Pastoral Genocide

Wolverine Liberation Army
July 30, 2008, 4:13 am
Filed under: Writing | Tags: , ,

I recently wrote a short story for Wolverine Liberation Army. It’s called “Mike Barwis and the Great White North: You Damn Dirty Dog” and you can check it out here.

If you don’t follow University of Michigan football, the story’s hero – recently hired strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis – has developed something of a cult following for his hyper active demeanor. His job is making 19 year olds run a bunch of wind sprints and puke all over the place and he seems to revel in it. Also, I think he owns a pack of wolves, has a bodybuilder for a wife, and used to be a cage fighter. I’m not sure what’s real and what’s not.


Cats and Other Things.
July 25, 2008, 4:24 am
Filed under: Writing | Tags:

When I was fourteen, two kids from my street killed a cat by spraying insecticide into its ears and electric-taping its mouth shut. I was one of those kids. I’m nearly twenty eight now and I still feel terrible about it. It’s a horrible memory, killing something that has no real business dying. I lie in bed some nights and think about things, you know, life retrospectively, and every here and again, it drags itself into my consciousness. Sometimes one thing connects to another and I think about my partner in crime, Jerrid Thompson. He was a big kid, a real asshole. He went to a vocational high school and smoked Doral cigarettes. Last I heard, he got arrested stealing flat screen televisions from a warehouse. When the cops made him take a piss test, he tested positive for marijuana and the date rape drug.

Tree of Smoke.
July 17, 2008, 7:11 pm
Filed under: Literature | Tags: , ,

In the retrospective mechanism of the American cultural disapora, the Vietnam War is an approximation of time and place that is sheeted in dense cloud cover. The dark of the jungle, the oppressive heat and humidity, the lingering taste of bloodloss, and the disillusion of youth: these are the some of the things that we, in our self-styled modernity, recall when reminiscing about the Vietnam War. It matters little –if at all – that we are recalling a time and place in which we have little or no right to empirically digest and even less right to accurately describe.

Today, the Vietnam War is seen as a swelling mile-marker which came to define a country that was politically and otherwise wayward. It was an awkward age in which the auspices of culture, at long last, were met with self-awareness. The cruelty of the divided American South, the bloated feeling of post-WWII superiority, the fear of the Russians and their apocalyptic rain of fire dance together in a stew of recognizance that seems to be a hallucination of the grandest sort, projected, somehow, as a war which encompassed not only Southwest Asia but also our own social-reflexivity. The Vietnam War was more than just a war, it was an era of disillusionment and literature, music and thought, hope and heartbreak. The sense that America was vulnerable and – gasp – less than worthwhile became wrought and burned into the streets of our cities. The new guard and the old guard stood toe-to-toe on each corner, lazily and conveniently forgetting the crew-cut young men that slowly, then rapidly, became ghosts in a faraway jungle.

Denis Johnson’s newest novel, Tree of Smoke, does not forget those young men. In the same sense, he doesn’t actually remember them, either. They exist for Johnson in the way that they exist for the anti-Iraq War movement (and their cries of quagmires and lessons learned) and the starched corruption of the Swiftboat Veterans’ advertising campaign. They are a means and a way to weave a tapestry of totality, a portraiture of a predicted endgame. Because, of course, being a marine in Khe Sanh was hazardous to your health if and only if you were actually a marine in Khe Sanh. So, what’s the point? Well, the first and perhaps most pragmatic point is that Johnson’s Tree of Smoke is a tremendous work of literature that depicts the Vietnam War as the endless and borderless monster that it was. It is about jungles and guns and dying, but it is also about the 1966 Michigan State-Notre Dame football game, Orson’s 1984, and the municipal jail cells of Phoenix, Arizona.

Roughly based around the misadventures of Skip Sands, a middling CIA-agent under the nepotistic care of his uncle, the Colonel, and the Houston brothers, Bill and James, the story encompasses 20 years and two continents. Sands, primarily involved in psychological operations against the Vietcong, yearns for glory. The Houston brothers, young and poor, yearn for a directional influence to enter their lives. Ultimately, and unsurprisingly, failure for all is guaranteed. It is a fatalist sort of fantasy, a surreal dreamscape where sweeping adventure bravely-slash-stupidly belies the forgone promise of cavernous inconsequence. Rationality, at least in real time, is a distinct and forlorn idea, a theory that is sought after but never substantiated.

As each character plods through the exposition, Johnson’s use of language enables a powerful reverie to emerge. The places he describes are horrible or beautiful and, often, both. There’s a wanderlust present, a scope that consumes the beaches of Waikiki, the business district of Manila, and star-speckled desert sky of Southern Arizona. The consequence is a contorted but fitting one: Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, like the war it fleetingly tries to rationalize, is impatient and complicated. The story and it’s characters pass like a fever, a sweltering tour de force that blazes momentarily before fading, quietly and mercifully, into the thereafter.

In the here and now, the Vietnam War is a benchmark for which current failures are measured against. It’s a political tool, a compensatory measurement stick for both penis sizes and patriotism. For many, it was and remains an ill-conceived rite of passage, a masturbatory and recollective fantasy in which they faced a great and yawning evil. Where, somehow, listening to Bob Dylan records was tantamount to courage . But for some, the Vietnam War truly was a harrowing moment of introspection and implosion. A confusing and gigantic beast, the War was carried on the backs of men not unlike the Houston brothers and Skip Sands. Unaware of a greater consciousness, they did as they were told, for awhile. And when things no longer made sense, they did something other than what they were told. But always, they did something. Johnson understands this in a pointed and touching way. And, therein, the pain and the poetry of Tree of Smoke emerges.

Rehearsed Apologies in the Afterglow of Colonialism.
July 15, 2008, 3:23 pm
Filed under: Writing | Tags: , ,

Unreasonably so, David Patterson was in Africa. A peace corps dropout turned drug mule turned sunken-eyed enigma, David hadn’t spoken with the Western Hemisphere in over two years. It was what it was, a nomadic journey into the only place where nomadic journeys were still remarkable. He had grown up in Connecticut, gone to college in Iowa, and become generally disinterested in the idea of conclusion. His exodus had been a quiet, insignificant thing that was shackled by neither maps nor time nor currency. And so, he drifted, lost in the dark. Cape Town to Johannesburg to Maputo to Mombasa, different places that tasted vaguely the same. He knew he’d go back, someday and somehow. Now, though, wasn’t and couldn’t be the time. The idea of house and home was intimidating, overpowering, tyrannical. Throughout his life, he had been scared of many things. But nothing, literally nothing, terrified him more than the thought of acquiescence. Because, to David, the beginning of the end was merely the end.

For What It’s Worth.
July 14, 2008, 7:39 pm
Filed under: Music | Tags: , , ,

As many of you may know, this blog is in love with all things Okkervil River. And, we’re not talking love in the “I love you mom and dad” sort of way. No, this is the type of love that results in you showing up to your date’s house with flowers and candy. And with an entire box of Durex. And a ball gag and horse whip. And three Russian prostitutes that you ordered off Craigslist. And your next door neighbor’s border collie. You know, real love.

Ahem. Anyway, as many of you also may know, Okkervil River has a new CD, entitled “The Stand Ins,” coming out on 9 September 2008. Obviously, this is quite exciting. Arousing, even. As songwriter Will Sheff has delineated on countless occasions, “The Stand Ins” is, for all pragmatic intents and purposes, a companion release to 2007’s “The Stage Names.” Meaning, of course, that the songs appearing on “The Stand Ins” were largely written at the same time as those songs appearing on “The Stage Names.”

Several months ago, Okkervil River did a live guest appearance type of thing on Cincinnati’s WOXY. They played several songs, including a new song, titled “Lost Coastlines.” You can download the songs individually, by right-clicking and saving the following links, (mostly) provided via The Futurist:

(1) Lost Coastlines (2) A King and A Queen (3) A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene (4) It Ends with A Fall (5) Full Set w/Interviews.

For whatever reason, the WOXY site is missing the link for “It Ends with a Fall.” So, that particular song is furnished via the weblog Hearsay.

Notably, the Live at WOXY version of “Lost Coastlines” is a bit different than a version appearing on Youtube. Check it out below:

From my particular vantage point, I like the Youtube version marginally better. The dualing vocals and rustic feel of the banjo give the song a pleasantly rural vibe. Both versions, however, sound really fantastic, for whatever that’s worth.

That’s all for now. Until next time, take ‘er easy. And, if she’s really easy, take her twice.

There Is Only This
July 10, 2008, 1:06 am
Filed under: Writing | Tags:

Today was supposed to be the day that I decided to stop feeling sick. But then I wake up,  tired and apathetic, and I don’t feel like doing much of anything. I get dressed. I try to eat, but I can’t. I’m not hungry, not now. I sit at my desk and look out the window. The clouds sit low and fat, lazily merging world and sky.  I want to get high. I take out the dope and roll it in with some papers. I get halfway through and I say fuck the papers. I have a cherry philly in my desk. I split it open and push the tobacco into a neat pile. I make the paper, I lick onto my fingers and mat the cheap shell against the table. I fill it and roll, tenderly, precariously because I have exactly and only one cherry philly. Sink or swim, drown or don’t. I seal it. I smoke it. Fuck this weed. It’s garbage. It’s ditch yellow and impotent and, somehow, a reflection of me. I can’t think straight. I’m still not hungry. I turn on some music and stare blankly into the day. Jawbreaker, Waits, Mogwai, Strummer. Nothing fits the mood, nothing makes me feel anything. Nothing feels right. But that’s ok. Nothing ever feels right. Has anything ever felt right? No. I forget, for a moment, that I was looking out of my window and when I remember to actually look, I see a plastic bag ghost mulling about in the street, anxiously puffing and ascending skyward only to fall back to the grime and the dirt and the dirty as[halt of the street. There’s a cat picking through a trash can at the end of the street. The grey seeps lower, still. Metallically dull, foggy, thick with dramatic and brooding overtones. My exasperation wells up into an oblong lump in the pit of my stomach. This is life. Today was the day that I said I would stop feeling sick. It’s just another day, though. I don’t want to get better. I don’t want to stop feeling sick. I just want to be able to imagine a time when I can imagine again. I go out onto the porch and have a smoke. Around me, the world moves. It’s 3:30 and the kids are being let out of school across the street. Fucking kids. They live in a murky world of unlimited potentiality. And greed and hate and depression and mental instability. Maybe they know this but maybe they don’t. They’ll figure it out, eventually. We all do. I did. I get into my car and drive. I’m unemployed and uninsured. I don’t know where I am headed or what I’ll do when I get there an even why the fuck I felt compelled to go there in the first place. I don’t care. I should care but I don’t. So I keep driving. I see a lot of people doing a lot of different shit. I hope they’re happy, I hope things are going their way. I see the cornerboys on the corner, doing what they do. I see fast food chains and police stations. I see hospitals and the downtown skyline. I drive along the river for awhile and think. Today was the day I decided to stop feeling sick. It rings hollow. I’m disappointed in myself, disappointed that I woke up and let my resolve simmer into nothing. Today is the day that I decided that I’m alright with feeling sick. I end up back at my house and I’m standing glass-eyed in the driveway. I go inside. I sit at my desk and light a cigarette. It tastes horrible. These goddamn things have always tasted horrible and I have always smoked them. I take out a picture from my bureau drawer and look at it. It is of one specific memory that I used to treasure but I don’t anymore. It’s dark now. I turn on the lamp at the right corner of my desk. It has a comfortable glow. Outside, it starts to rain. I open up my window and listen to the droplets thud and die on the roof, the pavement, the grass. I watch as puddles, highlighted by streaking shafts of petroleum, sparkle in the under the softly municipal glow of the streetlamps above. The rain smells like rain, wet and familiar, old but alive. I sit at my desk and I think about all the places I’ve never seen, all the places I’ll never go. Important mountains, water so blue it looks unreal, Japan in the morning. I realize that I have lived a life of pictures and dreams, glossy and unrealistic. I light another cigarette and watch as it burns to nothing in the ashtray. My clothes smell like smoke, my room smells like smoke. I still haven’t eaten. I don’t want to. Today was the day that wasn’t. And, that’s ok. I think about the inside of old churches and echoing Gregorian chants that exist even when they don’t. I think about the comfort of antiquity. I think about the burden of understanding things and the stability of youth. I think about dying, I think about living. I think about Portugal, a place I’ve never been but have always imagined to be surreal. I think about thinking too much and decide that it’s time to go to bed.

Everything is Nothing and Nothing Is Really Something.
July 9, 2008, 4:53 am
Filed under: Writing | Tags: , ,

On the subway ride home from school, Ming looked like slut. Laying in bed later, I thought about her sucking me off and doing other things, you know, adult things. Grown up things. I jerked myself along until inevitability upturned everything and I had to change my boxers. That night marked the forty seventh consecutive day that I masturbated, but it was only my thirteenth straight day I did it while thinking about Ming. Before that, it had been Penny. But her parents moved to the other side of the city and, now, she takes a different train home.