This blog is now ten years old. Ten years to the day.
Well, well, well.
Who could’ve imagined “Beautiful Desolation” would still be around? I’ve seen the stats: most blogs sputter out after a year or two, the individual(s) involved eventually losing interest or not finding the time or unable to post regularly enough to keep it up to date and viable.
I can understand that. Over the lifetime of this blog, I’ve written 450+ posts, averaging about one every ten days or so. Which for a full time scribe and stay-at-home dad is a pretty hefty investment of time and energy. Plus, I’ve never posted just for the sake of posting, I’ve always had something to say or share (even if it’s frequently, especially in the early days, invective and bitter, icy fury).
Right from the beginning, “Beautiful Desolation” was a platform, a bully pulpit from where I could hold forth on subjects near and dear to my indie, contrarian heart. My thirty+ years as a professional author provides me with a host of experiences and encounters to draw from, and I must say it gives me considerable pleasure when young writers contact me and tell me how a certain article or mini-essay or rant I’ve posted inspired them or bucked up their courage during a low patch in their life. My entire career, from the get-go, has been all about empowering myself as an artist and not allowing others to tamper with my work, diluting its emotional, aesthetic and spiritual intensity and passion. That was an obsession for me even before I “turned pro” way back in 1985. I have always fiercely defended my work and questioned the effectiveness/competence of editors who take it upon themselves to “improve” my writing, “smooth out” the rough spots, etc.
I made it plain from those initial posts that this blog is devoted to the celebration of literary, intelligent, innovative, genre-busting fiction that defies fashion and formula and seeks truly new and unique representations of the world around us. I’m contemptuous of amateurish drivel and people who think insisting on proper grammar and syntax is “old school”. I respect authors who make herculean efforts to write and revise their work, laboring tirelessly, excellence their only goal. I’ve been a full-time author for a long time and struggle each day to find the courage and inspiration to go on. It takes me weeks to polish a story, years to finish a full-length manuscript. So you’ll excuse me if I say that, by those standards, dabblers and weekend scribblers and NanoWriMo wannabes just don’t make the grade, sorry.
It’s been interesting to go back to some of those early posts on “Beautiful Desolation”—some of them are very, very angry and confrontational. I’m thinking of my pointed words on contemporary science fiction, Cormac McCarthy’s rather lifeless interview on “Oprah”, the mediocrity that is CanLit and my repeated diatribes against the idiocy that is National Novel Writing Month (“part-time writers unite!”)
The nastier stuff kind of flickered out after the first couple of years, though I’m still capable of delivering withering scorn on command. I’ve said a few things about paranormal romance and shapeshifter-erotic-fiction that had a few people gnashing their teeth and hastily “unsubscribing”.
Ah, well. Some folks are touchy about being sub-literate and dull-witted.
Recently, this blog has taken on a more overtly political tone, which reflects my growing interest in leftist politics, socialism, Marxism…really, anything that is an alternative to the capitalist juggernaut devouring all the resources on this planet, rendering it unsuitable for a growing number of species (a list that will eventually include, y’know, us).
The election of CEO Trump to head Corporation America, the emergence of the far right around the world, as well as the on-going shenanigans of the neo-liberals and their wealthy sponsors, have alarmed progressives and activists, who view the rising intolerance and racism as part and parcel of a system that disenfranchises and impoverishes the masses, in order to fatten the wallets of the elite.
A concerted effort to unite disparate voices and causes under the banner of freedom, true freedom, must be undertaken or we are headed down a long, dark, scary road. I hesitate to predict what our society will look like when we reach the end of that particular journey. My imagination quails at the notion, quite frankly.
But, as I’ve come to realize, one can’t always dwell on these gloom and doom scenarios; for the sake of balance (and sanity), you have to be able to conceive of a better, healthier, more equitable world, a chance at a brighter tomorrow. And so I’ve sought out individuals and organizations, voices that offer entirely different perspectives on where the human adventure might lead us, given the right kind of moral and spiritual leadership. I’ve been fortunate enough to discover people like David Harvey and Terry Eagleton and Slavoj Zizek; Paul Mason, Naomi Klein and Tariq Ali. The LEAP Manifesto and the existence of good, ideologically committed leaders like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders offer at least the hope for change, the introduction of real ideas into a partisan, over-heated discourse.
Books like Paul Mason’s Post-Capitalism, Klein’s This Changes Everything and Karl Marx’s Capital provide us with workable blueprints for correcting our course, indicating different, less spooky paths to travel, and once absorbed they alter your whole mode of thinking—I’m talking a complete paradigm shift. We don’t have to live the way we do, there are methods we can employ, mindsets we can adopt to alter our lives, our ingrained habits and actually make the world a better place, just by our example.
I’m sure I’ll be writing about this in more detail in the months/years to come.
In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed “Beautiful Desolation” in its various guises. Ten years has given me the time and scope to cover a lot of ground and during that interval I’ve undoubtedly said some things I probably shouldn’t have and managed to piss off an impressively wide assortment of people. But all along I’ve made it manifestly clear to even the most desultory, unwary visitor: if you’ve come to this blog looking for reassurance and treacle, a collegial atmosphere and warm, fuzzy support system, you’ve opened the wrong door, I’m afraid. This site is about the price we pay for having feelings, for being alive and sentient in a world that’s increasingly chaotic and disorienting, our “civilization” gradually losing its thin veneer of humanity, revealing the glistening skull beneath its skin.
“Beautiful Desolation” is, in that sense, the perfect title for this blog.
The more I think of it, what could have been more appropriate?
* * * * *
A few recent developments I should mention:
The Mindful Word, a site devoted to conscious creativity and holistic wellness (hey, how can you argue with that?), has published two short essays I composed, offering advice to young, developing writers…and warning of the possible perils of semi-autobiographical fiction and memoirs. Pop over there to check them out and then take some time to poke around–it’s a cool site.
I also somehow managed to place an extremely odd piece, “A Personal Cosmology”, with The Oleander Review, a literary journal published by the University of Michigan—the issue in question is due out in April. Here’s a sample from “Cosmology” I posted awhile back. Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.
Finally, “Happy Birthday” to my pals Laird and Karen—who share the same birth date and the unfortunate tendency to root for two historically dreadful hockey clubs (the Leafs and Canucks, respectively). This lifelong Bruins fan tries not to hold that against them, although sometimes, I admit, it takes concerted effort to restrain my natural tendency to trash talk. But, then again, it’s hard to feel smug when your favourite team includes an unrepentant arsehole like Brad Marchand.
Note: the accompanying pictures are drawn from our Summer, 2016 visit to Greece, Turkey and the Czech Republic. Istanbul, in particular, continues to haunt our memories (and sometimes our dreams). What a magical, terrifying, wondrous metropolis. One day, we hope to make it back…
Well, I couldn’t let an opportunity go by without referencing the upcoming Star Trek movie. The franchise is hanging on this one, boys and girls; the Next Generation sputtered out after the woeful “Nemesis” and nothing that followed appealed to anyone other than hardcore fans. A drastic re-tooling was in order. That’s why the guys in suits chose J.J. Abrams to carry the torch. A guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Hell, that Lost show made buckets of money–as a gun for hire he comes with a pretty high rep.
Abrams has been around awhile, longer than I realized. And he hasn’t always been a golden goose either. He receives a brief mention in Richard E. Grant’s film diary With Nails. Grant runs into him at some Hollywood gathering and with his acute perceptiveness, describes J.J. and his cronies thus: “Meet a twenty-four-year old screenwriter called J.J. who wrote ‘Regarding Henry’, has a three-picture deal, and talks real fast, as do his friends, all of whom seem young, ruthless and rich.”
Hmmm… “ruthless and rich”. Not “gifted” or “witty” or “intelligent”. Ruthless and rich. And “Regarding Henry”? Remember that turkey?
But all will be forgiven if J.J. can revitalize the old gal, make it contemporary without abandoning the campiness and charm of the original show; I’m a retro nut and I’m worried the writers (one of them the “genius” behind “Transformers: The Movie”), will bury the story under CGI, comic book level dialogue and stock characterizations, while bending as far as possible to meet the abysmally low expectations of the fan boys/girls.
End of rant.
Now, as you’ve likely guessed, since my last post a couple of weeks back I’ve been working, plugging away on new material and prepping old stuff for revision. Beginning to gear up…there’s something about the summer that gets my creative energies revved up to full throttle. I can’t explain it. While the rest of my family is off traveling or out at the beach, I’m up in my office, sweating buckets, scribbling like mad.
With the coming of warmer weather this month, something clicked into place and I’ve been at it for long stretches, working on–well, I can’t say yet. You know me. Like to play it close to the vest. Might show it to Sherron later on this week but until then–shtum.
So I’ve been working hard and every so often scrambling down the stairs to watch a period of hockey–it’s the Stanley Cup playoffs, doncha know–before rushing back upstairs to work some more and then back downstairs to check the score, watch highlights, never missing Don Cherry…
I’ve been a Boston Bruins fan for nigh on forty years–oh, yes, my children, the big, bad Bruins and I go wayyy back. Watching old footage of Bobby Orr still brings tears to my eyes. And this year…well, the boys had a terrific regular season and then they destroyed the Habs in four straight games. I hardly dare wish for anything else. Must not tempt the hockey Gods to turn on the B’s like some blind Greek guy with a taste for older women…
It’s a pleasure to watch players like Marc Savard and I love that Lucic kid. Wideman is an under-appreciated talent and Tim Thomas has been good when called upon. But if that idjit Phil Kessel doesn’t stop with the lookit-me-dangle-all-by-myself-I’m-Jason-bleedin’-Spezza lone man dashes up the ice (which, inevitably lead to odd man rushes the other way), I’m going to end up kicking the front of my television set in.
Sorry, had to get that off my chest. It’s just that one commentator described Kessel as the Bruins’ best player during the Montreal series and I just about swallowed my beer mug.
Okay, besides work and the odd period of hockey, I’ve also somehow managed to squeeze in a fair amount of reading, lotsa music and even a movie or two. Part of that whole getting-some-balance-in-my-life thing I’ve been working toward. With mixed results (hey, but at least I’m trying!).
Read John Fante’s 1939 novel Ask the Dust and absolutely loved it. Set in 1930’s Los Angeles, the story of Arturo Bandini, aspiring novelist, come West to seek his fame and fortune. I described the book elsewhere as a cross between Nathanial West (Day of the Locust) and Knut Hamsun (Hunger). I photocopied two pages and glued them into a “Book of Commonplace” I keep of favorite quotes and excerpts. I also hand-copied these sentences:
Over the city spread a white murkiness like fog. But it was not the fog: it was the desert heat, the great blasts from the Mojave and Santa Ana, the pale white fingers of the wasteland, ever reaching out to claim its captured child.
Here’s a piece from Salon.com that talks about about Mr. Fante’s life and work. Definitely a book–and an author–worthy of rediscovery.
In terms of movies, Sherron and I puzzled our way through David Lynch’s ultra-weird “Mulholland Drive” and I’m nearly done watching the second and final season on the 1967 TV series, “The Invaders”. Fun to slam down one or two episodes with a stiff glass of scotch after a hard day of writing. That’s my method for stress relief (patent pending)…
Lots of time in my office means lots of tunes playing too…and, as of yesterday, that includes Bob Dylan’s latest, Together Through Life. Not sure what I think of the new one yet. Maybe give it a few more listens before I decide. It lacks a cut with the mythic, spiritual power of something like “Man in the Long Black Coat” or, from Time out of Mind, the searing and entrancing “Highlands” (all sixteen-and-half minutes of it). Some good songs, especially “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'”, “My Wife’s Hometown” and “It’s All Good” and I like the Tex-Mex flavor but I wouldn’t count Together Through Life in the front rank of Dylan’s body of work. Not by a long shot.
Plenty of instrumental, ambient stuff pouring out of my speakers: Explosions in the Sky, God is an Astronaut, the soundtrack of “Mysterious Skin” (Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie collaborating). Old Tangerine Dream (“Atem”), Mogwai and NIN’s “Ghosts I-IV”.
The perfect accompaniment; the music transports me to a place beyond physical laws and temporal constraints. In this undetermined location I can work without distraction, removed from obligations and duties. That door over there opens on nothing, the backdrop outside my window cunningly executed but, upon close inspection, reveals imperfections, chips in the paint and swirls left by careless brush strokes–
The artifice holding, for now, but I keep the door closed and the blinds mostly drawn. To maintain the necessary illusion, preserve it through a combination of higher physics, prayer, alchemy and the judicious use of duct tape, when all else fails…
I never thought I’d do this.
This room is sacred to me, the most personal, intimate, safe place I can imagine. Here, I can let my mind roam and give myself over to all manner of foolish thoughts and schemes.
My office is on the second floor of our house, first door on the left at the top of the stairs. There must be something about this space: I don’t know how many friends and people we know have come by the house, ventured upstairs to see me…and stop cold at the threshold of my office. It’s like an invisible barrier holds them back and they peer inside, uncertain of whether or not to enter until I actually say “C’mon in, it’s all right…”
The space is so manifestly mine. It’s like an extension of my mind, all of my obsessions and interests crowded into about 120 square feet of area. High and low culture co-existing side by side. Proust and Gumby. Sam Beckett and Captain Kirk.
But, look, it’s all right, I’m smiling, waving you inside and some of your misgivings dissipate. First thing I always do is point out Sherron’s artwork (the space painting, cave art, 3-D Beckett and book sculpture are hers’), and once you’ve expressed your appreciation, steer you toward my bookshelves. As Borges famously wrote: “To arrange a library is to practice, in a quiet and modest way, the art of criticism”. It’s plain to see where my interests and reading tastes lie. I revere authors who break with convention, push the envelope until it’s somewhere beyond Alpha Centauri and stubbornly present their vision of the world without apology, eschewing artifice and formula. Pynchon, Calvino, Ballard, McCarthy, Joyce.
Not too many genre books in evidence (that should come as no surprise). I keep most of my SF and mystery books in the basement—at least until we can invest in more bookshelves. But even then they won’t be allowed in here: this is a place where I make ART, not look for diversion and escape.
“He speaks truly who speaks the shade…” (Paul Celan)
Ah, you noticed all the toys. Yes, well, that’s part of me too, I suppose. The child inside who resists the notion of growing up and putting away childish things. I think that’s why I’ve retained such curiosity for the world around me and such a profound sense of wonder. I hope that stays with me ’til my dying day.
That’s my “power shelf” there at the top; some of my most sacred objects are up there along with pictures of my family. The real source of my strength when it seems like fate, circumstances and my own stupidity are combining to take a massive diarrhetic dump on me. Below that, a shelf of spiritually oriented tomes, from Rumi’s poetry to the prison letters of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. More inspiration for when the “black dog” of depression and despair is chewing on my ass.
Sometimes this place seems filled with a creative spirit, to the extent that the hairs on my arms stand up because of such close proximity to the Ineffable. There’s a sense of connecting with, becoming part of something far vaster than I’m able to comprehend.
Other days, the air is still and dead, uninhabited.
You can see from the posters and the mini-stereo that music plays a crucial part in my life. The three CD’s I have on rotation right now are Ministry’s “Rio Grande Blood”, Nine Inch Nails’ “With Teeth” and Nick Cave’s “Grinderman” (“No Pussy Blues” fucking rocks). But at the moment I’m playing a recording of the great Jacqueline Du Pre performing Elgar’s Cello Concerto (someone once dubbed it “the saddest music in the world”).
What else? My gorgeous desk, which Sherron bought for me with a paycheck from her first real grownup job. The top opens up like a big hinge and there’s an old Olympia typewriter underneath, used only in case of emergencies. Just can’t quite let it go yet.
The computer I use is an old Power Mac a friend gave us after she upgraded. I’ve had it for about eight years but suspect that it might be time to invest in some new hardware. But…have you priced out an iMac lately? Around eighteen hundred bucks, possibly more if I wanted to get some of the specialized software that would allow me to edit movies and compose music. Maybe in a year or two…besides I detest change, any kind of change, so I suspect part of me would be quite traumatized by switching computers. Knowing me, I’ll likely drag out the process as long as I can.
The big yellow armchair isn’t as comfortable as it looks and it’s probably not good for my bad back. I’ll wait until I can get a really nice rocking chair—something that will keep my wonky spine in alignment without taking up too much room.
But, really, this office isn’t about sitting around and relaxing, it’s a work space. For 8-10 hours a day I immerse myself in my latest project, getting up frequently to pace, talk to myself or burst another one of those stress balls with constant, compulsive squeezing. And then I spring back into my chair and have at it again, repeating the process dozens of times during the course of the day.
Lately, I’ve been re-editing So Dark the Night, an incredibly tedious process, going through a 475 page manuscript over and over again. For the past while I’ve been editing standing up (Hemingway wrote that way too), which is a real departure for me but it seems to be helping the back and shoulder strain. It might be paying creative dividends as well because the editing is going faster and more smoothly than I expected.
Anything else? Yes, I’m a Boston Bruin fan—you got a problem with that? I didn’t think so (Bruin fans are notoriously pugnacious). The great Bobby Orr was my earliest hero, along with Neil Armstrong and Gene Autry. All are represented in the office (Autry symbolically, with a lineup of plastic cowboys and Indians over my office door).
Well, I think that’s everything. Whew. This hasn’t been as stressful an experience as I imagined. Rather liberating, really.
I don’t know if any of this provides you with fresh insights into my personality or work…or if it’s just given you a very good idea of what sort of disturbed mind you’re dealing with.
Regardless, thanks for stopping in.
Me? Well, in a little while I’ll head downstairs to crack open a Guinness and then it’s back up here, the fourth section of So Dark the Night awaiting my slashing red pen. One of my sons will get your coat (don’t worry, he won’t expect a tip). No problem, it was good to meet you.
Uh, sorry, would you mind closing the door behind you on the way out?
Thanks…hope to see you again soon.