An important milestone, thanks to one & all (Blog Post #500)

Photo by: Sherron Burns

Actually, there are a couple of milestones to mention:

I turned 55 this past week and this happens to be my 500th blog post.

Time to celebrate.

Today I’ve posted a new album on my BandCamp page, over forty minutes of original music, titled Non nobis solum (“Not for ourselves alone”). You can find the new tunes here

If I had to choose one of the new pieces to highlight, it would have to be “Drowning, Not Waving”. Have a listen:

This new batch of music seems more spiritual than spacey, a welcome change of pace.

Besides creating music, I’ve been doing lots of painting, spending part of the summer setting up a mini artist studio in our cold, stone basement. Ensconced in my wee grotto, I daub and smear, accompanied by music and podcasts, working without fear, philosophy or prejudice, just…creating. Making shit up. That’s when I’m happiest.

I employed one of my recent paintings as cover art for Non nobis solum. See what I mean? That’s the kind of weird crap I get up to when I’m left to my own devices.

Thanks to one and all, for hanging out here for the past 10+ years, continuing to support an irascible, uncompromising indie guy with a taste for satire and a propensity for giving offense.

Love your notes and messages, your praise and brickbats.

Keep ’em coming…

 

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?

Quote of the day: Jim Shepard (Blog Post #498)

Longtime patrons of this blog know of my deep and profound respect for American author Jim Shepard.

He’s one of my literary heroes—he and George Saunders are the two best short story writers in the English language.

For a number of years he wrote a column for The Believer and in 2017 Tin House Books (great little press) released a collection of those pieces titled The Tunnel at the End of the Light.

It is, needless to say, a smart, articulate book and I wanted to quote a passage from Shepard’s Introduction to give you an idea of why I revere the man so much:

“The Republican Party has for decades claimed that the American government is the implacable enemy of the American people. This administration (Trump) is working to make that statement true for the first time for a very large majority of citizens.

That leaves the streets, and we can already see what’s in store for us there. The militarization of the police over the past forty years, begun with the war on drugs and amped up a thousandfold by the war on terror, was never really about threats from without and has always been about anticipating threats from within: as in, What happens when economic inequality and political irrelevance become so grotesque that they lead to civic unrest? The solution to the problem, for the Republicans and the corporate Democrats who have held power, has never been, So I guess we should do something to alleviate economic inequality. It’s always been, When the have-nots have nothing left but the streets, we need to be ready to take the streets away as well. And of course the exponential growth of the surveillance state will help with that. Hence our leaders’ seeming lack of concern over the last decade or so about all the metadata about US citizens—citizens who haven’t been suspected of a crime—that’s being hovered up.”

 

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

Blog Post #496: Automatic Crap Dispensers

My wife sent me a picture she took while waiting in Edmonton International Airport.

At first I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then I was hit with a wave of nausea…a short story machine? Tales pumped out of a dispenser like junk food?

Dear God.

Sherron, bless her heart, anticipated my reaction and printed up a number of stories to bring home for my examination. Without exception, the offerings were inept, tuneless, unoriginal, poorly executed, childish. There was no professional vetting in terms of quality and it showed. Apparently the company in question, ShortEdition, has over 80,000 stories, of varying genres and length, for potential readers to choose from. Based on the examples I scanned, you’d get more aesthetic satisfaction reading the back of a cereal box or instructions for using a pay toilet.

Awful, awful stuff, printed on thin tape for speedy consumption, as disposable and forgettable as most of the other crap we produce these days.

And the horrible thing is that we’re living in an absolute golden era in terms of the short story format. Geniuses like Jim Shepard and George Saunders are gracing us with tales that can move us deeply, while maintaining the highest literary standards. Daring, innovative prose that shatters preconceptions and offers entirely new perspectives of the world around us.

This ridiculous gadget is yet another example of the dumbing down of society, offering blatant mediocrities and tone-deaf amateurs a platform to exercise their egos. It is junk food for the post-literate, the mental equivalent of fucking Pez.

Anyone who pays for this service is a moron, anyone who enjoys the “writing” needs to stop wearing their hats so tight.

How about spending your money on real authors, men and women who devote an enormous amount of time and effort ensuring their prose is as tight and polished as it can be? Masters of the printed word.

They deserve your support, whereas the ShortEdition wannabes warrant only a snort of derision and a sad shake of the head.

 

“Algebra of Inequality”: Listen to the audio versions

Below you’ll find a 4-5 minute audio clip I created around some poems from my latest Black Dog Press release, The Algebra of Inequality.

I added some background music tracks for dramatic effect and I think this performance is an excellent teaser for the book.

If you want to hear audio renditions of more poems from the collection, recorded back in 2016 at the ancient amphitheater of Epidaurus, go to my “Other Media” page and scroll down a bit; you’ll find it.

This blog is approaching its 500th post and, of course, I have something special planned to mark the occasion.

Watch this space.

Five hundred posts, eleven years of maintaining Beautiful Desolation…that’s a lot of time (and words and music and rants).

Couldn’t do it without you, folks, your support, your public responses and private messages.

Enjoy this snippet—there’s much, much more to come:

 

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…