November 30, 2004

Mystery Train

I read this in Greil Marcus’ Mystery Train the other night. About The Band:

"Like most good American artists, they had been romantics, but not fools; when the romance began to go, their talent for asking the right questions went with it. They still looked for community, but like many who cannot find it, they fell back into an even deeper privacy than they started out with. Because their dreams were too real and too beautiful to give up, they felt a sense of guilt; their withdrawal…was a betrayal of those dreams."

I have had the same fear and guilt in myself, and I have never been wildly successful--my only audience is something I imagined I might one day have. That sort of confidence, even if a delusion, can be enjoyable and I should be grateful for it. Sometimes I feel as if I am coming down from the high of my twenties when I believed in myself in a romantic way. (I know I’ve written about this before, but it’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to. Besides, Empty Drum, my biggest critic, seems to have abandoned the experiment.) I am a father now, a husband, so my dreams have to be a bit more pragmatic. But at those times of apathy and artistic inactivity, I feel like I’m betraying my better self.

I’ve been sick for three weeks. Coughing through the night, and now, mysteriously, my hearing seems to have dropped out. Too much pressure. So I shouldn’t feel so guilty about not writing fiction. Ah, but I do. Jewboy I am. In the past, I have felt devoutly inspired to write my new novel--only it came at a time when my daughter was just born and I was unemployed. Any fiction writing seemed irresponsible. Now, I’m employed and some of my past obsession has faded. I fear you have to grab inspiration when it comes. I’ve spent so much time thinking and writing about my latest novel that I’ve lost some interest in it. Even writing this last sentence is dangerous--once something is stated, it becomes less urgent, and creating anything needs a sense of urgency.

I saw a play on PBS called "Collected Stories" with Linda Lavin (sitcom’s Alice) about an old, intellectual writer and her young apprentice. She talks about how you shouldn’t talk about what you’re writing because you’ll lose some of your desire. This is why seeing a shrink might sometimes be bad for writers as well--the pent up energy will go "out the mouth" rather than onto paper. Another good line from that play: "Life’s too short for the ‘New Yorker.’"

Inspiration, at least for me, is delicate. If you don’t run with it when it hits you, you might be lost. Back to the Beatles: John Lennon couldn’t write the songs from Sgt. Pepper in 1975, he was hit with the inspiration in 1967. This isn’t entirely fair because writing a novel unfolds over a much longer time than songwriting. It took Flaubert five years to write Madame Bovary. It’s incredible and enviable that he cared about the book to the same degree five years later--but then again in the 19th century time ran at a different pace.

This blog is my virtual shrink. It’s still writing, so I shouldn’t feel so guilty that my thoughts are getting lost to the wind…but I do. I hope my obsession returns. Prayer number 3534634 recorded.

November 23, 2004

Television Uber Alles

Saw an episode of "Trading Spouses" last night. Two mothers from very different homes trade places. Never seen the show before. Don’t watch much new television. A vegan mother was traded with an alligator-killing Cajun woman. It’s stuck with me because it was like watching a horror movie. The vegan woman was a total fucking bitch, pure self-righteousness of the store-bought kind. Hates killing or wearing animals but she isn’t against torturing her kids. I know these shows are cut together to show the worst of everybody, but they didn’t have to look far with this woman. Of course, the Cajun was down-to-earth and likable.

I fear fascism from the right, but liberal fascism is right up there. The cities will be patrolled by members of the suede/denim secret police (from the Dead Kennedy’s "California Uber Alles.") I don’t know, there's something about this woman, with her squealing friends who look like they worship "Sex and the City," which incidentally seems like a retelling of Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl--am I being observant, or is this mentioned over and over again? Saw that show only once in a hotel room somewhere, and they were talking about cock size and I thought, haven’t they already had this conversation? Anyway, vegan women, early thirties, husband-desperate, perfectly cut hair, expensive clothes, one wearing a shirt that says "Vegan" tight to her chest. People can be hateful.

And I’m hateful for saying that. I’m sure the woman with the stupid t-shirt has family, people who love her, people who she loves. I’m sure the woman who’s a tyrant to her children had tyrannical parents of her own. But this mother told a ten-year-old boy that he was not going to live to forty if he kept eating meat. A ten-year old. This is cruelty--similar to telling him that he would burn in the fires of hell. In fact, there’s no difference between far-right Christianity and her brand of veganism. Nothing against veganism, really, but no one’s life should be dictated by one idea. I imagine this woman had some terribly fucked-up parents--you could see it in her eyes. Sad really, I should be sympathetic or ignore it, but this type of wisdom never seems to arrive.

A lot to take from a TV show. Got me thinking about people in general, again. If I were in charge, I would probably be a fascist myself, jailing people for being insipid and annoying. I would be the warden, banishing myself to solitary confinement.

November 18, 2004


I don't usually post links to random sites or other web miscellany, but I found this very cool site. A lot of free theological, occult, strange books.

Sacred Texts

If I didn't fear that I was developing a brain tumor from staring at the computer so much, I'd be spending a lot of my time here.

Here are some more free books:

Read Print

November 17, 2004

Scenes from "The Golden Calf"

For any of you who are interested--and I know there are thousands of you out there--here’s a link to the scenes that were filmed for my first novel.

The Golden Calf

The director filmed them as part of the IFP program, which probably stands for something. He was excited about the project and wanted to continue with it, but I haven’t heard from him in a year. Such is life. He’s busy filming videos for music I’ve never heard of and commercials. He got a very cool cast together. The woman from Cassavetes’ "Shadows" as the mother--one of those movies I’d like to own and watch over and over again. Especially good is Kevin Corrigan as Ray, the main character. He’s sort of an indie God from parts in movies like "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," "Walking and Talking" and "Goodfellas." He’s real good in all of them and real good in this.

It was a very strange experience seeing my dialogue come to life. I developed a new appreciation for what actors do. Actually, they basically got every line wrong from what I had imagined, but it didn’t matter because the actors breathed a new kind of life into the screenplay--I adapted the novel myself. I’d only had actors read something I’d written once before: a sit-down reading of a play I’d written about prison. It’s a sometimes aggravating process hearing your words read out loud, sometimes better, sometimes worse. It is amazing how drastically the meaning can change by just putting a different accent on a word here or there. There was a discussion about the reading of the play afterwards with some of the actors. Their feeling was the one actor who I thought had got it right had delivered the worst performance. Shows what little I know.

I guess an actor’s job is to distort what’s on the page in a certain way. I don’t say that as a criticism. It really showed me how skilled an artform acting can be--a performance is like real-time interpretation. Acting is much more subtle than I’d given it credit. I’ve spent a lot of time hating actors in my life for seeming kind of self-sycophantic. I am one who likes to hide so I resent those who like to exhibit themselves. Everybody seems to be acting all the time, so professional acting seems redundant. But acting is a kind of music: like a band covering a song in their own style, rather than playing it exactly the same way. Every classical music piece is played slightly differently by each musician even though the notes are the same. The idea is to bring the actor’s mind to the part rather than represent exactly what’s on the page. Maybe this is obvious, but I only got it when I saw something I had written performed. All in all, a cool experience.

November 12, 2004

The Plot Against America

The Plot Against America : A Novel by Philip Roth

Don’t know what I can add to the discussion that hasn’t been written by 100,000 reviewers. Not that I’ve read any of them. I tend to stay about from literary rags like the New Yorker and the NY Times Book Review because they make me feel envious and inadequate, and then superior which makes me feel jilted and forsaken. None of these things are positive. More suffocating negativity, which is not a promising way to begin a book review for a novel I enjoyed.

My reaction to this novel has a lot to do with writing The American Book of the Dead in which a fascist, hard right wing President takes office--the worst paranoia about GW come to life. In short, The Plot Against America is about Charles Lindbergh winning the White House in 1940 and beginning a Nazi agenda in the States. It is a glimpse into what the holocaust might look like on American soil. It is a deeply affecting premise. Methodical and convincing. I began the novel before the election and I even thought of starting the American Book from scratch. If Kerry won, I would write an alternate history of what the world would have looked like if Bush had won the election. Now I feel like we’re living in an alternate history where anything is possible and no dystopic paranoia is farfetched. I don’t think we’re headed to a fascist theocracy overnight--but even the echo of a potential is scary enough.

Philip Roth is a schizophrenic writer. David Bowie sings in a lot of voices as well so there’s really no problem with it. Every novel seems to have a different voice. The Plot Against America is closer to Goodbye, Columbus than Portnoy’s Complaint. This isn’t hyperactively sexual like some of his novels, or hyperactively intellectual like American Pastoral. Which is probably why I enjoyed it more--it lacks the ego and pretension of some of his other books. The Professor of Desire is the one that irks me most, in which the main problem faced by the author is that he is having a menage a trois with two Swedish girls. Poor guy. I'll admit that I tried to read that book when I was particularly hard-up, so maybe it’s better than that.

I am exactly the audience for The Plot Against America. I am a sucker for fiction that borders on non-fiction. Unlike In Cold Blood or The Executioner’s Song, this novel is fiction first, non-fiction second, with a memoir somewhere in there as well. It’s well-researched but not overwhelmed by its research--I am sure there’s a review out there which says the opposite. I imagine there are a lot of true stories in this book, given a different background. He manages to meld all of these different mediums together. Plainly, this is a well-written book. Roth is great at ending chapters and mid-chapter breaks. It is all very similar to what I want to do with my new novel, not that I've done it yet. In The American Book I am trying to divine what my life will be like in 20 years during wartime--here, Roth is trying to determine what his family’s life would have been like during a tragic alternate history. With the election now over, and a potential fascist now in the White House with a blank check, the novel was strangely comforting.

November 11, 2004

The Surreality Based Community

There seems to be a serious conservative streak on Daily Kos that discounts anything related to esoteric belief. "Tin foil hat" has been thrown around far too often. The term "reality based community" seems ill-placed in a progressive movement--as if reality is exactly what we see. This may be a scientific age but there is a lot more we don't know than we do know--every new discovery rewrites old discoveries. We quite possibly live in a multi-dimensional universe. I don't want to lecture on string theory and quantum physics, but there's a whole lot more going on to "reality" than the "reality based community" likes to believe.

One thing I have heard mentioned is that the answer to red-state religious hysteria is atheism. Flame away, atheists, but how can you possible have the arrogance to claim the answer to the question if God exists? To me, this is a kind of headstrong fundamentalism equal to far-right Christianity--the idea that you have the final word about God. If you can give me the definitive answer about what happens after we die, I’ll listen to your thoughts about atheism. The fact is no one knows what happens after we die, so the reality-based community is a lot more complicated than any legislation, candidate, or political party can possibly represent.

Another commenter said that if God exists than he would have stopped those planes from hitting the Trade Center. This falls under the supposition that God is all good, the devil is all bad. To my mind this is a kind of juvenile depiction of God. The concept of yin/yang makes a lot more sense to me--i.e. God is both good and evil. Furthermore, the concept of God is a lot more complicated than a man sitting on a throne in Heaven. God is Gaia, God is the collective unconscious, God is mind, source, and so on. I can't claim to know the definitive answer to God, but I do have faith that he/she/it exists and is not fully described by any religion. In fact, God is better described by the new physics--which in fact proves that Eastern religions have been right all along. At some point, science and religion will become one. Right now for the Democrats to claim they’re the party of science and Republicans to claim they’re the party of faith is a dangerous road.

I am more prone to believe the themes of the Da Vinci Code than middle-American Christianity. Actually, present-day Christianity is a distortion of the original word--concepts such as reincarnation being stripped from the religion and the holy trinity being invented around 600 A.D., My aversion is to the current dumbed-down version of Christianity, not to faith itself. So I find people’s cynicism about religion here to be troubling. Yes, this election made me hate religious zealotry--we answered an attack by Islamic fundamentalists by voting for our own brand of Christian fundamentalism. But because this was a faith-based election--and faith won over common-sense--people's reaction is to abandon faith entirely. To my mind not having faith is more conservative than liberal. Believing a book to have every answer is something else, but I don't think science is so much more attuned to our complex reality than fundamentalism. If science had all of the answers, we would live in a paradise.

I understand that the left can’t start screaming about certain issues without looking like paranoid loons. The left can’t talk about fraud, secret societies, and UFOs or else they won’t be taken seriously. Still it seems very strange to me that people here should be so wary of any talk about fraud--it shows a strange amount of trust in the other side. This administration is full of dementedly sinister people, and because there is no "proof" it must not be true. Yes, there needs to be proof to overturn the election, but lack of proof does not necessarily mean it’s false. The fact that there is no proof might just mean that they covered their tracks. The people who deny fraud and the people who deny the room for faith might be two sides of the same coin--they are people who rely too much on the scientific method.

To abandon far-out ideas for "reality" is conservative to the core--remember, they jailed Copernicus, Stravinsky’s "Rite of Spring" was scandalous. The mainstream is always averse to new thought--whether it’s new science or new art or new religious thought. Oddly enough, many people in the left-wing seem more mainstream than liberal.

November 9, 2004

Annoying Moment

Probably first in a series. In Paris, sitting in my living room with a group of classical musicians: a cellist, a violinist, and a piano player. Listening to the Beatles. They winced and laughed about how flat the strings were in "Eleanor Rigby." The pianist said, "Amateurs." That was annoying.

November 4, 2004


I don’t want to say too much on the election except it’s embarrassing and humiliating and depressing and dispiriting. That and I don’t think it was a legitimate election. I am tired of hearing about mandates and a decisive win. A country divided. And so on. Kerry lost the Presidency by 150,000 votes and those votes might very possibly have been rigged. This makes me feel alternately abused and relieved.

We live in dangerous, dark ages, Jim Crow times right now. People believe in both Jesus and hate. We are an alcoholic country, drunk on a destructive version of God. We need to hit rock bottom, near dead in the gutter, before things will get better. We were attacked by Islamic fundamentalists and we voted a step towards our own American Taliban. This country was founded on the principle of Manifest Destiny so maybe this should be no surprise. I could call this growing pains but we are not growing fast enough--our spiritual intelligence is regressing.

What is called "moral values" are in fact immoral values. It is fucking ironic really. This country is crucifying itself. George Bush is the Golden Calf, the anti-Christ, whatever you want to call him--he is a darkly-spirited man. He represents pro-war and hate, a rapist of rational good will. Part of these "moral" values, I agree, is a sense of deep belief and Kerry did not display this nearly enough. I think he is a kind, giving, caring man but he lets his political machinations override his actual convictions. Yes, this election was a pro-Christian, anti-gay, pro-war referendum, but Kerry did not give a full sense of who he is as a person--this would have sold the non-zealots on his cause. He attacked Bush too much because he thought it was working. Then again, maybe it did work, and thousands of votes have been discarded.

What I look forward to is another Watergate, called Votergate, led by an out-of-work John Edwards. If Karma has any play in the world, and the real Gods aren’t dead (which they aren’t), something will happen to these people. Nixon went down two years after 72, the year of my birth. I also look forward to George Bush finally being held accountable for his policies. Even with Bush as President, 9-11 fades into the background as the days pass. He cannot bank on it in the same way again. If there is another terrorist attack, it will have far different implications this time around. If he fixes nothing and things do indeed get worse, as they are bound to, the non-evangelical Bush supporters are going to defect. That may be Kerry’s lasting legacy--shining the light on what Bush has done wrong.

After it is all over, I am still here. I appreciate and love my family even more. They are a beautiful juxtaposition to the crushing, heartbreaking disappointment I have been feeling. And we are not at the apocalypse yet. We are not at martial law, or civil war, and civilization breathes on. I have lived through 4 years of Bush and made it. Our health care premiums for my daughter are far too high but so far we’ve managed to afford it. I have more fodder for my novel. Maybe it’s good to have an enemy. At least now I can turn off the TV forever. If Kerry were President, I’d be watching his press conferences. I will totally ignore Bush as nothing he says has any relation to reality. All in all, I am proud to live on the blue left coast, away from the blood-red states in the middle of the country. I have never felt so at home in Los Angeles. Time to get back to my mind and keep writing.

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