Monday, March 25, 2013

House of Cards, the preamble

Reflections of Undertakers of Rain

I wandered up SW 4th tonight. This is not an uncommon occurrence, after all, I live on SW 4th. I live in a fancy new building that is impressive in many ways. It's got the Leed Certification. It's nice. I did not choose to live her, Janice chose it. In the time we've lived here, I have not been disappointed in it. I like the location. I like the general feel of the place. It's close to work. It's close to the PSU campus and I like living around the university students. They tend to give a neighborhood the vivacious vibe of youth and thought and learning and ideas. Although, I sometimes wonder what they teach kids these days. There is a “natural” market on the ground floor. I don't know how “natural” it is. I buy cheap beer in the shop. Sometimes, I buy ice cream sandwiches. And I suspect that many of the patrons of the little market buy snacks and beer and cigarettes there. In short, it's just a cornershop. As I was wandering home thinking about the last year or so, I saw a well dressed young man in a handsome suit and tie come out of the shop. As he packed his box of Marlboro cigarettes, I suddenly became homesick for my buddy Chris Howk. I sent a text message to him simply asking if he might still be awake. It was just after ten p.m. my time, Pacific Daylight Time which makes it just after 11 p.m. His time, Mountain. I sent the text knowing full well that it will probably be several days before he returns it. It's the nature of his habits with the phone. Hell, it's the same habit I have. Years ago, back in Denver, we lived together and our house phone message said something like this: “You've reached Chris and Anthony. Leave a message if you want, Anthony returns calls on Monday afternoon and Chris does not return calls at all.” We seldom had messages to return. Be that as it may, tonight, on the street I missed Chris Howk immensely.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Spring 2013 Reading List

I have binged on Haruki Murakami on more than one occasion. He has been gracious enough to write a great many books so that I, a fan, can go through binges on occasion. The last great Murakami binge happened during the great Wood Village hideaway during the winter of 2010-spring 2011. That binge was marked, of course, by poverty, isolation and one cold-cold wet winter. The three or four Murakami novels I read then were all books I had bought at some point since the former binge.

The binge before that one came in the summer of Tucson 2005. This time has been sprouting up in my memory like a thorn band of arroyo weeds recently. That Tucson-hotter-than-the-fucking-sun Murakami binge was marked with lonesome days and hiding away in cool dark places. I finished reading Kafka on the Shore at Ike's on Speedway Blvd. when the temperature dropped below 105 degrees on a fluke.

But the first Murakami binge happened right here in Portland. That was the winter of 2000. Maybe it was early, very early spring. The nights settled in early. Then again, in my memory it is always nighttime here, always an early dark. It was raining too. I was walking along NW 23rd Ave. I was looking for something. Booze probably. Yes, this was early 2000. Bill Clinton was still president. I was still employed with the Boy Scouts of America. I lived behind a woman's clinic by the synagogue and I was a drunken mess. And on this particular night, I had just left my friend Leopold and was looking for drinks, and the world as I knew it was about to change.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Winter Reading List Wrap-up

The days are getting noticeably longer. The sun gets here a little earlier each morning. The flowers are becoming widespread now, and obvious. Spring is here. Although in Portland, it does not mean dry weather or even sunshine. The days are longer, and there are more flowers, and that is saying something. The long nights of winter are behind us for another six months.

Before I really joke about it, here is my winter reading list:
1. What Am I Doing Here Bruce Chatwin
2. Under the Ribs of Death John Marlyn
3. Brazil Jesse Lee Kercheval
4. One Flew Over the Cockoo's Nest Ken Kesley

And here is what I actually read:
Keret, Etgar. Suddenly, a Knock on the Door. FSG: New York, 2012.
Marlyn, John. Under the Ribs of Death. McCelland & Stewart: Toronto, 1957.
Keret, Etgar. The Nimrod Flip Out. FSG: New York, 2006.
Lemony Snickett, book 6. If you have kids, go buy the series. Wonderful stuff.
Akhmatova, Anna. Requiem and Poem Without a Hero. Ohio University Press: Athens, Ohio, 1976. D.M. Thomas, trans.
Basho, Matsuo. The Narrow Road to the Deep North & Other Travel Sketches. Penguin Classics: London, 1966. Nobuyuki Yuasa, trans.
Kercheval, Jesse Lee. Brazil. Cleveland State University Press: Cleveland, Ohio, 2010.
Chatwin, Bruce. What Am I Doing Here. Viking: New York, 1989.
Kesey, Ken. One flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Viking: New York, 2012.

I blame the long nights for the expanded reading list. It's strange, when in graduate school I was forced to write out a much larger reading list than I would have been able to read each semester. I was lucky to read 15 books, and I would make a list of 30. And for whatever reason since grad school, I have made very small reading lists and read more.

I suppose the very notion of creating a reading list is silly. Why bother, right? When you are a reader, it's all about reading, and why follow a list? This all goes back a few years when Mark Dragotta and I decided there were some books that are better to read during the sunnier times of year. I suppose I still agree with the conclusions the two of us came up with in the early fall of 2010. And I suppose there are books worth reading when the weather gets cold and the nights become long.

For me, I decided to read something things I have not read in a long time. The poetry namely: Basho and Akhmatova are both old acquaintances. In the years between the last time I read Akhmatova and now, my understanding of world events, namely of the Soviet variety, made her poetry mean more to me. Not only that, I read the introduction, and I did a little research. These are things I never bothered with doing before. Incidentally, my appreciation for Akhmatova has increased. Likewise, with Basho, I spent some time researching the text. I have loved Basho since Rebecca Brown introduced me to his work while I attended Goddard. NobuyukiYuasa's introduction made all the difference to me.

John Marlyn's book, Under the Ribs of Death was perhaps the biggest surprised. Admittedly, I chose the book late one night at Powell's only because of the title. I choose a great number of books only because of the title. There have been occurrences where choosing a book from the title has turned me on to an entirely new writer, genre or literary period. This was not the case with Marlyn's book. The novel is set between 1913 and 1933 in Winnipeg, Canada. The main character is the son of Hungarian immigrants. I know the book has several historical, cultural and social connotations to it. I also know that the book is held in high regard in Canada. Truth is, all that stuff aside, it's a great story. Great characters, great scenes, great use of dialect and great images of immigrant life.

Etgar Keret is always a favorite here and in our house. I read his stories aloud sometimes, both at home and at the bar. Reading Keret's stories aloud make me popular. Should you want to popular too, I recommend reading Keret aloud wherever your people gather.

Some people here in good ol' Stumptown have trouble with the wintertime. They have trouble with the rain. I don't think I do. Drink a lot of coffee. Read a lot of books. It's not so bad.

Monday, March 4, 2013

On Writing When Time is Limited

The other night at work my buddy Edd asked, “You writing much?” The question came after a conversation about our kids. His boy's a couple years older than mine. Edd is a busy guy too. “Not much,” I said. “Rough,” he said. “Yeah,” I countered. It is rough. But I realize that life just has to be that way sometime. After all, if nothing more, I'm committed to this blog so I know I'm good for at least 1,000 words (or so) a week. I realize that time gets the better of us at various stages in our lives, and I realize that time really is very limited. Sadly, I write so much less than I once did, and I have so many fewer hours than I've ever had. So what? I get to play with a baby all day and it's just as gratifying as the work of the writing that once filled up my time.

Years ago, well over 20 of them in fact, I remember buddies of mine whiling away the day with their Gameboys. Tetris was big addiction back then. I never had the patience for video games, not then, not since and not now. I did play Tetris a few times. I wasn't very good at it. I understood the shapes and how they fit together. What I didn't get was how to move the controls fast enough. In theory, Tetris is the perfect game for a guy like me. I love to fit things into a neat space. Just look at the trunk of the car when we go on trips.