Amotivational Wish

Not a typo. I wrote amotivational on purpose. That’s how this works.

College. Where I find unique challenges every day. I was able to say the same for the Army, but in the Army, motivation was either easy to come by, or all-too-readily available from any number of willing… mentors. In any case, you were simply going to do whatever was to do, and that was that. Rather parental, when parenting works.

In college, motivation can be more elusive. You are truly on your own here, and if the material presented does nothing to move you intellectually or emotionally, it can be hell to get started on a project. I suspect this is why so many students just do what they’re told and buy whatever narrative is sent their way. It eases the difficulty. There’s no real way, from the impotence of the student’s disposition, to ensure that the wheels get greased. So the student’s best bet is to become a wheel and catch as catch can whatever lube is dripped her way.  To wit: an hour in a literature class is plenty of time to know exactly what the professor professes in public and private, and there’s a real narcotic allure to the idea of getting ideologically on board. Your assignments will conform to your conformity, and the sad coitus between two beings of diminished creative ambition will spurt along at a potentially Dean’s-list-level of coursework.

I see it, as best I can, from a distance. I call myself a writer with some confidence now, having produced some papers for school that I am perfectly proud of, as well as having one poem published and another take honors in a competition. I am a writer. There is power there, that I don’t think my fellow majors understand. I can sit in these classes, listen to these teachers, read the little post-modern litanies of a liberal arts education, take in the constantly present sense that “seriously, just do it like us, it’ll be so much easier for both of us” – and still write what I want. All it takes is evidence, and if you read regularly, you become so stocked with the stuff that you could be the 163rd CSI incarnation. I could read a piece of feminist literature and write a 5-page paper that never mentions feminism. And as long as I find the evidence for my points in the paper itself, I am in the clear. That’s the real power of liberal arts, as it is supposed to be understood. The power of being a writer with a little actual resistance in her. The power of turning post-modernism against itself and recognizing how easy it is to be right, within the framework of today’s vacated artistry and dissipated standards.

One of the first things anyone should be able to recognize from inside of the vapid collegiate gestalt is that the last thing anyone should be giving it is what it asks for. Maybe I am uniquely capable of seeing this because I am a parent: I know that you can’t raise a damn thing – child or idea or machine – by giving it what it wants. You have to give it what it needs. The university doesn’t need feminist papers or anti-feminist papers. It wants them both, though, because in either case the student is still just a wheel, safely hubbed onto the framework. What the university does need is true papers, real papers that are disinterested in social propulsion or the narrowing effects of thought-building. The university does not need to be saved by noble conservative infiltrators and their stout anti-political messaging. That’s more of the same, anyway, and absurd. It needs, like a protest needs a mute button, apolitical messaging. It needs, in short, to be made to forget about itself for a while. Again, exactly the same way that a parent knows that a child in a tantrum is best served by a distraction. The university is child to the student, and the student needs to start distracting its disobedient charge from its own illogic. You don’t do that by shouting “NO!” or by presenting oppositional logic. That just keeps the focus on the locus. Distract, distract, distract. You do it with ice cream and tickle bugs, wisdom and wit. You make it get up off the ground by showing it the sky.

But as nice as all that is to wail about for a minute, it’s only a small part of motivation. For instance, I am about to read “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” It’s a challenge that I am simply not sure that I am the master of. It’s ok, though, because again, there is a distance I can keep. A professionalism, and an artistry, even. Sometimes all it takes is is to talk to myself for a moment, and pencil up a poem to buoy me through the surf:

Every Wish has a Rider

“Your wish has been granted”
said the Genie to the girl at the protest march.
She rose,
stiffened,
hoisted her sign and
a single finger for the patriarchy
(forgetting her father)
in permanent letters
on the tip of a
long wooden shaft.
She heard herself say
“Thank you, sir.”

In Which We Get What We Ask For

On the draft of air displaced
over the heads of billioned minions
History whispers:

– out –

and is the only thing that leaves
the still dark office of morning.
Having hissed a warning and gone
to meet more of itself:

– rising –

and having got out,
is forgotten.

Much the way we advance
into a cubist’s missed perspective –
Everything in profile:

– sinking –

and having got in,
are forgotten.

Dawn Seeks Her Mother

Aurora chains anchors to fear-wedded birds
and waits for us, for men, to cut them free.
To hack, with reactions! with acetylene words!
til the broken links are piled on the cast metal scree.
Those traditional limiters now lay piled beneath
among remnants of anciently crafted submission
and the new soaring daughters have been bequeathed
a future of dear, long-sought admission.
But the birds simply rest upon their dropped fetters,
having seen all their sisters fly off and alight
on prison bars set by their corporate betters
where they’ve left their false chains for pilloried heights.
They’ve rushed to what’s promised but can’t find the grace
in a barren, uncertain, un-mothered place.

 

Grand Bellwethers

Nobody told me that yesterday was National Poetry Day. (I learned through Gerard) It’s fitting, I suppose, that I found out yesterday which poem won the competition for which I received an honorable mention. Which poem beat me, to put it plainly. There was also a little bit of a letdown, as  my poem was not a national honorable mention, just local. Three schools. I’m still really happy about it, especially because I know now that my poem is much better than the winning one. The winner is not, as I suspected, about oppression or THE ELECTION, but of course it’s hard to tell just what it really is about. It did lack what two other honorable mentions had, which are sex and rape, two of the Grand Bellwethers of the current, vacuous artistic gestalt. The winner is one of those poems that makes people not like poetry.  Probably so personal that only the writer can really get it, and it reads like a bunch of the author’s favorite lines from her notes stitched together in what, frankly, isn’t really a very coherent presentation. No capital letters, no periods, a few commas here and there. Line breaks just because. The post modern era likes its works to be as ambiguous and incongruous as possible, because it’s easier to point vapidly at the existence of deeper meaning when there is none on the surface (Spoiler alert: that’s a very good indication that there’s none beneath, either). I’ve never heard an attempt to legitimize the narrative transience of post modern art that sounded like anything more than an excuse for laziness. You start to want to grab people by the shoulders and shake them a bit, tell them that the artist’s very first responsibility is to be understood, because it’s the only evidence he can provide that his work means something. I will never, ever believe that blatant obscurity is a signpost on the road to the inner divinity of mankind. Full. Effing. Stop. It is unfortunately the way of things, and on my little march to the New Sincerity, I’ll be fighting the momentum of poetic esoterica until I can make enough of my own steam to stand apart from it.

I’m writing a poem today. All day and a day late for National Poetry Day. It started in a headache at Starbucks and will end, for now, at the desk in my basement when 2:50 rolls around and I have to pick up the kids. I don’t know what sort of a poem it will be. I do know that the sort of poem that wins a writing competition has lines like this:

“even the bottom looks like the top in this hamster wheel
so far behind, we’re in first
champs when everyone else will forever lose”

Ugh. Two pages worth. It’s almost reassuring to lose to a poem like that. Like losing a footrace because your blind, one-legged opponent is crossing the finish line while you’re still asking the starter if you’re at the right track.

I’ll keep mine, and keep doing mine. With lines like this:

“But if we can stand upon that ice
and bear those fissures at our feet,
the crackling threat of cold advice”

I don’t mind mentioning, honorably, that it means something.

Publication, Compensation

I drive the two miles or so across town to come to the Starbucks at Barnes and Noble, passing at least five other Starbucks on the way. It’s not because of the books, not because of Betsy, who’s been serving my coffee for at least three years here, and not for the increased likelihood of having my car window smashed for the nickels in the cupholder while I quaff an americano. It’s because it’s quiet. My goal – and I’ve been succeeding – is to be more comfortable with proximity. Sharing a table with a stranger at a coffee shop, for instance. Still, my preference is for peace. I am the sole customer here this morning, 9:36, March 20, 2017. Over my headphones is the oddly comfortable cadence of Betsy moving chairs around while she wipes them down. The scoot on the floor, the light knock against the big disc on the floor at the base of the table’s central mast. It’s domestic and expansive. The sound of things having been done since there were things to do. The peace of nothing new.

Things that are new:

  1. A Kindle Voyage. It’s nice. I’ve had the Paperwhite for years and love it, but I want to bequeath it to my daughter for her birthday. The Voyage is an upgrade, and there’s only so much you can do to an e-reader without making it too much more than an e-reader, so it’s hard to get excited about it. But like I said, it’s nice. A little sharper in the contrast, nice page turning buttons to make one-handed reading work better. Nice.
  2. Sunshine. I think we’re done with it for a while, but yesterday was epiphanous. If you never knew anything about Spring or that it even existed, yesterday would have taught you everything you need to know. I mowed, I fertilized, I took down a huge shrub that had been damaged in our one big snow this winter. Using Spring to clean up what winter broke. I’m working on a poem about things like that. Which brings us to…
  3. Poetry competitions. Specifically, doing well in them. I looked at my phone yesterday to see a missed call, a voicemail, an email, and a Facebook message. All from my South Seattle College Creative Writing teacher, Michael G. Hickey. “I have some news you might be interested in hearing.” (A moment of silence, please, for the official death of understatements) He submitted two of my poems to a competition held by The League for Innovation in the Community College. It’s a National literary competition among all of the community colleges in various cities – Dallas, Phoenix, Miami. He even mentioned Canada, so I guess it’s technically international. Obviously all of the Seattle Community Colleges – South, Central, and North. One of my poems earned an honorable mention.

The upshot is that I’ll get a plaque, and…wait for it…wait for it…a check. I wrote a poem that’s good enough to get paid for it. That, friends and neighbors, is new. Published at Seattle U, and now earning cheddar in a competition. Time to frame those letters I wrote you. They liked the other poem, too, but evidently got a little freaked out by it. Thought it was too creepy or too dark or something. Which is funny, because I was anything but dark when I wrote it. It was this one, The White Noise of Prophecy. That’s a pretty awesome poem, and while there is a dead girl buried in the woods, I was probably making PB&Js and playing Connect 4 right before I wrote it. As for the other, the honorable mention, I don’t know what to do. There are odd rules for publication, and I don’t know if it is being published at all. I also realized that I have two versions of the winning poem, and I’m not sure which one I submitted. I guess that doesn’t matter much, though. Heck why not – it’s this one. I think. Might be the other version, but they’re not very different at all.

Who won, and with what poem? I don’t know. I have a hunch that it will be someone from a protected class – person of color, etc – who wrote a poem about oppression or THE ELECTION. In a way I hope I’m right. I’ll have a clear understanding of why it beat me out, instead of worrying that someone might have actually written a better poem. Which of course is as likely as anything else, but I’m too fragile and petty to handle that.

The Lamp, The Noise, The Cat

That’s the last of the final exams. What am I supposed to do? Buy myself something? I wouldn’t know what. I am buying myself lunch. That’ll have to do.

I met with Sven(!) yesterday after my British Lit final, to iron out some small details of the Sartre paper I have to turn in on Friday. Here’s an excerpt that I just wrote over my Italian club sandwich. It will read, initially, as possibly autobiographical. It is not. I have to write from the perspective of Sartre’s philosophy. Besides, I made it fiction by changing the length of the marriage. That’s all it takes, folks:

Part 4: She’s looking right at me, though. From the other side of the closed door, which is wearing more of the White Dove OC-17, she’s looking right at me. And I am disintegrating her idea of the coffee as she does it. How can she know if I’ll like it as strong as she made it? I’ve told her a million times that I do, and that I like it best with a little milk and sugar, but she knows she’ll never be sure of that. Because here I am, objectified by her consciousness, a thing in the house that negates her negations and dis-integrates everything that she thought she knew about this Summer Saturday. My Summer Saturday. And she does the same to me, out there turning me into Prufrock by measuring each transcendent moment of my life in coffee spoons. How can I be sure that she loves the warmth of the sun instead of hating the exposure she feels in its brightness? How can I know if she really is a morning person like she’s always told me she is? I cannot know it. My wife. Sixteen years married and she is unfathomable to me. We are unfathomable to each other. Free and forlorn ‘til death do us part. I’d like to think I know what to do. She’s looking right at me, though.

I’m such a cliche, sitting in a coffee shop, reading Sartre and writing philosophy papers.  And it’s not even corporate Starbucks, man, but a totally eclectic neighborhood joint. There’s these little pamphlets from the ACLU (dear God: coffee shop, philosophy, political pamphlets. It gets worse with every moment) presupposing mass roundups of “the wrong kind of people.” Look, I’m not sure I’m on anyone’s side, in particular. I know how I’m likely to vote at any given moment and the sorts of things I’ll support or not, but this polarization that’s been happening is so disheartening. This pamphlet, Jesus:

IMG_3458

I’ll say the obvious things, to save you from yourselves: I am not a racist. I am not a bigot. I have a strong commitment to community and tolerance and acceptance. There. Done. And my commitment to those principles is why I hate that pamphlet. You tell me: After reading what I am sure the ACLU and most of this city would say is a very generous and helpful gesture, would a Muslim or a Mexican or other person of color feel more safe and welcome, or less?

That’s all. People like the ACLU and most of the Movement, March, and Protest (MMP) society have a need to sow fear in the service of virtue, and the source of those fears is never in the obvious places. Seems plain enough. Think about the scene in every horror movie where you get “what was that terrifying, sinister, fear-inducing noise? It came from over there, behind that curtain that has an indistinguishable form behind it, and – Oh, phew. It’s just a lamp and a cat and OHMYGOD HE’S BEHIND YOU!” The Huffington Post and NPR and FOX do their reporting on the lamp and the cat. The ACLU and BLM print pamphlets about the indistinguishable shape behind the curtain. And the audience just knows, as we gnaw down our nails and get happy-scared with anticipation, that the curtain will be pulled aside and the shape and the noise will turn out to be Donald Trump wielding a bloody executive order, hijab fibers between his teeth. But it turns out to be just a lamp and a cat and a noise, and when someone finally shouts OHMYGOD HE’S BEHIND YOU! we turn around and it’s finally him. But instead of dining on the victims of his executive orders, he’s still just eating that taco bowl and telling the Hispanics he loves them.

The horror is never where we’re told it is, and sometimes there’s just nothing to be afraid of. I’m not sure why we don’t seem to get that.

In the end, if you’re asking my opinion (or reading this little bit of noise behind the curtain), I’d say that a thing like the ACLU booklet up there increases the fear and instability of a community. That’s all. It isn’t deeper than that.

 

They’re All Days Without a Woman

If you come into the house and look closely, but squint a little bit, you might be able to just make out the diminishing line between cleaning up, and throwing things away. Though you’d be forgiven if it all just looked like the latter. Life reaches peak simplicity when the answer to “where does this go” becomes “in the trash.” Try it. You’ll sleep like a rock.

I lie to myself all the time in order to stay afloat. Kids really are a thing that have to be dealt with, such that parenting cannot simply happen as an addendum to other responsibilities. But I lie and say that it’s just another one of the things. The many things that make up a life. That’s kind of nonsense. What parenting is, is absolute proof that it is impossible to multitask. Breaking up a fight while doing dishes while making dinner while doing laundry – crap, I knew I forgot something – is not multitasking. That’s actually all one task. It is all sustained by the same pool of emotional and intellectual investment. To move from one of those things to the next, and back again, then to yet another, requires absolutely no adjustment of my energies or intentions. Fight, dishes, dinner, laundry. That’s four things right there, and it would be miraculous if the list ever stopped at that. But those four things are really all one thing. It is the mode that is your definition, and as long as nothing external gets introduced, it’s neat and tidy. It is the mode of being “parent,” and everything within it is related. Now let’s invite that other task over there. The one that looks hungry and cold on the doorstep:

  1. Break up a fight
  2. Do the dishes
  3. Fold the laundry
  4. Get dinner ready
  5. Start writing a 7 page paper for British Literature.

No way, right?  You cannot do that and the rest of the job in some sort of tag team symbiosis where everything gets in on the action and builds toward completion. The other 4 items on the list live together in a completely different compartment of consciousness. What does this all mean? What’s the big picture? How does this relate to harmony and value and identity and non-linear social progress? Not sure. But I do know that the “Day Without a Woman” didn’t get us any closer to the answer. I’ve met a few at-home dads over the last few years, and they generally get at least 5 days a week without a woman. They (we) would almost certainly prefer a different arrangement, but then again they (we) understand needs and compartmentalization and utility far better than your au pair does.

And so the mind also compartmentalizes. No matter how much I wanted to be able to start Writing that British Literature paper about the Lady of Shalott yester – GOOD EFFING GOD

Live and uncut – I was typing this because the morning was going cleanly. Dog fed and put outside, kids eating pancakes, things moving along. This is how quickly it goes to hell:

“Papa, can I have a side dish of fruit with my pancakes?”
“You already had some. You want more?”
“Yes, please. But I don’t really like more strawberries and blueberries.”
“That’s all we have, bud.”

Since then he has pulled books off of bookshelves, punched his sister, thrown toys across the house, and refused to get ready for school. Obviously, it’s not really about the fruit. He probably wants Cheetos or something, and knows that I’m just going to say no, and he’s afraid to ask and the whole thing is more than he can handle in his 6 year old mind. It’s hopelessly frustrating for him. Easy as 2+2=4 for us, harder than trigonometry for him. I know this, but no amount of kindness or empathy can change his brain chemistry such that we can resolve the situation with calmness and reason. We board up the windows and ride out the storm, and if we are really running out of time before a change in the winds, then we get a little physical.

The result of the whole thing, in this other little space over here, is that now I can’t write anymore, because I have to close that particular compartment completely, and open the “Dad” compartment. I’m sure as hell not going to be analyzing Tennyson against the backdrop of Victorian England.  Before I can do that I have to point the attention of my reader back to that non-linear social progress I mentioned earlier, and say that I can get back to my paper when I get a day with a woman.

The boy has just told me (mind you, because all we have for fruit is strawberries and blueberries) that he wishes I would “go in a trash can and never come out.”