Posts Tagged ‘e.e. cummings’

Shameless Self-Promotion

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

wildgardener2

Wild Gardener Black painting by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser November 2013)

“And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world—unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.” e.e. cummings

In those long ago days when I was invited to read from my novels in bookstores and libraries, and for college audiences and writers groups, I was frequently asked if I had any helpful advice for people who wanted to become writers and make their livings from writing. This was before the advent of personal computers and digital everything, before people began writing with their thumbs on phones, and before a new myth conquered the collective psyche. That new myth goes something like this: Writing novels is easy. Anyone can write a novel without any practice and without ever having written a short story or even a viable paragraph. Just do it! And then publish your novel online and…voila!

Myths take hold and become established because they reflect a strong collective belief or wish. The myth that writing a novel is easy reflects a strong collective desire for everything to be easy. The suggestion by e.e. cummings that even just beginning to master the art of writing a good poem may take many years of practice, is the quantum opposite of the new myth about how easy it is to write poetry and fiction. After all, poems are just stacks of lines of words, right? So say today’s college academics and snake oil merchants making millions running the thousands of Creative Writing MFA programs now extant in America, programs wherein the only requirement for getting an MFA is enough money to pay the exorbitant tuition.

How hard can stacking lines of words be, especially now that the latest vogue in academic poetics is for those stacks of lines of words to not make the least bit of sense—literal, symbolic, or otherwise. Indeed, making sense is now considered a bad thing by academic poetry professors. Logic and meaning and connectivity are clearly signs of enslavement to something or other and must be avoided at all costs. Strike out any combination of words that might be construed to possibly make some sort of sense. Embrace the random whatever. Okay! Let’s get stacking.

Contrast the new anybody-can-do-anything-with-ease myth with cummings suggesting, “If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.” Ten or fifteen years of hard work? Nobody gonna buy that app.

In any case, way back when I was presenting my published works to a public still abiding by the old myth that it takes years of practice and persistence to possibly succeed as a writer or an artist, I was forever being asked for advice about how to proceed on the artist’s path. After several bumbling attempts to give helpful answers, I settled on the following. “I have two words of advice for anyone who wants to be a writer or an artist in our society, and those two words are low overhead. The less time you must spend making money to pay for rent and food, the more time you will have, as cummings put it, to fight and work and feel your way to the beginnings of mastery.”

Ah but mastery of the art form is only part of the struggle if an artist hopes to make money from his or her creations. And it is on this trying-to-make-money-from-art leg of the artist’s journey when most artists give up their quests, for this is the part of the process largely controlled by others. This is the part of the journey when the artist learns the painful truth that making money from art in America has little or nothing to do with art and everything to do with selling one’s self.

How ironic! Having worked with hundreds of writers as a teacher and editor, and having known hundreds of artists, I feel confident in saying that the vast majority of writers and artists in our society are introverts, many of them extremely introverted and painfully shy. Yet nearly all the successful artists and writers in America, as measured by the amount of money made from their creations, are extroverts. Indeed, all the most commercially successful of my former students and clients are minimally talented, while none of the several brilliant writers I worked with has had any commercial success to speak of.

This was not always the case. American literature and music and art prior to the advent of television and mass media and the corporate takeover of culture, was peopled with many painfully shy introverts represented by savvy extroverted agents and publishers who recognized the value of those oddballs’ genius.

So what? What’s wrong with most of today’s popular authors being beautiful and handsome and sexy and coming off well on talk shows and infomercials? Sure their books aren’t very good, but some of the books are kind of okay. Aren’t they? And besides, who cares about making money from art now that anybody can publish his or her book online and no one will stop him or her. That’s great, isn’t it? Artistic freedom from the tyranny of corporate lap dogs. Power to the people. A global creative renaissance via YouTube and podcasts and cyber sharing! Right on!

Yes! Nowadays anyone can publish anything and record anything and draw anything and say anything and film anything and offer those anythings to the world. And I’ve studied many of the ways people do that kind of sharing and I think that’s…yeah, exactly. Okay. But because I am a painfully shy introverted techno doofus detached from all cyber social network sites, as well as being an old-fashioned diehard three-dimensionalite, and because shameless self-promotion is a necessity for the cottage-industry artist of our time to eke out a living amidst the new electronic digital smartphone e-everything reality, I offer the following for you to reject or embrace or ignore or respond to.

Shameless Self-Promotion Presents

Todd’s New Stuff For You and To Give As Gifts

Helloooo out there wherever you are. I’ve got two new creations for you to possibly buy along with lots of somewhat older goodies you may wish to consider buying. If you’ve never bought anything of mine, that’s okay. Please don’t let that stop you from doing something you’ve never done before. I hope you’ll buy multiple things from me and in so doing support the arts and stir the synergetic pot and be happily surprised at how good my books and music are. This my hope.

I just got my shipment of Incongroovity, my fourth piano-centric CD, and I’m selling this entrancing album for a mere ten bucks. I still call them albums and array the tracks to be listened to as an album, though the new norm of perception is random individual track downloads, and you can do the download thing with Incongroovity, too, from iTunes and CD Baby etc. But you might love the original art I made to package the disc. Talk about a neato stocking stuffer. This is it. Nine groovacious piano instrumentals, one song Real Good Joe (a stirring tune about coffee and love) and two evocative and sensual poems set to piano music.

And I just picked up my second batch of my novella Oasis Tales of the Conjuror from Zo, Mendocino’s premiere copy shop. Illustrated by the author, each handsome comb-bound copy is individually and extravagantly signed and numbered by the author. Oasis Tales of the Conjuror is the story of Anza, a clairvoyant, and his family and friends who live in a walled oasis in a time of relative peace following an era of apocalyptic war and famine. The tiny paradise is home to artisan farmers and is remarkably self-sustaining. Allied to a great city, the oasis is on the brink of new disaster as its population begins to outstrip its food supply. Through a series of connected tales, Anza and the people of the oasis must overcome escalating challenges to their continuance, which they do in creative and harmonious ways. The stories are humorous, dramatic, and mysterious, driven by the imperatives of community, love, and survival. Only seventeen (17) bucks a copy, you may want to get several because…why not? To further whet your appetite, you can read the first three chapters of Oasis Tales of the Conjuror at Todd’s web site UnderTheTableBooks.com.

At this same web site you can listen gratis to big chunks of audio versions of Todd’s novels and short stories, sample music from Todd’s music CDs, peruse his art, and buy books and cards and music with a credit card or email Todd to arrange to pay with check or cash. And no matter how many of these wonderful creations you buy, shipping is only five bucks. Such a deal!

So there it is, my shameless self-promotion for 2013—my response to the new digital age. I may be out of step, out of time, out of gas, and out to lunch, but as I climbed the steep hill from the village yesterday, my knapsack full of the next twenty copies of Oasis Tales of the Conjuror, I felt some invisible power lift my pack so the load did not weigh too heavily upon me. And as I began to flag on the home stretch and to doubt the wisdom of my seemingly retrograde strategy, there came a delicious tail wind that propelled me onward.

Nature Bats Last

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser November 2012)

“Deer have been around for five million years and must know what they’re doing.” Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

Our new home turns out to be a deer park, the resident deer so numerous and hungry that only rhododendrons and redwoods and ferns and huckleberries (the bushes not the berries) and a few other large trees can hope to survive the ravenous hordes. A crumbling wooden fence surrounds our property, and here and there remnant strands of barbed wire speak of a time when the previous owners may have experienced a modicum of deer-free living. I am a vegetable and herb gardener and hope to have a large garden growing soon, as well as berries and fruit trees and flowers, with a few raised beds off the deck outside the kitchen, none of which I can have until we transmogrify the deer situation.

To that end we have engaged the services of a deer fence installer, and at the moment he arrived last week to give us a bid, there were not four or five deer, but seventeen of those hungry animals browsing the shrubs and lower branches of trees and vacuuming up the golden leaves fallen from a very tall plum tree and devouring lilies and daisies, and shitting profusely everywhere around our house. And the deer fence guy, scanning the assembly of does and bucks and fast-growing fawns, quipped, “I see the problem.”

We have decided to bequeath the northern half our property to the deer and other wild things while fortifying the smaller southern portion of our humble homestead. The deer fence fellow is booked several weeks in advance and can’t start working on our property until December, so I might not get my garlic in this year, though I may plant a small bed and surround it with land mines or a more humane equivalent.

“There’s no place on Earth that’s changing faster—and no place where that change matters more—than Greenland.” Bill McKibben

Having recently read a number of fascinating and frightening articles about the sudden disappearance of the Greenland ice sheet, I was not surprised to hear that the super storm Sandy caused upwards of eighty billion dollars of damage. Such awesome storms are precisely what numerous new weather models predict will be the direct consequence of the vanishing ice sheets combined with warmer ocean temperatures, rising moisture content in the atmosphere, rising sea levels, and myriad other factors related to global warming. In other words, though Sandy has been called the storm of the century, she may very well be the first of many such super storms to frequently pummel North America in the foreseeable future. Even as I write this, another massive storm is swirling through New York and New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with winter barely begun. Yikes.

Humans cannot construct storm fences around their big cities, though there is serious talk of building a gigantic sea wall around the island of Manhattan in anticipation of rapidly rising sea levels. (You gotta be kidding!) I wonder who will pay for the construction and upkeep of such a gargantuan wall? And how will such a wall keep hurricanes from toppling skyscrapers? Then, too, the eastern seaboard is rife with crappy old nuclear power plants full of plutonium ready to start melting down, several of those junky old plants identical to the crappy ones currently melting down at the Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan and radiating the entire Pacific Ocean. How many super storms will come and go before one or another of those nuclear power plant time bombs goes off? Not to be an alarmist, but we may very well be on the verge of millions of Americans and tens of millions of people in other countries being displaced annually by super storms and super droughts and super famines and super nuclear disasters; and I wonder where all those displaced people will go.

“He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.” George Bernard Shaw

Election night, as Marcia and I took turns monitoring the voting results on our computers, I suddenly found myself hoping fervently that Obama would win, though I did not vote for him and I think he is a supreme poophead regarding most of the tremendous challenges confronting humanity today. What, I wondered, was behind this sudden hope that Obama and not Romney would be President for the next four years? And as I wondered, my mind filled with visions of being part of a band of ancient hunter-gatherers watching two alpha males fight to the death for control of the band. Both alphas were cunning and violent, but one of them was vastly more intelligent and resourceful than the other and would be much more likely to act to insure the survival of the entire band when we were down to our last few pieces of deer jerky and giant tigers were pawing at the walls of our hut—or so I felt in that moment of their mortal combat.

“America makes prodigious mistakes, America has colossal faults, but one thing cannot be denied: America is always on the move. She may be going to Hell, of course, but at least she isn’t standing still.” e.e. cummings

When my sister Kathy lived in Los Angeles, she rented the ground floor of a two-story house at the end of a little canyon road at the base of a steep hillside composed of wholly unstable soil and stone, a formation geologists call a junk pile. In the winter of 1979 torrential rains caused massive mudslides, one of which obliterated Kathy’s home and smashed her car to smithereens with a boulder the size of an elephant. Having lost most of her possessions to that torrent of mud and rocks, my sister moved out of the hills and settled in the flatlands. And less than half a year later, her former abode had been rebuilt and leased again (with an exorbitant increase in rent) to a couple newly arrived in Los Angeles who had no idea they were pitching their tipi, so to speak, in the line of inevitable disaster.

In that same year, while visiting my sister in the aftermath of the mudslide and her relocation to level ground, I dined with a movie producer whose home was built at the top of another massive junk pile of soil and rock very much like the one that had shed part of its mass and obliterated my sister’s place.

“Amazing view,” I said, gazing out on the smog-cloaked city. “I’ll bet it’s really something on a clear day.”

“Don’t be sarcastic,” said my host, joining me on her deck. “The air is getting better. It really is.”

“Do you ever worry about losing the house to a landslide?” I asked, noticing several ominous cracks in her patio.

“I’ve been told this place has gone down twice in the last twenty years,” she confided with a shrug. “And they are forever shoring up the foundation and sinking piers and doing whatever to keep it from going again.”

“So…”

“So that’s why I’m leasing instead of buying,” she said, nodding confidently, “and why I’ve got the best renters’ insurance money can buy and why I stay in my townhouse in Santa Monica when the rains get crazy.”

“All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” Ronald Reagan

One young left-of-the-mythic-center pundit we listened to in the wake of Obama’s victory over Romney opined that henceforth the only way the Republican Party would ever be anything more than an obstructionist gang of amoral dinosaurs, and a shrinking gang at that, was if they could find a charismatic leader, a latter day Ronald Reagan, to take the helm and mesmerize the masses as old Ronnie did.

Now I was never for a minute mesmerized by Reagan. On the contrary, I found him repulsive and so obviously the puppet of George Herbert Bush and his cronies that I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why anyone found him attractive, let alone likeable and trustworthy. He knew almost nothing about anything, said only what he was told to say, and did such serious damage to our country and the world that we are still suffering from the impact of his policies. And yet he was the most popular President since Franklin Roosevelt. Why? I dunno.

“It’s too bad that stupidity isn’t painful.” Anton LaVey

From all I’ve read about the evolution of humans and human society, it is clear that we would not have survived as a species for long had it not been for our ability and willingness to cooperate with each other for the greater good, the good of the group transcendent of the selfish desires of individuals. And in thinking about the recent election and the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series and how people voted on the various state propositions and our wanting to install a deer fence around part of our property and the dawning of the age of rampant super storms and super calamities, it occurs to me that stupidity should henceforth be defined as the unwillingness to do what is best for the greater good.

After the Giants won the World Series, I read several articles by baseball writers and so-called baseball experts who were all baffled as to how the Giants could have possibly beaten the Reds, the Cards, and ultimately the Tigers, when the Giants, according to these experts, were so clearly the inferior collection of individual players. What a bunch of shortsighted knuckleheads! We, the Giants, were clearly the superior team and that’s why we kept on winning—because a great team is always far more than the sum of its parts and is invariably a highly cooperative community intolerant of selfishness. Or put another way, a great team is a collective dedicated to the success and well being of the entire group, and not just the enrichment of a few jerks who don’t care about anybody else. 

Junior High

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Wolf Me drawing by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2012)

“Hemingway never grew out of adolescence. His scope and depth stayed shallow because he had no idea what women are for.” Rex Stout

Today I fit several important pieces into the jigsaw puzzle of life, having found the first of those pieces a few days ago while I was at Mendocino K-8 School on Little Lake Road, shooting hoops despite the biting chill in the air and…

Wait. Doesn’t it strike you as remarkable, even astonishing, that in Mendocino of all places, a town known the world over as a seething vortex of artists and poets and potheads, that our K-8 school doesn’t have at least a mildly groovy name? Fantasia Archetype School. Raven Big Tree Learning Center. Earthling Haven Academy. Middle Earth Education Fulcrum. Doppelganger Nine. Fields of Elysium Lyceum. Mind Body Spirit Cognition Node. But I digress.

So…I was shooting hoops despite the biting chill when down the steps from the school to the playground came two people, a shapely young woman with hair of spun gold and a boy some four inches shorter than the young woman, a skinny, dorky boy with drab brown hair wearing a blue Mendocino K-8 School sweatshirt. And though I was a hundred yards away, I knew this boy and woman were courting, that they were the same age, numerically speaking, and that they were headed for the swings where many Mendocino K-8 junior high couples go to swing and flirt and talk about whatever junior high kids talk about these days.

Seeing these two physically mismatched lovebirds, I journeyed back through my memory archives to when I was a drab dorky boy in Eighth Grade and madly in love with three shapely young women who were, in every conceivable way (and I do mean conceivable), ready to hook up with men but found themselves surrounded by boys. And remembering those uneasy days of biological imbalance, when Lucy and Hannah and Shari were so obviously women while I and my male classmates were still so obviously boys, and having just finished reading The Old Way by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas for the third time, I suddenly understood why so many girls today turn into women well in advance of their male age peers, which understanding was the aforementioned first of several pieces I just today fit into the jigsaw puzzle of life.

“We hope to find more pieces of the puzzle which will shed light on the connection between this upright, walking ape, our early ancestor, and modern man.” Richard Leakey

I love the many-times-proven fact that every human being on earth is a direct genetic descendant of the Ju/wasi (Bushmen) of southern Africa, and I am so grateful that Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, a keen observer and gifted writer, dwelt among some of the last Ju/wasi to live in the Old Way so we may know how our ancestors lived prior to the ruination of the African savannah and the decimation of the original Ju/wasi way of life.

To quote from The Old Way (with Ms. Thomas’s permission), “If you happen to see a contemporary film or photo showing Bushmen dressed in skins, perhaps beside a small grass shelter or following a line of antelope footprints or handling a bow and arrow, you are seeing a reenactment. Today, nobody lives in the Old Way. All Bushmen, unless they put on skins for a photographer, wear the clothing of the dominant cultures—invariably Western dress for men, and Western or African dress for women—and none live by hunting and gathering, although with these activities they sometimes supplement their meager diet, which today is often cornmeal provided by the Namibian government as a welfare ration. They have jobs if they can get them, although many cannot; they listen to popular music on the radio, dance the popular dances, are influenced to some degree by Christianity, and are aware of the larger world and national politics.”

The Old Way is a record of daily life among one of the very last groups of Ju/wasi living as their predecessors (our predecessors) lived for at least thirty-five thousand years. And guess what? The junior high biological gender divide of our modern times did not exist among our people for those thirty-five thousand years.

“N!ai reached the menarche (began to menstruate) when she was about seventeen years old. At this time an important ceremony was held for her with eland music and dancing—a much more important ceremony than her wedding. But she and /Gunda (her husband) had no child for three years, when she was almost twenty. This was a very normal age for a Ju/wa woman’s first pregnancy.

“In the Old Way, the human population, like most other populations who live in the Old Way, had it own regulation. The strenuous work and absence of body fat prevented hunter-gatherer women from menstruating at an early age…”

In harmony with this biological truth, a Ju/wa man was not allowed to wed until he had killed an antelope, no easy feat even for a strong and experienced hunter. Thus most Ju/wa men spent the years before marriage growing into their full size and strength while acquiring skills that would enable them to provide antelope meat for their families and relatives.

 “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.” Lewis Carroll

When I was a little boy, my friends and I would pretend to be cowboys fighting Indians, the Indians being in the distance for us to shoot at with our pretend guns. When I was an older boy, my friends and I pretended to be American soldiers fighting Japanese and German soldiers, and these enemies, too, were in the distance for us to shoot at with our pretend guns. But when I played alone, I was always an Indian with a spear (fashioned from a grape stake or broom handle) and the bow and arrows I’d had since I was eight.

My childhood home stood on the edge of an abandoned estate, twenty acres of oaks and olive trees and overgrown vineyards and grasslands and ravines and chaparral teaming with wildlife—paradise. As far as I know, I was the only boy or girl in my neighborhood to habitually pretend to be an Indian; and there were certainly no other pretend Indians in our neck of the woods who took their pretending to the lengths I did. During those long summers when I was eight nine ten eleven and twelve, I lived for days on end in the wilds back of our house, barefoot and naked save for shorts, spending many a night camped out under the stars, with nuts and raisins and beef jerky for food, and a fire of twigs to keep me company as I gave voice to my invisible companions, wise old storytellers who knew everything there was to know about the animals and plants and spirits of that place.

I played tons of baseball with my friends and rode my bike all over the place, adventuring in the world of roads and stores, and I spent hours hunkered down in my bedroom with books, but no matter what else I might be doing, I longed to be in the woods, to follow a bird or butterfly to see where they might lead me; and to sit hidden and still for so long that the quail would forget I was there and resume their foraging around me, and a deer might appear close by, unaware of me, and I would be filled with wild joy knowing I might kill these animals if I needed to eat them to survive.

“I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing

than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance” e.e. cummings

I attended school and went insane with boredom, the teachings dead and useless, the only good parts of school being singing and drawing and recess and ball games and socializing with my friends and being secretly in love with girls. And until Sixth Grade all my classmates were boys and girls, and it was only midway through Sixth Grade and from then on that girls became women and boys remained boys, a division that reached a painful zenith in Seventh and Eighth Grade, otherwise known as junior high.

“and down they forgot as up they grew” e.e. cummings

The summer after Eighth Grade I was hired by a neighbor to move many tons of soil from his backyard to his front yard. I shoveled heavy brown dirt from a gently sloping hillside into a large wheelbarrow and wheeled that barrow a hundred yards up and over an incline to the dumping point. This labor—five hours a day—lasted two months and changed my fast-growing body from skinny boy to muscular young man. Then, with only a month remaining before I started high school, I spent two weeks camped in the woods with my spear and fires and beef jerky, knowing these were the last days of my childhood and never wanting them to end.

“and now you are and i am now and we’re

a mystery which will never happen again” e.e. cummings

The week before I started high school, I went to a party; and all the girls my age had become women. They saw I was no longer a boy; and Shari who had been a woman since Seventh Grade kissed me tenderly as we danced and led me outside into the moonlight and we kissed unto mindlessness, but beyond that I didn’t have a clue what to do and Shari was clearly frustrated and disappointed.

A few days later, the Saturday before high school began, I came home from my camp in the woods to find Hannah had come to visit, Hannah whom I had secretly loved since Fifth Grade, Hannah with womanly curves and beautiful breasts, Hannah with a deep musical laugh who always got my jokes when no one else did, Hannah who was my primary dream girl and fantasy lover.

We played ping-pong, and as we played I realized I was naked save for shorts, and Hannah was naked save for shorts and a negligible blouse. I had caught up to her, biologically speaking, and she had come to me—never having been to my house before—because she knew I had caught up to her, and because she liked me.

Somehow we went from playing ping-pong on the terrace to walking through the overgrown vineyard to a massive oak, and there we embraced and kissed and kissed some more until she whispered sweetly, “Hey, you wanna do it?”

“I…I…”

“I know how,” she said, her eyes sparkling. “And I can show you.”

I was thirteen. Looking back, seeing myself with Hannah in those last moments of childhood, I may wish I had allowed her to show me, but now that I have found and fit enough pieces into the jigsaw puzzle of life, I understand that I was not yet fully a man, not yet a killer of antelopes or the modern equivalent, and therefore not allowed to take a wife.