Wednesday, December 28, 2011

More Taking Stock

Wednesday, December 28, 2011—Long Beach, CA

Feeling tired. Still recovering from Christmas, too much food, drink, and socializing (I’m at heart a solitary creature). I’ve managed to get some work done for school the last couple of days, which is part of the reason I’m feeling a little burnt out. I’m trying to adopt a new policy/attitude about how I approach teaching. It’s simply taking up too much of my time; I don’t get paid anywhere near enough to justify the kind of hours I put in. I’ve decided to try and put in no more than four hours a day on school- related work, beyond the actual time I spend teaching. This will make for about a forty-hour work week. Anything that I can’t get done in that time simply will have to wait or will not happen. I think that’s a more than reasonable approach given my paychecks. Hopefully this will allow me time to write and live something approaching an enjoyable life. Teaching has not been a good time these last couple semesters. It either has to start becoming more fun or it needs to go away. Right now I can see things going either way ...

Speaking of teaching, I’ve been investigating teaching English in Greece. It looks like that might be a real option. More on this when I’ve got a better handle on how that might work.

Been frustrated in my recent attempts to write; nothing much is happening when I sit down at the keyboard (beyond my work on this diary). I can’t tell if this is because I’m so stressed and out of practice and therefore can’t settle into the groove or if it comes down to the fact that I don’t have much to say right now; when I try to write ideas that seem great in my head come out stillborn—it’s like they’re not quite ripe or something (to mix metaphors). Nothing much I can do about this except try and put myself in a good place overall in my life and then see what happens with my work—if the words aren’t there there not there, and if they are there and not ready to come out there’s nothing I can do to force the situation. (Man, how many long years has it taken me to accept that reality!)

I’ve decided to give Paul Bowles another chance. I picked up the Black Sparrow collection of his short stories and Virginia Carr’s biography on him from the LB library today. I’ve been reading too much non-fiction lately—I need stories, art. Despite the fact that I found the ending of Let it Come Down so disappointing, I love Bowles’ writing, stylistically. I’ve heard he’s a better short-story writer than novelist. I’m going into them with some fairly high hopes. Like I said, I love his approach and I’m very interested in the North African locales that dominated his work. I could really use a new writer in my world—my life’s immeasurably poorer when I’m not reading a writer a love.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Painting Stories ...

Sunday, December 25, 2011—Long Beach, CA

Having a fairly lazy Christmas day. I didn’t wake up until around ten, and then I just lay in bed reading for the next hour. Since getting up I’ve cleaned the apartment a bit, worked on some stuff for school, worked out, and I just finished on my day's Greek lessons (actually, when written down like this, my day doesn’t seem all that lazy—though it is my by standards, of late). I needed to relax a bit: I had a long Christmas Eve with the family over at my sister’s house, plus I’m not feeling that great—I think I’m fighting the edge of a cold.

It’s been a good Christmas so far: there’s no issues of note within the family and I didn’t receive, nor apparently have I given, any gifts that are off the mark. It’s also been good because nobody really went overboard on the gift giving. I like being with the fam and eating the good food that always comes down the pipe this time of year, but I don’t care for the commercial aspects of this season at all. We used to have a real problem in my family with smothering the holiday with overwrought gift giving. We seem to have gotten a handle on that, though, which has really improved things, from my perspective (for a lot of years I really didn’t care too much for Christmas). Tonight we’re going to top things off with what will no doubt be a great dinner at my aunt-and uncle-in-law’s house. Every Christmas, Bonnie, my aunt-in-law, picks a place in the world and cooks food from that region. This year she’s chosen Russia. I know very little about the cuisine of that country, but it should be interesting. If nothing else she’s told me we’ll be having caviar, which will be a first for me. I’m just hoping I can make it thru the night without this cold I seem to be fighting winning the battle. I often get sick around Christmas, mainly, I think, because it’s just after the school semester has ended and the stress and general wear and tear of the previous months finally catches up with me. I had to leave early one year, the year Bonnie did Indian food, which really pissed me off—because even though I was sick I was still really enjoying the meal. I’m crossing my fingers at the moment.

Between Greg having been in town and Christmas prep there really hasn’t been much time for much else. I did manage to burn my way thru a short book on the Barbary Wars, which has been interesting (I knew almost nothing about them going in). I’ve also still been working steadily on the first volume of Peter Gay’s two Enlightenment books. Reading a book on Plains Indians as well, as prep for a class I’m teaching. I ‘ve also been playing around—in an extremely small way—with the Greek book and an idea I have for a short story. Hopefully once Christmas has passed I’ll have time to really dig into them both—this forced hiatus from serious writing I’m going thru is really starting to piss me off.

Since I started working on the short story I just mentioned I’ve been playing with an old idea I’ve had for a book of short stories. For a long time I’ve wanted to experiment with writing stories that feature very little in the way of plot, of movement; I’ve wanted to write “stories” where the focal point in the feelings of the situation being described (or perhaps "essence" would be a better term for what I’m striving for). What I’d like to do is write short prose pieces that would take writing as close as it can go to painting, where the universe of the story is presented as a kind of crystalized moment (which in its composition of course implies all the moments leading up to the one being presented). What I guess I’m saying is that I want texture and color coming to the forefront, not for their owns sakes, but as the vehicles that carry the deeper aspects of the writing. I’ve always felt that viewing stories having a “setting” (or worse a “backdrop”) is a complete missing of the point. A story’s setting, in the end, is the story; a truly worthwhile piece of writing couldn’t possibly be divorced from the locale (in the deepest sense) in which it’s set. There are of course universal themes (all themes worth exploring are universal, I’d say), but there are flavors, routes of expression that come from specific places of origin—and these “flavors” are as much the story as anything that “happens” to any of the characters involved: if you can pull characters out of a story or transcribe its plot, you’re dealing with bad writing, the manipulation of stock characters and interchangeable scenes. All of this is a long way of saying that I want to “paint” stories, have the emotional-intellectual elements of the writing’s meaning be one with its compositional techniques.

I want to write Degas, in other words, Matisse, to be less obvious (and far more adventurous). Shit, I want to write Brice Marden if it’s possible (how would that even work?—I can give no reasonable answer, but I can sense it’s possible). I can’t be original in this quest, I know, but I also believe there’s a unique kernel in this little fantasy of mine, in my approach to this quest—which is more than enough to dream from, to write from …

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dumb Broken Scooter Stress

Friday, December 16, 2011—Long Beach, CA

Done. I’ve finally made it thru my nightmare (or at least nightmarish) semester. True to form, it ended on a really stupid, ugly note. On my way to give my final yesterday morning my bike cut out in the middle of the intersection of Westminster and Springdale; a fuel pump/line issue, I’m sure. The one thing a professor can’t do is miss a final. So I pulled out my cell phone and was going to start calling people for a ride. As I was doing this, I realized that both my sister and mother—my two best hopes for a no-warning ride—had just moved and have new land-line numbers, which I had not yet put into my phone. I doubted that my sister would answer her cell at that time of the morning, but I tried it anyway. She didn’t answer. I then got desperate and started calling people, some of whom I haven’t talked to in months, hoping I might get lucky and find someone who was able and willing to truck me out to Irvine. No dice. Finally I decided to call the Auto Club and just get myself towed to work and then deal with my bike later. This should have been a good plan. But the Auto Club’s computers were down and a pickup that should have taken a half hour ended up taking nearly an hour and a half (luckily I left the house early to take care of some business on campus so I had more of a buffer time wise than I would normally have had). I ended up getting to campus a half hour late, stressed and a little angry. I was able to bring off the final, though, so I guess things turned out OK, but it was definitely a major drag of a morning.

Getting my bike “home” turned out to be a continuation of my dumb-ass morning. Though normally the Auto Club gives only one tow per breakdown I talked them into a second because the first one was so late and had inconvenienced me so much. Unfortunately I ended up having to wait just as long for this second tow, so long that by the time the flatbed got to me it was nearly rush hour, which meant a mostly slow freeway crawl all the way to Long Beach Motorsports. The fun wasn’t over, though. Literally the second I got out of the tow-truck’s cab the skies opened up and I got soaked in the five minutes max it took to get the bike off the flatbed. Then finally something cool happened. I was planning on walking the hour it would take me to get home, but Kim, a girl who works in the service department of LBMS offered to give me a ride home. My day, which started when I left the house at about 7:40 AM came to a soggy end about 6:00 PM.

As I was standing by various roadsides yesterday waiting for tow trucks, I really began taking in my general life situation in a very direct way. My life as I’m living it now simply isn’t working. I am overworked and bored and can see little in the way of a future on the path I’m on. Now more than ever I understand that it’s time for me to write—full time. I need to grab hold of my life and make it work the way I need it to work. All the things I’ve written about—about becoming a free agent, building up BSP, traveling more—needs to be what I strive for. Full-time teaching jobs are not what my life should be about. Nor should my life be centered in Southern California anymore. This place is just too expensive, too difficult … too mean. As I move thru this place I have a very hard time relating to most of what I have to deal with, people, infrastructure, politics, general values. I don’t know where I should go, though. A part of me just wants to head out somewhere in the world and teach English or something for a while. I need to keep BSP rolling, though, expanding. Which limits this kind of mobility. This is the main issue I have to resolve: how can I have the physical freedom I want/need and still have my press, my for-sure publishing outlet? Once I solve this I’ve solved a lot of other issues …

I think my current situation can be summed up with my current relationship to poetry. When I’m feeling right, in touch with the world around me I write and read poetry. Poetry to me is not about asking questions, but expressing answers; it happens when one has come to certain conclusions. I haven’t written a poem since 2009. For a year or so before this I wrote some of the best poems I’ve ever written (which were also some of the best things I’ve written period). My poetry drought coincides almost perfectly with when I started teaching more or less full time. Not an accident, I’m sure.

Beginning to think even more seriously about the Greek book, about its structure, tone, it’s reason for being. I like when the thing’s heading in my mind. I’m going to start on it in the next week or so.

Been reading some. Still working the first book of Peter Gay’s Enlightenment duo. Reading Penguin Renaissance Reader as well. I have a book on Magellan that I want to tackle as well. Too much reading theses day, I think. Not enough writing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Treading Water

Monday, December 12, 2011—Irvine, CA

Pouring rain today, but patchy: there are spots here and there where the sun is shining thru and there’s hardly a drop to be found (there are also areas where the sun is out and the rain still coming down hard). I had a wet, miserable, and dangerous trip out to work today—this is not the kind of weather in which to be driving a 50cc scooter. I did see one of the best rainbows I’ve ever encountered. As I turned from Edwards onto McFadden it was suddenly there: a pastel green, yellow, and rose arch that looked like it was right out of some kids picture book terminating into a bright sunny section of McFadden some mythical distance beyond. Makes one understand the basis for religion, in the days before our hyper-empirical world, before the triumph of materialism.

Feeling myself slipping out of school mode. This was time in months that I spent a day only doing non-teaching related things. It felt good, to the point where it’s got me back to really trying to figure out how to end this sojourn in the academic world. My current job has been much on my mind for another reason as well. The full-time position that I knew was coming down the pipe at Irvine Valley finally has arrived; I have until February 28th to apply for it. Though I’ve already contacted some people about writing rec letters for me, I’m leaning against going for it. Teaching has been a good experience, but I’m a writer—and to take a full-time academic job would all but end that. I’m realizing that I’m facing the same decision I did when I decided to bail out on the Ph.D. program at UC Santa Barbara several years ago. Then I felt my true identity, my true purpose on this planet being slowly devoured by my then still-widening commitment to anthropology. I made the right decision then when I left UCSB and avoiding this job is probably the right decision now. Still, it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to make some decent money and not have to live a hand to-mouth-existence. I just have to remember that I’ve got two great books in the can and more on the way, that I’m not a wannabe writer like a I was a decade ago. I am now a real writer, which means, by definition, that that’s my future as well. Still, I’ll agonize about all this for a while—that just seems to be my nature …

What else. Feeling a strong need to start the Greek book. I’ve decided to print up my diary entries from last summer and start reworking them into … something. I’m beginning to see the book as a collection of travel sketches, connected in an Impressionist kind of way more than thru any linear narrative. This will work well for a lot of reasons, but perhaps most importantly it will solve the time issues that will crop up because the book will be based on at least two trips; I can mix and match experiences, collapse time, do whatever I need to make things flow and not have to worry about it all making temporal sense. This will also probably mean that each section of the book can be read on its own, which will also mean that I might be able to sell a few of them as travel pieces with little to no reworking. Getting excited about this project. As I mentioned in the previous entry, I’m really feeling the need to write these days—it’s time for another go round with the muse …

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Little Mental Roundup

Thursday, December 08, 2011—Orange, CA

Feeling pretty good today. The semester is coming to an end and I’m finally getting to catch my breath a little bit, finally finding the time to integrate other activities into my life. I have a bunch of work I need to do over the break, but I’ll also be recharging my batteries, which is something I desperately need to do.

For the last several weeks I’ve been feeling a bit out of it at times, kind of lost. I’ve begun to realize that this is because for months now I haven’t been writing (except of course here). When I stop writing like this I begin to lose my center and to a lesser extent my identity; I begin thinking of myself more of an anthropologist, which sucks, because in terms of my employment situation in this field at least, I’m a pretty low-end social scientist. Last night I reread the tiny bit of work I’ve done on the third Backwaters book and really liked what I read; I could most definitely see its potential. More importantly, reading those few pages really reminded me who I was and what I should be doing. Somehow I’m going to design my life next semester so that I can write regularly, on the Greece book for sure and perhaps Backwaters three as well. Social science is only part of what I do—a relatively small part. When I understand this and can place it in the proper context in my life I’m happier, and also a better teacher and writer—everything fits together and makes sense, in other words.

I’ve also realized (once again) that it’s time for me to break out as a writer, for me to find a substantial audience; I can just feel it in my bones that something’s about to happen for/with me, that something’s needs to happen. I’ve done all the prep, put in all the hard work. I have the books and my books have something to say—they matter in this world. As usual, though, I’m not sure how to proceed, how to go from where I am to where I need to be and should be. The first step, I know, is to throw myself back out there. I need to get the Kindle version of Heaping Stones out and then put out a small run of Edgewater, my long-delayed poetry book. Then once I have some fresh work out it will be time to launch Backwaters of Beauty (either thru an outside publisher of myself). This will all begin happening soon, within a matter of weeks. Then, slowly perhaps, everything will begin to change. Like I just said, I know I have written stuff that matters—once I launch it it’s only a matter of time before it finds it audience and its route to that audience. Exciting times. Or at least they’re about to be.

As has been the case for months, there’s not too much going on in my day-to-day life. Hopefully I’ll be heading up to Santa Cruz for a quick trip over break. Steve S. is coming down from Sacramento in January, and it will be really nice to see him. For now, though, it’s just getting thru the semester and then Christmas prep. Still working on my Greek (though not quite as much as I’d like—busyness and evening exhaustion have caused me to slack off a bit). Still reading a bit as well. Looking forward to more human contact in the coming weeks. I’ve become far too much of a loner these last several months—I’ve surpassed even my extreme need for solitude, which is saying quite a bit.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

This and That / Revolutions

Thursday, December 01, 2011—Orange, CA

Busyness (as usual); I haven’t had the time to write anything here for two weeks. It’s probably just as well, as I haven’t had much to say—getting thru the end of the semester and the Thanksgiving holiday has pretty much obliterated most of my creativity, my ability to think clearly outside the little box I’ve been working in. I can see the end of the semester, though—in just a little over two weeks I’ll be done. I can’t wait until I can start a blog post with something other than a chronicling of my annoyance at the rhythms of my day-to day life.

I have managed to continue my Greek studies. I sent away for a series of introductory Greek videos and CDs, which should really help me with my pronunciations. They of course will also give me other routes to internalizing the language; just working from books has started to a get a little frustrating, in that I’m not sure if I’m getting the sounds right, and because working from one angle like this gets boring. However, I’m still enjoying Greek a great deal; I’m just getting anxious to kick it up to the next level.

Somehow I’ve managed to get in some reading as well. The week before last I finished the Let it Come Down, the Paul Bowles novel I started a few weeks ago. The last quarter of the novel was very disappointing. After building up a fascinating universe amongst the exiles of Tangier Bowles abandons most of his characters to follow one of them as he leaves the City for Morocco’s Spanish zone. The novel completely breaks down when he does this, to the point where over two-hundred pages of some of the better writing I’ve ever read seemed kind of pointless. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so high on the first part of a novel only to be so disappointed at its end. I’ve read that The Spider’s House, another Bowles novel I was planning on reading, sinks itself in the same way. I think I’ going to back off him for a while: at this point I think I’d be too leery of where his books might lead to really enjoy them. Still, he’s a fascinating writer whose stuff is about topics and places that really interest me, so I’m sure I’ll give him another go round at some point.

Other than Bowles, I’ve been delving into texts for my Native Americans class I’ll be teaching next semester. I’ve been reading chapters from Cambridge’s History of Native North America and have been really enjoying The Four Voyages, which is a compilation of writings by Columbus and other early chroniclers of his journeys, including his son. Columbus’ own words are especially fascinating. I’m not sure what role what I’m learning from this book will play in the class, but the perspective its giving me can do nothing but increase my depth of knowledge, which is always a good thing.

Not much going on besides work and reading. Been watching the police and the mayor chase Occupy L.A. from the scene. What an asshole Villaraigosa is. I’ve always known he was a slimy player, but I thought he’d at least fake it a little bit better than this, not side with the moneyed powers so openly and quickly (I mean, on paper at least he a fair bit left of center). My favorite recent blathering of his happened early in the demonstrations when he claimed the need to remove the protesters because of the toll they were taking on the lawns and trees downtown. In other words, the price of having to re-sod a park is too high a one to pay for the people’s right to assemble and protest, for democracy! What’s really telling about the L.A. situation is the way these protesters have been treated in relationship to the homeless community.

There has essentially been a homeless tent city in downtown L.A. for decades. While of course these people are sometimes rousted by the cops, as a group they’ve been tolerated, have become part of the everyday scene in this part of the city. The Occupy protesters, however, were immediately seen as a problem by the City government and police. The main difference I can see is that the latter are challenging the system, questioning the way the city, state, country, and world are run—they’re challenging the global-capitalist structure, the true powerbases of the planet's political sycophants. The homeless, on the other hand, are seen as victims, annoyances that have no ability to take on the world order that has been part of what's led to their homeless. In a way this attitude is a good sign. It shows that the people in charge understand how vulnerable they are, how much power we the people really have; they know that the system they set up is a house of cards the rest of us can knock over with only a moderate amount of organization and drive. They’re of course fighting back the wrong way (as they usually do). Instead of trying to stifle protest they should be trying to make the income and power distribution of the world a touch more equal—for if they do not they’re only increasing the pressure and anger in the general populace and risking inviting much greater losses down the road. In other words, if they give a little they’ll probably get the people off their back and be able to continue their general pillaging, (for a bit longer, at least).

A look back to the U.S, in the 1930s really backs up my point, I’d say. It’s become a clichĂ©, but Roosevelt really saved capitalism—by interjecting a modest amount of socialism to counter its more extreme tendencies. If we would have had another four years or more of Hoover-like policies (or non-policies) this country could very well have experienced a leftist and perhaps all out communist revolution. Obama has turned out to be our era’s Hoover light, in that his policies exist primarily to meet the needs of the rapacious one percent. But to repeat, Obama is the “light” version of this mentality—he does not completely ignore the needs of the vast majority of the country’s people.

If those of the financial world’s upper echelon got what they claim to want policy wise it would mean a complete crushing of the middle class of this nation (what’s left of it anyway). With the middle class gutted we would become a country of angry newly poor people with personal and cultural memory of how things used to be, could be (we also have two-hundred plus years of the mythology of classlessness and upward mobility to stoke our anger and inspire our dreams of the future). If this were to happen, if we were to find ourselves with an ultra-right Republican House and Senate topped by a President Gingrich (or someone similar) this country would become radicalized in no time, matching the speed of the collapsing economy and the crumbling of our last (somewhat) democratic institutions. What happens at this point is hard to say, in that we no longer have a convenient counter-point to capitalism in Marxism. What would for sure happen, though, is a revolution that would make the Arab Spring look like a mild warm-up action. And since the economy of this nation is more tightly linked than ever with the rest of the world’s finances it would become a massive world-wide movement. Again, I’m not sure of the specifies at this point, but the pseudo free-market capitalism of today would be a thing of the past and elite heads would role (in some cases literally) throughout the world.

All of this has gotten me to thinking about what would be best electorally for this country in the long run. To continue with the Obama and a right-leaning Congress will probably mean no major changes in a system that’s eventually bound to collapse—in other words, we’d just be kicking the revolution down the road a ways. However, an ugly reactionary government would push us over the cliff in a matter of a few years at most—and maybe that’s what we need. To bumble along like we’re doing means a slow bleeding to death of the potential of most of our lives, years of low-to-moderate levels of misery. One big blast of stupidity, though, followed by the cathartic, but relatively short-lived super pain of a post-collapse revolution, might mean better lives for us all more quickly (those of us who survive, that is).

The BIG problem with this is of course the military firepower at the disposal of anyone in power, which includes nuclear weapons. Though a part of me just wants to push the destruct button on our system and get it over with quickly another part of me realizes that the price for this has the potential to be far too high. The third path, and best in my opinion, would be to build a movement with electoral force that comes out of the Occupy movement. It’s hard to see how this might work, beyond a progressive take-over of the democratic party, in the same way the far right has taken over the Republican party (a third part is possible, but given the way the system is set up, a lot harder road to travel). This would have to be a true internal revolution, though, or, again, we’d just be kicking the can down the road. Is this possible? I hope so—I don’t like any of the alternatives very much.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Grinding it Out, (Re)Discovering Paul Bowles ...

Thursday, November 17, 2011—Orange, CA

Feeling tired, ready for some new rhythms in my life. I will get them pretty soon—after today there’s only three more weeks of the semester at SCC and three and a half at IVC. My “break” will be busy, but at least the commute will go away for a while. I’ll also have a much more reasonable schedule time wise, by which I mean I’ll lose the stupid 7:00 AM class I’m now teaching. There’s so much I want to do, need to do right now and I’m chomping at the bit—it’s hard to have any kind of life when all you do is sit around grading tests and papers weekend after weekend.

There are a few other things going on. I’m prepping Heaping Stones for a Kindle edition. It’s weird doing a close reading of that book after five years. In many ways it really holds up. It’s definitely not me anymore, though. This is a good sign. The reason a person writes a book like that is to but a phase of life behind him. The fact that I’m not close to the work anymore shows that I’ve done that. I've also reread parts of What Love Is, Heaping Stones’ companion novel, which I shelved a couple years back. I’m now really glad I pulled it. It’s definitely a step backwards from HS, both in the quality of the writing and in its revelations. With it I think I was trying to keep alive things that I didn’t really need in my life anymore; I was done with that Rob but couldn’t quite admit it.

Been thinking some about my next writing project. As I mentioned in a previous post, I think I’m going to put the third Backwaters novel away for a while: I just don’t have the enthusiasm to tackle that project at the moment; I’m still too burned out on its universe from all the work I did on its two companions. I’m more convinced than ever that I should be working on my Greek book, starting next semester. Both the change in subject(s) and the move to non-fiction will really stretch and refresh me. Plus, I really don’t want to force out a third Backwaters book when I’m not ready. That “legendarium” has been so successful and fulfilling that it would be a tragedy to produce a dud final out of some misplaced feeling of obligation. The book will happen when it’s ready to happen.

I’ve managed to squeeze in some reading this last week. Still working on Pounds’ Economic History of Medieval Europe, still getting a lot out of it too. Been dipping into Mallory’s Arthurian tales a bit more as well. The last several days, though, I’ve been diving into Paul Bowles’ work. I first tried to read The Sheltering Sky, his most famous work, years ago and couldn’t get into it. I’ve been hearing great things about him, especially lately, so I thought I’d give his stuff another whirl. I picked up Let It Come Down, his second novel, from the IVC library on Monday and it’s great. He writes some of the clearest, cleanest prose I’ve ever read (it makes me wonder if I might be a bit sloppy at points). His explorations of expatriate life in Tangier are also compelling, in a dark tawdry way. Gore Vidal considers him to be one of America’s all-time great writers. It wouldn’t surprise me if I eventually end up agreeing with him. I grabbed The Spider’s Nest, another one of his novels, to get started on this weekend, by which point I should have finished Let It Come Down. It’s rare these days when I feel the need to dive into a writer’s work headfirst. This can be nothing but a good sign. Reading Bowles is making me want to get back to my own writing even more.

A few more semesters like this one and I’ll be finished a writer. I of course won’t let that happen. It’ll be interesting to see how I save myself.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Riding out the Wave / Retrenching a Bit

Thursday, November 10, 2011—Orange, California

Busy days are these. But I do seem to be getting a handle on things. I can see the semester closing out and a reduced work load on the horizon. Still, there’s not much going on besides school I’ve been too busy to work on the novel lately (or much else in the way of “personal” writing—that’s why I’ve only been doing about an entry a week here). Greg came down from Santa Cruz this week and it was nice to hang out with him. (Unfortunately he’s down because his brother was in a nasty car accident, which really took the edge off his visit.) I’ve been doing some interesting reading lately. I’ve decided to put down the Brothers Grimm for a while so I don’t get burned out on that stuff. I’ve picked up Part 1 of Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, which is something I’ve been meaning to get to for a while. I’m also reading NJG Pounds’ classic An Economic History of Medieval Europe, which so far is really good. I’ve also started the process of prepping the BSP books for Kindle editions, which is something that’s been hanging over my head for a while. I can’t wait till break, though, when I’ll have time to see more people. Feeling OK these days, but a touch isolated. My life’s also far too narrow at the moment for my tastes. Just about five weeks to go, though, and then a bit of freedom will come by way …

Forgot to mention that I’m still working on learning Greek. I’m also still enjoying it. I wish I had the time to dive into it head first—right now all I can do is nibble around the edges of the language.

I’ve been looking back at my last couple entries and can now see how tangled they might seem to the average person, how big and crazy. This is because I’m going thru a period where a lot of different streams of thought are coming together for me—I’m beginning to realize how interconnected everything is; those posts are me wading into this understanding and trying to make sense of it for myself and others. They are of course first steps, so they’re bound to be a bit messy.

After getting some comments from people who’ve read them I also understanding a bit more what I’ll have to do to both develop these ideas and get them across to other people. Most people have only a light understanding of history. Or more specifically, they don’t really understand what it is. This, I think, is because they’ve been so poorly taught in regards to this subject. History, especially at the more introductory levels (which is all most people experience), is taught as series of events that have little reason for being except that people are doing things—in other words, force of personality drives human events. This turns history into the study of a kind of political psychology. This, though, is only a tiny part of what’s going on. What’s often all but ignored is the ecological and economic contexts in which humans make their decisions. In other words, many of the mechanisms that drive human socio-cultural evolution are largely left out of the equation.

I now see very clearly that if I want to write about the issues that now interest me I have to explain this broader context along the way. Human cultural evolution is driven not by "great" men and women, but by resources and our attempts to control them—human actions are a byproduct of these quests. History then is really the study of human ecology—understand the nature and value of resources (including their geography) and you understand a great deal about why our societies have developed in the ways they have and what our future options might be. Any book I write on this subject will have to start and then work out from this basic understanding. This means that the first essay in this book will have to be a broad overview of human biological and cultural evolution up to the beginnings of agriculture. From there I will have to explain the massive changes that came with the domestication of plants and animals. From that point on I can begin to branch out into the cultural ecology of our current predicaments.

Ok, I've got to cut this short. I'm sure I have more to say, but I just can't spare the time right now. Onward!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Brothers Grimm Launch Point

Thursday, November 03, 2011—Orange, CA

Still trudging thru this difficult semester. I feel, though, like I’m getting a handle on things—finally. My hip/back is more or less back to normal and I’m getting caught up on my school work; all I have to do is rework a few lectures and then my semester will mellow out considerably. What’s really frustrating me, I’m beginning to realize, is that I have so little time for serious writing. This is especially annoying in that the main reason I teach to begin with is that it’s supposed to leave me with the time to write. Oh well, at least my schedule next semester is looking much more reasonable. Maybe this forced fallow period is a blessing. I was a little burned out after finishing Mother Earth and probably needed a break. I just don’t like being pushed into anything—I want my writing to wax and wain because of my own internal dynamics, not because of forces coming from the outside.

Still, I’ve been getting into some interesting places intellectually lately. I think I mentioned earlier that I’ve started learning Greek. So far I’m really getting into it. Unlike romance languages, the structure of which I always found a bit counterintuitive (I’m already enjoying learning Greek far more than I ever did French, which did little beside drive me up the wall), Greek grammar makes sense to me. I also like the sound of the language, the way it feels in my mouth and brain. It’s of course very early in this journey for me and my opinions may change, but for now at least Greek really seems like I a language that I could learn well. Crossing my fingers on this one …

I’m also continuing with Grimm’s fairy tales. Telling stuff. Though I’ve long been familiar with a lot of the stories, or at least their basic themes, in other incarnations, reading them one after the other is causing me to see some patterns I only sort of noticed before. The one I find most striking is the role of the forests (the woods) in these tales. They’re always places of mystery, of strange and often dangerous happenings. They’re also places of darkness, places inhabited by bears and wolves and other creatures that inspire fear in the story’s human characters. A lot of these stories go back to the middle ages at least, I’m sure, and the social-environmental juxtapositions really bear this out. What these are are stories told by people living on farms and in towns that are surrounded by then widespread, but now mostly long-gone, European forests. As farmers, though, these people have long lost most of the important connections with their ancestral foraging past. In other words, these stories are byproducts of living near wild wooded ecosystems, but not really in them. When their (our) ancestor’s traded their foraging lifeways for that of agriculturalists they lost their knowledge of these environments—and fear tends to fill knowledge vacuums. In Grimm’s fairy tales then there is a direct connection with the advent of agriculture and our general loss of ecological knowledge. Forests have become a place to gather berries and get firewood, but little else. They are something to be tamed, culled, destroyed, turned into fields “safe” for farming. This, I’d say, directly correlates with the current collapsing of the world’s last wild ecosystems: we destroy that which we don’t understand, both out of fear and because on many levels we don’t even realizing what we’re doing—ten-thousand plus years of agriculture have left us that divorced from the wild world which spawned us.

All this ties into broader views I’m developing on human history. Like most people in the Western world I grew up viewing history as a series of political decisions—the disgusting doings of one scum-bag king after another. I now see this as a side show, the outcome of bigger forces. What history really is is the evolution of how we relate to our environments.

So far there have been two overarching modes of human behavior: the lifeway of the forager and the lifeway of the agriculturalist. The forager gains his/her living thru complex interactions with what are essentially wild ecosystems: they shape these systems only to a slightly greater degree than most other creatures in these realms. Agriculture, however, is about control. It is the mass simplification of ecosystems to meet short-term human needs, (or perceived needs): everything that does not directly serve us get ripped out and replaced with a plants and animals that will do our bidding, so to speak. We lived the first of these lifeways for millions of years (if our full hominid lineage is included). Agriculture is only 12,000-10,000 years old. Until extremely recently the most important intellectual lineage it has given us is the aforementioned diminution of general ecological knowledge—this informs nearly every move we have made, from our diets, to disease, to the nature of our towns and cities, to our rising populations, to our general social systems, to our intellectual accomplishments, to our religions, etc. etc. However, this lifeway, as we currently practice it, cannot go on.

The instability of socio-economic systems based around unthinking ecosystem simplification have always been striking—human history since the advent of agriculture can be viewed as one long series of wars over dwindling resources. As the planet hits seven billion people and we sit on the verge of planet-wide environmental collapse it has become apparent that we’re going to be entering a new phase in our existence—one way or another. If we continue as we’re going cascading ecological collapse is a given. If this happens there will be planet-wide war and famine, of which only a relative handle of people will survive, if any (the lifeway of these survivors will be the equivelent of picking thru the garbage heap of our socio-ecolocial failure). The second option will be to enter a phase in which we begin to infuse the re-aquired knowledge of our forager ancestors into our lives. The result will be a worldwide compromise with the rest of the living world. Smaller human populations. Many more wild ecosystems. Farmer as ecologist. Economics and political science taught as small subsets of ecology. A demise of the religious structures that have arisen out of predatory agricultural societies and the emergence of philosophies which combine science with the values of ancient animist-pagan notions of land and spirit being co-joined (think a kind of Daoist-sacred woods religion that both informs and learns from science instead of battling it). A human mindset thru which we see ourselves once again as part of the planet instead of its owners.

Wow, that’s a lot to get from the Brothers Grimm! It doesn’t surprise me, though—I’ve been living with these massive kind of thoughts, developing them for years now—and they’re ready to come out. One of the writing projects I see for myself in the coming years is a book of essays where I discuss these kinds of topic—in a much less tangled and better realize manner that I’ve started doing here. What I’m doing, I can now see, is using this diary as a warm up for this book. Now I’ve really interested to see where this diary will go in the coming months—I apparently have a great deal to say.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

More Massive Thoughts -- Big Pagan Rob

Thursday, October 27, 2011—Orange, CA

Not much new going on since my last post. I’m still buried in school and dealing with my hip/back injury, (which has gotten quite a lot better). I’m writing a bit: I’ve added some to the new Backwaters book. Not sure how I feel about it. I can tell it’s going to be a slower, more contemplative book than the other two and I’m still getting used to that, to writing with a mindset that accepts that slower pace. I have some ideas for short stories that have been rolling around my head. I’m thinking of playing with those for a while and letting the Backwaters book sit for a bit, as it’s feeling a little green, like I might have started it as touch early. I’m also thinking of working up some of my material for the Greece book, some squeezes based on the places I went. I’m really wishing I had more writing time—there are some ideas I have that really need to be played with on paper instead of just my head …

I’ve been doing some interesting reading lately (and, I believe, some interesting thinking). I’m in the middle of a book on European paganism I’m really enjoying. I’m also starting to dig into Grimm’s fairy tales. Though it may not seem like it on the surface, I consider these books to be closely related. One thing I’m interested in these days is the transmission of cultural consciousness. Specifically I’m fascinated with aspects of Western culture that have survived from deep in its past: something close at least to the bedrock of my cultural heritage. One of the hardest parts about being of the modern Western world is that we seem to have no understanding and little interest in what has made us the way we are—we are adrift in a sea of rapidly proliferating technology, which provides almost constant excitement, but very little nourishment. We have lost connection with the basics of life, like getting our own food and water and dealing with each other: life is series of housing tracts connected by strip malls, into which our necessities are brought in from the outside in truncated form: shrink-wrapped food and cultural interaction largely as something virtual (TV and the internet); so much of the time I feel that we’re simply consuming as opposed to living. I want to dive deep beneath this unpleasant surface and find, well, our soul, whatever that might be.

Part of the key to this for me is scraping off the thin, destructive layers of the religions of the book—Christianity mostly—which I see as odd Middle Eastern imports that have smothered so much of the indigenous European consciousness. The native Pagan beliefs and rituals of Europe were (are, in some cases) local, or at least highly adapted to the cultural-environmental matrix into which they entered. This, by definition, makes them more relevant to their practitioners than Christianity, which sees the divine as being separate from the “natural” world in many important ways, which largely sees humanity as something separate from the rest of the existence and everything else on the planet as being created simply for the use (and misuse) of humans. This is why it can spread so easily—it’s not really connected to any place, and therefore it can occupy any cultural space. The problem is that it occupies this space by in large part destroying the aspects of a culture that keep it in touch with the world around it. In other words, it takes people from regional, highly adaptive socio-ecological systems and deposits them into a global abstract belief system that by definition keeps them one step from their local environments. It’s not an accident that early Christian missionaries insisted that the sacred groves of European Pagans be cut down, for they represented a very tangible connection between local gods and day-to-day life in real environments, which is a massive challenge to a church that can offer no such local relevance. Christianity then means local subordination to an outside god, which goes in tandem with the outside political structures that brought it in. This is religious colonialism, an imperialism at the level of belief, that paves the ways for the loss of local control at not only the religious, but the governmental level as well—“Onward Christian Soldiers” is one of the most honest songs ever written …

All of this is an incredibly long-winded way of saying that I want to search for those fragments of my European heritage that have survived the Christian invasion of Europe. To understand who I am I need to hear the echoes of the deep past, maybe those of events going deep into the Paleolithic. A good first step in this journey, I think, is learning what is known about our Pagan past. I want to do this not only thru written records and archaeology, but also thru trips like the one I took to Crete where I can commune thru the eons thru Pagan landscapes themselves. I also want to begin sifting thru our storytelling tradition: for it is thru art that these ideas most likely have the chance of survival (albeit often in highly mutated form). The Grimm stories perhaps can’t trace their direct heritage any further back than medieval times, and they’ve also been deliberately Christianized in spots (often by the Brothers Grimm themsevles). But they are a good starting place to look for the echoes I’ve been discussing. After them? Hans Christian Anderson. Irish fairy tales. Arthurian romances. The Decameron. Beowulf. Icelandic sagas. And hundreds of other stories I right now have no idea exist. I’m just at the beginning of this journey, so much so that in many ways I really don’t even know exactly what I’m looking for …

What started this? All sorts of things, many of which I’m sure I’m not consciously aware. A big part of it, though, is the Backwaters books, which I’m now seeing as fundamentally being an attempt to reconnect with place, to break free of the globalist abstraction that I believe (ironically) is leading the planet to ruin. Who am I? I am man of Europe extraction whose ancestors invaded and colonized a lands to which they do not yet belong, after leaving lands they lost touch with. Like most children of this kind of colonial diaspora I’m largely free floating, from a place, but not really of it. My life’s work as a story teller, I’m beginning to see, is to help contribute to the immensely difficult task of turning that "from" into an "of" for us all.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Post in a Minor Key

Thursday, October 20, 2011—Orange, CA

Feeling strange today, a bit untethered. I found out that Irvine Valley college is going to be hiring a new full-time anthropologist for the fall. I will apply for his job, but I doubt I’ll get it (I’m not even sure if I want it). Assuming I don’t get it there’s a very good chance that there won’t be any more classes for me to teach in the fall, or that I will be cut back to maybe one. Either way, it will mean that it’s time for me to move on. I don’t know what this means, though. I want to be a free agent, but I’m also not quite ready for that move (or maybe I am but just don’t know it). I know in the long run leaving there is a good thing: my life is only sort of working now and there are lots of things I’d like to do I can’t while I’m so buried in work. Still, feeling the anxiety that always accompanies any life change. I’m trying to look at every change in life as an opportunity—somehow I know that I’ll use this as major starting point for something, something big . It will be interesting to see what that something is … And of course how will I pay the bills? An incredibly boring question that always seems to be popping up in life …

I should be ready to send the Backwaters books off to two publishers next week. Feeling very ambivalent about this: I’m not sure if this is the right thing to do. These days it’s hard to figure out what a publisher even is. Maybe I should just try and build up BSP and stay the fuck away from these teetering gatekeepers of the old guard. Do I need a publisher? Does any writer need a publisher these days? Why should I put my work in the hands of someone who probably won’t get it? My distaste for anything that has to do with marketing is also playing a role. I really believe on books finding their audience thru word of mouth mostly, thru a literary brother and sisterhood. The idea of someone hawking my books like their dish soap really bugs me. Fantasizing about building an audience up person by person, under the radar, away from the toxic inquiries of the mainstream media. “In dreams begin responsibilities” –Delmore Schwartz. Hmm …

I’ve been putting quite a bit of work into the third Backwaters novel this week. It’s far too early to say how or where it’s going, but I’m definitely enjoying the effort so far.

Still dealing with pain from my injury. It’s getting better, but slowly. I get the feeling it will still be with me to some degree months from now.

Burnt out on teaching, on having time to do little else. Back around to the beginning of this post, my fear/hope of a lost job. Once again, maybe I’ll just stay in Greece this time. Picked up a beginning textbook on modern Greek. Haven’t had time to delve into it yet. See what I mean?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Occupy Everything

Saturday, October 15, 2011—Long Beach, CA

Finally feeling better. Three weeks almost to the day of pain—which has been moving from my back to my hip to my hamstring in a kind of circle—finally broke a bit yesterday. It got so bad that I had to take three classes off so I could heal a bit. Now, though, I can feel that I’m on the way to being myself again. I can now definitely understand now how people with long-term pain issues can become addicted to painkillers or in extreme situations off themselves—continuous pain just wrecks your life and eventually starts taking away who you are.

Because of my injury there’s really been nothing much going on in my life: I’ve mostly just been trying to get thru what I have to to keep my life functioning. One big thing has happened, though. This weekend I broke ground on the third novel in the Backwaters series. It’s been welling up in my for a while, so I wasn’t surprised, but it’s still a great feeling to have it underway. I’m only a handful of pages into it , but already I like where it’s going. Also, ideas as to what I can do with the book are also flying thru my head, which can’t be anything but a good sign.

On the subject of the Backwaters books, I’ve started the process of finding a publisher/agent for them: I’ll have them off to Canongate, a large independent based in Scotland next week. I’ll also be trying Soft Skull, a smallish U.S. house based out of Berkeley. As usual, I’m not expecting anything, but I’m not pessimistic either: I know I’ve written something special and it’s just a matter of time before these books land in their proper home. I’m beginning to wonder, though, if maybe this “proper home” might be Burning Shore Press. I’m so soured on capitalism at the moment that I just can’t see how any publisher operating in that world will get what I’m trying to do; these novels are so beyond capitalism, so beyond the socio-economic structure of today that I don’t think they can find an audience except thru slow word-of-mouth methods—they need to percolate up thru things, like the cultural equivalent of groundwater becoming a spring. Then again, who know where things are going culturally?

For years—decades really—a lot of us have been wondering when people would finally hit the saturation point and start rising up and take down those who have created this incredibly exploitive world economic infrastructure, which is designed mainly to funnel wealth from those who actually work for it upwards to those who don’t. I think this saturation point has finally been hit. These “Occupy” protests that are now spreading around the world will just get larger and more radical. We want nothing less than to control our own neighborhoods, cities, countries, our own economic systems, our own environmental relationships—we want to control our own lives, in other words. I keep hearing people say how these demonstrations will fizzle out. I doubt it. So many of us have hit the wall—we simply have nowhere else to go: our futures are being taken from us, have been taken from us. When you have no future you fight in the present. The bailout of the banking system (with our money), for its benefit, not ours, combined with the collapse of the housing market and employment opportunities, seems to have been the final straw: it really brought home to the average person how things work. Now that this has happened people will start to really figure out why they work the way they do—the mechanics of how they’ve been getting screwed their whole lives, to put it another way. How things will proceed for this point is hard to say. I do believe, though, that we’re in for nothing less than a complete restructuring of huge aspects of government and economic systems. If these systems don’t exist to benefit the vast majority of us then what do they exist for? Once people get this one the whole house is coming down. I can’t wait until that wrecking ball starts swinging …

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Some Big-Ass Rob Ideas

September 29, 2011—Orange, CA

A difficult week. I injured myself working out last weekend, which is really slowing me down. I felt a pop right where my back and left hip connect and have been barely able to move since then (I’m not sure whether to classify it as a back or hip injury). Teaching has been a drag because of this (so has getting to and from my campuses), and when I’m at home I’ve been pretty much bedridden. I’m still in a fair bit of pain, but the back/hip has loosened up a bit and I can get around better. I’ve had similar injuries before—they usually hurt like hell for about a week and then cause me discomfort for at least a few weeks after that. In other words, the whole thing sucks mightily.

I’ve been really busy too—lots of work for school. For next semester, I’ve been asked to teach a class in Native American cultures, which I’ve never done before. This is going to entail a massive amount of research to do right, research which I’ve already started. Add this to my normal workload, the reading I’m doing for the new cultural anthropology reader I’m putting together, and the stuff I’m doing to revive BSP and I’ve got a lot on my plate. Because of all this I don’t have much of a life at the moment. This will eventually wear on me, I’m sure. But right now I’m so into what I’m doing that I haven’t really noticed how narrow things have become (physically and emotionally, if not intellectually).

Still, I’m feeling good overall, happy about where I am in general in life. This happiness is coming most directly from the fact that I can really see where I’m going as a writer and how my work will tie (is tying) into the world around me.

Right now I have at least three books I see myself writing in the next few years, books that will be combining my literary interests with my studies of anthropology and ecology. I’m starting the third Backwaters book, and soon I will expand into non-fiction, which will mean the Greek book I’ve got planned, plus a book worth of essays that explore the philosophical and scientific underpinnings of my current fiction. What are these underpinnings? I’ve hit a place in life where I’m completely rejecting capitalism and even the idea of the nation state; both are institutions of totalitarianism, by definition. I also reject the idea of “growth,” as the term is generally used—more oppression in the name of “progress” and “improvement” that is in reality the destruction of the wild world and human socio-cultural systems in order that their components can be more easily exploited by a foolish few. I now realize that I am an anarchist in the way Thoreau was. This also makes me a conservative, in the sense that I’m actually interested in conserving things, such as our ability to live as free beings in a world where other creatures are allowed to do the same thing. I’m getting more radical in every way as I get older, as I learn more. But only radical in comparison to the radically strange and destruction cultural phenomena of our age, which are actually way out of line with the rest of human history. I am a radical only as a conservative counterpoint to the insanity of the permanent-growth economy and the corporate state. All this and much more lies at the roots of my fiction and will lie at the roots of my non-fiction. I am not an angry man, just one with increasingly clearing vision. I am a man who just wants to live a free wild life and take as many people with me on this journey who want to come along …

Big words. Big thoughts and ideas. Too big, feeling swamped by them. That’s why I write formally, so as not to drown in all I’m thinking, understanding, and feeling. Jesus, where’d all this come from? …

Friday, September 23, 2011

Chugging Along

Monday, September 19, 2011—Irvine, CA

I’m tired. And I have a headache, have had a headache off and on for days now. I’ve picked up sinus infection, which is not only giving me headaches, but messing with my vision; it’s been really hard to read, which is a bummer because that’s pretty much all I’ve been in the mood to do lately. There’s nothing I can really do about it, though, other than let it run its course. I’ve tried antibiotics on them before and they don’t help much, plus they make me feel like garbage in other ways. They also seem to lower my resistance, which means I get more sinus infections than I would if I just let my body fight them off. So that’s what I’m doing—toughing it out. If this one plays out like my previous sinus infections I can look forward to feeling crappy for at least another couple weeks (I’ve already been battling it for at least two weeks already).

Like I said, this sucks because I’m feeling really anti-social lately (or maybe it’s the sinus infection that’s making me feel this way) and want to do little besides get lost in books. Despite it being uncomfortable, and sometimes painful, I’ve still been doing a bit of reading, continuing with the Patrick Leigh Fermor book I’ve been working on, as well as some archaeology literature for school. Last night I also pulled the Richard Beringen’s collected poems off my shelf. When I first read him a few years ago I was quite impressed by his technical abilities and his erudition. His stuff didn’t really hit me on anything close to a gut level, though. I’m enjoying much more this time around (I planned on only reading a few poems and ended up reading thru the first sixty-five pages of the book). He really is good, clever, but not in negative way. He seems like a poet one needs to read thru multiple times to get a good understanding of what he’s about. I almost placed the book in my to-sell pile (I’ve been thinning out my library). I’m now really glad I didn’t let it get away.

Been working on some of my own stuff as well, editing mostly, not writing. I’ve finished the final edits of Edgewater, and now only formatting issues remain on that book. I hope to have it up to Eric for final formatting by next week. I still have to redesign the cover. Don’t know when I’ll find the time for that. I’ve also been going over Backwaters and Mother Earth again, fixing typos and doing some minor revisions that I think are really helping the books. Speaking of these novels, I’ve decided to give myself one year to find a publisher and/or agent for them. If I don’t I will put them out on BSP. I’m not thrilled by this, but they are the kind of books that could help build BSP. The publishing climate it so bad now that I’m afraid if I don’t have this backup plan I could end up having to sit on the manuscripts for years, which would be a tragedy—these works need to see the light of day. In fact, as soon a I’m done with the design work on Edgewater I’ll begin playing with book cover ideas for BWB and ME. I want then ready to go if and when the time comes. I Will be contacting my first English publisher this week, in regards to these books. Crossing my fingers. Expecting nothing, of course.

Not much else to report. Working, reading, and feeling shitty is pretty much all that’s going on. Exchanged an email with Steve about a possible Sacramento reading during Winter Break, assuming Edgewater is out by then. Hoping to do one in Santa Cruz too. A (very) mini Northern California reading tour.

Still feeling disconnected to my surroundings—my post-Greece alienation from this place isn’t going away. Trying to figure out what this means, what my next step is. Having stomach problems on top of my sinus issues. I was having all sorts of stomach issues before I left for Greece. Once I was there, though, most of them mellowed or went away (except my growing issues with dairy). Now they’re back a bit. I wonder if stress has anything to do with it? Just existing in Southern California these days is somewhat of a white knuckler. How much longer am I willing to deal with this increasingly stupid place?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fallow Period / Getting Reading for Something, Many Things ...

Thursday, September 15, 2011—Orange, California
It’s been a whole week since I’ve added an entry to this diary. This is because there’s really not all that much to report. Plus, I just haven’t been in the mood or had the time to write.
There have been a few developments in my life worth noting, though. I’ve been making some revisions to the Burning Shore Press site, getting it ready for when I relaunch the company with my first poetry book. It’s looking good, clean and to the point. Speaking of my poetry book, I think I’m going to redesign the cover. The one I’ve posted on the site looks OK, but I’ve decided I’m over photographs, especially black and white ones, as the focal point of my covers. I have an idea for a cover that harks back to those great concert posters of the sixties. I want to design it myself; I’ve got some ideas rolling around in my head that I know will work. I’ve also come to the conclusion that my poems, whatever their merits or faults, contain a lot of color—and I want the cover to reflect that. Besides, the current cover of me looking out over Long Beach from Signal Hill now looks a bit pretentious to me, a bit obvious too.

I’ve also started looking for more freelance writing jobs. Like I’ve said before, I want to be a free agent in life and writing is my only ticket to that goal. I’m just beginning this project, so I haven’t any successes yet. My hope it to find one new paying outlet for my work a month. Given how little time I have at the moment to pursue these jobs, this seems like a doable goal.

What else? Lately some very interesting ideas for the next Backwaters novel have been percolating to the top of my brain; the opening scene has begun forming in my mind. This is important because when scenes like this starting coming together it usually means I’m getting ready to start putting pen to paper, so to speak (actually fingers to the keyboard). For months I’ve had the basic story idea, but the details still feel very green for the most part, and my characters, including my first-person protagonist, are still a bit vague. Again, though, once scenes start forming clearly it’s the sign I’m getting ready to roll. It could happen anytime, next week, next month, a few months down the road. I’m not pressing it. Writing a novel is like childbirth—the thing will arrive when it’s ready, and not a second earlier (besides, I’m still a bit burnt out from my work on Mother Earth and am not yet in the mood to give the time and effort that its takes to dive into a long piece of fiction).
I do want to write, though. I have all sorts of ideas for essays, as well as short stories, which is an area I haven’t gone into much. There’s my Greek book as well, of course. But none of these ideas are quite ready to come out either. Some of them are close too, though. Once the flood gates open I could be a suddenly very busy man.

Still feeling good about most things overall. Anxious to get back to Greece even though it’s months away. Am still also feeling a bit alienated here. Long Beach, Southern California, simply doesn’t fascinate me like it used to. I feel as if I’ve given everything I have to this place and haven’t gotten anywhere near enough in return. I want to move on. It looks like the next stage of my life will take place in a new watershed, a new land. I hope a man in his forties can successfully learn a new language.

 Getting antsy to start my Greek language studies. Thinking of trying to pick up my French lessons again as well.

 Been reading a lot, culture theory stuff primarily, partially as research for school, partially just because it’s a part of what I do, who I am. Finishing up Fante, Dan Fante’s first memoir, which juxtaposes his life with that of his father’s, with alcohol, too many women, and writing being the connectors (unfortunately in that order). A good, if somewhat limited book (blackout drinking, fucking , and the [strangely under-described] redemptive power of the muse are all that Dan seems to be able to write about). Starting to tackle Patrick Leigh Fermor’s travel books. I’m only forty pages into the first one and really starting to get into it. I have also been rereading all of Gary Snyder’s essays. I’ve taken a break from that, though. Will probably pick them up again after I’ve finished with the Fermor books I have.

Not getting enough sleep. Early morning and night classes combined don’t mix. More budget cuts likely to be coming down the pipe. Wonder if I’ll soon be out of work or more likely seriously under employed. I’m not really worrying about this, though. Though I don’t know why, I can’t shake the feeling that the gods have my back on this sort of thing these days. Feeling a little special, magic, like some sort of destiny is looming on the horizon I'm more than ready to deal with.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Home / Not Home

Thursday, September 9, 2011—Orange, California

I got back from Greece slightly more than a month ago, was then thrown into prep for teaching almost immediately—I haven’t had time to evaluate the trip much. I have decided, though, that ‘m heading back there next summer. I’m now sure that writing a book on Crete and the Dodecanese is something I want to do. It’s become obvious, though, that last summer alone has not given me the perspective I need to do this, if for no other reason than I really haven’t visited much of the Dodecanese. Next trip I plan on flying into Patmos, the northern most island in the Dodecanese of any size (and the farthest north one with an airport) and then filter my way south thru the islands until I again reach Crete, somewhere near the end of my trip.

I want this trip to be different than the last trip. First off, next month I’m going to start teaching myself Greek. I don’t expect to become anything close to fluent before heading back, but I would like some sort of baseline to help me start picking things up once I’m there. I also plan a more rugged trip this time, lots of camping, of both the legal and not-so-legal variety. I’ve decided that I simply don’t want to spend money like I have in the past (in regards to Greece and my life in general). I really don’t need much in way of comfort and I don’t want to work my ass off to save money; I want to enjoy life while I’m here too—so it’s jam econo time for be in a big way. I’m thoroughly convinced that most people I know spend their money on things they don’t need or really even want; they’re just so conditioned by society to buy shit that that’s just what they do. I want to get off that train, am getting off it—I’m thoroughly sick of capitalism in all its forms …

Lots going on here. Besides the aforementioned school, I’m attempting to revive Burning Shore Press. Hopefully it will be putting out short-runs of Dan Fante’s Boiler Room and Edgewater, a book of my poetry, in the few months. I don’t want to have to out Backwaters of Beauty or Mother Earth thru them, but I want to bring BSP back to snuff in case I have no other choice. On that subject, I’ve been talking to a few fellow writers on the agent/publishing scene and things look pretty bleak—nobody is signing anybody. Thinking of trying to get a deal in the UK first. I have a bit of a name there and their publishers might be easier to break in with.

What else is going on? I've gone more or less vegan since coming back. I just don’t digest dairy well these days and not eating meat is making me both feel healthier and is saving me money. I was originally planning the vegan thing as a one-month cleanse after getting back from Greece, but a month has past and I’m in no hurry to start eating meat again, and, like I said, I can’t eat diary. So I plan on keeping on with my current diet for the foreseeable future. The only problem is that I’m getting skinny (even by my standards): I’m starting to look like Iggy Pop from the neck down.

Feeling less at home here in Southern California since getting back: too many people, too many rules, too much bullshit in general. I’m tired of living in the twilight of the American Empire; I’m tired of being of the country with plenty of bombs and no healthcare. I want something different, something smaller and more human. Maybe I won’t come back from Greece this time.

I’m also now becoming (even more) dissatisfied with teaching. I want to be a free agent. I just want to write. As soon as I get a better handle on this semester I’m going to start researching freelance writing opportunities; I’d like to start transitioning out of the college world as soon as possible. Starting in October I’m going to make it my goal to make just a little more money from writing each month. I’ve spent way too much of my life working for others and I’ know I’ll never be fully content until that has stopped. All this ties in with my no longer wanting to spend money. It’s all about freedom, of not giving away my precious dwindling time for dollars.

Despite the problems I’ve been writing about I’m feeling good, relaxed, fairly content—Greece really calmed me down. I can see my life shaping up in front of me, can where I’m going, just not how I’m going to get there. Enjoying the second part of this equation as much as the first: not knowing the exact path to freedom is a big part of the fun of becoming free (kind of pretentious sounding, but true).

What else? Lots of reading. A relationship I bailed out of just as it was getting started, no harm no foul, I hope. Just floating thru life at the moment—in the best sense. Making big plans. Letting the little ones take care of themselves.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - Long Beach, CA

Home! And man does it feel weird ...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lendas Photos 2

Just a few more Lendas photos. I think the first one really shows how dry and rugged that part of the island is.

Lendas Photos 1

Some pictures from in and around Lendas, including some views from where I stayed and a shot of one of the in-town archaeological sites (the whole town's a site really).

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Windy Plakias

Saturday, August 6, 2011—Plakias, Crete, Greece

Back in Plakias—and man am I bummed about it. I was hoping to stay in Lendas until the day I had to leave, but then I realized that I had me dates slightly off and had to get out there. The reason was the bus schedule. Now the Cretan bus routes have bugged me at times, but this is the only times that they’ve truly screwed me up and pissed me off. As I think I mentioned in a previous entry, there are no busses in and out of Lendas—going anywhere—on weekends. Because of this it worked out that I had to be out of there by yesterday, because my flight out of Hania is the crack of dawn on Monday. So, in other words, I had to leave a place I was perfectly happy with, a place I wanted to be, and go somewhere else for my last two days here simply because of a quirk in the bus schedule.

What makes this do frustrating is that Lendas was the perfect place to end my trip: it was relaxing, uncrowded, and had a great vibe to it. Because I have so little time left here my options upon leaving Lendas were limited. I could have hung out in one of the north coast cities, but I’m in no mood for urban life right now. I also could have gone to another beach area, but the ones in range didn’t interest me much. So I choose to come back to Plakias—which I was fairly luke-warm abou—because I could make it here in half a day and I know I can get a bus out of here on Sunday. I’m not happy about any of this, but like I said my options were limited.

So I’ve spent a little over a day here, mostly just resting and reading (I tried to go to the beach today but it was so windy it wasn’t much fun. Mostly now I’m just killing time until the noon bus north tomorrow, when I will begin making my way to Hania and eventually its airport and my first plane on my journey. I’m more than a little bummed out at the moment: these last couple days I’m having are a kind of lame way to end what has been a good trip.

Nothing much else to report. Like I said, I’m pretty much just killing time now. Tonight I’m just going to take it easy, buy some food and cook here in the room (I have access to a kitchen): I’m really tired and am over going places, even down the street to eat. So I guess this is it—unless I post something from Hania tomorrow this will be my last post from Greece (though I have a lot of time on my hands at Heathrow, so I may post something there). So, so long from Crete! Like I hope everyone has enjoyed reading these posts. Sorry to end on such an anticlimactic note. But these things happen. Onwards!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Two Lendas Entries

Tuesday, August 2, 2011—Lendas, Crete, Greece

My second day in Lendas. It took me a while to get here, though. I left Hora Safakilon on Saturday for Iraklio, where I was supposed to catch the bus here (two busses, actually—this place is kind of hard to get to without a car). When I got to Iraklio, though, I found out that the busses down here only run on weekdays. So I got stuck in Iraklio, the last place in Crete I want to be, for nearly two days (I really wish the Lonely Planet would have mentioned the no weekends thing). I finally made it here, though, on Monday afternoon, in a fairly foul mood because of the hassle and expense of hanging out in Iraklio. But I’ve mellowed since then—Lendas is a nice and quite relaxing place.

It’s not exactly what I expected, though. I was hoping to find something more backwoodsy, like Gavdos. What I found instead was more of a resort, though a tiny, very laid-back one. This is OK with me, I’ve decided. All I want to do my last week in Crete is relax and this is a good place for it—there really isn’t anything to do besides hang out at the beaches (which are actually pretty mediocre by Crete standards), watch the sunset (or rise), sleep, and eat and drink. Today, for example, I ate breakfast at a little cafĂ© just up the hill from where I’m staying. Then I hung out with this French couple who’s staying in the room next to mine (she’s actually Italian, but has lived in France since she was very young). After this, I hiked the kilometer it is to the first beach west of town (the little town beaches are crowded with middle-aged Germans—of course, as I’ve mentioned many times, not my thing), where I swam, read, and lay around for about four hours. Now I’m typing this, eating some white grapes, and drinking a Mythos (a Greek German-style lager I think I discussed in an earlier post—meh). Later I’ll head out to dinner and maybe have a drink at one of the several “clubs” they have here, which are little outdoor bars really. And that will be my day. (It will also be my day tomorrow, except that I plan on hiking to the first beach to the east of town).

My only goal here, besides relaxation is to finish reading Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. I’ve of course read it before, but I’ve never done all four novels in one go. In other words, I’ve never tackled the piece as a single entity, which it of course is. I’m enjoying it a great deal. More importantly, as I hoped, I’m getting more out of it reading it this way. The only problem is that I’m going thru it too quickly: I may be in Lendas until as late as next Monday and I’m already on, Clea, the final novel of the set. I do have another book with me—a history book about Crete during World War II—but going to that might be a jarring transition. Man, my life is tough: I mean, I’m about to run out of great literature by the beach in Crete. What would I do if I ever actually faced a real problem or two? …

I just realized that I haven’t really described Lendas. First, though, the trip here. The Iraklio province, I’ve been told on a number of occasions, is not the prettiest part of Crete. After driving thru it (on the bus) I can say I agree with this assessment. Basically, once you get out of the city you find yourself in a giant farming district: olive grove, hayfields, and various vegetable plots are everywhere. The geography predicts this. Once one climbs over the northern mountains, instead of more mountains, as is to be found on the more western parts of the island, there is a giant basin of flatlands and rolling hills—an agricultural paradise, in other words. Who knows how many olives are pulled out of this region, how much of Crete’s food in general? Massive amounts, for sure (after seeing this part of the island I understand why Iraklio is the island’s power center, its richest region). It’s not the most visually exciting, though: it’s too big and uniform, too dominated by straw yellows and waxy olive greens to have much drama. Still it was interesting. And it smelled good! It’s the only part of the island where the scent of olives made it thru the environmental controls of the fancy Anek and Minoan Lines busses in a big way.

Once you’re thru this valley and begin scaling the southern mountains things change radically—it starts looking a bit like the high deserts of California or Nevada. There seems to be little water here and on the south side of these mountains are definitely in the rain shadow—tough, scrubby yellow hills replace the agricultural utopia of just a handful of kilometers past. This has a harsh beauty of its own, but the beaches, which are the only respite from the heat of the area (which is formidable this time of year), are its only real selling point. And even these are few and far between, and as I mentioned of less than stellar quality.

In certain ways, though, this is a good thing, in that it keeps the tourists away. Not to many kilometers away, on a west facing bite out of the coast is a town called Matalla (I may be spelling this wrong), which once was considered to be one of the most beautiful and magical parts of the island (it was also supposedly one of the coolest places to be in the late sixties/early seventies—Joni Mitchell wrote a neat little song about the place … “Come to Matalla and I’ll buy you a bottle of wine …”). Now it’s completely overrun, just another tourist trap. Lendas, one of the few other settlements in the region simply isn’t pretty or big enough to invite that sort of exploitation. The fact that it’s Matalla’s “fat friend,” so to speak keeps it nice and tranquil for those of us who strive to get away from the big structured world of the tourist trade. Again, the beaches may not be that great, but they’re relatively tranquil. And the prices in the little town are reasonable too. All in all, there’s nothing epic going on here, just a handful of people smart enough and with taste enough to want something smaller and more real getting together and hanging out a bit.

The town itself is interesting mainly in that it’s such a little jumble. Other than the road that leads into town and dead ends into a little car park there are no roads here, which of course means there are no cars driving around. There also appears to have been no plan to this place: everything just seems to have been built where and this manner which its owner wanted. To get across the little town involves ducking into little defacto alleys, crossing vacant lots, going across private property, or heading down to the beach and walking its crescent to your next destination (which is the easiest way not to get lost). One really cool thing about this place is that the whole town is sitting atop an ancient settlement, (probably Dorian, from what I can tell). So here and there, throughout the town, there are partially excavated section of the old settlement, including one section in a lot just in front of where I’m staying! So everyone who is here is literally living on top of the site. Cool stuff, no matter how you look at it. It makes me wonder what’s under Iraklio and Hania and especially Athens. Talk about building on your past …

One other thing. Greeks don’t seem to differentiate much between the d and t sounds in English. So sometimes Lendas is spelled Lentas, occasionally in the same document! Interesting …

Wednesday, August 3, 2011—Lendas, Crete, Greece

Another wonderfully lazy day in Lendas. Like I’d planned I hiked to the beaches to the east. There was one nice little one just around the point that marks off the east edge of town, but it was a bit crowded (ten people would make the place packed). I then headed along the trail to a beach that was basically the same as the ones in town, except that there were only a couple of tavernas/guesthouses there and far fewer people. The beach was way too stony for my tastes, though. So I kept walking down to a sandier beach that had only one other peson on it. Not a great beach either, plus it was a bit lonely feeling there; I don’t like crowds, but neither do I dig such isolation—I like a little human company when I beach it. So I ended up hiking all the back thru town and over the hill that leads to Dytikos Beach, where I’d hung out the day before.

And that was the rest of my day—swimming and sunning there for nearly five hours. It was great, mainly because the winds shifted today and started coming off shore. This meant that though it was hotter than hell, it was a really dry heat, which was quite nice; it was kind of like being in a sauna—a sauna with a cooling ocean attached to it. I remember I said in one of my recent Gavdos entries that I was as tan as I’d could ever remember being. Scratch that—now I’m as tan as I can ever remember being. What’s cool is that I got at least one more day to add on to that record, maybe as many as four.

This brings me to a decision I have to make. My flight out of Hania is at five-something in the morning and my goal is to be back in that town by late afternoon/early evening the day before; I plan on doing some shopping and getting dinner and then taking that final bus to the airport, which is around midnight (I’ll then find some bench there and try to get a few hours’ sleep before I have to check in for my flight). Because of the limited bus service to and from Lendas I have two options as to when I bail out of here. I can leave Friday, which means that I’ll have to spend two nights elsewhere, probably in Iraklio and/or Hania. Or I can wait till Monday the seventh to leave, which is actually perfect, in that I’d much rather be here than in either of the Cities I just mentioned. The problem is that that’s cutting it close: if there’s any bus issue or some fuck up on my part I could miss my flight (unlikely, but possible). As of right now I think a Monday departure from here is what I’m aiming for. I’m just not in the mood to be anywhere else until I leave this island.

I forgot to mention that I checked out an archaeological site today on my way back from the eastern beaches. As I’ve mentioned, this whole town is built on an ancient settlement. On the hill just to the east of town this becomes really evident: the surface of the hill is strewn with pot sherds and chips of marble. There’s also part of a marble column just sitting on the ground as well. Here and there too can be seen the outlines of stone walls. Based on its location it was probably some sort of defensive structure or perhaps a temple complex (these things are what one tends to find on hills overlooking ancient towns on these islands). I of course don’t have the permits to do any digging here (I would have loved to have sunk a couple of test pits to see what I’d find), but I did take a bunch of photos I can use in my archaeology class in the fall. Cool stuff.


Something’s biting the hell out of me here: I’ve got what looks like mosquito bites all over my back and on parts of my arms and shoulders. I haven’t heard much in the way of buzzing in my ears at night, though, which I usually do when I get chewed up like this. I’m hoping I’m not dealing with some sort of bedbug or sand flea issue. I don’t think I am, because the parts of me that are getting bitten are the parts that usually aren’t covered by the sheet at night—which spells mosquitos. But why am I not hearing them? Am I sleeping harder than usual? That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case. A strange, unpleasant mystery …

This town is loaded with cute, young German girls. (Way too young for me, alas—Ah the sorrows of getting older!). There’s one particularly scrumptious group camping together on Dytikos Beach who are staggeringly hot—they are a combination of blondes and brunettes that remind me of the Castle Anthrax girls in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (Oh yeah, I never say “scrumptious,” by the way.) I have no particular reason for mentioning other than I think beauty should always be noted (especially when it’s in the form of stunning girls traveling in packs).