I am tired of you hipster jackasses with your vintage photo filter apps/”I don’t understand reeeelatiooonshiiiips” flash fiction and so have decided to take my girlfriend to Florida for the new year. Regular posting will resume in three weeks, or when I am done hanging out at the beach (three weeks). Jah love, see you soon, fuck off, etc.
The night air is bitter, clear and cold on your side of the mountain. No snow this December nor will there be. Only the disintegrating drifts of leaves that wash across the driveways and sidewalks. A last bath in the crackling memories of a dead spring past. The new life yet long months away and seemingly never to come.
We drink wine now as an entertainment but it was not always so. Once it was a sacrament and a pledge of good faith. There is something foolish and romantic yet in the bottle and cask, but so little. Still on this night, the air dark but promising a later rising light, it could be a sacrament of sorts, if you had something to hold sacred and true. Do you? What is true about this day?
Here is what’s said: that this is the birthday of your savior. But here’s what you know to be true: that this high holy day was the birthday of Roman gods and secret gods but not your own. This festival preempted long ago. And then preempted again by elves, confused by saints grown secular, and muddled now by retailers and manufacturers and other monsters of the new world. Should we call this a holiday if we cannot decide who it is holy to? Can we make a sacrament if nothing about it remains sacred? But we choose what we believe to be true.
The wine warms in the bottle that dangles from your fingers. You sit on the wall of fieldstone. Think of millennia past. When the stars above that you can barely see twinkling were not so vague and lost in the smog and streetlight haze. It is claimed that over the olive groves of the Mediterranean a comet or a star sang out light like a beacon. To point out the future of man. It’s a pretty thought. But can it be sacred even now?
The only thing you can be sure of really is that in the distant age a man was born who, whether you like it or not, had a hand in shaping your world. Has even now, twisted and distorted though it is, a high holy day set aside for his birth and for his death. And whether he did this as man or as god is not for reasonable men to say with surety. Reasonable men are never sure about fundamentally unreasonable things, like sacraments, like tonight.
Somehow you are sure. Somehow you are a fool. And a fool’s reason says: you could stay up all night and reason with yourself; you could stay up all night and drink all the wine, wondering where the sacred has gone; or you could drink to the moving air, drink to the revolving earth, drink to the strange myth that guides your life and sleep. For tomorrow, of course, everyone will tell you that you have something to be happy about: and how could you not? Whether today is any other day or is holy is a mystery, and of course, every mystery is a sacrament. Thus fools make holy what they can, and call all unknowns sacred.
So now you say the greeting of the cosmic fool to all, reasonable and unreasonable alike: Merry Christmas, and goodnight.
- many people do in fact Google my name after having met me and then proceed to become acquainted with me to a psychologically unhealthy degree far ahead of time (at least once leading to an unfortunate romantic fixation/sexual liaison that kind of killed a burgeoning friendship);
- people I already know find the blog, read it, do not mention that they read it, and discuss it with others, which is kind of as if your co-workers had secretly made a shrine of your newspaper clippings and yearbook photos;
- people, discovering I have an internet presence, but unable to find me on Facebook (don’t have one, thanks) immediately assume that I have specifically blocked them on Facebook and sulk until this illusion is dispelled.
Q: Are you into welding?
A: I’m fucking into welding, man. I can fucking weld anything, no shit. Number one in my fucking welding class.
Q: So who can you weld better than?
A: I can weld better than all of those motherfuckers at St. Paul Technical College.
Q: I’ve heard you often drink for free. How are you able to do this?
A: I’m in a fucking rock band, man. We play all those fucking bars down in St. Paul. So I can just fucking drink for free at any of ‘um. They all know who I am. They’ll fucking buy me drinks anytime.
Q: Do you pick up random chicks after your shows?
A: I just fucking pick up random chicks after my shows all the time, man.
Q: What’s the deal with this fucking child support shit?
A: Hey, I was just about to ask you that.
(August 3, 2009)
NOTES: A special deep cuts request from Rachel, happily fulfilled.
I suddenly have an unfortunate and guilty suspicion that bloggers across my city are writing imaginary, sarcastic Q&As about my phone and bar conversations.
“The old woman wanted Platt on a plane to Raleigh by sixteen hundred but he wanted to meet in person, which is why he was sitting in the back corner booth of the Home Turf Sports Bar in LAX drumming his fingers on the table and wishing for a cigarette. There were no cigarettes and there weren’t going to be any. He had quit for the seventh time and thrown his last pack of kreteks in a trash can in Chhatrapati Shivaji with a yellow Bic and a sheaf of torn boarding passes. He had been through ten time zones since Tuesday, running on airport burritos, instant coffee, and a need to get paid that was beginning to make him sweat. And the old woman and her lawyers were late…”
“It happened that years back, when I was still in the Navy, I attended the wedding reception of a friend in California. My friend was quite widely traveled and had an extensive acquaintanceship, which may explain why once the delighted couple had left the reception did not—as so many do once shorn of their central purpose—cease to entertain. It happened that I found myself still seated at a long table outside in the dead of the night, zipped in my jacket against the chilly mist of the Presidio, when I had the privilege of participating in the most peculiar conversation of my life up until that point…”
“It came to pass that before the coming of the Prophet, peace be upon him, in a certain lonely and desert land there was a citadel. The sultan of this citadel was a mighty ruler, blessed by Allah with great riches, a strong army, and two heirs, each of the same age, having been born of the sultan’s two most beautiful wives on the same day, in the same hour, yes, in the very same moment, as much as any other. They were the great pride of the sultan and he lavished every possible thing on them: the most wonderful stallions, prized jewels, and delectable sweetmeats that came out of all the debatable lands about, procured at great cost. But these worthy sons were both well accomplished: they sat horses well, could draw any bow, and speak to any man, whether he was a shepherd or a noble vizier, with a pleasing tongue. Furthermore, they were both considered wise, discerning, and courageous…”
“We go to sleep between four hundred thread count sheets. Our humidifiers and air conditioners hiss and hum quiet, sighing lullabies. Do birds call in the night or does the wind roar? Turn the sound machine on, hear the mute and castrated murmur of the waves, or the distant drum of rain captured by microphones planted under a banana leaves in Puerto Rico. It is imported for us. For our comfort. For our pleasure…”
Slow flow heat is silence
No will is still as a river
Still. Will heat move
Only through the mocking-bird
Heard once? Still hills
Wait. Gates wait. Purple trees,
White trees, wait, wait,
Delay, decay. Living, living,
Never moving. Ever moving
Iron thoughts came with me
And go with me:
Red river, river, river.” —T.S. Eliot, “Virginia,” part II of “Landscapes,” from The Complete Poems and Plays 1909-1950.
My father the king was god, my father
the king is dead; he and his chariot
lost on twilit shores of unhappy isles.
When I was young, I walked the wind-graven
standing stones that point out the swordbelt of
Orion, the dusky unwinking eye
of Mars; into the lith, a dagger carved,
the sign of dead druids, long laid in the
barrow. What shall mark my grave? Not a word.
They will pry the garnets from my dagger,
they will melt the silver from my cloak-clasp,
they will make mock of my body. Even
the bull—I remember his hot blood in
the red dust of the sacrificial pit!—
his bones and fat were burnt on the temple
pyre, with proper rites, among mourning girls.
They may make a goblet of my skull. They
may make a flute of my thigh’s bone. How can
they? I ran on these legs with the children
of thanes, with these fingers I cracked the white
pulp of pomegranates, painted, poured wine.
My eye, the astrologers said, full of
the blue wisdom of the sea. No statue
for this face, but an axe. No red-gold torc
for this neck, but a gibbet. Where is it
written, that fifteen springs can be enough?
In my sixth I climbed the garden cedar
fetching a clutch of speckled songbirds’ eggs;
I stumbled, I cried out, I fell headlong:
the undreaming stuff of them spilled on the
flagstones. I am that wan yolk now—this arm
could have raised a scepter, while that arm spread
its feathers, and I’d become that new thing
that lays a shadow across the sunrise.
My eye shall be full of the red wisdom
of ruin. But no one has seen a bird
that never flew or will; my god is dead.
This is David Duffy’s comment on my previous post about intellectual piracy:
Yeah, I agree that people should take a stand, but what makes her books worth 20€, way way above the average? Just because she won a $1m literary prize? No surprise the books are being pirated. It’s like paying £10 for a cup of tea.
Being an American I don’t have a distinct understanding of European pricing under the euro, but to be frank, even if 20€ was a month’s wages a copy, I wouldn’t give a wooden nickel about this part of the argument. I haven’t read this chick’s books. She might be amazing and completely worth the price; she might be a hack and her books might be a ripoff. But theft is theft is theft, and I have zero sympathy for people who steal the effort and creativity of thinking professionals, be they writers, musicians, actors… She wrote it. She can take only moon rocks and unicorn horns in trade for all I care.
The recent attitude seems to be that there is a right to affordably—and affordable is here defined by the consumer, which usually means “free”—priced entertainment. There isn’t. If you don’t like the price, you are free to buy something else or buy nothing at all.
The great evasion, and thus the great lie, of progressive philosophies is the ascription of evil to any and all causes except the desires of our own hearts.
And the number one reason this blogging platform needs a dedicated comment system is having to scroll through the twenty-seven hundred back-and-forth posts of someone having a mind-numbingly dull conversation with one of their followers of no general interest whatever. Thanks.
- Q: What do you think students should be taught as far as literature and poetry go? [also something about The Canon which I do not remember]*
- A: Why you even got to ask this question, like it’s a thing. Ain’t no answer to this question. Ain’t no end to it. This question is a trap like “what is love?” is a trap and we are not talking about no semi-parodically-understood ancient-of-days clubbing song, we are talking about it in all caps like What Is Love and Is There Free Will In The World and What Is The Point Of It All, You Know, Like Do I Mean Anything To Anyone. You and I could have some strong drinks in our hands and “rap” about these questions for an age and ain’t neither of us would decide nothing, we would just maybe on the morrow have headaches and really bad dry mouth and perhaps our wallets or purses would be much less healthily fat with the currencies of our lands.
- Q: … [this represents silence]
- A: What is sure about this for me is that you got to start with some good old Homer and Hesiod, dudes who were Greek back when being Greek meant carving pillars, pissing off Trojans and inventing the idea of "having opinions," instead of today when being Greek means being named "Nick Popodopopolakos" and having chunky faux-gold man-rings. Those cats talked about true life back when iron was like the internet is now: a thing that made old folks shake their heads and be like, “Nothing is the same as it was when we all got together and thought up wearin’ textiles do you know what I mean.” Those two wrote some righteous things about war and farming and human emotions, all of which are basically the same although today they got such as laser-guided corn and genetically modified sadness, don’t you know.
- *: This was a question asked by isbrianna.tumblr.com, who characterizes the answer as "mildly terrifying." Thanks Brianna for giving me the opportunity to talk about my opinions. I like to have opinions in public.
The moon stands blank above;
White in the moon the long road lies
That leads me from my love.
Still hangs the hedge without a gust,
Still, still, the shadows stay:
My feet upon the moonlit dust
Pursue the ceaseless way.
The world is round, so travellers tell,
And straight though reach the track,
Trudge on, trudge on, ‘twill all be well,
The way will guide one back.
But ere the circle homeward hies
Far, far must it remove:
White in the moon the long road lies
That leads me from my love.” —A.E. Housman, “White in the moon the long road lies,” from A Shropshire Lad.
And that this aim shall differ from a host
Of aims alike in character and kind,
Mostly in this, — that in itself alone
Shall its reward be, not an alien end
Blending therewith; no hope nor fear nor joy
Nor woe, to elsewhere move you, but this pure
Devotion to sustain you or betray:
Thus you aspire.” —Robert Browning, “Paracelsus.”
In the past, hardcover books, especially quality printings, were almost entirely bound in cloth, but by the time I was a child, most printings, even of quality publishing houses, became half-and-half: cloth spine and first third of covers, while the remaining two-thirds are paper (cardboard, really). Now, even quality publishing houses bind most of their books entirely in paper or cardboard, necessitating extremely durable treated jackets to protect their fragile bodies. As time goes by, books are clad in less enduring materials. What’s the deal?
I prefer my books fully cloth-bound, and not just for aesthetic reasons—though I find most modern jacket designs extremely overwrought, and jackets themselves subject to easy tearing, staining and age-related discoloration which looks quite unpleasant on my shelves—but for practical purposes. It seems cardboard and paper covers are sensitive to humidity, pressure, and temperature in a way cloth covers are not: viz., curling of the corners of the covers, warping of the shape of the book, and other problems within months of buying a copy of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which has acquired this ragged appearance though it has had only one reading and spent the rest of its life on the shelf. Whereas my very venerable cloth-bound copy of William Saroyan’s The Human Comedy—more than fifty years old—is still in near-perfect condition, despite previously being stored in conditions which were not ideal. The text block does not sag, the binding is crisp, the covers slightly faded by light but still pleasant to look upon.
Being a person who buys books in haphazard binges, I’ve noticed a few other trends (which may not exactly fall under the topic of bookbinding, but forgive me, I’m no expert in the terminology of the profession). Older books have much more generous margins, generally larger and more spacious text (including line spacing, font usage, and painstaking justification) and—though you may not believe this, in the era of automatic spelling- and grammar-checking programs—generally fewer typographical and language errors. I’m not claiming this is universally true: there are some fantastic printings out there—whoever designed the latest Vintage paperback release of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler’s novels has my especial praise.
But let us compare, for example, the ancient Houghton Mifflin printings of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to George R.R. Martin’s recently printed A Dance with Dragons from his A Song of Ice and Fire. Fellowship, despite being a 1966 copy, still has square corners and a firm text block, on top of large margins and generally pleasant aesthetics. Dragons, on the other hand, has slowly crushed its own covers under the weight of standing up, and I must now lay the volume on its side to prevent the pages from tearing out of the cover. The binding is so inferior that the pages, no matter how you lay the book, have gaps and striations when viewed from the side. For lack of any other words, the book bulges open. The gold inking on the front design and spine is beginning to flake, even though I’ve never removed the jacket, and inside, at least one main character’s name is misspelled. When I was first making this comparison, I was going to use Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time hardcovers, printed by Tor, as a comparison, but it would have been frankly unfair: it’s a matter of common levity on the internet that these printings’ covers simply fall off the paperbacks and often peel away from the hardbacks without prompting, either. One can make the argument that fantasy and science fiction books often see inferior printers as a matter of course (witness their almost universally awful cover and jacket art), but why not in the past?
I must come to the conclusion that economies of scale, changes mandated by efficiency, and perhaps an increased emphasis on less costly paperback printings over a once-dominant hardcover market, have eaten away at the details of book printing and binding. I have to say I’m surprised at that, however. Can smaller margins, cardboard covers, and frankly bad glues really save a printer and publisher that much on overhead? I would gladly pay an additional markup of one or two dollars for a superior volume that did not require replacement after my usual course of use. It’s not like I’d ask for leather or hand-stitching—just a book that could suffer transport and rereading in less-than-ideal conditions without becoming a rag destined less to be cherished for years than to be pulped on the recycling heap.
I can’t believe I would be the only reader who feels that, and I can’t believe that it would cost that much more to print reliable, useful volumes. After all, hardcover prices, it seems to me, have actually gone up in recent years instead of going down; a first-run hardcover that used to set you back $24.99 is often now $35.99. Amazon and other online booksellers offer some savings that keep new volumes at reasonable prices, but only when using their books as loss leaders for their more profitable other departments. Simple economics would seem to indicate that something is wrong: unless authors are getting better and their new writing more literarily proficient as time goes by (I should think not), books produced with more efficient methods, inferior materials, to greater economies of scale, and outsourced to foreign countries with lower salaries and easier-maintained factories should be going down in price. I don’t think a reasonable person can assert that the attested ebook sales can account for this discrepancy, nor inflation, although both of those probably have something to do with it.
I am a layman in these matters. While I know a good bit about literature, itself, the physical matter in which it’s distributed has always been, to me, incidental. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed this significant change and spent some time on it, and have gotten to the point where I simply must know: what is the deal? Therefore, I’d like to open a dialogue, and invite anyone with in-depth knowledge of bookselling, printing, bookbinding, or print publishing to attempt to explain what great current and confluence of factors conspires to make physical books a worse and worse value for money as time goes by.