Tuesday, December 07, 2004


Freedom's just another word.

Still have a long-promised faith and electorate entry to get up, and this won’t be the one—I’d offer excuses, but the fact is, things have been slamming on the ground and they’re promising to remain so for some time to come. So for today, just writing a brief catch-up on events to all, in the hopes that it’ll get the words flowing at a time when they really, really need to flow.

First off: massive reassessment. Beginning in November, watching as the loss of the progressive elements in the US of A has left many friends and acquaintances wondering what the hell is happening to the nation I’ve always called my own, for better or worse, as well as to the world and to our species as a whole. No doomsaying: I’ll leave that to the fundamentalists of all persuasions. Believe it or not, when I was doing the undergrad creative writing thang, one of my obsessions was eschatology, and the way that a real belief in principles arising from so studying the end of history alters human behavior. Simply put (though it is much, much more complex than this, as always), if the world is ending tomorrow my sense of responsibility to my fellow human suffers somewhat, and my most likely course of action is to max out any lines of credit I might possess in an attempt to get whatever last sensual kicks I might get in before the whole thing goes up in dust. Hell, I’m hedonist enough to think that’s likely what I’d do if I found out I were dying in 24 hours, so just extrapolate same feeling to a global scale and make sense of it. So, given that, my own sense of responsibility is predicated on the assumption that the human world is likely to last longer than I, personally, am. I’ll get back to all that in the next entry, hopefully with some reference to Hume and William James and the like, because there is LOTS to say, and I’ve let it percolate long enough. Only difficulty right now, appropriately enough to the present conversation, is finding the time, which is at a premium at present.

Luckily, I have a trusty Compaq Armada 1130 laptop (with massive enough memory to tend to word processing tasks, but puny enough to make it shut down at the very proposition of setting it up for internet access), so when those spare moments do come my way, I can at least journal, albeit not with relevant links. The time factor works out like this: mid January, the next issue of Trip is to go up. Poetry is limping along right now—we’ll eek out 6 poets somehow, but it’s slim pickins, not for lack of sub, but for high standards on the editorial front—but the prose looks to be flourishing. A couple of people have approached me regarding regular columns, which makes me happy as the proverbial clam, because those’ll take a little of the pressure off the writing front—including one very interesting proposal regarding a political column, in which current events are viewed through the lens of cultural icons. The first proposal suggests looking at some basic neo-con documents through the lens of Sartre’s “Nausea” (less tongue-in-cheek than the title appears…this looks to be a well-done article), and another, still in the negotiating phase, in which another ex-pat writes up a column dealing with the poetry community from a more international perspective than we have so far. Also another killer interview, with less media splash surrounding the author than accompanies Bob Holman, but with perhaps a little more pull on the academic side of the world poetic. Still have a couple of conversations to hold on that front, but it already looks incredible, simply because it should give beginning writers a lot of insight into the fallacies they may be laboring under, not least the sacred light in which many seem to view their own words. That’s the first illusion any young poet should jettison: nobody’s words are sacred. Maybe, if you really love them, you might make a poetic case for Words, as a quasi-natural force, being sacred, but not words localized in the mouth of any single speaker. The sooner we dispense with that nonsense in poetry, the better. All of which is to say, in my typically long-winded and digression-punctuated way, that what online time I have is devoted almost exclusively to work on the zine at present. Maybe sometime in the future I’ll have luxury enough to be chasing down those links I love so well, but for now, gotta think in terms of expediency.

Why? Well, as mentioned before, I’m in deep transition on the physical front. After 2 years of playing Hausmann to my wife’s Wissenschaftlerin, the contract is coming to an end. My wife, perhaps, has work in other areas of the institute, though that, too, is being negotiated, and she is of course looking for work in some other venue, but it looks very much like I may be the primary wage-earner for a few months/years (these things typically leading one in a hitherto unforeseen direction). Right now, after having spent the better portion of the last 5 years tending to children in one capacity or another (activities coordinator at an Australian day-care, tutor for high school exit exams in English, Sprachlehrer fuer kinder, and general all-round child-minder), I find myself in the same arena I frequented pre-university, that is, the kitchen. For some, this might seem a step down, and while it does entail a fairly significant cut in pay (and no little paperwork…), I truly enjoy this work, and I’m having a blast. And I’m keen to learn all I can about those knives. (exchange between Juergen and I the other day in the kitchen: I’m cutting tortillas for frying later as chips, Juergen rumbles at my left shoulder, “You’re raping my knife!” “How the hell does one rape a knife?” “I don’t know, but you’re doing it.” Excellent…and quite luckily, the kitchen rapport between the two of us is such that the banter is continuous and spirited, but never mean-spirited. So I’m learning lots) This enterprise is brand new, suffers from many of the limitations faced by any new service industry, and is far from guaranteed to succeed—but I’m game, if for no other reason than there are truly many, many lessons to be learned in any such attempt. That, and the food is bloody good, the venue a huge, sprawling, heavenly building that could, given the right set of circumstances, turn into a bohemian mecca, and the location is more than workable. Fundamentals are sound. Now we need to figure out how to make it work financially.

So that’s about 40 hours of my week right there. Add to that the fact that I’m still finishing off my work as Sprachlehrer (all comes to an end on the 21st of December), have just moved house (to be read: moved out. Our home at present is with friends. Very good friends, and no pressure at all on that front, but clearly, a family of 3 is a bit cumbersome to house, both for our friends and for ourselves (our belongings, once again, in boxes…)) in Germany (a process that is daunting even for German nationals, entailing, as it does, repainting the old flat, notifying the KVR of a change of address, and sometimes (though fortunately, not for us) even removing the kitchen from the flat being vacated!), am an ex-pat whose work visa expires at the end of this year (much, much more paperwork and running around), and the father of a 7 ½ year old daughter (thus must endeavor to keep a certain illusion of stability in the midst of all this), and I’m starting to be surprised that I haven’t collapsed already. All is good, but fucking hectic, and more than usually uncertain.

Finally, the big one: Apparently, I must have mucked up the procedure for entrance into the graduate level of university. It has been too long since I saw the soup-Nazi episode on Jerry Seinfeld for me to be able to make this as witty as I’d like, but I can’t help reading my most recent addition to my collection of rejection notes as saying, in effect, “No PhD for YOU!” And that’s where the reassessment gets a little deeper, because the fact is, this is my fifth such rejection, and I have to assume I’m doing something wrong on those proposals, because I’m pretty convinced that if I could get my foot in the door, I’d dance circles around most of the grad students in most universities. But I haven’t managed to figure my way around that initial step, and in the meantime, I’ve actually enjoyed a bit more success on an independent level. So. I see it this way: either I commit myself to the outsider role, and really wail on that front, work it for 25 years and earn my degree the way Stephen Spielberg did, or I start talking to a few trusted friends and advisors inside the academic world about how the hell I can get in. If the second option, and assuming it were ever successful, I can guarantee you that immediately upon earning any kind of teaching position, all of those rejection notes are going straight into frames, and will be prominently displayed behind my desk—my real credentials. All of this is made significantly more difficult, of course, by the fact that I really, really don’t want to do any of this from inside the US of A. There’s a political component to that desire, I’ll admit, but I have to say, when recently asked, point blank, by a scientist visiting from Princeton, if my own desire to remain outside of those borders was a decision based on the recent elections, I gave the matter some serious thought. See, I didn’t move out post-Bush, and for that matter, I thought the American people had enough political savvy not to vote for the man the first time—no, I left during the rag end of the Clinton administration, and for all intents and purposes, given that I was living in Alaska for 4 years prior to actually leaving the USA, I’d already moved out, mentally, some time before. So it wasn’t a reaction to all that—although those close enough to me to know my real politics would tell you I was yammering on about social toxicity and the fourth Reich very early into Clinton’s tenure. As much as all that might have an effect on me, however, there is that part of me that thinks moving back to the states right now might be the best possible thing I could do, simply because there is so much work to be done on the politically progressive movement, and I’m not inarticulate. So there could even be an argument made that by staying out, I’m shirking an important responsibility. And when I honestly assess my own thoughts on the matter, it sounds like that is indeed the case: simply put, I don’t want to go back because I have never, ever, in my short life, felt as comfortable within those borders as I do right now. That’s not financially. That is emotionally, intellectually, personally comfortable. More myself, and more welcome as myself. And that’s really amazing, because there was a time, not so very long ago, when I would have sworn myself committed to realizing and living that mythical creature, “The American Dream.”

This could quickly turn rant-like, if it hasn’t already, so I’ll round this off with just two more items. First, considering all of this practically, were I, for whatever reason, compelled to return to the states at this point, I’m afraid I would feel duty-bound to commit a significant portion of my personal time to political activity. I’ve said it before, and I’m repeating it here: I am, for all my concern with matters political, essentially an apolitical creature. In the best possible world, I don’t have to think about that shit, because it just works. In the best possible world, I do what I do best—I think about what is beautiful, and I try to find a way to embody what is beautiful, for the sole purpose of bringing joy to others in the present moment. Comforting the afflicted is always more pleasant work than afflicting the comforted, and when it is brought right down to the basic, honest, assessment of the situation, I don’t particularly want to be a political activist. Inside the United States, at this juncture in our history, I would feel duty-bound to be so, and as I’m reading the sentiments of the majority of the body politic in that arena, much of that work would entail afflicting the comforted. Outside, there’s a cushion. It’s simply easier to look at it, and to say that this is all very interesting on an intellectual level, but to remain, to some extent, removed from it all, personally. There’s a crucial paradox crouched in all that, and I’m aware of that fact, but I’m not sure I’ve found just the words to express that paradox. In the meantime, personally, it makes me wonder if I am not, in fact, shirking an important duty.

Which leads me to my final offering in a long, personal entry. While there is a cushion that allows me not to be politically active, being abroad actually brings home the fact that I am an American much more clearly than it ever would inside those borders—this in spite of the fact that I do not fit many of the stereotypes associated with that portion of my identity. In another country, sometimes being American is enough to find yourself summarily pigeonholed and dismissed on those terms. Often, being American is enough to find you being regarded as a supporter of—if not directly responsible for—the policies now emanating from DC—patently unfair, but hey, people have to simplify on the pragmatic level. When I first moved out of the states, I encountered an interesting mix of views from the Australians, views that were in turns praising and condemning of America. Strange place to encounter the condemnation, simply because I’m not sure you could find a more American place, outside of America, than Sydney. However, after a few months there, I became rather fond of making the joke that Yank-bashing was second only to cricket as the Australian national sport, having found myself in far too many bitch sessions in which the USA was the prime culprit behind just about any human ill one could conceive of. Flash forward: there is an area within Sydney, a bohemian type neighborhood with lots of indy cinemas and retro-shops and coffee-houses called Newtown. I’d been alerted to its existence many times, but didn’t manage to get there until several months after my arrival in Sydney—one day, however, business compelled me to make a visit. For the most part, I did not have a car in Sydney, so I spent a lot of time learning the mass transit system there—and on this occasion, I was traveling by train. I alit at the Newtown train station, left the station, and was confronted by a huge mural, across the street and just to my left, of Martin Luther King, Junior. Friends, I have never had a more patriotic moment in my life. After months of complaining from Sydneysiders when America decided to bomb in Bosnia, all counterbalanced by complaints from those same people when America made the decision not to get involved in the independence movements in East Timor, I felt a real thrill at the sight of this American icon being honored in this location, so far away from home. Yes, yes. We export more than large rodents, hamburger shilling clowns, lung-cancer riddled cowboys and brown sugar water. We export also the idea that equality in governance is a goal worth pursuing, and furthermore, that it can be achieved without a single bullet to your name. That a black, southern baptist preacher can solidly move into the collective consciousness with more ease than all but a spare handful of those men who claim to embody America from the oval office. I have had no occasion since that has filled me with as much pride for my country of origin, and much that has caused me shame. I wait for the day when I will again feel what I felt on that day, and daily battle a real despair that I will never be given a similar occasion. And I deny, and will continue to deny, the power of those bullets and tanks to bring any form of freedom short of death to a single human. Idealistic, I know. But dreamers have indeed been known to make a difference.

So that’s me—a few rants beyond what I promised to stop at. I’ve got some work that needs tending, and I’m gonna be at it, but when the time permits, I’ll be back. I got some stuff needs saying about this God stuff, and I intend to say it, even if it’s only to myself.

Peace to all of you, and may your most enlightened dreams be realized during the coming holiday season.


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