Like great literary protagonists in the rain roofed misty little city
December 4, 2011, 8:53 pm
Filed under: Literature | Tags: , , ,

Is there anything left to say, really?
Aren’t we all just imitating the masters?
I guess that’s okay anyway.

And aren’t we guilty of devouring the classics
and going on and on about absinthe binges
and thank god wormwood is legal in the states again.

And how exciting it is to fall in love, swallow pints of beer
–not necessarily in that order–
come, quote Hemingway and fall out of love over meager breakfasts!

We shouldn’t be ashamed, at any rate,
To live these cliche moments if in such intensity that they cease to be cliche.
Like fruity wine and sentimental country songs, there being nothing left to say, anyhow.


A little more poetry
May 22, 2011, 7:34 pm
Filed under: Literature | Tags:

I heard the dogs beneath the house as I readied myself for bed.
I  lay there, mattress flat on the floor, as four strays fought
Beneath my floorboards, heads knocking pipes, snarls and growls
Primal exasperation– all panting and thirsting for one bitch pup,
With two different color eyes, who waited, in heat for a desperate suitor.

I listened as they tore  at each other’s throats under the boards,
and I knew we were one in the same, so I did nothing to stop it.
Even as growling heads clanked against rusty pipes and arched backs
Thudded against my floor, I readied myself for bed

Because I knew that their aggression was mine.

A little poetry. 5/8/11
May 9, 2011, 1:04 pm
Filed under: Literature

I look down at hands that are scarred and broken,
That often crack with pre-arthritic prophecy,
that adminster blows to brick
to mortar
to self.

In thirty six hours–
They have trembled in yellow alleyways of drunk three a.m Mexican food joints.
They have shook hands with bald, cigarette behind the ear,unsolicited pep-talk  pop psychologist.
They have split open at the knuckles, red ribbon trickling down fingers leaving ruby rorschach blots across pavement.

They have been kissed and cleaned off by wet eyed, quivering lipped, smudged makeup former lover.
They have traced said former lover’s figure, measuring weight lost since last encounter, cupping breasts.
They have tapped happily on steering wheel smiles and laughs and sunny city.

They have brought wine bottle, then whiskey glass, then eight or nine beer cans to mouth in self abasement.
They have trembled in smelly downtown alleyways three a.m drunk bathrobed and wandering.
They have shook violently at southern skyline, stabbing humid air, and ever, ever, aching.

Life is not necessarily a Salinger short story, but sometimes, maybe.
May 12, 2010, 11:04 am
Filed under: Essay, Literature | Tags: , , , , ,

I think I have found the key to my depression, and perhaps the depression of many people like me. The reader may not be surprised or even impressed when they get to the conclusion I’ve drawn, but the epiphany has shed light on what just may be the root to many of my problems. The realization came to me sometime last week during a less than stimulating conversation with one of my friends.

I feel very unfulfilled with life on a daily basis. Day to day interaction with the average person bores me. Actually, I’ll go a step further: I can not stand talking to most people. Few people  challenge me intellectually, spiritually or existentially. This sounds like an arrogant statement, but I assure you, it has little to do with the way I feel about myself or my own intellect, and has everything to do with how I feel about others. These standards aren’t coming from an internal source, but from something outside of me.

And it’s not just people that disappoint me; it’s places, events, and situations–the entire drama of my existence.

And that is the key word: Drama. I realized that the external source from which I draw my unreachable expectations is books and film. I expect the people with whom I come into contact to be characters. I want the places I visit to be settings. I want the things I do and the nights I have to be plots and subplots and when none of this adds up to some meta-American novelization of the Life of Russell Womack I’m disappointed and depressed.

(back cover of The Life of Russell Womack)

When I’m out with my friends, standing around in some bar, or on some dance floor or whatever, I’m looking around at all of the people and conversations and blank stares and drunk mouths and I want to be back in my room, my face buried in a book.

I never wanted to be one of those people:  the kind who uses books or movies as escapism. I used to actually have a hard time reading for too long because it felt pointless to sit around reading about some other person’s life instead of out living my own. I used to criticize people who could read all day out under some tree or holed up in their room because they were missing out on life. It’s kind of like when you are a kid and its 1998 or something and you’re sitting at home on New Years Eve watching MTV or Dick Clark’s rockin eve and you’re on the couch watching other people have what appears to be the time of their lives.

And now I’m one of those people. I don’t know if its because I’ve settled into some state of complacency or if it’s just because my expectations are too high. I mean, they are  unrealistic expectations in the most literal sense because they are derived from fiction.

When a writer sits down to write his novel or short story or screenplay, he theoretically very deliberate in every aspect of the story: each character, every detail, every twist and turn of the plot, every symbol, description, every sentence , every word is ideally thought out meticulously. Nothing should appear for the sake of itself; otherwise it is completely gratuitous.

And that’s the real problem here. So much of my life just seems gratuitous. What is the big picture here? What is the significance of this moment? Can I derive meaning from this interaction with this person/song/little dog/sunrise/car ride/drunken fight? And if not, what is the goddam point?

And this is where my frustration comes from. I’m just not fulfilled unless my life is playing out like literature. And there have been many many times in my life that I felt like I was living out my own short story, and I was actually the protagonist– the hero even. Sure, there’s always the bathroom scene that gets left on the editing floor (unless there is a good soundtrack song playing in the back ground. I argue that any menial task can be turned into a montage with the right song), but I was generally content with the way life was going. We were all characters and the plot seemed deliberate, even when I didn’t know exactly where it was headed.

But these days I feel like life is less than meaningful. Living in this big city, in this big house, with these raging parties and very little of it feels like it is important, meaningful or artistic. Most of the people I meet disappoint me, and most of the things that I see seem commonplace and boring.

So what is my problem exactly? This isn’t a rhetorical question. I genuinely want to know how to fix the way I feel. Should I find fulfillment in the day to day and stop using literature as the standard for the way a meaningful life should play out? Or should I find inspiration in those pages and live my life as if I’m getting closer and closer to the last chapter, looking everywhere for meaning and truth?

Donald Miller, You Asshole.

Donald Miller is an asshole. If you are a twenty-something Christian who listens to both Iron and Wine and Hillsong United, you have likely read Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller’s New York Times’ Best Selling book about a twenty-something navigating what he nonchalantly calls “Christian Spirituality”. If you have read his book, and you are not an english major, you probably liked it a whole lot, citing it as “the best piece of religious-nonfiction since Pat Robertson wrote that one book in the 90’s, or Left Behind”.

(a christian documentary)

The book was suggested to me by a number of my friends at college. I assumed that since it was popular it probably wasn’t worth my time, so I never read it. But when my friend Steve, who was staying at our house in Houston, brought it over and said it was worth reading, and Gardy piped in that it was the only book he’d ever read voluntarily, I figured I’d give it a shot. Not because I valued their literary opinion, but because I didn’t have anything else to read at that time.

I started the book with low expectations, reading it in the bathroom and before bed. Sure, it was on the Best Seller’s list, but that doesn’t mean that it is worth reading, and it certainly doesn’t mean that it is literature. Twilight is on the best seller’s list. Twilight.

(Pictured: Literature)

Let me first say this: Blue Like Jazz is not on my list of top 10 or even top 20 books, but Donald Miller surprised me. He surprised me in the way that the movie Hot Tub Time Machine surprised me last night: I went in with low expectations, and they were exceeded. Miller wrote a collection of essays that were uber-approachable, sometimes teetering on banality, but there were nuggets of profundity surrounded by his neigh-base conversationalism. His style turned me off at first, but it made for a quick, light read that I saturated with yellow-highlighter ink.

But this entry is not to sing the praises of Donald Miller. This entry is a middle finger to the 30-something, published, and probably moderately wealthy Houstonian, Christian author from a 20-something, unpublished and definitely moderately poor Houstonian, formerly Christian non-author. Fuck you Donald Miller; I hope you’re reading this.

As I was saying, I read the book in a few days, and actually enjoyed it until I got to a chapter near the end. As I read the chapter entitled “Alone”, I was dumbfounded. With every paragraph I read I became more livid. I could not believe what I was reading. I wanted to find Miller and confront him. I didn’t know what I’d do to him exactly, but it wouldn’t be pleasant for anyone involved.

Let me back up a few years to when I was attending a Christian college in a Dallas Suburb. I made the acquaintance of a handsome, hip, probably progressive, English major named David in my American lit class. I haven’t spoken to him in some time but I still have his copy of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five on my bookshelf. We got to talking about favorite poets one day and I told him that mine was Emily Dickinson. I told him that I had a crush on her since first reading her poem, A Fly Buzzed When I Died.

I explained to him that there’s just something about her. She is broken and beautiful and if I could have gone back in time, I wouldn’t have punched Hitler or stopped Pearl Harbor or whatever, I would have seduced Emily Dickinson. I became pretty obsessed with the idea of loving her. My girlfriend bought me her entire collected works, and I read her poetry before bed every night. She was a recluse and possibly a lesbian, but she had so much capacity for love welling up in her imaginably frail frame. There was a period of a few weeks that I was actually depressed upon realizing that I could never ever be with her, and I had a sick sort of fantasy of making love to her ghost.


I was sort of embarrassed admitting all of this to David, but he wasn’t phased by my confession.

“Actually, I read a book that says that some huge number– I don’t know the statistic or anything– of high school males, especially those interested in literature, develop these uncontrollable crushes on Emily Dickinson. I don’t know what it is but it’s a pretty interesting phenomenon. You’re not alone, man. I felt the same way about her in high school.”

I was so relieved to hear that I wasn’t a creep, and I found the idea pretty provocative. I started planning on writing a short story that revolved around the idea of a delusional English major falling in love with Emily Dickinson, his graphic masturbatory fantasies of making love to her ghost, and a climax in Amherst, Massachusetts (her burial place and hometown) ending with his untimely death. The point of the story would be that one can fall in love with just about anyone, proving that the idea of the soul mate is flawed, and that practicality should sometimes override emotionalism.

I thought long and hard about the plot, and even talked with a published Christian author about the story. We discussed that it could even involve some pseudo-time traveling and that he would very explicitly have sex with Dickinson, saving her from her depression and lonliness, and ultimately saving himself.

I never wrote that story. Like all of my ideas for short stories, I simply never got around to it. Fiction is hard for me, and it’s hard to muster up the motivation to commit to something of that scale. But I always planned on writing it. I thought it was subversive and provocative and relatable enough to be worthwhile.

But do you know who did write that story? That exact same story? I’ll give you one guess: well it’s Donald Miller. What are the odds? You just took one-third of my decent fiction ideas from me and just jammed it into your book. I’m not saying I could have written it better, but it feels completely awkward and out of place in a book on “Christian Spirituality”, whatever the hell that is.

I’d say go out and read it for yourself, but I don’t want you supporting his psychic-demon-future mind reading plagiarism so I’ll include a few quotes straight from Blue Like Jazz:

(I hope that cigarette kills you, you demon-psychic bastard)

“I would read the poetry of Emily Dickinson out loud and pretend to have conversations with her…I asked her if she was a lesbian. For the record, she told me she wasn’t a lesbian…She was lovely, really, sort of like a quiet scared dog, but she engaged fine when she warmed up to me…

Did he just compare my Emily to a dog? Miller, You asshole.

And explaining why guys have crushes on her: “…Emily is an intellectual submissive, and intellectual men fear the domination of women”.

He goes on to explain that he drove all the way from Portland to Massachusetts to visit her home in Amherst and that he saw Emily Dickinson, or her ghost, or something there. He described her thin neck, her red lips, her ankles, her waist,  and sure, he didn’t go as far as pining her down and having his way with her, but its all in the subtext.

I thought back on my conversation about Emily Dickinson with my classmate in Dallas. I realized that David was referring to this book. Of course he was. He wore skinny jeans and had a hipster beard and read Vonnegut. They all read Vonnegut. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a conversation about Blue Like Jazz that got me thinking about writing that story, and it was finally reading the book, four years later, that made me decide not to write the story– the idea came full circle. It was Donald Miller’s idea all along, and it was mine, and it was David’s and it was all of ours collectively. He was using the story to illustrate the problems of being in solitude, and what loneliness can do to a person, and I was using it to illustrate the idea that proximity and practicality are more important than romantic emotionalism, but both streams sprang from the same well.

I was robbed of a story that would have been Sex Drive meets Ghost and a Bronte novel; I feel a little cheated by Donald Miller. I mean, he already has a few books under his belt and supposedly an upcoming movie, why does he need my simple love story about Dickinson’s ghost? But I suppose it isn’t your fault, Don. I’ll blame it on the collective unconscious; great minds think alike. Or in this case, delusional, mediocre minds think alike.

well i never said it was good poetry
December 4, 2009, 6:54 pm
Filed under: Literature

Nothing much has happened lately. It is snowing today and my little brothers are freaking out about it. I drove up to my mom’s house to see Brian outside in what can only be described as a terrorist’s mask with a huge smile on his face, catching snow flakes in his gloves.

I wish i had gloves when i rode his bike to the post office to mail some letters to canada and missouri. Places that are probably much colder than it is here.

I found these poems today that I wrote while i was riding bikes in the english country side.

here they are:

The way the cool wind plays on tall grass in silent meadows, like some invisible giant walking through the weeds,
blades shifting under his feet–
under foreign sun, picturesque Great Britain lay before me: Kinkadian Shires, Dickensian streets, fields of torrential green…
and i’m thinking of Shakespeare– As You Like It– realizing I’ve always been in love, and never been in love,
and meditating on Kerouac, how everything is God and nothing ever happened except God.
Resting by churches as old as America, and dozing in the shade of trees with dust and bugs.
I am adult and child, wise and wild eyed, and as the sheep graze on sun-drenched hills, nothing seems to change, but I’m serpentine, pastoral; a lowly shepherd shedding skin.


Chris Conley– you New Jersey, Pop-Punk Bodhisattva, you didn’t know it, but you taught me to sing–
head back, mouth wide open–and in that nightingale, forget me not voice, I was entranced.
I wanted to drink it, wanted to swim in it–wanted to drown in it.
With those songs we made mix cds because cassette tapes were obsolete, but they were more like paintings to me.
every note a color, every word an illustration; a portrait of you, of me, of us all.

The light above you flashes on and off, casting unreliable shadows on your face like a strobe.
Your eyes, huge and slightly sunken, watch unscrupulously the mini-skirt girls across the aisle.
You listen candidly, as scenery swirls past in the window behind you, colors and shapes turn to grey lines
as the train moves forward, you imagine your humble, uncertain feet in their high heels.
The train lurches to a stop, we exit, you watch your sneakers as you mind the gap,
and purse your defeated lips together tightly.

—-and from ireland———————————————————-

I belong to the cult of wishful thinking.
we are the blissless, the never fulfilled.
our religious garb is flowery naivete,
sweet idealism our Achilles’ heel.

We are all saints and all martyrs.
Our penance is our piety, our dedication our loss.
We are the privileged songs and daughters–
The church of post card zen, romance our only cross.


Vast cerulean waters, two hundred meters below
all stretching out from solid rock endlessly
legs folded tightly, sitting on the edge alone
hovering above the entire universe, it seems

breathing deeply now, pulling salty air into my lungs
consumed by visual indications of grace
the desire to be a  part of it causes compulsions to jump
but i know some remnant of my soul will linger here anyway


as the air lingers like ghosts on the Liffey
the cobblestone is slick and crowded
young women with soft white breasts like Irish cream
walk with umbrellas like wedding veils
and i will get drunk in temple bar tonight
and fall in love with a girl like a cup of breakfast tea


fell tree decaying, surrounded by ethereal green
you degenerate and become food for fungus
as the forest around you thrives
limbs reach for heaven, casting a verdant glow on your pitiful state
count my rings, how long have i been alive?

blue clouds hang heavy on emerald hills
sheep dot valleys like broken teeth
we drive west from Dublin
three Canadians and an American in an economy car
crossing postcard landscapes and calendar scenery
i am elated.


like seventh grade theater dates
hands on the same arm rest
and pinkies wander and become conduits
 electric pulsations set hearts to beating
and palms to sweating and thoughts to racing
and minds swimming like children again