5] want: “This book is awesome,” or “This CD sucked.” (Outside a handful of fanboys demanding justification because they want something to refute.) Not long, thoughtful essays following a sandwich formula, fairly balancing careful explanations of the positives and the negatives. Just tell me if it’s a waste of time and or money and let me get on with my bad self.

As a reader, I want star ratings, maybe a couple sentences. I don’t need five thousand words of literary theory amounting to “Look! I have an MFA!” That shit takes longer to read than the book would. Lengthy, girthy criticism is just a reader dressing up their personal experience with a work as authoritative. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to probe and analyze. But it’s still just intellectual wank and arguing about it is like arguing over whose spunk has more validity.

Personal taste—not everything needs to be a debate. It’s okay to just like something, or not, without fucking dissertating all over everything. There is no obligation, express or implied, to explain why.

But people take it real personal when someone dogs shit they like. Go ahead, say something bad about Justin Bieber. I dare you.

The whole thing brought me back around to a discussion I had about lit-punk and just not giving a fuck what other people think. We were talking about writing.

What I think, maybe we need to be more punk in our reading, too.

[1] “If you don’t have anything nice to say…” (PANK); “Internet graffiti and its discontents” (Big Other); “In which I join the bandwagon” (Robert Swartwood)
[2] @iheartfailure (who blogged about the increasing metaness of it all)
[3] @Green_Brad
[4] “5 Overrated writers” (Jason Jordan and His Blog)
[5] I include myself in that.

Oh Valentine’s Day, you make me so fucking hot.

Not your mass-produced sentiments, drugstore roses, or waxy chocolate. Deep down in your pagan core. No matter how pretty Hallmark tarts you up for polite consumption, packages you with punny “I love you beary much” plush, you’re still a wild thing forged in blood sacrifice and ritual violence.

At the heart of your stylized red buttocks lie Lupercalian youths whipping Roman maidens into slick and fertile frenzy with straps of gore drenched goatskin. Religion. Blood. Sex. Survival.

You’re an old time mating rite in a world that’s commoditized the sacred and commercialized the profane and hyper-sexualized us to desensitivity, where the rhythm of skin on skin is no longer enough and kink must be accessorized and orgasm tastes like cherry Superglide.

Valentine’s Day, you aren’t for tactical seduction in trendy nightspots or the elaborate presentation of twenty-four carat tokens of affection. You are a celebration of carnal purification.

You are for pressing body to body, mingling scent and sweat and DNA until two souls slam into one.

When I celebrate you tonight, Valentine’s day, it will be transcendent.

What I think about when I think about coffee

It’s one A.M. and I can’t sleep any more. I meant this first post back to talk about something else, I meant to apologize for being a bad blogger, for falling off the grid like that. When I started this up, I had every intention of blogging real regular-like. It didn’t really work out that way.

My dad died about three weeks ago.

I just got home.

Then @exmoorejane asked about coffee[1]. I meant to write a comment to leave there, on Jane’s blog, even though we don’t have Tesco here and I don’t need strangely vulvular coffee products lurking obscenely in my cupboards. It’s just that coffee is important to me.

Then when I got started, I thought maybe this didn’t belong there after all. It’s very long and only a little about coffee.

The last time I saw my dad—before he got sick—was the day I left and moved six time zones to a different continent in a different hemisphere. Must’ve been seven-thirty or eight in the morning. Mid-fall, after Halloween and before Thanksgiving, too late for color and too early for snow. The sky was still gray, but light, and the grass was thick with frost and spindles of mist clung to the field across the street.

My dad, he never got up early, not unless he absolutely had to. Not unless it was really important. It always drove my mom nuts, she’s a sanctimonious early-riser.

He was up that morning, huddled in a fleece hoodie with a mug of coffee steaming in his hand. Always the coffee. Black, unless it was barely drinkable. Then he’d use cream and sugar rather than not have coffee at all. At the nursing home, he sent me down to the visitor’s coffee table in the front lobby to snag little cups of real half and half because he didn’t like the powdered creamer.

I don’t remember if I had a cup too. Probably. I’m like him that way. Always the coffee.

My mom was driving me to the airport, four hours to Newark.

He hugged me when I got in the car. He said goodbye, he said to call. He didn’t ask if I was sure. That’s another thing my dad and I have in common: he moved to a different country to be with someone he loved, too. That was a couple months before I was born.

The summer before I left we sat outside in the shade of the Black Walnut tree and drank coffee and talked. Outside, because it’s beautiful country up there on the hill and because he still smoked. I quit a few years earlier and he promised he’d stop too, if I stayed quit for a year, but he never did. He said it didn’t matter, that it wasn’t the cigarettes that gave him cancer. That was true, but I said they weren’t helping either. He smoked right up to the end, when he was coughing up pieces of himself, too sick to sit up in the wheelchair and go outside for a cigarette.

There’s a man in our building who smells like my Dad—cigarettes and coffee and motor oil. Sometimes he leaves a ghost in the elevator.

My dad never came to see me. We made plans, before I knew he wouldn’t get better. For a while I hoped that in a few years, when my Dad retired, he’d think about moving here. He’d have loved it.

A couple months after I arrived, our first Christmas living together, Em got me a coffee maker. Mine, the one my Dad showed up with one weekend at my college dorm when he came to visit, was still in the U.S. Not the kind of thing worth bringing; just a plain old Mr. Coffee that wouldn’t even plug in to the electrical here. It was still at his house, up on a shelf over the fridge. I cleaned it out and used it to make coffee while I was sorting through his things.

Right now, I want to make coffee. I want the comfort of the ritual measuring, the smell, the steamy gurgle when the pot finishes.

I’ve done an admirable job of tamping down the raw and wild and wounded parts of my soul, keeping them bound and at bay. I’ve sorted and washed and laundered and swept and shaken hands and thanked everyone so much for their kindness. I’ve scheduled and called and talked about markers and cemetery regulations and had things certified and notarized. My Puritan ancestors would be proud.

All the while, in the back of my head has been the lingering thought: it is times like these that destroy families, there are things that, if said or done now, will never be forgotten.

I choked down a lot of things I wanted to say, because true or not, valid or not, it wasn’t the time. I said a couple that I probably shouldn’t have, but it was from love not malice, and I was afraid that later would be too late.

Some things were said to me, were done, that I hope I can forget because I’m not sure I can ever forgive them, even if I understand why. There are things that were said and I’ll never understand why.

I had four weeks because I knew it would be the last time that I ever saw my father and I didn’t want to be the one to leave, not this time. My dad died three days after I got there. I spent the next three weeks adrift in other people’s daily lives, thousands of miles from home. Everyone else had their anchors, their obligations.

I promised myself, when I get home it will be okay to fall apart.

Last time I got home it was like this: the sleeplessness, the weeping jags, the tightness in my chest, the feeling that if I didn’t clutch it together, it would all rip apart. That was when I knew my dad didn’t have another year in him. I fought through it just in time to go back and watch him die.

I thought it might be easier because I’ve already been missing him every day for years. Every morning when I turn the pot on, he ambles into my consciousness and snuffles around for a cup.

It’s not easier. It’s unreal. I’ve been missing him for so long, I don’t know how to miss him differently. I still think, I should call Dad. I still think, I have to tell Dad about that.

It’s a dark and terrible place and I know I’m going in, one way or another. I’m afraid that once I’m there, I won’t be able to find my way back out. If I fight it, then it will fester on the inside until my chest grows so tight I cannot breathe and the strain of holding myself together alienates everyone who loves me.

I guess I should make that coffee now.

[1] Jane’s post: Free coffee and £100 to spend in Tesco

Waiting for Inspiration

I hate that word: inspiration.

It’s such fucking doggerel. An excuse. It pisses me off when other people say, “I’m waiting for inspiration.”

That motherfucker is like Godot. He’s not coming.

And now, I want to kick my own ass for using it. I know I’m just wasting time, playing another game of Free Cell with my word processor open in the background, telling myself, “I’m so uninspired.”

I know the solution. Close the game. Shut off the TV. Forget about taking out the garbage or putting away the dishes. Just write.

It’s like when you’re single, and nobody wants you. Can’t get a date to save your life. The instant you start dating someone, they’re lined up ‘round the block. You need to go out armed with a hockey stick to beat them away.

Ideas are like that. Sit there waiting for one, and it’s psychological Sahara. Start plugging away, and soon they’re coming so thick and fast that I can hardly work for the clatter in my head.

That is an entirely different problem.

I added a short list in the sidebar, updated every day or two, with links to stories and poems I’ve liked in the zines I read. Check ‘em out.

A Confession

I like to read poetry.

It’s dangerous to admit in public. Poetry is one of those things that has a reputation. Suicidal women and sexually ambiguous men using big words and taking liberties with grammar.

If I do admit, publicly, that I read poetry purely for the pleasure of it, I’m usually gonna get the stinkeye. Sad fact is, outside of certain circles, people believe it’s pretentious. Like admitting you read Moby Dick for fun. Nobody does that. I must be putting on airs. Because nobody actually likes poetry.

On occasion, when I do manage to find myself in a hipster enclave where perusal of poetry (and one’s own poetical aspiration) is de rigueur, I just end up embarrassed. It’s safer to pretend I’ve never read a poem in my life than it is to say that I like Bukowski (“Passé.”) or Adrienne Rich (“Cliché.”) or have my shallow knowledge of modern poets condescended to.

So it remains mostly a secret pleasure, like masturbation.

I take out the confections of the poets that appeal to my plebeian taste and I roll around in an orgy of literary ecstasy, like a dog on his back in freshly mowed grass. I coat myself in it, every pore. I inhale until the words fill the alveoli of my consciousness.

Once in a very rare while, I meet someone else as ignorantly enthusiastic as myself. For a few moments, breathless, as fast as we can talk (or type):
“Have you read…”
“You’ve gotta try…”
“… is amazing.”

I started this post a while ago. Before dinner and a nap. I almost forgot where I was going.

Don’t worry, I remembered.

As I quietly, secretly read lit journals and online zines, the corners frequented by the poets that are still working day jobs and self-publishing their own chapbooks, the great New York bastions of the poets who’ve Made It with stipends and poet-in-residence positions, there’s a common discussion that always crops up.

“Why,” poetry people lament, “does no one read poetry? How do we make it accessible?”

Maybe it’s the apparent impenetrability. Maybe it’s the psychic scars of premature sonnets. I’ve got no answers.

Poetry seems a style of writing peculiarly suited to the way we live our lives. Brief, more often than not, condensed meaning packaged for quick consumption. Three minutes in a bank line, fifteen in the doctor’s office, half an hour on the train or bus or in motionless gridlock.

Last night I said to Em, “Remember when, if you wanted something to read, you had to go out and get a physical object and bring it home?”

It seems so antiquated. Now, the words are all around us, floating in the ether, waiting to be plucked down and tucked into the crevices of our lives.

Why not poetry?

And between those of us with more enthusiasm than education in these things:

“Have you read Hot Mamas and Little Gangstas by Kyle Hemmings? Or Avenue C?”
“You’ve gotta try Adam Coates!”
Kristine Ong Muslim is amazing.”

The Forgotten Week

I forget what they call it in advertisements. There’s a name for it, trying to sell more stuff at deep deep discounts in case somewhere out there is still a credit card unmaxed. Whatever they call it, that unmemorable name, product of marketing departments and ad execs, it doesn’t truly describe the week between Christmas and New Years when everyone’s just doing it by the numbers, phoning it in, biding time.

That week, when the pageantry of Christmas is fading, and the living room floor is littered with pine needles (if you’re one of those throwbacks with a non-polymer tree). Where the poinsettias are wilting and the gingerbread is stale and glitter has migrated from the decorations to everywhere else. That week, when it’s not yet time to put away the holiday for another year, not yet time to put out the old.

It’s a time of waiting. The end has ended but the beginning hasn’t truly begun.

For me, it’s usually a time to turn the harsh light on the accomplishments of the year, to feel that I could have seen more, done more, fought more, loved more. I never stack up to my own expectations. It’s a time to promise to do better the next year, so that a year from now, I won’t look back and see days of nothingness, so many forgotten, forgettable days staring back.

This year it’s different. This useless week, formerly a time for self-recrimination, has become a harbor. It’s the tail end of 2010, and god knows it was a pretty shitty year, and there’s pain waiting for me in 2011. Unspeakable pain. Soul-rending, world changing pain. But right now, right here, the worst is over. Or hasn’t yet begun.

I have a few days yet, sheltering in the eye of the storm. The dark, it helps. There’s no hiding in the sunlight, but wrapped in a cocoon of snow and cloud the world becomes a little less real. The edges of reality are a little less harsh.

I have this thing I do when Em is traveling. Every night I light a candle and put it in the colored glass lantern that hangs in the living room window. It’s a superstition older than words. Here’s a light in the big dark world. Come home safe.

Death and Christmas

I have trouble sleeping. Don’t think I’ve closed my eyes before three AM this past week. Last night I was up until five reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Time-travel historical romance, and really not my thing, but it was free in the Nook store. The writing’s okay, escapism. I just need something to do besides lay there with my eyes closed and think about death.

See, I’m afraid of death.

I’m a second generation atheist. I don’t have the security of an afterlife to soothe me. I don’t have the anger and defiance of first generation atheists to brace me. I have to find the courage to face the void somewhere else. I want to ask my Dad, how do you feel about dying?

He’s a first generation atheist. He has his withering contempt for the Catholic Church to hold on to. I want to ask him, now that you’re dying, do the myths of your childhood give you any comfort?

Those aren’t the kinds of questions you can ask a dying man.

As far back as I recall, my dad has always despised Christmas. My mom loves Christmas; it’s her favorite holiday. I think sometimes that maybe he didn’t hate it so much until they split up, maybe it’s that she loves it so much and it hurts him to remember. I want to ask him, does this Christmas, your last Christmas, matter very much to you?

Mexicans have Día de los Muertos. Swedes have Alla helgons afton. Holidays to remember the dead. I’m American, we don’t have a holiday to remember our dead. Maybe we did once, but it’s been retailed out of recognition.

Christmas seems as good a time as any. For thousands of years before Blue Eyed Jesus, the apex of winter was a time for pitiful enclaves of humanity to cluster together against the cold and the dark and pray to their fickle gods that they would survive passage through the desert of the coming months and emerge, still alive, in the spring. They wouldn’t, not all of them. They knew that too.

Time sucks me forward, inexorable and uncaring. It’s going so fast that sometimes I can’t breathe. I’ve dug in my heels, but there’s no traction in the snow. We won’t all still be here in the spring.