Category Archives: Books

What Do You Do When Everything is Right in Front of You? or How Do I Capitalize on Each Day?

Mark Doty, poet author of the book Atlantis

My first assignment in my Intro to Poetry class was to read Mark Doty’s 1995 book of poetry titled Atlantis, based mainly on the death of his partner to AIDs. In the poem “Long Point Light” a lighthouse speaks and says, “The morning’s the size of heaven. What will you do with it?”

As we went over the line in class today, it made me think about what my days have consisted of; nothing worth commenting on and basically the exact problem with my life and that quote.

When the first day of the semester came around I was thanking God for giving me something productive to do with my days. I lost my job at the beginning of August and went through a few good weeks of consistent reading and writing which is ideally how I’d like to spend my time. But then, while reading the depressing Sylvia Plath novel The Bell Jar, I hit my own slump and didn’t do much of anything for a while. School will hopefully put me back on track.

Back to the Doty quote, how can I treat every day like it’s the start of some kind of paradise? I’ve been able to do this from time to time. On a good month, I can have one or two gloriously full and productive days a week. But how can you be more consistent? I would like to be able to treat every day this way or at least most of my week.

But it just doesn’t seem plausible. In order to tackle a day fully I need to be optimistic and have some sort of idea of what I’ll be doing. I need to have a story to write or a good book to read and be inspired by. I need my creative juices to balance out with my optimism and I need the time to pour myself out onto the page.

Sometimes that is too much to ask. My moods shift. I have work or other obligations. Then it’s like I don’t get anything done at all let alone a full day. Excuses are our enabling friend.

The first half of the Doty quote suggests that there is great potential at the start of every day. There is literally no end to what could be accomplished in a whole day. However, the second half brings a twist; in order for this unlimited potential to be harnessed, you will need to take charge of it and command its reward.

I’m wondering how I can. And I’m open to all suggestions.

I suppose like all major projects, preparation can play a big part in the process. I shouldn’t wake up with no game plan and expect great things to fall in my lap. I was thinking about searching the internet and finding a bunch of writing exercises that appeal to me and stowing them away. If I can’t think of something to write one day I can reach into the pot of random poetry and short story exercises and get to work.

I’ve been meaning to limit my time on mind numbing activities too. Hours are lost and time truly melts in the presence of TV, Facebook, and the vast brain tumor that is the internet with all of its cat pictures, sex, and random pleasure generators. Hours are precious. They cannot be returned.

A constant battle I have is whether or not I should actively try to wake up early. I’m naturally a night owl, so Doty’s quote would have to be altered for me to say, “The late afternoon’s the size of heaven.” I do believe I’m more productive when I get up at a reasonable hour but those hours after midnight, when the rest of the world is sleeping and I’m left undisturbed with my writing, are when I’m really at my zenith.

So I suppose we’ll have to start with those options for now and see if they help me to carpe the hell out of some diems.

  1. Have game plans for your days. Prepare ahead of time.
  2. Do not waste time on things that numb the mind (Facebook, TV, and internet).
  3. Sleep less. Wake up early. Go to bed late. Best of both worlds.
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“What is the Purpose of Life?” or How a Small Bit of Character Info from Kurt Vonnegut Helped Put Getting Fired into Perspective

 

Getting fired from a job is one of those moments that make you stop and take stock of your life. Even if you’re not that big of a fan of the job, it’s still the basic idea that you were forced to stop performing when you weren’t ready because someone else said you weren’t doing a good job. It’s like having sex with someone who you’re not remotely attracted to, someone who you know you’re too good for, but still you keep pumping away sluggishly as you go through the motions. But then all the sudden, this person who should be thanking God that you’re giving them the time of day, taps you on the shoulder and says, “I think it’s best if we part ways.” Then you’re left fumbling to put your pants back on and wondering what you did wrong to upset this beast you previously loathed.

“We’ve decided to part ways,” is how they say it.

I walk into my office and there’s my General Manager standing with another GM from the market who was summoned for backup. The other GM knowing my shift’s start time and probably showing up fifteen minutes early to be there standing, posing as I walk through the door. I knew what was going on before they even began talking. At least it was a nice day out.

This is an asshole.

I can’t say I was very surprised by the termination. I had gotten some poor reviews, which although were never for anything substantial, I knew the procedure since I’d seen the same thing happen to other employees; I was aware they were getting the documentation they needed to ensure a legal termination. That’s how things are done in chain businesses that are run by home offices in other states by people who see you only a few times a year for a walk through, the only thing on their mind being to find something wrong with how you’re running the building. It’s really quite disturbing when I think about it too much.

But the great thing about being canned is I have a lot of time to do all the writing I claimed to be too busy to catch up on. Thankfully, I’ve actually been making good on it and writing daily. When I’m not writing I try to read. I’m reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, the humorous tale of beloved Vonnegut character Kilgore Trout, a recurring side character who this time gets to be the lead on the black comedy stage. Trout is a fictional science fiction writer who pens hundreds of novels and short stories which are usually sold in pornography stores with dirty pictures printed along with the text. His stories, which are unique and otherworldly, are merely vehicles to peddle smut.

In Breakfast of Champions, a small character description struck me. Trout walks into a porno movie house when they’re trying to close for the night. Vonnegut writes, “Nobody was there but the manager, who was also the ticket-taker and the bouncer and the janitor.”

It’s quite a small sentence which isn’t detrimental to the story. In fact, this theatre manager is only around for another few pages as he walks with Trout before being assaulted on the dark New York City streets. But it struck me as remarkably true and hit home, having just been fired from my position as a movie theatre manager, (unfortunately not of a porno theatre.) Being a manager in an AMC chain theatre consists of little glory or prestige. Working at a smaller multiplex as opposed to a megaplex leaves managers with less payroll and more tools needed on the belt. In one shift I would be needed as projectionist, usher, concession and box office cashier all while trying to fulfill my managerial assignments and ensure guests had a good visit. It is a thankless business. Long hours, weekends, and holidays are a requirement. And at the end of six and a half years I just get fired anyway at the ripe old age of 22.

Something about Vonnegut’s description of the poor, porno theatre manager having to clean up the dirty theatre at the end of the night in addition to all of his other jobs made me realize even more that it was probably for the best that me and the theatre “parted ways.”

Just before Kilgore Trout walked into the house he was in the bathroom of the porno theatre and read a question written on the tile wall. It said: “What is the purpose of life?”

To which Trout wanted to respond, but he had no pencil to write it, “To be the eyes and ears and conscience of the Creator of the Universe, you fool.”

With all the self reflection that comes along with getting fired from your job, the purpose of one’s existence is sure to poke its head up at some point. Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout made the valiant effort of trying to answer that question. And to him, it’s quite simple and a foolish thing to be questioning.

We are only here to retort this life to others. We are merely a vessel for which to comment on what life has in store, for each of us individually. For it always surprises me that each of our lives are so unique, so original, and yet so connected to the paths of everyone else on Earth.

Vonnegut would say that there is no superior answer to the purpose of life. We are simply here. For no other reason than that we are allowed to be here. And once you can accept something like that; that life is so vulnerable and that our individual lives are so minute to the great wide intertwining world, then you are truly living specially. You are seeing clearly.

In one of my favorite passages from Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle he says:

“God made mud.
God got lonesome.
So God said to some of the mud, “Sit up!”
“See all I’ve made,” said God, “the hills, the sea, the
sky, the stars.”
And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look
around.
Lucky me, lucky mud.
I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done.
Nice going, God.
Nobody but you could have done it, God! I certainly
couldn’t have.
I feel very unimportant compared to You.
The only way I can feel the least bit important is to
think of all the mud that didn’t even get to sit up and
look around.
I got so much, and most mud got so little.
Thank you for the honor!
Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep.
What memories for mud to have!
What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met!
I loved everything I saw!
Good night.
I will go to heaven now.
I can hardly wait…
To find out for certain what my wampeter was…
And who was in my karass…
And all the good things our karass did for you.
Amen.”

What a lovely way to live if we all admit that we’re just mud that got up to look around. This applies to you, me, President Obama, millionaires, prostitutes, the Pope, your grandfather, cops, junkies, a collective universe of chaotic, flawed beings capable of nothing more than taking a breath and looking around.

 

 

Like Beer and Liquor, Or Possibly Certain Types of Recreational Drugs, You Shouldn’t Mix Certain Literature

Cover of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:...
Cover via Amazon
Cover of "In Our Time"
Cover of In Our Time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the last two days I’ve completed reading two novels of distinct interest to me: Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time. Both were phenomenal reads. Both can be related, in their own ways, to the American Dream. But perhaps they should’ve been spaced out a little bit in my reading schedule.

I’d been loaned a copy of Fear and Loathing from a friend a little over a month ago. Thompson had become pretty inspirational to me over the last year as I researched his work. I’d watched Terry Gilliam’s film adaptation but never got around to reading the actual novel. When I was lent it, I had to practice a good deal of restraint from reading it since it was the end of my semester and I had a list full of books to finish for my American literature course.

Ernest Hemingway in Milan, 1918

One of my final books in American lit was an extra credit read of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises which I fired through with awed vigor. Hemingway has become one of my favorite authors since the 2011 fall semester when I read his short story “Soldier’s Home” and did a research paper on the main character Harold Krebs’ motivations. So I was very eager to read his novels as quickly as possible. Or I guess in respect to Hemingway, I should say: I liked “Soldier’s Home.” I liked The Sun Also Rises. I was happy when I read them. Nothing seemed to make me more happy. (That’s a little prose humor for you.)

During the end of the semester, I was mixing my required readings with some pleasure reading of the short stories of In Our Time. I put it down half way through to finish my final book for class, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.

As of last Tuesday, school is over and I was left to do my own reading. And I’ve begun to assemble a nice list of books I want to get through. First up was Fear and Loathing. I breezed through the majority of it yesterday and finished late last night. Once the drug-fueled craziness kicks in full swing, which is pretty much at the beginning of the novel, it’s too much of a page turner to be put down. And like Thompson says, “you can turn your back on a person, but never turn your back on a drug, especially when it’s waving a razor sharp hunting knife in your eye.” In my case, I couldn’t turn my back on a book full of Samoans puking into shoes, waitresses being petitioned for sodomy for a few laughs, and a few premium American automobiles getting more banged up then the drug-bingers driving them.

When Fear and Loathing came to a close I made the odd decision to pick up In Our Time the very next day. As I finished the final stories featuring Nick Adams realizing his maturity in the middle of a two-part finale that goes nowhere but touches on everything, I started to feel a little disoriented. In a matter of hours I went from 1971 Las Vegas, full of its acid induced hallucinations to 1920’s Europe and America as disillusioned Americans do their best to cope with harsh realities.

Both books had stated tough truths about the American dream. That’s the one unifying theme that ties them together for me. In the same way Thompson sought the location of the American dream in Nevada’s deserts, I’ve been searching for it in literature.

Each book spoke to a different generation that found itself asking “what’s the deal?” in its own way. Both books present people transitioning from prosperous and enjoyable decades in American culture to times of confusion and disappointment. Hemingway’s Adams returns home from WWI and fights to come to terms with masculinity, relationships, and values. When the reader leaves Adams, he has isolated himself from people to ease his confusion with the help of nature. For Krebs, protagonist of “Soldier’s Home,” the self-realization is a little bitterer as he’s forced to adapt to societal norms he no longer cares for to avoid confrontation.

Hunter S. Thompson, Miami Book Fair Internatio...

Thompson tells his own tale as a living, breathing survivor of the hippie counterculture of the 1960’s who was left stumbling into the 70’s, hungover and blurry eyed from a decade of heavy recreational drug use only to find that their rebellion was fruitless. Politics got weirder and times weren’t changing for the better. This sense of disappointment in these people’s fates was summarized beautifully by Thompson in arguably his best passage from the novel:

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.…So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

After reading both of these works I’m left fumbling around in my bedroom on a particularly humid and rainy night at 2:00 a.m. I am as confused and disoriented as the world and war weary WWI veterans of In Our Time and the self-destructive drug abusers of Fear and Loathing. Gertrude Stein called Hemingway’s folk “the Lost Generation.” Hunter S. Thompson didn’t seem to have the right map either in the 70’s. Over forty years later and I couldn’t tell you where I should be going. America has been at war for over a decade and I can’t find a decent song on the radio. If Hemingway’s time was the “Lost Generation” then I want to know who was ever found. All I can think to do is put on an Acapulco shirt, rent a convertible only to drive it to the ground and abandon it at the edge of the woods before submerging myself deep into isolation and nature for some trout fishing and a little bit of nothingness.