My poem "Back At Her Apartment" now up in the new issue of BISCUIT HILL!
Thursday, December 7, 2023
Friday, November 10, 2023
Wednesday, November 8, 2023
Sunday, October 8, 2023
Sunday, October 1, 2023
Sunday, August 6, 2023
Saturday, August 5, 2023
"This Is The Trip" originally appeared in the print journal CAMAS, Summer 2021. You can order that issue, now only in pdf form, for $5, here.
It happens, of course, on flat ground. After hiking two and a half miles down into the canyon off Black Mesa, across narrow sandstone ledges and through rock holes and crevasses, and hiking downstream another three miles through no definite trail, up and down benches, crawling through brush, after she'd decides to make the push all the way down to the the Colorado River that night, while walking over some marshy ground, with the weight of her backpack, including seven quarts of water, her right ankle rolls with a stick one way, and her body goes the other, and down, falling on her left side, sharp tearing pain, nausea shooting up her stomach.
She lays there. This can't be good.
She rolls her right foot around, flexing and curling toes. No pain. She moves her right leg, back and forth at the knee. Again, nothing. A vague soreness.
No one there to even see her spectacular fall. She tentatively pushes herself up to standing, wobbling for balance with her pack. Yeah, a little pain with weight. Well, maybe she just twisted it. Walk it off. The old joke her kinda creepy high school soccer coach used to half-kidding say: Are you hurt, or injured?
She walks. Ugh. Pain. But, not shooting pain. Walk some more. Um. I don't know. She puts her feet together. Even with the straps of her sandals stopping the swelling, her right ankle looks like a golf ball. —Shit.
She walks off-trail over to the creek she's been paralleling and crossing all day. Mostly shallow and trickly, but by luck she walks right up to a pool deep enough to soak her foot. She takes off her pack, sits, takes off her sandals and slips both feet in. All she can think about is people blaming her for wearing sandals instead of boots. Despite decades of hiking in sandals. —Fuck. I guess I'm not going to make it to the Colorado today.
A voice in her head said, Tara.
She looks up at the huge red-rock canyon walls, still glowing in late-afternoon sun. It had been a great day, coming down on her mission into the canyon, a Utah-esque BLM wilderness area hidden next to a popular national monument: trickling small stream the whole time, cottonwood and aspens and sage. Ravens and hawks circling up near the edges. Little lizards. Water striders checking out her legs. The creek not very cold—the one time when she could really use that, but feels good. —I gotta get this fucker elevated.
Her mission: To pour her Aunt Jo's ashes in the Colorado River. She could have done it in Vail Pass, at the headwaters, or in Grand Junction, where Jo Jo lived. Used to live. But to backpack into the wilderness, like Jo Jo had taken her when she was twelve, and almost every year since, Tara wanted to make her proud, to make herself proud, she supposed. To show her aunt what a seasoned (as Jo Jo liked to call herself) "outdoorswoman" she had become. Was. With her aunt's help.
Visions and thoughts and plan Bs running through her brain. I'll just stay in camp tomorrow and rest. I'll be fine in 24 hours and can hike back up to Truckie. Or maybe reverse course, slow hike out just in case, camp at the base of the trail up. Or, I'll be fine tomorrow. I'll be fine. Goddammit I'll be fine!
Tara. Lie down.
She looks around and sees a clear sandy spot downstream fifty feet. She stands, pain shooting up her right leg. Shit! Grabbing her sandals in her right hand and her pack in her left, she limp-drags it down to the clearing, a spot where she would have wanted to camp anyways, near the creek, with rocks for burble-sound, but near the now-showing trail in case someone comes. No one will come. No one knows about this place, with no real trail, on a weekday. Not that she would ask for help. She is Tara King and she does not ask anyone for help ever. Ever.
This was supposed to be easy. This is not the Grand Canyon. She's done the Grand Canyon twice with her aunt, and the Grand Canyon is hard. Mee Canyon? Who the hell ever heard of Mee Canyon? Ok, when she bought a map in Grand Junction the bookstore owner said that someone died here a couple weeks ago. But that was up on the hard part, the trail down. Falling off a ledge. She did the hard part.
Not only would people blame her for her sandals, but they would blame her for hiking alone. Her mom especially. She hated that, that people wouldn't ever blame a man for hiking alone and dying. Not that she was going to die. She had water and two days' food. The question was could she get out on schedule before her mom called Search & Rescue. Because fuck Search & Rescue. That's for pussies. Maybe if she broke her leg. This is a sprain. This is fine.
This is not fine.
She lays out her tarp and sleeping pad, placing sandals and water bottles along the edges, using her sleeping bag to elevate her foot, while lying down on the pad with her head propped on the backpack. She moved her foot again, flexing and releasing, curling the toes, tilting it left or right. Left hurts. Not searing tearing pain. Extreme soreness. But the whole foot swollen to the size of a man's. Or of Sasquatch's. Where's a Sasquatch when you need one, to walk quietly out of the trees with some miracle compress which would heal me overnight.
She reaches back over her head into her 'brain'—the top pouch of the backpack—and withdraws the Magic Bottle containing a small collection of random anti-inflamatories and painkillers. She finds a blessed codeine pill left over from her pulled wisdom teeth and gulps it down. She's never used her magic bottle for herself on a trip, only a couple times for others. On hard hikes.
While her brain is open, she pulls out the small metal can, an old looseleaf tea container, and gives a small shake. —Jo Jo, I'm so sorry.
Don't worry about me, Tar Tar. Take care of yourself. I'm not going anywhere.
She pulls out the map. Looking around at the canyon wall formations, she determines where she probably is—closer to the Colorado River than back upstream. Maybe she could hobble down there, catch a ride with a rafting party, and get dropped off on the other side of the river, near a road, which would be sort of close to I-70. But would there be rafters? This early in the year? Would her, or anyone's phone, work out there, in No Woman's Land at the Colorado/Utah border? But according to the map, the next pull-out with a road was eleven miles down, in Utah. Eleven miles by raft was a long-ass day. An OHV area seems to be right across from where Mee Canyon feeds into the Colorado River. Maybe she could get ferried over there by rafters, then get a ride from an ATVer out to the parking area. Yeah, that wasn't to happen. Not like she knew anybody in Grand Junction either—her friends and her mom were all back in Boulder.
After a half-hour of elevation, she gets up to test her foot again. And to pee. Her foot still hurts if she puts too much weight on it. Peeing is a problem. She can't squat. Not even a crouched air drop feels very good. She hops over to, and sits on, an old juniper log by the trail. Number Two also comes. Please don't let anyone come right now. I'm sorry about pooping by the trail.
And she left her toilet paper in her pack. Shit. Literally shit. Time for the sacrifice of a bandana. Wilderness gods—Artemis, Diana, Minerva—forgive me.
She hobbles to the creek for another soak, feeling fuzzy. Codeine, I love you. What's the Gillian Welch song? —You should have seen / me and my codeine / when we used to go dancing / in the war / swept me right off the floor.
Or was it morphine?
You're going to need something to help you get out of here.
—More like a crutch. A cane for the old woman I've become.
Tar Tar, you can't even imagine what you're going to be like when you're old.
—I should have bought some of those ski pole things.
Those are for pussies.
Well, those pussies aren't going to die in the wilderness.
You're not dying. You're hurt real bad, but you're not dying.
—Is that a quote from Reservoir Dogs?
Every good witch needs her staff.
She eyes an aspen sapling next to her and pulls out her Leatherman, unfolding the small saw. —So much for Leave No Trace. Sorry, tree. But thank you.
She saws the base, the wood softer than she thought. Halfway through it leans over under its own weight. —Timber!
She cuts through the rest of the bent fibers and stands, leaning on the tree. —If not a Sasquatch, then an Ent would be nice. But you're too small to be an Ent. It's ok, size doesn't matter. Ha. That's what she said. B-dump-ching! Holy fuck I love codeine.
She leans on the tree back to her spot, leaves shaking. Which seems to help. She spends the rest of the evening trimming the branches and cutting off the top for a shoulder-height staff. She practices hobbling again, then raises her staff above her head. —I am Gandalf! Hear me roar! Ow. That hurt.
Rest, Tar Tar.
—Jo Jo, what am I going to do?!
You're doing it.
—Remember that time we ate shrooms in the Vasquez Wilderness?
Your mom would have killed him. She'd still kill me.
Well, she can't now.
She'd take my ashes back and feed them to her cats.
—Hey! Boots and Scarlett are nice cats!
They'd still eat your eyeballs if you died alone in your house.
Jo Jo! Stop! I might die out here!
You're not going to die.
Still. Something would eat me. Coyotes maybe.
You never talked this much to me in real life. I should've kept you on codeine all the time.
Hey! That's not true!
She has not been hungry, still isn't, but opts for her planned dessert, because fuck it, this is a special occasion. She nibbles four Fig Newman's, idly reading the package. —Fuck! Corn syrup?! Paul, what the serious fuck?
She nestles into her sleeping bag in the cooling evening air and sage scent, moving her pack around to elevate her feet, going over the scenarios again, staring up at the sky, bats circling. If she doesn't head out tomorrow, and just rests here, then she either hikes the whole way out the day after, which she doesn't want to do, or she becomes a day, or two, late, and misses work, which she also doesn't want to do. Well, if she's only worried about being a day late, things can't be that bad. She wonders if she can hobble three or four miles upcanyon tomorrow and camp there. Big if.
—Goodnight, Jo Jo.
Goodnight, Tar Tar.
One last crow caw. Warblers warbling good night. On any other night this would be heaven. It still is. She knows wilderness is a human concept, but she likes the wild. This little BLM Wilderness Area more beautiful than the National Monument it butts up against, which gets a million visitors a year. Here, nobody. That's part of its beauty. Or its necessaryness, its needfulness to her, and she creates the beauty of it after. And yes, the danger, though she admits she never thought, really, that the danger would happen to her. This was not part of the plan. I've ruined the trip.
Tara, this is the trip.
She sighs. —I'm not gonna die. It's just gonna be a painful walk out. Right? Right?
Temp cooling more. Smells good—sage and sand and water. Clear sky. She lies in Figure 4 Pose to keep her foot elevated and scribbles in her notebook. Stars coming out. That first time she went backpacking with her aunt had been, in Sedona, Arizona, which these canyon walls remind her of. She's been in wilderness for fun, and sometimes for work, back a few years when she was a wildland firefighter, and she's never suffered an injury, and yet here she is suffering.
You're not suffering.
—But I am. A little.
You're feeling sorry for yourself.
—Hey! Well, maybe a little.
Actually, right now, laying still as the air and rocks, she isn't. She falls asleep, waking a long time later thinking it's morning but no: the full moon has come across the canyon. I still have more luscious sleep to go.
In the real morning, the swelling in the foot seems to have gone down a little. Not golfball-sized anyway. She hobbles with her staff over to the creek to soak it while the water is still cold—the sun hasn't risen over the canyon walls yet. Still hurts. A sore hurt—not a sharp one—to put weight on it.
A goldfinch observes her. A hummingbird zooms in to a nearby cluster of red flowers.
Well Tar Tar, what's the plan?
She sighs. —Hike hike back to the base of the trail up. Tomorrow will only be 2.5 miles back to Truckie. Uphill, climbing rocks and traversing rock ledges, but still.
She takes an Ibuprofen 800. No more codeine, alas. She dumps all her water. She has a filter. Usually in a Wilderness area she just drinks the pure water, but this creek is a little murky. She should have dumped her water yesterday when she made it down into the canyon, but she kept it so as to have to avoid pumping it and clogging her filter. If she hadn't....
—Alright. But, I can't bring you to the Colorado!
It's fine, Tara.
—Will you stay with me for the rest of the trip?
She suddenly sniffles, tears bubbling down her cheecks.—I miss you so much, Jo Jo.
Oh little Tar Tar. It's alright. I'm here. I always will be.
She sniffs. —Really?
Really. Let's take care of you. Remember R.I.C.E. You need some compression on that ankle.
She rubs her nose. —I don't have any fucking shoes.
Use your bandanas.
She takes her two remaining bandanas out of her brain and wraps them around her ankle.
How's that feel?
—Good. If only psychologically. I guess more stable.
After everything is packed back up, she pops some ibuprofens and raises the pack onto her shoulders, slowly. Mild tender pain. She grabs her staff and bows slightly, like her aunt taught her. Thanks spot. You were a good spot.
And she begins. —Baby steps, Tara, baby steps.
And, she can move. Her ankle throbs dully, but not sharply, unless for some reason she steps at a random angle, when a tearing pain shoots up her legs. Doesn't happen all the time. The staff helps, again maybe psychologically, but also to brace herself on rocks, or crossing the stream. Or going downhill: Going downhill is painful. Fortunately she's going upcanyon. She follows a trail she didn't take down, on the other side of the creek, which leads to a split, two canyons seemingly the same size. She doesn't remember this on her way down. The already sketchy trail is non-existent here. One of these is a big side canyon and she does not want to waste time and energy getting lost.
—Jo Jo, which way?
To the right. You were on the other side of the creek for this last section.
She soon comes on a section of trail she remembers. —Yes!
What, you didn't believe me?
—Well, you are an inanimate voice in my head.
I'm you're Aunt Jo Jo. Remember I always used to say that this is the good thing about being in the wild: the potential to be lost. Even if getting lost sounds awful right now. If you were in the National Monument, there'd be signs everywhere, and an established trail. And people. Ugh.
—Yeah. People do suck.
You must be feeling ok if you're complaining about people. Remember that difficult situations in the Real World, difficult people especially, aren't so difficult after putting yourself in the wild. This is what wilderness is for. To make you think. To make you learn to trust yourself. To teach you to survive.
—Now who's talking a lot?
The sun comes over the canyon edges, making the redrock and creek water glow. Birdsong everywhere. A hawk swoops past and climbs to a cliff. But she can't look, she has to concentrate on her footing, watching every placement of her right foot. One sandstone ledge bordering the creek is agony, the slight angle of it.
But, she's moving. Slowly, and surprisingly not super slow—she had feared having to rest after every step, but there's mostly only the dull pain, and once moving she can absorb it—adrenaline maybe. On flat ground she lifts her staff and takes steps without it. No change. —This will work.
All you, Tar Tar.
She stops to rest and pop more ibus in a still-shady section of sandstone creek, on a short ledge. A hummingbird lands on a juniper and eyes her, or her red outer longsleeve shirt for sun protection. Crows caw up on the rim. Some kind of robin, but with a tufted mohawk hairdo drops down for a drink from a pool. Her foot throbs vaguely. She doesn't know what time it is, blessedly not having a watch and her phone is buried in her brain. Back in the city it feels the other way around.
Her ankle has stiffened during the pause, but loosens up as she moves again. She crashes through brush, gets sucked into a mud bog, but also breaks out into lightly shady openings of cottonwoods. Or she rock-hops straight up the creek when the 'path' vanishes, though her rock-hopping is less hopping than leaning from one to the other with the staff, even rolling her body up and over big ones.
She makes good time, and arrives with the sun high in the sky at the base of the trail up, where a cave or large underhang welcomes her to shade, carved out by the creek. Here the trail becomes established because a quarter-mile upstream the stream flows through an even larger 'cathedral' cave—the destination of day-hikers. This smaller cave has a fire ring and logs for benches, on sand. She was here only yesterday, her lunch spot. Seems like a week. Still early afternoon, but she'll camp here. She doesn't want to try the climb out and end up hurt again as night falls. Besides, she's actually still on schedule: tomorrow was when she was going to climb out anyways.
Let's light a fire!
Jo Jo! I'm shocked and appalled!
They never did this when backpacking. Aunt Jo never liked leaving a scar, or risking a wildfire, but this is an established ring, and it gives her something to do that doesn't require walking. With more than a few pages from her notebook, and sticks and dry leaves from nearby, and a lighter (which she does always carry in case of emergency) she gets a flame going and puts on some larger pieces already gathered by someone. The fire feels surprisingly comforting, the heat good in the cool cave, though sunshine shines twenty feet away.
Ok. Let's soak that ankle again.
—The creek's too shallow.
Build a little damn.
Tara limps over to the creek and sits, stacking rocks and scooping mud, which always keeps her occupied while resting. The water is slightly cooler here in the cave.
How's the foot?
Does it hurt?
—A constant low throb, I guess. Which is better than I thought.
Take more drugs.
Next to the fire, she lays out her tarp and sleeping pad, taking a prescription Tylenol from her magic bottle, elevating her feet on her pack, and takes a long deep nap.
When she wakes, she builds up the fire, putting on two larger logs.
You seem better.
—I feel better! The hike out will be fine. I'm even thinking about the pizza I'm gonna eat in GJ.
Garlic onions and spinach.
But then just sitting and watching the fire and scribbling in her notebook, she moves her foot and a jolt of pain shoots up. Maybe the meds are wearing off. —Oh codeine!
When the sun passes beyond the canyon wall she rolls out her bag and, surprisingly, just goes to sleep again, early, which feels wonderful.
Up with the birds in the morning, unusually.
Good morning, Tara. You usually like to sleep late on trips.
—I'm worried about the hike out. I just want to just get it over with, whatever happens. Maybe the earlier I hurts myself again, the earlier someone will find me.
What?! I'm joking!
She packs, pops ibu, tightens her bandanas around her bigfoot foot, and starts up the canyon wall.
Just take it easy when you get to the crazy shit.
—Um, I think the whole climb out is the crazy shit.
All the big rocks she slid down she now has to climb up, made crazier by not being able to use one foot. So, scraping knees and elbows. But she can use her hands and arms here, the staff not so useful for this section.
She rests at the really crazy part: the narrow ledge fifteen feet above, accesible by a short narrow chimney to the right, which she'd basically almost jumped down on the descent.
—I can't do it.
Yes you can.
—Not with my pack. Maybe with both feet working, but not now.
So take off your pack.
I'm not leaving my pack!
Well, that for sure means you're not dying. I dying person would leave their pack.
I'm not leaving my pack!
I didn't tell you to. What did I teach you to always carry?
—I don't know. Lots of things. Oh.
So she gets out some 'p-cord'—thing nylon rope which weighs nothing, and ties one end to her pack, unfurling the rest and putting tying the other end to a belt loop. She tosses her staff up and over. In the chimney she has to do more pulling than pushing, not using her right foot at all, worming her way up to the ledge, about a foot wide and ten feet long. Holding the p-cord, she inches across, not sure if her ankle won't give out at the wrong time and cause her to lose balance. But she makes it and pulls her pack up, the nylon burning her hands a little.
See? Sin problema!
More scrambling, the staff an annoyance more than anything, because she wants to use her hands to lean into the rock.
Don't toss it.
—Ugh. Why not?!
You'll need it later.
Another ledge to a hole in the wall she has to crawl through, pulling her pack after. Finally to the Navaho ladder—the one human-made section, built by the BLM because otherwise the way up would be out and over on a narrow rock fin. The ladder used to be bolted to the rock, but the bolts have worn loose. Coming down with a full pack felt like if she'd just leaned back an inch her center of gravity would have carried the whole thing over. Better with a light pack, though still loose. The one place so far where the bum ankle is not a problem, though once up, she has another narrow ledge—not so bad in the scariness, but it tilts up to her right, which puts her foot at a painful angle. Plus she thinks she wrapped the bandanas too tight this morning—her whole foot throbbing, more as she gets up on top of the mesa—out of the redrock onto the sage and juniper and cryptobiotic soil (with cow prints—thank you BLM and ranchers) but still a slog uphill along an old two-track.
You got this now, Tar Tar.
—Why does this hurt more?!
Slower and slower, her foot now really throbbing. She wants to tear off the damn bandanas, but thinks she's almost there, except she's not almost there until, finally, she is there, at the trailhead, and Truckie. She shakes off her pack and leans against the hot metal and cries.
Tar Tar. Pobrecita. You did it! I'm so proud of you.
—But I didn't get you to the river.
Oh who cares about that. That was your idea anyways. This is the best present I could have.
—Maybe I'm crying because I have to say goodbye.
—Maybe I take you on the next one.
I'd like that. But you don't need my ashes to do it.
—What do you mean?
I mean you don't have to carry around a can full of ashes for the rest of your life.
—You mean you want me to dump them here?! In the parking lot?
This all drains down into the Colorado eventually anyways.
It's fine! Todo bien!
—Not todo bien!
But she took the can out of her brain. —Really?
—I'll do it over here.
She walked to a juniper and opened the can, taking a deep breath.
Just kidding. Go ahead.
—Jesus christ, Jo Jo.
She took another breath and poured. Grey chunks and powder tumbled out. A breeze appeared and blew some of the powdery parts into the juniper branches.
This is nice. But call your mom now and tell her you're ok. I'll see you on the next trip!
Of course! I mean, you still have to drive out of here in a stick shift, but hey.
It was all you. Tell your mom I said hello.
The last of the dust trickled out of the can.
Friday, May 19, 2023
My essay "Tripod Lookout Blues" now up at THE JOURNAL, the literary journal of OSU! The editors were very cool to work with, and encouraged me to get wierder rather than conventional. Essay is, of course, from the end of my summer at Tripod Lookout in Idaho.
Friday, May 12, 2023
Just found out that a haiku of mine was accepted into the Museum of Northern Arizona's bus lines program, where a poem is paired with a piece of artwork from the museum and appears on a city bus. (I think that's how it works.) And check out the art they paired my poem with! "Sunset Horse" by Paul Dyck. Follow the link to see all poems and artwork, including a poem by my barefoot friend Thea Gavin.
Monday, May 8, 2023
Friday, May 5, 2023
written and directed by Nida Manzoor
Part of the pleasure for an American audience is the sort-of ‘come out of nowhere-ness’ of Polite Society: none of the actors are well-known here, and most are relative newcomers. Even writer/director Nida Manzoor is somewhat new—she directed the British tv series We Are Lady Parts, and a couple Doctor Who shows in 2020. She has crafted a quirky comedy about Pakistani-British teens trying to fit in in contemporary London, and there is a higher pleasure in how all these relative newcomers can come together and make a good, funny, movie with, incidentally, characters and a cast of (secular) muslims.
Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) is a fifteen year old immersed in western pop culture, with plans to be a stuntwoman and work in Marvel movies (Or, as they say in Britain, apparently, to work in “a Marvel.” She attends a private girls school (which, in England, confusedly, are called public schools) and takes karate lessons, while posting videos (“vids”) of herself reciting Marvel-esque lines combined with martial arts moves, to her website (not Instagram, actually) which is titled, Kahn-Fu.
Her older sister Lena (played by Ritu Arya) is eighteen to maybe twenty, an art-school dropout in low-grade goth depression, frustrated that she’s not ‘good enough’ as an artist, but unsure of what else to do. Ria adores her older sister, and looks to her as a role model, so when Lena is set up in an arranged marriage with the handsome rich Salim Shah (played by Akshay Khanna)—and actually ends up enjoying his company and becomes happy quits her artistic aspirations—Ria is devastated: If Lena gives up her dreams, then how can Ria hope to accomplish hers? Thus, Ria goes into superhero mode in order to rescue Lena from this sinister arranged-marriage plot.
The funny part is, of course, that there might actually be a plot, beyond the arranged marriage. Thus, Polite Society nudges into an homage-to-Marvel action movie, all the while still keeping with Bollywood-ish conventions: there is still a dance scene, in which Ria sings with the overdubbed voice of a much older woman. But also martial arts! With women in full traditional (gorgeous) Pakistani-muslim marriage dresses whirling and twirling in the air.
After Ria has convinced her nerd friends to help her rescue her sister from marriage, all three of them raise their fists and yes, “Down with the patriarchy!” What they don’t realize is that they’re actually taking on the matriarchy. In British-Pakistani society, or at least as it’s portrayed int Polite Society, the mothers have all the power and the do all the scheming. Ria’s dad (played by Jeff Mirza) is just a middle-class office cog, deferring to his wife in all matters, including the arranged marriage—the most interesting line he has is when the whole family attends a soirée at the Shahs. On their arrival, looking at the huge Shah house, he says simply, “Shit.” He’s fully aware of the class difference between the two families and doesn’t feel worthy. Ria’s mom (Shobu Kapoor) is also fully aware of the class difference: that’s why she wants to get Lena married, to marry up and into the Shah lifestyle.
Ria accuses Lena “going Jane Austen” in going along with the arranged marriage to a rich man. Lena counters that, like Austen’s characters, she’s still choosing to do so. The appeal of Austen, and of Polite Society, is the feeling in young people that they’re still not in control of their own lives and that parents still push their children (especially the girls) into lives they don't want. This is amplified in Polite Society. After all, marriages from the Indian sub-continent are still mostly arranged. writer/director Nida Manzoor’s agenda is obviously that Pakistani families should embrace the freedom of choice, in marriage and, as it’s put in the movie, in what one wants ‘to do’—meaning a job but also a life. These are issues that most people still go through, so that, even in this supposed unique sub-culture of British-Pakistani families, there is a universal appeal, even as Manzoor celebrates the differences too.
Polite is always a façade, society in the ‘high society’ sense is always a façade, which covers up what people really think, otherwise society would collapse—according to society. Ria speaks freely, speaks her thoughts—she’s not polite. She doesn’t want to fit in to polite British-Pakistani-Muslim society. To Ria, Lena becomes the example of what becoming polite means, or what happens: she goes from impolite goth-muslim to something else—something designed by adults. And though polite gets her the handsome rich Pakistani boyfriend, is also gets her conformity, just like what happened to her mom, and all the other older Pakistani women. Ria senses that the creative life isn’t so much a goal, as a process, a life, a way of living. The tension in the movie is of course, like it is with young people in any society, whether Ria and Lena can choose their own lives, and be supported in that act. That process.
Sunday, April 30, 2023
Saturday, April 22, 2023
Ithaka (2022) (also now up at SPLICE TODAY in slightly different form, under the title "Chronicling Julian Assange and Wikileaks."
Directed by Ben Lawrence
The new documentary Ithaka assumes viewers have a decent knowledge of Julien Assange and what has been done to him by the US and UK governments, though curious newcomers can learn the highlights, through news clips and interviews: Assange is being tried under the US Espionage Act, ostensibly for publishing classified documents—which revealed US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. That was back with Democrats were fine with Wikileaks, the organization Assange founded, because the war crimes were committed by the Bush Administration, back when Democrats hated Bush. What really cause the US government to go after Assange was when he published the leaked emails of Hillary Clinton advisor John Podesta, which Democrats claimed tipped the election to Trump. Lest people forget—because Americans have very short political memories—it was the Trump Administration (or, the State Department within the Trump administration) which actually went ahead with the extradition request, and the espionage charges. The Obama Administration at least knew the consequences of charging a publisher of leaked documents.
Ithaka follows both Assange’s wife Stella Assange (née Moris) but especially his father, John Shipton, as they work each do what they can to raise awareness of Assange’s situation. Viewers also see some of their daily lives, which have been disrupted ever since Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he probably would have then faced extradition to the United States. The movie doesn’t go into the nuts and bolts of the actual legal process, and in fact at the time of filming, not many journalists—or people at all—were allowed either in Belmarsh Prison in the UK, nor into the courtroom, with COVID lockdown protocols providing a convenient excuse at the time, but also because that’s the way authorities want it: Assange is not allowed to give interviews, or have a voice at all, though at times in the movie we hear bits of conversation between he and Stella.
The film could have easily focused on Stella Assange—she has a very full life taking care of their two children, helping with the legal battles, and being one of the main PR voices, but the choice to include more footage of John, Assange’s father is intentional. Early on, Stella compares John to Julian, saying that they’re a lot alike in temperament, intelligence, and humor, and—since film crews have no access to Assange—the best way to ‘see’ Julian, to learn about him, is to observe his father.
John is also a good model for the rest of us: he was not involved or interested in politics until Julian started Wikileaks, and even then not until Julian’s persecution. But in the movie he’s sharp, knows all about the political forces at work in the UK, US, Europe and Australia. He and Julian’s brother, Gabriel Shipton, a filmmaker and one of the producers, attended the screening of Ithaka I attended, in Salem, Oregon, and John Shipton impressed everyone with his insights and analysis. As the movie shows, he was a building contractor before the family troubles. He shows how, if one is motivated enough, a good understanding of world politics, and the ability to critique it, can be learned by any of us ‘normal’ working-class folks.
At the Q&A after the screening, John and Gabriel both stressed their surprising hopefulness in the strength of the people to control their governments. They cite the recent movement by some ‘progressive’ Representatives in the house calling for the Biden administration to drop any and all charges against Assange. This may feel like too little too late to some, but I understand the desire of the father of Julian Assange to want to have hope. As the movie shows, the support coming from governments around the world, including the US, is bipartisan: Libertarians and leftists are well aware what is at stake.
The most moving words John spoke at the Q&A were describing how our First Amendment, which says, in part: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press....” is THE inspiration for other governments and human rights activists. If Assange is extradited, he will inevitably be convicted of espionage in the US, for the publishing of leaked documents demonstrating US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan—a conviction which has never happened before and which would make any journalist or news organization who uses leaked documents open to the same persecution. Which is why the five big news organizations who used the Wikileaks documents have now, finally, come around to defending Assange. Unfortunately, US propaganda is so strong that Democrats and other centrists now openly favor censoring news that doesn’t come from government-approved sources, so as to avoid ‘misinformation.’
At the time of the writing of this review, Ithaka is being screened for one-night-only events at independent cinemas, though it was officially released in the US back in November 2022. John and Gabriel are touring with the movie in the US, and Stella at some showings in Europe. The Q&A was worth staying for, as was seeing the movie in a full theatre: at times, based on the mostly mainstream media blackout about Assange and the fate of our First Amendment, one can feel a little isolated, thinking that no one cares. Being in a room full of like-minded people was a hopeful experience: at least some people care. The highlight of the night was when the movie showed an excerpt from Biden’s acceptance speech, where he praises, with a straight face, the value and importance of ‘truth.’ A woman in back yelled out, “You sit on a throne of lies!” And everyone laughed and clapped.
Friday, April 21, 2023
Originally appeared in the Canadian literary journal THE LIT QUARTERLY (no longer with us) back in 2021.
What thoughts I have of you Vincent reading your letters traveling thru Amsterdam + Antwerp + Brussels watching you go through obsessions: being a pastor, your cousin, painting seeing how people saw you as naive idiot. If only they'd read you tho they saw your art + did nothing + I secretly thought about being a minister except don't like people even Unitarians so just studied religions on my own. Never learned to draw would've just drawn naked ladies. My favorite paintings not even in your museum: the smoking skull + peasant's shoes tho that from Heidegger's essay + were they really a peasant woman's shoes or just your own like in the Willem Defoe movie. Sharing your love of the dignity of the poor and sadness that they reject creatives. I too want to live in a small town in the country + write poems but I'd get shot too tho I like fitting in in cities like Portland + Salem, everyone in Brussels + Antwerp thinks I'm German which I guess is a compliment even w/Germany holding austerity over everyone's heads making the poor pay for the mistakes + greed of the rich but I like free flow of people across borders like you had + your disinterest in manual labor not laziness like your father accused—you saw lower class working life as a no-win situation after the coal mines of southern Belgium. Something else growing in your heart, crazy thought that people would pay you money for art + thinking too of your brother Theo, his monthly payments keeping you alive out of love not pity—he was maybe the only who didn't, taking your letters to heart + saving them all! Only more amazingly Johanna recognized their value when you both died. You could've been a writer, a dutch Charles Dickens but saw not in words but light tho my favorites the dark ones, all blacks + browns and were you bi-polar? Your letters seem uncomfortably so—your uninvited pursuit of your cousin (tho violence never anything you'd resort to) making me almost skip ahead a year or two. Also your begging + bitterness + gratefulness to Theo for money. He always knew you'd do something even when no one would buy your paintings + neither did you cut off your ear for a whore but for Gauguin by way of apology to say you're right I didn't listen to you or to spite him + say I won't listen to you. You just gave it to the barmaid you both knew as if that was ok somehow but shows people believe what they want to believe—love for a whore making a better story than love for another man('s paintings) + we mostly see what we want to see except when people like you come along and show us not another world but another way to see ours ourselves in it + creating it which is what Heidegger thought though you wouldn't have liked him but with you seeing is feeling, maybe that was the problem w/your cousin or your whole life seeing + feeling + no one feeling what you saw + felt which means how we see light is how we feel—Dear Vincent, your letters come at a good time or the right time—I came all the way here just to read them just to need them + your light.
I went to Antwerp + toured old tunnels, open-air sewers-canals
Napoleon ordered covered in true dictator make-the-trains-run-on-time
fashion. Thinking of you in the coal mines—rats + weird white fuzz
from their droppings, big spiders thriving in warm air, secret door
to Jesuit church in case of peasant uprising + not to sneak
out to see whores bien sûr—History of the sewers history of
the city along w/old printing presses of Museum Plantin-Moretus +
original Gutenberg Bible which even I find holy. You walking beaches
in England talking already of leaving city for country + quiet but
torn b/c of the community of painters (I just accidentally wrote
community of writers) in cities tho they all seem to mock you,
knowing that when you do move to southern light peasants will too you
can't win but at least there will be walks in woods + a friendly
barmaid to give you a notebook which will be lost for a hundred
years. Everything you do no one will care except Theo not even your
common-law wife who will leave you because you're too poor for even
her. In a park now in sun near chess players, Hôtel de Ville tower
of La Grande Place, trees not yet budding tho young men smoking bud,
children in gilles jaunes future budding protestors tho elites
have figured out how to take down mobs: accuse anti-semitism and
they'll fight amongst themselves while real anti-semites go to top
positions or in Amerika just accuse sexual harassment or sex in
general + everyone pretends to be horrified. No one knows who's lying
anymore so everyone becomes liars even especially ones speaking truth
which can't be spoken or not all of it not all the time but I liked
your Zola quote:
observer ce qui plaît au public est toujours ce qu'il y a de plus banal, ce qu'on a coutume de voir chaque année, on est habitué à de telles fadeurs, à des mensonges si jolie, qu'on refuse de toute sa puissance les véritès fortes
reminds me of They Live when the best friend fights almost to the death to avoid putting on the sunglasses to see aliens among us + their subliminal messages which is how your letters feel—surrounded by aliens going out of their way to make you feel bad about yourself though these strolling sun people seem ok—I guess the aliens are in the European Parliament conspiring austerity while sincerely wanting economic power to equal Amerika's tho everyone here speaks english especially the Dutch so much theirs will become a dead language, all of which to say I wish you were here to play chess or I'd sit quietly while you sketched. The light is good.
I see mistakes coming in your letters: living with a woman because you pity her: not love even if you find friendship + tho saying she has become a better person because of you sounds egotistical something is there—two people can + should make each other better people like a band makes musicians better tho I'd like to think it's not relationship or even family—that we all make each other better people in the world but something gets lost + we become trolls + thinking you can save anyone is a trap which is why the Bodhisattva Vow is bullshit, mighty convenient someone will put off enlightenment until all beings attain it yet if we can help someone we should tho a drowning person can pull you under and a dead firefighter's no good to anyone but I wonder if my letters when younger (or now) reveal paths that should have been less taken, if recipients wrote 'uh oh' in margins like I'm doing—firefighting, N., K., New York, grad school, teaching, all interesting if only in the chinese-curse way, all leading right here right now writing in a café in Brussels just like all your mistakes led to your paintings. I know you would have said it was all worth it—not the part about becoming famous after death but the part when still alive, the process, days spent in dunes sketching learning texture turning two dimensions to three + hours in bliss creation which Heidegger used your shoes for to say was necessary, that all along you were helping create the world, paintings + poems the stamp of it. Some would say just sitting still for long periods creates a better world too tho I don't know—meditating seems to right already-wrongs while writing or playing music seems to create the new out on the edge of reality—Basho + Issa did both but I share your need to be out in the woods. I wish you could visit my lookout tower this summer. The women here wear short skirts + tights sometimes which is nice but I don't know how to talk to them w/o seeming strange either, nor do I have any money but you never talk about music which you never had in your life because poor except maybe someone with a fiddle at the pub tho even that what I want to believe—I saw a german movie about painting, Werk Ohne Autor, changed in english bizarrely to Never Look Away but which anyway comes to the conclusion that artists always work with the 'ich' even if they don't realize—no big revelation to you though radical these decades, but the film more conservative than it wanted to admit: ultimate goal of even liberal artists being to get married and have kids + the guy's wife studying fashion design just ends up a mom after working in a factory + being a manic pixie dream girl tho I'd forgive much from an artist who paints like that except Ted Nugent was a great guitarist + a total asshole. I loved the Banksy paintings in Amsterdam for their political satire—also from the ich—+ the girl w/her heart balloon drifting away: did it slip or did she let it go?
I don't understand people sometimes a lot of times + neither could you in their simple cruelty + lies. I keep thinking I see my old girlfriend the one fluent in German—if I saw anybody in Europe would be her tho I'd expect her to be in Stuttgart or Tübingen. I couldn't resist if it were the sex would be hot. I could do with some hot sex to cover my loneliness. I only get lonely in cities wandering back streets all morning buying Tales of Unrest by Conrad thinking of writing stories questioning not colonialism as much as capitalism which is its cause—social justice warriors perfectly fine w/capitalism—thinking if we just change the leaders everything will be fine + I'm in a café everyone sitting in the cold sun smoking. Bartender thinks I'm british she gave me two sugar cubes just as I'm reading a poem by Bukowski in Les jours s'en vont which I never liked before about a boy feeding horses sugar cubes 'like ice to eagles' somehow the french works for me. He rarely used similes usually just things in themselves. I see you shambling through La Haye in secondhand clothes, all argent going to paints + stamps + yr prostitute girlfriend, not that that was her fault nor even something to be ashamed of tho we all are—ashamed not prostitutes—or maybe it's the other: these days writers have to pay for the chance of publication in reading fees + contests which are just reading fees + none of us will win nevertheless I have poems coming out in The Chiron Review + a long one in the South Dakota Review on this cloudy cold day someone somewhere wants to publish me + someone somewhere—complete strangers—will read me + someone somewhere will even read these letters + think of us + I'm hungry—two falafels for lunch weren't enough—I've been skipping breakfast trying to eat cheap in general. I'd love to be more European mais ça coute chère + you have decided to leave your common-law wife + her kids even knowing she may go back to prostitution but staying isn't doing you or her any good: you need light + space + time to paint to live. Again I'll say you can't stay with someone out of pity. I feel bad for the children but they aren't yours + she won't allow it + she has extended family who all think you're a loser anyways—allons-y! You will be poor + unsuccessful your whole life, you will lose your friendship with Gauguin + be laughed at in the streets, you will be shot by a kid dressed like Billy The Kid but you will have put brush to canvas, ink to paper.
In Bruges! Someone playing "Sweet Dreams" as I climbed the spiral staircase the Belfort, up to dozens of huge bells wired to giant music box carillon with attached keyboard + the Prelude to Bach's first Cello Suite standing right under them LOUD + literally heavy metal. Of course you had church music which must have been magical, probably the only reason I would have gone to church tho you protestants were minimalist back then (scene from Mary, Queen of Scots of bearded scottish minister in the cold dark church, offended a woman would dare hold the throne). I'm sure trains back in your day were just as annoying as now even without cellphones loud people talking when all I want to do is take a nap tho the view: farmland + villages + actual houses + fields, stands of old-growth forest don't exist here anymore—people here don't even realize—no wolves or bears or lions. X-PO Museum had a collection of Picasso illustrations including the Don Quixote + Sancho + Dove of Peace, listing painters he was influenced by: Gauguin + Toulouse-Latrec your friends but not you. Hard to believe + sad—another insult. He must have loved Starry Night + your sketches of lower-class women. I am tired + thirsty from walking all day over cobblestone + en español Bruges se llama Brujas: Witches, great name for a city tho not what it means en français or dutch, being a shortened name for by-the-sea. I did go into the cathedral—didn't burst into fire—all that work + detail paid by tithing the poor who probably didn't even mind or maybe merchants. The light good today—spring here in february with snow in Tucson + Las Vegas.
Most uncomfortable in yr letters the necessity of asking for money you think you deserve, dependent on Theo even when he angers you—what all artists go thru in various ways but better than selling soul or body even though feels like it + maybe just is but also your parents not understanding nor anyone really except Theo tho not until later will he + Johanna know how good you are. Yesterday I walked around Bruxelles w/Reagan, we sat in a small park + talked like dozens of others in the sun for free. You getting out of the city for the light though your black + white work reflecting interiors of rooms + lives while your paints taught to re-see exterieurs + surfaces + Gauguin never had texture—I'm waiting for him to go out of fashion as a colonialist exploiter of women of color tho fortunately naked ladies in general are still ok—nobody'll come after Picasso or even Modigliani tho I wonder if Klimt's clothed ladies will ever be recognized. Painting naked ladies a good way to pick up chicks along w/having a motorcycle + playing the guitar tho Reagan theorizes that les filles don't like creatives anymore, his students rolling their eyes at boyfriends in bands. Can't fault them for not wanting to be manic pixie dream girls anymore. I always wanted a fellow creative on the road but keep missing her—anyways might be like Rutger Hauer tells Joan Chen in Blood of Heroes that juggers can't fuck each other tho in the end they do at least once. All of which is to say Vincent that I await your escape to France for days of happiness if still poor then at least free tho already your dark moods appearing but I like to think of Head of A Skeleton which you painted with a lit self-rolled cigarette: that you kept some humor in yr life if not your letters that there might have been laughter.
Bought my ticket back to Amsterdam: less than a week left in Bruxelles—trop vite! Trying not to think about l'argent I've spent not so much trips to Antwerp + Brujas as daily meals. Oui, des frites but halfway healthy falafels + phô tho sometimes can't resist a baguette at a boulangerie nibbling + walking thru streets flaneuring but losing weight by walking everywhere—didn't end up being a big french-speaking trip hélàs, everyone just speaks english on hearing my accent. My social life the same as in Amerika: in bed by ten, certainly not going to just walk up to les femmes + talk—what kind of madman would attempt that? Meanwhile sitting in a café w/really loud music which prevents people talking on phones tho I'd prefer those Brujas bells + more Bach—I wonder if you ever got to hear Bach even on the organ, not just Toccata + Fugue in D Minor (saddest of all keys) but all of it pretty dark + intense + non-christian-y. Bach in his solo instrument works created ways to sound like more than one person, Whitman's 'I contain multitudes'—ourselves in concert with ourselves or con-versation. Charles Bukowski saw you as a role model: creating in and out of poverty and la lucha tho he would've thought the ear being for Gauguin pathetic + chastised you for seeking community w/other artists but I've had that void all my life too sitting there staring back at me. A gutshot a slow + painful way to go yet you never denounced the kid—there's a story we'll never know the middle of. Your last painting of yellow wheatfields, yr happy color tho The Bedrooms look sick + warped but of course it's closest to pure light. I'm in the wind in that field + wheat-light with yr need for bread + heat + smell of ploughed earth, crow caws + trees bustling in their hedgerows, smile of the barmaid bringing wine end of the day.
Je viens de manger dans un resto syrie, falafels et du riz et something a little like channa masala w/pita bread which isn't called pita tho the owner refilled my basket w/great concern very happy I was enjoying myself, making me real moroccan tea stuffed with mint. I wanted to apologize for my government but neither of our french was up for that task—imagine what Belgium did to the Congo—did you know at all what was going on—+ would you have liked Heart of Darkness? Imagine choosing between english + french to write novels in—Conrad knew polish wasn't going to get him anything. Your later letters in french + I'm studying latin in which you sometimes drop phrases in your letters. Cicero now a literary + political hero ending up with head + hands chopped off: warning to other writers + democracy lovers. What happened to you in Divinity school in Amsterdam? One letter you're excited to become a pastor the next a year later you're bitter + mocking religion tho you never stopped being spiritual. Art was God. I'm in my room now probably as small as some of yours + yes even yellow walls! In early for the evening to write letters + read, a young beautiful frenchwoman playing piano in the room next door, a Chopin nocturne....
Less than a week—I leave Brussels on Sunday, reading your letters here in this library café—maybe I'll meet a bookish women + have a tryst tho my thinking always goes well I'll be gone soon so why try + since I'm always going to be gone soon....Today a man asked me for directions to the Magritte Museum, my accent apparently so bad he switched to english to say 'sank you'. I swear 15 years ago my spoken french was pas mal but I'm not sure you would have liked Magritte—too sleek with weird apples + eyes not a true reflection of reality which you wouldn't have done tho Yellow Room looks odd—I suspect it's how you really saw it somehow + certainly Starry Night plus Magritte was rich + famous in his lifetime. My favorite of his an outline of a bird in flight thru it sky + clouds—sky + clouds flying and he did use lots of light as much your wheatfields. Are yr self-portraits a lack of money for models? Some get odd—bright pinks + greens + of course yellows—seeing yourself different—which Magritte never did nor Picasso to my knowledge + a woman who actually liked you had a nervous breakdown, everyone including yr family blaming you, the local minister offering yr models money not to pose for you which they didn't accept but the message clear: you are not welcome wherever you go. Theo eventually lets you work in his gallery in Paris. Speaking of letting—I got an essay accepted in an academic journal special issue on Green Theory + Praxis + creative writing which anytime anyone uses the word praxis look out but included contract stating I wouldn't get paid, that I couldn't re-use my own essay for any for-profit publication + that I'd have to get permission, for a small fee, from them to reprint. I wrote back about rewriting the contract but the professor/editor wrote back no, not possible but that he'd be 'happy' to 'allow' me to use the piece again. el muy hijo de puta académico—va te faire foutre! Glad I got out of academia when I did otherwise I'd've punched someone in the face. My friend Rick advised to go along with it + simply ignore the contract later if/when I ever get a collection of essays published (ha).
Your teeth falling out in your thirties. You smoke too much, you're sick + dizzy + only eat bread to save enough argent for paints + inks + canvas—True that in your self-portraits you're never smiling. I'm close to losing a tooth or two—bottom incisors loose. Then I'll never get chicks except chicks w/no teeth. Can't afford an operation which may or may not help, not covered by insurance so no more apples! One of yr letters you write Theo about expenses saying you have to buy dresses for yr models to wear—is there something going on Vincent? Is this related to why the villagers hated you? Something else certainly—yr dizziness, depression, doctors telling you you need to rest yet you need to work to make money to have a place to rest in. A woman who saw yr hands + thought you were an iron worker. I'm sure Magritte's hands were fine—his whole life was fine. People still thought Bukowski looked homeless after he bought a house in San Pedro + drove a BMW. One time in Jackson at Key Largo Lounge I came in wearing a p-coat + watch cap + everyone stared, woman barfly convinced I was a private investigator, said I was lying when I told her I taught english. Thankfully now not, tho miss being in the classroom when learning was going on either by me or my students—I still have thoughts of going all-out Paulo Friere turning the class over to the students having them decide what + how to learn from each other—would chaos ensue or actual learning or both? I never slept with a student tho got a few offers—not sure if it makes it better I wanted to fuck the smartest but anyways now I'm a fire lookout + un espión en Bruxelles trying to determine how real people live in lonely cities + who actually wears all this lingerie here it's madness. I guess I could play more music if I lived here + did go to a zen sit one night so could survive as long as I had a quiet room that's all you need just a space in the world + the brain to create a clearing to gather force + push out again. What if you had gone to Amerika + ended up in Taos like Georgia O'Keefe painting buffalo skulls + got run out of town there too or shot by a cowboy. Last day of sun—came in w/cold rain will go out w/it. Violinist busking near Mont des Arts professional-level Bach sonata + everyone just passes him by....
So glad you're going to Paris to work for Theo. Every time I go there it's cold + rainy but it'll be good for you to work in the gallery studying paintings + access to others in museums—your painting + thinking will change forever + you'll get to talk to other painters most especially Gauguin. I liked the line from yr last letter about women: Les relations avec les femmes sont d'une grande importance pour l'art. You said a wife would better yr art + yet your art did not suffer for lack of one. Maybe it would have turned out different tho I feel the same always always wanting approval of women but not sure if you mean just a manic pixie dream girl because I've always wanted a woman who has her own thing: cellist or mandolin player or fellow poet-jugger even a politician as long as radically liberal (but please god not an academic or composition instructor) when really I just fall in love w/baristas + banktellers b/c they're the only ones I talk to + they smile at me. Watching a beautiful interesting woman enter a café or even just a beautiful one when I'm writing feels like I could either talk to her or create—that desire turning into + onto the page to write something she would praise tho to give it to her would be creepy I suppose—keeping her in ideal mode b/c nothing ever works tho there have been women just like you described Vincent where I have to talk to her— not in a while maybe I don't want to or think I do but I just like to be alone tho I'd like to paint someone's toenails sometimes. Too scared of rejection scared of disappointment scared of hurting someone scared my sexual perversions won't align w/her sexual perversions tho have to say I've been lucky in that regard—that or a lot more women are sexually perverse than we think. I'm probly making you blush or degoutant-ing you. I'm just interested in the sexual-profane + spiritual + you in the sexual-spiritual which you later drop to spiritual which is how you start thinking you'll be a pastor in England. Maybe I'll stop thinking about sex but not here in Bruxelles w/all these black tights. They're everywhere Vincent, we'd better go to the woods + become shepherds.
I hope París goes well—less letters from you. I'm in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts w/Dutch Masters, you're not here—too late. You surely must have seen Bruegal, may not have liked the weird stuff but surely appreciated satire of Dutch society. La Chutte des Anges Rebelles using images from Amerika like an armadillo to portray a devil. Did you ever see Bosch? Where did he come from? Heavy metal 500 years before heavy metal he must have horrified you tho perhaps you'd like Breugal's La Chute D'Icare. I already knew it from William Carlos Williams + Auden so won't try to top their descriptions (this is Europe—to stand where masters stood) except to say there's a narrative and/or a lesson, something you never wanted in a painting. Line up your self-portraits you'd get the Andy Warhols in Brujas—Otherwise it's a whole bunch of dying Christs in here. Jan Brueghal (Bruegal's son) also got weird, especially Bacchus orgies + naked ladies. La Tour de Babel by Joos de Momper horrifying in its way—in collaboration w/Frans Francken who did the rich people in the foreground checking out how things are going changing the parable a little tho the tower looming-ish + even tho I got here early to avoid the crowds the place still overrun w/field-trip children—younger ones seem to handle museums better w/wonder but any older + all they want to look at is each other. Not sure what the hell I would have thought at seven if I'd seen a Bosch in person—nightmares for years. Back then in museums I learned it was ok to like naked ladies which was so totally wrong in Amerika or that is we all like them but we're shamed to look meaning sex which was true back then thus Bacchus orgy paintings—not real sex just a myth to show how bad it is but more interesting than portraits of rich people in poofy white collars tho curators did a good job showing earlier crowd scenes + temptations of St. Anthonies to show where Breugal came from. Maybe Vincent you didn't paint demons because you were yr own but now I'm tired + my feet are sore time for lunch.
You're already in Arles inspired + painting! París couldn't have been too bad if you stayed almost three years—longest anywhere since you started sur la route. I didn't stay anywhere for more than eight months in the 90s. I laughed in one letter how painters degoutent you just like people. I sometimes feel that way about poets (+ their poetry) who probably feel the same about me: spent two years in a MFA program with people who wrote stuff like 'My name is Veronica / I live in a harmonica', came out 30,000 in debt + no real friends. Was happy to leave. No one from class ever wrote or published again. I wonder if we'd have Gauguin w/o you pushing for him w/Theo. You only sold one painting in your lifetime + yet continue: the process is the meaning. One would like to think misery not a precondition to creation we just neglect other things supposedly more important + you've given up love, quoting Richepin: l'amour de l'art fait perdre l'amour vrai. It's more like you never found love + so immersed yrself in love of art tho who am I to write about love I don't believe in it only like + lust I guess ergo no relationship in 15 years + that a long-distance phone sex thing—perfect: intimacy confessing dark fantasies in the dark to a voice. That was Santa Fe. We stopped + I moved away. Don't know if I'll ever get excited about a woman again. They still look good + I like talking to women more than men but I'm like you I like my solitude in woods or city, can't waste time w/just sex tho if it happens I won't turn it down but it's never going to happen if I don't put in some effort alors voilà. Brussels cold + rainy again I'm in the library staying warm until a movie this afternoon + some falafels. Two more days. You out to the woods painting w/Gauguin, poets don't write poems together. I too wanted a community of creatives to share + talk with came close a couple times but people drift + stop + get married + have kids + I guess that's meaningful too tho doesn't feel like a choice. I'm w/Emma Goldman + Simone de Beauvoir: marriage bad at worst, unnecessary at least but nobody today reads those essays.
Leaving Bruxelles by train in the rain backpack filled w/books. I stayed on the edges so I could look in windows + look out. Graffitti-names the only color this morning, their need to create something in something ugly, a word you've never used in your letters not even to describe London, only degoutant to describe people's behavior. You took this same route north under same low stratus clouds passing windmills having the urge to charge yelling 'have at you!' but you didn't read Don Quixote, you would have wanted to be a shepherd. Glad your health is better—I too find being healthier good for art tho a whole night life world here I've not seen. Every european town Barcelona Sevilla Salamanca Marseilles I'm always in bed reading by ten. Think of all the Before Sunrise experiences I could have had! Still romantic enough to think if I met a woman I'd change my life + move here in which case why don't I just move here. Working on my novel Dawn revising + editing feeling that alivenesss you talk about in the process + I didn't even want to write another novel except the main character—the real person she's based on— came in a dream and asked me to write it (just now wrote 'right it'). Tho do another? Not that I'll stop writing but all that work + time into a novel—I know some painters take time on paintings but in Arles you did one a day as if you knew—should I spend more time on smaller stuff novels make money. Shouldn't be for the money but as you know it'd be nice. Amazingly people somewhere like you still want to read them. Long stories merging/changing our own long stories something about time—in which created + in which experienced —doesn't take long to see one of your paintings to shift how we see if only a little while maybe forever which is why we should always seek out art in all forms so as to constantly be shifting ergo growing—being requires growth otherwise we're only existing. I don't know how people go thru life just doing that I guess they don't know any better or are not allowed to. To teach the humanities to teach how to live which is why it's being cut in schools. In my teens I already knew I wasn't going to make money at writing or anything because you can't live ethically + be rich so vowed to live rightly + interestingly. So far not incompatible with scribbling.