Inventories

Part human, part deity, these working gods are restless. What happens when one wants out? Episodes of a god on the run, “Inventories” is now available in paperback book format. “Inventories” first appeared here, at The Coming of the Toads, near daily installments over several months in 2020, a quarantine exercise. The text was revised for this book publication first edition.

ASIN : B08VM82YRK
Publisher : Independently published (February 2, 2021)
Language : English
Paperback : 190 pages
ISBN-13 : 979-8702891125
Item Weight : 9.4 ounces
Dimensions : 5 x 0.48 x 8 inches

Where to Write

We often wax wasted writing what to write, how to write, why write at all. A refreshing sidebar might discuss where to write. We could compose while walking, a kind of no place to write, or allplace, which Wallace Stevens did, composing lines, poems, in his head as he walked from his rather palatial home through local paths through the park to his desk at the Hartford in New Haven where he transfigured from poet Wallace Stevens to Wally, Claims Manager. He wouldn’t forget his words from his morning walk commute. Hemingway said he could write anywhere, though maybe we are not as good writing in some places as others. In Cuba, Papa wrote standing up at a typewriter placed atop a casement or podium. During the war, Jacques Prévert wrote at sidewalk cafe tables in Paris, the leaves falling, one imagines, weather also being a kind of place, or, as Hemingway points out, place being a kind of weather. In any case, we sit down now to write this post in new writing digs. We have three choices of where to write in our current quarantined predicament, apart from the ubiquitous pocket notebook which with pen goes everywhere, for unlike Wally, we are poor at remembering our words, and must write them down or they disappear like birds out of the corner of the eye: the basement, the main floor, the upstairs. Since we write using an electric, we need to be near an outlet, and since the basement in winter is often damp, our choices where to plug-in quickly diminish to two. The living room is comfortable, with couch, no television, much light from windows, with a limited view of the sidewalk and street through the twisted branches of a giant rhododendron Cynthia. The kitchen is nearby, coffee refills within easy reach, and Susan will not have come down yet, and we sometimes gas up imagining what she might be dreaming, fuel for priming the writing carburetor. But we’ve moved to the upstairs back bedroom, now sitting at an old oak desk, three drawers on the right, a wide thin drawer across the sitting space, a pull out board on which in the old days someone might have set a manual typewriter. This desk is quite heavy, solid panelled sides and front, such that it must have been intended to sit in an open space, not against a wall, and it’s difficult to move around. It creaks complaints in various seams when jostled, and probably won’t withstand any more moves down the stairs. We’ve had it, at one time and another, in the basement and in different rooms on the main floor and upstairs. It presently sits at an angle off center toward the middle of the room, affording a view out a wide window facing east-northeast, over roofs and growing trees in the foreground, buildings nestled in trees and streets, lit at night, and, farther out, the opening of the Gorge, the Washington hills tapering down from the north, the Oregon Cascades steeping sharply down from the south. In the distant sky, airplanes can be seen coming in for landings at PDX. Down in the yards, closer in, birds are seen fittering, frittering, flittering, fluttering about: crows in the tops of the firs, flickers and jays lower down, hummingbirds, all sorts of bushtits and the like, flocks of them. The occasional racoon or possum at dawn or dusk, coming or going, though one must get up from the desk and go to the window to see those. This view is a distraction. This is not a good place to write. Back to the living room. One can’t get any writing done upstairs with a such a view that all one wants to do is to go out and fitter with the birds, not sit in and write.

The Anglers

They line the streets, sitting out at sidewalk cafes, watching the passersby, angling for what they might catch. Patiently they wait, nursing a coffee through a first frost morning, almost napping off over a warm afternoon beer, coming back in the evening for a smooth glass of purple pinot noir or a shot of postprandial espresso. The burbling, gurgling, murmuring river of cars drifts along, punctuated by busses and trucks, bicycles, pedestrians crossing, a cop on a Harley, a delivery truck snagged on a rock, three buskers in an open boat. The anglers move along too, changing spots, carrying their birdcages of verbs, baskets of nouns, hooks and swivels and spinners tucked in their tackle box notebooks. And I move upriver, looking for a new hole, so hungry I will not catch and release a cliche, but will pick out its bones and pan-fry the fillet in butterfat in a cast iron skillet.

Settings

Settings is everything. If you don’t get your settings under control you risk exposure to a crowd of marketeers and advertisers, scammers and schemers, grammarians and auditors, spelling and lingo specialists, APA and MLA experts and all sorts of self-appointed stylists, and there you are, slipping down swell after swell of pop ups as you fall into the troughs between paragraphs, your settings in disarray. Not that marketing or advertising are intrinsically bad or wrong. But you can’t just sit there. You must ensure fork and spoon and knife and teacup are correctly situated, properly placed, not to move them, mind you, but to observe their movement around the table. Just kidding, that – don’t know anybody frets over those settings anymore, but in writing, there seems to remain a force, a sitting army ready to be activated to a sentence disaster (run-on or fragment), a paragraph catastrophe (its topic sentence decapitated), a thesis statement emergency (no one in disagreement). Fonts and points are important though, for the setting of the hens relies on easily reached clucks and clicks and the broody trance setting in. Yet, if you want to be set completely free, the thing to do is disable, disarm, disengage, dissemble, disassemble. The problem we have been set is to first find settings and to then calibrate and if no pop ups appear, to celebrate. I don’t know what set me to thinking about settings, just sitting here, wondering if it’s worth getting into or not, the topic, floating on the open sea of writing, settings uncleated, set loose with pen and paper as with oar and boat, where propriety is indeed a kind of table setting so that the tea party does not go mad, rarely though all that useful navigating an open sea, a blank sheet, subject to the predicates of clockmaking winds.

Play Ball

By Workshop 5 I was workshop weary, having just come out of Workshop 4 more uncertain than ever about Sylvie’s 5 W’s of writing, not to mention the H: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. How to write. And why. And all the rest. I liked the folks in Workshop, but I wasn’t sure they had the 5 W’s or the H down anymore than I did, nor did Soto seem to, in spite of his credentials. From a young age he had wanted not simply to write but to be a writer, not necessarily a published writer, for just about anybody brought up on phonics could accomplish that, but a published writer of significance. He didn’t just want to play baseball (sandlot, or city softball league); he wanted to play shortstop for the LA Dodgers, or pitch closer for the New York Yankees, or announce play by play for the Yomiuri Giants (the first two being poetry, the other prose). Early success had not spoiled him, and he was lucky to escape injury, and he believed in himself and made it to the big leagues, if not at short or closer, the bullpen bench, success enough to sign his autograph to baseballs for kids before the game for a few years. And now he was calling play by play on the radio in writing workshops. But the workshop itself wasn’t writing, it was talking about writing – not at all the same thing; eating a hotdog with a beer in the outfield stands isn’t playing baseball. But it wasn’t that the talking of writing wasn’t helpful. It was. But it didn’t alter the fundamentals of confusion, of mistaking desire for touch. And then it came to me. Put down the pen, close the laptop, save the paper for the birdcage, the little notebook for grocery lists, things to do, reminders. I didn’t want to be a writer. What I really wanted to do was play baseball.

“Play Ball” is episode 80 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Notes on Writing

What we call the need to write can cause depression, and all kinds of other adverse reactions.

If one does not enjoy the act of writing without objectives, mission statement, goals, needs, then one should not write. Writing for that writer will be work.

The best writing comes from play.

There is no need to write. The feeling some may have of that need is an illusion, or a mask that is disguising some other need, which can only be satisfied by not writing.

Writing is not important, but that is not to say it is without consequence.

“Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can talk with him?” Zhuangzi.

from Artaud: “The whole literary scene is a pigpen, especially today. All those who have points of reference in their minds, I mean on a certain side of their heads, in well-localized areas of their brains, all those who are masters of their language, all those for whom words have meanings, all those for whom there exists higher levels of the soul and currents of thought, those who represent the spirit of the times, and who have named these currents of thought, I am thinking of their meticulous industry and of that mechanical creaking which their minds give off in all directions—are pigs.

Those for whom certain words have meaning, and certain modes of being, those who are so precise, those for whom emotions can be classified and who quibble over some point of their hilarious classifications, those who still believe in “terms,” those who discuss the ranking ideologies of the age, those whom women discuss so intelligently and the women themselves who speak so well and who discuss the currents of the age, those who still believe in an orientation of the mind, those who follow paths, who drop names, who recommend books—these are the worst pigs of all.

You are quite unnecessary, young man!”

“All writing is garbage.” But it’s garbage that’s interesting. And what, after all, is the purpose of garbage? When readers are like mushrooms?

To write well, one must learn to become someone else, the one who does not care.

Writing is learned while writing, and in no other way, yet a good writer is a good reader.

Writing comes not from words, but from smells and odors and tastes, sounds, itches and bites, still lifes. From kitchens and bathrooms (not libraries), from bedrooms, from basements and garages and attics, from alleys and vacant lots and abandoned dwellings.

Writing is like an unmade bed.

Bells, part 3, Relax

We should probably be wary of statements beginning with the pronouncement, “Never before, in the history of the world….”

Nevertheless, given our current world predicament, we might find ourselves in need of some relaxation – seemingly, like never before.

In his little book titled “How to Relax,” the monk Thich Nhat Hanh begins:

“You don’t need to set aside special time for resting and relaxing. You don’t need a special pillow or any fancy equipment. You don’t need a whole hour. In fact, now is a very good time to relax” (page 6, “How to Relax,” Parallax Press, 2015).

The same might be said for writing. You don’t need a fancy machine, a special desk or pen, or even a purpose. What you need – is a bell.

“There is tranquility, peace, and joy within us, but we have to call them forth so they can manifest. Inviting a bell to sound is one way to call forth the joy and tranquility within” (page 100).

Thich Nhat Hanh gives us a poem to remind us of the bell we want to listen for, to hear, to send out to others:

“Body, speech, and mind in perfect oneness,
I send my heart along with the sound of this bell.
May all the hearers awaken from forgetfulness,
and transcend the path of anxiety and sorrow” (page 100).

And we don’t need a fancy blog template or website to write. Again, nevertheless, here at The Coming of the Toads, I’ve experimented with a few of the WordPress templates over time. But what did I want, if not simply to write? This isn’t the only place, the only way, I write. I keep a pocket notebook in the left rear pocket of my pants (detail for readers in need), unlined because I like to doodle and wander. I keep a spiral notebook in a desk drawer. I started The Coming of the Toads, after a few hesitant starts, in December of 2007, and have posted something at least monthly since. Why then, lately, have I been having thoughts of ending it?

I wasn’t “inviting the bell.” Not Poe’s “the tintinabulation of the bells,” nor his “anger of the bells,” nor his “moaning and the groaning of the bells.” But the bell of the muse. I like this etymological note from Oxford: “Middle English: from Old French muser ‘meditate, waste time’, perhaps from medieval Latin musum ‘muzzle’.” Writing involves a good amount of self-muzzle, or should. First, we might want to relax. Invite the bell. Then take up the pen and notebook, or open the blog.

This is the third piece in a series on bells at The Coming of the Toads.

Coast Road Trip: Sans Pics

A perspicacious reader asked why I haven’t posted any pics from the road trip. I’m working on moving toward a new kind of blog, more like the one I started, back in December of 2007, which contained no pics, just short bursts of writing pleasure. I had in mind the kind of posts the venerable E. B. White wrote in the early New Yorker.

“From 1925 to 1976 he crafted more than eighteen hundred pieces for the magazine and established, in the words of editor William Shawn, “a new literary form.” That form was the magazine’s Comment essay—a personal essay that was, in White’s hands, light in style yet often weighty in substance. As White noted in a 1969 Paris Review interview, > I do feel a responsibility to society because of going into print: a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.

“Eighty-Five from the Archive: E. B. White,” by Erin Overbey, The New Yorker, June 7, 2010.

Not that I ever achieved anything everyone might call, “not lousy.” In any case, I drifted away, or off, and into a kind of academic stream, where I imagined I might augment my adjunct work at the time. And I tried to bring some attention to the books I was working on, both reading and writing. Then I began to work-in more slant, though never totally “false,” and found the proverbial bottom of the barrel when I started putting up some poetry. And I recently considered retiring The Coming of the Toads, leaving it to sink to the bottom of the archive abyss of the Internet, where some future crab scuttling along might find a few morsels to criticize.

E. B. White’s idea of the short, personal essay (note the importance of that comma) has been replaced in many blogs by the personal pic essay, with and without words, the latter like Beckett’s short play, “Act Without Words.” And I suspect more reading is done on phones these days than when I started The Coming of the Toads on a desktop computer back in ’07, and the phone and other smaller size formats encourage changes in aspect ratios of screen, pics, and writing. And thinking about that, I decided to remove this blog’s header pic, begin writing with a minimum of pics altogether, returning to the short, personal note or comment type essay. I even thought of a new tagline for the title space: The Coming of the Toads: No links, No likes, No comments. I know that sounds a bit anti-social, but what I’m aiming for is clarity, simplicity – a clean, well-lighted blog.

Besides, I don’t get many comments or likes, and many that I do get appear to be from spam and bots, and I lost all the pics I took on our recent trip, mistakenly thinking I had backed up my phone photos to Google Photos when I had not, in the meantime deleting all the photos from my phone, then crashing my Instagram account trying to retrieve what I had at least saved there. Seems poetic justice for an anti-social attitude.

Having at this point already exceeded my target word limit, not to mention having probably lost my target audience, those interested in hearing more about the Road Trip, I give you this portfolio of road trip pics, all taken by my sister Barbara and Susan as I was trying on the lighthouse keeper’s uniform jacket at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, north of Newport, trying to strike poses I imagined a lighthouse keeper might have aimed at were he the subject of a live, on the job photo shoot:

Note: Comments On for this post. Have fun!

Third Notes: berfrois in the Pacific Northwest

Writing grants access. To what? First, to one’s own thoughts, to one’s own experience. I wrote this; therefore, it happened to me, at least the writing of it did. So I have access to that, to the writing, another experience of the experience, another way to experience the experience. Are you experienced? Narrative becomes mirror, but like mirrors in a carnival funhouse. Writing is a ticket into that funhouse.

Can anyone write? Does anyone want to? In what has by now become a classic article that appeared in the May 26, 2008 New Yorker, Ian Frazier reflects on the years he spent volunteering at a soup kitchen, offering a writing workshop:

“Almost everybody who talked to me said they had some amazing stories to tell if they could only write them down. Many said that if their lives were made into books the books would be best-sellers. Some few had written books about their lives already, and they produced the manuscripts from among their belongings to show me. If you take any twelve hundred New Yorkers, naturally you’ll find a certain number of good musicians, skilled carpenters, gifted athletes, and so on; you’ll also come up with a small percentage who can really write. Lots of people I talked to said they were interested in the workshop; a much smaller number actually showed up. Some attended only one session, some came back year after year. In all, over fourteen years, maybe four hundred soup-kitchen guests have participated.”

We could all of course at least tell of our teeth. Stephen did, wandering wondering what he did:

“He  took the hilt of his ashplant, lunging with it softly, dallying still. Yes, evening will find itself in me, without me. All days make their end. By the way next when is it Tuesday will be the longest day. Of all the glad new year, mother, the rum tum tiddledy tum. Lawn Tennyson, gentleman poet. GIA. For the old hag with the yellow teeth. And Monsieur Drumont, gentleman journalist. GIA. My teeth are very bad. Why, I wonder. Feel. That one is going too. Shells. Ought I go to a dentist, I wonder, with that money? That one. This. Toothless Kinch, the superman. Why is that, I wonder, or does it mean something perhaps?”

Today is Tuesday, and AWP19 setup begins tomorrow. We’ve to move the “heavy” boxes of “Berfrois the Book” and “Queen Mob’s Teahouse, teh Book” from distribution depot closer to the Oregon Convention Center to coordinate the retail flow that will surely follow Thursday with setup complete and the Bookfair opens. The rain has let up today. The sun is out, the sky blue. Good weather for moving books. Don’t have that problem on line. Move books anywhere, anytime, instantly. Nice to have something physical to do though, lay the hands on. Honest labor. Meanwhile the travels and travails of today’s Portlanders continues, as one generation slows down and another honks its horn, stuck in traffic.

What is Portland famous for? A question I was asked yesterday. Vanport. Jazz. Homelessness. The Attic Institute: A Haven for Writers. Street Potholes. Neighborhoods, sitting out, libraries. Coffee houses, pubs. Powell’s Books. Dentists? Not so much. Marijuana dispensaries:

“The chemist turned back page after page. Sandy shrivelled smell he seems to have. Shrunken skull. And old. Quest for the philosopher’s stone. The alchemists. Drugs age you after mental excitement. Lethargy then. Why? Reaction. A lifetime in a night. Gradually changes your character. Living all the day among herbs, ointments, disinfectants. All his alabaster lilypots. Mortar and pestle. Aq. Dist. Fol. Laur. Te Virid. Smell almost cure you like the dentist’s doorbell. Doctor Whack. He ought to physic himself a bit. Electuary or emulsion. The first fellow that picked an herb to cure himself had a bit of pluck. Simples. Want to be careful. Enough stuff here to chloroform you. Test: turns blue litmus paper red. Chloroform. Overdose of laudanum. Sleeping draughts. Lovephiltres. Paragoric poppysyrup bad for cough. Clogs the pores or the phlegm. Poisons the only cures. Remedy where you least expect it. Clever of nature.”

Writes in his head, does Bloom. Blooming thoughts. Should have been a writer. Too cryptic. Where does the intellectual meet the body? In the mouth:

STEPHEN: See? Moves to one great goal. I am twentytwo. Sixteen years ago he was twentytwo too. Sixteen years ago I twentytwo tumbled. Twentytwo years ago he sixteen fell off his hobbyhorse. (HE WINCES) Hurt my hand somewhere. Must see a dentist. Money?

This post is the third in a series with notes on AWP19 and the concurrent publication of the Berfrois and QM’sT books. I’m reading through the Berfrois anthologies this week and commenting on the writing and the conference as the week wears on. Sumana Roy had a nice write up in the Mumbai Diary following news of Berfrois books. She gives great Kudos to Berfrois editor Daniel Bosch. Now there’s a writing workshop!

Second Notes on “Berfrois the Book,” “Queen Mob’s Teahouse: Teh Book,” and AWP19: Lonely, the Book

One day, almost ten years ago, down at the Bipartisan Café, in Montavilla, reading on my laptop, I was gobsmacked to find someone had published on their site a piece I’d recently written for my blog, The Coming of the Toads. At the time, I’d not yet heard of Berfrois or its editor Russell Bennetts. Now, with book publications “Befrois the Book” and “Queen Mob’s Teahouse: Teh Book” (Dostoyevsky Wannabe Original, 2019), Berfrois opens a new wing in its reach for readers and writers.

This week, the annual Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference is being held here in Portland. Berfrois will have a table in the book fair, the new books available for perusal, purchase, on display.

Ten years is already a long life for an enterprise devoted to and sustaining a “literary-intellectual online magazine” – that updates daily, no less. And Berfrois has managed to remain ad free while adding writers and readers, expanding its original format and content, publishing in addition to poetry, fiction, essays, photography, and notes and comment from around the Web, books in Ebook format: “’Relentless’ by Jeff Bezos,’” and “Poets for Corbyn,” for example.

Yet those same ten years have seen the continued growth of “the reading crisis,” and the “death of blogs,” debate over online versus paper reading, argument over possible decline in reading abilities and skills, and the perceived watering down of the value of a Humanities degree. Higher education is, in the opinion of many, in turmoil as increasingly news appears of schools turning to business models, cutting traditional programs, and even turning to sketchy recruiting schemes as revealed in the recent college admission crisis story, and all the while tuitions and fees rising while the whole edifice relying more and more on an adjunct workforce unable to sustain itself on local economies. What’s a writer to do?

You might move to New York, or get an MFA. That’s a choice? Or do both? Elizabeth Bishop did, sort of. She moved to New York and began teaching in a program, the “U.S.A. School of Writing.” It was a correspondence course, the kind that used to advertise on the back of a book of matches. Having just graduated college, Bishop was in New York during the Great Depression:

“Perhaps there seemed to be something virtuous in working for much less a year than our educations had been costing our families….” [but] “It was here, in this noisome place, in spite of all I had read and been taught and thought I knew about it [writing] before, that the mysterious, awful power of writing first dawned on me. Or, since ‘writing’ means so many different things, the power of the printed word, or even that capitalized Word whose significance had previously escaped me and then made itself suddenly, if sporadically, plain….”

What Bishop is talking about is “Loneliness.”

“In the case of my students, their need was not to ward off society but to get into it…Without exception, the letters I received were from people suffering from terrible loneliness in all its better-known forms, and in some I had never even dreamed of.”

(The New Yorker, July 18, 1983, retrieved 25Mar19 via TNY on-line archive available to subscribers).

With a few small changes, Bishop’s article might have been written by an adjunct instructor in today’s education marketplace. It seems unlikely though that the attendees I’ll see around AWP19 will all be lonely. But how’s a mere reader to know?

…to be continued.

This post is the second in a series. I’m reading through the Berfrois anthologies this week and commenting on the writing and the conference as the week wears on.

Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer”

Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” contains everything Hemingway left out of “The Sun Also Rises,” which had left Ernest with the tincture of  a refined sentiment. That is one difference between the Jazz Age and the Great Depression. Turned out, we didn’t always have Paris; most of us never had it. From page 1 of Miller: “I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.”

I don’t remember when I first read “Tropic of Cancer,” probably ’68 or ’69. From my notes written on the back of the last page and inside the back book cover:

art sing 1
Liby 36
whore – Germaine 40-43
Popini 58
artist 60
America 86
change 87-90
room dream 114-116
woman want 117 (45, 26)
pimp & whore 143-144
Matisse 146-149
Russia America 154
working with boss 158
mona 160-166 (smile)
Paris 162-188
book 163
moon 167
paragraph (style) 167, 202, 216
converse 171
army 200
Whitman 216
gold standard 219
writer 224
what’s in the hole 225
earth 225, 226
idols 228
task of artist 228
inhuman 230
art 229-280
human 231-259 (view on goodreads)

“Tropic of Cancer” was first published in France, 1934, Obelisk Press.
My edition is First Black Cat Edition 1961 Fifteenth Printing B-10, $1.25.
Introduction c 1959 by Karl Shapiro first appeared in “Two Cities” Paris, France.
Preface by Anais Nin, 1934.
No ISBN appears in the book, but the number “394-17760-6” appears on the bottom right of back cover.

Yes, trying to do something with Goodreads for the new year. I’ll be putting up short reviews like the one above from some of my old reads.