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The Room Next to the Ice Machine

On a recent roadtrip (SF to Portland Or) I made it my mission to stay in hotels that cost no more than $100 a night.

Because I now consider flying as a series of small agonies that might conclude with a crash (Samuel Johnson's "being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned") I drove the Volvo, having done the math, the math proving that driving, all things considered, is almost as efficient as flying, when factoring the time it takes to drive to the airport, go through TSA, sit on the tarmac before departure and after arrival...studies must have been done about the efficiency of automobile travel vis-a-vis air travel, the actual time and fuel costs of each? Though what study could possibly analyze the benefit of having the steering wheel in your own hands as opposed to being crammed into an airplane seat built for a 5-year old child and being piloted by an anonymous captain of whom you're lucky to glimpse the back of his or her head, or a full frontal if he or she should need to use the restroom sometime after takeoff.

Flight is wildly unnatural; that airplane flight is one of the principal illusions sustaining capitalism, under the premise that speeding is a sign of productivity, is one of my carefully considered, elegantly framed theories. The language of airplane flight is full of what I call bullshit semiotics, as is the language of financial institutions: the megabank of America that sends me a check for $1.17; the airline of Alaska texting me that instead of an 11:25 a.m. departure the flight's delayed 8 minutes to 11:33 a.m. Such notifications wear the guise of straightforwardness, wearing their honesty with a straight face--if the bank is honest enough to refund me $1.17 and the airline to notify me that my flight's 8 minutes late, they each must be scrupulously honest, honest to the decimal point, but their honesty costs them nothing and behind the straightforwardness is a smirk.

Driving, I have time to think about such things, remembering Gary Snyder's notion, while somewhere on the road near the border of California and Oregon, a notion I call necessary regression, but which Snyder might call postmodern environmentalism: that man and nature aren't necessatily in conflict with one another but that it might be a good idea to slow down our civilizing techniques should we wish to survive.

Other road thoughts include:

1) can a human utterance be a semiotic? If so what can we make of people who say in the middle of a sentence, "Can I be honest with you?"

2) which is more beautiful, a skyscraper or a wind turbine?

3) if I was to hear my own narcissism what would it sound like?

4) I know a whole bunch of people who aren't important but who are self-important.


Near Eugene I go off road to look for a cheap hotel: 

Me: Do you have a quiet room?

Desk Clerk: Why do you ask?

Me: I'm a writer.

Desk Clerk: Yes, on the 3rd floor in the corner.


I take the room. It turns out it's near the ice machine, a bonus of sorts.

When you do things the hard way it means you have a conscience. It may mean other things as well, but I know it means that.


AWP Portland, with edits

A man I know asked me the other day, "how do you write?"

"All writing is rewriting," I answered

I'd meant to say yesterday in this space that I saw books for the first time in my life as commodity while walking through the aisles of AWP, but I couldn't say this until today, I hadn't seen it while I was walking through AWP at the time I was walking yesterday.

Writing and publishing is little fish and big fish--the classic capitalist trope. There are big fish writers and little fish publishers and little fish writers and big fish publishers, and fish of each type somewhere in between little and big.

Bill Mohr, with whom I shared a table at AWP said, "it's good for you to be here to see what you're in to, what's around you, who's doing what with who, and how many of them there are." 

Quentin, who runs Beyond Baroque in Los Angeles, said something like this: it's the small presses that are doing all the big work, that the large presses can't make money anymore and the small presses have taken up the slack, and that's why you see so many of them.

And the proliferation of MFA programs! That one can get a graduate degree in Fiction or Creative Non-fiction or Poetry. Heather, who is affliated with a small, well-established liberal arts university in Colorado, is now developing an MFA Writing Department for the university, such is the demand for the product.


AWP Portland

Somewhere there's a poem by Shinkichi Takahashi that begins with the line, I have thrown my "me" away.

The poem's in a little book of his poems that I carried around for years, put in my briefcase and looked at before buisness meetings, stashed in my luggage when I went out of town, would consult in odd moments of any spare time I had. I'd almost always get something from the poems that my life at the time wasn't giving me; though I had a good life it often seemed to be not much different from the good life others around me were having. A poem by Takahashi's, almost any poem in the little book, would snap me out of it and give me immediate access to some other sort of consciousness in which I could correct my thinking about the situation. One little poem would do the trick, sometimes all it took was the first stanza--it was like sticking my head out of an open window for a few seconds while driving 80 mph on the San Diego Freeway and coming back a brand new person.

Many of the images in Takahashi's poems carried me--there was a bus that roared through cherry blossoms, a crab polishing its claws in the shade of a tree, the sparrow that cut the day in half, the happiness of breathing--and still carry me.

I thought of that little book, 6"x3" or so, and how many times it had saved me from myself, as I was walking through the AWP at the Oregon Convention Center yesterday. All the publishers, all the books, all the people with nametags, all the seminars, the lines for registration, all the smiling and handshakes, all the free pens and chocolates, all the commotion of promotion, the deals, the sales, the yearning for recognition, the achievement of success versus the achievement of failure--all those feelings from my past life, attending conferences, working the room, looking for business, came in hard on me.

A slight depression ensued. I found an empty chair, sat down and scribbled a note on the pen provided by The American Poetry Review on the margins of the latest issue, the one with the poet Brenda Shaughnessy on the cover. I felt a little better. Perhaps there was a book among the thousands upon thousands of books at AWP that had something to say to me, that could become as valuable to me as Takahashi's book has been, and that it was possible I'd find a writer here to publish whose writing would become to someone what Shin Takahashi's had become to me.

AWP is the acronym for Associated Writers and Writing Programs. Portland is the site for AWP's annual convention. The Takahashi book was titled Afterimages. I remember the poems were translated by Lucien Stryk. I still have it back home.

Downtown Portland from hotel room, March 29, 2019. Photo by author.


Money better spent

Bernie raised $5 million when he announced, and Beto raised $6 million.

Supposedly, Bernie's 'raise' consisted of 223,000 individual donors contributing an average of $27.00 per donation. Beto's 128,000 "unique contributors", as his press release put it, upped the ante at $48 a head.

That's a lot of money!*

A better idea for this money, (one which might encourage even more giving): 

Announcing The Trump Fund.

(A capital fund 5013c tax deferred LLC etcetc).

Working Capital for The Trump Fund will be established by the monies already raised on behalf of the Presidential contenders, plus individual, concerned citizens donations no less than $27 and no more than $48 per person, placed in a brown paper bag and delivered to Donald Trump on the condition that he vacate the office of the President upon receipt of the 'donation'. 

There's a decent chance Trump would take the money. And wouldn't that be a far better thing to do with the dough than spend it on the internet, on campaign rallies, bumper stickers and so on?

*Add to The Trump Fund the money raised by K.Harris, the lady's from Minnesota, New York and Hawaii, those guys from Colorado and Washington and Starbucks et. al.  


Watching Town Hall Meetings

The Democratic candidates for President are a bunch of people running for Vice-President, at least so far.

They've all reached that place in their lives where money is the least interesting thing in the world to them. No longer do they have to believe in capitalism like they once did: at the most, capitalism is just another word to them like the word socialism, though the male candidates seem loathe to utter either word in the fear of being identified as either one or the other, as a capitalist or as a socialist.  

I was surprised last night, listening to two of the candidates speak, both of them women, that there wasn't one mention of the whale that washed up on the shore in the Phillippines with 88 pounds of plastic trash inside its body, including more than 40 pounds of plastic bags. The whale's coroner, Darrell Blatchely, called it the worse collection of plastic inside an animal he had ever seen. "The plastic in some areas was so compact it was almost beocming calcified, almost like a solid brick," Mr. Blatchely said. "It had been there for so long it had started to compact." This story would seem like the perfect platform from which to launch the capitalist defense of socialism, or the socialist response to capitalism, or both.

The whale story, as published in The New York Times this morning with the headline, "88 Pounds of Plastic Found Inside Dead Whale in Phillipines" (March 19, 2019) did not, however, indicate whether the whale was male or female. Weighing in at 1,100 pounds and measuring 15 feet long, I'm assuming it was a male whale.

How good it would be to at last elect a female President of the USA. I'm all for it. A female candidate won't be as hung-up over the words capitalism and socialism, won't be as afraid to talk about the differences between them as men are afraid. I do want to hear from at least one of the female Democratic candidates that she's really running for President and not Vice-President, just as I'd like the hear the same from one of the male Democratic candidates. Until I do I'm backing Bernie Sanders, unequivocally.