A Ramble Through US Culture and Politics and Baseball

My good friend Chris Duel had me on his show today. I also got to meet the super smart and lovely Vanessa Macias in person. If you are so inclined, you can watch the show here.  If you want to listen to me talk about Syria, speed ahead to about 51 minutes.

Or, click on the photo to watch:

Talk Now SA with Chris Duel and Vanessa Macias

Zen, Crossroads and Robert Johnson

Robert JohnsonI was just reading a short essay from a book called, “The Mindful Writer, Noble Truths of the Writing Life” by Dinty W. Moore and came across these lines:

So often, [the] ideal phrase or line of dialogue is more of a discovery than an invention. It is a flash, like the proverbial light bulb above the head depicted in cartoons. This flash of insight doesn’t come from thinking, from the intellect, or from reason; it comes instead from a more mysterious part of our awareness. For that moment at least, it can seem as if time and place and eternity have somehow met.

For the writer, the problem is to find that “peculiar crossroads,” the ever-shifting “location” where insight forms.

And then I thought about Robert Johnson’s famous song “Cross Roads Blues” and the myths that swirl around his early death and the so-called deal he made with the devil and thought, “fuck that, he found a kind of Zen loophole, what made him great and mysterious, people just didn’t understand back then.”

Strange the way thoughts just come together like that for no reason. Ain’t it though?

Charles Bukowski’s Obituary

Bukowski's ObituaryI was looking through the garage the other day at my father’s place and stumbled upon my college papers–lots of terrible undergraduate prose, newsclippings and other such odds and ends. In one box was a pile of old University of Houston Daily Cougar’s. I’d written a twice-weekly op-ed during my senior year and one post-bacc semester. All of the op-eds were terrible, except this one, which I present to you. The obituary of one of my favorite poets, writers and drunks: Charles Bukowski. Happy reading.

On John Graves and “Goodbye to a River”

I could wax all night on John Graves, just as I could Charles Bukowski. One a gentleman and a soldier, the other a drunken, fist-fighting postman. Neither have much in common except two things: I wanted to meet both but never did and I was affected strongly on the day each died. Bukowski passed in 1994 shortly after I graduated from university. John Graves passed away earlier today.

Graves was most noted for his 1960 book “Goodbye to a River.” As a book, or “text” as the Euros call it, it meant a great deal of something very complicated to me mostly because of when I read it and how I came to read it. I was 40 when I first read it and was still living under the illusion I had a bit of my youth yet. And then I read “Goodbye to a River,” written at a time when Graves had come home from years of travel, finally settled down and took one last trip down the river of his youth, the Upper Brazos (mine is the upper Nueces, but that is another story). The book moved me deeply, in ways I didn’t understand. In ways I was unprepared to understand, (my wife saw how it changed me and it scared her).

I re-read it a year later and then it all came to me. Graves’ book, “Goodbye to a River” is about a man saying goodbye to his youth and accepting middle age, jsut as much, if not more than it was a man saying goodbye to a river that might soon be damned up beyond oblivion (it never was). It’s a truth I’m still not willing or ready to accept, but it’s a truth no less. I wrestle with it daily.

I wish I had met Graves. I fancy he would have liked me, might have seen a bit of the rogue and raconteur of his own younger self in me, but it was not to be.

Today the author of a book most dear to me died and for that, I am sad. I leave you with a bit of his prose, a little bit of what he taught me, hoping I might relearn:

“But in truth such gravities were not what salted the tales I could read, looking off over the low country from the point atop the bluffs. Mankind is one thing; a man’s self is another. What that self is tangles itself knottily with what his people were, and what they came out of. Mine came out of Texas, as did I. If those were louts, they were my own louts. Origin being as it is an accident outside the scope of one’s will. . . if a man can’t escape what he came from, we would most of us still be peasants in Old World hovels. But if, having escaped or not, he wants in some way to know himself, define himself, and tried to do it without taking into account the thing he came from, he is writing without any ink his pen.” ~John Graves “Goodbye to a River”

There was something always comforting knowing Graves was up in Glen Rose, still alive and breathing, as if his very dignitas would hold the craziness of Texas together a bit longer. But no more. All the good ones are now gone.

And me, well, I’m home, in Texas for now, and my pen is full. Let there be an accounting of what I am. John Graves will be missed.

You’ll Meet Your Demons Everywhere

I don’t read a lot of contemporary “literary” fiction. I find most of it otiose, self-referential and far too pre-occupied with the banalities of suburban white folks’ unhappy marriages. But every now and then I stick my toes in the water, or rather, I try reading some new stuff from new young authors again, just to see. I call it the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” way of modern literary exploration. Why? Well, every few years I have to go see the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” to remind myself why I haven’t seen it in the last few years, and to remind myself just how bad it is. All this is a rather long winded way of saying I read a new book by a newish author and all I can say is, holy fuck, “The Devil in Silver“, the book in question, was excellent.
Found Poetry
The story centers around a blue collar white guy from somewhere in the greater NYC area who inadvertently gets thrown into a psych-ward. When I say inadvertent, I mean, the police pick him up on an assault charge (mostly bogus) and because they won’t get paid overtime for booking him (lots of paper work and stuff) they drop him at a psych-ward by way of protesting the city’s budget cuts and say, “he’s all yours.” Then they disappear and the story really gets going.

That’s all I’m going to tell you of the story or plot, except to say it’s well plotted and the narrative doesn’t disappoint, nor is it predictable.

I want to talk about how the book made me feel. If it makes me feel it’s art. And this book made me feel a lot.

It made me angry. It made me tense. It made me sad. It made me want to stop reading it because I wasn’t quite sure what it was I was feeling, or perhaps I’m too much of a coward to explain in a blog post why I felt what I did. And some of it was so damned hilarious I laughed out loud multiple times and once had to cover my face at Starbucks out of embarrassment for laughing so hard. I also had to get up and leave at one point to because of tears.

But mostly the book is about demons, my demons, your demons, our demons and how we think we can lock the fuckers up, or in my case run away from them. But we can’t because as the best line in the book says, “you’ll meet your demons everywhere.”

Take me for example, I’ve traveled the world, 55 countries and counting and I’ve lived in 5 different ones. I’ve done a lot of running away. And one thing I’ve learned is this: wherever you go, there you are. I might get ahead of myself for a couple of weeks, maybe a few months at a time, but then I always seem to bump into myself somewhere, maybe in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul or in an office high rise in Singapore. And that, to me, is ultimately what this book was about. (And also how absolutely fucked up our mental health system is, especially in the age of austerity).

If you want to learn something about yourself, if you want to feel uncomfortable and laugh and cry and you want to experience some fine English prose, do yourself a favor and go buy “The Devil in Silver” by Victor LaValle.

It’s art. I can offer no higher praise than that.

West Nile Virus and Blue Jays

West Nile Virus VictimThe most common fatalities of the West Nile Virus are not humans, but birds. All too often since the virus entered the United States whole flocks of corvids have been eviscerated.

This Blue Jay–from our back yard–died from West Nile Virus two months ago. Most of our ten strong scold, the collective noun used for a group of Blue Jays, died this summer from the disease. Those who did not die were driven off by a stronger, younger scold of jays, only to catch the disease and then die.

The symptoms of West Nile Virus in Jays and other Corvids are such:

Birds do not usually show signs of infection until the last stage of the disease, which is encephalitis or inflammation of the brain. An infected bird may appear drowsy, be unable to fly or walk properly; it may even have problems standing upright

Further, Blue Jays are known to be able to fly while very sick if they start from high in a tree, but cannot fly off from the ground, appear dazed and confused. One neighbor reported a bird falling dead right out of the sky.

Indeed, we have very few Blue Jays left.

This is sad, they are fun birds with big, inquisitive characters. We named most of them, got to know them well. We fed them every day. They knew our patterns and would squawk at us or chatter with us when they were hungry or just wanted to show off.

Jays are my favorite birds. One of the first encounters I ever had with a bird was with a Mexican Jay in Big Bend National Park. I spent hours driving across the Valley this spring looking for the elusive Brown Jay. The raucous calls and shenanigans of Green Jays are impossible to beat once you’ve seen them, looking as they do like a Blue and Green Groucho Marx:
Green Jay (Cyanocorax yncas)
And at Yosemite I saw a Steller’s Jay for the first time. A true high altitude beauty.

Now, here in our yard there are no more birds, except for the ugly and over-proliferating White-winged Dove to take the old family’s place. A few Jays linger, but they don’t know us and we don’t know them yet. Hopefully the disease will pass with the coming of fall and cooler weather. Until then, I won’t be investing in the habits of our back yard friends.

The Heat

Austin via South CongressThis week it’s been solidly above 100* every day. It’s the first week of September. The worst week in central Texas if you ask me. The anticipation for the inevitable cold front has been building since the first week of August. The front normally arrives second or third week of September, but until it does it’s like a fever-pitch of expectations, hair trigger tempers and outright frustration.

For me there are always a few barely discernible hints that the heat will soon break. First, the humidity evaporates under a dry wind.

Check.

Second, in the mornings, no matter the temperature–this morning was 77*, for example–there is a slight breeze, cooler because it lacks the humidity of high summer, even if the afternoon heat is withering as today it most certainly will be.

Check.

Lastly, the Earth wobbles on its axis. That’s what creates the seasons. And with that wobble comes a change in the color and clarity of the light.

Not yet.

So, I wait. Today it will be 106*. That’s hot for any month, but for early September it’s almost unbearable.

Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley, Then Yosemite

I’m headed to Lake Tahoe then Squaw Valley tomorrow. So, instead of spending my Saturday nights on the computer visiting my favorite websites, playing roulette at Party Casino, I’ll be able to really hit it in Reno. Then for some hiking in Yosemite and then a nice drive across California to San Francisco for a few days! I can’t wait!

Great Valley Birding Trip

The Brunette are heading down to the Lower Rio Grande Valley this week for our spring break.

Here are the place we’ll be staying: El Rocio Retreat, Mission Texas, Chachalaca Inn, Los Fresnos, Texas, Alamo Inn, Alamo Texas.

And here are some of the parks we’ll be visiting: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Las Palomas Unit, Boca Chica State Park, Palo Alto Battlefield, Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park.

Our target list includes the following birds for The Brunette: Green Jays, Brown Jay, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Orioles, both Hooded and Audobon’s, White-collared Seedeater.

For me: Green Jays, Brown Jay, Rose-throated Becard, Tropical Parula

It appears as if I have become a serious twitcher. How’d that happen?

Speaking Of Wealth

There are a wealth of sunrises in the world.

Austin Sunrise: February 21, 2012

Be sure to catch one.