The signal:noise on this #instapoet kerfuffle has summoned the chronically lame “poetry is/was dying” revenant art takes.
Poets: your chosen art has never been & will never be popular. This is fine!
You cannot argue whether something is or is not art. There is no platonic form for this abstraction. You may choose to discuss the phenomenology of a work of art, but once wrought, it is immutable, warts & all. I might even argue that life begins at conception for art & similar abstractions.
I once had a spirited discussion about Crime & Punishment with a professor. We were discussing Raskolnikov’s guilty conscience & the professor asked me to identify the moment that this guilt manifested. After a bit of study I determined that it occurred before he even committed his crime.
He gave a sudden start; another thought, that he had had yesterday, slipped back into his mind. But he did not start at the thought recurring to him, for he knew, he had felt beforehand, that it must come back, he was expecting it; besides it was not only yesterday’s thought. The difference was that a month ago, yesterday even, the thought was a mere dream: but now… now it appeared not a dream at all, it had taken a new menacing and quite unfamiliar shape, and he suddenly became aware of this himself.… He felt a hammering in his head, and there was a darkness before his eyes.Crime & Punishment, Fyodor Doestoevsky
Art has never had anything to do with taste. Art is descriptive. Taste is prescriptive. If you are arguing whether something should be “considered art” you are gatekeeping via taste, and you are not talking about art, or poetry, or punk music. You’re talking about how certain people are worth less to you. That’s capitalism, not artistry.
Will history care what hill you chose to die on when it #instapoetry came knocking at the gates? Should you?
“The time of getting fame for your name on its own is over. Artwork that is only about wanting to be famous will never make you famous. Any fame is a by-product of making something that means something. You don’t go to a restaurant and order a meal because you want to have a shit.” Banksy
My increasing material nihilism has resulted in predictable existential nihilistic philosophies. The fun part is that there superficially clear contradictions between what I enjoy materially & what I think existentially. There’s a part of Cities in Flight by James Blish, where he describes humans as “local anomalies in the second law of thermodynamics” which, for years, I thought was a pretty exceptional way to describe the uniqueness & importance of humanity. However, the more I observe humanity, the more misanthropic I become. I guess we are unique & important, but in vice, not virtue. We’re less anomalous, but rather more efficient at contributing to the entropy of a system. Earth was doing fine until colonialism & the industrial revolution basically trashed the place in a couple hundred years.
How do humans make the universe a better place? This is a fundamentally flawed qualitative question, philosophically (what is ‘better’?), but nevertheless quickly gets to the point of contention. The typical mitigation offered to balance the entropy we constantly impose upon the material world is our achievements of conscience. Our work in philosophy, art, literature, music, science. The results of our sentience, sapience, and sagacity are all of these great things!
This is an almost tautological selfish fallacy. We aren’t bad because we do good things. But the good things we do can only be appreciated by other humans (who might not!), while the bad things we do affect our entire world. The passenger pigeon will not feel transcendent when it hears music because 1) as far as we know, critters can’t experience that emotion and 2) we killed them all. Polar bears will be extinct in my lifetime because of human-driven climate change. Do the sum of the achievements of humanity balance the harm we do? I’d rather have polar bears than poetry. Even our achievements are an increase in entropy.
Why do anything, then? It doesn’t matter either way, really. Whatever you do is going to end up dust. An ethical nihilist, I guess, would be someone who attempts to limit the entropy they add to a system, even though they know it’s a futile task.
This past year was a tough one. The first half was spent on high alert with a project that went widdershins & the second half was spent failing to recover from being dumped by the woman I wanted to marry. Relationships with my mom & a once good friend are now soured because they consistently provided the opposite of emotional support after this occurred. My kid has some behavioral issues at school & communication with his mom remains close to non-existent.
I know that many other parts of my life are just fine & that I’m privileged and ahead of the game compared to many other people. I have exceptional coworkers & an intelligent & sweet child. I can pay all of my bills, donate to charity, and volunteer with a non-profit. That doesn’t change the fact that I can’t summon the energy to seek happiness anymore. Getting dumped broke my heart & it still hurts too much to poke around inside to figure out how to fix it.
I’m trying to find some goals to grasp on to for 2018 where success and failure are in my control. I’m hoping that will help me feel better.
Lose 20 pounds, get into shape, & complete a sprint triathlon
I plan to track diet & exercise to reach this goal.
Learn the basics of machine learning/neural networks to build a poetry generator
There are online tutorials to get me through the first part, the second piece will be a bit more seat-of-the-pants, but I look forward to some creative problem-solving.
That’s all I have had the energy to come up with. Sorry for all of the complaining.
Man. I don’t know how to clearly write about this; it will be long & messy. I’ve spent a few weeks thinking about the gestalt of the sexual assault & harassment stories that have permeated the news. At first I was happy to see that serial offenders, who had used their power corruptly, were receiving actual consequences for their actions. At the same time, I felt like the consequences were being enacted by uninvolved, non-authoritative parties. I think now that my perceptions there we formed by the way the stories were framed in the media. To be honest, I think the decisions were made because it’s just good business to virtue signal in this way. They are shocked, shocked to find gambling going on here!
I’m still unsure how I feel about this kind of moral justice. I go back, again and again, to my Catholic upbringing:
Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
John 8:1–11, KJV
And now see that I’ve probably missed a few points in this lesson. I’ve always taken it to mean simply: You, a sinner, should not condemn others who sin. Yet this is only a wise moral function when you have the power, and the accused does not. Withholding condemnation of those who abuse their power perpetuates that abuse.
I do not begrudge the anger and sense of vicarious vengeance that women are feeling as these powerful men are held to account. Injustice should always be appropriately addressed. Yet at the same time, I am looking for, but not seeing a path of mercy or restorative justice available here. Maybe it’s there and I’m missing it? More likely, I think, is that this is just white guys finally getting a taste of what women & minorities have lived with for thousands of years. If I understand this paradigm correctly, I am worried about it. I want to assume that our goal as ethical, empathetic beings is to create a society where institutionalized forms of oppression cease to exist because all people are looking out for all people. That’s tough though, because we’re tribal & clique-ish by nature. Vengeance and vigilantism are tribal behaviors. So while I do not begrudge the feelings, I also do not know what goal they progress us toward.
For children are innocent and love justice; while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.
Of all the powerful or carnivorous animals… the wolf seems to have been the most important for the Indo-European warriors. Reflexes of the old word wlkwo, “wolf,” are found in literally hundreds of proper names, and [in the names of] numerous peoples, such as the Luvians, Lycians, [et cetera]…Stories of lycanthropy are well known among the Greeks, Romans, Germans, Celts, Anatolians, and Iranians, and these would seem to be traceable to these ancient warrior practices.
In Germanic myth and legend, say Brown and Anthony, these feral war-bands “are called Männerbünde… a label often applied [by scholars] to all similar Indo-European institutions.” Männerbünde means “men-league,” league of men.
Toward their conclusion, Brown and Anthony speculate on the psychological benefits of a symbolic transformation into a beast of prey. The wolf warriors, they surmise, “would feel no guilt for breaking the taboos of human society because they had not been humans [at the time].”
Finding some way to deal with guilt must have been crucial, not only for individual members of the leagues but for their societies as a whole. This is because membership in the Männerbünde lasted only for a set period. If you were still alive at the end of that time, you had to integrate yourself back into your old community. In order to perform the roles society now needed you to perform — family man, working stiff — you had to shed your tainted and bloody savage identity.
For some, this would have been impossible, no matter what psychological mechanisms were deployed to help. But many others must have managed the reintegration well enough. The rotation back into normalcy is documented in the Vedic texts: “At the end of four years, there was a final sacrifice to transform the dog-warriors into responsible adult men who were ready to return to civil life. They discarded and destroyed their old clothes and dog skins. They became human once again.”
A few days ago, on my 37th birthday, I woke from a nightmare into a panic attack about my father’s emotional and physical abuse. Stuff that happened 24 years ago! I chose to not interact with him after I was 13. He’s dead now. I haven’t consciously felt any need to deal with it for years. But that trauma is still inside & hops out always unexpected. So while I might not be able to empathize with the particulars of a trauma, I know what it is like to be subjected to it in general.
There’s no time limit on trauma, and people don’t seem to be very good at acknowledging that or helping others deal with their own. The entirety of the article I quoted above is worth reading. It offers a well constructed anthropological argument that humans have essentially been punting on how to deal with the trauma caused by “men as wolves” for longer than recorded history. Societies give men tacit permission to inflict any manner of destruction, but no tools for processing what they inflict or receive. I have shared deeply held, vulnerable feelings with close friends and family this year, and have been told by on multiple occasions, by women, to suck it up and be a man.
I also see the amplification something like this receives:
and the popularity of #menaretrash and I get really frustrated. This kind of behavior is functionally no different than persecution that’s been directed at women forever. It comes from trauma, but just creates more. Everyone’s life is a teachable moment. If men are trash, and not supposed to learn from the experiences that women have, then how are we supposed to get better? Many men are not equipped to figure this out on our own. Many of us lack any sort of emotional support network for our own troubles, and typically people don’t look to men to provide emotional support. I don’t know how else people are supposed to grow and understand each other as a community, if not by learning about each other’s lives, being open to that sharing, understanding that harm will happen, and being willing to accept and work through when it does.
I don’t know that anyone is good at interpersonal healing right now. The trend continues toward polarization in all things. I am naturally inclined toward cooperation & peacemaking. I want to welcome the repentant & prodigal back into the family. But healing & forgiveness can only occur when all sides want it. While I’m quite motivated to create accord in most things, I have almost zero interest in healing & forgiveness when people hurt me deeply. At the same time, I have no desire to call them out on it. After I jumped out of my dad’s car, he was dead to me. It’s been the same way with anyone who has betrayed my trust on a fundamental level: friends, family, & partners. That’s probably not healthy, it’s definitely not healing, & I think it relates directly to what people refer to when they speak of toxic and/or fragile masculinity. But I’ve got no other tools to deal with it.
I like to think I’m pretty good at solving problems, but not in this case. I’m unsure what tools I need, and have not had good experiences when I have asked for help in learning to be more deft with the ones I have. I’m not even sure most folks are interested in developing restorative/redemptive methods to heal divisions of any stripe. It’s way easier to just say ‘fuck ‘em’.
I have no conclusions. I don’t even know where to go from here.
My 9 year old son & I finally took a family vacation back in August. I’m hoping he’ll remember this trip, unlike some of the other adventures we’ve been on. We were gone a week, put 3330 miles on my car & had a pretty awesome time. I left my work phone at home; I couldn’t tell you the last time I was fully unplugged from a job. I can tell you the last time I took a vacation that wasn’t to spend time family: 1998, when I took a week long school trip to Mexico over spring break. Maybe I’ll actually take an adult vacation one of these days.
The dog went to my friend for the week.
I obtained a citizens band radio, antenna, & a copy of the same CB slang dictionary I had as a child.
I obtained 2 disposable color cameras for my son, & 1 disposable black & white camera for me. The photos in this post are from that camera, except for the ones at the end which are from my smartphone.
I made a bunch of sandwiches & filled a cooler with those & water bottles. Eating on the road is expensive. Also plenty of snacks.
Tent, sleeping bags, changes of clothes
A flask of bourbon
Day 1 — Chicago & Westward
I got up a bit after 5, loaded the car, & woke up the kid about 10 minutes before 6. He got dressed, used the bathroom, & we were on the road by 6:05am. Driving from Cleveland to Chicago is expensive. A tank of gas & $20+ in tolls later & we arrived at the Soldier Field parking garage ($22 base rate) to visit The Field Museum of Natural History ($36). Abraham & I enjoyed the large collection of meteorites & looking at a full Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil, but both of us felt a great presence of colonialism, as much of the museum consists of artifacts “discovered” & transported from their point of origin. En route to Chicago, my son got on the CB as “Kung Fu Kat” & requested a traffic report using the slang dictionary. It was hilarious.
Back on the road & headed toward Wisconsin. Abraham was just happy to visit a bunch of States he’d never been in before, but I was eager to get to some sort of Wisconsin Cheese House™ so I could obtain, if I was lucky, some New Glarus Brewery Wisconsin Belgian Red ale, my favorite beer of all time. We stopped at the Mousehouse Cheesehaus& my dream came true. I purchased the 3 bottles they had left in stock & kept them in the cooler for the next 6 days.
Right after Abraham finished one of my sandwiches, we got pulled over. We got out of a ticket, I think, because my son had dried mustard all over his face & was cute & chatty with her about going to South Dakota. A few hours later (15 hours after leaving Cleveland) we arrived the Jackson, MNKOA, where an outdoor karaoke night was in full swing. This day wasn’t bad, I just knew it was going to be long & nutty — it did not disappoint. We passed out.
Day 2 — Tourist Trapped & Okay With It
& were up at 6 & back on the road to South Dakota. South Dakota is a magical land where the speed limit is 80mph. Don’t go over the speed limit or you’ll get pulled over. I got a warning here as well; the trooper said since the speed limit is 80, they don’t give any leeway. It was really cool how crossing the Missouri river resulted in an immediate change in the landscape as well as an immediate presence of billboards & their siren songs for all the various tourist traps that we ended up visiting. This included:
We stopped here on a whim — I love their old school signage. Epitome of a middle-of-nowhere tourist trap, but we received some amazing intel on how to spend our 2 days in the area from the old couple running the place. If it weren’t for them I might have skipped the Badlands or Devil’s Tower, and that would have been a huge mistake.
Some Prairie Dog Place That’s Not on the Map
My prior experience with prairie dogs was an old-ass video game shooter. They are basically blonde groundhogs. We stopped here so that my son could take a few pictures.
I had no idea this was so close to Mount Rushmore, or I would have put it on the list in the first place. Thankfully the folks at the Badlands Petrified Gardens encouraged us to take the scenic route. After so much prairie, driving over a hill into a completely different landscape was a moment of unexpected awe. We’d been through an awful lot of driving and seen an awful lot of stuff, but this is when Abraham said “Dad, this trip just went to the next level!” The Badlands are not a place I would want to be lost and without water.
If you took all the signs for Wall Drug scattered across South Dakota, and assembled them, you might end up with enough to make another Wall Drug. Wall Drug is huge, so imagine how many signs we saw? There’s no real reason to stop here, other than to say that you stopped there.
We were worn out by the time we stopped here. All there really is to do here is the photo op & it was nearly impossible to get a good picture out of either of us do to worn-out-ness. The most interesting part was learning that the site is also known as Six Grandfathers & is sacred to the Lakota Sioux. They are not pleased with the guys carved into it.
We spent a great two nights here, definitely recommend it as a spot to camp if you’re in the area.
We stopped into to this pizza shack for dinner, it was full of bikers from the Sturgis Rally. One of those spots where people write notes on $1 bills and staple them to the wall. Notable only because the table we sat at had a $1 from someone from my hometown.
Day 3 — Devil’s Tower, WY& A Hail Storm From Hell
Abraham somehow knew that Devil’s Tower was out this way & he talked me into the 3 hour round-trip drive to see it. I was about driven-out by this point, but I’m glad I took his advice. It was an amazing piece of geology & unfortunate that the name is a mistranslation. This site is like the Vatican for the Lakota Sioux & 22 (?) other indigenous folks. It’s really called Big Bear Lodge (or something to that effect, the word for bear & the word for evil spirit apparently sound similar if you’re not paying good attention). We spent most of the morning here & got back to camp in the early afternoon. We’d mainly been eating out of packed food from a cooler, but went to a restaurant nearby for dinner.
As we left, a hail storm hit the area. This was something very different from every other hail storm I’d experienced. I thought it was going to crack the windows on our car. It ended up leaving about 110 dents & doing $1500 worth of damage to the vehicle.
We arrived back at camp & my awesome tent had withstood the storm with aplomb. We hurried inside & it grew dark and stormed all night long. I’ve never experienced a storm of this ferocity. My son slept like a log through the whole thing, but I don’t know how. I felt like we were inside the thunder. It inspired this poem. I’ll never forget it.
We drove all day. South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri. Camped in Missouri and had some of the best southern food I’ve had at the Tin Kitchen in Weston, MO. Took our first showers in 4 days in the nicest showers I’ve ever seen in a state park. Happy Centennial Missouri State Parks!
Day 5 — Saint Louis Pizza & New Harmonie State Park
We went to the arch, of course, but the real reason we hit St. Louis was so I could have a St. Louis-style pizza, which is the archetype of pizza. The quintessence of pizza remains Pizza King, but as for its progenitors: the mother is clearly St. Louis & the father likely Chicago. It was about 95° & 90% humidity, so we headed over to Indiana, where, if not any cooler, was at least shadier. New Harmonie State Park reminded me very much of Whitewater State Park, where I spent much of my childhood. We followed the sounds of a barred owl deep into the woods. It started to rain, but the tree cover kept us dry & we saw a couple of deer who didn’t see us.
Day 6 — Mammoth Cave & Wigwam Village #2
Mammoth Cave was the last big stop on our trip. The boy was too excited to realize how tired he was, which is good, because we explored all around the cave and managed a great tour of the best bits of the cave before we spent the rest of the day laying in bed at our motel. Wigwam Village #2 was built in 1937 & the ceiling fan almost electrocuted me. The shower was like a pressure washer, and much appreciated. Although the tackiness of the motel now is quite clearly politically incorrect, the place is owned by Indians. From India. Can you taste that flavor? That’s the flavor of America.
Day 7 — Harveysburg, OH& Home
The final day was just a 6 hour drive back to Cleveland, with one stop on the way, in Harveysburg, OH. We covered over 3000 miles in just about a week, with not even the smallest disagreement, until about 3 miles from home when I made my son try to do the math on how many miles we averaged per day. He sat next to me in the front seat almost the whole way, and everything we talked about was important. I wouldn’t change a thing.
I’ve lived in Cleveland for nearly 15 years now, & in all of that time, the city & its people have been, through existential trial & error, trying to taxonomize what it means to be Cleveland. All of them should have visited Steve’s Lunch before it burned.
There are a few who have me beat, but, for the most part, I’ve been to more places in more neighborhoods than people who’ve lived here their whole lives. The common denominator, when you wipe away all the branding & internet-era posturing to reveal the rusted heart at our core, is a moderately exasperated politesse. Clevelanders are busy, we’re in a hurry, we know what we’re doing, we don’t have time for your shit, but we aren’t gonna be jerks about it.
We’ll hold the door just long enough for it to not close in your face; we’ll throw up our hands at a senior citizen who probably shouldn’t be on the road, and impatiently give them the right of way. We’ll serve up a completely unpretentious hot dog, on a cheap plastic plate that’s been cursorily washed 10,000 times in 15 years, that changes your life when the stadium mustard smears across your tongue.
Steve’s Lunch is where I went when I had $20 to spend on a night out & could buy a hot dog with my last two dollars at 3AM. It burned before I could introduce my son to the place, but we’re regular enough at Steve’s Diner that the staff knows us on sight & the Pepsi is waiting for us when we sit down. We grouse with the staff about weather & homework & bills & split a plate of fries. Steve’s is where I go when I’m lonely or in need of comfort, & where I head when all I have time for is a hot dog.
That hot dog could be dim sum; or pierogi; or ribs barbecued in a converted 50-gallon drum & served up without a permit at an abandoned gas station. The core of Cleveland, that no amount of luxury condos or new coats of paint can obscure, is a lack of pretension. Dandelions like Steve’s are in every neighborhood; lifting their yellow heads & growling at whatever Cleveland supposedly is this week.
We’ve seen so many grand gestures & prophets of prosperity descend from the clouds to save Cleveland, using money & influence to change entire swathes of our neighborhoods. The loudest story is that we need to be saved. We do our best to obscure the fact that we serve up little bits of salvation every day.