9.09.2016

"Her Laugh (Killing Joke)"

'Cachinnator' was the word of the day one time on Dictionary.com so I wrote a story about it.

Perhaps it is my contrarian streak, but hearing laughter inspires in me near total mental collapse. I find the nature of cachinnators to be capricious and disconcerting. Every time a prospective chortler opens their mouth to release a guffaw or cackle, as if it were imprisoned inside them, I want to yell “Stop!” Have they no concern about the consequences of their actions or how others around them may react to their belly-laughs? No, they think not of my plight or of others like me at all.

This may be a surprise, but there are indeed many of us. We have meetings, local chapters, national conventions. There are critical inquiries into why we disdain such common practice, and defining the “what”: do we despise the laugh itself or the buffoon of the laugh's origin? Some write these notions off as futile or meaningless even if answered. They'd rather live their lives as they are, accepting the fate they've been dealt, and never be able to be one of the buffoons themselves. But I, and others like me, well, there's no hiding it: we want to laugh.

8.19.2016

"Pairs"

These things on my feet. It wouldn't be correct to call them shoes. Nor boots nor moccasins nor loafers nor slippers nor anything else in the social vocabulary we have to define the materials that robe our feet. Neither sock nor stocking nor hose will do either, though certainly closer to the lightness those items imply.

The problem, I believe, is that this is the first garment I own that can most accurately be defined not by the materials it is made of, the brand or designer, the size, the country of origin, the length of the laces, the proper use of, or the history of the concept of the shoe itself. These devices on my feet, which to you may seem vague in description, can only be described in adjectives and not nouns.

For simplicity, for your vocabulary, since you have never worn such a thing, I will call them “shoes.” But this soft wiry mesh is softer than the clunky thing that you are probably scrounging up in your imagination. So instead, picture: lightness. Air. Softness. The voice of your favorite female jazz vocal singer shrouding your feet in clouds. Imagine the feeling of stepping into one of Monet's lily ponds, or bathing downstream from a waterfall in a bubbly ravine. This is not just how these shoes feel, but how they look.

8.12.2016

"Seventeen Chandeliers"

I wrote this story while sitting on the floor of Preston Bradley Hall in the Chicago Cultural Center, aka, the room with beautiful giant glass dome in the middle. Lauren gave me the word "lodestar" to write a story about and this is what happened.

I know a world exists outside this room, but I fear I will never see it again. This cavernous space is filled with slow-moving giants. I am fortunate to've not been sighted yet. They are quiet like me. I make my way across rough plains of burgundy, crimson, teal, sienna. I am in a maze with no walls. A false lodestar watches over me. I know it to be false, yet every day I am tricked by it, day in, day out, every day. They all blend together, the days.

At night, it is quiet. Quieter than when the giants of the day roam. I allay my fears of solitude, of capture, of death, by knowing that each day anew, my true sun rises on the same grandiose windows that tell me that there does exist a world outside these walls. But it soon flies away, camouflaging itself with other false stars, seventeen by my last count, though infinite they might as well be: their reflections around the ceiling are eternal.

8.11.2016

Literary Chicago: Ruth Ozeki - "My Year of Meats"

"I had a lover in the Year of Meats. His name was Sloan and he was a musician from Chicago."

"Sloan lives in the penthouse of one of the high-rise apartment buildings that cluster along Lake Shore Drive as it winds around the southern perimeter of Lake Michigan. From his vantage, the horizon line is negligible, obscured by smog and slatted blinds. Floor-to-ceiling windows from the gray lake and the steel waves that lap the concrete shore. The carpet is gray and mimics the water."

This description of Chicago reminds me of Martin Amis's character riding the Blue Line from O'Hare in his book The Information (coincidentally, in that post, I reference Ruth Ozeki as well). Writers love to make this city sound bleaker than it actually is. It is setting the mood for a single scene, but it's interesting when it becomes a trend. Algren of course wrote about the roar of the L and the seedier parts of Wicker Park but he is probably most remembered for his over-quoted "never a lovely so real" to define the city.

This isn't to say that I think grittiness is an insult. But maybe perhaps the romanticiziation of the idea is a bit outdated. Then again, this story was taking place in 1991 (and The Information was written in 1995). This was a time when the murder rates and overall crime rates were even worse than in this year, which itself has seen a spike in murder and crime. So maybe the romanticiziation is appropriate, that things may have appeared to be too good in this city over the past decade, and now the ugliness is starting to rear it's thorny head again.

Or maybe I'm just trying to make the city sound worse than it actually is. 

8.05.2016

"The Quote-Makers"

Four men are sitting around a table. A notebook lays in front of each of them, with various sheets of loose paper, pens, pencils, and erasers scattered over the rest of the broad, wood table. George is shifting uncomfortably in his chair, and stands up to look out the window, to observe the naked plains before him.

“I don't fucking get this. What are we doing here anyway?” George asks irritably.

Kurt, calm, responds, “George, we go through this every year. We're on a deadline.”

“You say that every year too,” says George.

“Well either way, we have to come up with something,” Kurt says. “We've all done this a thousand times. Let's just give them something short, sweet, and poo-tee-weet, we're outta here.”

George glares at Kurt a moment but then sits back down and picks up a pen.

Oscar begins to whistle a cheerful tune.

Kurt poses in a thousand yard stare into the blank wall, while George starts scribbling frantically. His eyes grow wide and foam forms in the corner of his mouth.

Oscar stops whistling and looks at Kurt, still lost in thought. He nudges him, breaking his concentration and nods in George's direction. Kurt realizes what is happening, stands behind George to read the scrawl he's affixed to the page.

“'I want to live my next life backwards...'” Kurt begins to read aloud. “'You start out dead and get that...' no, no, no, George, stop, seriously, come on. I mean it's a fine idea, but we need a quote, something punchy. A one-liner.”

George puts down his pen. “'One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor,'” he responds.

“Oh why was I born with such contemporaries,” Oscar sighs.

7.22.2016

"Propaganda"

I wrote this story based on the first fifty or so images on Google after searching for "Propaganda." Enjoy!

The man in the white hat is pointing his long finger in my face; the man with the mustache keeps his back turned the whole time. Accusations automatically become truth when they're said with enough conviction. A third man in a mask is begging, pleading: is he on my side? I look to her, to her wrists cuffed together like mine, to her brown eyes for reassurance. The finger continues to point as if unattached to any body.

I am aware of the reality, of the gravity of this situation. Mockery is boring but only one of our sides can be right. My enemy loses power when he expresses doubt. But that finger continues to hold steady as if it emanated molecules of doubt that attach to any being at which it aims. Are good and evil relative terms? No. But how did I end up here, with her, in a state of compliance, in a state of surrender?

“Shut up,” the man attached to the finger says. I never said anything out loud. Yet here I am, willing to, eager even, to believe everything he says. And her and I aren't the only ones. The alarms were sounding; we panicked; we fell in line. We surrendered identity. We submitted possessions. We abandoned thought and listened without discourse. We barely ate.

But were we afraid?

7.21.2016

Pitchfork Music Festival 2016

Another edition of random notes I took during Pitchfork: 

The connection between ONO and Jenny Hval. Removing layers, physically and sonically.

Anderson Paak! Shamir!

Cartwheels at Sun Ra Arkestra and 92 years old!?

Twin Peaks, from Young Camelot to here. Regret I never saw them more in DIY spots.

Mick Jenkins: "Drink more water."

Crazy inflatable etc...

So why are we here? Why do we go to music festivals? Why do we listen to music? I always have a crises of faith at these things. I wonder what's the point.

Aren't there more important things than listening to music in a park, many of the neighbors can hardly even afford to go to so they settle for hawking dollar water bottles and ponchos on Ashland Ave? But are only greeted with another instance of being ignored.

Being thanked for saving the earth as I parked my bike then participating in an event that trashes a park and having to use Instagram and deplete the energy on my cell phone which I will surely have to charge again at some point.

Do we need these festivals more than ever in a world so full of pain, confusion and anxiety? The world is exploding from Nice to Baton Rouge, do we take advantage of joy at every possible moment, because we never know what will be our last? Or is that a huge cop out?

6.24.2016

"Tears"

This story was inspired by the photography of Rose-Lynn Fisher. Follow the story along with her images here.

(Tears of laughing until I'm crying) is an entropic quest. The connected lagoons in the Northeast do little to conceal their desire for abandon. While harmony was never the goal, vacant land replaces the once childish idea of inter-connectedness: are you laughing or are you crying?

(Tears of change) prove that there is no life around. Abandoned suburbs run rings 'round our fortress. Soon, every branch, ever tunnel we've created will be consume: only to be exhumed and proved that the only consequence is change.

(Tears of grief) is as desolate as you expect. I can't go on...

I'll go on.

6.17.2016

"No Time, Toulouse"

I wrote this story inspired by one of my favorite Monty Python skits.

I walked into the advice center, briefcase in hand. A man with mustache, grinning, wishes me “morning." Before I've time to set down my cane and remove my hat, he holds up a white sign with four words in black ink informing me of our business here today. From a mount secured to the ceiling behind him, a big orange screen with black letters repeats our reason for meeting. It clashes with the plaid wallpaper. This man seems sly, but I must remember: I'm the one that is depending on him right now.

He lets go of the screen and picks up the original white sign. He then reveals a box, of which all six sides repeat these same four words. He points to the box; I laugh as I notice he already has these words written on his hand in black marker. He pours a shot of brandy from a bottle which instead of any label of brandy, it is written: “No time to lose.”

6.09.2016

Ear Relevant: Ellington/Mingus/Roach - "Money Jungle"

Mingus starts. Then Roach. Then Ellington. And then? And then we're in. We're in the 'Money Jungle.'

You don't really have to know too much about jazz to know you are listening to something incredible. Believe me: I don't know that much about jazz. But I do know that these are three of the greatest musicians to have performed the form at all, let alone together at the same time.

Mingus doesn't hold back. Roach never lags. Mingus is abrasive, but Roach counters gently. And Ellington is as smooth as ever, keeping up with the younger guys.

'Le Fleurs Africaines' is a mellow departure but Charlie pairs Duke's elegance with ominous pulls from the double bass, while Max keeps track of the background. 'Very Special' picks it back up again and 'Warm Valley' showcases a melancholic Duke.

This session was recorded September 17, 1962 at Sound Makers Studio in New York City. I bought this album February 6th, 2016 at the Jazz Record Mart in downtown Chicago a week before the store closed. These dates might not matter. It was my only time at the Jazz Record Mart. I should have gone more. Nothing lasts forever.

My copy of the record is a 2015 reissue: may we do what we can to preserve this music, not just this album, not just these three men, but for every artist, if you believe in the art, acquire something physical of it. That's why I'm starting to write about my records more. There needs to be record of these records. I forget about the records I have sometimes.

'Switch Blade' ends side one. Mingus ends it, his bass sounds like a guillotine swaying over a single note, bending it this way and that. I take a sip of tea and get up the flip the record. And then