"A friend asked yesterday if this blog is addressed to anyone in particular? I said yes– it’s a love letter to someone I haven’t met yet."
Someone asked the other day what was the most common question I've been asked in interviews. I said immediately "Why do you live in Vienna?" I usually come up with some lame answer about home is where you're most comfortable, or the coffee is good here, or I like the view from my apartment... But it's a valid question which I think however is finally unanswerable. Why do YOU live where you do? Unless you say because I'm doing 5-10 years in prison here for armed robbery, it's a very hard question to answer honestly. Why Lisbon and not Duluth? Why LA and not Las Palmas? Sure, there's always a quick facile reply-- because I don't speak the language, or it's too expensive, or my job demands... But a lot of the time when you dig deep or are genuinely candid about it, there is no valid answer for why you are living there other than because you like it. But if you said only that, they'd ask WHY do you like it? And often the only response to that is... uh, I don't really know. On a book tour once I went to a small dismal city way off in the hinterlands. The bookstore where I was signing was owned by two women, sisters, who were jaw-droppingly beautiful and had recently moved there from the capitol. My first thought was "What the hell are those two doing HERE?" When the event was over and we were talking, I asked that question. In an instant they pointed to each other but said no more.
just in from BW(watch the video):
While I was walking down the street with a friend, a punk in full regalia comes up and asks if we have some spare change. My friend says "Yes" but that's all. He does not reach into his pocket. The punk waits and finally makes a frustrated head gesture that indicates well, are you going to give me money? My friend says "I have spare change. But I'm not going to give you any. Why should I? If you're so broke, sell your leather jacket. Or those Doc Martens boots." The kid got very angry but my companion is a big guy you clearly don't want to mess with. After the punk stormed off, my friend said, "You can't win either way. If you give them money they think you're a fool. If you don't give them money they think you're an asshole. I'd rather be an asshole and keep my money."
For those of you who are paperback book fans, GLASS SOUP was recently released in a nice large format paperback by TOR. Just in time for Christmas. The perfect stocking stuffer. Buy two for those you love...
KW sent me an interesting discussion among atheists about the possibility of an atheist's prayer. This was one suggestion:
Thank you, self,
for hearing things
thank you self
for seeing things
Thank you self
for eating when you're hungry
Thank you self
for going without.
Thank you self
for avoiding broken glass when I'm barefoot
Thank you self
for knowing how to walk on broken glass
Thank you self
for satisfying your needs
Thank you self
for your restraint.
Thank you self
for learning things.
Thank you self
for being in the right place at the right time.
Thank you self
for punching out people who break your heart.
Thank you self
for all your thanks.
I always wondered why the British called a ballpoint pen a "biro." Now I know:
"In 1938, Hungarian newspaper journalist Laszlo Biro noticed the ink used on the printing presses dried quickly and so tried using it in a fountain pen to avoid the problem of leaks, blots and smudges. But the ink was too thick to flow into the nib. So Biro, with the help of his brother, a chemist, devised a pen tipped with a metal ball bearing that used capillary action to draw ink through the rotating ball."
from BBC News Magazine by way of www.notebookism.com
"At a dinner with Flaubert and others in 1872, the Russian writer Turgenev talked about love. There was not a book nor anything else in the world that could take the place of a woman for him, he said. Love produced a flowering of the personality that could be brought about by nothing else.
He then recalled a story from his own past. When he was young, he said, he had a mistress, a miller's daughter he used to see when he went hunting. She was delightful, pale, with a cast in one eye, but she would never accept anything from him, money or gifts.
One day she asked for a present. She wanted him to bring her some soap. When he came with it, she took it and disappeared, to return blushing and holding out her now scented hands. She wanted him to kiss them, she said, the way he kissed the hands of the ladies in the drawing rooms of Saint Petersburg. He fell to his knees
before her. There was not a moment in life to equal that one, he said."
from LIFE IS MEALS by James and Kay Salter
This is a very interesting idea:
and another nice site:
I had lunch with a friend yesterday who told me a story that has haunted me since. They knew a doctor in his forties who worked at one of the hospitals in Vienna. Recently he disappeared. No one knew where he was and all attempts to reach him failed. He was just gone. The family and friends became concerned and contacted the police. They turned up nothing for a week. After nine days the doctor was found. From what they could surmise, he had driven his Range Rover off the autobahn in the mountains at such a high speed that it literally became airborne and then fell into a ravine. Apparently the man was thrown from the car as it travelled through the air. He landed in the branches of a tree. The ravine was so deep and remote that no one saw the car for days but when they did, the search turned up no body. Only after another two days was the body discovered wedged high up in the top of a tree. Thinking about it, I don't know what is more macabre-- the way he died, or the fact that his body hung in the air for days
another from ON:
"Describe your perfect cup of coffee," she said. I thought she was kidding but she wasn't. I thought about it a while and then the writer in me, Mr. Word Expert, tried to verbalize it. When I was finished and had failed miserably she said, "It only gets worse when you go into it further. Try to describe what you think is the perfect cup of coffee, or the perfect girlfriend, meal, dog, car... whatever. You can only recognize perfection when you see it but you can't describe it even if it's sitting right in front of you. Trying to find the right vocabulary to describe the qualities of something perfect is like trying to hold water between your fingers."
On line at the cashier in the super market, I watch as an old woman digs in her purse for every last coin in there to pay for the few items she has bought. A well dressed, clearly affluent man standing behind her watches. Very gently he says "Don't worry-- I'll take care of the rest," and reaches into his pocket to pay for her things. "Thank you, but no," the old woman says to him and she is not smiling. Instead she tells the cashier to put aside a container of sour cream she had planned to buy but now wouldn't. Putting her three or four purchases into a bag and without looking at the man again, she left. The man was embarrassed. The cashier told him not to mind-- this was the second time that had happened with the woman. The guy shrugged and walked out of the store. I've been thinking about the scene since it happened. The small kindness of the man's gesture, the old woman with her pride, the cashier who remembered that it had happened before.
when you are old
by William Butler Yeats
When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains over head
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
O.N. always sends great things to look at. Here's the latest. Be sure to look at the first clip first:
"Summer night. Cold tomato soup, fresh corn, and steak salad. Talking about a good-looking woman we knew who had more or less broken up with a Greek boyfriend but still visits him in the little Peloponnese town where he has a house and invites her, saying there will be wonderful days and no sex:'Only if absolutely necessary.'"
from LIFE IS MEALS by James and Kay Salter
"Every act of genius, Carl Jung said, is an act contra naturam: against nature. Indeed, every effort to achieve psychological integration and union with the divine requires a knack for working against the grain. The 18th-century mystic Jacob Boehme recommended the same technique. The great secret to becoming enlightened, he said, is "to walk in all things contrary to the world." Qabalist teacher Paul Foster Case agreed: "The basis of the spiritual approach to life, the foundation of the everyday practice of a person who lives the life of obedience to esoteric law, is the reversal of the more usual ways of thinking, speaking and doing."
from PRONOIA, by Rob Brezsny
and from SS:
The park is small. Right in the middle of it is a stone wall about thigh high dividing a patch of grass from a bunch of picnic tables where people sit in the nice weather talking, drinking beer, or playing cards. On the grass huddled against the wall are two people in sleeping bags. It is evening in late November and they will obviously be spending the night there. I know who they are because I have watched them for months. A couple, they are both junkies who often can be seen sitting in that same spot day and night, shooting up. They are constantly questioned by the police and on occasion told to move on. But inevitably they return to that space and occupy it around the clock. They rarely get up other than to walk to some nearby bushes to relieve themselves and then return to their little encampment. Sometimes I see them eating bread, but most of the time they are either sleeping, talking to each other, or shooting up. I often wondered why they stay *there*. But then I realized the question was unimportant. What was most interesting is that for some reason, they consider this spot against the wall their home and bleak as it is, they keep returning to it in all seasons like homing pigeons.
This is funny (thanks KW):
and a classic, in case you haven't seen it:
Years ago I dedicated one of my books to a friend who is both dramatic and dramatically eccentric. People either love or hate him, as is so often the case with genuine individuals. He worked on a job with one of the people who hated him. Coincidentally she happened to be reading my book that day. Seeing it in her hands, my singular friend ambled over and innocently asked if she liked the book. She said 'Oh yes, Carroll is one of my favorite authors,' and then very condescendingly, 'Do you know his work? I didn't think you read.' My pal said with no great emphasis, "Look at who that book is dedicated to..."
Here's a link to an intriguing article in the NY Times about the book/movie PERFUME and a mysterious perfume that was created to coincide with the US release of the film. To read it you need to register at the Times but that's free and quick. It's worth doing to have online access to that Mother of All newspapers (and their great Sunday Book Review).
and a useful tool:
I like those split second scenes in life that you arrive at right in the middle of and then leave a moment later without knowing what's going on but your interest is certainly peaked. Like riding in a train across the countryside and for two seconds you see something out the window that's weird or amazing but then it's gone and you'll never know what it was or if it's what you thought it was. Outside a large supermarket, a very good looking couple are standing and arguing heatedly. The guy is visibly angry. He says to her, "You've *got* to come in. I can't get all this stuff myself." She answers "I can't go in there. You know about me and supermarkets. I just can't go in that place." She looks scared and guilty in one. They see me looking and obviously listening. Both give me hard looks. This is none of your business, Mister. Embarrassed, I speed up and get out of there. Can't go into a supermarket? What was THAT all about?
Years ago when I was teaching, one of my students-- a senior-- asked what I thought of this idea for his senior portrait in the yearbook: He wanted to wear an AC/DC t-shirt and a Bruce Lee-style headband while doing a wheelie on his yellow 50cc moped. I said he might want to think some more about that because in ten years who knows if he'd be so keen on AC/DC or think a 50cc moped was hot stuff. Walking past the tattoo parlor today, I looked in and saw a young man getting a giant black Nike "Swoosh" done across his entire back. Again the thought came to me how this guy was probably going to regret that tattoo a few years from now. At the same time, how wonderful to be so sure of something that you're willing to put it on your body forever because you are convinced you'll want that tattoo there for as long as you live.
often it is the only
between you and
no woman's love
Nothing can save you
one from N.G.
by Tony Hoagland
After I heard 'It's a Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall'
played softly by an accordion quartet
through the ceiling speakers at the Springdale Shopping Mall,
I understood: there's nothing
we can't pluck the stinger from,
nothing we can't turn into a soft drink flavor or a t-shirt.
Even serenity can become something horrible
if you make a commercial about it
using smiling, white-haired people
quoting Thoreau to sell retirement homes
in the Everglades, where the swamp has been
drained and bulldozed into a nineteen-hole golf course
with electrified alligator barriers.
'You can't keep beating yourself up, Billy'
I heard the therapist say on television
to the teenage murderer,
'About all those people you killed--
You just have to be the best person you can be,
one day at a time--'
and everybody in the audience claps and weeps a little,
because the level of deep feeling has been touched,
and they want to believe that
the power of Forgiveness is greater
than the power of Consequence, or History.
My father is a businessman who travels.
Each time he returns from one of his trips,
his shoes and trousers
are covered with blood--
but he never forgets to bring me a nice present;
Should I say something?
I used to think I was not part of this,
that I could mind my own business and get along,
but that was just another song
that has been taught to me since birth--
whose words I was humming under my breath,
as I walked through the Springdale Mall.
and in keeping with today's happy mood:
by Ron Koertge
Lois liked to see the bullets bounce
off Superman's chest, and of course
she was proud when he leaned into
a locomotive and saved the crippled
orphan who had fallen on the tracks.
Yet on those long nights when he was
readjusting longitude or destroying
a meteor headed right for some nun,
Lois considered carrying just a smidgen
of kryptonite in her purse or at least
making a tincture to dab behind her ears.
She pictured his knees giving way,
the color draining from his cheeks.
He'd lie on the couch like a guy with
the flu, too weak to paint the front
porch or take out the garbage. She
could peek down his tights or draw
on his cheek with a ball point. She
might even muss his hair and slap
"Hey, what'd I do?" he'd croak just
like a regular boyfriend. At last.
For those of you interested in a sneak peek, the first chapter of my new novel THE GHOST IN LOVE was just published in the 25th anniversary issue of CONJUNCTIONS MAGAZINE, which is apparently available already at Amazon.com. I received copies of the anthology this morning. It's full of interesting contributors including Jonathan Lethem, Will Self, Peter Straub, Jim Crace, John Barth and many others. Coincidentally, yesterday's mail brought copies of the latest PUSHCART PRIZE anthology which includes the story "Home on the Rain." Nice things in the mailbox this week and it's only Wednesday.
And for you Russian rock fans, here's a music video from Georgia. Keep an eye out for the dancing prostitutes and the guy cooking heroin on a spoon in his train compartment.
I've been reading about the Zoroastrian religion and came upon these ideas which should stir your thought pot a little:
"Pairikas" in Zoroastrianism are evil beings whose overwhelming beauty seduces men and drives them to commit degrading deeds.
"Yazatas" are the adorable ones, or another name for angels
In the Z. belief, a woman can have an abortion up to 4 months +10 days into the pregnancy because at that precise
point a child is formed and their soul is added.
"Avestan" was the name of the ancient religious language of the Zoroastrians
check it out:
and from O.N. :
Down the street is a gasthaus that once again looks like it's going out of business. I say once again because in the last few years, it has had several lives as a restaurant under different management. But all of them have failed after a short while. What's interesting about this establishment though is that when it opened for the first time, it was very successful. For years it was a neighborhood hangout both day and night. Whenever you walked by you'd see plenty of people in there talking and laughing, eating the heavy Austrian food that was served. But the owners grew old and before retiring sold it to someone else. The place thrived for a while but eventually the original owners' magic aura wore off and it got emptier and emptier until it closed. Then someone else took it over but it died too, etcetera. What is most intriguing to me is that the food wasn't good when the first owners had it. And they were not particularly nice people. They were civil and it was always clean and tidy in there, but it was not very gemutlich and whatever you ordered from the menu was always 100% mediocre. The next people who took it over were both nicer and the cooking was much better but still no one came. In fact whoever has owned the restaurant since the first ones has been both nicer and served better food. But the joint fails time and again. Sometimes life's magic is beyond ineffable.
check it out (thanks AF):
"Any great art teaches you to see the potential in things you had previously ignored, whether it's the painter Constable teaching you about the English countryside or Roy Lichtenstein teaching you to look at comic books.... I don't think the message is: Everything is Art. But it's the idea that everything is potential. Everything can be the springboard. One of the things about Modern Art is that it shows us that there is nothing so trivial that it cannot be made into a vehicle for a profound and complex human statement."
"... from that day forward she lived happily ever after. Except for the dying at the end. And the heartbreak in between."
"She only kept her bed for the last two days, and continued to talk quietly with everyone to the last. Finally when she could no longer talk and was already in her death agony, she broke wind loudly. "Good," she said, turning over," a woman who can fart is not dead." Those were the last words she spoke."
The Confessions of Jean Jacques Rousseau
We were standing on the street talking fast and furious. We hadn't seen each other in years and were both delighted that coincidence had bumped us into each other for no reason other than a real unexpected surprise "Hey! How *are* you?" While we spoke, city workers were high above us in a yellow crane putting up Christmas decorations and lights on the lampposts. They were having a great time doing it, chatting and laughing, horsing around but getting the job done too. Down below we were in the middle of our good catch up talk as the remaining light left the late afternoon-almost evening. Suddenly I realized how fine the moment was. This old friend appearing out of a gray cold November Saturday afternoon. The laughing workers putting up Christmas stars and wreaths above us. People hurrying by, eager to see what the coming Saturday night would bring. Life is often unkind and impossible to understand, but now and then it gives us a tip.
by Reid Bush
Before we buried him, no one thought
to trace around his hand.
It would have been an easy thing to do
if you could stand his fingers cold, stiff:
just a piece of paper underneath
and pen or pencil.
I don't think there's anybody
could half imagine in a million years
how much since he died we've argued
over just how big his hands were.
It's hard to know when you need to
what it is you're going to want.
check it out (thanks I.T.)
I like cologne and am always sampling new ones when they come onto the market. The other day I saw that a very famous fashion designer had just released their first men's cologne to much fanfare. So passing a "parfumerie," I went in to try it. I asked the saleswoman if she had some. She looked at me like I was crazy-- OF COURSE they had it and led me over to a display worthy of a minor Egyptian king. The cologne itself was housed in some sort of transparent plastic case on a black faux marble base. The only way you could get it was to push a silver lever on the case which would dole it out one spritz at a time. I thought this was overdoing the exclusivity bit but hey, what do I know? The woman took out a piece of paper to spritz on and then very formally gave it a single shot. She waved the wet paper in the air a few times and then handed it to me with a look on her face that said boy are you in for a treat. I sniffed the paper but smelled nothing. I mean what was there was so slight, so small, that it was like smelling someone's cologne who is sitting three rooms away. I told the saleswoman I couldn't smell anything. Aghast, she said well it's *there.* I sniffed again but could only get the barest, smallest lemony nothing aroma. I shook my head. She snatched the paper away from me, gave it another spritz of cologne and handed it back. Same thing-- almost nothing. She was getting pissed off and I was almost embarrassed. Suddenly the thought came to me-- this is brilliant. The Emperor's New Clothes has finally come true. A famous company puts water in a pretty bottle, calls it cologne, markets it with a lot of PR and a very high price. Just so the customer doesn't get too suspicious, they put a little lemon extract into the water so it gives off a vague scent but not much. If the customer protests like I did, the salesperson looks at them as if they're either from the provinces or just stupid. Obviously you don't get the subtlety of the product, when in fact there is nothing at all in there but water and a drop or two of lemon. Brilliant.
Mon Chapeau, as the French say.
"CREATIVE ADDITION always yields more than the prosaic sum of the parts. By addition I mean putting salient factors together to arrive at an answer: On his march to the Alps, Hannibal crossed the river at Arles by persuading his elephants to stick their trunks up like snorkels. In Japan it's so crowded that they grow cucumbers vertically. In Kuwait I've seen boats with thin rigid wooden flags so as to catch the slightest puff of any wind. A recent bestselling book was called 101 USES FOR A DEAD CAT. Rodin claimed that he never invented anything new but only discovered things. Beethoven produced new compositions within an established medium and a firm tradition. Frank Lloyd Wright exploited existing building material to make dramatic volumes and spaces. Picasso conjured up the head of a bull from an old bicycle seat and handlebars. Henry Ford organized new procedures and techniques of mass production. But he didn't invent or patent a single machine, tool or process. He only used what was at hand. Creative Addition."
from THE ART OF LOOKING SIDEWAYS by Alan Fletcher
"In every 100 men, 95 weigh between 127 and 209 lbs (for women it is 95 and 195 lbs). In the average 162 pound man, about 43% of the weight is muscle, 14% is fat, 14% bone and marrow, 12% internal organs, 9% connective tissue and skin, and 8% blood. The weight distributes: 47% in the trunk and neck, 34% in the legs, 12% in the arms, and 7% in the head... Man is 65% oxygen, 18.5% carbon, 9.5% oxygen, 3.3% nitrogen, 1.5% calcium, 1% phosphorus, 0.35% or less each of potassium, sulphur, chlorine, sodium and magnesium, with traces of iron, iodine, zinc, flourine and other elements. This gives him enough water to fill a 10 gallon barrel, enough fat for 7 bars of soap, enough phosphorus for 2,200 match heads, and enough iron for a 3 inch nail."
check it out (thanks GB)
In the building where I live is an "Interventionstelle," which is a center for abused women. At least twice a week while entering or leaving the building I encounter women who are looking for this place. They are usually young, have small children with them and if they make eye contact at all, it is brief and jumpy. If they look lost, I ask solicitously if they are looking for the Intervention center. Invariably they nod too much, too quickly. I point and say it is one flight up the stairs. They say a muffled thanks or nothing at all and hurry away. Usually at that point I think two things-- good luck and I wish you all the courage in the world because after today, you're going to need it. Periodically irate husbands get into the building somehow (there is an intercom system at the front door and a visitor must be buzzed in). They beat furiously on that office door, screaming and cursing, either because they know their wives are inside or because she has already visited and told where she was. The police are called and these men are taken away. But for how long? Sooner or later they are released and go home, God forbid.
Two very large, very scary looking men stand close together at the front door of an apartment building. One of them is speaking into the intercom in a voice that could frighten the dead. "But when *is* he coming home?" The static'y woman's voice on the other end says 'I don't know. I just TOLD you that.' The two thugs look at each other. Their eyes are filled with real anger and frustration. One of them pounds a fist into his thigh. The speaker makes a gesture for his companion to cool off and then says mildly into the intercom, "Okay, we'll be back. You don't have to tell him we were here." Then he moves away and signals for the other to follow. Seeing all this, I wonder who the hell it is they've come for and hope that whoever he is, the guy decides to stay away for the next year or so.
"The road to hell is paved with stylish shoes."
"The Devil knows much because he's old, not because he's the Devil."
"Measure twice, cut once."
"Dance first, think later--
it's the natural order."
"I trust the exception, not the rule."
"I will take your name and I will make it ink. I will find a needle as sharp as ice, as clean as God, as thin as yesterday. I will put the needle into the ink and I will write your name everywhere that is not written on me."
The tattooist's creed
On the subway a woman is speaking to her child in an interesting language I've not heard before. The train is crowded and we're all pushed up close against each other. An old woman standing near bends over and asks, "What language is that you're speaking?" The woman smiles and says "Macedonian," which in German sounds like "Makadonish." The old woman frowns and splutters "Macadamia? Like the nut?" "No, no Makadonish." "Macadamia? There's a language for nuts? What country is that?" This conversation continues in earnest between the two women until the next stop. I have to get off and I'm not sorry to miss the rest of their discourse.
check it out:
When was the last time you said (and genuinely meant it):
Here take mine.
I really want more.
Are you telling me the truth?
I cannot do it.
That scares me.
I love you.
What do you really want?
Can I help? (to a stranger)
Dance with me
"I thought I knew how to love. Don Juan said, 'How could you? They never taught you about love. They taught you how to seduce, to envy, to hate. You don't even love yourself- otherwise you wouldn't have put your body through such barbarities. You don't have the guts to love like a sorcerer. Could you love forever, beyond death? Without
the slightest reinforcement--nothing in return? Could you love without investment, for the piss of it? You'll never know what it's like to love like that, relentlessly. Do you really want to die without knowing?'"
The great American novelist William Styron died today. For the last years of his life Styron published nothing, apparently because he continued to suffer periodic bouts of crippling depression. One of his last books was a chilling memoir about the experience entitled 'Darkness Visible.' Whenever someone I know (or know of) dies, a voice in my head invariably says at least once "Now they know." Whether their death was from natural causes or suicide (Styron was on the brink several times) makes no difference. Whatever you believe, there *is* always the chance that some part of us carries on in another place or dimension after we die. In his memoir, Styron wrote he became so depressed that several times he was inches or minutes away from killing himself. He didn't but today wherever he is, he knows if doing that would have made things better.
Now he knows.
You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine
You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way you are the pine-scented air.
It is possible you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the generals head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.
And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.
It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down the alley,
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind womans tea cup.
But dont worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and somehow