An Interview…and an Announcement
I should start with the usual groveling apology for not posting anything in a long while but, as you know, if this blog lies dormant a spell it’s because my little brain is hard at work on a project and I barely have time to floss my teeth, let alone provide you with regular updates.
Before I get to the personal stuff, I want to give a plug to Dennis Rimmer and his podcast “Talking Books”. Dennis has been interviewing writers and musicians and personalities on his show for ages, notching up some pretty impressive guests, including one of my literary heroes, Karl Marlantes.
I’m pleased to say that I am Dennis’ 200th guest–we recently chatted and he posted our conversation on his site today. If you’d like to tune in, just click here and it’ll take you right there.
My thanks to Dennis for seeking me out and giving me the opportunity to talk about my work.
And now my last bit of news:
Bowing to popular pressure (mainly from my wife and oldest kid), I’m in the process of writing and hosting a brand new podcast devoted to all things literary. I’m calling the program “Standing At an Angle to the Universe” and that pretty much sums up my approach. My podcast will be personal, intimate and sharp-toothed, presenting a writer’s eye view of the world. I’m not afraid to make harshly critical assessments and won’t pull any punches when it comes to trends, memes or the cultural flotsam and jetsam polluting discourse and insinuating themselves into the public sphere.
I conceive of the show as a 10-part limited series, each episode 20-25 minutes long, covering as many topics and concerns as I can possibly squeeze into that space.
I’ve completed the scripts for five episodes and am quite pleased with what I’m seeing thus far.
Anticipating releasing the first podcast in May, and the rest at set intervals after that.
Meanwhile I have five other full-length projects either in progress or in the works, my dance card full for the next three or four years.
It’s great having something to work toward, but it will involve a daunting amount of time and effort…and I ain’t a spring chicken any more.
Turning sixty (60) this year and that was a motivating factor when I was pondering taking the plunge into podcasts.
“Standing At an Angle to the Universe” is, in a way, my attempt to set the record straight: six decades into my life, this is who I am and what I think.
No apologies, no requirement to pretend I’m something I’m not. Just telling it like it is and damn the torpedos.
I’ll let you know once everything is up and running and, as always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.
No need to be shy or deferential.
Surely we know each other well enough by now that we can dispense with such niceties.
“Give it to me with the bark on”, as FDR used to say.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Best Books Read in 2022
The Luminous Novel by Mario Levrero (Trans. Annie McDermott)
Nora by Nuala O’Connor
M: Son of the Century by Antonio Scurati (Trans. Anne Appel)
Bewilderment by Richard Powers
When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut
The Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
The Anomaly by Herve Le Tellier (Trans. Adriana Hunter)
The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy
The Twilight World by Werner Herzog (Trans. Michael Hofmann)
Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (Trans. Jennifer Croft)
The Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin (Trans. James Gambrell)
The North Water by Ian McGuire
Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (Trans. William Weaver)
A Shout in the Ruins by Kevin Powers
The Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin (Trans. James Gambrell)
Red Dog by Willem Acker (Trans. Michael Heyns)
Motorman by David Ohle
Songs For the Unravelling of the World by Brian Evenson
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy & the Life of John Maynard Keynes by Zachary Carter
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler & Stalin by Timothy Snyder
The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party by John Nichols
A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
The Trouble With Being Born by E.M. Cioran (Trans. Richard Howard)
Paul Celan: Collected Prose by Paul Celan (Trans. Rosemarie Waldrop)
Orson Welles Portfolio: Sketches & Drawings From the Welles Estate by Orson Welles (edited by Simon Braund)
I Wanna Be Yours (memoir) by John Cooper Clarke
Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan
Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design & Pattern in Narrative by Jane Allison
Heretics and Heroes by Thomas Cahill
Sing Backwards and Weep (memoir) by Mark Lanegan
Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds
Strike Sparks: Selected Poems by Sharon Olds
Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver
Here by Wislawa Symborska (Trans. Clare Cavanagh & Stanislaw Baranezak)
The Shadow of Sirius by W.S. Merwin
Winter Recipes From the Collective by Louise Gluck
Lightduress by Paul Celan (Trans. Pierre Joris)
Transformations by Anne Sexton
“The Arsonists” (acrylic on canvas)
I painted “The Arsonists” about a year ago, partly inspired by Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry For the Future.
Ministry For the Future and Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything are the two most important books published in the past decade. They made it manifestly clear to me that Bill McKibben is absolutely right when he says climate change/global warming should be our predominant concern as a society, rather than allowing our mental bandwidth to be taken up with trendy social causes and pointless culture wars.
I know we all have our pet issues but what other crisis confronting us threatens us existentially, putting our entire future as a species in doubt?
The world is burning, as my painting depicts, but it’s the figures in the foreground—disinterested, passive—who should draw your attention (and ire).
It’s a portrait of shame, a depiction of a mindset that will condemn our grandchildren to dystopic horrors we can’t even imagine.
May God forgive us.
“Libraries: Places of Mystery & Imagination” (available for viewing on Facebook)
I’m relieved and delighted to say my speech/presentation on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Lakeland Library Region was warmly received by my audience.
Sherron was good enough to film the event and it’s now available for viewing on Facebook.
Apologies for the (at times) spotty audio, chalk it up to a glitchy wi-fi connection.
I’ve also uploaded an audio-only version of the speech on to my Bandcamp page. This was recorded with my little Sony digital unit and the sound quality is much better.
Regardless, I hope you enjoy my wide-ranging talk and the discussion afterward.
If you love good books and revere the printed word, this one is dedicated to YOU.
The End of Summer
I love summer, don’t get me wrong, but my favorite season is definitely autumn.
The changing colors of the trees and surrounding fields, the harvest underway, this part of the world bustling with activity and vigor.
My summers are always busy, for some reason my Muse kicks into overdrive around the end of June, whispering ideas, urging me to work each morning, refusing to allow me to clock out until I’ve put in a full day, slaving at my desk.
Oh, she can be a tyrant.
I’ve written, count ’em, thirty (30) poems since the release of The Definition of Melancholy in May, which is a ridiculously torrid pace for me. I’ve also penned some short stories, plus there are a couple of side-projects I can’t really go into right now and they seem to be morphing into…something. God knows what.
At the moment I’m working on a speech/presentation I’ll be performing next Saturday (September 24th) at our local library. The Lakeland Library Region is celebrating its 50th anniversary and they asked me to do a reading…but I thought I’d try something a bit different and give a talk about the important role libraries have played in my life since childhood. They helped open the door to my imagination, introducing me to authors who became important early influences, mentors and companions I treasured.
The speech will be autobiographical…but also a general discussion on the diminishing importance of the printed word and the impact that could have on our society.
I know most of you won’t be there on Saturday and we’ve been pondering ways of recording the event. We shall see. I’ve spent a lot of time on this presentation over the past couple of weeks—Sherron would say far too much time—but I wanted to be as lucid and concise as I could, ensuring I didn’t bore my audience or ramble on and on, enjoying listening to the sound of my own voice.
I’m afraid that’s the best I can do for an update. I’ll be back again in a couple of weeks (no, really), maybe with a snippet of new work, or a poem to show off, or a rant, just to get the juices flowing.
“Saskatchewan Weekend”: The Interview
I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Shauna Powers, host of “Saskatchewan Weekend”.
I usually shy away from interviews but chatting with Shauna about my poetry collection The Definition of Melancholy was like sitting down for coffee with a friend or colleague.
You’ll find the interview in its entirety here–not sure how long it will be up, so enjoy it while you can.
THE DEFINITION OF MELANCHOLY: The Proof
Mutant Thoughts (iv)
It’s been hectic again of late…which is tolerable, for short periods of time. I very much prefer ordinary, mundane routine. Much better for my creative faculties.
Finally got the word and will shortly have my second hip replaced. Just in time too. The right side had collapsed and I’ve been walking like a peg-legged pirate. More pain manifesting itself, my upper body out of whack, so when the surgeon’s office rang me up, I felt nothing but relief.
I think I sensed something coming. The COVID numbers were down, I’d heard elective surgeries were restarting…something must have clicked. For the past month-six weeks I’ve been working like a dog, writing and editing a new one-act play, as well as toiling on three other, separate projects. Haven’t been this productive in awhile—and now I’ll have to take an enforced break to recuperate and rehabilitate my right leg. No use trying to write anything with a Dilaudid-clouded brain; I’ve tried it before and the results weren’t pretty. Get off that shit ASAP and on to a regimen of Tylenol, Ibuprofen and, possibly, CBD oil.
Brought up some treasured movies from downstairs for comfort viewing and have found three or four old sci fi classics on YouTube I intend to giggle my way through. Stuff like “This Island Earth”, “Invaders from Mars” and Jack Arnold’s “The Space Children”. No superstars, no CGI, no production values (sometimes)…and whole orders of magnitude more fun and entertaining than today’s empty-headed, multimillion-dollar blockbusters.
* * * *
Like everyone else, I’ve been watching events in Ukraine with a mixture of horror and disbelief. Putin still thinks he’s living in the 1950s and 60s, that a powerful country can just roll into another and impose its will. But these days the world is far more connected than he supposes and this episode will not end well in terms of his imperial ambitions.
As for those beating the drums of war or, at the very least, demanding a more active role for NATO/EU in that volatile region, a (God help us) “no fly zone”, let me remind you that since the end of the Second World War the major superpowers have scrupulously avoided a direct confrontation. The results could escalate too quickly for either side to control, with horrific results. Putin and his minions are vulnerable to sanctions, especially if the West gets serious about cleaning up its banks and financial institutions so they are no longer able to launder the ill-gotten gains of the oligarchs.
The reliance of the European Union on Russian oil and gas was always worrisome, valuable leverage that Putin could employ at his discretion. Now is the time for the E.U. to act dramatically to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, accelerating Green energy initiatives, becoming entirely self-sufficient.
The Russians have also finally raised enough alarms that NATO seems prepared to reinvigorate itself, member states pledging more money to their armed forces, adding life blood and relevance to what was previously a sleepy, moribund alliance. Even Finland, long an outsider, is thinking of joining up. Surely not what Putin intended when he embarked on this quixotic quest to return Europe to its pre-1989 boundaries.
That isn’t the only unpleasant surprise he’s experiencing and it won’t be the last.
In this instance, his reach has far exceeded his grasp and he’s about to get his fingers very badly burned.
“Becoming” (Personal Essay)
I’m grateful I was born into a pre-digital society. Give me the wonder-filled Space Age over the Information Era with its rapacious consumerism and surveillance capitalism any day. I am a true analog kid and, like most people of that television-raised generation, I was/am at least partially ADHD (or whatever the hell the correct acronym is these days). My concentration frequently wandering, needing something to focus on, even if it’s only a scatter of shiny dimes.
Luckily for me, I discovered books at a relatively early age and ended up happily addicted to the printed word, which soon became my primary source of entertainment, opening doorways to other realities, while simultaneously educating me on the fine points of being human.
Reading was an escape in more ways than one. My home life could be a trifle tumultuous at times, particularly if money was tight and dad had been drinking. The rows got awfully scary and rather than coming together as siblings and drawing comfort from each other, my sisters and I retreated to our separate corners and went into full self-preservation mode. Every child for themselves.
My identity was set early: dreamy, distant, possibly smart, but since I didn’t talk much, it was hard to tell. All the evidence you’d need to diagnose a troubled home life. Withdrawn or shy, whichever suits you. Those pictures of me at five, seven, nine. Pale skin and sunken, dark-rimmed eyes. I had trouble sleeping, anxious and fearful, bedeviled by nightmares, prone to bed-wetting. Displaying wary, watchful behavior, not just toward strangers but everyone.
A loner by temperament, not choice, existing independently of neighborhood kids, relying on my own resources. A vivid, far-reaching imagination, if I may say so, and that undoubtedly saved me. To all outward appearances I might have been thin and delicate as a sparrow but in my mind I was captain of a spaceship, first man on Mars, steely-eyed and fearless, undaunted by gruesome aliens and lurking danger.
Ray Bradbury is the first author I can recall having an impact on me. Ray was a dreamer too and could convincingly describe the topography of Mars, the peculiar customs of its denizens, while at the same time authentically portraying the hopes and dreams of two thirteen-year-old boys one magical summer when a traveling carnival came to town…
By the time computers and video games began to nibble at my awareness, I was already a devoted bibliophile, poring over whatever I could lay my hands on, even stuff I probably shouldn’t have been exposed to; I’d rather read than play outside with my friends. Libraries and bookstores were holy temples and nothing in the known universe could compete with that special feeling I got when I cracked open a book for the first time.
Thank you, God. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Being born in 1963 meant I was denied the pleasure of spending my formative years surrounded and inundated by social media, wedded to certain platforms, chained to some sort of personal device (laptop or cell phone), obsessed with my status, the way I present myself to far-flung “friends” and a host of complete strangers.
And as a result of my odd upbringing, I found that I had sort of dispensed with the need for affirmation or acceptance from others. That stood me in good stead whenever I interacted with my fellow homo sapiens; I wasn’t seeking their approval and, thus, was largely indifferent to their opinions of me, good or bad.
Upon reaching adolescence my personality developed an extra layer of protection: a wicked sense of humor. It was all those years of watching people, witnessing their many foibles, taking note of their effortless stupidity. When challenged or threatened, I now had a formidable weapon in my arsenal which I learned to use judiciously (otherwise, some troglodytic thug might’ve murdered me).
I had my first intimation of it when I was around eleven years old. It was during a sleepover at a friend’s place with four or five pals, probably a birthday party. It was long past midnight and we were all giddy, unable to sleep. I remembered a joke I heard my father tell, one of those traveling-salesman-stopping-overnight-at-a-farmhouse routines. Either we were all really, really hyper or I absolutely nailed the punchline (I’m guessing it’s the former), because I earned a huge, gratifying laugh and from then on blossomed into a regular smartass; not quite the class clown but definitely someone whose bent humor could provoke a reaction among his peers.
Childhood taught me grownups couldn’t be trusted and authority figures were either despots or dingbats. Is it any wonder that I gravitated toward comedians like Richard Pryor and Cheech & Chong…and, a bit later, with more long-lasting consequences, the genius of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”? For some people a healthy dose of the absurd isn’t something they’re born with but instilled by experience and circumstance.
You need something. A coping mechanism or self-defense strategy to keep the wolves at bay. A mask or a shield (or both).
As for career aspirations, I had come to realize that my two earliest ambitions—becoming a cowboy or an astronaut—were likely not in the realm of possibility. But…how about acting, directing or even (gulp) writing? Could I ever make a go at something like that?
Well, I guess I have my answer to that particular line of inquiry.
I had already intuited that I was physically and emotionally unsuited for most real world vocations (a summer employed in a huge factory, making and bagging bread and related products confirmed that), which is why I spent, yes, eight years working as a dishwasher in an upscale Regina restaurant. Making like my hero George Orwell, getting down in the trenches, slogging away at a low-wage, part time job with no benefits, surviving if not thriving.
I kept a stack of paper napkins on top of my Hobart (dishwashing machine) so that whenever an idea for a poem or short story struck me, I could snatch one up and scribble some notes as the steam rose around me, the air filled with delicious aromas from whatever was on the menu, a waiter snarking at the cook because an order was late and a customer was complaining…
Some of the best of my early tales originated in that kitchen.
And then, during that same time, after years of hoping and praying, I met someone who was perfect for me. Call it a miraculous confluence of planetary bodies, a rare alignment of stars with “Thus Spake Zarathustra” thundering in the background, two fates colliding.
Before her, I was lost, then I was found.
And, y’know what, that twisted sense of humor came in handy because this gal appreciated a good joke and her laugh could shatter a Pyrex glass. I could be as uncouth and crude as I wanted to be and she’d not only keep up, but do her best to top me.
Let’s give her a name: Sherron.
Sweet, kind, good-natured Sherron. That’s the impression she likes to give but it’s far from accurate. Warning: when you’re around us there are no allowances made for the timid or thin-skinned. There are bouts of jocular barbarity that would make yours ears melt. No, there’s no point asking, I won’t repeat a single word. There are reputations at stake. Discretion must be observed.
She’s the only one who never recoiled from me. Before we hooked up I dated, irregularly, but there was no magic, no great rapport, and sooner or later they got that look on their face: you’re weeeeiiiirrrrd.
Prior to meeting Sherron, I lived and breathed and ate and defecated and got high. And I wrote. I was always writing but it wasn’t good. Bad poetry and meandering, self-referential short stories. Tales of an uneventful life, with secondhand accounts of sordid episodes related to me by friends spliced in. I was always the observer, never an active participant, hiding in the wings, where the perspective was clearer.
But Sherron changed all that. I started writing stuff to entertain her, widening the scope of my work, stretching my meager talent to the breaking point. I became a better writer and a better human being. All because of her. Credit where it’s due.
Decades later, how much has changed?
I’m still bookish, tending toward reclusiveness, but I also share time and space with the finest, funniest human being I’ve ever known.
And we’ve managed to retain our goofiness, still love a good laugh and smart talk and the occasional debate, never missing an opportunity to startle, surprise or disgust our better halfs, reminding them never to take anything too seriously in this chaotic, irrational, messed up world.
Because we both know: it could all change tomorrow.
In our mid-fifties now and very much aware that from here on the path grows shorter, a steady decline that quickly gains momentum, since we’re on an increasingly steep downward slope. We find ourselves being herded toward an inevitable future, fixed and unavoidable. Our legs growing tired, breath short, and, meanwhile, up ahead something huge looms into view, bearing down on us, becoming clearer and more defined with every passing day.
I’d like to tell you what it is, but, frankly, I hate spoilers.
Let’s just say there are no guarantees of happy endings or a better and brighter hereafter, but there will be a cessation of pain and worries.
In that respect, could whatever happens be all that bad?
“Death is not extinguishing the light, it is putting out the lamp because dawn has come.”
“Life is the crummiest book I ever read.”
Bad Religion, “Stranger Than Fiction”
Would you buy a book by this man?
Image by Liam Burns