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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Herb's LiveJournal:

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Wednesday, January 21st, 2009
3:11 pm
Proud to be UnAmerican
I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.
--President Barack Obama's speech at the DNC on July 27, 2004.

A few months ago I posted a weeks-long rant on Facebook using my "status update." Part of it was boredom with the Facebook “status update," part of it was playfulness, part of it was just an ongoing experiment in “meaning." Parts might be pretentious, parts might be sanctimonious, parts might be nonsensical, and parts might have multiple interpretations, insinuations, innuendos, and double-entendres. (I know I pushed the limits of good taste many times, but hey, I consider barbaric imperialism in poor taste and if a few off-color comments help me purge the wheat of my friends-list of some thin-skinned chaff then you can bet I'll overdo it--just to be sure. Glass parking lot, betches.)

In any case, some of you asked what the whole thing was about, and I prolly mumbled stuff about context and non-sequiturs and jarring juxtapositions and the ongoing emergence of ephemeral meaning and subverting the signified and yes, no, I don't know, just wait 'til I'm done and then I'll gather them all together and you can take them like lumps of Silly Putty and mold your own malleable meanings of them. Well, today supposedly marks a new dawn in the US and here they are, my present to you, please take them.

But first, a note on their genesis:

It all started at Naan N Curry, after my Switchback reading at the Cantina SF. Sarah Palin's stupid remarks had prompted a backlash, at last!, to eight years of love-it-or-leave-it-ism. Both me and animikwaan had read different newspaper articles that day about the meaning of being American, or patriotic, or anti-American, whatehaveyou. Hers, by Jeff Chang in the San Francisco Chronicle, discussed the change in race-based legal restrictions on US citizenship over time and ends with the observation (which, having studied the topic for years, I must agree with) that immigrants embrace and embody “American ideals"with the fervor of religious converts: they actively choose that which most of us are passively born into, so theirs is a tested, galvanized faith in comparison to our “well I just do it that way 'cause my daddy and my daddy's daddy did it that way." Mine, by I'd Rather Not Say in the New York Times talked about how cool the rest of the world will think America is for electing a black man. Both animikwaan and agreed that, for all its faults, the US of A is pretty alright in a lot of ways.

I'd taken the next morning off from work to take my bike out for a spin, and as I headed up Highway 1 past Stinson Beach towards Pt. Reyes Station, I was still ruminating on the previous night's discussion while thinking about the Grateful Dead. (What? I can't think of Marin County without thinking of the Grateful Dead, it's just automatic!) So then I was like, “Man, these fools who call Obama and San Francisco and New York unamerican are the same idiots who would have called the Grateful Dead unamerican and that's just stupid, I mean, they are Americana defined. And what about napalm? (The Grateful Dead thought led to a cognitive association with Vietnam, thus napalm...I suppose.) I bet those same people would disavow napalm just as soon as they'd wash their hands of the Dead. But what do they make of these redwood trees? These redwood trees they're so happy to chop down, these impediments to progress, these sage beings whose seeds first broke through the ground to taste sunlight over 2,500 years ago, before the 'word made flesh' was even a twinkle in his daddy's eye..."And then I just ran with it and didn't stop until election day, long after even I had grown tired of the exercise.

In any case, America and Americana—the mythology, the folklore, the promise, the hypocrisy--have been a couple of my primary interests for a long time. Thing is, I really bought all that propaganda they feed you in school...and I still do. I'm not one to go for American exceptionalism—despite what you hear on Fox News, there are a lot of places in the world where things are as good, if not better, than we have them here. (For instance, many Americans like to bash Pakistan for being backwards and oppressive to women, but they had a female chief-executive twenty years ago. And before we get too self-congratulatory, let's face it, the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa's president in 1994 was a way bigger deal than Obama.)

I'll leave you with two quotes by quintessentially American authors who worked during another time when the words “America"and “American"were being refined and redefined, when our young nation was asserting its own cultural identity, distinct from its European roots.

The widow rung a bell for supper, and you had to come to time. When you got to the table you couldn't go right to eating, but you had to wait for the widow to tuck down her head and grumble a little over the victuals, though there warn't really anything the matter with them—that is, nothing only everything was cooked by itself. In a barrel of odds and ends it is different; things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better.

--Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn


I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall
assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.

--Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

I cite Whitman because those lines of his have long served as one of my most basic artistic credos—when I praise or criticize “America," I include myself in that praise or criticism.

Things have changed in the past few days and months. I could not have made many of these statements a year ago without fear of a visit from men in black suits. I still go to sleep sometimes wondering if a SWAT team is going to kick down my door, put a mask over my head, and whisk me away to a cold, damp cell where I'll eat cockroaches between the torture sessions, and I still hesitate to make a statement like “Harbeer is unamerican as uncritical
support of the Israeli right wing

So here it is. I'm tempted to footnote a few of the more obscure allusions but this preface has gone on for long enough. Feel free to ask me if you have a question about a specific line. I think my favorite is “Harbeer is unamerican as a drag queen with a broken heel.”

Yes. They hate us for our freedom—religious zealots of every stripe. Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke and gawd bless America (which is a hemisphere, not just a country.)


Harbeer is headed out on a ride. Vroom vroom!

Harbeer is as unamerican as setting the cruise control to 9 mph over the speed limit, the Grateful Dead, and napalm.

Harbeer is as unamerican as bugs on the windshield.

Harbeer is unamerican as a needle in a haystack.

Harbeer is unamerican as bloody Marys for breakfast.

Harbeer is unamerican as your mom.

Harbeer is unamerican as spotted owls, herds of buffalo, and redwood trees that are older than Jesus.

Harbeer is unamerican as potable tap water (with flouride!)

Harbeer is unamerican as pie in the sky when you die.

Harbeer is unamerican as Canada Dry ginger ale.

Harbeer is unamerican as your maxxed out credit card.

Harbeer is unamerican as bicycles, carpools, and public transportation.

Harbeer is unamerican as the corn on Donald Rumsfeld's pinky toe.

Harbeer is unamerican as the girl from Ipanema.
[Note: I was thinking about anti-immigrant sentiment when I made this and the next statement. “Illegal aliens" can be worthy of songs and sitcoms, in some cases, but why not others?]

Harbeer is unamerican as My Favorite Martian.

Harbeer is unamerican as Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition and the siege of Falluja.

Harbeer is proud to be unamerican.


Harbeer is unamerican as humble pie.


Harbeer is unamerican as boxcutters boxcutters boxcutters.
[Note: I was channeling Ginsberg's "boxcars boxcars boxcars” and thinking of my days as a puppeteer after 9/11, when I, a man who looks Arabic to some, often found myself heading to the hardware store to replace misplaced boxcutters and the uneasy feeling I always had a the store.]

Harbeer is unamerican as crack cocaine, selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors, and individually wrapped slices of pasteurized process cheese food.


Harbeer is unamerican as brunch and siestas and a joyride in a hotwired car whilst blaring "Cat Scratch Fever."

Harbeer is unamerican as mommy's little helper with a side of ranch.

Harbeer is unamerican as tofurkey...or turducken...or whichever one of those is more unamerican than the other.

Harbeer is unamerican as cereal killers for breakfast.


Harbeer is unamerican as Jim Crow and Joe Camel.
[Note: this was me playing with the Joe the Plumber” meme.]

Harbeer is unamerican as putting those 22'' platinum spinners on layaway and peanut butter and caviar on toasted Wonder Bread with fresh Tang.

Harbeer is unamerican as ripping your pants right in the ass when you're wearing pink underwear, wah!!!

Harbeer is unamerican as PacManistan, happy endings, and no interest 'til 2012.

Harbeer is unamerican as flavored lube, third party candidates, and science.

Harbeer is unamerican as cheating on your taxes and stealing office supplies from work.

Harbeer is unamerican as chop suey, nachos, and chicken tikka masala.
[Note: These are all faux-authentic ethnic dishes...not that there's anything wrong with that. Syncretism.]

Harbeer is unamerican as that-not-so-fresh feeling.


Harbeer is unamerican as playing hooky, necking at inspiration point, and laying a wreath for Johnny at Dead Man's Curve.

Harbeer is unamerican as a drag queen with a broken heel, the bubble gum stuck to the bottom of your school desk, and prices that end in $x.99.

Harbeer is unamerican as the Fatal Blue Screen of death and Windows crashing one week before your thesis is due, yay! (Mac users may gloat starting...now.)

Harbeer is unamerican as beating a dead horse with Rex Kwan Do. Harbeer is renouncing his unamericanness and going as Uncle Sam for Halloween.


Harbeer is unamerican as elastic waistbands, pleated jeans, puffy-paint unicorn t-shirts, the electoral college, and quitting while you're ahead.

Harbeer is unamerican as stripes with polka dots and depleted uranium munitions.

is unamerican as singing Billy Joel whilst riding your motorcycle in the rain--how crazy is that?

Harbeer is unamerican as the ozone layer and those pesky phytoplankton turrists.

Harbeer is unamerican as George Washington's cherry trees, an atheist in a foxhole, this one and even "that one.”


Harbeer is unamerican as pagan holidays, uncut cocks, fake tits, and taking yourself too seriously. Happy Halloween, betches. Trick AND treat.

Harbeer is unamerican as double coupons, shame for breast-feeding in public, and jacking up supermarket prices so you can offer a "discount" for your data-mining purposes.

Harbeer is unamerican as twittering and doing laundry whilst revising the great american novel and awaiting the medical cannabis delivery man.

Harbeer is unamerican as hopscotch and double-dutch and open fire hydrants in the summertime.


Harbeer is unamerican as narcissism, or solipsism, even, as facebook, as irony, as earnesticity.


Harbeer is unamerican as jeebus.

Harbeer bin ein Berliner.


Harbeer is flavor-dipt and rolled in unamerican sprinkles.

Harbeer is unamerican as gas, grass and ass, as well as Little Boy and Fat Man.

Harbeer is unamerican as uncleared samples and the Fair Use doctrine.

Harbeer is unamerican as bootstraps bootstraps bootstraps and the myth of the self-made man.

Harbeer is unamerican as Manifest Destiny, End of Continent Sadness, native American genocide, slavery and the middle passage, and the trope of the angry young man.

Harbeer is unamerican as Liquid Plummr, flying the Confederate flag at the statehouse, Elvis whistling Dixie, Clearasil, and a golf course in the desert.

Harbeer is unamerican as the majority of Americans who see through the voting sham.


Harbeer is unamerican as none of the above.

Harbeer is unamerican as ”I voted!” stickers in three laguages--two of them communist languages--with a white star on a RED field???

Harbeer is unamerican as selling your soul to the devil and painting the White House black.

Harbeer is unamerican as whoopie cushions and fake doody and election hysteria.

Harbeer is unamerican as having (a full draft of) your thesis due in 24 hours when the whole world is celebrating history, wah!

Harbeer is unamerican as boring riffs of experiMENTAL “poetry” that go on way to long and prompt his friends to change their FB settings to ignore his uncouth tirade.
Sunday, September 21st, 2008
1:01 pm
A Question of Characters

After a week of a hurricane imposed news-blackout, I've been gorging myself on analysis regarding the current financial meltdown.  It all started when I picked up an abandoned copy of USA TODAY at the airport gate on Friday.  It was open to the front page of the "Money" section, and though I'd normally toss aside the bs fluff paper that is USA TODAY, the lead headline caught my eye, "U.S. BENDS THE RULES OF FREE MARKETS:  Nation isn't practicing what it preached to other countries." 

WTF?  USA TODAY was sounding like a downright socialist rag, comparing the US to Mexico, Russia, Thailand and Argentina, upon whom the US (through the IMF and World Bank) had hypocritically imposed harsh structural adjustment policies in the past fifteen years.  Then I recalled a cell phone conversation I'd overheard from a man standing near the bathroom entrance a few minutes earlier.

"What is happening to this country?" he asked the person on the other end.  "Have you seen the WALL STREET JOURNAL?"

The tv mounted overhead was tuned in to CNN where Wolf Blitzer was getting pundits' reactions to a WSJ editorial that had called John McCain "un-presidential" for saying that the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission should be fired. 

Like I said, I'd spent the past week walking from friend's house to friend's house, drinking and bbq-ing and playing games and kissing and sweating and waiting for the power to come back.  It was an intensely local existence.  All we really wanted or needed to know was Is Galveston still there?, When will the power come back?, and Where can I get ice/recharge my phone? 

Last I'd heard, McCain was feigning outrage over Obama's questioning whether pigs can really fly, but this was sounding like some real drama.  Since my plane hadn't even started boarding yet, I took the opportunity to go pick up a more reputable paper, THE FINANCIAL TIMES.

It was shocking.  First of all, the terms they were using seemed so dramatically over-the-top, as if this were some kind of real catastrophe and not just the smoke and mirrors of exposing themselves to be...smoke and mirrors.  The opponents of regulation and public oversight, those Free Market Fundamentalists were finally having to admit that their "science" is built on a foundation just as shaky and unproven as the most closed-minded religious dogma.

"American capitalism has an in-built reverence for market price signals," writes Gillian Tett, (emphasis mine).

A couple of choice phrases from the lead cover story from Friday's FT:  "terrifying events of the past week...teetering on the brink of disaster..."  Are they serious?  The fearmongering didn't stop there, here's some from page three:  "risk...failing...fear...damage market confidence...taking action...crisis...desperate...desire for systemwide approach...structural approach to toxic assets..." And on page thirteen there's a huge article with the headline, "After the crash:  why global capitalism needs global rules."

Meanwhile, the London Times is lamenting the tough decisions rich housewives will have to make in the coming weeks: 


Who can they let go from the staff? Most would rather do without the nanny than without the cleaner. With any luck the cleaner likes children anyway and will help out in a pinch. If there is a cook, she goes before the nanny. The cleaner also knows how to roast a chicken and wash up. Forget the garden altogether - expect to see a lot of weeds as the crisis worsens - although the unemployed may take some comfort in doing the gardening themselves. Shopping ... they have been meaning to cut down on shopping for years. Haircuts, though, they can't do without.


and Condoleeza Rice is somehow telling Russia that THEY, and not WE, are "authoritarian at home, 'paranoid and aggressive' abroad, and on a 'one-way path' to international isolation."  Huh?  Really?  I mean, she might be right about the Ruskies, but you could say the same things about our fine country, no?  And how does she plan on doing anything about Russia when we're broke and already at war with half the world?  Frickin neocons sound more and more like Scrappy Doo every day.

"Lemme at 'em!  Lemme at 'em!"

This is the first financial meltdown I've been old enough to (start to) comprehend, so I'm not sure what to make of it.  Is it the end of the world as we know it?  Or is it just a short reprieve before we get back to business as usual?  Or is it a New World Order all over again, this time with the rise of "the east?"

Now...there is a point to all this.  See, my novel is set in Houston in 1999.  Enron is on top of the world.  More roads are being built to accommodate more SUVs commuting to-and-from the exurbs.  The Seattle WTO shut-down has not happened yet.

I aimed for it to be a satire, after The Great Gatsby, about our gilded age.  The moment before the fall (9/11.)  A comment on the greed unleashed by deregulation and fed by vapid materialistic soulless appetites.

But a few months ago, as gas prices went through the roof and the mortgage crisis really began to hit real families, doubt began creeping in.  It was becoming clear that the house of cards I had set my sites on was collapsing on its own weight, and my "satire" is not only arriving about five years too late, it could be read as something like pointing and laughing and saying "I told you so!"  At best, it would be like kicking a dead horse.   At worst, it would be adding insult to the injuries being suffered by my desired audience.

Meanwhile, the fictionalized film version of The Battle in Seattle arrived in theaters this week, complete with its counter-protest attempt to "set the record straight," and the perennial post-Seattle hand-wringing on the tactics of protest, not to mention questions about its timely pertinence:


We hardly need a movie to convince us that corporate greed is killing the world, not this week at least.

All this is forcing me to question whether I'm miring my story in the timely (whose timeliness may have passed) at the expense of the timeless.  Ideally, I'd like for all my work to combine elements of both timeliness and timelessness, but should I take it out of 1999?  Should I tone down, or consciously remove, the snide critiques which have become painfully obvious to everybody (with the exception of the London Times writer I linked to above, of course)? 

I don't know.  But I do know that I'm running out of time.  And I have to remind myself that I'm a story-teller, first.  My characters are my primary responsibility.  Readers?  Audience?  They are just figments of my arrogant imagination. 

But my characters...I can't just dream these people up and then leave them floundering about the ether (unless somebody buys me a ticket to London so I can watch a new production of a play that's a major influence on my work).  I owe it to my characters (and to my student loans) to get this thing done, however I do it.

So, I remind myself that in the three years between the time that John Steinbeck began researching what would become The Grapes of Wrath and its publication in 1939, the Great Depression had begun to end.  Steinbeck's criticism had come too late...and yet it still seems so pertinent today...I remind myself and I roll up my shirtsleeves and I get to work.

It is solid, real, sympathetic characters who make audiences care about the timely and carry them across the timeless ages.  Characters, not ideology.

Current Mood: hopeful
Saturday, August 30th, 2008
2:45 pm
Still We Ride
It was kind of sad for me to ride around Justin Herman Plaza yesterday, after all my friends flaked  [not counting the ones who've fled the Bay Area], looking for buddies to ride with on Critical Mass.  There was a day when I couldn't turn my head in one direction without hearing voices call out my name from every corner.  Alas.  Time stands still for no one, and it wasn't long before the ride started and I ran into old and new friends alike--I'd just been being impatient, as it turned out.

Big Chris was still out there, keeping it real by handing out flyers about how SF is falling behind cities like NYC, Amsterdam and Berlin in terms of assuring bike safety, and put a name on idea I've always supported--"stop roll." [Note:  I ride a bicycle, a motorcycle, and my feet, and I feel that bicycles' right-of-way should supersede all others on account of bikes require the most effort to get going again after a full stop.]

Sunny was reppin' for Mark Sanchez and Jen Angel rolled up behind me right before we hit the endless hill in the Presidio.  The funniest exchange I had was with one of Sparki's new room mates though.  This was still back on Justin Herman when I was feeling kind of left out and then he and I spotted one another and the conversation went something like this:

Him:  Hey, aren't you...?

Me:  Yeah!  And you're Scott's new room mate.

Him:  Right.  Didn't we just become friends on facebook?

Me:  Mmhm.  What's your name again?

Him:  Jamie.  And yours is...?

Ah yes, the virtual social fabric we weave...Anyway, thanks for riding with me Jaime!
12:39 pm
The joke is on who?
Last week I finally succumbed to the hype and went to see The Dark Night.  (Hey, I was sick, it was playing one block from my house, and I had a pretty girl in tow--how could I say no?)  It sucked!

Disclaimer:  I have been a movie snob ever since the dawn of time, or at least since Yolim got a drivers license and a job at the River Oaks.  (Back in the day, employees could put three friends and family members on some kind of VIP list, so I could always get into the local Landmark Theaters for free WITH a plus one.)

Well, in the past (let's say two) years I've tried to open my mind to more of the dreckish Hollywood output.  I'm going to blame Sparki (and even Yolim) for that.  In fact, I think it was Yo who IRONICALLY kind of opened my mind to the possibility of "good dreck" when I reluctantly agreed to go see The Matrix with him at the dollar theater at Sharpstown Mall--but only at the dollar theater and only if he paid my way.  WHOA, The Matrix was bad ass and I realized maybe it was time to tone down my snobbishness.


I like narratives (whether they be books or movies) for characters.  Most of this dreck I speak of is heavy on plot rather than character.  The Dark Knight has neither.  How many of you have seen it?  Did you honestly give a shit about one single character in that 2.5 hour movie?  Did you sit on the edge of your seat wondering "What happens next?  How will Batman get himself out of THIS bind?"

My money is on "no."  It didn't have characters, it had caricatures (no surprise), and it didn't have a plot, it had an emotionally manipulative score playing in the background the whole time.


But that's not even what I find most disappointing about the film--it's its [note Herb's awesome grammatical dexterity] negative depiction of my favorite mythological character:  The Trixter.  For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, take a look at the page I just linked to--it's got links to a ton of material on the trixter, the wise fool, the coyote.

The Joker is a lame American pop-culture manifestation of that force which sets everything in motion, and his dumb-ass, simple dialog about the nature of chaos is...oh, fuck it.  It's been a week and I don't really care that much anymore, but it's time that we as American artists reclaimed this noble fool from the simpletons in Hollywoodland.


[Edit:  Ok, the film did have some bad ass vehicles in it--the motorcycle, the Batmobile, the Lamborghini--yum.]

12:26 pm
Greetings From Bury Park by Sarfraz Manzoor
So I just started reading this book yesterday (Thanks for the recommendation Preeti.) and then my mom called this morning to tell me my dad was crying again because I refuse to get married and have kids, which provided me the perfect opportunity to read these passages to her:

Once a month I would make the three-and-a-half hour train journey back to Luton to see the family but only out of a sense of obligation.  I was barely on speaking terms with my father and most of my conversations with my mother were about how I hardly talked to my father.
I defined myself in opposition to my father.  All that he believed, the values he upheld, the ambitions he cherished I rejected as embarassing and outdated.  When he said he was Pakistani, I declared I was British; he was Muslim, I was confused; he believed in family, I championed the individual; he worshipped money, I claimed it meant nothing.  I convinced myself that we were so different, the notion that I might have inherited anything from him apalled me.  The sooner I could shed my past the better.  When I was younger I didn't want to know who my father was because I believed my father had nothing to do with me.  How wrong can a son be?
My own father used to be a mail man and I remember sitting in my room on stormy days and praying for his safety (and that of my sisters and me, because he was the only buffer between our mean mean mother and our tender bones.)  He used to work a lot of overtime from what I recall, too.

So, the last time I went home I interviewed my parents about their work experiences--how bad the racism they experienced was and that kind of stuff.  My dad said he only ever had one problem with one coworker--a white guy who felt like he'd deserved the promotion that my father got.  They had some sort of scuffle one day when they were drinking at the bar the mailmen sometimes frequented after work.

A bar?  I couldn't believe it.  I didn't know my father ever went to bars!  "Why pay five dollars for the drink you can have at home for one?" is his attitude.  So, all that time when I was at home praying for his safety, for the mean attack dogs on his route to leave him be, for him to find shelter from lightning and flash floods, at least some of that time he was col' kickin' it at the mailman watering hole!  But learning that made me happy, for reasons demonstrated by this last quote from Greetings:
Unlike some other Pakistani men my father was not frittering his wages.  His only vice was smoking...I am pleased my father smoked; glad that there were some things he did purely for pleasure and only for himself.

So, like Manzoor, I, too, am happy that my father had some private pleasures.

Oh, ok, just one more.  This is a memoir about loving Bruce Springsteen as much as it's about growing up Anglo-Paki, so:

At college I discovered Bruce Springsteen.  In his music I found a new way to understand my relationship with my father.  In "Independence Day" Springsteen sings in the character of a son speaking to his father.  Springsteen's father had been a bus driver and he never approved of his son's rock and roll.  Springsteen described his father as taciturn and unemotional.  I identified.  "Independence Day" is the story of a son trying to tell his father that he is now his own man and that the old rules don't apply any more.  When Springsteen sings it he doesn't sing with anger, he is not taking any pleasure when he tells his dad that "they ain't gonna do to me what I watched them do to you."  What most impressed me was the empathy that Springsteen had for his father...That was what made the song so important; it opened my mind to the pain that my father was feeling and it made me think of what he might have been feeling.
Thursday, April 17th, 2008
5:56 pm
Six word memoir
First Michael tagged me, then Anita.  I better get this done before I run out of tagees!

It really was better than Cats.

The six word memoir rules are:

write your own six word memoir.
post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like.
link to the person that tagged you in your post.
tag five more blogs with links.
leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

I tag Matthue, Linnea, Pete, Vivek, Cate, and Nina.  Let's play!
Thursday, March 13th, 2008
11:12 am
pretentious & sanctimonious
This (backdated) blog entry is dedicated to Michael Adair-Kriz who, by tagging me on his blog, has forced me to update and update well. (And since it's backdated, I won't discuss the wonderful spring break week-long bed-in I just had with Tish or the motorcycle rides and awesome shows and hikes along the beach to where a stream plunges 500 feet over a bluff and into the ocean.)

Yesterday, in lit class, once again I came off as "that political guy." We were discussing Nobody Nothing Never by Juan Jose Saer, and, well, there's a pretty glaring omission from that novel which is set in rural Argentina during Argentina's Dirty War-- that omission being the torture and disappearance of up to 30,000 people.

Now, to his credit, Saer wrote a book that has much more to do with metaphysical notions of time and space than war, and he has every right to write or not write about any topic he chooses. I have no problem with that. And, certainly, this is very much a book that mostly deals with metaphysical notions of time and space--except it also tangentially mentions (here and there, maybe a total of four pages out of a 220 page novel) that there are indeed torture and disappearances of "revolutionaries" (and alleged, i.e. innocent, "revolutionaries") going on. It's just that nobody's talking about it and the newspapers aren't covering it. (Instead, the newspapers and townsfolk are busy discussing and obsessing over a spate of 11 horse murders, even as they admit, after a period of weeks, that they have arrested, imprisoned, and tortured a falsely accused man.)

So, in my reading, because Saer did choose to include those few details which undeniably set his metaphysical treatise in a particular time and particular place where a particularly brutal and oppressive campaign was under way, then it really calls attention to that "omission." It's not an omission at all.

I could go on here, like how at least eight pages are devoted to a character's reading/paraphrasing of de Sade's Philosophy in the Bedroom, a device which allows Saer to explore similarities between depictions of torture and pornography, to address why he has chosen to omit graphic renditions of torture.  Like Coetzee in Waiting For the Barbarians, he recognizes the potential for a "perverse" sort of erotic pleasure arising from writing or reading detailed scenes of a person exerting the utmost power over the body of another person, thereby placing the author in a somewhat complicit position.  Meh, I'm not explaining myself very well. Let me pull a few quotes from that Coetzee article I just linked to (fans of The Battle of Algiers will find mention of it if they read the whole, short Coetzee article):

The torture room thus becomes like the bedchamber of the pornographer's fantasy where, insulated from moral or physical restraint, one human being is free to exercise his imagination to the limits in the performance of vileness upon the body of another.
For the writer the deeper problem is not to allow himself to be impaled on the dilemma proposed by the state, namely, either to ignore its obscenities or else to produce representations of them. The true challenge is how not to play the game by the rules of the state, how to establish one's own authority, how to imagine torture and death on one's own terms.

But I digress. This post is not about my reading of Nobody Nothing Never (a reading which is corroborated by a bit of knowledge about the "sequel" to it, in which the two main characters from NNN are disappeared.) No, this post is about...<drumroll>...me.

I don't know why, but I continue being amazed by my classmates who (all?) believe that art and literature exist in some rarefied vacuum, floating somewhere above the piss and shit and blood and cum and vomit of the world we live in. In their quest for bollocks about "the universal human experience," they don't even think to view Saer's novel within a historical context., let alone examine their own race/class/gender/sexually priviliged or marginalized place in the world.  This in a class of seven people, of which I am the only straight male and the other six students are women (one in her 70s and two identify as lesbians).  Not exactly the most privileged members of society with an abundance of books describing their experience as "universal."  (The teacher, for the record, is an awesome, politically astute gay man who is totally sensitive to race/class/gender/history/etc.)

They remind me of the students in Arun P. Mukherjee's article "Ideology in the Classroom," wherein she discusses her students' readings of "The Perfume Sea" by Margaret Laurence.

"Their papers," writes Mukherjee, "gave me an understanding of how their education had allowed them to neutralize the subversive meanings implicit in a piece of good literature."

I'm not going to get into the specifics of Mukherjee's and her students' readings of "The Perfume Sea," but she does note her students' tendency to:
efface the differences between British bureaucrats and British traders, between colonizing whites and colonized blacks, between rich blacks and poor blacks. [This tendency] enabled them to believe that all human beings faced dilemmas similar to the ones faced by the two main characters in the story...Their analysis, I realized, was in the time-honored tradition of that variety of criticism which presents literary works as 'universal.'
So, back to Saer, this novel which is ostensibly "about" some horse murders and primarily "about" metaphysics and tangentially "about" the Dirty War becomes devoid of any political significance in this "universalist" reading. We see moments of time frozen, as when a ball kicked into the air floats, suspended, for pages while it is examined and reexamined from multiple angles. We see water gushing out of a spigot and then the drops freezie in midair as their shadows and bits of light refracted through them are examined in close detail. But we don't ever, not for the slightest moment (as readers), consider how the falsely accused man being tortured experiences time.

Wow, that was a really long set-up for what was supposed to be a joke.

So, after class I went out for dinner with Kian (who is not in that class), and complained to him about exactly what I've just complained to you about.  As we stood there waiting for our table, I turned to him and asked, "Do you think I'm pretentious and sanctimonious?"

Before he even had a chance to answer, I looked at him and added,  "The fact that I used the second word pretty much proves the first, doesn't it?"

"Don't answer that," I laughed.

This has turned into a very long post and I haven't even gotten around to writing about my first experience practice-teaching. I'll just say this, for now--I went in there intending to play some Jimmy Cliff [lyrics] and Peter Tosh [lyrics] (because they were on the syllabus, along with a critical essay on the oral tradition) and the professor I TA for wound up insisting that I play Dead Prez [lyrics].

That's right. I went in to meet her before class to go over my plans one last time and told her I planned on maybe making the lesson a little more relevant (or familiar, at least) to the students by making mention of a contemporary rap group who address some of the themes from the readings (and who even allude, explicitly, to Peter Tosh in that song). Well, just mentioning Dead Prez wasn't enough for her, especially when she found out I had my computer in my bag and the song on my computer.

"What kind of computer do you have?" she asked, thinking of the A/V setup in the classroom. "Do you have a Mac? No? We could still hook up your pc. Why don't you email it to yourself so we can download it onto the classroom computer?" Etc. I'm not exaggerating one bit--she insisted I take my computer out right then and there, in her office before we even headed over to the other building where the classroom was, and email it to myself immediately.

And that's how I played Dead Prez in the classroom the very first time I taught. (Overall, I think I did a pretty bad job teaching, but I guess that's common. My friends Jenn and Kerry have taken/are taking a "Teaching Creative Writing" class in which they practice-teach and they both had the same experience I did--trying to fit too much material into too little time.)

Wow, this has gone on for a long time and I really need to get to work on my own fiction, which is due in about 15 hours, but I have to close by saying that ALL art is political art and IF YOU ARE NOT EXPLICITLY OR IMPLICITLY CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO, then you are (at least implicitly) supporting the status quo.
Friday, February 29th, 2008
9:49 am
Happy Leap Day!
First of all, hats off to the Billboard Liberation Front for another fine action.

Four years ago I'd been in Houston for about three months and hated my life. I had left San Francisco just after Halloween to kick dope and apply to graduate school. The Shins' Chutes Too Narrow had come out recently and was in heavy rotation.

"Go back to your home town / Get your feet on the ground / and stop floating around..."


"You want to jump and dance / but you sat on your hands / and missed your only chance..."

My grad school applications were in and I did not want to get too settled because I did not intend to stick around long. I meant to head out to wherever-I-would-start-grad-school-in-the-fall by summertime. I didn't want to bother making friends I'd soon abandon, but geeking out on IM and email and talking to my friends in NYC and SF was getting old--I was lonely.

That's the context in which I got an email from my friend Carvell. His band was playing as part of the Clamor Magazine music festival in Oakland. Not only that, the Clamor Music Festival was nationwide, in like 38 cities or something. So I checked Clamor's website and indeed, there was a show in Houston, at a place called the Mausoleum. Not only that, a band I'd been into some years prior, a band I'd gone to see at the Knitting Factory back in the day in NYC, the Free Radicals, were playing.  Plus, it was a benefit for Houston Indymedia, so I figured I could plug into the local anarchist scene, make some friends, who knew, maybe even get laid.

That turned out to be the night I first met many people who would turn out to be some of my favorite bad ass hellraisers.  Talk about not wanting to make friends I'd soon abandon--the cute nerdy girl who worked the door would turn out to be my longest-term lover to date.  And I picked up a flyer for a Leap Day Reclaim the Streets the next day.

"It's your extra day," it read.  "What are you going to do with it?"

I had been planning on going to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, that's what, but I thought I'd be able to do both.  It was a rainy Sunday, I think.  The party was going to be outdoors, but despite the rain, I wasn't going to miss it.

I got to the church where the meeting was supposed to be and nobody was there.  Turned out I'd come an hour early, and now I wasn't so sure that I was going to be able to make it in time for the party after the meeting.  So I ditched the meeting, and that turned out to be the right decision because it led me to the people who actually made me want to clean up. 

I drove up to a traffic island in the Montrose.  Some punks had strung Christmas lights (powered by a car battery) on a tree, and they were digging up soil in the rain.  Planting flowers and melons--guerilla gardening.  I met Travis that night--we started off by talking film.  Jose and Rolando were there, as was Tish and Kayte and Sparki.  Not sure who else.

That's what I did on my last Leap Day.  Today I'm going to work, then meeting my advisor, then Critical MassXtra Action Marching Band is playing later.  Who knows...?
Monday, January 21st, 2008
10:35 pm
Tomorrow is the first day of classes, which means it's my first day teaching assistanting. (There is no good verb for that.)

Everyone's been axxing if I'm nervous. I'm really not, but I think it's because I don't really understand the challenges that lie ahead. (Ignorance is bliss...) Doot doot doot. La la la. It's like being the teacher's pet, right? Comes natural to me. Nothing to worry about.


In other news, I went to see Juno tonight. It was a good, solid, well-made movie, I suppose, but I don't see what all the hype is about. (Is it just me or is everybody talking about how great this movie is?) The girl who plays Juno and Justin Bateman were great, really awesome, and so were all the other characters. The soundtrack by the Moldy Peaches was fantastic. I cried. But was it a "must see?" Not for me. For one thing, the writers were trying WAY too hard on the hip dialog.

The reason I tell you this is not to take issue with the hype surrounding Juno, though, but to lambast the stoned moran who enthusiastically shouted "yes" and "peace is good" through the preview for what looks like an awful movie about the similarities between shalom and salaam. (It's no West Bank Story, I'll tell you that much.)

Stupid moran. Consider yourself lambasted.
Thursday, January 17th, 2008
1:09 am
Get Stoopid
Today I had some Hyphy Juice for some pick me up** and to indulge my new hobby--collecting cans/posters/promotional materials for local energy drinks. It all started when I noticed a poster for Hunid Racks in my San Francisco neighborhood. That's right, my 'hood has it's own damn energy drink--how you like me now? Naturally, my only option was to take the poster, find a store that sold the stuff, and build an altar in my apartment. So I was back in Houston a couple weeks ago when I spotted a poster for something called "Drank - The Anti-Energy Drink." Yup, my hometown's got it's own answer to the energy drink phenomenon, too, and it's ANTI-energy. The store was sold out so I convinced the man to let me take the poster. A few days later I finally found a store that had it in stock. It's a strange purple brew containing rose hips, melatonin, and valerian root. The poster bears a warning: "This beverage may be extremely relaxing and calming and may cause one to lean." No shit--I am not making this up.

Meanwhile, I'm running out of room in my apartment for these altars.  Maybe I'll rotate them.

**There is an abandoned Amtrak station in that video.  I went to a renegade circus there once.  What a space!  (No, really, it was beautiful.)
Wednesday, January 16th, 2008
12:11 am
I'm on a roll
I've posted to this thing two days in a row now, so why stop there.  Here it is, my Statement of Intent:

            I once traded my soul for an Ayn Rand novel and soon found myself at the 1992 Republican National Convention—a turban-headed token on the Astrodome jumbotron—cheering for Patrick J. Buchanan.  Cheering, yes, for Pat Buchanan's "Culture War" and his vision of an exclusive America.  My short-lived fervor for the GOP was followed by many years of cynical apathy, until Kurt Vonnegut finally restored my hope and sanity.  I offer this tale as an example to anybody who doubts the power of fiction to sway minds.

Monday, January 14th, 2008
11:38 pm
punned it maharaj
According to the Annals of Internal Medicine, there is a rash of nasty new staph infections rampaging the SF gay community.  Researcher Mr. Diep at UCSF says the best way to avoid it is to scrub your staff with soap and water.

Meanwhile, due to a shortage of Brazilian cows' intenstines, a sausage shortage looms on the horizon in Switzerland which threatens to upset soccer fans this summer.  Globalization and its discontents, indeed...

There is, however, good news for freegans.

I am so immature and willing to do fuck-all to procrastinate. 
Sunday, January 13th, 2008
10:32 pm
hardly working
Hilarious commercial #1.  Oh yeah.  I remember those days.  Carpooling to school with Jocasta from next door.    BMX ramps and cardboard boxes in the driveway for break-dancing.  "I'm not the Herb you're looking for."  BK buttons that read "I'm not Herb."  Of course, things would only get worse in the 90s.  (Commercials 1a and 1b, for those who are interested.)

This is what I am doing when I should be editing and revising my "Statement of Purpose" for my PhD application which is due in two days.  Of course, I can't edit and revise my "Statement of Purpose" because I have not written it yet.  Too bad I can't write my "Statement of Purpose" about watching old commercials on YouTube.  I am writing my "Statement of Purpose" about being a writer/activist, which is interesting because my fascination with advertising is what indirectly (through AdBusters) led to my becoming an activist.  And now I am anti-Adbusters.

Which brings me around to interesting commercial #2.  (Buy our shoes!)  The comment thread on that video is kinda innarestin, too.  I saw this while watching American Dad tonight.  Holy shit--I don't usually like that show but tonight's was an excellent James Bond parody.

[UPDATE] Mofos is lookin' at my shit (thank you) and emailing me back instead of leaving comments. Best response so far?

Lou says "My conclusion -- M.I.A. is a herb"

For those of you who like the Rebel Sell articles, check out this German film The Edukators some time.
Friday, December 21st, 2007
11:52 pm
Merry Solstice
I just lost $40 at the craps table in a casino at an Indian reservation in Louisiana.  Shoulda quit while I was ahead.  My dad came out a dollar ahead on the slot machines.  Despite the fact that my DOUBLE scotch and soda had about a half-count of scotch and FOUNTAIN six count of soda, I saw a drunk lady fall off her barstool.  The maintenance-man (who was hovering about the bar trying to decide which broken slot machine to fix first) radioed for EMTs, then radioed in to inform his supervisor that more than one slot machine at the bar was broke.  The bartender who was doing a great job of ignoring everybody finally served the person next to me (who hadn't been waiting nearly as long as I had) before calling for EMTs himself.  Then he informed the pushy lady beside me that I'd been waiting longer than her and served me my slightly-flavored soda water, which, to his credit, only cost a dollar.  The EMTs never arrived and the drunk lady's friends got her a Coke before they helped her back onto her stool.  The background noise was like Brian Eno goes to The Price is Right, and more lightbulbs blazed in the joint than at a chandelier convention.
Monday, September 24th, 2007
11:54 am
art in politrix, politrix in art

[T]he most important essential characteristic of the novel that arises out of its structure, out of the combination of narrative and length, is that it is inherently political...Inevitably, the subject of any novel comes to be the coexistence of the protagonist and his group...The narrative, and therefore the logic, of the protagonist's relationship to the group must express some explicit or implicit theory, and inevitably, many of these theories are political, because politics is about the division of power in human groups.    --Jane Smiley, Thirteen Ways of Looking At The Novel

 "Art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it." –Bertolt Brecht

 "The goal of the revolutionary artist is to make revolution irresistible."  - Toni Cade Bambara

Well, school starts back up tomorrow and I'm rethinking my whole novel.  Specifically, I'm wondering if I have to chuck a whole subplot—that of the prankster anarchist community.  This is my first go at novel writing, and even though the issues are pretty clear in my mind, translating them to fiction is complicated business.  Maybe I'm in over my head (for now, as a novice), and I need to go through this whole process of writing and rewriting a long work of fiction before I go muddying the waters with what may be dismissed as "propaganda."

            These misgivings are somewhat related, I'm sure, to talks I had with my summer advisor.  He cautioned me that at times, in his opinion, I was verging on propaganda.  That may or may not be so (like I said it's his opinion and it's largely a matter of taste), but it's still something I would be well served to keep an eye on. 

            Not to get defensive, but I think that the parts that do come closest to deserving a label such as "propaganda" or "didacticism" are parts he specifically asked for, parts where he asked me to explain my characters' motivations.  At this point, I'm not so interested in explaining motivations.  Stylistically, I just want to describe the action and avoid delving too deep into the characters' heads, as in Less Than Zero.

            On a sidenote, another way I'm striving to make this like Less Than Zero and Play It As It Lays is the missed connections quality—the way characters talk past each other and aren't really interested in one another.  My workshop leader last spring felt like I was wasting opportunities and narrative tension by having characters just brush past each other so much—but what if that's the point?  (This idea was not so clear to me at the time, so I never stated my intent clearly, I'm sure.)

            But getting back to politics and propaganda, another thing my summer advisor advised me to consider was what he called "the arrogance necessary to be an activist."  I understood what he meant by that when he said it, in context, but no I can only assume he referred to "the arrogance" necessary to judge the relative morality of people's beliefs and actions, or to think you know how to do things better than the given status quo, etc.  I assume that's what he meant, but I'm not sure.  (And I'm fairly certain that if I asked him to clarify now, he would not recall exactly what he meant in that context.  Still, it wouldn't hurt to ask.)

            In any case, I don't see anything arrogant about "one no, many yeses."  I think the decentralized, anti-authoritarian approach to problem-solving is much less arrogant than the one-size-fits-all market fundamentalism that is constantly forced down our throats.  Also, I don't think it's any more arrogant than anything advertisers do.  On the contrary—I am merely trying to bring information to my audience which I feel they're not getting from the mainstream media.  I'm not telling them what to think.  And unlike advertisers and corporate news producers, I am trying to give them real information so they can make up their own minds, as opposed to spin, image, and fluff.  Isn't all that tripe in the newspapers and on tv so much more insulting to the audience?  Talk about arrogant contempt for your audience!

            I mean, is it "arrogant" now to challenge Americans' solipsistic disregard for anybody but themselves (and maybe their immediate, nuclear family?)

            At least at this historical moment, Americans generally prefer their art to be "apolitical," which means that they prefer that it not challenge their comfortable place in the world.  They like to be reassured that, though we may indeed be living in a complex world fraught with moral ambiguities, we are all chugging along to the best of our abilities.  Like Voltaire's Candide, not only are we living in the best castle in the best country under the best leaders, we are living in the best possible castle in the best possible country. 

            And that's all that matters.  Good intentions.  We like to be reminded that we're trying our best in an imperfect world.  Being imperfect beings, sometimes we fuck up and miscalculate, and when that happens, the serfs of the world should just be happy with whatever pittance we can muster up, which only would have rotted in our already overburdened warehouses, anyway.

            But why is advertising, a whole mammoth industry which draws from the ranks of the most creative people in the world, not considered propaganda?  BUY NOW, PAY LATER!

            I'm just ranting now.  I'd been mulling these thoughts in a much more organized fashion a week or two ago, but I waited too long to commit them to the page.  All I know is this:  it is indeed difficult to portray a nuanced, compelling critique of the normative culture through complex high art which is meant to be both timely and timeless...but it's not impossible.  Plenty of South American, Eastern European, African, and South Asian writers have done it—and under the most repressive circumstances.  Maybe that's one reason political art is not so well received in this country:  It's like the audiences and critics are telling us that we're at the top of the food chain and we should be careful not to rock the boat.  Don't fuck it up for the rest of us. 

            I found myself in Guadalajara during their big annual book expo last year.  It's the largest book fair in the western hemisphere.  I had the privilege of attending a panel discussion on politics in fiction with the likes of Jose Saramago and Nadine Gordimer.  I'd been led to believe that the discussion would be held in English (to accommodate Ms. Gordimer), but that turned out to be false, so I didn't comprehend most of it because it was (rightly) in Spanish.  In any case, from what little I gathered, Gordimer's notion of politics was a very old school "which party are you going to support" kind of understanding, and she failed to inspire me in the way I'd hoped.  Saramago was much more interesting, but I've lost the gist of his remarks in translation and time.

            One big critique of MFA programs is that they churn out works that are very similar to each other—"The MFA Novel."  I think maybe I just picked the wrong advisor to work with over the summer.  I'm writing what I hope will become a work of ruthless satire, and my advisor is just too nice of a guy.  He wants me to explain my characters' motivations, for example, when they engage in some petty vandalism, and to be nice to the straw men I set up just to tear down, but the book I've been reading lately (Fixer Chao by Han Ong) is convincing me of the exact opposite.  I've been too nice to the targets of my scorn.  I need to turn up the heat, tighten the screws--not reaffirm that we all just try our best in an imperfect world.

            And once I'm out of here (out of school) I may like to make a name for myself as a creative writing instructor who encourages his students to find the artistic solutions they need to work their politics into their work.  I mean, don't get me wrong—I hate most "political" art, too.  It tends to be preachy and simplistic and speak in generalizations. 

            The aesthetics tend to be subservient to the "message."  I wrote and produced a whole one-act play about simplistic political art.  But I'd like to work on finding solutions to that quandary, and why not make it a group effort with multiple solutions?

            Anyway, to change the subject a bit now, I'm not even as sure in my politics as I was a year ago, when I started this project.  What gives me the audacity to think I know any better than anybody else?  Who am I to preach to anybody?  And what makes me think I can even make a difference?  Am I an optimist?  An idealist?  Do I really think art can change people?  This quote from Fixer Chao further complicates my musings.  (The narrator, William Paulinha, is comparing himself to another character, Paul Chan Chuang Toledo Lin, who has written a book called Peking Man?Woman?.

And though there was a seed inside his book that pertained to my situation—which was that sometimes a face other than your own could be grafted on top by the outside world—I thought that there was a world of difference between what he chose to do with that knowledge and what I was choosing to do.  In essence, Paul Chan Chuang Toledo Lin was the author of a screed, a rant, a complaint, huffing and puffing.  Versus?  My plan, a definite course of action:  revenge...

 Peking Man?Woman? was a definite screed which, though bitter, was written from hope.  A hope that people's minds could be influenced, made to see the error of their ways and then corrected, and therefore linked with the idea of progress, moving forward.  In his own way, then, Toledo Lin possessed a kind of grace, believing that human beings could be made better, shamed into improvement.  While as for myself, I started from the belief that human beings, having begun low, only degenerated further, and that the only correction possible came from a kind of violence, a kind of wresting away of privileges which were undeserved, things granted which it was time to repossess, to reveal the naked, fatty, vulnerable thing underneath; a feeling closer to death than to life.

             Do I believe, like Paul Chan Chuang Toledo Lin, that people are inherently good?  That, given the "correct" information, I can compel them to change?  Or do I believe they are rotten?  (This difference in worldview lies at the heart of the liberal/conservative divide, I think.)

            In any case, the world bumbled along fine before I entered the picture, and I suspect it will do fine without me and my opinions, also.  And who knows, maybe all the prophets of doom are wrong.  Gawdette knows they have been in the past.  A favorite quote to put things in perspective:

Why are we watching the news, keeping up with the news? Only to enforce the fancy—probably a necessary lie—that these are crucial times, and we are in on them…New diseases, shifts in power, floods! Can the news from dynastic Egypt have been any different?   --Annie Dillard, For the Time Being

             I mean, humans have done shitty things to other humans (not to mention plants and animals) for millennia.  I am not about to change that.  And is it not arrogant of me to assume that what I offer, my solution, would be better?  (Unless, of course, what I offer is not an answer but a question, with many possibly correct answers.  Again, "one no and many yeses.")

            Anyway, classes start tomorrow and I look forward to Lewis Buzbee's lit seminar this semester.  Lewis is a great teacher—I had him last semester.  He actually answers your emails and encourages you to follow your passion and explore as much as you want outside of class.  One book we'll be reading is Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.  (We're also reading The Grapes of Wrath, Miami and The Last Thing He Wanted  by Joan Didion and In Cold Blood, then looking at the authors' notes and letters to evaluate their intent and how they accomplished what they intended.)  I look forward to rereading Invisible Man because it's a political book that strives to be apolitical.  Ellison was not, like James Baldwin, so interested in effecting social change through his fiction—Ellison espoused the modernist principles of art for art's sake.  His work is full of, among other things, allusions to canonical works. 

            Nonetheless, he (inadvertently?) created a powerful critique of the forces on both the political right and the left which were only interested in black people as tools, as means to their political ends.  The Invisible Man, first championed by The Brotherhood, grows disillusioned as he realizes that once he starts thinking independently and they no longer need him as their token, they decide he'd make a good martyr for their cause.  (That's how I remember it, at least.  It's been 10 years since I read it last.)

            And finally, that's my major concern.  I am not interested in sitting in this comfortable place and exploiting the suffering of others to advance my career, to elevate my power.  To tell their stories is fine, but to advocate "solutions" which "they" themselves may find unpalatable, that's just fascist.  And let's not forget that fascism came out of the left. (Though once you get to the fringes, the political spectrum loops back on itself.  How far are anarchists—the extreme left, from libertarians—the extreme right?  Not very.)

            But when you think of the dearth of real lifestyle choices, the dearth of real choices in how we live/work/eat/play and relate to each other (amidst the plentiful choices among cars and toothpastes and fast foods and antidepressant diet pills), maybe I can provide a service in telling stories of people who live rich lives outside of that vapid rat race.  Rich lives filled with passionate idealism, romance, and adventure amidst this crumbling plastic world.

            The jury's still out, but these are my thoughts.  I am equivocating.  Actually, who am I kidding?  I see no point in this exercise if I'm not challenging the status quo.  The world needs my book(s).  Comrade. And I would do well to incorporate more stories of local struggles across the globe from the truly dispossessed victims of our consumer culture and less about angst-ridden Americans.  Or to illustrate the connections between los dos.

            So, tell me dear readers--what do you think of these things: arrogance vs. complicity, idealism and niavete vs cynicism, and the role of art in moving people from one to the other.
Monday, August 20th, 2007
9:07 am
When I was Born for the Seventh Time
I just read this article and I think it's missing a key reason why people like to deflate their background:  they want to participate in the American "rags to riches" "by the bootstraps" myth.

I remember reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry back in sixth grade.  For a few years afterwards, I would start off any autobiographical piece with the phrase "I was born the son of poor black sharecroppers..."  (Being a big fan of Steve Martin's The Jerk prolly had something to do with that, too.)  I'm glad that somebody I respect finally told me how corny I was being.

I'm also reminded of certain jackass suburban "gangstas" from my parents' temple who claim to be from "The Ghettoes of Punjab."  Puh-lease!  You are a chump who's been to jail too many times because you are stupid, not because you're hard or the man is keeping you down.
Thursday, June 14th, 2007
11:18 pm
Good Roads, Good Weather
I'm not really supposed to be updating my blog on account of I'm like two weeks behind in my work, but I need to vent and I'll prolly act out in a counterproductive way if I don't.

So, I got a package in the mail from my eldest sister today, a birthday present. Twelve copies of a craptastic little pamphlet by L. Ron Hubbard. Not one, twelve.


I want to send them back to her and tell her what I really think about her little cult, but I'm trying to restrain myself. See, a few weeks ago I included her on a mass email, and she responded with a "reply all" to my list of friends with some Scientology proselytizing. WTF??? [Wait! Why does my stupid Firefox spellcheck have "Scientology" in its database and not "WTF" or even "spellcheck?" Insidious mother fuckers.]

Yeah, so I wrote her back and told her not to proselytize to my friends, and probably for the first time in years, I let on about my real opinion on her beliefs. For those of you not familiar with how to deal with cult members--what I did is not a good idea.

I've been wondering, since, if she has ratted me out yet. She must have at least told her husband that I'm a "suppressive person," and he works for the "church." Pretty soon the church will ask her to sever her ties with the only family member who still maintains ties with her. Or the "church" will excommunicate her and she'll see what a sham her whole life was and she'll kill herself.

Ok, I'm exaggerating, but stuff like that happens. [And why the fuck is "ok" not in the god damned spellcheck database, but fucking SCIENTOLOGY is? I FEEL LIKE PUNCHING SOMEBODY JUST BECAUSE OF THAT!!! I mean, I remember reading in The Beach that "Coca Cola" is the second-most-widely understood word in THE WORLD, after "OK."]

In any case, I want to call my sister and tell her that I'm chucking these stupid pamphlets she sent me because I think they're dangerous for vulnerable people, and that along with the copy of Diuretics that she gave me, I've got A Piece of Blue Sky and Bare Faced Messiah on my shelf, that I've read all three and thought it through and decided which side I'm on.

Of course, that's a lie. All three are on my shelf, but I haven't read a one.

I should get to work. But damn I'm pissed. I just want my sister back...it's been, what, eleven years? Help me Steve Hassan!
Friday, June 1st, 2007
2:21 am
I have to write 50 pages by next Friday.

One week, exactly. So what did I do? I went out and bought two more books, both by Hakim Bey: T.A.Z. and Immediatism. Both of which, obviously, are available online. And both of which I have pretended to have read for many years, which I have counted as major philosophical influences for many years. Ha!

So I've got about seven books going at the moment. It's pretty awesome. Other than the ones in my last blog entry, I've also pulled Frank Owen's Clubland down off the shelf, along with some Zapatista pamphlets and this book, which Tish gave me, about clowns in the USSR.

Tomorrow I head out to Yosemite for the weekend. I've been coerced into chaperoning a retreat for LA gang members. I prolly shouldn't call 'em that. They're kids.

But I've been promised a great deal of free time to focus on my work, a place to stay in some of the most beautiful country, and three squares, so I'm not complaining. And I will totally be out of reach to the outside world. Can't wait!  (Although I think this is not the one that we go river rafting on...that's the one in July.)

In other news, I think I'm going to the US Social Forum in Atlanta in July.
Wednesday, May 30th, 2007
3:42 pm
I need a new book shelf!
Talk about summer madness!  I went a little crazy buying books yesterday.  Here is a list (in no particular order) of what I picked up for various aspects of "research" for my novel:

Fixer Chao by Han Ong

Londonstani by Gautam Malkani

The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow

Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead

The White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty (I've read this a few times but I need it as a reference.)

If On a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino (Another one I've read a few times but didn't have on my shelf, recently.)

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers by Tom Wolfe

Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman

Pranks and Pranks 2 from Re/Search

Black Mask & Up Against the Wall Motherfucker by Ron Hahne, Ben Morea and the Black Mask Group

Guerilla Street Theater edited by Henry Lesnick

The Whistling Song by Stephen Beachy  (First novel by one of my teachers...I bought it used, so alas, he won't get paid for it.)

The World of Normal Boys by K.M. Soehnlein (First novel by another one of my teachers...also used, alas.)

Granta's "Best of Young American Novelists" edition - (The last story, by a man named John Wray, features a Sikh character, and this issue also features a story by Daniel Alarcon, who rocked everybody's world when he read at USF.)

So those are the 16 I bought yesterday.  I'd also like to read the following books which have been sitting on my desk for a few months:

Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih, The Fountain at the Center of the World by Robert Newman, April Fool's Day by Josip Novakovich, and The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara.

CRAP!!!  And I should also get a hold of Barbara Ehrenreich's new book Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy.

And I still want to finish Swann's Way and The Last Life from last semester.  And I should probably get a leg-up on next semester's reading, too, because it's going to be pretty heavy.  (We've got The Grapes of Wrath, Invisible Man, In Cold Blood, and Miami on the syllabus, along with the authors' notes and journals and letters.  I've read three of those four, but still, I am going to have to read them again.)  (Oh shit, and we have to read Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee in my workshop next semester!)

And...I have to write 150 pages of my own novel and take one chapter through three revisions...You know that Kool & the Gang song "Summer Madness?"  That is not what I am talking about in this entry!

So I guess I should get off the internet, huh?  Before I go, one question for you, dear readers: What groupings/trends do you see in this list?

OH!  I almost forgot.  I also picked up the new Wilco album.  It's frickin beautiful.  Best Wilco album to date.
3:34 pm
Loveland or Bust!
Fuck Disneyland, I want to go to Loveland!             Here are more pics, and here are even more.

And get a load of this!
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