Friday, September 27, 2013

The Transcendental Nomads of O'Hare International

All these people hitting the gate out of breath. To think I used to plan to arrive twenty minutes before takeoff. There's a kind of crazy hubris in that, but so too is there hubris in expecting any of our plans are going to work out.

These days I get to the airport way early, and look at me now. My noon flight got cancelled, and I've been bumped to a four o'clock. At least United gave me a seven-dollar voucher. That almost paid for my salad. There are definite perks to flying the friendly skies.

But complaining is dumb. 

Earlier today I was reading on gratitude, and this is what Bro. David Steindl-Rast had to say:

If we really had to choose between dependence and independence, we would be in trouble. The choice is actually between alienation and interdependence.

And I have to say, my fellow passengers seem to get it. Sure, we all tried to out hustle one another to get to customer service after they cancelled our flight, but there was no cutting as the line formed, and no one pitched a fit at the counter, and now hours later, we greet each other again and again as we travel from gate to gate, our hopes for standby passage low, our shoulders rolling forward as the day wears on and our bags become a burden. We exchange frustrated looks and pessimistic remarks, but it's obvious we're in this together, like some nomadic tribe following the migratory patterns of the great metallic bird on which our way of life depends. If we had to do this for the rest of our lives, we'd be a family before long, dividing up tasks, selecting leaders, falling in and out of love.

The Dalai Lama once tweeted, "The many factors which divide us are actually much more superficial than those we share."  The truth of this would be so obvious if only we could see what's really going on around us, but most of the time we don't. What we see instead are the projections of the mind, that great purveyor of the atomistic illusion. 

Of course I would have rather made my flight, but it's been a good day. There have been babies to wave at, and the light coming through the glass ceiling has been gorgeous, and I've not once felt alone, even though my itenerary says I'm a party of one. 

And maybe best of all, that feeling of presence, solidarity, and kinship has allowed me to build from the rubble of my expectations something I can turn around to share with you. 

Plus my salad was fucking delicious. 

G, who never met a stranger.
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Saturday, September 21, 2013

How to Build Shit

I've been thinking a lot lately about making things. I picture an open garage, maybe in Southern California, and I'd have all kinds of tools in there and scraps of stuff I'd salvaged from the ocean or maybe just the regular trash, and I don't know exactly what I'd build but probably it would be robots. Mostly I'd like to build robots that don't do anything except love you in an unconditional way, and I'd put them around our house so when people came over to hang out and drink wine, they'd be super impressed. I once wrote a poem about making robots, and this is how it goes:

How to Build a Robot

First, you need to get a big heart.
I recommend an elephant or a whale.
The bigger the heart the better.

Next come the arms.
Travel the world to find the arms.
If you see many things,
They'll become a part of you,
And that will go into your robot.

Next come the the legs.
You want very sturdy legs
So your robot can walk without you
And do all the things it is supposed to do.

You can give your robot a tail
If you want to.
Personally I always do.
I find it adds a touch of whimsy
And helps to keep expectations in check.

Now you know everything
You need to know about building a robot.
I hope you'll enjoy
The process of making yours. 

The way I see it, the biggest problem would be trying to get the veins and arteries to link up with the circuits and the pistons and also the gears. I like my robots to be more man than machine--if you know what I'm saying.   

Another thing I'd probably do in my garage would be pictures of Jesus. I'd like to do one where he looks like I see him when I put my hat over my face and try to take a nap. I see a close up of his face so you can only see one eye, half his nose, and part of his beard. A series of these could be pretty freaking sweet. 

Now that I'm thinking about it, there are probably all kinds of things I could make in my workshop, but before I can get this plan in motion, I have to wait for G to wake up from her nap. She's in the back of the car, and she's out cold. 

This is us at Venice Beach. Peace y'all.


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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Now Who the Type Built to Last?

My good buddy +Jesse Ziegler just introduced me to an awesome interview with Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, sui generis hip-hop impressario and hurricane x-factor behind the inimitable and unstoppable music act The Roots.  Some of you, unfortunately, will only recognize him as Jimmy Fallon's drummer, the guy with the big afro.

Anyway, he had some great thoughts about creating a sustainable life as an artist, a sort of do-your-own-thing-and-just-keep-doing-it-and-don't-worry-so-much-about-it ethos.
If you’re not going to compete with what’s winning, like Rihanna, Drake, or fun., then maybe you should just do what you know how to do best and wait for the guillotine to drop. Then you release it, the guillotine doesn’t drop, and you’re like, phew, let’s do it again!   
I'd call Questlove a genius, but maybe that's just because he's so embodied this way of working that he's become irresistible.   As Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the patriarch of the Ashtanga Yoga, often said, "Do your practice and all is coming."

Not that you're going to become Jimmy Fallon's drummer, or go platinum, or win a Nobel Prize, but if you can apply the spirit that develops from your practice to the rest of your life, you will reap your reward for your steady application.  Dig one deep hole, as they say in Zen.  Could it mean the same thing as "Do your thing, buooyy!"


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Monday, March 11, 2013

The Anthology Arrives

Ha, ha!  My contributor's copy of New Stories from the Midwest 2012 has arrived.
freaking great, right?

The book looks awesome, and I'm super pumped to be included with this group of oustanding authors, including Charles Baxter, Dan Chaon, David James Poissant, and one of my literary heros, Anthony Doerr.  These are writers I've been reading and admiring for years.

Thanks to Jason Lee Brown and Shanie Latham for their vision and persistence, John McNally for selecting my story, and Indiana University Press for putting out this great anthology.  To find out more go to the NSM blog or order your copy (paperback or electronic) from either the publisher or your favorite online bookseller anytime.

keep working, friends

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Who is Going to Wipe My Bottom?

Habits of mind
lead to static strain.
Dynamic surrender
leads to perception of the love medium.
The love medium is only
another superimposition.

We've got the market cornered on Free and Clear baby wipes over here.  We get 'em delivered monthly from Amazon, but our last shipment didn't arrive on time, so I bought some more at the store.  Then I went from the store to the Post Office to pick up some packages being held for us there.  Turns out the wipes were one of the packages.  They used to come via UPS.  UPS tries to deliver packages to our house.  They ring our buzzer.  The Post Office never rings our buzzer.  Instead we get these salmon colored slips that say, "Sorry we missed you."  Are you sorry?  Are you really?

While I was at the Post Office, I mailed off a story to Santa Monica Review.  No, I did not send out my collection today, and I have not sent it anywhere in over a month.  I have stalled in this regard.  I began to fear that the collection didn't have enough stories, and now, on the recommendation of some trusted advisors, I'm preparing a longer manuscript that contains most of my finished stories.

I find this terrifying.

I'm going to do it, though.  I'm going to do it even though I'm sure someone is going to pop out of nowhere and and yell at me.  This is my fear every time I take a chance, and this is why I hold on so long.

But I need to stop.  I have to stop tweaking and fiddling and adjusting.  It may not be your problem--for all I know you may send out emails without even proofreading, you crazy asshole--but I'm not like that.  I'd like to be a little more like that.

Good luck, all of you out there who are pushing back against your fears.  I'm not going to give you any advice.  I can barely keep it together over here myself.

The Fearless G vs. Tummy Time


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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Shut Out in 2012

It's official.  I went O-fer in 2012.

What? What's that, he said? He's gone gopher?

What would that even mean?

No. I've gone O-fer, as in no stories published or accepted for publication throughout 2012.

Have I been submitting?

Yes, though maybe not as aggressively as in previous years, and I did make a self conscious effort to try and step up to the the next tier of literary publications.  The air, apparently, is pretty thin up there.

So there are my excuses.  Here are some of the highlights:

1. Longest Reply Time: Fiction sent me a rejection fourteen months after I submitted to them.

2. Shortest Reply Time: Subtropics sent me a rejection four days after I submitted to them.

3. Best Infant Rapper: Zoop.

We're calling her Baby G and plan to push her hard in this direction.  By the way, did you know Justin Bieber got his start busking on the church steps to raise money for a round of golf?

That was as far as I made it through the article before my father-in-law's rental truck was ready, but let me say that Rolling Stone is really doing some interesting work. Is it too obvious to point out that JB could stand for Jail Bait? As a Family Guy extra says to Lois, "He's perfect. He's like a boy AND a girl!"

4. Close but No Cigar: Got great feedback from One Story and A Public Space, two top tier lit mags. Both encouraged me to send more work.

What does all this mean? Probably best not to draw conclusions as I'm not about to stop submitting. I do however plan to spend more time in 2013 making things other than stories. I stained and painted these boxes, one for my wife and one for my sister-in-law, and gave them as Christmas presents.

It's so much more satisfying to give your work to people you love than it is to punt your stories into the deep space of the literary field and get a rejection in return.
Then again, stories do get accepted from time to time, and it's pretty effing sweet when a someone you don't know steps up and says, I like your writing.

Who knows?

Maybe this year someone will publish my collection of short stories. It's out there now--praise be to William Faulkner--and you should email me if you can help (or if you know a guy who can help).  The collection is called Orphans on the Moon, and features work published in TriQuarterly, Mississippi Review, and New Stories from the Midwest 2011.

Or maybe someone will buy the AWESOME movie I'm writing with Jed.

Or maybe some all-powerful agent will swoop down with her white wings and read to me from her golden scroll: YOU ARE BOUND FOR LITERARY GREATNESS, AND WITH THE AID OF MY FLAMING BLACKBERRY AND MAGIC ROLODEX, I SHALL LEAD YOU THERE.

In the meantime I'll be here working on my novel, making things, meditating, doing my yoga practice, and playing with my daughter.

Gwendolyn - 2 months

Happy New Year.


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