Category: independent writing

Finding Normal (Blog Post #499)

Only a few days left to go, the countdown on, people across our home and native land waiting with bated breath for October 17th, the day recreational cannabis will officially be available for sale in Canada.

Actually, to be honest I detect very little sense of anticipation or concern, even in my small prairie city which is, ah, conservative/redneck, not exactly pothead central. But I wonder what overall effect the normalization of marijuana will have on the Great Green North, how long it will take to defeat the pervasive stupidity of the “reefer madness” mentality that has poisoned legalization discussions for the past century.

Will it be a non-issue, like the legalization of casinos a generation ago? There’s a similar mentality involved, cash-strapped governments seeking coins for their hungry coffers wherever they can hoover them up. If they can’t raise income tax, they’ll raise consumption taxes, make us pay for every item or service we require. Remember when gambling was bad? I can, but only just, and the same thing will happen with demon weed. All the doom-sayers and worry-mongers will be shown to be full of hot air and other than a few more red-eyed people walking around and pizza sales shooting through the roof (at least initially), I predict pot legalization will produce a general feeling of “So what was the big deal?”

And after pot, what next? Has to be prostitution—government-inspected brothels, sex workers better protected from predatory johns…and the Feds and provinces gain yet another tidy, dependable revenue stream.

They’ll need it because they’re going to be forced to inject more capital into a system that is currently running on vapors. It will be necessary to prime the economic pump, and soon. That’s why you’ll eventually see a $15 minimum wage AND, not long afterward, a guaranteed annual income for every Canadian. There’s just not enough money going around, not enough offerings being shovelled into the hungry maw of Mammon. Trickledown economics NEVER worked and that fact becomes ever clearer. When people can no longer to afford the basic goods and services of capitalism, the machine crashes and burns, chaos results.

The poobahs in charge don’t want that. They’re going to do whatever is necessary to perpetuate their power structure, the benefits they enjoy. If that means skimming off some spare change and casting it at the feet of the plebs, so be it.

Except I have a feeling that poor and struggling workers will no longer settle for morsels. They’re falling farther and farther behind, their wages stagnant, their kids can’t improve their prospects because post-secondary education is so expensive, they’re on the downward spiral AND THEY KNOW IT.

Legalizing pot is a temporary—and, frankly, cynical—holding measure. Buying off the electorate with pseudo-progressive policies and symbolic concessions while doing next to nothing to actually, y’know, address economic inequality and health security. Surely our masters aren’t foolish enough to think the rest of us don’t see through their transparent ploy.

Real change is required, to preserve social mobility and address fundamental flaws in a self-perpetuating system that rewards the few at the expense of the many.

That system is not democratic or sustainable and, in light of the current climate crisis, quite demonstrably insane.

What will it take to convince our political masters and elites that we’re serious this time?

Must they hear the awful roll of the tumbrils once again?

Blog Post #497–New poetry

Lost Art

After Otto Dix we know
why they send them home
in closed caskets

The war dead lack elegance
refusing to conform to
classic depictions of beauty

Their wounds gape
wet and labial, inviting
unwelcome comparisons

Death and Eros
indecently clutching, an
untitled lost gouache on cardboard

2018; All Rights Reserved

Otto Dix, pencil on cardboard; 1930

Podcasts are eating my brain

It’s true.

Ever since I picked up my iPad a few months ago I’ve been obsessively listening to podcasts. To the extent that my reading has dropped off to next to nothing and there is no way in hell I can reach my usual 100-book threshold by the end of the year. I’ll be lucky to make it to 75, for Chrissakes.

I can see why more people are listening to podcasts, while fewer and fewer find time to pick up a book.

Podcasts are immersive, well-produced (the ones I listen to) and frequently riveting. You find yourself binging and, whoops, there goes the morning.

Favorites? Well, I’m a big fan of Pod Save America–the cast is made up of bitchy, ex-Obama staffers–The Daily Show, Intercept (Jeremy Scahill is one of my journalistic heroes), Mehdi Hasan’s Deconstructed (never miss it), Science Vs., Planet Money, Hidden Brain, This American Life

But if I had to list the podcasts that have had the most impact on me in recent memory, that roster would include:

“S-Town
“Dirty John”
“In the Dark: Series 2” (The Trials of Curtis Flowers)
The Caliphate” (featuring the great Rukmini Callimachi)

“The Caliphate” is an extraordinary ten-part series (affiliated with the New York Times) that traces the growth and spread of ISIS throughout the Middle East, their recruiting tactics, life under their regime, etc. Ms. Callimachi bravely skirts the front lines of a violent conflict in order to gain further insights into the mentality driving its members, the perversity of a  “faith” that permits followers to murder, rape and terrorize with impunity. When she meets with survivors of the Yazidi movement targeted by ISIS, hears their harrowing accounts, I almost couldn’t bear it. But at all times Ms. Callimachi behaves with impeccable civility and respect, her integrity and humanity shining through even the darkest moments. She and her team are to be commended; nothing else came close this year.

As an author, I’m troubled that more and more people would rather listen to amateur storytellers offering rather polished versions of some strange but true episode from their lives (“The Moth”, “Beautiful Anonymous” “Risk!”, etc.), than tackle a consciously literary offering . On the other hand, as an artist I’m challenged by a medium that was previously unknown to me. Sure, I’ve recorded lots of spoken word stuff, but an actual venue that allows me to directly address my audience, grant them an inside look at the life of an indie artist, struggling on the margins, trying to draw attention to my work in a 500-channel universe, while, simultaneously, venting on political matters, airing out pet peeves…well, I can definitely see some attraction to that.

I believe I shall ponder this further…

“The Algebra of Inequality”–The Proof!

The proof of my latest Black Dog Press release, The Algebra of Inequality, just arrived.

And I hereby post the obligatory picture of yer favorite author with a beautiful new volume in his hands.

Order your copy from your favorite indie bookstore today!

THE ALGEBRA OF INEQUALITY: The Cover Art

My book designer, Chris Kent, labored mightily over the weekend, sending me a number of versions of the cover until he came up with the absolutely perfect look for The Algebra of Inequality.

Chris took the cover art I gave him, a painting in acrylics I completed earlier this year, and transformed it into something that is gorgeous, evocative and utterly in keeping with the mood and themes of the book.

I shall say nothing more, merely post his final version for all to see.

I believe this is Chris’s 11th book for Black Dog Press.

I think he’s got something, don’t you?


My mantra for 2018

New Year’s Eve I was pacing about my office, thinking about my plans for 2018.

What am I looking for? What do I want, as an artist and human being living in these strange, dangerous times?

I have a shelf of books devoted to religion and spirituality and I paused in front of it, scanning titles, seeking a message or—

Consult the Bible? Too obvious. But I have a collection of Sufi writings compiled by Idries Shah, so I plucked it off the shelf, opened it to a page at random and found this quote:

“Detach from fixed ideas and preconceptions. And face what is to be your lot.”

-Sheikh Abu-Said Ibn Abi-Khair

Zang!

If the universe was trying to communicate something to me, it couldn’t have been more direct.

No more pissing about, Cliff, time to accept your fate, don’t shy away from whatever destiny has in store for you.

No fame and fortune for me, I’m afraid. I’m not a mainstream artist, I present my works to people undiluted, without apology, an alternative to the pap and kitsch mass-produced and excreted on a daily basis.

My oeuvre is not for those who prefer their diversions light and facile and entertaining. I despise escapism; my visions are darker, offering no comfort or reassurance.

Instead, I adhere to my hero Franz Kafka’s dictum:

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”

Ringing in the New Year

A bit late with my year end wrap up—we were away from home for the first Christmas in ages and I’m only now getting caught up.

A quick glance ahead at 2018 would seem to indicate a year of some promise. I have two books I am readying for release, the first a volume of poetry (The Algebra of Inequality & Other Poems), which will be out April-May. A compilation of my best poems in the past five years. I am currently in the process of culling and selecting from a roster of nearly a hundred and fifty; not an easy or pleasant task. In the fall, finances permitting, I’ll be publishing a collection of short stories, Electric Castles: A Book of Urban Legends. Two hundred plus pages of prose set in cities here, there and nowhere.

Two books in one calendar year—that will be quite a stretch for my wee press but I think we can manage (crossing his fingers).

Looking back on 2017, I see it as a year where I managed to dabble in a little bit of everything: writing, photography, painting, music…

Is it good that I’m no longer so focussed on writing, that it isn’t my sole obsession these days? Am I right to believe that any form of expression belongs in my oeuvre, regardless of the media involved?

I feel such a tremendous sense of satisfaction when I see one of my books that also features cover art that I helped create or devise. That’s empowerment, I tell you. Watch for the cover of that aforementioned volume of poetry, come April; it’s one of mine as well.

I managed to achieve my target of reading one hundred books in 2017—actually, the final tally was 103. I also watched over a hundred movies last year and I’m be posting my favorites over at Cinema Arête in the coming hours.

Here’s my “Best of…” picks for the books I discovered and devoured in 2017. My reading, as ever, far-ranging and eclectic, about evenly divided between fiction and non-fiction.

Best Fiction of 2017

The Street of Crocodiles (Stories) by Bruno Schulz

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Tsar of Love & Techno (Stories) by Anthony Maara

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

We The Animals by Justin Torres

Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Sleet (Selected Stories) by Stig Dagerman

Shadowbahn by Steve Erickson

The North Water by Ian McGuire

Honorable Mention:

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Trajectory (Stories) by Richard Russo

The World Made Straight by Ron Rash

Flings (Stories) by Justin Taylor

Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds

Poetry:

The Collected Poems of Zbigniew Herbert by Zbigniew Herbert

War Primer by Bertolt Brecht

Flying at Night (Poems 1965-85) by Ted Kooser

Non-Fiction:

Scarcity: Why Having So Little means So Much by S. Maullainathan & E. Shafir

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

Post-Capitalism: A Guide to Our Future by Paul Mason

The Dilemmas of Lenin by Tariq Ali

October by China Mieville

The Lost Amazon edited by Wade Davis

The Art of Space by Ron Miller

A Philosophy of Walking by Frederic Gros

Keep Watching the Skies! American SF Movies of the Fifties by Bill Warren

Honorable Mention:

A Spy Among Friends by Ben MacIntyre

Unknown Pleasures (Memoir) by Peter Hook

Footnotes in Gaza (Graphic Novel) by Joe Sacco

Trouble Boys (Biography of The Replacements) by Bob Mehr