Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Laying Back, Paul Bowles' Travels, a Dream

Monday, July 30, 2012—Long Beach, CA

Feeling a little out of it. I’ve been battling an on-again off-again sinus infection this whole summer and lately it’s been acting up (it can take forever to get rid of those things, sometimes many months). I also have a minor muscle pull under my left shoulder blade, which is just painful enough to be annoying. Other than these issues things are going OK. It’s a bit slow around here: I’ve been doing little besides working out, doing some light school prep, and reading. I’ve also been writing a bit, experimenting with an essay about my days in Hawai’i. I’m very much feeling my thru it, am not sure where it’s going. As I’d mentioned, I’d been playing around with ideas for a novel set in Hawai’i that ultimately didn’t work and in a sense they haves morphed into this essay. Hopefully I’m now on the right track with it.

Like I just said, I’ve been reading a lot. I read a lot of novels in the first half of the summer, but since I’ve been back from up north, it’s been mostly non-fiction, political and economic stuff, history, travel writing. I’ve burned thru a couple of Noam Chomsky books and in the middle of a third one. I’m also reading a history on Vasco de Gama’s Indian voyages well as essays by Orwell and a collection of Paul Bowels travel pieces. The Chomsky stuff I’ve been reading mainly for his perspectives and the massive amounts of information he provides (he’s a pretty lousy writer). With the Orwell’s stuff, though, I’ve been studying his technique. He’s nearly in a class of his own as an essayist. Even in his lesser works the writing and the thought shaping it is always razor sharp; he never wastes a word or goes on any tangent he doesn’t eventually drive right pack to the heart of the piece. I’m perhaps finding the Bowels’ book the most interesting, though. As a novelist he’s very frustrating. His novels start off so promising, but every one I’ve tried to read begins to let me down about halfway thru; it’s as if he’s become bored with his own creation and doesn’t quite have the energy (or the vision, which is partially born from this kind of energy) to see things thru. His travel writing, though, thus far really shines.

The book is simply called Travels and collects a lot of his travel pieces from 1950-1993. Some of the work has appeared in his books, but a lot of it is stuff that was published in magazines and newspapers and has never before been collected. It’s obvious that he’s toned down his style a bit at times for more mainstream audiences (the icy detachment of the narrator of The Sheltering Sky and Let it Come Down would no doubt freak out the readers of magazines such as Holiday), but his voice still comes thru. It’s a voice suited for this kind of writing too. With his novels Bowles always seems burdened by his plots, by having to tell a story—for him, you get the feeling, that the landscape, the climate, the people going about their daily lives is enough. Travel writing allows him to concentrate on just those things and he brings them to life marvelously. So far my favorite pieces have been set in his beloved North Africa and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). There are some that take place in Europe too that are interesting. When I’m done with this book I think I’m going to check out the rest of his non-fiction, including the travels books some of the pieces in Travels came from. He also published a dairy from his time in Tangier I want to track down.

I went to the Lakewood Mall today in search of a shirt to where to a wedding I’m going to in Santa Barbara this weekend (I came home empty handed). Going to malls has become a very weird experience for me. I simply don’t go to places like that very often. I don’t buy things in general. I don’t even watch TV much, which means I don’t see the commercials most Americans allow themselves to be bombarded with. Today I began realizing how disconnected I’ve become from the American capitalist enterprise—I truly don’t understand the mindset of the people who hang out in malls regularly. Nor do I really get why anyone would want to spend their lives selling and making most of the stuff sold in them. People shop, I think, because they’ve largely lost the ability to create their own lives, their own value systems. So they try and buy those things one step removed. It of course doesn’t work. And when it doesn’t they feel bad, which provides the impetus to go off on another buying spree to try and solve that problem (which is really of course just an expression of the first problem). And so on and so on … I’ve reached the point where, except for stuff like food, I hate to buy anything, not because I’m cheap, or even because I usually don’t have that much money, but because I know whatever it is will likely become more baggage in my life, something I have to wash or dust or do an oil change on. Stuff, in other words, equals work. I’m amazed that more people don’t see this. Freedom is a light backpack and a (relatively) full bank account.

I’ve been having lots of weird/bad dreams lately. Most of them are gone soon after I wake up (I mean within seconds) and all I’ve got left of them are the uptight or outright bad feelings they’ve brought out in me. I do remember bits and piece of one of these dreams, though. One which loosely ties into my previous discussion of shopping malls. I can’t recall exactly what was going on, but I was at a beach somewhere and I remember that everything you might to have at the beach had to be bought from vending machines that lined the cliffs above the sand—sunscreen, towels, and even surfboards had to be purchasest like this—you weren’t allowed to bring your own from home. I think there was even someone you had to pay a toll to for each wave you road. It was all just a handful of steps away from ultimate capitalist landscape where there’s a surcharge for breathing …

Friday, July 20, 2012

Weird James Joyce Dream

Friday, July 20, 2012—Long Beach, CA

I had a really weird and (I think) interesting dream last night.

I was in Ireland, lying on the ground outdoors on a mild sunny day. I was reading a large book (physically large—like a coffee-table book) of poetry by James Joyce. The poems weren’t anything he’d written in real life, though—they existed only in my dream. The poems were printed on pictures of the Irish country side. As I was reading I noticed that the photo behind a poem was the exact scene that was before me—a kind of living Impressionist mountain scape, featuring lots of greens of course, but also browns, purples, and whites, under a pale blue sky. As I realize what I’m looking at my sister and I begin holding hands, while getting into to beauty of the poem, the picture, and it’s “real life” counterpart (I’m not sure if my sister was there the whole time or if she just appeared at this point in the dream). At about this point I begin to cry, tears of beauty. But a part of me is faking it; I’m putting on some sort of show, for my sister, for myself, and for others I feel are there somewhere but  where I cannot now recall.

The scene switched after this. I’m watching TV, back in the U.S., I assume. I’m watching the Charlie Rose Show, except that it’s the late 1970s and Rose has long hair (though he’s not looking all that much younger than he does today). He’s interviewing James Joyce, who in my dream universe is still alive at this late date and doesn’t look any older than his early sixties. He also doesn’t quite look like he does in the photo’s I’ve seen of him—he looks like a cross between James Joyce and Tom Waits. Rose is asking him questions about the book of poetry I’d been reading in Ireland. I’m not really hearing the questions or the answers, though (or maybe I just don’t remember them). I do notice, though that Joyce doesn’t really have a septum, that he essentially has one big nostril, which I find really fascinating and only a little gross. Joyce’s movements are very Tom Waits, very stylized semi-phony American hipster. His voice is a bit Wait’s-like too. He’s wearing one of those old-fashioned English bicycle hats, where the brim is short and connected to the top-part of the hat by a snap.

Later that morning I wake up with opening lines for a poem, a big epic poem, rolling around in my head. The poem has nothing to do with the Joyce poems, except that in my groggy state I see Joyce’s dream work having showed me the way back into my poetry, which I’ve lost touch with since 2009. Here are the lines (I think, I’m not sure what I woke up with and what might have morphed in the several hours since I got out of bed):

We have broken the seal completely

Whirl whirl          Californie whirlie whirl

and of course the cattlemen of Stockton

              understand the lumber ships in San Pedro and stacked

up across the horizon

touching Japan (Terminal Island)—

into pink dusk

summer palms

And that’s all I’ve got. I don’t think it’s particularly good. Nor do I know what if anything to do with it. But the way I arrived at it is pretty cool. Worth documenting, I think, if nothing else …

Monday, July 16, 2012

Rain, Relaxation, and Jean Rhys

Friday, July 13, 2012—Long Beach, CA

Rain! Since yesterday we’ve been experiencing a strange tropical depression, which has brought overcast skies, humid heat, and again, rain. This is so strange for Southern California. We can go a decade without summer rain and to have multiple days of it like this is even more odd. While this little intrusion of weather has been interesting, I would like my traditional dry Mediterranean-climate back, please—I don’t like humidity and the last couple days have been like a bad weather patch in Hawai’i. Welcome to Global Warming or just more traditional weirdness? Hard to say, of course …

Not too much going on besides the weather. I’ve been working out a lot—running, bike riding, and lifting weights—and I hit a little wall this afternoon: after going for a run early this afternoon and then eating a late lunch I just kind of collapsed while listening to the Angels game (they’re beating the Yankees 4-2 at the moment), slept hard for an hour or so, and then just vegged out in bed listening to the game, until I decided to write a bit here. The plan for the rest of the evening is to stay in bed, while writing a bit more, studying some Greek, and doing some reading. Every once in a while I get like this—I just need a day (or in this case half a day) where I take it easy. Sometimes I forget how active I am, both physically and mentally—and I’ve finally learned to accept when I need a break. I wish I could get to the point, though, where I plan them into my schedule. As of now I push forward until I drop. It would be healthier if I rested up before that happened …

Speaking of reading … I’m hitting a stretch where I’m stumbling upon some very interesting books. I’ve shelved my Proust redo for the moment (though I do plan on getting back to it) and since before my trip have been tearing thru Jean Rhys novels. Reading her has been a bit of a revelation for me. Her books are so good, so far ahead of her time. She has this simple pared-down style that is paired with an almost post-modern minimalism in regards to plot, which allows the complex emotions and thoughts of her protagonist to flow thru unimpeded. She really has only one story to tell, which she comes at from different angles in each novel. All her tales concern the plight of women who find themselves in the world without means yet strive to live lifes that will give them more than just being someone’s wife, someone’s baby-producing machine. Her characters long for beauty and ask little more than a small amount of fuel to keep their flame up hope alive. But they are trapped in a world where they are dependent on men, mainly for money, mostly because the other woman is the only role society will allow them beyond wifedom; they long to escape being property, but soon find themselves becoming simply a different type of possession. Dark stuff. Claustrophobic. Tense. But beautiful in its execution. Powerful feminist art in everything but name. It’s pretty rare these days that I find a writer who really has something to teach me about writing. But I’m learning a lot from Rhys, a whole lot …

Other reading notes. Still plowing thru a so-so history of the Greek war of independence. Ready to take a break from Jean Rhys and have Dawn Powell’s novel The Wicked Pavilion in the on-deck circle. I’ve never read her before, but I’ve heard so many good things about her stuff that I’m excited and am hopeful that I’ll have found another writer this summer who really works for me.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sacramento and Other Evaluations

Wednesday, July 11, 2012—Long Beach, CA

I’ve been back in So Cal for a few days now and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Whatever problems I have with the more northerly regions of this state, at least (in most areas) they’re less crowded. As soon as I got off the plane in Long Beach I started to feel a bit hemmed in. Since then I can’t stop noticing the traffic, the dirt, the … pointless busyness everyone seems to be engaged in. More than ever I want out of this place; I simply don’t belong here anymore. I want someplace quieter, slower, more human. Back to my Grecian dreams. The key for me, I’m realizing more than ever, is to build up Burning Shore Press, to have an income that doesn’t come from whatever local economy I find myself in—because I simply can’t make a living most of the places that attract me. Big ideas rolling around in my head. I can see me soon breaking with much of my current life. Big angry realizations about capitalism, about my phony cowardly country. Too big to discuss now—I want them to roll around in my head a bit more …

Contemplating my little trip north. I said some fairly disparaging things about Santa Cruz in the previous entry. Overall, though, I like the place—it’s quiet (in comparison to Southern California) and there are definitely some nice people there. I was feeling pretty uptight there, though. This had a lot more to do with what was going on with the friend I was there to visit. His marriage is going down in an extremely ugly way and being a part of the shambles that is his life at the moment was very stressful and not all that much fun. Still, it was great to see him. I just wish I could do more to help him. But he’s the only one who can work out his problems—any attempt I could make in this area would either be ineffectual or put me in a situation in which I have no place. Later I can be there for him. Right now moral support is pretty much all I can offer.

The Sacramento part of my trip was a very different story, in that I was really able to relax there (I’m so glad I decided to go to Sacramento after Santa Cruz instead of the other way around). Sacramento is a pretty non-descript place in many ways. That, though, is its strength; it’s just a pleasant place with plenty to do (if you know where to look) that doesn’t ask much of a person. In other words, it’s not like Southern California or San Francisco, whose infrastructure and accompanying social dynamics demand the world as soon as you leave the house (and sometimes while you’re still in it!). It was also of course great seeing Steve, my old comrade in arms. We’ve been friends for over thirty years and we still find ways to connect that I don’t happen with me and other people. What makes seeing him so interesting for me is that though we share a ton of history neither of us are ever trapped by that past—we’re both always using it as a springboard into new things. Over the last few years are relationship has been especially interesting to me in that we both seems to be going thru a period where we’re intensely evaluating the past, our past, the history of , well, kind of everything, to see what can stand up to the scrutiny of the wisdom we’ve somehow managed to wrench from our time on this planet. We both seem to be retrenching ourselves, in the personal aspects of our lives, as well as socially, politically, etc. For a decade or so there we seemed to have really diverged. Now, though, we appear to be arriving in similar places, in some respects from radically different angles. I’m not yet sure what any of this means, but it certainly is fascinating. It’s going to be interesting to see where we’re both are ten years from now.

As far as what we actually did in Sacramento goes, it was a nice mix. We hung out in some good pubs (this trip was interesting in that it was the first time I’d had anything to drink since February), went to a nice bookstore, watched some good films/TV, went on a hike in Big Trees State Park (in the Sierra Nevada foothills), and went to the Crocker art museum, which was having a show by Mel Ramos, an artist I’d never dealt with before (the museum also has a nice regular collection, dominated by regional artists). It was a good leisurely time—the perfect antidote to my Santa Cruz stress …

Other notes:

Still pushing my way into the gluten-free world, figuring out what I can and can’t eat. Still feeling good, though my stomach problems are lagging behind the rest of my body in this department. Yesterday I accidental ate some peanut butter that contained a soy base (which contained wheat) and my stomach bloated out like a famine victim. Unpleasant, but good in that it showed me that my stomach problems almost surely have their base in an overall gluten issue, which means that I’m now doing what I need to do to solve the problem.

Back on the wagon after coming home. Drinking as an occasional social activity works for me, but that’s about it; I have no desire to drink to drink. Since I’ve quit I’m noticing how much certain people around me drink. I’m glad I’m off that path. At this point in my life it can lead nowhere good …

Another thing keeping me from drinking is that I can’t drink most beer because it’s loaded with gluten. While in Santa Cruz I tried some sorghum beer. It wasn’t bad. A bit light. Missing something as far as it’s taste goes. It’s not a bad option, but I don’t see myself putting in too much effort to track the stuff down.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Notes from Santa Cruz

Monday, July 2, 2012—Santa Cruz, CA

Day three of my Santa Cruz excursion. My love-hate relationship with this town is in full bloom. The setting is beautiful (not as beautiful, though, as what’s under the concrete of the L.A. Basin), but, like so many other places in coastal California, there far too many cars jammed into the streets, too much noise and hectic feelings in a place that’s reputed to be ultra-laid back. I also have some interesting social problems when I’m here, which are definitely happening this trip. Southern California trains people to live hard and fast; for better or worse we attack whatever we’re doing. Here there’s very little edge to anything. In many ways this is good. But it also drives me sort of crazy, mainly in that I always feel like I’m wasting time when I’m in this town. I don’t doubt that there’s a very good chance that I’m the one with the problem, not Santa Cruz—in the long run their way might be the better one. But like I said, it just run a bit against the grain of my L.A. soul. I’m used to people and moments having a bit of an edge to them and here so much is soft and fuzzy around the corners, which, like I’ve said, makes me a little nuts.

Another factor here that makes me a little uncomfortable is how much money is sloshing around this town. This town has a rep of having this laid-back-hippy-more-progressive-than-thou culture, which it does in a way. But I think a lot of this is the fumes left over from another simpler, cheaper time. I mean, it’s so expensive here that one would almost have to have a big income to do anything other than just scrape by. Mostly of the people I’ve met here who have these kinds of incomes work in the computer industry; Santa Cruz lies near the heart of the Silicon Valley money spout. The underlying flow of cash pumps so much money into this town that I’m sure the income levels here approach those of Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is snooty Old California money at its most stereotype: it supports boring old structures of privilege and ethnicity. Here, though, the money seems to be propping up more-recent hippy values that seem to exist now as just a thin surface layer. The problem is that the best of these hippy values were concerned with self-reliance and living lightly on the land (and cheaply). People here, though, are driving SUVs, living in expensive houses, and drinking boutique wines. In other words, I think what’s going on here is a counter-culture fantasy, not the real thing. I think the people here, on many levels, are just kidding themselves.

This really bothers me. As does the fact that so much of the money pushing this place along comes from the computer industry. To be frank, I’ve never trusted the computer world, socially. Those working in that realm seem to be paid an awful lot of money for doing very little (of what I would consider to be) work. Intertwined with this is a sense of privilege that I find unpleasant; I just want to drag a lot of these people off the “campuses” into the real world, hand them a shovel and tell them to start digging, to experience real work for a change. Getting back to my previous points, I think what this all adds up to is that old snooty Santa Barbara and post-hippy Santa Cruz are ending up in a disturbingly similar place, albeit from wildly different angles—I think there’s a false premise at the heart of each of them that numb and dull their residents to the lives most people in this world live.

All that said, it’s nice to be here, to change my routine and see and feel some new things … new, cleaner beaches, redwoods, different plant communities in general, less concrete, cooler breezes. It’s of course great to hang out with Greg again. I have few close friends left in Southern California and I’m not as close with anyone down there are I am with him. Yesterday we drove up the coast, hung out on the beach with his two-year-old daughter, before going for a drive thru a bit of the backcountry and then eating dinner with some friends of his. A nice day, relaxing (despite the fact that his daughter can be a bit of a handful, like all kids that age). Today he’s working so I’m just wandering around town by myself, right now listening to the traffic sounds pouring into the coffeehouse in which I’m sitting and typing on my netbook. Feeling pretty relaxed. My stomach problems, which flared up on the trip down, have mellowed about a bit. Living gluten free on the road is hard, but I’m doing it. Feeling OK overall, a little spooked too, though, by being surrounded by people I don’t quite understand.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Bits and Pieces of This and That

Monday, June 26 2012—Long Beach, CA

Nice summer days have arrived. The June gloom is finally mostly gone and we’re getting clear blue skies and weather which is warm but not yet too warm. It would be nice if we could just hold this, have a mellow summer where we never get too scorching (a lot of Southern California summers go down this way, though just as many turn death Africa hot starting in July and stay that way into October). Actually here’s to mellow in general!—now that I’m finally starting to unwind I’m having a harder and harder time accepting the fact that come mid-August I’m going to have to step back into the fast lane again.

Though things are going well overall, I had a really stupid day yesterday. I rode my bike down to the beach to have a run and somehow I lost my keys; I’ve never before in my life lost a set of keys. Since I was just going for a quick run I’d brought nothing besides my clothes and keys—I had no money and no phone. Plus, I couldn’t even use my bike since it was locked to a lifeguard tower and that key went with the rest of them. This meant that I had to walk all the way to my sister’s on the other side of Long Beach State to get the spare set of house keys I leave with her (which I could use to get into my house and get my spare bike-lock key so I could free my bike). Luckily after hiking an hour-plus to her house she was home. Unfortunately she couldn’t figure out where she’d put my keys (she moved to a new house recently and a lot of things got scrambled in the move). So we called Mark and Bonnie, who had a master key, which got me into the house. My sister was also nice enough to drive me back to my house and then the beach, so I didn’t have to do any more walking. Still it was a long stupid sunburned day, which really put a damper on my mood.

Not much else has been going on. I’m getting ready to head up north Friday. I still haven’t figured out how I’m going to get up there. I’ll probably decide on that tonight. I’m looking forward to some time out of town, but I’m also a little apprehensive about breaking the current pattern I’m in. I’ve been working hard on my diet and conditioning and I’m feeling better than I have in years. Plus, traveling can be a bit of a pain when you’re not eating dairy or gluten. Still, I’ll figure it out and will have a great time, I’m sure.

Been writing a bit (though not much here obviously). I may have stumbled on a new novel idea, which is based out the time I spent in Hawai’i. I’m a little reluctant to discuss the details, though, for fear of jinxing it; I’ve had a lot of false starts recently. I keep saying I’m in a fallow period, but I also can’t stop from searching for the next project. I’m not sure if this is because I simply don’t know how to relax or because there really is something I should be writing about that I just haven’t found yet (again, maybe I have just found it). I’m suddenly beginning to think the latter is what’s going on. I’m beginning to see a real way thru with this Hawai’i idea.

Odds and ends. Still reading Proust. Picked up Sexus, by Henry Miller the last couple evenings. I haven’t been able to read him for years, but so far this one’s working for me. Reading a book on the Greek war of independence. Tried to read Anais Nin’s early diary. Couldn’t get into it. Still working on my Greek—slowly but surely (“and don’t call me Shirley”). Still putting a lot of time in working on the BSP e-books. What a pain in the ass. The technology Amazon offers is elephantine. It’s impossible to get a book looking good in all their formats at the same time. Plus going from Word to html is a fucking nightmare of bizarre reformatting and other equally frustrating issues. Hoping to have all of them done by late July.

Sat up late last night watching Ride the Wild Surf, a truly dreadful surfsploitation film from the early/mid-sixties. The reason I got hooked on it was because of all the real surfing scenes interspersed with all the hokey crap. The footage they have a Miki Dora riding Sunset, Pipeline, and Waimea is amazing. Apparently that was his first time riding in Hawaii and it’s hard to believe he was able to make the adjustment from being California point rider to those big crazy reef breaks so quickly (and while maintaining so much of his style—he wasn’t called ‘Da Cat” for nothing). It shows how much talent he had. There’s one ride he has at Pipeline that’s amazing. It’s a big day and he’s of course going backside, but he still smoked this long clean barrell, riding as deep into it as was probably possible. Fantastic stuff.