Monday, May 27, 2013

Short Stories and Snapshots: Living in low-fi

I just wanted to break their fingers. I was dumbstruck and angry about the behavior. Every one of my students when I taught basic college skills at the Southwest Early College was completely glued to their cellphones. And this was in the good ol' days before ipads, tablets, iphones, smartphones and the dumb look everyone has when plugged into one. Most of my students learned very early on that I was not, under any circumstance, going to tolerate thumbs on phones during my class. Most complied. I suspect that some were relieved. And the ones who didn't got this question directly at them: “What are you going to do when the power goes out?” No response. No response from who received this question and no response from any classmates. In the silence that ensued I'd ask, “What can you do when the power goes out?” Only once did a student say: “Go outside and play.” It broke the spell. Outside it was a beautiful autumn day. “Good answer,” I said. “Let's get out of here, we're done for the day.”

I am not a Luddite. There is no way I would exist as a writer as a Luddite. But I also think there is a time and place for gadgets, devices and hell, the phone. In many ways I think technology is great. Bright shiny things are cool. The down side of it is that I do think it is way to easy to become anesthetized by it; perhaps that's the point.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Short Stories and Snapshots: The Rise of the Paltry Days

I live and work downtown. It's not San Francisco, it's not Manhattan. But it is downtown, and that's saying something. It comes up in conversation occasionally: “what part of town do you live,” “what neighborhood is yours?” See, here in Portland, Oregon, people are not only very proud of where they live, but their neighborhood gives them a sense of identity. “I live downtown,” I say. In short, I live exactly 13 blocks from where I sleep and I generally do not stray far. “Wow,” is the general response. “How exciting.”

Truth is, I've always lived downtown. Here, Denver, Mexico City, Tucson and my brief tenure in New Orleans. I've always preferred to walk wherever I go. So, downtown is convenient rather than exciting. In the past, it was cheaper to live downtown. This is not the case anymore. In fact, where we live now costs more than any place I've lived before. High rent downtown. But I can walk everywhere.
Portland Building: a great place to camp

Although I live in a new building, the surrounding area is in flux. This part of downtown was great when new and is now becoming slightly fallow. It's not urban decay yet, but it is on the fast track. This along with the massive homeless population really makes it seem like skid row is quickly becoming the standard. It's even worse now that the summer is coming on.

We have a camping ban in Portland. That's right, the city does not allow “camping” within city limits. Yet, there has been an encampment in front of city hall for years. Somehow, being without home in Portland is supposed to be a lofty goal and a reasonable ambition. I digress, but the dichotomy of the place is really interesting. Moreover, my place within all of it is interesting too. I live in an expensive building and I work in a very expensive restaurant. I see wealth on either side of my commute, but the commute itself is paltry, impoverished, bordering on the absurd to say the least.

How do you expect this to treat a writer? I mean, living in the thick of it like this? Peter Benchley's book Jaws had very little to do with the fish. It was all about class and class warfare. John Steinbeck's Cannery Row kind of romanticized homelessness with Mack and the boys. A writer does use their surroundings as setting. It's a case of “write what you know.” And if you don't believe me, I can tell you a great deal about Haruki Murakami's Tokyo neighborhoods because he describes them in great detail in every novel.

What about the shutterbug? After all, this has been a conversation about photography just as much as it has been about writing. What do you think a camera can record? I find a great deal of beauty in urban decay. For some reason, I kind of find beauty in the passed out, or possibly dead, heroin junkies. It's the world that I live in. And oddly enough, when I get to the restaurant, there is a certain level of beauty in it too.
Wine decanter at Portland City Grill

So, I've been snapping photographs. I've been recording, in black and white, images that will remain the same when my memory of the day fades, warps and become nostalgia. Even if I'm not writing about the neighborhood now, some day I might. If a picture is worth a thousand words, is a thousand words with one picture? 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Short Stories and Snapshots: The Spaces Between Leaves

Most of my living happens at night. I mean, very late at night. It's been this way for a long time. Part of it is that I hang with my young son all day and I work evenings. The nature of working evenings is that everyone at home goes to bed. When I leave work, generally around midnight, I'm just not in the mood to go home.

It's been an adjustment, as many new parents will attest. For years, to my fucking chagrin, I was a morning writer. I've never particularly liked the morning, but for some reason I'm freshest then. I no longer write in the morning because I'm changing diapers, playing games or bathing my boy. There is something very calming about hanging with a baby. I feel there is a certain level of Tao in it. In a way, I have erased all internal noise over the last few months. It's pleasant.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Short Stories and Snapshots: In Lieu of a Preface

Eduardo Galeano's short-short piece “The Language of Art,” has resonated with me for years. In many, many ways, most of the book, The Book of Embraces has resonated with me for years. I've had a copy of the book for nearly twenty years. I cannot recall who gave me the first copy way back in the early 1990s, but I remember how it was introduced to me. “Anthony, you'll love this. It reads like a bunches of embraces.” No truer words.

But Chinolope of “The Language of Art” is a hero. Chinolope is what all heroes should be. Chinolope is part pariah and and part poverty struck worker. Chinolope is one part luck mixed with three parts bad luck. Luck: “Look here and press there,” and bad luck? Albert Anastasia is the bad luck.