Thursday, August 29, 2013

More Reading! (For My Fellow Bibliophiles)

And for those of you who consider yourselves to be readers already—God bless your noble, tender souls—it seems appropriate to also post a list of books I sincerely recommend to any friends out there who might be looking to challenge themselves with some of best and deepest shit I've ever read in my long reading life.

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov;
A Collection of Essays, by George Orwell;
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, by David Foster Wallace;
Consider the Lobster, by David Foster Wallace;
Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace;
Girl With Curious Hair, by David Foster Wallace;
Lectures on Literature, by Vladimir Nabokov;
Lectures on Russian Literature, by Vladimir Nabokov;
Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes;
Lectures on Don Quixote, by Vladimir Nabokov;
Tao Te Ching, by Lao-Tzu;
Book of Five Rings, by Miyamoto Musashi;
Games People Play, by Eric Berne;
Sexus, by Henry Miller;
The Third Policeman, by Flann O'Brien;
The Razor's Edge, by W. Somerset Maugham;
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, by Victor Hugo;
Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo;
A Feast of Snakes, by Harry Crews;
Arthur Rimbaud: Complete Works, by Arthur Rimbaud;
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, And Seymour: An Introduction, by J.D. Salinger;
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Malcolm X and Alex Haley;
The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions, by Huston Smith;
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig;
The Story of Philosophy, by Will Durant;
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, By Jared Diamond;
The God of the Machine, by Isabel Paterson;
Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov;
The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time, by Hunter S. Thompson;
Steps, by Jerzy Kosinski;
Portnoy's Complaint, by Philip Roth;
My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey, by Jill Bolte Taylor;
Alaska, by James Michener; and
The Diaries of Franz Kafka, by Franz Kafka.

Suggested Reading List

Some people are interested in reading—in becoming readers, God bless their noble hearts—but many people are intimidated by the sheer number of books out there. It is with that in mind that I recommend the following titles, which I stake my artistic reputation on as being excellently written books that are worth your time if you're interested in becoming a reader: 

The Godfather, by Mario Puzo; 
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut;
A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole;
Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk;
Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer;
Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer;
The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe;
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote;
The Basketball Diaries, by Jim Carroll;
The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath;
The Stand, by Stephen King;
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger;
1984 by George Orwell;
The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris;
Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton;
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey;
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy;
The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand (fuck all haters);
East of Eden, by John Steinbeck; and
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Seymour Glass, John Kennedy Toole, J. D. Salinger, And Turning 32

Seymour Glass is a fictional character created by J. D. Salinger, and at the end of the short story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," Seymour Glass, age 31, *spoiler alert* takes out a gun and kills himself.

John Kennedy Toole is the author of the novel A Confederacy of Dunces, which was thoroughly rejected and unpublished at the time of his suicide, at the age of 31.

It literally felt surreal when I woke up on my 30th birthday. In my youth I thought for sure I would have killed myself by that point. I thought I would have ended myself long before I ever reached the stage of life that I considered to be Undeniable Adulthood. 

My first suicidal thought arrived in my early teens (my theory for why that is requires a book series to do it justice, and I haven't written it yet), and while Death's hands have many fingers, there is one finger that taps those who eventually deliver themselves unto the altar of nonexistence—those who walk up and willingly impale themselves on the mortal scythe.

And yet I awoke that morning—30 years old, one of the biggest losers in the history of modernity, and still alive and blinking.

In a very confusing way, I was proud of myself, and in a different confusing way, I was disappointed in myself. Either way, I was 30, and I had to accept it.

And now I'm 31, soon to be 32.

My mother has always said that I wear my heart on my sleeve, but I think I can't help but be transparent because of something innate in who I am. It stands to reason that if there are emotionally impassive people—people who either don't care or just can't easily be rattled from their level cool—then there must be people whose emotions are huge gusts in the sail of the self. 

In fact, I feel as though I am excruciatingly pulverized by nearly every facet of existence, and I've always wanted to believe that there was a virtue in my being pulverized: I would appreciatively take the pain of having my eyes blasted open by the brilliance and depravity of existence, for it would make me a better artist! (It would have to!)

In J. D. Salinger's heretofore published stories about the Glass family, Seymour Glass is a recognized authority in the world of words, and he is the author of what a successful writer (his brother, "Buddy Glass") considers to be the finest poetry this side of the Asian continent. My reading of "A Perfect Day" holds that Seymour, in his curious encounter with the the Bananafish-spotting little girl on the beach, becomes overwhelmed by his inability to deal with the great expanses of thought and feeling produced within himself by the tremendous world, and he can't swim to the surface anymore because he's eaten so many bananas, and he kills himself.

Seymour Glass's oceans of thought and emotion led to a literary success and a mental collapse.

And then there's John Kennedy Toole, who was so brilliant that he wrote a book that eventually won a Pulitzer, but who was so tortured by that book's repeated lack of publishing success that he got in his car and bid a carbon-monoxide goodbye to a world that clearly didn't want him and the beautiful art that he'd created and loved so much.

Ten years after the goodbye, his mother got the book published, and it won the most prestigious award a piece of literature can receive. 

It's one of the best novels ever written—not that any of these postmortem accolades mean anything to Toole's bones.

Anyway, I feel a great affinity for and simpatico with both Seymour Glass and John Kennedy Toole, and yet I am about to turn 32, which, to me, signifies that I am a man who is wretchedly tortured by an oversensitive disposition, but not to the extent that it will ever lead to transcendent artistic success, and it also tells me that I am nauseatingly tortured by the complete rejection my words and I have received on every possible level of literary life, but not to the extent that a real-life, truly great writer was.

I'm going to be 32 in early September.

I'm just some fucking guy.

What's killing me is that I am thoroughly convinced that I'm better than what I am in life right now, but what if I'm not? 

If what I am is what I don't want to be anymore, and which I have now spent years proving I can't change, then why should I want to be at all?

Is that what they concluded?


In light of the news that Salinger's estate is set to release five new books in the coming years, I also have to wonder if sensitive Seymour still would have killed himself if one of his beloved dead Japanese poets had five new manuscripts on the way.

Maybe he would have at least given it a few moments of thought before he woke up his wife like that.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Swaddle Of Poetry

I have a small but earnest contingent of fans of my poetry, and this roving biographical shotgun blast called my "web log" seems like as good a place as any to post the only poems I’ve written in the last three years.

I was thinking about saving them for publications and competitions, but most of the time I shudder at the wretchedness of the published and heralded poems that are chosen in those places where I have a somewhat reasonable chance of distinguishing myself.
Here, these poems can just be themselves—a lyrical bouquet, a swaddle of poetry—rather than some loser’s discarded pieces of shit.

One Of My Aspirations Is To Be A Solar Body

Several deep character flaws
that I can’t seem to amputate
or metamorphose
have frogmarched me into a life where,
at least sometimes,
which is to say, most of the time,
I have no greater or clearer aspiration,
no more specific purpose for being,
other than a decades-old, divinely inspired motivation to
write something so singularly beautiful
that its only earthly comparison would be the
emotional-intellectual brain-feeling of
sunlight on bare skin.


A Wailing Ambitious Ex-Catholic Author Cannot Briefly Answer Your Chit-Chat Questions

Two years? Gone!
In elsewhere time,
and nothing written,
not a line,
not a rhyme,
but a heaping of beatings—
a blacksmith,
page after page,
beating and beaten,
choking with rage!

Must in the air,
not obligation but moss.
Coughing now, wheezing—
but my own boss!

That’s the spirit!
And that’s the body, too.
Both of us, both!
what can the two of us do?

no daily rendering
of our poor Earth could be complete
without the existential march
of mischievous little feet
hurrying whatever wild weather
they bring to the cellar door
(where once the storm knocks
it knocks forty more).

And flying down low
into the safety below—
all my family, real friends, weird feelings in tow—
I’ll have myself time
and nearly all I might need:
to write,
to read,
and plead,
and plead,
and plead!


There’s A C-Word Below

A child is unaware of its own fragility,
and me a beast-man I’m all too aware
that the grains of sand are always getting smaller.
The child dashes and leaps chin-first into the vast ocean
and slaps five with everyone at sea or ashore
while the beast-man’s bottom pockets fill with sand
and he slaps his hand to his sore throat,
where at the top his fragility threatens to reveal itself in its magnitude
and leave nothing but a shell, a husk, molted—
the outline of a man.

I used to be afraid.
There used to be a process for dying,
and I used to be afraid of its grim chapters.
But in a mood like this, my culture has exhausted the ancient process,
refined it to an unintentional perfection,
and I just want the relief
of no-thing.

Is it still called depression when you don’t even want out of it anymore?
The sun eventually hits both of the poles—
nowhere on Earth goes more than six months without sunlight—
but here?
It is a sin to compare God’s favorite marble to a jagged gray
pebble jammed into the tread of a shoe
lost somewhere very dark.

Am I robust? Not in the cradle where these words lie
nor in the cunt where they received their unholy conception.
Tomorrow I may be temporarily robust or increasingly fragile.
I’ll know which,
but it won’t matter.
One can only look so deeply into a mirror—
"This is not a pipe."


Sudden Personal Revelations In A Sober Malaise

I used to have to ingest weird chemicals
to channel the muse of Poetry;
now it is sobriety that pumps me with weird chemicals,
and the words just flow
like smoke,
but out this time.
I wasn’t even happy when I was three years old.
Now, at thirty-one?
Cover me with dirt and trample the grave.
Leave no tombstone.
Forget it.
I have lived and that’s enough.


Mayakovsky’s Lament

Fools! You spend your time like it’s gold,
but you can’t possibly be wise like me,
and spend your time like it’s enough.

Women are constantly beating down the doors
of all the temples I’ve never been to.

What are they after,
those hordes of the so-called fairer sex
(fair in beauty, unfair to my covetous lusts),
other than what I was after myself
when I was visiting the other temples?

So if we are so oppositely similar, then,
maybe you should stop looking at me like that.

My Books In Sexy Brief, Part Four, "The Great Anti-American Novel"


My fourth book is scheduled to be published in early November. It’s complete, and right now we’re sending it out to be reviewed and such, so I finally feel comfortable talking about it.
This is the third novel—the one that long ago I told myself I would send out to be published, to announce my arrival to the world of words.
To be perfectly frank, I am extremely proud of all four of my books, but the three that are on the market right now are selling worse than Hitler’s used underwear, so my business partner and I decided that, considering the tremendous quality of the book I wrote between September of 2012 and February of 2013, I should send the manuscript out to various high-ranking literary agents, to see if I could sell the book to a major publisher and try to use that national exposure to drive up the sales of my previously published books.
And lo and behold, it gained the attention of two extremely prominent literary agencies, who, after I queried them, asked for copies of the manuscript.
After reading the book, both agents praised my writing all the way up to God’s nipples, and both said the project wasn’t right for them.
"April is the cruellest month," and between that rejection and the rejection I received from the Stanford/Stegner Fellowship (they said an MFA wasn’t required, and yet somehow all five winners had MFAs—and by the way, FUCK AN MFA; college professors are well-spoken narcissistic douchebags). Anyway, the entire month of April consisted of me being rejected by visionless cowards, and I will admit right now that those rejections, juxtaposed with how strongly I feel about the rare quality of this book, combined to produce a severe gash in my soul, from which, every day, there is blood and energy pouring out. 
I have now been rejected in every single way that a writer could possibly ever be rejected. 
And yet here the fuck I am.
I believe I’ve written one of the best books of this young century, and I am staking my artistic life on it, because if this book, like the others, vanishes into a dark and indifferent, well-reviewed oblivion, so will I.
I will stop presenting my unwanted writings to a distracted world.
Because ultimately, if my opus comes and goes, I’ll have reached the point that I could say, on my deathbed, that I really tried.
I tried, and I failed.
I’ll shut it down and take my genius to some other avenue of life, but even then, even as a shrugging loser with a deflated (but pure!) soul, I will remain fundamentally certain that, having written these books—TGAAN especially—I have already succeeded.
But sadly it’ll just be the sort of intangible success that’ll never pay the bills or get me laid.
Either way, I have done the thing.
The cover is above.
I took my pain, and I created something beautiful.

The Interrogation, by Amit Majmudar

"The Interrogation," by Amit Majmudar

I was lucky enough to attend a high school that employed a rather legendary Creative Writing teacher. His name was Stan Siedlecki (pronounced “Sid-lecky”), and I believe he left a demonstrable impact on his students. My proof: My oldest brother Joe is a freelance writer and humorist, my friend from that class Anthony Di Franco is the author of a brilliant graphic novel, I myself am an author of three self-published books, and another Mayfielder named Amit Majmudar, whom I don’t know but whom I respect greatly, has written some of the best poetry I’ve read in years. 
For instance, he wrote this powerful poem that was published in The Atlantic.
When they leathered his arm to the armrest and began
like manicurists in a nail salon
he says that he “retreated” from his hand
until the part of him that dwelt there once was gone
and heard no news from his own outer reaches.
In his memoir of those years, he sketches
the tricks he used, one of which was “vision.”
Maybe it’s better we present his version:
“I imagined my arm as a slope I had to scale,
shaft of the humerus as smooth as shale
but white like bone and giving way like sand
wherever I set foot. I couldn’t stand,
couldn’t take a breather, or I’d ride my own
disintegration down and end up on
the shore—which was my hand, my fingernails.
I crested my shoulder, rested on its knoll.
I looked down then and saw the pain as men
charging uphill to where I hid my sense
of pain. At once I stomped a foot to see
the whole arm crack, calve, crash into the sea,
disarticulated, part of me no more.
I did this for the other arm and for
my feet and testicles and eyes until
I found myself on a Pacific atoll
that had no latitude, no longitude.
I built a hut, I scuttled the one canoe.
I saw a sun that weighed a kiloton
and the power cord by which it swung.”
—Amit Majmudar

My Books In Sexy Brief, Part Three, "Oh, Title!"

I forced myself to write 1,000 words a day for the duration of my 28th year of life. I could write anything I wanted—from diary-like entries to short stories to essays to poetry to whatever-the-fuck—as long as it came to a solid G of new words on white. Every single day.
I stopped writing the “Me, Amplified” novel because I didn’t think I could write 1,000 words a day for the same story, and I wanted to free up my creative mind for the 365,000-word task.
To be euphemistic, it ended up being quite a year, and although I came up short of my aim—315,000 words spread over 365 days—I also came up with an entire wild garden of writing that had grown from an awful lot of fertilizer.
If I ever become an internationally renowned, bestselling author, I plan on using the bulk of that document as a retirement account. I want to publish it as a sort of memoir, called 28, for it is essentially a yearlong howl of animalistic desperation by an almost utterly rudderless man.
By the end of my 28th year, I was unemployed, jaded, and on my way back home to Ohio—to start my own company.
I had a friend who’d approached me about our starting a publishing company together, and I’d shown him “Bears” and the first “Jibba” story**, and he thought they were both worth publishing, to get us started, so I brought my documents back to Cleveland, to live as cheaply as possible, to focus the light of my mind on taking these old, crappily-written books and editing them into publishing-worthy shape.
In my 29th year, I prepared the two books for indie publication, and in the process of editing the first “Jibba” story I remembered the “Me, Amplified” story and started reading it and realized what I had done: The first “Jibba” story had essentially been an unintentional version of “Me, Amplified,” and the new bastard I’d begun but never finished was essentially a sequel to, or at the very least in harmony with, the first Jibba story! Much like with “Bears,” I decided to sew them together.
And what still somewhat creeps me out to this day is that I had abandoned the “And Jibba” bastard while the main character was mid-flight on his way back to his hometown, and I ended up finishing the writing of the story, in preparation for publishing the now-conjoined stories, in my own hometown.
Anyway, as I ended 29 and turned 30, I finally finished both books and published them for the world to see and herald!
I consider them to be two well-reviewed worst-sellers.
In my 30th year, seeking to put out more content, I took my favorite stories and essays and poetry from The Year Of Writing and turned them into an eclectic, unique book called Oh, Title! (I didn’t include any of my completely insane, diary-like rants in OT!, and there were plenty of them, so I still consider 28 to be its own, retirement-plan thing, just in case anybody ever gives a fuck.)
(By the way, because it is certainly relevant at this juncture, I was once interviewed about Oh, Title! on a great show called "The Bookcast.")
And then after we published OT!, I began working on my third novel—a novel I had been outlining and writing in my head for nearly five years, a novel that would be the third of the three that I thought it would take to consider myself a truly Worthy writer.

**True Story: It had been nearly a decade since I’d written that “Jibba” novella, and in the process of multiple changes of computers I eventually lost the Jibba file entirely. Fortunately, my old friend Pat had kept his old printed-out copy, which he scanned and sent me as a PDF, and which I transcribed back into Word. Consequently, if that book had a dedication page (none of my books do), it would have read: “To Pat Dodson, for saving this book’s life.”

My Books In Sexy Brief, Part Two, "Music Made By Bears"

Music Made By Bears
My old friend Jack once called them “the bastard children of [his] imagination.” I’m sure all writers have them: pieces of writing that are begun but never finished. My senior year in college, after I quit my column due to its receiving a wretched combination of indifference and loathing, I started writing the second novel, and I was invited to write jokes for a student-run local-access TV show. At the time, the first draft of what was then called “Remembering the Dead” became yet another bastard child of my imagination. I abandoned it shortly after Dalton arrived in town—so, barely into it. I started writing jokes because jokes were actually more difficult for me to write than the Jibba novella had been. But my jokes, and the show itself, were awful. Profoundly bad, unfunny, and not even so unfunny it’s funny—that perfectly embarrassing presentation of utter comedic incompetence by writers, producers, and hosts alike.
But one of my jokes got a big laugh from the crowd (the punch-line was a new reality TV show called Blind People, Alcohol & Swords), and after graduating from college I moved to Los Angeles, where, surely, after sending the people at South Park the music video I made, I would be hired to write jokes for a living.
Fortunately my intelligence blasts its glory in billions of directions, so I was able to take on work doing multimedia quality assurance (a 21st Century Proofreader) while trying to teach myself to write better jokes, novels, teleplays, and screenplays. 
It was almost like being struck by lightning: One day I was was walking across my bedroom in the “Harbor View” apartment complex in a part of Los Angeles my roommate and I called “The Void,” and an image filled my mind so completely, and hit me so emotionally, that I literally had to sit down. Immediately I saw that my mind had gloriously birthed another bastard child, but this time it had given me the end of a story I had begun to write my senior year in college. 
Now I had A and B, and all I had to do was write the simple story that sewed them together.
I needed to build a bridge.
Fortunately I’m a fairly bright guy, and in the copious amounts of downtime I afforded myself because I was extremely good and efficient at my job, I was able to once again write a novel while working under other pretenses.
And then I finished it. I sewed the two sides together, unabashedly cried about the sad tale I’d written and equally unabashedly allowed myself to fill with sparkling adrenaline: I had written a longer, fuller, better book; I had reached another distant shore.
In that time, I had also written two comedic spec-scripts: one for The Office called “The Audit,” and one for Arrested Development called “Boyz ‘N the Wood.”
I showed the book and scripts to some close friends, and they liked them just fine—but nobody was backflipping over them like I was.
So I put “Remembering The Dead,” “The Audit,” and “Boyz ‘N the Wood” docs in my folder full of other writings, and I started the next book, based on a conversation I had with my friend Mike while we were in Las Vegas: “Danny, why don’t you write a book like the way you think?”
I started writing a new book at my proofreading job, but instead of writing the way I think, I decided to write the way that I think, but amplified.
And then I abandoned that project, because I forced myself to face a cold reality: I was about to turn 28, and I was fucking nowhere as a writer.
I decided to take on a writing project of staggering proportions.

My Books I Sexy Brief, Part One, "Jibba And Jibba"

Jibba And Jibba
I wrote the first draft of my first attempt at a novel when I was 19 years old, on winter break from my freshman year at Ohio University. Like the Jibba narrator in the story, I was working as a temp: cold-calling various corporations on behalf of some telecommunications company, receiving extremely brief, rude, impatient responses to the questions that I myself loathed asking. Then one day I discovered a phone number that, when dialed, would just ring forever, and because I felt a book leaping out of me, I proceeded to dial that number every time the writing urge came on, and I would pin the phone to my ear with my shoulder while I scribbled Jibba’s story on a yellow legal pad the company had provided for us to make notes on. I hand-wrote page after page, and when I got home at night I would transcribe the pages into a Word document, which I would send to my friend Pat, who seemed to be enjoying the story. Then the job ended, and also the winter break, and I sat down before heading back to college and furiously typed out the rest of the story until it reached its (open-ended) conclusion. I was happy with it, and my friend Pat also seemed to like it. But I never sent it anywhere besides to Pat and a few other friends: It was my first ever attempt at a novel, and it was only like 30,000 words, and I am an extremely diffident person. But following the completion of that first Jibba story, a long-term plan started to develop: “I have more or less written a book, and now I am challenging myself to write another, better, fuller book. After I have proven I can do that, I will write a third book, which I will submit to be published.” 
There is more to come regarding my novel Jibba And Jibba, but in the story of these stories, the Jibba plot-line falls away for a while, because besides the columns I wrote for the student-run paper at Ohio University (I can’t link you to them because evidently the journalism and IT programs at OU have completely fallen apart, as the archives of my columns from the early 2000s don’t exist anymore), I started turning my novel-oriented attention toward the second book, toward a desire to create a classic piece of literature, after having so thoroughly delved into Palahniukian modern silly darkness with the story I’d just completed.
But I wouldn’t finish that second book until after I graduated from college and moved to Los Angeles.

I like to golf.

Gaudeamus Igitur (“So Let Us Rejoice”)

I’ve been tasked with creating an author page, and the logic I’ve followed in establishing this account is that rather than designing something wildly creative and expensive and overly narcissive, it would be wiser to just use the preexisting, popular template of "web logging" to turn my author page into a more living biographical document.