Listening to My Bloody Valentine’s new one on the big ’70s headphones under sixteen tons of blankets and quilts. Outside (and inside) the temp keeps dropping. It’s one of those “negative eight, feels like negative twenty” weather report nights. I keep telling myself that all this hard shit will make me a better person or a better writer or … a whole list and litany of “better”s and that gets me through it.
Of course this is why the Midwest (and homesteading) is not for everyone and this year is the first year I’ve wondered whether I’m one of them. That’s a hard thing to admit: that you’re not tough enough while other people handle it fine. Heatless houses are nothing new. Neither are empty cupboards. People have been doin’ it for years under much worse circumstances. (“I’ve been hitting some hard traveling/I thought you knowed,” sang Woody Guthrie and didn’t [most of] Steinbeck’s Joads make it west just fine in the end?)
It’s below freezing inside the house, yes, but millions of people have it a thousand times harder than this and I’ve got no room to complain. It feels like something out of Dostoyevsky’s Brothers half the time and it’s a little scary being on the edge of something … scary, yeah, not “bad” or “unfortunate” or anything of the sort. (Living out in the country was never going to be safe or easy anyway. Easy would’ve been staying at ol’ 4902 SE Franklin Street back in Portland.)
I have blankets and I have one more bag of Yorkshire tea and a sleeping rescue pitbull at the foot of my mattress and I have goddamn MY BLOODY VALENTINE on my headphones sounding like the ooze-deep birth noise of the universe. I’m weak and I’m cowardly and I’m insecure and cold and I’m fucking lucky to have what I have. I may have shit luck but I’m fucking LUCKY. I’ll sleep well tonight in the knowledge of that.
SUBTERRANEAN HOMESTEAD BLUES #2
Last night we were hit by a big storm and now we’re cut off from town. Icy tundra as far as you can see. At 3am I took a hot bath in the farmhouse and it was weird because my body was submerged in the hottest water I could stand but I could still see my breath as much as you might outside. Then there was the pile of my clothes in the middle of the floor. Knee-length parka, gloves, two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks, a flannel, a hoodie, a knit hat, and a quilted coat. Three feet tall. It looked like a mountain. A colorful mountain. Life right now is pretty strange. Today it’s 31 degrees in the farmhouse and I’m going to drink red wine and black coffee and read Tolstoy. I think it’ll work fine. “It” being totally open-ended. “It” being anything you want it to be. Take your pick.
SUBTERRANEAN HOMESTEAD BLUES #1
This is what you wear to bed when you live in the rural Midwest and you have no heat in your house: thick socks, two pairs of flannel pajama pants under jeans, t-shirt, four-button army surplus sweater, thick hoodie lined with fake wool (hood up under checked hunter’s cap), and a quilted jacket. Top that off with six layers of blankets, afghans, and quilts and you’re golden. Only not really. Golden will happen around late-April to middle-May. Thirty-five degrees in the farmhouse. Glamorous, romantic countrylife. Quote, unquote.
A good critic will show you that art and criticism go hand in hand. I guess that’s true to a point, but…all art is valid. Laziness in art is still art, while laziness in criticism is nothing.
(from Mash Odes of the Untouched Xerox )(out of print zine)
You’ve got to be oblivious to other people—the push and pull of other people’s opinions, the way other people measure success. It’s then that you realize you are 100 percent WHO YOU ARE and you have to use WHO YOU ARE 100 percent in order to create great things. And that’s very difficult because everyone wants to be better than they are. You’ve really got to get down on the floor with yourself and get low in order to make great art. I think you’ve just got to accept WHO YOU ARE and do THE MOST UNBELIEVABLE THINGS.
This Is Not A Metaphor!
A thick and busy spider had overtaken my car some time ago. I can’t be sure when, but maybe as far back as last summer. I’d driven to some pretty remote wooded places to hike, but I also usually park under one of two spider-friendly trees out back behind our apartment in the alley. Every morning I’d notice cobwebs clinging to my headlights. I’d scrape them off with my key, but they’d be back the next day. Then I started to find them draped from my side view mirrors, ominous like a dredged up sunken ship still held in the loose grip of sargassum seaweed. I’d open my door and find webs covering the exposed metal hinges. The cloth ceiling interior randomly began to unfasten from it’s seam above the rear window, and I of course attributed this to Spider’s Mischief. Then, while driving into Marin, I felt it’s hairy legs scurry over my knuckles then disappear onto the floor as I held the lazy 6 O’clock position on my steering wheel.
Believe me, txting and driving is WAY safer than trying to cup a scurrying spider while driving 80 mph with the sun in your eyes. ‘Cause of course I didn’t want to kill the little fucker - it’s just doing its thing - but I wanted to end this carpool co-habitation. And this creature was big! Like, there was a widemouth gatorade bottlecap on my passenger seat and I immediately saw that his body wouldn’t fit beneath if I tried to trap him. I admit I don’t know much about spiders, which one’s bite? - I’ve mostly only seen wispy daddy long legs that crawl in and out of your mouth and nostrils undetected while you sleep.
My last ditch effort before getting into some unnecessary car accident is to open all the windows and try to scoop him out with a CD. He’s on the passenger seat, watching me, waiting me out. I take a cd from the hull in my driver’s door - is it significant that it’s a burned copy of Elliott Smith’s New Moon? No, that doesn’t matter. This is just a story with not metaphors or allusions to anything bigger - and carefully hold it next to the spider like a round magic carpet I hope he’ll ride as I nudge it under his girthsome body while driving with my left hand, my knee and hopefully heightened blind intuition. There’s a moment here where I don’t want to rush this and scare him away.
I think of this being the only advantage CDs still hold over digital music.
Only, but undeniable advantage.
I think of the essay I could write about this: the Spider, the CD, the mp3.
~something like, Survival Music or This Disc Is A Survival Kit
I think of a propaganda career subsidized by the music industry
but no, more accurately
I think of a propaganda career subsidized by National Record Store Day
that saddens me just enough (and will my goddamned delusions of grandeur always get in the way of the most practical activity??)
for the spider to make it’s getaway as I lunge the record toward the open passenger window and he darts down my arm, across the passenger seat, over the middle console and into the hidden recesses of the back seat while I drive with 2 hands on the wheel, and eyes squinting nervously between the glare of the road and the spooling possiblities alive in my rear view mirror.
A thick and busy resentment had overtaken my brain some time ago. I can’t be sure when. I’ve driven my mind to some awfully remote places. Every night I’d watch our apartment from the alley and notice cobwebs. Cobwebs everywhere. I pictured a cohabitation like living in a shipwreck that has been preserved in a museum for posterity; a mutually risk-free carpool to separate jobs. I heard people telling me that this is how life is. I didn’t believe them. I’d drive to remote places to not believe them. One day I’d drive to the ends of the earth to avoid confrontation and then the next night all I’d want to do is fight it out. I’d fight off sleeping at the wheel, for sleeping meant believing them: the voices saying this was all there is.
I’d awake in strange motels from fever dreams of righteous words gently and slowly dying unspoken in lungs like flies in cobwebs.
I wrote a zine in a matchbook so there’s always a torch when the poems fail.
The rain came so hard Saturday I had to pull over. My wipers were pumping full tilt but they were ineffectual as tiny hands grasping at Atlas’s greased globe. The rhythmic squeak of failure was too much. A shitty song.
It felt like all I had.
You have me, said the spider.
Well, no, he didn’t. But he did appear on the floorboard. I said to him that I don’t like the way I think sometimes. Like there’s my brain, and there’s me, a separate thing, struggling to stick up for myself. I resent things. I view certain situations as I’d like them to be and not always as they are. I don’t always say what’s on my mind until the thoughts are so sour and twisted I force myself to spit them out in words. It’s not that bad, but still, here I am having a tough time dealing.
The longest nights on the west coast are when I’m the last one up in the entire country.
The spider didn’t say anything, but he didn’t run away either, which was real. It felt better to say these things out loud - it was real, I was really saying them out loud - parked in front of a flooded construction site, in the rain with the car running and the windshield wipers not working, and the driver door open, and the cobwebs washed away without me having to wash them, and I said plainly, I’d like you to leave because I don’t like cobwebs on my car all the time and I don’t want you to bite me in the neck while I’m driving, and the rain was so loud smacking the windshield and the roof that I could hardly hear myself talk, let alone the spider talk back, which he didn’t because spiders can’t talk, and this story isn’t a metaphor or an allusion to anything bigger like love or depression or the universe, it’s just a person in a car trying to make something better instead of waiting for the impossible to magically fix it, and even the smallest purposeful change can move the universe, or maybe it comes from the universe, which at least proves the universe is listening, the things in the universe listen, the things communicate, and when that spider walked along the floor board, under my brake foot, then under my other foot and across the door frame, across the membrane, into the hard rain I didn’t even mind that he didn’t say goodbye or take his few floorboard cobwebs with him as he went.
Darth Vader Selfie
The rain has finally come, and parched California she drinks again. A four day bender in fact, the highways at night run sloppy with flood, the rivers finally heard from the creeks, the creeks finally heard from the streams, and everyone’s crawled out of their own isolated heads - the sound of cabin fevers breaking - to gather and joke again. Relief from this yearning. You could land that plane on my heart, I don’t care. Animals nip from puddles, green peeks through the sun-scorched foliage, even the city comes alive after a hard rain - you can tell by the ripe scent of it’s morning breath.
Every time XXXXX at the coffeeshop closes the register, the coins jingle in the glass vase tip jar and this drunk yells, ‘what? Oh, I thought I heard you calling my name haha’. The haha is part of his dialogue, not my addition. And he’s not a drunk, but he’s drunk this morning, mixing from a coat-pocket pint into the breakfast tea that XXXXX made him. Sillimon, is his name, I think, or Sinnimon - something like that; he was a bit marble-mouthed, and told me it was because he was curbed once: 'I owed these dudes money and they came for it. Tried to make me eat a brick. Literally. See it on that cobblestone over there?' He pointed to some crude mason work lining the alley. They tried to make me swallow, but I spit instead haha. I think you can still see my blood stains. I haven’t seen Sinnimon in a while, because XXXXX took a few weeks to work nights, and she was the only one who gave me free refills of coffee so I could afford to stay there writing for hours at a clip on 2 or 3 cups of no-cost caffeine. Now XXXXX is back on the morning shift, so I am too. And here’s Sinnimon, in his leather knee-length coat and puffy high top sneakers, bopping in to clown around and drink some booze tea and explain that even in the rain he still holds down his corner, but it’s better for his customer traffic when the rain lets up.
I first met him during that whole Silk Road dark web bust. Glen Park Library is only a few blocks away, and the morning the FEDS moved in on Dread Pirate Robert there were reporters swarming our coffeeshop because it was believed Ross Ulbricht operated off the WI-Fi server here. That’s when Sinnimon introduced himself to me on the bench out front, and said, I been watchin’ you, man. I thought you was that dude they’re looking for. Always typing on your computer.
I said, ‘No, I’m just a writer.’
'Oh Yeah? Writers are mad sketchy.'
Then he told me he’s so glad he never tried to take his drug deal business online. 'I had a Myspace once, but I knew that internet shit would get you pinched. Now I'm a street dude. Analog mofo.'
He opens the door for an old lady with a cane and calls her beautiful.
In the same breath he spots a wealthy-looking middle-aged woman crossing the street and jumps on his cellphone as he tracks her through the window across the cafe. ‘Yo,’ he says to whoever’s on the line, ‘look out the window man, I see her, she’s walking up the alley. Yeah, yeah. Keep an eye on her. Tell me where she goes.’
He talks just like that, loud and like no one can hear him. That’s the problems with drunks: they just talk and talk and talk.
They find me with a knife to the bird’s throat, and it’s like that’s all they see. I’m near some sort of montessori alternative school that until now I thought was a retirement home. You never see kids around. Until today. One stands behind me and yells to his mom, He’s going to kill that chicken!
Then a crowd of teachers, kids and parents forms, and it’s not…un-hostile, to say the least.
First off, it’s a pigeon. In NYC people called them disease-carrying rats with wings. I didn’t. I still don’t.
Secondly, I was trying to save it. I don’t know how it happened, but I was walking home from my bank and came across this smallish pigeon pecking at a large piece of freshly spit gum. I could see it from half a block away, working it’s beak like a tiny oil derrick, and then I realized the sticky gum had captured the pigeon. As I got closer I saw the gluey tangle in the weighing the small bird down by the wings and head. What a mess. So I took out my pocketknife and held the bird still and began trying to extricate it from it’s unfortunate predicament.
And that’s when this whisteblowing 6 year old broadcast the perception, and not the facts, to seemingly his entire school community.
It maybe didn’t help matters that I didn’t stop when the crowd gathered, because 1) I was innocent and 2) I had already risked the possibility of contracting some airborne bird flu by touching this filthy pigeon with my bare hands, and had worked for almost 10 solid minutes sawing this damn gum away with a dullish penknife (what do they put in Bubbalicious these days, cement mix?) while listening to this animal squawk it’s deathbed confessions, so unless I was put in handcuffs I wasn’t going to not free this poor creature.
Walking home I had one of those “Who am I” moments, like when Gregor Samsa wakes up as an insect. I’m not sure why. I guess it happens when you have to prove you are innocent, instead of expecting that your community will trust you are. Swirling identities. Drought California vs. rain-healthy California. Sinnimon vs. Sillimon vs. people being both kind and yet incredibly sketchy. I hadn’t showered that day, or shaved in 3 or 4; I wore a black hooded sweatshirt; I held a knife at a bird’s throat.
It was cloudy for days, the difference between day and night faded to a droll grey sameness. Then out of nowhere the sun broke through through like runny yolk. I saw my shadow for the first time in what seemed like a month. Felt like I was on the wrong side of the Force.
6 more weeks of winter.
The rain began dropping mere minutes later and you could almost hear the sidewalks swallowing with their dry throats, appreciation in their dusty voices.
MY FRIENDS AND I RUN A PUBLISHING HOUSE/SMALL PRESS DISTRO CALLED PIONEERS PRESS OUT OF THE FARM WHERE WE LIVE
Look at all the good work Pioneers Press is doing out in freezing Winterfell, Kansas. Check their newsletter (linked below) or (subscribe via email) for new zines in stock, Fest tablings in Chicago, PDX, LA and SF, Neutral Milk Hotel fan art contest, zine mobile launch, much more…
Here’s a link to our latest newsletter. If you could be a pal and share it with someone you love (or reblog this or tell a book/zine-loving person in your life about it) that would make my day.
They Not-Love Ballad of Goodbye Brooklyn Forever
it’s not love ‘til neck tattoos
it’s not love ‘less double suicide
it’s not love ‘til you feel less alone
it’s not love ‘less you both come
it’s not love ‘til you both come, separately
it’s not love ‘til the point isn’t coming, it’s not going away.
it’s not love ‘less your heart races
it’s not love ‘til a mix has been made
it’s not love ‘til cancer
it’s not love ‘til you write them a poem you burn before it’s shown
it’s not love if you can trade it for pills or powders. or would.
it’s not love ‘til you try a little. ‘til trying a little doesn’t feel like trying at all
it’s not love if the lights have to be out
it’s not love ‘less they’re nasty at gymnastics
it’s not love ‘till they can make your grandpa laugh
it’s not love ‘less they defend you in front of your overbearing mother
it’s not love ‘less your parents are skeptical of it working out
it’s not love ‘less you quit your job & roadtrip
it’s not love ‘til you’re clear across the Kosciuszko Bridge
it’s not love ‘til the boat springs a leak
it’s not love ‘til the last slice of pizza
it’s not love ‘less they have to go and you start eating everything to cope. or forget to eat at all; days in dreamless sleepwalk wilderness
it’s not love ‘till they and your cat become homies
It’s not love ‘til it learns to fight back
it’s not love ‘til it’s lost and they find their way back
it’s not love ‘til it’s beyond reflexes
it’s not love because your friends say it is
it’s not love if they need an expensive ring
it’s not love just because the State says you can marry
it’s not love that has to do with any laws
it’s not love ‘til they wears a vile of your blood around their neck
it’s not love ‘til they cut that shit out
it’s not love it’s not love it’s not love it’s not love it’s not love
it’s not love if you can say it’s not love
It’s not love ‘less it freaks you out like the first time baby heard a hiccup
then the 2nd time
it’s not love ‘til you know the difference between is it? and it is
it’s not love ‘til you can stop asking yourself and you don’t care what it is, it is. oh shit, it is
Rust Belt Jessie is posting/reblogging a Ton Fu*k of poems right now (!), yesterday, tomorrow… as explained in this post. DIane Di Palma, Carolyn Forche, Jack Gilbert, Bob Hicok, Marty Cain and a good long one from Gregory Corso plus so many more writers who were unknown to me. Bus poems, train poems, America poems, tough love poems…
Strangers no more
Upcoming events Pioneers Press is tabling!
- LA Zine Fest on February 16th. Come by the Pioneers Press table and say hello to our own Elizabeth Thompson!
- Chicago Zine Fest March 14th and 15th. Yes!
- Find Pioneers at the Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair on March 22nd sharing a table with the awesome Rich Baiocco!
- Portland Zine Symposium, July 12-13th. Our first ever Symposium and we are so stoked!
Come on by and check out the Pioneers Press table. Say hello. Give me recommendations. Only 2 blocks from the West Oakland BART stop
Whoa nice! Luke Goebel finds himself in The Believer. And this guy’s writing is to be believed, though barely; - Anxious, jumpy, salty, pained, earned, soulful, excitable - he kind of walks that line in the best way possible. If you search through my archives I’ve linked some old stories of his in a few posts, but I can’t find them right now. Regardless, his first book is coming out this Spring from FC2. Fourteen Stories: None Of Them Yours
I think there’s only 13, and more a book than a story collection but deal with it//dig into it.
Various Paradigms is a new bimonthly column written by Ann DeWitt about words, art, film, politics and poetics. The title is a tribute to conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner’s typographic texts. Weiner once wrote, “Bits and Pieces Put Together To Present A Semblance of A Whole.” This column hopes to follow in that tradition of engagement, intimacy and experiment.
Photo of Luke Goebel by Marie Goebel.
Various Paradigms Conversed About in Full or Brief: The Corona Cougar portable typewriter, gaping wounds, emotional support animals, units of sound, Barry Hannah, Freudian analysts, Texas, the Breaking Bad RV, writing in the “Bounder,” how to farm out a plane.
Luke Goebel and I first crossed paths in the world in 2010 when he was guest editing an issue of Everyday Genius. He solicited a story of mine called “Congregation.” He sent me the following reply to my story:
"Dear Ann, Heft and grit! You have the words of those I admire greatly. Calls to mind Noy Holland, one of my teachers, mentors, gods. Don’t tell anyone, but there’s a reprint of one of her stories in the next issue. One from her first book now out of print, THE SPECTACLE OF THE BODY. Thank you, also, for your admiration of TYRANT. Giancarlo is truly a great editor, in all meanings of the word.
Ann, You can send to me now if you like. The next issue, as I said, is full. But I can read work for the next TYRANT now.
As far as word count, page limits, etc. No such thing. What we do want is to be implicated in the story as soon as possible. I have to give credit for the word implicated in this use to Gordon Lish.
Anyhow, you have my blessing. Send whatever you like, whenever. And it will be considered for the next issue.
Heft and grit, I thought. ”This guy gets it.” Here was my original email, laconic but sincere:
I am a fan. Many humble thank yous for reading.
Updates From The Wishy-Washy
Some benevolent soul has added cushioned headrests to the zine reading bench outside of the Wishy-Washy laundromat. Thank you thoughtful being.