Sunday, September 30, 2007

Is there oral sex after death?


The frustration of suffering damnably to produce a good blog and suddenly having it snatched away from you in cyberspace.

Gone. Gone forever. Futility in hitting and hitting again the FIND NOW button.

You have somehow offended the god in the machine or maybe even God Himsell in your irreverence, and 750 words are gone, gone gone.

What is the sound of one hand clapping?
...I used to know this German typesetter with really big hands, and he showed me. His hand looked like that Starwars creature out of the sump pit. But he made a clapping sound all the same. One hand.

My first draft, now sadly lost had to do with a quarrel I've been having with Eastern philosophy.

A gnat flew up my nose tonight during a walk. It started with a sneeze, and then murder.
Never mind the reverence for all living things.
This bastard had been born to fly up my nose and he had to die.
Die, you SOB.

Like my vanished blog.

I had meant to say that we bloggers get so into ourselves, so addicted to a fascination with ourselves that is almost artistic.
We become like gnats flying up people's noses.

After a while, everybody gets upset with our constant bitching and bellyaching and a reader might react like a cartoon psychoanalyst--"You did what? Why, you little bitch!"

So I've decided this weekend to stop bitching and bellyaching-- lost blog and all--and not to be so hard on Eastern philosophy (Desiderata?) not so hard on oneself

Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,be gentle with yourself.


This bit of apochrypha came to me while lunching with another writer.

How sweet, how radiant life can be while lunching on a sunny patio, under a parasol awning, gorgeous fleet-footed waitresses bouncing about at your beck and call. Odysseus tended by gentle nymphs. Ha.

It was somehow rising from the depths of compulsive blogging, puttting up a periscope, and like a recovered neurotic, seeing the world for the first time.

The blogging life reminds me of a cartoon by R.Crumb in the Sixties. There is a carricature of a man with his head somehow up his own major aperture.
Caption says, "The Solution to your problem ins perfectly obvious."

The moment of clarity made me realize what a hole I'd dug for myself as a blogger. Type, type, type, eh Ivan?

Still, blogging has its rewards. It can be a forum for writing, for philosophical discourse to rid oneself of one's awful self. It can me a drug.

Ultimate question are asked, some frivolous.

Is there oral sex after death?

And other deep enquiries.

Might be time to put up a periscope.

The yellow submarine might need to blow some ballast.

##

Friday, September 28, 2007

The First Crack of Tao



Fall equinox sounds like something you might get in Tijuana, and I've certainly had a fall or two, the visits to the doctor, the waiting for the results, the feeling of "Ah, Faustus, now hast thou a bare hour to live. And then thou shalt be damned perpetually."
And the feeling, out of Marlowe, "Stand still ye ever-moving spheres of heaven, that time may cease." All this in the course of a full moon and right on the date of the Fall Equinox.

And certainly it is the sun "standing still", twelve hours of daylight, twelve of night and one is no closer to redemption or piety.

The first thing I wanted to do after being told I have neither AIDS nor cancer, was to have a drink and a smoke. And I did. In spades.
Now I'm really sick.

Doom and gloom.

Tossed the I-Ching. It said "remorse." "You have dipped your tail into the water.
" Nothing will further."

This is not good

So suddenly.
The Fall Equinox and its inexplicable depression.

We tend, like trees, to grow around the barbed wire of the sore spots in our lives.
Today's depression harkened back to another time, to where the problem was unresolved; the tree had to grow around it.

Oh how much fun it had been to have been the cock of the walk, Seneca's prime teacher, the "Creative One", to be talking to the Dean and everybody around the campus knowing who the really important guy was.
No campus head games with this guy. He was in print every week and 67,000 people knew about it every week and the "Creative One" felt so good, he just wanted to jump up and grab his own tail.

And then, suddenly, inexplicably, "black dog."
Depression.
Came all of a sudden in the course of a full moon.
And it would not go away.

Stopped. Can't go another mile.
Stumbling around the house with your beautiful children oblivious to your condition, with your wife wondering what was wrong, a quarter million in the bank, a sexy teaching job and the man is depressed.
Fall equinox. The fall. Not for nothing did I teach Camus.


I was actually teaching communications to a new class of future museum curators, this depressing enough, but I learned they already had their B.A.s, and had, for some reason (as B.A.'s?) found themselves unemployable. And here they were at a place I'd anagrammed in a joke to call "Senescent Collage of Applied Arse and Irrelevancy" --in a hope of learning something practical, like journalism.

Great. But they wouldn't do the work. Would not hand in their assignments.

Not wanting to totally destroy work in their programme, I gave each one of them a "Did not attend" or "Did not write", where in actual fact they certainly would not attend half the time, and they ceratinly would not write.
You couldn't give a student an outright F. Hurt his or her feelings.

I was not used to a crowd like this. "I already have my B.A. and there isn't much you can teach me at the undergraduate level"
Where did they get their degrees and how could they graduate in anything with an attitude like that?
I learned shortly afterwards that my new class really comprised a cult. They moved from college to college in a group, their academic paper was worthless and this time around they had stumbled into the hardest course at Seneca College--mine, for you had to produce in my class and substandard, unpublishable work just would not do. My course was practical, that is to say, "we'll get you a job in the media."

But to not produce, not to write write-- sorry Dwight!
Imagine a magazine editor or TV director with a staff that kept yawning and refusing to produce.
Where did Seneca find these people?
I learned that the course head had personally recruited them all in to pad enrolment in his course.
Where did he go to get them? The Salvation Army?
These were not students. These were bums.

I had been on a trimester. The course I taught had been in summer. It was September now, and after pretty well failing this bunch of communal farmers and stoners and, as it turned out, their course head too (he was fired), I was pretty well burned out.

I was exhausted and depressed. "You shouldn't have been there," said a friend. "Your discipline is creative writing and this bunch consited of rejects from 'The Summer of Love.'"

First crack of realization.
The community college approach in local learning. Failed totally in life? We'll reward you with an education.
O Canada.

Failing people did not go with my temperament. I had been something of a star at the college and now felt somehow like a red dwarf.
Ah, the first real test of a teacher. To face a hostile class and not flinch or falter.
I had gone through it, but the semester had left me burned out.
"You did not cave in. Most teachers faced with a cult like his would quit. It's a good thing we had somebody feisty in the deparment. You did not quit." The Dean speaking and assuring me there was lots of work around.

But now I was depressed and wanted to quit.

In fact, I did "quit", asked for a sabbatical and got it.
But the depression would not go away.
Life was gray, gray, gray.

I stayed that way for a year. Could not write. Lost the selfconfidence to teach. Sort of like William Burroughs staring at his big toe.

One day I sat down and wrote something resembling a newspaper article.
The article resulted in another regular column for me.

"I think I can, I think I can."

Inexplicably, my wife came into a million dollars. An inheritance.

There was certainly nothing wrong with me that a million dollars could'n't fix. Made short work of the depression.

Hey, back into the classroom, smelling of success and money.


There is a tao to all this, but I don't think it is the tao of Ivan.


##

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Faerie dance on the corner of a full moon


One problem I have found with all research (and all googling) is that my question is usually so off-trail, so, um, esoteric in nature that the most fuzzy-eared of archivists can't find what I'm looking for.

So when I looked for all the songs of an obscure country singer,
Harvey June Van, a real back-number, nothing came up, save an old tribute to that old country prodigy from Monterey, Tennessee. She was a star by 15, Like Hank Williams

What I was looking for were lyrics from a haunting old "hurtin'" tear-jerker, "The Lights Are Growing Dim"

Um. Dim here. I'll have to go by dim memory:


For you the lights are brightly shinin'
For me the lights are growing dim

And I can hear my Maker callin'
From the pearly walls within.

I know that you have found another
My chance for happines was slim

For you the lights are brightly shining
For me, the lights are growing dim.

Penelope pining for absent Odysseus dallying with Nusicaa on her island?

A father stricken when a son he had made breakfast for on a Saturday morning, with country music on--has left a goobye note, saying he had joined the army.

A wife in Toronto when she gets the crashing news that the vacationing husband has found a Senorita, and it's all over.

The rich man's wife turning to drugs?

Siver threads and golden needles
Cannot mend this heart of mine

And I dare not solve my problems
In the warm glow of your wine

You can't buy my love with money
for I never was that kind

Silver threads and golden needles
Can not men this heart of mine.

Back to Harvie June Van:

Now I'll no longer be a burden
And so my loss will be a gain

And I'll no longer need your lovin'
For where I'm goin' there's no pain.

God has taken all my troules
For he knew I couldn't win

For you the lights are brightly shining
For me the lights are growing dim.

Behind every American intellectual (I swear) are the words of a country song.

And behind every killer guitar player a country singer.

And behind every so-called intellectual the leap back and forth between ideas, while the thinker searches for salvation in a phrase, any phrase?

Small wonder that the remarkable Leonard Cohen, say, is a fan of Hank Williams.

And behind my own freakish screed here on a full moon, on the edge of which dances a fairy, a Hank Williams title, "Faded Love and Winter Roses."

Oh inchoate ideas.

And the mind too numb and the body too sick of love to rise to the occasion.


##


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Norman Mailer Fantasy.


In a rambling discourse on Canadian literature, our young correspondent, one Trevor Record supplies the following information, taken, I guess from one of his courses on Canadian writing.

You, perhaps, need certain things in your books to be considered "literature" rather that whatever it is the rest of us toiling away in obscurity are writing here in Canada. Some of these include:
1. A youth protagonist (teenage or younger) that comes from a troubled home and has a dull life (although possibly peppered with casual drug use and sex).
2. A protagonist (usually female) that has some sort of psychological illness
3. A small town, possibly religious group, or native community.


Hm. Number two. A protagonist (usually female) who has some sort of psychological illness.

Well, dog my cat.

Right up my alley.


Lana appears before you while you are rolling your own cigarettes, the 1920's Vogue face, the bobbed hair, a Drew Barrymore fallen into the rye on one September day, though I knew in future September days it was not a field of rye that Lana would fall into, but a baroque field of dreams, of opium, and then the rush of cocaine that would make her thoroughly modern, thoroughly Chicago out of 1930.

Yet it was l986.

I was a newspaperman with a predilection for French authors, because they were so maddeningly thorough, the linchpin of real writers and so well did I get to know twentieth century authors in French that I soon got to teach a night course in it.

Ah, the French penchant for the absurd, the splayed-out mysticism of an Andre Marois and the incredible clarity of image and idea that only Frenchmen possess, and they'd be the first to tell you. Despite the utter incomprehensiveness of their humour (Fat man wears mop-wig--ha- ha) the French are somewhat superior and they know it. Celine, for instance, or, for that matter, Celine Dion.

Enough that I was a teacher of French authors and she walked in one day with no hint of the Vogue beauty that I would later know, no inkling as to the heaviness of spirit that would later come to oppress me, no clue at all as to the beautiful woman who resided in the suburban Mam's overalls, the little white tee shirt with the red apple monogram, the closely cropped hair like Celine Dion in Las Vegas.

Thoroughly modern.

But not me.

I was an old hot-lead linotype newspaperman just getting over a divorce, getting my love out of imagination, tossing the I-Ching, seeing my love in the allure of print until she walked in.
We had actually met the very first time on the stairs of Sacred Heart School where Seneca had a night class. She was on the way up and I was on my way down. She had looked different then, walking right up to what seemed the middle of a Goethe fantasy of mine. How these screwball women with their multiple personalities and costumes

We had actually met the very first time on the stairs of Sacred Heart School where Seneca College had a night class. She was on the way up and I was on my way down. She had looked different then, walking right up to what seemed the middle of a Goethe fantasy of mine. How these screwball women with their multiple personalities and costumes do attract one: She was the very image of Kathschen Shonkopf, Goethe's firs love, the nice high forehead so many girls from Ontario possess, the hair severely back in a bun with the neatest little bonnet atop, large haunting eyes like your mother's, straight nose somewhat probing, delightful little crooked lips and the cutest overbite.

She did encourage my Goethe fantasy. I saw another image of Lana, but this time with a pre-Victorian dress exquisitely corseted, nice breasts, waist hardly existent at all. And Granny boots!
So there were at least two Lanas that I already knew about, and after the years, many, many more.
......................

So I offer this opener, which debouches into a chapter, then a second chapter, along with an outline-- to House of Anansi Press, the very bastion of Can-lit in Toronto.

They didn't entirely tell me to eff off and call me a pr*ck, but they may as well have.

"You don't match our current list of authors."

Match?
In my uh, humble opinion, I eat that bunch of sorry incompetents for breakfast.

That or it's pride cometh before a fall.

Well, there has already been a fall.

And there are even little rills here, even under the bottom.

So I really have nothing to lose. I am very heartened by an old account by uber-novelist Norman Mailer, who after all his success was also slapped in the face.

Like many another vain, empty, and bullying body of our time, I have been running for President these last ten years in the privacy of my mind, and it occurs to me that I am less close now than when I began. Defeat has left my nature divided, my sense of timing is eccentric, and I contain within myself the bitter exhaustions of an old man, and the cocky arguments of a bright boy. So I am everything by my proper age of thirty-six, and anger has brought me to the edge of the brutal.

Well, I'm nearly twice thirty six and I should like to say, less elegantly than Mr. Mailer, that I am pissed.
Don't know why I should be though.
Robertson Davies, the late world class Canadian novelist, rumor goes, was rejected by the same house for "belle-lettrism."
Go figure.

Either my lettres are too belle or not belle enough. One good thing I can say for Margaret Atwood, is that she can sure write a bell lettre. I have seen her tribute to John Updike.

Maybe I am just too wordy.

Or maybe I scared the living crap out of them.

Ivan*

*Ah, but lookee here...It does seem to get darkest before the light:

Friday, September 21, 2007

Writing the unwritable--again


Stop me if you think I'm going over the line, but there are times I get a redneck notion that I'm a straight guy working in a gay medium.

I had the spookiest sense, after meeting my first editor of an influencial house, that this guy was gayer than Richard Simmons at a sportswear promotion, and what the hell was he going to teach me about writing was fey sensibility and experimental, retrograde attemps at fiction. For this was an arty house and I was not necessarily an arty guy--more along the lines of Mickey Spillane.

So although my script was not necessarily "X's kind of book, he could not totally ignore me, and that is why I was here.
He soon stopped the "sophisticted" act and we began to talk of real matters, his articles in Harpers, beautiful books about aboriginal girls growing up in terrible reservations and the fact he was in Canada to dodge the draft.
Guy was for real.

But there were, here and there sly accusations that I had "sold out" because of my commercial success, that there wasn't any money, really, to print my book--"it's the money, you know. Always the money. Getting the money."

What he was talking abou was the granting structure in Canada. Book sales hardly mattered. There was the $100,000 Canada Council grant, sixty per cent to the writer and forty for the publisher. Seemed to me writing in Canada was politics.
And within that politics, you had to lobby for women's rights, gay marriage, rights of the handicapped and the Canadian Cancer Society.

I wondered what all this had to do with literature.

"Don't wonder," I almost heard the editor saying. "You write great adventure, but you can't write fiction."

Ooof.

We would have these meetings often. But we never became friends.

And that particular novel was not published by that house.

I went elsewhere, saw the years go by and observed that this particular house was into the usual chi-chi poo-poo issues, the political correctness, the feminist revolution, the poor oppressed gays, the AIDS crowd and the braggario by one author in that house that you had to be gay to be any good. I saw them all move to government
and computer technology after a spate of really sleep-arousing books, like the Engllsh Patient.
"We produce good books," says the company letterhead, but they don't, oh Lord they don't.
They produce good politics, and politics today seems a furthering of a cultural rot that has been going on since the days of Bob Dylan.

"There was a wicked mesenger
From Eli he did come
With a mind that muliplied the smallest matter
And when they went and sent for him
He answered with his thumb
For his tongue it could not speak
Bu only flatter."

I am fast developing the belief that Canadian, literature, like American literature, should stand on its own.
This is difficult to achieve in Canada, since a besseller here is about 16,000 copies.

But other, smaller nations have achieved excellence, government granting or not, notably Denmark and just about every Latin American republic.

Yes, yes, we are all on the right side of things in Canadian publishing, the trendiness, the attack against puritanism. How many are left, really? Five? Perhaps three.

And to be gay doesn't necessarily equate with piety.

Traditionally married people who happen to write books are now considered puritan. And weird.

Talk about sturm und drang!

##

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Jack be nimble, Meg be quick



We begin with Jay Wells' open letter to Jack and Meg White of THE WHITE STRIPES.

Dear Ms. White,
First, can I call you Meg? Hi, Meg.
Second, let me say, I love your music. I love the quirkiness and the fresh voice you and Jack bring to the music scene. Thanks for that. Now that we've dispensed with the pleasantries, I have a question: What the f*ck are you thinking?
Two months ago I spent $160 for two one-day passes to the Austin City Limits music festival. You see, this year my girlfriend and I decided to treat our husbands with a road trip to the festival for their birthdays, which fall within two days of each other. We decided on the Saturday tickets for the festival because among other good bands, The White Stripes were scheduled to close the show that day.
Make no mistake about it, your band was THE reason I wanted to go on Saturday. Mr. Jaye would have preferred to go on Sunday to see Wilco, his favorite band, as well as Midlake and BOB DYLAN, but I talked him into Saturday's performance because YOU WERE GOING TO BE THERE.
So, imagine my surprise when yesterday, three days before the show, the news hit that you had canceled all of your upcoming shows in the U.S.--including the ACL. Might I add, the ACL show is the only non-refundable performance in the lot. Further, the reason given was your "acute anxiety." Surely your publicist could have come up with a better reason. I think I smell a rat.
For future reference, I have come up with a list of excuses that might go over better.
1. Despite your claims to the contrary, a Seven Nation Army( The Stripes' hit song) could and did hold you back
2. You've come down with a bad case of Icky Thump.
3. You've got the flu, and, girl, you have no faith in medicine. Look, shit happens. Hey, that might be another good excuse. As Sarah Silverman said, diarrhea is always a good way to back out of a gig. No one questions the diarrhea. I certainly never expected Amy Winehouse to make her scheduled appearance. Let's face it, her hit song was nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy. But I never expected you to betray me, Meg. You're better than that ballet slipper-wearing, beehived freak of nature.
--Jaye Wells.


Well.

Now that I have plagiarized Jay Wells' letter, I will go on to plagiarize myself, usually a fatal mistake for a writer, for when a writer plagiarizes himself, he's in trouble.

Ah what's a little Fata Morgana on a big operation like this:



Don't want to hear about it
Every single one's got a story to tell
From the Queen of England
To the gates of Hell
And if I catch you coming back this wayI'm gonna serve it to you
It's not what you want
But that's what I'll do
--Jack White/The White Stripes
I recall beginning my essay thusly:

The cultural-philosophical attitude known as nihilism vanished just after the Russian revolution of l917, only to return with a vengeance in the 21st Century, having resurfaced large in the middle of the l950's with such American magazines as MAD, Cracked, Evergreen Review and even some articles in Playboy.
Today, it's Mad Indies Rock from what appears to be Hell:
I'm going to Wichita
Far from this opera for evermore
I'm going to work the straw
Make the sweat dripFrom every pore
And I'm bleeding and I'm bleeding
Right before my lord.
And the feeling coming from my bones
Says find a home
Cut to:
Jorge Luis Borges quoting Pascal: "Nature is an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere."
And somewhere in his Aleph story, the story about this sphere, Borges concludes that it is a false Aleph!
Add to this the hundreds of comments in Jeff Wells' blog, Rigorous Intuition, and you'll get a spooky sense of the Devil himself, and if not him, certainly the conviction that what sensitive people feel these days is not necessarily Nature, or God, but a group of sinister people who have convinced us that their very brains comprise an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.
Call them Illuminati. Call them Aliens. Call them mad scientists and social engineers. Whoever they are (Are they from here? Are they real? Are they guilty?), their presence is obviously felt by millions if you believe in the the monkey business of Art Bell, George Noory or a host of "moonbat" manque's around the world.
But, as Russians often claim, they invented everything, the Prince Kropotkins, the Bakunins, certainly Dostoevsky in his "Devils" or "The Possessed". It is my belief--to introduce an oxymoron-- that the Russians invented nihilism.
Nihilism is a condition of complete enervation. It is the absence of laeticia that joy of life, a sense of futility and ultimately, the desire to throw a bomb.
How far are we from Dostoevky's wild-eyed nihilist to the fanatics of the Middle East? Granted,they are not true nihilists, they do have a belief, but it is carom of their true faith, a kind of nihilism.
And how well is our own creeping nihilism articulated by RIGOROUS INTUITION, Bill Mahe or The Jon Stewart Show--where he for the first time had a musical act, The White Stripes singing, Get Thee Behind Me, Satan...
Am I just courting comments here? Do I seek a new audience of moonbats? I don't know, except that if life is a tragicomedy, Jon Stewart certainly has a handle on it and Jack White of The White Stripes for sure.
I'd like to take a more positive view.
There is a sense, coming from my own background, of a kind of salvation. The late Hryhory Chubai of Kiev:
and around there was no river, no sea, lake or stream was around
only helpless imagination
surrounded itselfwith uncountable suggestions
for every one of the flower's eight faces the imagination surrounded itself and staggered
staggered and felland never got up
and did not come
did not ask--what time is it
did not ask--why the door opened
did not ask--where they buried the goldfish--on the sun or on the moon
and it is very frightening when there's inquisitionwhere one cannot remember the voice and cannot forget the face
when for a long time no one comes...
But, for Mr. Chubai, a kind of damsel with a dulcimer finally appears, a Joni Mitchell, an accomplice, alover. A loreli?
The Ukrainian poet goes on:
it's a thousand flowers coming
it's a thousand women
and behind each one will sit ashes
but someone invisible will suddenly say CHRIST HAS RISEN
all will turn their heads backeveryone will want to see behind him a fire
everyone saw behind him ashes
someone will suggest to halt the debates
but the invisible one will again say CHRIST HAS RISEN
all will slowly turn their heads back not to frighten the one who's behind
all will suddenly hear how on the sea of black pepper the green waves will turn yellow
allwill suddenly see on the far shore a star which they never saw before
all will start waiting for the tiny boat of the nightingalethat is to take them to the shore
the waves on the sea of black pepper turn yellow and calm
the knotty bottom will regain sightand someone will again say CHRIST HAS RISEN
all will slowly turn their head back
any minute nowthey are to seebehind themselves A FIRE
Well. From Satan, through Easter, to Chrismas. I don't know what I have done here. But something Important has surely gone by.
How do Jack and Meg White, not yet thirty, see all of this?
It might be small wonder that Meg White has "severe anxiety"
Ivan




Monday, September 17, 2007

All work and no play makes Jack.

One of the things I used to know for sure before I lost my marbles was that all work and no play makes Jack.

Possessed of only pen and paper and working like a devil I found myself one day propelled into uppermiddleclass
comfort and good food and thought to myself, "doesn't everybody?"

Well, no.

For most folks life is failure, rejection, pain.
I had put up with "present" pain for future gain, that good old middleclass motto and while others played, I was dead serious, the very image of that cartoon character with sparks coming off his nose from the grindstone he so assiduously applying himself. I recall chuckling at the the caption, "I fight poverty--I work"

But this was the Sixties and Seventies, a time when anybody in Canada with a modicum of talent could make large bucks in journalism and advertising. As for the novels, you knew your way around and would sometimes get the magazine you worked for to serialize something of yours. My novels would rarely impress the editor of the Big Canadian Market--the Star Weekly. She was sometimes described as a "Victorian spinster with this huge brain", sequestered in her office at the Simpson Tower On Bay and Queen and cutting cheques for lady writers of
fiction and exurban fantasy. She was a tough market to cracks, so I went around her and got stuff in something called CANADIAN PANORAMA, which travelled inside the Star Weekly.

I was soon noticed by Peter Gzowski, the then-editor of he magazine, was given a fulltime job as staff writer for that publication, and I was on my way. Pay then was $130 a week, and in today's money hat was $60,000 a year and nothing to sneeze at, certainly not for a boy who was one day dropped in a potato field--his mother may as well have been a cow--and shown a meadow which would be his organic garden. "Graze, kid."

War, pestilence and famine soon changed that and I was suddenly the Canadian kid with the high ambitions, wanting to avoid the middleclass altogether and marry or bully my way straight into the upper.
I made it, but so many of my peers did not. Nor talented enough, not lucky enough, not smart enough.
I do recall some comments on Norman Podhoretz' similar climb in his book, "Making It", some of my Jewish friends wondering precisely what it was that Norman had made. A man of Mr. Podhoretz own background went on to snort that the book may as well have been called Kik*'s Peak.

Well, I was at Chuck's or Ski's Peak. There weren't too many of us up there, we were enabled by the likes of the late and great Ed Mirvish of Toronto, and writing about the arts (Mr. Mirvish's passion)--yielded solid coin. The beauty was that you didn't have to be terribly accurate as long as you spelled the Star's Name right.

One day I gave it all up.

"I am an artist, Martha."

Hah. "Build that addition to the house, artist. Here is a broom, artist. Who in hell do you think you are, artist?"

I was certainly not as good as I thought I was.
Took forever to write the book--nose to the grindstone again--but I did and surprised the hell out of everybody.
I did have to put the book out at my own expense--blow to the ego!--but my friends in the review business took it seriously, every bank manager had a copy of the review on his or her wall and I was on my way.
Grants, fellowships and teaching positions somehow followed and I became something of a Duddy Kravitz. Certainly dabbled in real estate.

But then came the age of forty the time of the BIG WHAM.
Something happened, nothing happened, but suddenly I stopped. Can't go another mile. Yuppie flu.
Now was the time to pay for all those superiorities, now was payback time for all those energies one had expended and never fully got back.

Oh yes, there were plenty of palliatives. The drinking, the thinking, the toying with the idea of a mistress--not a literary mistress this time, but a real one. Yuppie palliatives.
But no further progress with the career.

What to do. Cut an run? That was the simplest. But it was a solution that was okay for the self, but not for those who had been around you. Leaving the family to fortune, off to make another fortune.

And landing flat on your ass.

Floor cleaner in a factory. Also had to clean the washrooms.

Amid the farts and belches coming out of the stalls, you finally realized where your new course of action had taken you.
In the apartment elevator, going home at night, smelling of ammonia and Old Dutch.
"Sweep, sweep sweep, eh Ivan?" my chainstore owning father-in-law would say.
So hire me in your stores," I'd said.

He did.

Back up he ladder of success again, the Nassau holidays, the condo in Fr. Myers. Doesn' t everybody?

And then back to the fine madness.

"I am an artist, Martha."

Off to an exotic land this time Gaugin and his Wahines.

And having again to put the book out at my own expense.

There is a quasi- country song by some Winnipeg group, a lot like Blue Rodeo.

It goes, "You piss me off, you f*cking jerk."


In Gogol's Diary of a Madman, the character goes off on a similar series of odysseys.

"Oh, here in Spain they have no manners. They beat you often, and put you into chains. Call you a madman.
"Spain is a terrible country."

Well, I suddeny feel I am in "Spain".

And they do knock me around quite a bit.

"Go back to Yugoslavia, ya bum."

Halleluja. Bum again.

Uncle Vanya. Chekhov figure. Stopped.

Got to get out of the Chekhovian doldrums and get a job.

Time to put the dream aside. Again.

Sha-na-na. Get a job!

Ivan

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Yes, but is it art?





Last week film fans turned their eyes north of the border, as the Toronto International Film Festival became the temporary center of the cinematic world. The festival, which wrapped up tonight, featured plenty of high-profile Oscar-bait movies getting splashy screenings — Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Atonement, and I'm Not There among them — but there's only one film at the fest that had Toronto newspaper editors chewing their fingernails, and Vulture gleefully awaiting the upcoming awkward headlines: Young People F*cking, a romantic comedy directed by Martin Gero.

Left Photo:
Josh Dean in the nearly-impossible-to-Google-Image-Search-for Young People F*cking Courtesy of THINKFilm.

This is Toronto the good?
Saints preserve us!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The creative solution--but first, the Carna-val!



All the Quarks get blue at once.

To explain: We Quarks are a club, a kind of writing club. Like quarks in physics, we come in any number of colours and flavours, we are five in number and we are inseparable. Largely a female community, there is nevertheless and anti-quark, or penta-quark, that is to say yours truly, the male quark (quirk?),

Being inseparable and at all times each quark feeling like the other quarks, though separated sometimes by entire galaxies.

There is a slight sadness among the quarks right now.

Quark Josie seems to be going through a dark night, though she is trying a bit of sailing to get over some family anxieties and a period of someting like blindness that poets sometimes get.

Being a PentaQuark, I feel Josie's pain, as do the other quarks. We all cope in our different ways. Australian quark goes rock climbing in pristine nature, Oklahoma quarks look to their families and their oddly personable pets.

Quark candidates write poetry about unrequited love.

Myself, I walk, for, as antiQuark, "family male", I m affected by the quark family. I am feeling a little down too.

I take walks. Dream of carnivals.

I am walking behind a group led by a man called Fish. He is seventy-eight but can can pass for fifty. Fish is extremely athletic and a proven leader. He runs a karate school He turns his resplendent Richad Branson head to uge the rest of us on .We are an eclectic crew. The effort of walking has freed us from pushing against some load of ours, a pushcart full of pain that many of us had been pushing, often going backwards against t the awful weight of it all. Everybody in the group is, metaphorically, pushing or carrying something. Baggage from another marriage, the great sprawling novel that would not come to life, the smoky air of Seventies barrooms, the flashbacks from the LSD.There is the real hope of a steamer on the horizon--that we shall be rescued from this Raft of the Medusa by a jovial, somehow Germanic sea captain.
Yet one must be chary of such a notion. Recovery is miraculous and dramatic. It may come this Christmas or it may not. The local Indians will tell you it is all on the whim of the Creator. In the meantime the Indians will tell you to stay away from waterfalls, great confluences of water. And large lakes, like Simcoe, for there is an ogepoge in each one, each with its own monster.
There is a monster at the headwaters of this river. But he is industry itself, with his belches and his farts.
We walk side by side, some of us. Then uncouple to walk alongside somebody else. We talk of family, hopes, achievements, walks for cancer, Terry Fox runs.
What has brought us to this bikepath, along this river, along these aspens, along these tamaracks, these larch trees, conifers that act somehow like birch trees, dropping their needles every fall. They reappear in the spring, bright-hued and bushy-tailed, hopefully like us.

I am talking to a woman in capri pants and white adidas. Like me on this fall day, she is a little whimsical and vulnerable and kind of shy. I quote her some of my poetry, hoping to impress her with my mystique. But she will have none of it. "Too bad you haven't got any talent." She prefers a man like Fish. She turns from me, hoping to catch up with Fish, almost running now. b There is an energy in the crisp air. She is walking for all she's worth, like and out-of-luck teenager pushing a baby carriage, which, in her daily life, she probably does. She is trusting to her youthful energy, to God and good people. Fish is good people.
The people are still good, but this is a dark age. Carry a lamp for your path and someone will come out of the bushes and steal it. Pilgrims are ripe for the picking. That's why ahead of us, there is Fish.
I move on to another party. An entire family. Father a little bulgy in the gym shorts. Mother in ski pants and a yellow top. Little ginger-haired daughter in shorts and sandals doughtily holding up the rear. We are all walking, moving, past the tree, past the bird, past the little piles of discarded green potter's clay and other small bits of rubbish along the Holland River, where they have just refurbished some condos. Yet the river may yet regain the flats! The nearness of water and bright greenery here and there have given us hope for another, better season.
Ahead of us, Fish pauses. He has seen something on the path, which turns out to be a snapping turtle the size of a Humvee wheel. It moves slowly, methodically out of the way, its fast, avian beginnings completely evolutioned-out over the billions of years, leaving just a mechanical crawl and a beak, which, like a construction backhoe, seems to droop a little before snapping up something. It takes the turtle a long time to leave asphalt path.
Fish now signals us to go on. I put on a bit of a run to catch up with the girls, to catch up with with Fish.

The path by the river has taken on painterly proportions, something like Roussea's Peacable Kindgom. Must be my old marijuana haze.

Bright blue chicory flowers--you really have to see them--have sprung up alongside the Holland.

There is, nevertheless, a mild stench of PCB and-- face it--garbage from an incinerator whose builders had assured us was absolutely safe. There is also the upstream paint plant.

There is automobile gridlock all around out bike path, but we are not yet high on the smell of ozone. We gaze instead at the wild sunflowers and the bright-ble chicory plants. Like the old hippies that we are.

How long are we going to be on this walk, all of us with our emotional pushcars full of pain?

Definitely we are due for a break.

I think I know why the girl was unimpressed with me. I am surely an old reprobate. My brain is awash with old sex scenes and orgies. I think we need a rite of fall. Oh hell, let's have, after all this granola and good health-- a Saturnalia, an ancient Roman carnival.

Saturnalia. A day of eating meat and drinking wine. Carrus navalis. (An alternative theory to the more popular "farewell to the flesh" that we usually hear about: Carne [meat] and valle= farewell.)
We need a Burial of the Sardine, that smelly bit of sad past. They do in fact have a Burial of the Sardine festivel in northwestern Spain. its earlier pagan characteristics have survived: the festive permissiveness, the licentiousness of its customs and bending the rules of established order. Anything is possible, everything is allowed: Humans transform themselves into animals, males become females, peons strut like kings, social station is scorned, decorum is debunked and blasphemy goes unblamed. Carnival is a time when anything goes.

Lets have a Burial of the Sardine.

Let's have a carnival.

And, though a strange synchronicity, down below this blog, correspondent Benjibopper has procued a playlet where vegetarian yupppies turn into meat-eaters!

Let the magic begin.


##

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Getting to Ivan's blog is half the fun--Rafting on the Medusa




My intention had been to reproduce Francesco Goya's "Burial of the Sardine", in which there is an uncannily prescient image o "Ben Layton", emblazoned on a pennant.
I went to my picture file to bring up the Goya painting.

What came out instead was another brilliant painting by a Frenchman named Theodore Gericault.
~Whoops. Here, finally is the picture I wanted. I have the two paintings now.


It has just struck me, a man who doesn't usually think in pictures, that "The Raft of the Medusa" could well be a tableau of of the Republican administration right now
And the scary thing is, "Ben Layton" knows it.
Osama bin Laden's recent tape may well have been a State of the Union adress, with Osama as anti-President. How is it that he can still do this?

You listening out there, Tomcat, the political guy?
I'm sure you have a take on all this


Ivan

Saturday, September 08, 2007

For want ot a nail



One of God's jokes is to have a whole bunch of women after you at precisely the time when yout are out of food, booze, cigaretttes, out of a real place to take somebody, and when you have finally marked yourself down in your own estimation.

I had made a joke in a previous blog to the effect that I was so badly off, I was going to go down the street and troll for gay guys.

I think I did a little bit better. (That's if you prefer women).

So here I was, tromping on empty cigarette packages in a back alley, which opened into a churchyard.

I had found a long one, and paused at a bench in front of the twin-spired edifice to have a thoughtful smoke and a talk with Somebody.

Then out of an afternoon summer haze, she came.

She wore no makeup, had bangs, brown hair, and over jeans, she was weaing one of those almost-puffed sleeved faux-silk blouses that all the girls are wearing today.
In her left hand, she was holding something white . "Can I get a light from you?"

I immeditately reached for my plentiful supply of little Bics; gave her a somewhat grudging light.
I had other things on my mind than European pick-up scenes.

I was wearing a designer spa tee shirt, the lettering of which she was reading.
"You're from across town. Aintcha. But you look familiar."
Told her thirty years ago, I was in the newspaper business.
"Delivering?"
"Writing."
"I didn't get that. Working?"
"Writing. I had a column. My picture was up on top of it."
"I've seen your around town all the same", she said.

We finished our cigarettes.
Something intimate in this Fifties social act. The smoke. The prow- end of each-other's mystique.
We introduced each other. First names.
I was, suddenly feeling a possibility
She soon dispelled the mystery of what this oeuvre was leading to.

"How would you like a blow job?"


I have to end the story here.

For want of a nail, the empire was lost.
For want of a package of cigarettes, poor old Ivan remains unblown.

I thought I heard somebody laughing upstairs.

##



Friday, September 07, 2007

Gonna pack all my things in a grip. Take me a long ocean trip.

I've got to get a grip.

Just looking over old emails to publishing houses, colleges, brown-nosing letters to other writers.

Small assuagements from editors who rejected me. The door, still open though, just a crack: "Next time, follow our submission guidelines."

I am a duffer at forms.
I am a duffer at bridge unless I have at least eight coffees.

Give it to us. We'll screw it up!


Just looking over an old letter from the University of Alberta. "Our deadline was April. It is now May.

And: "I did not get your attachment in any event. Try again in October."

Great time for the computer to wonk out. The attachment was my novel.

One of these days I'm going to have to learn word.

(My novels submitted as attachments, from email originals).


Crap. A twenty-thousand dollar writer's grant and I blew the forms. Missed the deadline.

One has to give the impression of an organized person.

Goodbye impression.

The guy's a fruitcake.


There was a time when I would submit stories on the back of manilla envelopes and they would be accepted.
"Don't worry about the longhand,"--the kindly editor. You could almost see him. The old fashioned shade-visor, the high-intensity lamp, the puffy eyes.

Those days are gone. "We write to a specific market now.
"And you've got to get over your technology lag."

(I think I saw the fuzzy-eared sub-editor toying with his blackberry and (I swear) snorting under his breath: "General interest writer. Hmph. Bye-bye Ivan."

You do not know quite how a good story comes.
It may be an impression, and itch an idea. It may have come from the last book your read.

And suddenly, inexplicably, the whole thing comes out, all in a large dollop as you see somebody else and not you writing it down. And in longhand.

The muses had been kind.

You look it over in the morning.

Sh*t.

Oh you can get it out through discipline all right.
But it'll come out "safe"; no hook.

The difference between the professional writer and the gung-ho Reader's Digest copycat is the hook.

You have to hook your readers. Immediately, right from the git-go.

If your opener is dull, inelegant, the reader assumes that the rest of the piece will be inchoate too and so the eyes glaze. "This guy writes like I f*ck. Everything goes in but the skill."

I know what the problem is and I know I am coasting.

How easy it is to blog.

How hard it is to write somethin'

Ever try writing?

It's impossible.

"All you have to do is craft one sentence," says Hemingway.

Easy for him, whose words in the early days came so fast and clean.


They found a dead leopard at the top of Mount Killimanjaro.

I think I found poor Santa Claus mummified and smoked in my fireplace flue.

(Neither story is easily explained) :)


Santa Claus caught in his flue.

Ivan smoked.


On my last visit to my guru in Haiti, I heard Alan Baskin say, "When you give up. That's when you win."

Well, it worked for Alan when he lost his business and went into something completely different, like the setting up of dive resorts in strange and exotic places--they all worked out!

Alan, I have given up.

##

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Blug Party







Hello, Little Girl.
We're having a hot tub party.
That's JR above, and Geewits with her wind-up fish.
Ah, c'mon, I can talk you into it, can't I?
No bikini?
No problem.
The Ukrainian always comes naked.
##

Monday, September 03, 2007

Blogging the Unbloggable

My intention had been to compose a blog, but it seems I can't get there from here.

Moon still banging rather powerfully at my front door; fingernail-on-the blackboard feeling.
Out of tune. Out of kilter.

I once wrote a novel about it, about a man who was just this "big raw nerve", aware, I suppose, like an existentialist, of the absurdity of society and the madness of the self. His life was a series of nervous jumps from one disaster to another.

Like promoting a person with a room temperature IQ to office manager, I suppose.
I know you've met them.

I keep meeting people who actually want to have issues, to be dysfunctional, to be like Chekhov characters.
It takes a long time to realize they are actually out of their depth , and it is no wonder that they have issues.

At least that's what they told me last time I was in "rehab". "You're here because you're stupid. There's nothing wrong with you that $200, 000 couldn't cure."

"But that's the whole point. I'm in here because I lost the $200,000. Talk about separation anxiety!"


Ah well. A vacation on the Ontario Hospital plan.

Something like $300 a day to keep the old lunatic.


My brain, "the creature", What is its form, what is it's dimension? Is it moving, or is it standing still? Is it aware, lit up, percolating? Or is it lust there lying beside me, insipid, stupid.

I am hardly Ezra Pound, but the great poet did spend years and years at St. Elizabeth's hospital, sort of Pounding-off.
Produced some ot the 20th century's best poetry that way.

Turned T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" from an inchaoate pretentious piece of crap into one of the best poems of the century.

Ezra Pound, crazy man, come over here and doctor my work . ( And I'll bring Benji with me? Heh. He says he's looking for the key to litarature, at least in characterization).


I finally meet an intelligent psychiatrist. "You don't need me, you need a fairy godmother."

I relate this to my friend.

He phones me the next day, "Ivan, this is your fairly godfather."

"F*ck off," I explain to him.

Of such stuff come blogs...I suppose.

They told Fitzgerald: If you're blocked, write about the block.

I'm actually still waiting for that return from one H & R Block.

I think they only lost 27 million on the stock exchange.
H & R Block?

Man, that's a separation anxiety!

Me, I was just short a load.

##

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Jonathan Livinston Chekhov



For the past hundred years, the prime playwritght anywhere has been Anton Chekhov.

I marked this down since I dabble in plays, certainly Chekhov's short stories, which are equally fine.

So what to do?

All the writing how-to books used to say, "emulate Chekhov".

So how to you tamp an Anglo-Saxon, who takes his pleasure sadly into the character of a dysfunctional Russian?

I am not an Anglo-Saxon, but I am anglicized--totally

Makes me sort of a Chekhovian figure.


Well, I figured, Use what ya got.

So I wrote a totally Chekhovian story, basing it on "The Lady With the Dog."

Back comes the rejection. Seems the story was a dog.

Rejected. Me? God's chosen? After spending thirty years cultivating the editor? (Little did I know that the House of Anansi Press was under a takeover and all my friends were gone...Should have kept up with things).

In any event, Rejection.

You mean I spend all these years aping the best, sometimes copying the best, and I get rejected?

Chekhov rejected? WTF. I had copied as well as I could.

If they reject Chekhov, what chance do my poor screeds have?

And yet, and yet, do I ever dig the man. Gets me right where I live.

Sample: Opener of The Seagull:

Masha:
Money's not the point. A man can be poor and happy.
Medvenko
In theory, yes, but in practice...there's myself, and my mother, and two sisters, and a small brother; but my salary is just twenty-three ubles. One has to eat and drink. Do we need tea and sugar? Can I do without tobacco? Well, that's how you pinch and scrape.
Oh how we pensioners know these things!

But why was my story rejected? I got it straight from the horse's mouth! I mean, this is where I live.
Chekhov Country.

They say mere talent borrows. Genius steals.

I am a genius, Martha, I tell my wife.

"Okay genius, the hall needs vacuuming.

"And hike up your pants, genius...And I'm tired of picking up after you."

Sigh.

H.E. Eigler, a blogger I find somehow inspiring to other writers, once wrote to me when I had been unexpectedly rejected on a story of my own. "You have to use a little ingenuity, you have to figure out how to open the door again..."
She was right, and I sold a story.

But this time it's different. I am copying Chekhov and I am in a rut about it. I cleverly disguised my story, but how can you embellish on the master?

Oh God.

I have developped some sort of Turette's Syndrome over Chekhov. I cannot stop copying him.

So here I go again,


IT was said that a new person had appeared on the sea-front: a lady with a little dog. Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov, who had by then been a fortnight at Yalta, and so was fairly at home there, had begun to take an interest in new arrivals. Sitting in Verney's pavilion, he saw, walking on the sea-front, a fair-haired young lady of medium height, wearing a béret; a white Pomeranian dog was running behind her.

And afterwards he met her in the public gardens and in the square several times a day. She was walking alone, always wearing the same béret, and always with the same white dog; no one knew who she was, and every one called her simply "the lady with the dog."

"If she is here alone without a husband or friends, it wouldn't be amiss to make her acquaintance," Gurov reflected.

He was under forty, but he had a daughter already twelve years old, and two sons at school. He had been married young, when he was a student in his second year, and by now his wife seemed half as old again as he. She was a tall, erect woman with dark eyebrows, staid and dignified, and, as she said of herself, intellectual. She read a great deal, used phonetic spelling, called her husband, not Dmitri, but Dimitri, and he secretly considered her unintelligent, narrow, inelegant, was afraid of her, and did not like to be at home. He had begun being unfaithful to her long ago -- had been unfaithful to her often, and, probably on that account, almost always spoke ill of women, and when they were talked about in his presence, used to call them "the lower race."

It seemed to him that he had been so schooled by bitter experience that he might call them what he liked, and yet he could not get on for two days together without "the lower race." In the society of men he was bored and not himself, with them he was cold and uncommunicative; but when he was in the company of women he felt free, and knew what to say to them and how to behave; and he was at ease with them even when he was silent. In his appearance, in his character, in his whole nature, there was something attractive and elusive which allured women and disposed them in his favour; he knew that, and some force seemed to draw him, too, to them.

My take on The Lady With the Dog.
Rejected!
They rejected Chekhov! The dastards!

--Ivan

Saturday, September 01, 2007

"Laughing world may kick you out."


My first real publishing-- a short story and some poetry in The Fifth Page, Ryerson University's literary magazine.

Looking back on it, WTF!

There were people in the book immeasurably more talented than I.

For example, here is what my twenty-something solipsism produced:


Ego

Through the labyrinth of soul
I crawl
Up through the maze
Down to the dregs
And sideways, left, right
But always returning to centre
Ego centre


And here is Weepy,
by Judy Thomson


Little dreamer
Sits in corner
silly tear comes dribbling down
What's it this time, Goosey Gander?
Some harsh word has made you frown?

Has your boyfriend
Hurt your feelings
Broke your heart forever more?
(It is nothing
Happens often;
Trifles cut her to the core.)

Rainy day's
Contagious vapour
Maybe through your skin has seeped.
(It is thin and little hampers
Imagined sorrows clouds have weeped.)

You, young Moody,
Cry for daisies
Losing petals in the fall
Some old Tom cat sheds a whisker
You sit down and start to bawl.

You are open
World can hurt you
Every bruise you welcome in
Are you maladjusted, Weepy?
(Or shallow phont made of tin?)

Why be different?
Why be moody?
You could be like us you know.
Join the party, be a joker
Chips and coke lay sorrows low.

O.K., stay then, dribble onward
Take the burdens of the world
Watch the dirt and rain make mudpies
With your feelings, torture swirled.

Keep your corner,
Lonely Goosey,
You were born that way no doubt.
Still, being sensitive is risky
Laughing World may kick you out!


Why am I reproducing some of this?

Maybe Ivan's "poetry" was that of the assertive vulgarian, the extrovert.

And Judy's that of the sensitive outsider.

What do you think?

You don't have to feed me candy.


(..I just realized that Judy Thomson's poem (Where is she now?) reminds me so much of some of my correspondents. My past love describe them as "F...-ed up. Sensitive.")

--Ivan