Nothing like an Epic Virus to remind one how connections work. Members of this current batch of humans share just about everything of themselves, like it or not, even their money, some more some less than others.
Life swarms with sounds we can’t hear, and teems down pouring itself empty with flying bugs and crawling things, birds and fishes, and the smallest creatures invisible to the naked eye that can make bread rise and turn grapes to wine and hops to beer, life that enters and exits the great smoking and stoking train of the body, riding one car to the next, to and fro, round trips, never holding an official ticket. Life is idiomatic.
In Astra Taylor’s film Examined Life, Kwame Anthony Appiah reflects on how the ways in which humans are connected have changed over time. Gone are the days, Appiah explains, when the only people you ever saw in your entire lifetime were the members of your own family or small tribe:
“As a species that was designed for living in bands of a hundred-odd people for much of its evolutionary history, we have to figure out how we’re going to live in a planet with 6, 7, 8 billion people. Billions not divided into lots of little bands of a hundred, but constantly interacting – and interacting in units of hundreds of millions. The United States, for example, has a population of 300 million right now. So as an American, you exist in this kind of virtual relationship with 300 million people. If you’re lucky enough to be Chinese, your virtual relationships are soon with 1.5 billion people or something like that” (p. 88, Examined Life: Excursions with Contemporary Thinkers, Edited by Astra Taylor, The New Press, 2009; Interviews from the film Examined Life, 2008).
I first met the poet David Biespiel sitting in the green wooden bleachers at a Southeast Portland Little League baseball game. His son Lucas was on the same team as my son Eric. I had climbed out to get something from the snack shack, and when I got back, Susan pointed out to me the guy sitting a few rows down from us watching the game while reading a book of poems by Dylan Thomas. After the game, I said hello and asked what was up with Dylan Thomas. I didn’t that season get to know David, but neither did I forget his telling me about his Attic writing studio. I was working my corporate gig at the time, where poetry, unless you had X-ray vision, remained hidden behind any number of cubicle kept faces.
Over a decade later, finding “myself growing grim about the mouth,” as Melville’s Ishmael said, I took early retirement, returned to adjunct work, and eventually found my way back to David at his Attic studio, where I volunteered to help build bookshelves and organize the library, and also joined a seven month writing cohort called “Hawthorne Fellows” (the Attic being located in digs on the second floor of an old building on Hawthorne Boulevard), where I worked on “Penina’s Letters.”
I started reading David’s work, attended the book launch reading at Powell’s on Hawthorne of his Charming Gardeners, later putting some notes up on the Toads about that experience. I stayed in touch with a few of my cohort acquaintances made in the Hawthorne Fellows, dropped out of the Attic library volunteer work, growing increasingly busy with new adjunct work. It wasn’t hard finding adjunct gigs that provided no benefits or job security, and pittance pay, and while the work was hard, I felt at home in my newfound community, and found more time but more importantly more desire to write. And I continued to learn – about writers, about the academic tyranny of composition rules, about writers and readers, about writing and reading venues and communities.
I read a number of popular as well as hard to find how to books: Stephen King, On Writing; Annie Dillard, The Writing Life; William Zinsser, On Writing Well; Walter Mosley, This Year You Write Your Novel; Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual; Francis Christensen, Notes Toward a New Rhetoric; The Use and Misuse of Language, an old paperback from my shelves, edited by S. I. Hayakawa; Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several short sentences about writing; and Every Writer Has A Thousand Faces, by David Biespiel.
Any kind of writing can be a good teacher to a discerning reader. We’ve as much to learn from bad writing as from good writing. But we can’t know bad from good if we don’t know how to read. And most of us are poor readers, particularly of our own writing. That’s because, in part, it’s harder to read our own writing, to proofread our own writing, than it is to read another’s writing. We don’t see what we don’t expect to see. And we read for our favorite mistakes, and happily call them out, as if that criticism somehow makes us better writers or more discerning readers. And, as we don’t necessarily see ourselves as others see us, our pictures of who we are or what we look like don’t match up, so too we don’t see our own writing as others see it.
And all of that is what I like most about David Biespiel’s Every Writer Has A Thousand Faces. It’s as much about how to read as it is how to write. In it, David talks about looking:
“What Phil created in that time was version after version of my face, throwing dozens upon dozens of discards onto the floor of his studio or hanging them up on the wall until he came to a point of an understanding about drawing my face that provided him with, well, further understanding about drawing my face. He wasn’t going to revise to make a finished product. He was going to make versions from the same material in order to make more versions from the new material. One version of my face after another” (page 68 of the 2010 edition).
And that might help explain why the 10th Anniversary edition of Every Writer Has A Thousand Faces, launching today, March 30, 2020, from Kelson Books, adds four more faces to the cover of the 2010 edition, pictured here:
I’ve ordered a copy of the 10th anniversary edition, and I hope you do, too. In doing so, you’ll be supporting more than just David. You’ll be supporting a writing community. But that’s not the main reason for showing an interest in it. And, as David makes clear in his book, it may or may not help improve your writing. But it will help you look at yourself and what you’re trying to do in different ways and means. It will help you discover new faces of yourself.
Check out a copy of the new 10th anniversary edition of Every Writer Has A Thousand Faces at one of these venues:
Social distancing guidelines now include no more than 10 people gathered together in one place, and, anyway, to stay home. I grew up one of ten kids. The doors and windows to our house were never locked. I never even had a key to the place. And friends and friends of friends roamed freely across the threshold, in and out. A restriction of no more than 10 at any one time might have come as a welcome rule for my parents – but they rarely objected to visitors.
I’ve lived at 19 different addresses over time, never alone, not including the room in the garage at the back of our lot my dad and I built when I got back from the army and found my digs in the house usurped by younger siblings.
But I’ve lived in the house I’m in now for 30 years. It was built in 1907 in what was then a mostly truck farming community or trolley commute from downtown Portland. The street name is now Southeast 69th Avenue, but it was originally named East View Street. A house this old comes with stories, particularly one that has been home to several households over the years. Those stories are often told by neighbors who have overlapped stays with other neighbors.
Not long after we first moved in, I was digging around in the backyard and uncovered a large clam shell. The occupants just prior to us lived in the house 12 years before we moved in. The shell, we learned from one of our old-timer neighbors, predated those years. There had been a family, lived in our house, who hosted South Pacific sailors who regularly came to port for the annual Rose Festival (the first Rose Festival Parade was held downtown in 1907). One year, one of the sailors brought the shell as a gift for the house hosts. We learned from that same old-timer neighbor that another year one of the sailors died in the house. He collapsed from a heart attack in the entry room. His name was Joe. His host would later also die in the house, in the downstairs bathroom, also from a heart attack. His name was also Joe.
Lately, homebound by local decree, I’ve increased my walks around the neighborhood, reflecting on houses. Local neighborhood lore tells of one house that was once a tuberculosis sanatorium, another that was a brothel, another that was a small barbershop, another that was a local post office. It’s not a neighborhood of any spectacular historical interest. While a few of the houses might maintain historical value, there’s no doubt that in another hundred years they will all be replaced. The clam shell might still be somewhere around, though. Maybe something still will be living in it.
From Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Act II:
Ham. Then is doomsday near: but your news is not true. Let me question more in particular: what have you, my good friends, deserved at the hands of Fortune, that she sends you to prison hither?
Guil. Prison, my lord!
Ham. Denmark’s a prison.
Ros. Then is the world one.
Ham. A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o’ the worst.
Ros. We think not so, my lord.
Ham. Why, then, ’tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison.
Ros. Why, then, your ambition makes it one; ’tis too narrow for your mind.
Ham. O God, I could be bounded in a nut-shell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.
The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch (Swiss, 2018) is a coming of age story, Motti’s single marital status of existential concern to his mother, who tries to set him up with any number of, for Motti, unsuitable but available girls whose mothers are equally concerned about the marriage status of their daughters. But Motti has his own ideas about attractions and family values, even as his young and tender heart is yanked from his body by the carefree girl he falls off a cliff for, and a parental sponsored trip to Israel banking on his finding a girl the family can approve of only makes matters worse. Expect much laughter, and crying, out loud, with actors speaking German, Yiddish, and Hebrew. The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch is about the surprise of life.
Happy as Lazzaro (Italian, 2018) is another coming of age story. Lazzaro does, literally, fall off a cliff, but not for love, and his heart remains surreally whole, inviolate, even as his body is bruised and abused. He’s a static character, the same at the end as at the beginning, even as life around him changes dramatically. The dwelling settings, country and city, are brutal but beautiful. The lives of the sharecroppers, under imprisonment and later emancipated but just as poor, still captives of poverty, illustrate that poverty is protean, affecting both the poor and the wealthy.
Django (French, 2017). A dramatization of the life of the guitarist Django Reinhardt and his family during World War II. The Nazis persecuted the Gypsies, many of whom tried to flee to relatively safe zones, joined the resistance, or were caught, killed on the spot, or transported via train to the Nazi concentration camps. The film focuses on Django’s one attempt to escape France, and while he did try to escape to Switzerland, according to the book Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend (2004, Michael Dregni, Oxford University Press), Django spent most of the war in Paris, where he was allowed to continue playing his music because by then he and his music had become so popular. But he had to play for the occupiers as well as for the locals, his safe treatment thus coming at the cost of a kind of debt bondage. From the book:
“Hitler bore a deep hatred for Gypsies…From 1933, German Gypsies were doomed. The Nazis barred Romanies from cities, shuttling them into settlement camps. Nazi doctors began sterilizing Romanies as early as 1933. And German Gypsies were required to wear a brown triangle sewn on their chest marked with the letter “Z” for zigemer, German for “Gypsy” – a precursor of the yellow Stars of David pinned to Jews (168)….Yet in Paris, Django was flourishing. Never did he have so much work or live in such sumptuous surroundings. Just as the Germans permitted jazz in Paris, they allowed Romany musicians to continue to play – and paid to come hear them every night” (169).
Still, Django worried for his family and for his own life, and if some considered him a hero, others thought of him as a conspirator: “Being in the spotlight saved him from the fate awaiting other Gypsies, but Django began to sweat under the glare” (182). Django takes off with his pregnant wife and his mother. They get caught and are imprisoned, but then, in the absurd way these things seem to happen, Dregni says, “A miracle arrived in the unlikely form of the German kommandant. He was a jazz fan, and when he came to question his new prisoner, he was astonished. ‘My good Reinhardt,’ he said, ‘whatever are you doing in this fix?’ Django promised not to try to escape again, and was freed” (184).
Django the film is must see for anyone interested in Gypsy jazz. But it’s also just a classic film – the acting, the setting, the timing, the war, the family and country drama and suspense. It features much magnificent music, including the organ “Mass” piece Django created. Django the book by Dregni should also be read. Django never learned to read or write, save at a most rudimentary level, and that late in his life (he died age 43). The book reveals a deep history of jazz music in Europe, particularly Paris, including stories of the many Black American musicians who traveled through Europe, most stopping in Paris, many playing with Django, following both World Wars. It covers the business of music and recording and performance management, popular success and failure, the changing style of jazz as musicians work to assimilate new music experienced from new exposures.
“Loomings” is the title given this now completed painting, shown below in various work in progress stages. The piece is 24″ x 36″ x 1&1/2″. For the first time, I used Lukas Berlin “Water Mixable Oil Colour” paints. I did not mix in any water. Though I have wall-hung the painting, the paint is still wet, but not dripping wet. It will take up to a year to completely dry, as discussed in the info. pdf linked above. I like the paints. Will experiment with mixing with water next time. The canvas stretched on wood frame was purchased used for $5 at a garage sale last summer. The black showing through, mostly around the edges, is from the original painting, which I mostly covered over, beginning with a squeegee wash of titanium white acrylic. “Loomings” is the title of Chapter One of Melville’s “Moby Dick.” An alternate title I had considered was “Sailboat with Umbrella.” But that seemed too specific. One wishes not to disambiguate one’s paintings no more than one’s poetry.
The first review of “end tatters” is in, received via cell phone text (place cursor in text box and scroll right):
"Finished End Tatters; especially liked About Confusion, Bells, and To Surf, which I hope to do this morning. Milk made me very sad. Waiting for your next novel. Alma and Penina my favorites."
To drive down, stop, and check out surf spots at the end of a beach town road is part of surfing. A second text from our first reviewer came in that evening, with a couple of pics and a note that he had made it into some waves:
Meantime, still not entirely satisfied with the “end tatters” cover (having already made several changes pre-publication), I made a post-publication cover revision. Copies sold with the blue back cover are now considered to have some increased value for collectors. New cover photos below:
Original back cover shown below:
Go here to order your copy. Write a review and send it to thecomingofthetoads @ gmail dot com, and I’ll post it to the blog.
“end tatters” is now available in paperback. I don’t intend an e-book version. As indicated on the copyright page, “Some of the End Tatters pieces previously appeared, some in different form, in these publications: Berfrois; Berfrois: the Book; Queen Mob’s Teahouse; Sultan’s Seal: The Hotel Cosmopolitan; One Imperative; and The Coming of the Toads.” The book does offer some new pieces also, though, so it collects previously published and new pieces. My primary purpose in publishing the book in paperback form is that I wanted to save, on paper, a number of pieces a bit scattered on-line, while I had some new pieces I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with. Besides that, I enjoy making books, reading books, collecting books.
Distributing and selling indie books is a different matter. Even giving them away does not at all ensure they’ll be read. Nevertheless, I’ll be giving away a few copies of “end tatters” to innocent bystanders. So be on the lookout.
With “end tatters,” I’ve attempted a kind of imprint, the somewhat clumsy, perhaps, “a Joe Linker book.” Below, we see the “CONTENTS” page:
Bells…11 Milk…17 Trees…23 This and That…25 Taking the Call…27 Nativity Scene…33 In One’s Dotage…45 Divine Comedy…47 To Surf…49 About Confusion…57 Epiphanic Cat…67 The Tyger…69 Wealcan…71 Horny Theology…88 Withdrawal…91 Cliff Notes…93 Vintage…95 In Transit…97 Cricket…99 Remaindered…101 Typewriter…103
And a bit more info. for this post, with some pics:
Paperback: 105 pages
Publisher: Independently published (January 8, 2020)
“Do you want this book published,’ he asked, ‘or just printed?” Said Angus Cameron (editor at Little, Brown) to J. D. Salinger upon learning Salinger wanted no advertising of his forthcoming “The Catcher in the Rye.” Particularly, and peculiarly, from the publisher’s viewpoint, J. D. wanted no author’s photo on the cover (Ian Hamilton, In Search of J. D. Salinger, 1988, Random House, p. 115).
How to launch a book? Advance review copies. Interviews. Author’s book tour. Live readings. Ads in trade journals. Book store displays. Billboards on Sunset Boulevard and in Times Square.
Like Salinger, though they’ve actually few if any other options, the indie writer/publisher eschews the traditional publicity stunts ahead of book store distribution for a blog post or two.
This is the second in a planned series of posts designed with the usual blog accompanied by tweet fanfare to launch, from the author of “Penina’s Letters,” a new book, titled “end tatters,” coming this week. Below, we see the front and back covers, and the back gives a brief description of what’s inside: