Changing Mind Like the Weather

I realize that just a month after proclaiming I would take on the restaurant reviewing duties from my less than dependable cohorts, I had another change of heart, and a person who stages grand reinventions monthly can be annoying. I also realize no one reads these memos, or almost no one, and if you're reading this, you are of the special few. So what happened was I set out with ambition to eat everywhere and write about it, and as fate would have it I encountered another dietary mishap when I apparently ate some wheat in something, and as a gluten-free celiac, found myself spending another afternoon sick. I have suffered too many alcohol free days to suffer similar sickness due to a common grain. So disgusted with the situation, I was forced to admit that I have to be more careful and be more aggressive about avoiding particular ingredients, foods, cuisines, restaurants, and situations—a bad lot for someone trying to write about food. It's sad—I'm an adventurous eater, but the adventure can get me into trouble. So my latest solution—assuming a solution is needed—is to try to focus again on fiction writing, and leave the restaurant reviewing up to Mr. Speen and Mr. Skiller, if they can find the time (and necessary appetites).

And I'm not even sure about that—fiction writing. It all depends on how I feel about it, once I get back into it. You have to love what you're doing if you want to even have a chance for anyone who reads it to like it. I guess... we'll see. In the meantime, as far as this website goes, I'm going to try to liven it up by having designated days (you know, like “Throwback Thursday”—is that even a thing anymore?)—though it's kind of unfortunate that in seven weekdays, only five letters are represented. But I'm not worrying about the letters too much—sometimes it works out. So here is the new week, here at rspeen.com.

Memoir Monday – In which I'll post in between one and four of the “memoir” pages: Memoir, Notebook Journals, No Memory, and The Golden Pineapple.

Cafe Tuesday – I'll explore a local cafe or coffee shop – there are plenty!

Reading Wednesday – Book review and new reading list.

Podcast Thursday – This will be coming soon – more on it later!

Farraginous Friday – Where I'll review a vinyl record – at the external site: DJ Farraginous.

Soap Review Saturday – When better than the traditional bathing day to review a new bar of soap?

Song Review Sunday/Steely Dan Sunday – Which will be a review of either a random song, or an examination of a not so random Steely Dan song.

I'm going to continue to write and post other stuff, as it comes up, of course—such as movie reviews, whenever I see a movie, and rice pudding reviews (on the Dessert page) whenever I encounter rice pudding—but the above will be the regular features. I hope that's enough. I hope that's not too much. I hope enough is enough and too much is never enough. Happy snow day!

Randy Russell, 9 November 2018

Blood for Dracula

Kind of unwittingly, I was thinking about vampires—not because Halloween has been extended to cover the entire month of October (or more accurately, Labor Day to Thanksgiving)—but because I was thinking about that movie, Blood for Dracula (1974), also known as Andy Warhol's Dracula, and how I've been feeling like Udo Kier, constantly sick. The joke is, as Dracula, he must find virgin blood to survive, and each of his victims, purportedly a virgin, turns out not to be. It's a terrible joke, but what I like is the image of him, disappointed and sick. I thought of this in relation to me trying to find gluten-free dining options; it seems like the more awareness there is of celiac disease, and the more so-called options there are, the more I seem to be getting accidentally poisoned with wheat. I've gotten sick more times this year than the previous 25 since I found out I was gluten-intolerant, or so it feels.

The sad thing is, just after I decided to take on the dining, coffee, taco, and dessert reviews, to fill in for my somewhat lazy cohorts, Speen and Skiller, I had another experience of getting sick. The worst part is that it's almost impossible to track down the reason, and you can't in any fairness blame a restaurant when you don't know if it's something you ate earlier, or some other reason. Restaurants have a hard enough time existing without unfair negative press. It might make sense for me to just focus on only gluten-free dining, at places where that is the feature, and thus most likely to be safe—but that just sounds so lifeless to me. Plus, I'm not good about being thorough, and I'm a crappy scientist and a worse detective.

More and more, food in general has gotten to be a problem. Besides having to absolutely avoid gluten, I have been increasingly sensitive to dairy products, or at least some. Also, there are many things I avoid as possible migraine triggers. Even worse, in the 25 years since I quit drinking, I feel like sugar has increasingly affected the same part of my brain as alcohol used to—it's almost like my body immediately transforms any sugar I eat into alcohol. Which coincides with, or possibly explains, an increasing, maddening craving for sugar. It also doesn't help that as time goes on I feel worse and worse about eating meat, not for health reasons, but just because I love animals. In some ways I feel like death is looking more and more like a relief just for the reason that you don't have to eat. On the other hand, who knows? Maybe you endlessly stalk the shadows for virginal blood or the fresh brains of the hapless.

That time will come soon enough, but in the meantime I've got to find some solution, and I'm not talking about Shakey's Buffet. One idea is to concentrate on places rather than food. As much as food is an interest of mine, it's impossible for me to ever write even close to a comprehensive, fair assessment of any restaurant—and also, even more than food, I've always first been interested in the atmosphere, the feeling, the look of a place—the personality. Which is one reason I've always been a huge fan of diners—I've loved places where the food (and particularly coffee) quality was sometimes lacking. So maybe that is a good way to approach writing about restaurants—since I don't want to totally give it up—even if I have to give up eating! The other possibility is to find a good collaborator or two, to help pick up the slack created by my worthless colleagues.

Another thing that has been bothering me lately is the feeling that I'm doing nothing but making words on a word processor, published on this website, which, in the end, isn't much, really, but chicken scratch in the ether, pissing in the rain, farting on the afterdeck of the SS Whogivesafuck, or what have you. I try to do so many different things that I don't give the proper time and care to any of them. I suppose one solution is that I could just give it all up, get a second job, and then save more (any at all) money. And with that money I could buy what? Oh, yeah, happiness. But happiness is overrated, and maybe I'd be better off trying to make something that is good. But what? The general consensus is that if you haven't figured this shit out by the time you're 30, you're sunk, and I'm almost twice that age—so where does that leave me? A shipwreck—but not even that—just a shadow that resembles one, when the light shines on the lake a certain way.

Randy Russell, 14 October 2018

Virtual Reality Tequila Volcano

It's my favorite day of the year, the Autumnal Equinox, at least as far as weather and energy and anticipation goes—not that I'm excited about the days getting shorter—that I don't care for—but it's all part of the happy death march, I guess. I don't know why I said that. The point of this memo is to announce some changes, and one of those is an attempt at increased brevity—on this website—particularly the writing—so that means here and now, as well.

Now that it's Fall, I'm going to try to go to more movies, and still write about each one, but write less! There have not been nearly as many coffee shop and restaurant reviews as I had hoped, even with the help of Richard Skiller, so I'm going to take an active roll there, as well, and help out. Skiller is somewhat of a “hipster,” as you may know, but I've personally lost patience with a lot of restaurant trends, lately, so get ready for some bitter complaining. I'm also going to help out Ray Speen with his random and pointed blog writing, which has kind of stagnated during his ongoing house arrest, so to speak. No, he didn't fail another drug test—I'm talking about house arrest of the heart. That doesn't sound so good, does it—bad choice of words. We have easy editing capabilities, I can fix that—but I'm also making a point to go back to the typewriter days. Things keep getting worse (the more they improve, the worse they get, you know?)—there's no stopping it—but it's our job to build a dam, or levee, or what have you, and keep patching the holes, throwing on sandbags, or whatever. For me, I say: before you ask a computer, ask a friend. Sit on a stool in a diner, maybe, rather than a virtual reality tequila volcano, whatever that is.

One more promise for the future—you may anticipate a podcast in the near soon, which you'll be able to read about here and listen to somewhere else. I know that sounds pretty “now,” but in a way it has more to do with old-fashioned radio, in some respects. Way back in the early 1980s when I worked many hours delivering flowers (like in the song), I used to listen to the local AM talk shows in the truck, and I found that via time and the (mostly) calm act of talking, even moderate Republicans, corny pseudo liberals, and likely not-very-good-person Dadaist wingnuts could not only be entertaining, but give you that small ramekin of hope—the possibility that people are constantly changing—and sometimes even for the benefit of—if not all—most.

On the other hand, not to sound like Peaches Prozac, there are some popular trends, design elements, products, political leaders, billionaires, popular gurus, and annoying fads that just need to be set on fire, then quickly extinguished (let's put the extinguish back in fire extinguisher), turned to stone, gently recycled, and used to patch holes in the retaining walls, levees, bike paths, etc.

Randy Russell, 22 September 2018

History of the Toboso Brewing Co.

Lately I've been concentrating on the Memoir subcategory of this website. I use the word “memoir” because I think it's a funny word, and I like how people stumble over the pronunciation (French and pompous, or un-pompous dumb American?). Also, in one of my favorite scenes from a Coen Brothers movie, Burn After Reading (2008), John Malkovich tells Tilda Swinton that he's quit his job and wants to write a book, “a sort of memoir”—the way he pronounces it, and then her reaction (a nervous laugh that says more than a page of dialogue could)—is so funny, I'll watch that one scene and laugh about it all day.

Memoir is understood to be non-fiction, but I maintain that writing about events from memory is necessarily fiction because in order to remember events we turn them into stories, a version of the things that happened—and there's nothing wrong with that, of course. Anyway, in the case of my memoirs, I'm willfully misusing the word “memoir” in order to not use two words (that I just used earlier in this paragraph) that I would like to retire from my vocabulary—because they have become not useful: “non-fiction” and “story.”

My first memoir page, titled: No Memory, is simply typing and posting, in chronological order, entries that I wrote in notebooks roughly two years ago. I'm kind of following along with the present date, but looking two years back. The second is a link to a separate page, a long-running blog titled: Notebook Journals—also a chronological typing and posting of entires from notebooks—in this case from 20 years ago (so I'm currently in the late-Nineties). The third page, brilliantly titled: Memoir, goes back to my earliest journal (as a 12-year-old, in 1972) and follows from there chronologically. In this case, I'm trying to fill in a few journal-less years (there were a lot of them) with some writing from memory, or in some cases trying to turn fictionalized events back into memories. Faulty, yes, but it's all faulty, and it's all fiction, and whether there is any truth in it is up to the reader to decide.

Which brings us to what I thought about upon waking up this morning: 1988—thirty years ago. That was the year I drove out to San Francisco, intending to move there—and if I had, how different would my life be now? Most likely I would have worked, saved a little money, then moved up to Santa Rosa, location of one of my favorite movies, Shadow of a Doubt (1943). As an avid beer maker, it was my dream to open a brew-pub, which no doubt would have been followed by a microbrewery (my beer was really good!), marriage and kids. As deeply entrenched in brewing culture as my identity would have been, I likely would have perished from a combination of celiac disease and alcoholism. So next time you hoist a flagon of Toboso Brewery's signature Wine Vomit Stout, let your mind wander on some of the paths not taken, but appreciate the one you're on. Please enjoy responsibly.

Randy Russell, 1 August 2018

War of the Words

It's a Saturday in early June and it's raining to the south of where I'm sitting. Just to the north the sky has opened up and alien invaders from a distant star have picked this day to make their global presence known, first in our small town, of all places, before they turn the Earth into an open pit carbon mine, and all of us into slave miners. I, of all people, am heading up there to meet them now, wary of their gifts of opioid blankets. I have put together my own greeting “care package” for them, which I'm pretty sure will sink their plans. It consists of McDonald's, pre-packaged mimosas, and a Netflix subscription. Of course, a lot of damage will be done before this is all over. Sheriff cars will be burned and heroes vaporized. Sleep will never again come quite as easily. But for those of us who do survive, all of our problems—some of whose are much, much greater than others—will be put into perspective.

This guy, Anthony Bourdain, died last week, and I was and am a big fan of his, to the extent of feeling—like with many fans of admired people—like I knew him, as a friend—though, of course, I didn't. And though it is none of our business, news came that his death was due to suicide. Inquiring minds want to know, I guess. There's a weird way in which knowing the cause of a person's death lets us breathe easier, in some cases, or in other cases, I guess, breathe less easily. I suppose that has to do with extending your sympathy, on one hand, and the perceived likelihood, on the other, that you will share the same fate. Depending on your empathy and health, of course. People will often perceive anyone who is a mere 20 years older than they are as having had a “good life” and it's “their time.” If someone is hit by a meteor from outer space, we're all gripped by fear, for a period of from one hour to one day (depending on what you've got going on). Almost inconceivably, there are some people who have neither known a loved one who died from suicide nor had suicidal inclinations of their own, and they sometimes call out, even publicly, the deceased as selfish. Though often this anger is misplaced grief—and even though it makes us all miserable, misplacing stuff is the very substance of civilization.

I have not read any of Anthony Bourdain's books, but maybe I will (after a period; I find that it's too sad to read stuff by people who have recently left us; I'm still having trouble with Denis Johnson). But I relate to Bourdain on some basic levels (work, food) and on others, admire him as doing, with gusto and humor, what I cannot do, and that is travel. I envy people who can walk into the unknown and eat things that might not be considered food by most of us (as a celiac, I can't eat anything without an ingredients label). Or stay somewhere without AC. Or have to shit in a hole (I can't even shit if there's someone looking at their iPhone in the stall next to me). Or partaking in the rituals of the locals, whose respectful embrace may well not be gluten-free, and wipe out 20 years of sobriety, or wreak havoc with next week's drug test. Though envy might not be the right word—I relate, and I don't relate—similar and different to my feelings about David Foster Wallace (another person I didn't know whose suicide affected me in a surprisingly intense way) who, just by writing one title (along with the billion words), I knew we were sometimes on a very similar wavelength: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.

We have 1000 words for snowflakes (or is that the Eskimos?) but the word “depression” is used to describe: bummed out about a breakup, that exam on Monday, favorite sports team deciding to suck, three hours of sustained cloud cover, a flat tire, or depression. I have read and heard spoken depictions of serious, clinical, crippling depression by people as articulate (and thorough) as David Foster Wallace, and still I don't pretend to be able to really know what it's like. I personally have had suicidal thoughts due to unpleasantries as mundane as the flu, food poisoning, and migraines (you know, that feeling that, if this was to go on like this forever, get me the pills). Or, I guess, sometimes, paradoxically, that feeling that life is so beautiful, fulfilling, and smells so good, that a fear arrises that it will end, and the only way to deal with that fear is to take matters into your own hands.

When it comes to other people's suffering, it's pretty easy to put up the blinders, and you can even justify that by saying it's necessary for survival (to some extent it is). But the hardest thing to deny is that every time you flush the toilet or get takeout food in a plastic shell, you're face to face with a global crisis. I know that many of our leaders (who know how to tie a Half Windsor Knot and have had a lot more fund-raising luncheons than I have) truly believe it's no problem, and our environment will be just fine, at least for us and our children's children—and who, honestly, can think beyond that? The space aliens don't need to use the death rays on us; if they're smart enough to get here, they probably realize they can just sit back for a few years while humans exterminate themselves and the Earth returns to a lush, self-sustaining garden. They might even build some kind of a museum commemorating the odd, hairless inhabitants that thrived here briefly, built some cool shit, but mostly didn't do much.

Randy Russell, 9 June 2018

I Wish This Was About Rainstorms, Diners, Flowers, Jazz, and Geese

Before getting onto the main subject, my personal dilemma, I want to acknowledge the things going on in the world, in this country, in this state I live in, and with people I know, close friends and more distant acquaintances. There are reasons to celebrate, reasons to worry, and reasons to mourn, much of which I'm aware of via news, social media, and personal correspondence. Though on a day to day basis my inbox is mostly empty, I'm aware that there are emails, from friends I care about, that I have not answered. For some reason I find our current evolution of communication challenging. Or sometimes it's, “where to start?” But I remain open to discussing things. Also, I realize that a few people I know have been kind enough to offer me suggestions about my course of action, and just because I sometimes argue against these suggestions, or don't follow them, doesn't mean I don't appreciate them or find them helpful. Also, there is an election coming up in Wisconsin (Tuesday, April 3rd) and it's an important one. Whether or not there is an election in your part of the world, or you believe in voting or not, the first step is just to know that it exists.

My problems don't amount to a can of beans in this insane world, someone said (oh, that was me, just now) I am well aware, but as of this week, the last of March, I have come upon a problem that I want to share, just because maybe someone reading this can offer a suggestion—even one that leads to another idea, or potential solution. I don't necessarily expect an answer, or even anyone to read this, but I'll try anyway. Also, while I don't want to be someone who's just always complaining or in crisis, I realize it's not always healthiest to just keep this stuff inside you. Also, while often it's easiest and often most effective to go to a search engine with any question, I'd like to think it's still possible to ask actual people. And in some cases, to be able to share knowledge and information, or even help, makes people feel good.

Most people like to keep the details of their personal finances, including jobs, pay, health coverage, and whatever else they do to survive, private, and I understand that—I'm the same way, for the most part. But in this case I'm going to divulge a few details, just because someone might read this and say, “No, you should do it this way,” or “Hey, you actually have it good compared to most,” or “Wow, that's the same boat I'm in,” or “Try this...” When I moved to New York, ten years ago, I was dealing with finding both a job and health insurance, and through a network of friends found a state organization that helped me with a heath plan (I'd love to have that plan right now). A few years later, I recall referring another friend to the same organization—that's how things work!—or can.

When I lived in Iowa City and was very ill, the free clinic helped direct me to help that essentially saved my life, and then to a court that saved my ass, financially. When I lived in Oregon, the state health plan there got me by very well, until I finally found a job that offered health insurance. I am kind of painfully aware that both times I moved to Wisconsin (from Oregon, and later from New York), I left jobs in which I was fully covered by health insurance. Do I regret that?—of course not, because not ever moving to Wisconsin would mean not ever having had these particular friendships that have been the most important thing in my life. So that's perspective. However, I'm now wondering if moving somewhere more affordable or with state or local healthcare situations more useful to me might not be an option I should consider. Though, believe me, I do not relish the thought of moving, at this point.

So, briefly, because this is boring, it took me about six months to find my current job—which I'm totally happy with—in part, because it's part-time, so I actually have time, at home, for writing (whether I should be writing and what is a discussion for another time). The pay was just enough to get by, but that worked, for awhile anyway, because it put me below the poverty level, which allowed me to be covered by the state health plan. Of course, this was not an ideal situation because it doesn't really give me enough money to even travel to Ohio once a year to see family, and what little I have in my savings account has dwindled to about nothing. Still, a life where you like where you live, like your job, like the creative work you're doing, and have enough to eat—it's hard to argue with that.

Then I got a small raise, welcome, of course, except when I reported that to the state agency, it put me over the limit for state health care, which means now I have to try to find health insurance. If you've done that lately—not the best way to spend a morning. Without complicating things (for sake of discussion) with the fraught, fluctuating insanity of the political situation and its influence on healthcare right now—and in the unpredictable future—when you start reading about health plans (they like to use “gold, silver, bronze” as designations, which can give you a gallows laugh)—you realize that to make the proper decision, you must know ahead of time what the extent of the personal malady you will be afflicted with is. Well, the only one I could afford, based on my income, is none of them, but the one that comes closest, called “catastrophic coverage” pretty much won't pay for things like doctor or hospital visits, anyway—and only helps if it gets into the thousands, or millions (though there is a ceiling, but by that time, you're probably dead).

So anyway, do I: quit my job, keep health coverage, and try to find a job with health coverage (good luck!) See this as a sign, a time to move out of town, to hopefully something easier? Maybe find a second part-time job (good luck) whose income would just be to cover my healthcare? Or just go without health insurance? (Which is a little bit difficult, due to prescription medication, and also scarier the older you get). Or... ROADTRIP! Or maybe: start drinking heavily. Maybe stow away on the SpaceX Mars rocket. Or—here's a novel idea—could I tell my employer to reduce my pay, in order to put me under the poverty level, once again? Calling Dr. Kafka!

I know that this is depressing and kind of pathetic, so thank you if you got this far. I just got so stressed out about it yesterday, when this all came up. Then when I was at work I started seeing flashing lights—like the kind of psychedelic laser light show I so despise—around the periphery of my vision. When I tried to focus on the lights they just went to the other side—kind of like success. It was scary. I wondered if someone had dosed the Keurig pods with LSD, or if this was stress talking. I thought for awhile I might have to head to a doctor, and I admit it was comforting, knowing I was still covered. Anyway, sometimes a very easy solution comes with a very simple suggestion, so that's why I'm throwing this out there. In the meantime, it made me feel better just to write about it. Which is—in part—why I keep putting things in written words. I won't give up my pen until they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

Randy Russell, 28 March 2018

 

Holiday Newsletter

I like the word Holiday—I'm not sure why—not to get into the word's origins and wide array of meanings—but I like how you can mold it to work for you you, if you want to—and thus: Holiday Newsletter.

Without going into my personal, technological, philosophical, and financial triumphs and limitations, I have finally reached a point (this-is-it) where it's time to make some decisions and then move on. I have been working on a novel all my life, and now I am done with it. I won't even presume I know what is next.

“What to do with the novel” then becomes the problem, and part of me says: wrap it in plastic and forget about it. The kindle part of me (that made my writing available for ebooks in the past) suggested ebook, but due to decreased technological prowess (due in part to limited finances), and also due to many of you disliking e-readers and their funny names, and certain companies who facilitate all this, that is not going to happen at this time.

I finally read over this finished novel, however, with a clear head (ie, as a reader, not a re-writer), and I realized that I love my characters. I don't always like what they're doing, but for better or worse they have become like breathing creatures to me, and I can't just let them be wrapped in plastic. So it is with that, hopefully, genuine sentiment that I offer to share their lives with anyone who would like to take the time and not inconsiderable effort to reimagine them in their own mind.

As part of my brain has been hijacked by certain social and political realities in the last year, I realize that it is harder than ever to concentrate on fiction, or anything, really. It's like our brains are computers (they are, actually) and when this current events program is constantly running, it slows down everything. So I realize it might not be the time to read about, and become immersed in, people who aren't technically flesh and blood. Or it might be just the time, who knows.

When I went to write a synopsis for this novel (synopsis writing being something that can make even the strongest among us collapse in a weeping puddle) it became painfully clear that a convoluted, slowly developing story with so many characters you need a reference guide (and no explicit sex or violence) might appeal to less than a percent of a percent of people, even the ones I know personally. Especially when most of the characters are writers, and that's what they like talking about. They're also all kind of old.

But then, who knows—I liked it. I considered sending out a holiday mass email with a PDF of the novel attached, but I realize a mass email with a PDF attached will go right into the ol' spam mailbox. I've got thousands of unopened emails, and I don't even go near that spam mailbox (it's truly frightening), and maybe no one even checks, much less reads email anymore, but still, I'll send this holiday newsletter out to those few who might welcome it.

So, if you've read this far and would like a PDF of my novel, Everyone Is Someone Else, please let me know—and know that you are not obligated to read it or ever say another word about it. I know that a PDF is an awfully cheap Christmas present, but it's all I've got, and if you added up the hours I spent working on it (even if they're slow-burn, pre-dawn hours) it would possibly be impressive.

One last thought, and encouragement. If you do actually decide to read this story, I welcome questions and complaints, via mail, email, and phone calls, as I'd be happy to help anyone who is using their own valuable time to reconstitute my imaginary world, and it would be my pleasure to help color in here and there, or offer clues to missing pieces, or argue about ideas. (Which is probably an offer you get from any writer, or should, providing they are still alive, and not in hiding.)

But really, please feel free to ignore all this novel business. I just felt like I had some kind of obligation to put it out there, if un-aggressively as possible, so that I can move on. More important, please keep in touch. If you can, spend time with family. Be nice to animals. Maybe take a long walk in the woods.

Randy Russell, 14 December 2017

The Days Grow Short

Why do the church-bells go off frantically at exactly 7:38 AM on Saturday morning in downtown Milwaukee? That's another mystery I need to solve, by doing research, or asking around. My imagination is not getting me anywhere on that one. 7:38?

I had a very strange dream last night, worth writing down, and telling people about, but before you stop reading (which is what I know people do when someone starts talking about a strange dream) I forgot it, so I'm not going to be able to write it down, unless it comes back to me later during the day (which is always kind of weird when that happens). I think I forgot it because of a later dream, where I was pouring some cheap whiskey into a more expensive liquor bottle, and then I went out to where the people were, who were waiting to drink the whiskey, and poured the whiskey from that bottle into an even more expensive whiskey bottle—right in front of the people so they could see I was doing it.

What did it mean? I have no idea who the people were or why they were drinking the whiskey, but they were happy to get it poured into their little glasses, and they chuckled about me first pouring it into the more expensive bottle, and some might have remarked about it being pretty good whiskey, regardless. After I thought about this, after I woke up, I realized it was a very nice illustration of the concept of exposing or admitting to a lie in order to cover up a deeper lie. Which is, of course, a very common practice that probably comes naturally to many of us. There must be a name for this kind of lie, but I don't know what it is. I've got to figure that out. (If anyone reading this knows, send me an email: see the “contact” page for the address.)

Maybe I was thinking a lot about lies because of just watching the 10 part Vietnam documentary on PBS, or, of course, reading the current political news. Or the sports news. “I Tell Lies Every Day.” I'm not saying that—it's a song I just heard by Black Randy and the Metrosquad. Though, I'm lying, I didn't just hear it, I heard it years ago, but it makes more compelling writing to say “I just heard it.” We all lie, of course. What? You don't? You're lying.

Or maybe I was thinking about lies because before going to bed I was playing one of my songs, with one of the corniest lyrics I ever wrote: “I'm a big liar/I put out the fire/in the hearth/but not the fire in my heart.” I have recently put together a double set list of songs, from A to Z (song titles starting with those letters), mostly mine, a few covers. Which I hope to play if I can ever get over crippling stage-fright, and then find a place that will let me play two one hour sets, that's not a bar, is preferably not too late in the day, and where my music doesn't merely serve as an ignored backdrop to shopping, working on laptops, or disturbing sex rituals (whether they be of a Christian or Satanic nature).

Or maybe it is a book I started reading, Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon. I always loved and hated the movie made from that book, so it occurred to me to finally read it to see if I can find some insight into why I both love and hate the movie. You might sum up the story by saying it's about lying, lies, and liars, though of course it's about much more. But lies are at the heart of the story. I am really liking this book so far (first I've read by the author) and I'm also kind of riveted by the similarity and differences to the movie (which I've seen many times). I'm really, really curious how it will end.

And now, because I always bring everything back to me, there is also my book, called Nine Lies (which I just recently re-read) (actually, not that recently). You can find out more information about it under the “Media” tab. If you haven't read it, you might consider it. I still think it's pretty good. But it's not really about lies at all (well, sometimes it is). I guess the title comes from the idea that fiction, or stories, are essentially lies. But, of course, I don't believe that. I think stories are the only way to chip away at the unreachable, mysterious, knowably unknowable but still somehow important thing we think of as the truth.

Randy Russell, 30 September 2017

Horror and Fun

This is where I might allow myself to talk about what I've been going through, this last month, the last few months, this time of year when a big change comes upon us, or at least it does if you teach, have kids in school, have never grown up, spend your summers at the beach, or are a football fan. Or some combination of those. But seeing how I've been trapped in some kind of inability to move forward, I'd rather discuss what I was thinking—as I woke up this morning into yet another dawn of slow panic—about the social part of social media. How many articles and books have been written about social media at this point? Is there a defining work, out there—I should know that, at this point—or maybe I need to refine my focus of interest on what is an immense subject. What I was thinking about this morning was more specifically social circles, and those I've intersected with in this and that place over time. And some small part of that is what I'm writing, here, right now. And that might be extremely small—as in one person. When I write something here, I know that one person will read it: me—when I re-read it before posting it (at which time I might put it into that little trash can). As far as the other reader(s), I have no guarantees, but I find it necessary to conjure up some small amount of faith that there will be out there—among the billions that this could potentially reach—one reader, and that person is you.

About 17 years ago, when I first moved to Milwaukee, I had an idea for a project—I was thinking a documentary film—called Saloons and Salons—while driving around and seeing the incredible numbers of establishments where people get their hair cut, and the ones where people drink—most with goofy, odd names, and many seeming to be, at least in appearance, frozen in time. I never got past that bloated idea, which of course would have to be either a very long film, or a TV series, to cover the sheer volume—and then, would there really be that much difference between this beauty shop and that one, this tavern and that bar? But now I'm thinking, that's really where the interest is for me—the similarities, the universality, sure, but then the minute variations—for me, that's where the story is. As a compulsive list maker and reviewer, I would find nothing so exciting as comparing the light level and quality in this tavern to that tavern, and comparing bar stools, and booths, and jukeboxes. I've often thought about going back to this project; the problem being, at some undefined moment in the last quarter century, I swore off bars for good. I don't remember exactly when it was, but realizing that I could just decide to no longer go to bars (why does something like that seem so impossible?) was crucial to whatever kind of future happiness I might have—if not survival.

So of course there's still salons—the establishments of beauticians and barbers—but how many haircuts can a person endure (not to mention afford)—plus, my preferred method of approach is to slip in unseen, as a customer, as opposed to being an announced reporter or an intrusion with a film crew. So lately, my next idea for a subject has been coffee shops, and there are more than ever (and maybe more than there will ever be again) which is a more fitting project for me, with my limited finances and unlimited appetite for coffee. So it might just be a list, or it might be an article, and it might not be for awhile, but we'll see. In the meantime, at least this morning, I had this idea that it would be interesting to do an alternative study (as opposed to the official, massive, and funded studies that are being launched and completed as we speak) on a selected group of people's social media. What, how often and how much, and when, of course, but more what they think about what it means, each aspect of it, and how they see it.

I'm not old enough to remember a time before TV, but I'm old enough to remember people who remember a time before TV. My Mom's best story was about how her brothers were arguing over what channel to watch and her dad came in and kicked in the TV screen (or did he throw something through it, or shoot it?)—so much was it an intrusion on their lives. And there was maybe, what, three channels? How about 500 channels? What about your own private channel where no one but you knows the content? And yet there seems to be, today, people out there who know exactly what everyone is talking about, all the time, with confidence and clarity. I'm not one of those people and I admit that I am suspicious of those who are. This is really obvious, but it's still worth reminding each other: your news feed is entirely different than my news feed. A fun project with someone you trust is to sit down with two devices and compare Facebook feeds. Horrifying, maybe; fun and horror, two sides of the same coin. It's easy to assume—because it's what Facebook wants you to think—that everyone is watching the same Facebook, like it's the Facebook channel on television. Like it's the one big radio station we all sit down after dinner and listen to—the news, the weather, the game, then the serialized entertainment. We can all talk about it at work tomorrow. But no. Our “friends” are different, our groups are different, our news and events are different, even our ads are different. What planet are you from?—and by the way... what planet are we on?

Randy Russell, 31 August 2017

620 Express (Revisited)

For your information (see post titled: 620 Express, June 2016. Or not) what 620 really means is TIME TRAVEL, believe it or else. Time travel is not only possible, it's essential. Seeing how today is the date (6/20) and is also the Summer Solstice, I am assuming it's a good time to change around the website of RSPEEN.COM where you ideally are reading this (though, who knows, these days). And I am also using this occasion to make some really big announcements, which I'll do here, right now. First I'd like to welcome Richard Skiller to the RSpeen Team (more on that later, once the business cards get printed, and by the way, I'm saying “team” ironically, because I think everyone who uses the term “team” for anything not a sports team is reprehensible, unless they're using it ironically, and then they're just a moron).

Also, I'm going to move the soap reviews to their own page and then present them one at a time, either new reviews, or revised ones. I'm sure all the binge soap review readers out there have had enough time to binge read the soap reviews while they were on the main page. Also, I know that I like to see a different picture, once in awhile, when I look at this website, so starting today we are celebrating the celebration of summer reading, and I hope everyone joins me (us).

And the biggest news of all is that today (and again, the Solstice is a fine time to start a new project) is the first day of new writing project—or should we just come out and say it—a novel—and hopefully that's not a dirty word to you—though it may be after you get a healthy exposure to this new writing project—a novel—by R. Speen. The title is, will be, and was: The Golden Pineapple. If you haven't figured it out by now (maybe you need to re-read it) it's about time travel. Of course, it's about much more than that, and not about time travel at all, but you know. And you can find it right here, on rspeen.com, just look at the menu at the top of the page, or tap on the three little lines top left, if you're reading on a phone device, and then just keep tapping to navigate, keep navigating, and that's exactly what R. Speen will be doing, as well, navigating, tapping, tapping, tapping.

Randy Russell, June 20, 2017

MAYDAY

It occurred to me that one might be writing about May Day—whether as International Workers' Day, or just the celebration of spring—and leave out that space, between May and Day—and you get Mayday, the universally recognized distress signal. Another example of the frailty of communication, something I've thought about a lot lately, especially in relation to social media and the often confusing and misinterpreted signals, shorthand, and constantly changing conventions of what is still a social space in its infancy (and often seems determined to stay there, or just revel in being infantile). Anyway, just to be clear, this memo isn't a cry for help, no matter how confusing it might be. In fact, I feel comforted in knowing that I can just write this and post it, and if I don't draw anyone's attention to it (via guilt-tripping, taco bribes, or cat photos), it's very likely no one will see it whatsoever.

I woke up this morning out of a dream about being at the dentist; the hygienist was poking that scary pointy thing into a sticky spot, taking way too long, and that, “uh oh, I think I found a cavity” look on her face. There has been no dentist visit recently nor is one on the horizon. The perfectly blue, fall-like sky as I walked home from the library suddenly became stormy and I was caught in a hail storm which would have been kind of funny and even entertaining if it wasn't so cold and I wasn't worried about ruining my electronic devices. My shoes ended up so wet I may as well have been wading in the lake up to my knees. Still, I love weather extremes, and if that was the worst of the day, I should be thankful, I thought.

But most of this day I felt like everything was off. Also, it was one of those days with time passing twice as fast as it should, if you know what I mean. I had a mild migraine headache. I took a nap. I read some from a book by David Foster Wallace, an article called “David Lynch Keeps His Head” about visiting the set of the David Lynch movie, Lost Highway. Kind of an absurdly long article, kind of dated, but highly entertaining and making me sad that DFW is gone. The earlier thing I read today was kind of a random chapter (Chapter 57) of my dormant novel, The Doughnuts, looking for a sign that I should either give up on it and just put it away (forever) or actually publish it as a Kindle book, if nothing else. DFW briefly described the hotel he stayed in while in LA for the David Lynch article, and from just a few brief clues, I knew that it was the Sofitel across from the Beverly Center, a hotel I stayed at a few times and therefore used as a setting for an episode in The Doughnuts: a journalist is staying there while she visits a movie set. It is so close to the DFW/David Lynch situation that I'd be certain anyone reading it would think this article influenced me directly. This kind of freaked me out for awhile, today.

Earlier this year, considering this Doughnuts novel—be it failed and hopeless, mercifully euthanized, or just ignored (by me, and everyone else by extension)—I was thinking, maybe someone will tell me, finally, that I suck and should put my energy somewhere more productive. I guess I wondered if someone told me that, it would either confirm my suspicion that I suck, or else would make me more determined; more aggressive about finding an audience, any audience. So then, when someone did essentially tell me that (not “you suck”—but something along those lines, and I'm not going to be specific, revealing, or give anyone a hard time about it) my reaction has been to waver between one extreme and another. The odd David Foster Wallace coincidence today—if that's not some kind of a sign, I don't know what is. But then, I don't believe in signs. (Do you, imaginary reader?) Maybe not a sign, as in coming from some divine place, but a sign from me—to me.

Time and the Weather

I recently quit the job I've been working at since this beginning of the year. I'm not going to write anything about it directly, or about jobs, in general. It came to my attention once that I was ruled out for a possible job because the employer looked online and saw that I wrote “blogs”—and that apparently freaked them out. Though if they bothered to read the stuff I write they'd see that I don't write about jobs or people I know, and I'm not vindictive or even that angry or critical, and I certainly don't write for revenge or to hurt people. But I guess just the fact that one would publish their opinions about stuff, regardless of how few people read it, that scares some people. Or maybe just the word “blog” scares some people, though now it's widely considered to mean farting in the wind. Anyway, I'm not going to talk about where I worked, what the job was, or the people I worked with, except to say that it was for a company I respect, and with people I was quite fond of, and it was time to do something else for the sake of my mental, physical, financial, and creative well-being.

The successful part about this job—and what I'd hoped would be positive for me—was the contact with a wide variety of people and a high volume of people during a work day. And it was successful in that I came away feeling a kind of spiritual nourishment (maybe I should try church, or volunteering, huh, in the future?) that is kind of the opposite of the psychic numbing that develops day after day of sitting alone in a room isolated, which nurtures fear and paranoia. And while it worked, it also exposed me to some disturbing trends in the interaction and communication of people; this is stuff I've known about forever, but needed reminding, I guess.

First of all, it was kind of jarring to realize how much people seem to hate their jobs; either real displeasure with the job, or maybe the verbal expression of dissatisfaction, and most likely the combination of both. I realize that most people are working because they need the money they are making to get by (same here), and that looking for a job is one of the more frustrating ventures any of us go through in life. That is the reason so many people stick with jobs they “hate.” But to hear, day after day, complaints, bitterness, negativity—though nothing new or surprising to me—this time, it struck me as, “Whoa, this is not a good thing.” The part that hurts the most is when people talk about TIME, and how it is their enemy, and how they wish for it to pass as quickly as possible. Obviously, I realize that it's natural to want to get through the time you are spending doing something you don't like in order to get to the time spent doing something you do like. Still, hearing people constantly refer to hoping “time goes fast” and lamenting time that is “left” and just generally wishing for moments of existence to be gone—it bothered me more than it ever has. I believe that it's more than small-talk—that it's an indication of some really disturbing condition.

And talking about small-talk, something that began to bother me even more was the constant talk about the weather. In some ways, I love that people talk about the weather; maybe because it's an indication that we are all the same in many ways, and we are all simple beings, and we all bow down to something that we cannot control but affects us so much. The fact is, everyone (including me) talks about the weather; everyone from the world's geniuses, leaders, billionaires, dictators to the artists, elite athletes, shit-workers, butchers of human life, and saints. I suppose there is someone out there that doesn't ever talk about the weather—and they are likely to be shunned by society as “abnormal” and “insane.” I worry, sometimes, that even my weather preferential orientation (I like overcast skies and temperature in the thirties, and I love storms and snow) casts me as a weirdo, so I usually keep it to myself in order to “fit in.” But I still talk about weather. “Wow, nice day.” Who can resist? Or, blah, it's been rain for three days straight. Somewhere in the dark corners of comedy there are no doubt grim jokes about people on their way to the gas chamber complaining about the weather.

The pathetic thing about us humans is that each of us has a comfort zone that is narrower than ten degrees Fahrenheit, if you really think about it, and that's kind of scary. We can survive in a little bit larger temperature range, but one that is also tiny, relative to global scale. Even though a major accomplishment of human beings is that we have evolved our technology to the extent that we will be able to exterminate our entire population before nature gets around to it, still, the fact is that a stray asteroid or perhaps the sun meaninglessly issuing a random sun-fart will exterminate us all without ceremony. We don't worry about this because of the scale of time on a planetary level makes the brief appearance of the seven million of us on earth right now fairly insignificant. It will happen at some point, though, and whatever life form comes next won't care about or even notice our carefully preserved artifacts.

But most likely before that happens (unless we really outdo ourselves and accelerate our demise manually) everyone who ever cared about anything we care about now will be gone from all memory. As someone who turned 40 in the year 2000, I've found the time between then and now to be a blink of the eye. Yet, on my last day of work, I approached the time-clock for the last time prematurely and had to watch an entire minute click off before my final punch-out. It was an eternity. In that minute, I felt actual eternity, and in my small, practical, wisdom, I savored it. I wish I had the spiritual wisdom that I could also accept the reality that, essentially, I'm already gone. Failing all that, anyway, I think what I'll do today is be fully conscious when I approach yet another lunch, and I'm going to remember all this, and forget all this, upon first bite. And then I'm just going to enjoy my taco.

All I Need Is Love

Note: My annual Valentine's Day post. If you're happy and content today, stop reading after paragraph one. If you're feeling a little on the fence about this “love” stuff, stop reading after paragraph two. Everyone else, maybe read to the end. Thank you.

One of my earliest jobs was delivering flowers, which I did on and off over the years. For the flower industry, Valentine's Day is like their Christmas, and if you're not directly raking in the profits you tend to get a little soured by the attitude of, “You'd better spend some money on your lover or there'll be hell to pay.” So on this day in the past I've often written (or talked about) some negative take on the holiday, but this year—rather than being the VD Grinch—I'd rather wish—sincerely and from the depths of my heart—happiness continuing for those I know who are in good, positive, loving relationships.

But since this is about me, I have to continue. There has probably been more written about “failed relationships” than there are cat photos on the internet, but that term continues to be used, and fine if you must, but I'd appreciate if it wasn't used (even in your thoughts) about me. I have failed in nearly every walk of life, but as far as relationships go, I do not consider any of them failures, and I wouldn't change any of them if I could. Not that I didn't make like a million stupid mistakes, as does everyone, but in an overall overview, my intimate, loving, mind-altering, soul-adventuring, and heartbreaking long-and-short-term special friendships, affairs, and partnerships have given me happiness and made life worth living. I feel very, very lucky.

It's funny, I can easily take a personal stand on most things: I'd rather be healthy than sick; I'd rather be working on my own stuff than toiling away for the profit of some faceless company; I'd rather be reading a good book than watching a TV commercial about hair-loss. But when it comes to this basic and most elemental condition of life—in a relationship or not, living with someone or living alone, in love or not in love—I honestly cannot say whether I prefer one or the other. (Which some might say is the problem, I hear you—as in, “No matter where I am, I always want to be somewhere else.”) But it's not that I always feel discontent, it's more the opposite. Whenever I've been in a relationship, I've thought: “I am so happy now, how could I have lived any other way.” But whenever I'm living alone, I think: “This is the way I feel most comfortable, most happy.” Maybe I'm just a glass-half-full kind of guy. But on the other hand, my heart forever aches with longing. There's always a storm on the horizon—though most often it turns into that shitty, 40 degree drizzle and fog. Ultimately, though, I guess, the one thing we can count on (besides eventual death) is that things are just not ever going to stay the way they are right now.

Golden Ratio

I told myself I wouldn't panic until rent was due for December, if I hadn't found a job, so this being the last panic-free day, I'm writing a journal entry. I hadn't intended to only write one a month, and I'm sure no one cares, but in the future, if there is one, I'd like to write journal entries more frequently and (maybe) shorter and about less dire subjects. Anyway, seeing how my very online presence might be under scrutiny by prospective employers, I'm going to refrain from talking about politics, religion, and sports, while making complete sentences, communicating well, getting along with others, and clipping along at about 60 words per minute.

Since 99.9999 percent of jobs come from referrals, it probably makes sense to publicize my situation, because you never know when someone has just heard about the need for a rockstar spreadsheet killer (though also, I realize I'm sacrificing any opportunity for dating). In the meantime, I'm using all the tools in my box (and I even updated LinkedIn un-ironically) going for the one in a million job without a referral. I've been thinking about the most effective time-management ratio for seeking employment, and I've decided on: 3 parts persistence, 2 parts luck, and 1 part panic.

Awhile back I came upon what I called the “Golden Ratio” for fiction writing, which is somewhat related to the Golden Ratio (which either you're familiar with, or can have fun reading about now). It is somewhat based on the “golden ratio” some have proposed for 3 ingredient cocktails, which is: 3 parts base liquor, 2 parts sweet, or flavoring liqueur, 1 part sour, like lemon or lime juice. I think I have that right (though with cocktails, I favor a ratio more along the lines of 8 to 2 to 1, which might have something to do with why I no longer drink, and also I don't care how you make your cocktails—so kind of a bad example).

You can find examples of the Golden Ratio everywhere, like architecture, and the human body, and shells and other things in nature, and a cat's face. Now, mathematicians please don't come at me all crazy if I'm not explaining it correctly, or I am using my own bastardized version; I know it's hard being a mathematician, but lighten up a little. My version, which I came upon to apply to fiction writing is only approximate numerically, but roughly 3 : 2 : 1. It is not unlike the 3 act dramatic structure, proportionately, or some Rothko paintings. Here it is: 3 parts reality (the world as we know it, experiences, events, action, “reality”). 2 parts nostalgia (the ideal, childhood, weather, food, a good song). 1 part weirdness (which is where the funny stuff comes in, particularly that which no one understands).

The reason I'm thinking about this today (besides putting off job-hunting panic) is that in the midst of recent political and social events, the people who don't feel necessarily, “Good, it's over, time to sit back and let the cash roll in,” and are struggling with how to use their increasingly limited time left on Earth, what do you do now? I'm especially thinking about artists. For those whose art is primarily political anyway, maybe the path is evident. But for the abstract painters, inscrutable poets, noise musicians, etc., things may not look so clear. I mean, it's always been confusing, this stuff about time-management, and priorities, family and community, responsibility and indulgence, but it's just gone to like 11.

So my dumb idea, for say, posting stuff on, for example, certain popular social media, is to use my personal version of the Golden Ratio (I've always been obsessed with things named “Golden” for some reason; maybe it's the tackiness and irony inherent in that word, which I find funny). Maybe try this: 3 parts political (news, pleas, further reading), 2 parts nostalgia (TBT, cats, food), 1 part weirdness. It is up to you, of course, what you assign to the numbers, and how well you follow it, but worth a try? I know, for me, that I need some guidance these days, and some sanity rules, and organization. I need to feel like people care, but also that people are still their goofy selves. I don't think I can live very long in a world without drinking water, and I don't know if I can live in a world with blood running in the gutters. And I also don't think I can live in a world without abstract painters, inscrutable poets, noise musicians, and weirdness.

Send in the Clowns

Because it's Sunday, and the last day of October (hello, winter!) I'm going to offer a quick 500 words on politics and religion. I realize there is still another day left in this month, but who made the rule that when Halloween falls on a Monday we therefore must dress in costumes for the entire month of October? Not that I'm complaining about that; I would love it if we dressed in costumes for the entire year, as long as I'm not required to participate. Honestly, it's been all downhill for me after the Halloween my mom crafted me a robot costume out of paper shopping bags spray-painted silver—but as an adult, once, I did sport an inspired costume (I was an ermine dish washer who kept spouting “I won't give up my gin until they pry it from my cold dead hands!”) which not so coincidentally was the wakeup call for me to quit drinking (though my last taste of alcohol didn't come until much later, when I accidentally ingested some flat, brown beer I had thought was iced tea at a lunch buffet in Tampere, Finland in 2001).

We have determined that blogging is out and podcasting's days are numbered, and virtual reality dinner parties are still (at least until holiday shopping season, starting Tuesday) only available to the well-heeled, so I'm going to just give up trying to be anything but a dinosaur (not a Brontosaurus, since they were faked—oh, now they're back!—who can keep up? It's like Pluto. There's an idea for a computer-animated movie, Pluto the Brontosaurus—oh, there is one already? Sorry). But I won't give up my pen until they pry it from my cold dead hands. No one has to read this—I'm not quizzing people at dinner parties. The thing that occurred to me recently is that blog entries can often be insufferable because they can be like someone standing at the dreaded lectern (and the PowerPoint assist is just that much worse), except with the blog version the audience doesn't have to act like they're listening. There was a scene in a children's book (can't remember which one!) where someone is allowed to speak for as long as they can stand on one foot, which I think is a good rule (metaphorically only, of course, due to the Americans with Disabilities Act).

The only time I've been in an actual fight is when someone wanted to take my parentheses away. The parenthetical in conversations and interviews can often be the hidden treasure. I was thinking about how I prefer podcasts consisting of two people talking (and even though there are some good ones with one person monologuing, I tend to avoid those). Three or more people (especially when fueled by coffee, cocaine, and the giggles) can get pretty annoying. I also vastly prefer a conversation in an intimate setting, as opposed to those performed on a stage in front of an audience. I'm not sure why, but it's probably because I vastly prefer human interaction as a one on one enterprise, as opposed to a bunch of humans watching a smaller bunch (or one) on a stage (regardless of whether I'm in the audience or on the stage). Small groups really depend on the people involved (if at the virtual reality dinner party you can heave a plate of spaghetti into the face of someone “holding forth”—I'm in). But it's not just the “pay attention to me” thing—people in the act of just milling around also bug me. Since I've written songs, I've had this conflict in my heart. It's OK with me if other people want to amplify, synthesize, and employ accompaniment—but would it be possible (given how the old models are shattered and recast constantly, now) for one person to communicate songs to one person at a time? (Oh, right, that's called sex. Forget I mentioned it.)

September of My Years

I guess Sinatra recordings make good titles for blog entries; I just went for several years without being able to listen to him at all (I am like that with a lot of artists, I have to take years at a time off from a lot of my favorite music), but lately I have been listening to Frank Sinatra. He put out his 1965 album September of My Years when he turned 50, no doubt inspired by a sudden influx of AARP junk mail. Thrust into the job market, as I've recently found myself, I just checked out of the library the most depressing book I previously had no idea existed: Getting the Job You Want After 50 for Dummies. If that sounds like a joke, look it up; it's an AARP publication, and the graphic design alone is enough to make one not get out of bed for a month. Maybe it will be helpful, though—I haven't started reading it yet. Instead I got caught up in the whole, which is better, “For Dummies” or “Idiot's Guide” series debate, which inspired me to speculate on starting my own book series, something like the “For Total Fucking Morons” series (and at least I'd hire a graphic designer that doesn't make you want to go straight for the hard liquor). But of course that inspiration was followed by remembering that NOW, any idea you have, no matter how specific, it has already been put into development by someone else— and these kinds of thoughts, spiraling downward, are enough to make me want to climb under the covers for a month with the hard liquor.

Fortunately I don't have any hard liquor (or a bed, for that matter) and fortunately I have this blog (or journal)! The thing I've learned about these things (blogs/journals) is that if I do the wise thing, like write something and put it aside, then go back to it a little later, I'll be struck by how pretentious and insufferable it is and throw it away. So what I've learned to do is check it for spelling and typos, of course, but then immediately publish it and NEVER GO BACK AND READ IT. You, the reader, then, can laugh with me or laugh at me (or not read it)—it's entirely up to you! One interesting (to me, and maybe only to me) thing I've been doing is going back to my old notebooks (some are way old, like starting when I was 12) and re-typing the journal entries and then posting them in the “Memoir” section of this website. I've made it a little confusing, deliberately, because I'm kind of queasy about this whole venture (because these journals are sometimes very boring, and sometimes extremely embarrassing). In the “Memoir” section I am chronologically recording the oldest journals, and then on another site (called “Notebook Journals”) I'm including more contemporary journals (where the writing is a little more mature, but the proximity a little more uncomfortable).

One interesting journal I just typed (not sure if I posted yet, but maybe, or soon) was an entry from when I was maybe 16 or 17 and a couple of friends and I went on an early morning bike ride downtown (really early, like 3 AM, so actually still nighttime). We did a lot of exploring, took pictures, etc. but then also witnessed what we thought was a drug deal, after which someone in a car followed us, either to harass us or scare us, or who knows. I don't remember if I wrote about this at the time, or just thought about it (and talked about it to my friends) but when we set out on our adventure that morning, we considered taking along a handgun “for protection” but decided against it. And later, when we found ourselves terrified and hiding from this person in the car, we considered what we would have done if we had had the gun. I remember thinking I might have shot at the person who was harassing us. As it turned out, the person just drove away, nothing came of it, and we never did find out if they were really a menace or just someone goofing around, and the whole “drug deal” thing was just our fabrication—but at that point I told myself “I should NEVER carry a gun.” Not bad advice to myself for a dumb kid (for whom many, many more dumb and much dumber episodes were to come).

As my initial inspiration for this journal entry today is the Autumnal Equinox, I want to share one more thing about the miracle of the seasons (my favorite thing about the Midwest is the nature of the seasons here, and thunderstorms). It has come to my attention that a lot of adults who should know better think the beginning of autumn is when the candy corn appears on the end caps at grocery stores (as if by magic). I realize that it's confusing; people start back to school (an event which SHOULD mark the beginning of fall) during the month of August, but that is just not consistent with actual seasonal changes. So for future reference I am including a quick and easy (as it corresponds with the months) guide to the seasons, at least as I see them in southern Wisconsin (depending on your particular location, your seasons may vary).

Early Winter – November

Winter – December, January, February, March

Late Winter – April

Spring – May

Summer – June, July, August, September

Autumn – October

Enjoy your last week of Summer, and Happy (short though it may be) Autumn!

Here's To The Losers

At some point I gave up and just used the word “blog” – a word I had avoided using because I think it's an ugly, crude sounding word (I realize it's a shortened version of “web-log” – which also sounds kind of ugly, as well as dated at this point – and do people even know that, anymore?) I preferred to use “online journal” – which is too long, and probably just confuses people. So I eventually conceded to blog, just kind of giving up, but now I'm aware of the disdain people have for the idea of a “blog” anymore – it's a thing whose time is over. I hear people talking about blogs like they're hopelessly outdated jokes, and referring to “bloggers” with disgust. To say that someone is “blogging” is like saying (I'm unable to come up with a suitable metaphor here) they're doing something that's pathetic, no one cares about, is behind the times, uncool, and possibly irresponsible.

But I never did like the word, or self-apply it, so I don't really care if it dies. I'm using the word “memo” here (which is short for memorandum, which is a written note or communication – but a word that is appropriate in the fields of business, law, and politics – so essentially I'm using it wrong, here). (I could possibly endeavor to coin my own word: “memorandom” or “memorandumb”– but that would just confuse people more.) When my friends and I opened a punk record store (Garbage Inc.) in 1981, we began typing a daily, ongoing journal on the store typewriter (anyone there could choose to go sit and type, there was always a piece of paper – usually the back of a flyer – in the machine). We called this the “Garbage Memo” – and I'm not sure, but I think that name came from Keith Busch, as he started it with “Memo:” – and then went into an alcohol fueled, profanity-ridden account of the day. So it's with a bit of nostalgia and fondness for past times and lost friends – as well as a similar disdain for correct usage – that I use the term “Memo” here.

“Podcast” is another word I avoided using for a long time (for one thing, it always bugs me to use brand names, like iPod, or Walkman) (for another, it makes me think of “pod-people” – though, I think the battle against pod-people is a losing, or lost one – we may as well just give up at this point). Some have said that “blogging is out, podcasting is in” – which seems to be the case – but I don't find them mutually exclusive any more than reading an article is the same thing as listening to a radio show – and also this seems incredibly shortsighted, as you can already see the trend of podcasting marching to the cliff of now (it's probably already over the edge, and I'm just behind in mentioning it). I don't know what's next (and it's probably already here and I just don't know about it) – maybe virtual reality dinner parties. Anyway, I avoided podcasts for a long time, but then tried a few, and soon came to be dedicated to many. I used to really look forward to the Fresh Air or Charlie Rose segments with artists (musicians, writers, filmmakers, etc.) which seemed too few and far between. But now, one can easily satisfy several hours a day (if you have a really long commute) on just that kind of subject matter – and you can find even more long form, intelligent, (seemingly) unedited discussions of history, politics, philosophy, and on and on. I guess it really is kind of a golden age for smart, articulate people who like to drink a lot of coffee and talk a lot, and for those of us who want to fill hours of listening without spending a dime, except for a device on which to listen.

For me, listening to people talking leads to reading (further about subjects they are talking about), and reading (current interests, obsessions) leads to more reading, and also more listening to more podcasts. One thing doesn't replace another. Hopefully the virtual reality dinner party won't replace the flesh and blood dinner party (though I can't remember the last time I was invited to a dinner party). For me, writing a blog/journal/diary/memo is something I've always done, and never considered it would replace writing fiction, for me, because I've always loved fiction (reading and writing). You hear people say that fiction is out (it's over, through) and maybe for some people, they have no interest in reading fiction anymore, and that's okay, because it's a personal preference. It does kind of alarm me when I hear that, though – not for careers of fiction writers, or the fiction publishing industry, but for the people who say they no longer read fiction. Part of me feels like they have been led astray, and could, with some guidance, and love, find their way back to an activity which, for me, is more important than any other. For me, I can't imagine a life without reading fiction. (But then, there was a time when I couldn't imagine a life without drinking beer... and I haven't had a beer, now, since 1992.)

The golden age for anything is brief and usually gone before you even have a chance to appreciate it. There is probably someone saying (tweeting, podcasting, broadcasting, micro-casting) right now (or last week/last year) that virtual reality dinner parties are dead. The theatre has been dead for centuries (though depending on what passionate person you talk to, there is nothing more exciting than theatre, right now) – but people find narratives somewhere (because, of course, without narrative, we don't exist). I feel like we live in a highly verbal time (maybe it's just that the coffee has gotten stronger, but maybe it's designer pharmaceuticals) – people are smarter than ever, and they're letting you know it. People are dumber than ever, too. No one reads anymore. But more people are writing more words than ever in history! Here's 1000 more words no one is going to read. Here's to the losers! I was just thinking something – about quiet, silent people – about how “Shutting Up” is a lost art-form – and whatever happened to people just being quiet? Of course, it's not an art-form, and there are plenty of people who do choose to keep their thoughts to themselves. The quiet people have always been here and always will be – they're here right now, holding all of this up – but we don't notice them because they know how to shut the hell up.

Full Moon and Movie Screenplay

The full moon definitely causes insomnia, but maybe more so for me because I have no curtains, and the moon, on certain nights, is shining right in my window down on my face as I try to sleep. When I finally did sleep last night I had a vivid, exhausting dream about writing a movie screenplay, and it was one of those dreams where it really feels like a separate reality and you're just working and working and you feel like you're on to something, and it's exhausting. First of all, I have to apologize to my late cat, Louis, because this misappropriates his story, but I'm sure he'd forgive me (seeing how it's a dream). Second, apologies to Todd Solondz, whose latest movie, Wiener-Dog, I saw two days ago, and which I have obviously misappropriated things from as well, though subconsciously (hey, it's a dream).

A man near the end of his rope is pushed over the edge when he has to take his sick cat to the vet to be euthanized, because he cannot afford the expensive operation that may or may not save the cat's life. After saying goodbye to the cat, he doesn't stick around for the end, but instead, in his bitterness, returns with a time-bomb, which he hides at the vet's office, but set for a time after which he is sure his cat will already be dead. Then the man heads off to a local coffee shop, because by now he is without sleep, exhausted, and just needs coffee. While in the LONG line at the counter, he gets a call from the vet, and they happily explain to him that they decided they love his cat so much (because the cat IS like the sweetest, most friendly and loving cat on Earth) they decided to just go ahead and give him the operation for free, which they have just performed, and it was successful, and now the cat is resting in recovery.

The man, of course, freaks out, and he starts to admit that he set the bomb, and warn them to evacuate, but then realizes his phone has died and he is talking to no one. He gets out of line and starts asking around at the coffee shop, which is full of people working on laptops, if anyone has a charger for his particular phone. Mostly he gets indifference and annoyed stares, but finally a kind old woman produces a charger from her purse. The man then starts hustling around, looking for an outlet, but finds they are all covered with those metal plates they cover outlets with. He then interrupts the line at the counter and asks an employee about the outlets, who explains that they covered them all because they were just being used by homeless people. The man is incredulous, but then remembers to get back to his task. He again starts bustling around the shop, now in a panic, and finally just plugs the phone charger, uninvited, into a USB on the side of the closest person's laptop. The person protests, but the man is so desperate, the person with the laptop allows it.

By now the man is so fatigued, as he still hasn't had coffee, that he falls asleep waiting for his phone to register a charge. When he wakes up, he looks at his phone, which has come back to life, but now the charging cord has somehow become tanged with the mouse cord being used by the person with the laptop. There is a long, kind of slapstick, comic segment while they get the cords untangled. Finally, he calls the vet's office back, but gets no answer. Now he notices some people are gathered around a TV in the coffee shop. There is some breaking news about a terrorist attack: a bomb has gone off at the office of a local veterinarian.

This was as far as I got, but in my dream I decided that it was the end of the first act, and I needed to figure out where the story went from there. Then I woke up. As I slowly regained my awake person senses, the idea, which seemed brilliant in the dream, became gradually less appealing. This is the way ideas in dreams often go, unfortunately. It's also the way screenplays often go, and is one reason I don't try to write them anymore. You come up with a good first act, but then where does it go from there? There are so many good ideas that once they are committed to paper no longer seem like good ideas. So many first acts with nothing to follow.

620 Express

I meant to write about the 620 Express on June 20th for no other reason than the date, but I guess I lacked enthusiasm on that day, or else had too much coffee. Anyway, "620" is the secret code for coffee, if you didn't know that, and it's also the time of day (AM and PM) when I see the time and tell myself, "Time for coffee," and also, "Time to get on with things, or get on with the next thing." I wouldn't blame anyone if they were over it, this endless talk about coffee, and onto more important ideas in their lives, but I'm a simple person and like rehashing the same shit that gives me pleasure. There is really no excuse to write about it, but the good thing is there are NEW PEOPLE all the time (360, 000 born every day!) and each one of them hopefully will get to experience joy for the first time, at some point, and before everything gets old for them everything will presumably first be new.

I read a humorous article recently with the title Maybe Just Don't Drink Coffee about how it's impossible to keep up with the coffee trends, and trying to just causes anxiety, etc., and it's funny while having good points, and ends by throwing its hands in the air and settling for a Diet Coke. Which is actually what a lot of people do. And everyone knows, right, that Diet Coke is Pod People Fuel? Well, now you know. Then I read another article (which I can't find now, but there are TONS of these articles out there) about how we should drink a lighter roast coffee at room temperature and all that. Far from being annoyed by all the reassessments of coffee habits, I am endlessly fascinated, because really, it's no simple thing, a simple cup of coffee, and you can follow your obsession if it amuses you, why not? Every time I stay at someone's house I seem to adopt a new coffee method. Even quitting altogether is sometimes attractive. The biggest single improvement in my life was when I switched to exclusively black coffee, no cream, milk, or sugar (though for awhile I drank hot coffee with butter).

"Speed is just a question of money. How fast can you go?" That's the sign at the auto mechanic in the first Mad Max movie. I think it applies to a lot of things, and of course I'd like to only buy the best quality coffee beans (grown and picked by blissful farmers) and roast it at home, only dark when it makes sense and not to hide inferiority. And then massage it into powder and cold brew it in a NASA vacuum simulator and enjoy it while floating in a sensory deprivation chamber. Most often, though, I don't even measure the grounds I throw in my Mr. Coffee, and then I just try to pound a few cups before I start screaming at car alarms and leaf blowers. Every day should be a miracle, but it doesn't always have to be a symphony. Sometimes it's just nice to know that I'm enjoying my cup of coffee—even if it's kind of crap—more than that guy over there, not because of the coffee, but because of me.

Doughnut Day

There are a billion people in the world (probably more, but we can't even process a number that big) but I only know maybe 100 of them. Still, that's a lot of people, 100. And as it turns out, today was National Doughnut Day, but I didn't find out until way later, and by then it was too late. Of course, as soon as I heard about it I started seeing stuff everywhere, all over the internet, where to get your free doughnut and all that. Which got me thinking, do people really care about the free doughnut? How much do they cost, anyway? Do they not usually buy them, but then do on this day, not because they're free, but because it's an event? Anyway, the thing that got me was that no one told me. Not one of these 100 friends thought, Oh, I should mention that. Doughnut Day. But then I started thinking, Maybe no one mentioned it because I had given them my completed novel, The Doughnuts, and they either haven't read it, or have, and don't like it, and the mention of doughnuts therefore becomes awkward. Best not to even bring up doughnuts! Or maybe they know I'm Gluten Intolerant and can't eat doughnuts anyway, so what's the point?