It’s a tiny little business.

"The biggest single problem since 1980 has been that the publishing industry has been led by the nose by the retail sector. The industry analyzes its strategies as though it were Procter and Gamble. It’s Hermès. It’s selling to a bunch of effete, educated snobs who read. Not very many people read. Most of them drag their knuckles around and quarrel and make money. We’re selling books. It’s a tiny little business. It doesn’t have to be Walmartized."

-Andrew Wylie, interviewed in New Republic

Albuquerque

The idea was the lavender of Albuquerque,
to depart from two airports and converge
in a desert city with central meaninglessness
and we had two tickets for that meaninglessness.

One minute I am standing
beside you, parallel in blue
and the next a pain shoots through you
I don’t understand
until I feel it, too.

I have not been entirely honest.

Albuquerque did mean something to me.

It was the imaginary final destination of all our vacations
when I asked my father where we were going.
We’re going to Albuquerque he said
even when we were only going to Mr. Lucky’s Restaurant.

And just now I remember he was still alive when all this happened.

So I must have told him I was going to Albuquerque,
to see the great mystery city of childhood,
which would also have been dishonest.
I was going for many reasons,
not the least of which was your astonished dark hair
against a white sheet in an adobe room.

When I was young I found a letter in a garbage can
written to my father and it was not from my mother.

Grounded, I drove down to where you were.
A hurricane hedged its bets inside the Gulf of Mexico,
and when it passed with no discernable damage
we read Calvino’s Cosmicomics aloud to one another
in parks in afternoons in twilight in the spectrum of lavender.

It was night. Everything was just beginning.

Was this about the formation of our universe?
Was this just about the Big Bang?
Was this about all points of departure?
Was this about all final destinations?

Look how far apart we are now.
My father is dead.
As the man sang: Your signature is red.

I did drive through Albuquerque in a later spring,
when I had finally gathered the mass required to crush
a heart openly.
I descended into Albuquerque at night
in the turbulent vortices between big rigs,
and the idea of Albuquerque’s lavender remained an idea,
because I couldn’t see it
and I couldn’t smell it
and I couldn’t touch it
and Albuquerque was just a flat, black pit in an unfinished valley,
its grid a reflecting pool for old and older stars,
like driving across the floor of a child’s mind imagining Albuquerque.

Still life with shimmers.

The Year of the Fire

When Julie was fifteen, she spent a year abroad in Spain. A week after she left, her parent’s home burned to the ground. No one was injured. The fire started in a neighbor’s renovation next door, but spread easily up the row of narrow old homes, and after two hours battling the blaze, the fire department declared their house a complete loss. It was a breaking news story shot from a helicopter and never followed-up on again. Though she didn’t know it, Julie owned more in her suitcase in Spain than her parents or younger brother owned in San Francisco. The academy in Spain had a policy about acclimating the students to the program, which meant they could not communicate with anyone in the States for the first three weeks of their residency. It was known among faculty as a period of intense and unstable bonds for the students. Because of this, Julie learned of her family’s disaster some time after they had adjusted to the rituals of their displacement. Her parents had moved on from the disorienting trauma and into the rhythm of inconvenience and pragmatic survival, feeling the comforts of home like a cramp in a phantom limb. Occasionally they turned onto a street which would lead them to the gutted house instead of  the friends’ house, where they were living. They thought of wearing outfits which had gone to ash. Her father would look at the watch on his wrist and think of the others in his collection with their cracked and blackened faces and wonder why this one over the others should survive. Julie could have deferred her enrollment and returned in a year, but in truth it was convenient she was away. With Julie gone, her parents could rent a smaller apartment during the reconstruction, something more affordable. It would take almost the entire year to rebuild. Because her parents were past the initial shock of the loss, the Facetime conversation was more sedate than it might have otherwise been. If it had happened earlier, her parents would have called her home in an instinct to gather all that remained, to bring her within some imaginary boundary of safety, where they could affirm a wholeness. When they eventually told her, she wanted details they were beyond providing. Her step-mother answered almost any question that would help her see the house by saying, “it’s gone Jules, all of it’s gone,” though Julie only wanted a few small, concrete details to make it real. One insurance photo would have sufficed. Her bedroom had been a hot spot in the fire. It was closest to the redwood deck which had first ignited. She had one dream about it and only one dream: The fire letting itself in the sliding glass door. After that, she took her parents at their equanimity. It was hard to force the feeling of a deeper absence of a place when she was already absent from the place. So she let it go. The reconstruction was complete a week before she was due home. They rebuilt the house with the same floorplan as the original, though there had been the possibility of renovations and re-imagined rooms. By the time Julie returned home from Spain, the house was the same and not the same. It was a shell of familiar spaces without the wear due the familiarity. It smelled of new paint and hardwood floor varnish. The livingroom’s flatscreen was larger. Her room was her room without evidence of her, as though a cleaning service had been too thorough. The wrong furniture was in the right places. And in a way, Julie fit perfectly with the new house. She came home with the subtle physical changes of time and her Spanish adventure. Her parents had come to expect all that would be returned to them would be returned to them in a new form. Her small unfamiliaritities felt anticipated, a part of the portfolio of loss and restitution. Not all were obvious (the short hair, the habit of lining her lips), but what was hidden (fumbling frottage with an Irish boy, the ill of a Portuguese Rioja) was also part of the gap. The fire had also made her an expatriate of her family. Aligned on the couch, the brother half her age nestled against impending bedtime, she saw herself outside the year of their displacement. Their referent was a disaster she had missed, and somehow, that was her fault.

Free the Free Gold Watch!

If you haven’t visited it yet, Free Gold Watch on Waller at Stanyan in the Upper Haight is an incredible pinball arcade and screen printing shop. Now it seems they’re under fire over a complaint lodged by a neighbor. If you’ve ever visited Free Gold Watch, you know it’s a friendly, fun place to socialize while chasing the silver ball.

Want to help save a thriving neighborhood business and little beating heart of the gaming community? Read on:

From Per, of sfpins.org:

I am writing you on behalf of Matt at FGW. As you may know, someone has lodged a complaint over FGW, and Matt now has to jump through a few legal hoops in order to keep FGW as a pinball haven in SF. He will go to a hearing on 2/18 at City Hall, and has asked us, the members of SFPD, to write letters of support stating why we love and need FGW, and why it is so important to us. These letters/emails will hopefully help sway the folks in charge in the right direction.

The deadline for letters of support is by 2/13, so please take a few minutes and jot something down. It does not have to be long. Send it to Matt@freegoldwatch.com no later than 2/13.

My letter on why pinball at in San Francisco matters:

As a 10-year resident and homeowner in the Cole Valley/Upper Haight neighborhood, I respectfully urge you not to close or change Free Gold Watch. In a city with increasing tensions over income disparity, real estate development, and a perceived divide between small, local business and Silicon Valley giants, Free Gold Watch represents precisely the type of business San Francisco needs to encourage. 

Aside from providing local businesses and organizations with quality screen printing, Free Gold Watch serves as a rare and vital social center for people all over the San Francisco. While I suspect some seedy perceptions of arcades from the 70s and 80s may be bundled up in this complaint against Free Gold Watch, they’re unfounded. 

Pinball is one of the few affordable, casual, low-commitment social recreation opportunities in the city. Whether you’re a tech executive catching the Google Bus just up Stanyan or a homeless kid bumming change on Haight, two quarters grants you equal access to a little entertainment and conversation. Regardless of age, status, income, or race, all it takes is a little pocket change, a set of electronic rules, and simple physics level and balance our stratified city.

As we wait for MUNI, we stare into our phones. At coffee shops we work on our laptops. Bars exclude the young and restaurants exclude the poor. Who does Free Gold Watch exclude? I have met my neighbors, I have watched a small business thrive as others disappear. What justification is there for punishing an enterprise so fundamentally good for the people of San Francisco?

Please free Free Gold Watch from the burden of this complaint.  

Sincerely,

Eric Raymond
XX XXXX St., San Francisco, CA 94117
(XXX) XXX-XXXX
eric@ericraymond.com

The Part-time Jobs of San Francisco

An experiment in serial fiction and Medium:

https://medium.com/p/8a5f7629339c

Also what I’ll likely be reading from this February 1st at the Bernal Yoga Literary Series. Details here.

a/k/a Family History

"Hawking argued that even after a black hole has totally evaporated it would leave behind its central, infinitely dense point known as the singularity, in which information would be lost forever."

-Jon Cartwright, “Information ‘not lost’ in black holes

Finally, Your Form is Dead

“Writing is a way of living. It doesn’t quite matter that there are too many books for the number of readers in the world to read them. It’s a way of being alive, for the writer.”

— Rachel Kushner (by way of Matt Bell’s blog)

A way of being alive.

Of course this is different than a way of making a living. And being unable to think about writing apart from the market is dangerous.

We’re already accustomed to speaking of forms only in terms of their viability as a product. The dominant review culture informs a purchase decision, not what a work says about the culture or where it fits in or rejects the culture. Year-end lists and best-of rankings are rhetorical tools of the market, expressions of consumer choice. And when we speak of “the death of” a form, let’s recognize we’re not talking about death in the ceases-to-exist definition. We’re talking about whether or not it will continue to be a viable product within a market category. The assumption being if one cannot make a living off it, the thing will die. (Absurd.)

We still have poems, we still have short stories, we still have novels. Many are excellent new examples within their form. Nearly all are abysmal financial propositions. And this is just fine. We have to believe this is not just OK, but contains a potentially profound opportunity for advancement of the form. If we do not accept this, we actively participate in the real death of a form by subjecting it to an irrelevant standard of value.

When a form ceases to be commercially viable in a culture, it necessarily refines its value within the culture in order to survive. As the poets’ patrons disappear and the advances for fiction fall in line with projected returns, some evolution or revaluation has already taken place which has allowed the form to exist. Continuing to lament the inability of these forms to compete with forms in favor (pulp, descending; film, descending; television, ascended; games, ascending) is counterproductive and works against the long-term viability of the form. No market has ever awarded a complaint about change with a reversal in fortune.

The role of a form in the culture may be multiple and variable, but when it has passed out of commodification and profitability, lobbying for its financial restoration (futile), subsidy (worse), or arbitrary inflation (modern painting, worst) degrades and retards the artist. If poetry helps writers revise the world, and fiction helps writers revise themselves, a preoccupation with where those two functions can be made to fit within the market will keep the writer in an unexceptional zone of craft and convention.

In a section of “George Lazenby’s” response to the question "Is painting dead, and if so is capitalism to blame?" he writes:

In 1562 Peter Bruegel paints The Triumph of Death. In the very, very back of the painting, beyond the dog eating a child’s face, beyond the weeping tree where a man has been hung from a fork by a nail through his neck, just past the three crucified bodies that have been set on fire, there are two skeletons. They are standing on a cliff, arm in arm, and one of them gestures appreciatively towards the sea.

I like to think that in the Bruegel painting those skeletons are not the market forces of death taking a breather from the reaping. I prefer to think they are two of the formerly alive, recognizing a new freedom from limitation. Perhaps embrace the death of your form. If you do you may find it is just as Kushner says. A way of being alive.

Leave the Hotel

Dear [REDACTED],

As of late, I feel like the question of motivating, encouraging, or mentoring writers is largely unimportant. I used to think, as I think many aspiring writers do, that there is some inherent moral value in helping other writers overcome fears or other manifestations of themselves (procrastination, rationalization, financial ambition), or provide pathways to endure writing in the face of pragmatic pressures (i.e. work, energy, family, etc.). Moreover this would be a kind of noble and (even though it’s steeped in ego) necessary act of defense against the world actively oriented against or (more likely) simply indifferent to writers.

This self-aggrandizing rescuing functions as a kind of appeasement, a deal writers strike with pragmatic pressures, especially as writers teach and pose as authorities insofar that they can make a living closer in line with what they advertise they love (presumably writing). Some can’t admit they like reading more than writing. But one can raise a profile as a capital-W Writer in this way, too, and with no small amount of chivalric self-righteousness see yourself as a Defender of the Faith in Literary Art. (It doesn’t need defenders.)

If you’re here to be convinced it’s worth your time to write, I’m here to discourage you. If you can’t summon the will to write your own book, don’t write it. I’m interested in peers. And it seems to me the only qualification required is willingness to engage the mystery in what you read and what you’re trying to write. To admit total powerlessness over the mystery and engage it not for what’s easy to define, but what continues to elude. 

Keep in mind I’m full of self-hatred and I gut this out in the mystery every day, more often than making less and less sense of things. But I’m beginning to interpret my daily increase in ignorance as proof that I am engaging the mystery in a more meaningful way. I find I do not know much about myself, and the byproduct of engaging the mystery are pages, dispatches from even deeper in. I cannot go back to the hotel terrace and coerce the gathered foreign correspondents to put down their outlines for the conflict and come see what it’s really like.

Good luck.

It Takes a Literature of Millions

"We took whatever was annoying, threw it into a pot, and that’s how we came out with this group. We believed that music is nothing but organized noise. You can take anything—street sounds, us talking, whatever you want—and make it music by organizing it. That’s still our philosophy, to show people that this thing you call music is a lot broader than you think it is."

-Hank Shocklee, Keyboard Magazine (1990) on the production of Public Enemy’s “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back”

Hell Be Us

"The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."

-Marco Polo speaking to Kublai Kahn in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.