Category: writing

“Mutant Thoughts (I)”

This is intended to be a semi-regular column devoted to my various enthusiasms, pet peeves and the strange notions that all-too-frequently bedevil me. Not intended for folks with delicate sensibilities or soft brains. Read on.

  • Recently received a note from an Italian digital musician wishing to use images from one of my strange, short films to accompany a piece of music he’s been composing. Why not?
  • Things like that happen every so often. Like the two academics (one from Hong Kong, the other the Netherlands) who contacted me seeking permission to include some of my photos on the “cut-up” method for presentation at separate conferences. Happy to oblige…always in the hope that exposure in different venues will help draw attention to my literary work (well, a fella can dream, can’t he).
  • Some good, smart discussions on Twitter lately regarding books, writing process, films, politics, etc. (Shout out to Shaun Hamill, Steve Savile, Geoff Andrew, among others.) The trolls seem to have gone into hiding for the time being, leaving room for rational discourse. A refreshing development.
  • How do my fellow progressives feel about the first month of Joe Biden’s presidency? Anyone who was expecting massive policy changes, a sudden lurch to the Left, an administration to rival FDR’s is either soft in the head or has only just awakened after a fifty-year coma. “Meet the new Boss/Same as the old Boss.”
  • Go out today and either buy or borrow a good book. Just this once treat your frontal lobes and higher brain functions with the respect they deserve. Enough with the empty-headed, escapist fare. Remember: you are what you read.
  • The fact that Justin Trudeau and his cabinet declined to join the rest of their parliamentary colleagues in a motion condemning the treatment of the Uyghur people at the hands of the Chinese shows just how morally bankrupt and hypocritical the Liberal Party of Canada has become. An absolutely disgraceful display.
  • We’ve signed up for a three-month tryout of the MUBI movie-streaming service. Great selection of cinema from around the world…but the goddamn thing keeps freezing and buffering, even during a 15-minute short film. I’ve contacted them and they’ve reached out, trying to effect a fix but so far, no good. And if they don’t solve the problem soon, hasta la vista MUBI!
  • Is it just me? It seems like my fingernails and toe nails are growing at an accelerated rate during this extended lockdown. Please apprise if something similar is happening to you.
  • Sherron keeps trying to get me to explore the wonders and benefits of kimchi…but I still recoil from the stuff. It looks like the material that gets caught in our kitchen drain; it may be a miracle food for some, but my rising gorge says otherwise.
  • Back to the Big City (Saskatoon) soon to check the state of my new hip. Hopefully will have a bit of extra time for a side trip to Peryton Books and, later, some tasty ethnic cuisine before heading back on the road.
  • Making excellent progress on what will be my next Black Dog Press release, Notebooks: 2010-2020. Printed up a draft and will give it to Sherron for proofing in about a week-ten days. And then final tinkering and polishing. Still anticipating an early May release date (perhaps even sooner, but don’t you dare quote me on that).
  • Listening to a couple of newish Bob Mould CDs in my office the past few days. Ol’ Bob still rocks, the spirit of Husker Du lives on!
  • These days half the time when the landline in our house rings it’s either a “robocall” or a scammer. This is what our society has been reduced to.
  • One Twitter post in particular caught my eye the other day. A high school student was seeking advice on how to publish their book. Excuse me? Isn’t this a case of putting the cart before the horse? How about learning the rudiments of grammar and syntax first, gaining a basic understanding of language or, like, paying your fucking dues? We don’t need more books published, we need to identify and weed out the absolute shit that’s already being churned out at an accelerating pace. Most of it produced/excreted by sub-literate tits with no notion of just how terrible they really are. Sorry, kid, you won’t be getting any help from me.
  • I’ll close this first installment with an appropriate quote from Aldous Huxley: “If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion.” Yep, that about sums it up. See you next time!
Photo: Sherron Burns

…but, baby, it’s cold outside

A solid week of windchills in excess of forty below.

So, I’ve been hunkered down, editing my Notebooks, prepping for a May release of what will be my fifteenth book.

Fifteen books, not one of them a dog, all of them written out of love for the printed word, rather than for the purpose of fulfilling a contract or meeting some hairy-palmed editor’s neolithic expectations. Let’s see you top that, all you hacks and wannabes.

The editing process is always incredibly intense for me, driving myself nuts finding the exact right word (and, as Don DeLillo insists, “the right sounding word”). 

At the same time I am still not back to 100% from my hip replacement surgery so can’t stay seated for the prolonged periods of time I’m accustomed to—gotta get up frequently to stretch, move about, which, of course, interrupts my train of thought and then it takes me awhile to re-focus on the manuscript. I’m having trouble adapting to the new regime but that’s the reality I have to deal with now, no use bitching about it.

When I’m not editing, I’m reading and some of the excellent books I’ve finished since the beginning of the year include N.K. Jemsin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson, The Cold Millions (Jess Walter), The Great Glass Sea (Josh Weil) and Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, a stunning exposé of how wealthy special interest groups are undermining democracy.

Movies with Sherron to unwind after a hard day of polishing my book: last night it was “Hud”, a classic starring Paul Newman; other favorites are David Fincher’s “Mank” (best movie of the year so far), Michael Haneke’s “Code Unknown” and the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit”.

I tend to devote the first part of the morning to catching up on Twitter, checking out the headlines and snorting with laughter as I read other writers’ self-congratulatory posts about their latest zombie novel or slasher offering. Sometimes I can’t help firing a comment their way and am always amazed by the sheer vitriol of their replies. The moment you bring up literary standards to these arseholes they completely lose their shit. Their reactions always serve as a reminder that genre people tend to have the smallest brains and thinnest skin.

But once I’ve had my fun it’s back to the business at hand.

Giving myself a deadline/release date is always an effective way of directing my nose to the grindstone. Otherwise I’d drag the process out past the point of sanity.

As I wrote in the introduction to the Notebooks, I have absolutely no idea why anyone would have even the slightest interest in the thoughts and reflections of a cult author with a tiny readership and a marked propensity for misanthropy. 

Nonetheless, come May Notebooks: 2010-2020 will be released into the world and we will just have to wait and see how it’s received.

I’ll probably be posting some teasers in the coming weeks so I hope you’ll pop in for a look.

Have to say, I love having another title in the publishing pipeline. 

It’s not for all tastes but, then again, that pretty well sums up my entire body of work, don’t you think?

After 30+ years, why would I change my approach now?

Photo courtesy Ashley Johnson

Man, Reassembling

It’s been six weeks since my left hip replacement, time for a status report.

I am able to do this because I can finally sit for extended periods without getting too sore, something that has only been possible for the past 14-21 days. Which, of course, plays hell with my writing routine; I’m used to being sedentary for many long hours but that may well be a thing of the past. Also might have to invest in a standing desk at some point—hey, Hemingway used to write standing up so maybe it will be all right.

The first few days after surgery were the toughest. Thanks to the blessings of good health I had never spent a single night in a hospital and so being immobilized, reliant on others for my basic needs, took some adjusting. The surgery itself went without a hitch. I was given a spinal, which meant I was partially conscious during the procedure, listening as the surgical team bored out the hip socket to better fit the new titanium ball they were installing or tapping in some component, the force of the impact shaking my body on the table. I was lucid enough that at one point I asked to see the original ball and they brought it over, showing me how it was pitted by arthritis.

“Good riddance, you sonofabitch,” I murmured, a remark that drew chuckles from some of those present.  

Post-op, pain management became very important. The night of my surgery, after the spinal anesthetic wore off, the nursing staff plied me with Dilaudid, Tylenol and some sort of nerve pill to take most of the edge off. On a scale of 1-10, my discomfort level probably peaked at 7 (I think I have a pretty high pain threshold). Each day afterward got better—by Thursday (day after surgery) I was able to sit on the end of my bed, standing briefly, and by Friday the physio people were wheeling me down to their little gym to teach me how to climb stairs, get in and out of the shower, etc.

Have to say, the worst aspect of the whole experience was getting fitted for a catheter. I was told that, ahem, older gentlemen tend to have a bit more trouble restoring their waterworks after a spinal and often a catheter is required. I get that…but it took three separate staff members to perform the procedure, which was no fun at all. My privates aren’t used to being manhandled by strangers. I was delighted when that sucker was finally removed…although the first time I went to relieve myself, it felt like I was pissing napalm.

My incision healed up very quickly, no complications with infection or draining. Once I was back home, I was contacted by our local hospital physio department and every week went in for a consultation and exercises to restore the damaged muscles. I was meticulous about doing said exercises and made speedy progress.

At the moment, I am only using a cane (see: below and note the Bruin colors on the knitted sock my wife had made for me) for trips out of the house and the new hip seems to be performing up to expectations.

The bad news is, the other hip also requires replacement, so I’ll have to go through this again in another six months.

At least I’ll know what to expect. Osteo-arthritis runs in our family, unfortunately, a genetic predisposition I would gladly do without. My hands and lower back are also afflicted, which doesn’t bode well for my sunset years.

But I’m grateful to be back on my pins again, on the mend and looking forward to a more active, pain-free future.

Many thanks to Dr. Anthony King, his surgical team and the nursing and support staff at Saskatoon’s City Hospital for their first-rate care. Hopefully I’ll be renewing acquaintance with them this summer, getting the right side dealt with, and then enjoying my new-found mobility, playing with the grandkids and feeling like, quite literally, a new man.

Cheers.

 

Poem of the day

September 19, 2020

I begged you to linger
because you kept the chills at bay
but you insisted you had
business elsewhere
and took leave of me
with an air kiss
that brushed my cheek
with the last warm breath
I’d feel until Easter
paid its ritual visit
on bended pagan knees

Black Dog Press, the catalog

This catalog of my books is incomplete (you can find all my titles here), but it illustrates just what beautiful volumes my odd little imprint produces.

See anything you like?

 

Best Books Read in 2019

Overview:

In all, I read 102 books in 2019.

Forty-one (41) non-fiction, sixty-one (61) fiction and poetry.

I thought the ratio would’ve been more evenly split, closer to 50-50, but I was wrong.

Only one author placed two entries on my personal “Best of…” list, Ben H. Winters, and a big shout out to that man and his unique imagination.

Here’s my roster of favorite reads during 2019—how does it compare to yours?

Fiction:

Their Lips Talk of Mischief by Alan Warner
Infinite Detail by Tim Maugham
Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
The Emerald Light in the Air (stories) by Donald Antrim
Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry
The Tropic of Kansas by Christopher Brown
Grand Opening by Jon Hassler
Benediction by Kent Haruf
Hystopia by David Means
Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Thin Air by Richard K. Morgan
Shadow Captain by Alastair Reynolds

Honorable Mentions:

The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go
Money by Martin Amis
The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
The Masque of Mañana by Robert Sheckley

Worst novel read this year:  Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

Non-fiction:

Falter by Bill McKibben
Working by Robert Caro
Talking to My Daughter About the Economy by Yanis Varoufakis
Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism by Nadya Tolokonnikova
The Weird and the Eerie by Mark Fisher
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
The Wayfinders by Wade Davis
How Fascism Works by David Stanley
Utopia For Realists by Rutger Bregman

Honorable Mentions:

The Destiny Thief (essays) by Richard Russo
The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, A Revolution in Hollywood by W.K. Stratton
Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Worst non-fiction book read this year:  Wolf At The Table by Augusten Burroughs

 

Tribute to a Classic Monster

Kong

Skull Island wasn’t the same without him. The indigenous inhabitants, denied their traditional object of veneration and sacrifice, disintegrated into sects and internecine squabbling, nearly eradicating themselves. Survivors fell victim to the missionaries who inevitably follow in the wake of white explorers, displacing pagan idols, substituting ones more to their liking.

Robbed of its apex predator, the jungle lost coherence and structure, descending into chaos. And then came invasive species, animals and plants foreign to the closed ecosystem, devastating the pristine wilderness.

It wasn’t long before a consortium of Far Eastern financiers and venture capitalists bought the beachfront and lagoon for the equivalent of some beads and hand mirrors, evicting the natives, erecting exclusive vacation resorts catering to jet-setting millionaires and trust fund slackers.

Gift shops featuring statuettes, t-shirts and keepsakes commemorating the Island’s most famous denizen did brisk business, affluent tourists sporting colorful gear celebrating a fearsome creature once dubbed “the Eighth Wonder of the World”.

Descendants of the original islanders toiled in service industry roles, existing precariously, pining for the days when their god still lived and breathed, uprooting trees, bellowing his defiance, exacting regular tribute for the privilege of viewing divinity in the flesh.

Tourist: An Epithet

In the past several weeks I’ve had conversations during which I made disparaging remarks about tourists.

“I hate ’em,” I snarled, “they are lower order creatures, on par with ambulatory trilobites.”

Words to that effect.

But on one occasion, I was reminded that during the summer of 2016 my wife and I spent an entire month overseas, visiting three countries and soaking up the atmosphere like parched sponges. Didn’t that make me, ahem, a tourist?

Immediately after the accusation was leveled at me I became angry, defensive, denying the charge vehemently.

See, my notion of tourism is that it’s a necessary evil, like gut bacteria or liberal politicians. Yes, it can greatly benefit the economy of a nation but, in so doing, it also exacts a certain psychic toll. I mean, there were some parts of Prague that reminded me of Disneyland (and that is not a good thing).

For myself, rather than tourist, I prefer the term “visitor” or perhaps even “guest”.

Let me illustrate what I think is the difference between a visitor to a foreign country and a tourist with this analogy:

After a perfunctory knock, a stranger enters your home, basically brushing past you as he marches over to the table, seats himself and waits to be served. He doesn’t look right or left, doesn’t check out the pictures on the walls, the arrangement of the furniture; there’s no small talk, this person just wants to be fed.

And so you bring forth the courses you’ve spent all day preparing, but the food is unpleasant and exotic to the stranger, who loudly bemoans the lack of familiar favorites. The water tastes funny too and they can’t understand your weird accent.

Then, finally, the stranger glances at his watch, bolting abruptly because they have another dinner appointment further down the road (hopefully boasting better fare than this sorry joint). No real human contact, no effort made to immerse themselves in their surroundings and engage with their host. Only interested in stuffing their fat faces as quickly as possible and then moving on to the next trough.

See what I mean?

I personally think it’s quite easy to make distinctions between feelthy touristas and those who are genuinely interested in their chosen destination, doing their research, learning a few words of the language ahead of time, apprising themselves of some of the historical and cultural features specific to the region in question.

Further:

Visitors have bucket lists, tourists have checklists.

A visitor will seek out a nondescript street corner once glimpsed in an obscure “B” movie; a tourist goes on inclusive, all-you-can-eat-and-drink junkets, spending hours trying to tan their pasty bodies on a private beach, the only locals in evidence the ones employed as service personnel.

Tourists patronize expat bars and seek out others of their kind; visitors deftly avoid anyone reeking of their home country and venture far afield to escape their idiotic compatriots.

Visitors seek experience, interaction; tourists are after visuals, placing themselves front and center in every picture they take, “selfies” amid the ruins, egos the size of the Parthenon.

A tourist never gets deliberately lost or risks chance encounters.

A tourist is rarely pleasantly surprised or jolted by insight.

A tourist secretly despises the countries they visit and can’t wait to get back home and pretend otherwise.

A visitor gamely struggles with the native dialect; tourists insist on talking their own lingo in A VERY LOUD VOICE.

To a tourist, any place worth seeing has to look like it belongs on a postcard.

A tourist says “cool”, meaning worthy of yet another picture, and “quaint” when they mean old and useless.

A tourist can enter a thousand-year-old church and completely ignore the gorgeous, stained glass windows, hand-carved pulpit and ancient aura, instead fixating on a middle-aged nun praying near the back who’s a dead ringer for their aunt Gladys.

A visitor never completely shakes off the places they explore and inhabit; a tourist takes nothing from the sites and monuments they see and leaves nothing of themselves behind.

A visitor is respectful, tolerant, gracious; a tourist vain, easily bored, rude, suspicious  and disdainful.

A visitor departs with regret, a tourist with relief.

Visitors smile, tourists grimace.

Visitors say “thank you”, tourists begrudge even a modest tip.

Visitors try and fit in, tourists don’t bother.

Visitors are pilgrims, tourists consumers.

 

MOUTH: RANTS & ROUTINES (e-Pub and Kindle now available)

Mouth: Rants and Routines is now available in a couple of digital formats, which should make it easy for you to download and read the book on just about any phone, tablet or computer.

You’ll find the Kindle version over at Amazon (click here), and for those who don’t wish to give that multinational behemoth any of your hard-earned money, you can also zip over to Smashwords and find the ePub version there (click here).

I’ve priced the book at $2.99 (U.S.) which, I think, is fair, certainly a helluva a lot cheaper than what traditional publishers charge for their offerings (any e-book going for over seven or eight bucks is a rip-off as far as I’m concerned).

Read the excerpts I’ve made available or listen to the recording I made of some of the material (more are forthcoming) and then decide for yourself if this is your cup of poison. Fans of Ricky Gervais, Bill Hicks or George Carlin will love my book. On the other hand, if those dudes hold no appeal to you…er…

If you do enjoy Mouth, for God’s sake make sure you leave positive feedback on Amazon or wherever you downloaded it, help spread the word and create some buzz for a unique project (and a tiny, independent press).

And, of course, drop me a line here, telling me how the book affected you and if it was an enjoyable (or not) reading experience.

I look forward to hearing from you, one way or the other.

“Mouth”: The Table of Contents

My new book Mouth: Rants and Routines contains over 40 broadsides on a variety of subjects near and drear to my heart.

I’m posting the Table of Contents below, just to illustrate the breadth and diversity of the subject matter.

In the meantime, I urge you to pop over to a site that has recently posted one of the most personal essays from Mouth, a warts-and-all overview of my three-decade long writing career, with the promising title “Man of Constant Failure”. Click here to read it.

I also posted one of my favorite bits, a takedown of stupid comic book movies and the critics who laud them, over at my film site, Cinema Arete. Click here to read it.

And don’t forget the live performance of some of the essays from Mouth I recorded in my living room before a very appreciative audience. I loaded it on to Bandcamp for free listening. Click here to tune in.

And now, the aforementioned Table of Contents. The roll call of infamy:

Introduction

Disgraceland (I)

The Attractions of Misanthropy

White Riot

Phone Sex

This movie sucks (and so do you)

Paris is Burning

Coming Soon to Your Hometown

I’ve Seen the Future, Baby, and It’s Boring

God, A Concept

Self-Loathing

Bad At Sex

Agents of Control

Profanity

Who are you? (I)

Good, Honest Hatred

Family

Friends

Kissing

Chicken Little

Disgraceland (II)

Man to Man

Christians & Taliban

Foot in Mouth Disease

Who are you? (II)

First Impressions

Uncommon Fears

Questions

Stupid People: A Case For Eugenics?

I Don’t Care

Kill Yourself

Trades People

Get Out Your Hankies

Gun Crazy

Dreamer

Who are you? (III)

Single People

Man of Constant Failure

People Who Take Signs to Public Events

Between the Idea and the Reality

In Praise of Book Burning

Killing Alexander

Anger Management

MADM

I Hate White People

Love

Distress Call

Disgraceland (Coda)

Acknowledgements

* * * * *

Mouth: Rants & Routines is currently being prepped for publication as an e-book/Kindle and will be available for sale and downloading by the last week of May.

Check back here in the coming days for further updates.