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A Novel Called Crawl Space

Location: Bay Area, California, United States

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bush, ports, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and vetos

My big question about Bush has been this: what are the inner workings of his mind? How does he justify the ways of Bush to Bush? (Perhaps one should say bush to Bush.) If you were to be inside his mind, let's say, and it was lined with shelves of books, and you were there roaming around with George Walker Bush Jr., able to take down any book, when facing any decision, what book might he be taking down right now? Would he be taking down the Nicomachean Ethics? a book promoting social Darwinism, all strength to the strong-loined man on the white horse ignoring the ludicrous cries of the lesser beings? would he be perverting the messianic aspect of the New Testament so as to justify this social Darwinism?

He is alone on Air Force One, let's say, jumpy from too much caffeine that morning; aware that his reign is on its downward spiral; wanting to be remembered well in the annals of history.
A neural sequence, deeply grooved, fires: Got to call in the reporters and don't forget, son, be charming!

Later, he is alone, showering after his golf session. Another message from the neocortex: George, don't be afraid to keep your promises to people who helped daddy's work way back when.

What is the absolute template to which he turns? Is it Family or (his interpretation of) God's word? Do we see in him the triumph of a narrowly defined tribe? Were we all still cavepeople on a great open plain, would his small tribe, Cheney, Condi, Poppy and all the rest, be flourishing in the most elite cave, replete with nuts and berries and bison?

I wish I could track the neural synapses of his brain, making a decision: how far is it from the most-studied neurons, e.g., those in a bird's eye, waiting to detect motion so as to impel a motor sequence ensuring the bird gets the fattest, juiciest worm?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

a vlog from a reading -- not a Transylvanian

A great filmmaker named Enric filmed two Bay Area readings -- in San Francisco and Berkeley. Below is what he says about his vlog, and the link to the video:

http://www.cirne.com/vlog/ (vlogging is like blogging, but with video.) It’s a 51 mb quicktime file, so you’ll need a broadband connection or be willing to let it download for a long time

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

the movie CRASH

It has been a long time since I've seen race in America treated in a manner beyond latterday minstrelsy or tin-heart melodrama -- this movie (written by Paul Haggis) while as neat in its wrap-up as any Ian McKuen novel, is so satisfying in its desire to create complex characters, characters who are not wholly any one thing even as they push against or accept or reinvent the terms of their birthright tribe. Transgression aplenty. Plus, the central role gives Don Cheadle room to be the strong actor I always felt he would be if given something beyond the comic drug dealer slaphappy friend type. It is also nice to see a movie which has the quality of 1930s dramas -- i.e., people speaking fast and with intelligence -- here played out in our 2005 street-cred time. See CRASH. See what you think.

Here are some recent reviews of CRAWL SPACE which came out, prior to its publication date on August 16: a really kind one by Thomas Keneally, whom I've long admired, confirming my sense of the literary world as some kind of cocktail party of affinities accepted or rejected (Keneally wrote SCHINDLER'S LIST and A TYRANT'S NOVEL) in the Washington Post of July 31, 2005; other warm-toned ones in Library Journal, Readers' Guild (by Harriet Klausner, who is apparently the #1 reviewer at Amazon, a distinction which fascinates me), and Publisher's Weekly. That's all I can remember for now.

I was also happy to review a book recently for the San Francisco Chronicle called WOMAN IN BERLIN (will come out around August 7 or so), about a late, anonymous German reporter who withstood the Russian army's rapes in Berlin of 1945 -- it was so modern in its intimacy, so candid and unstinting -- okay, just see the review. WOMAN IN BERLIN = worth your time as well.

Friday, June 24, 2005

revised list of readings near you on the West Coast

To all of these readings, if it suits your fancy, bring some object you consider to be quintessentially French for display and discussion.

June 26: 3 pm, Albany Backyard Series (CA) (623 Evelyn)
August 18: San Francisco, A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books: 6:15 wine and cheese reception, 7 pm reading
August 20: Los Angeles: Duttons of BEVERLY HILLS, 2 pm
August 25: Portland, OR: Powell's Books
August 27: Gualala, CA: Four-Eyed Frog, 4 pm; party after
September 9: Cody's Books (7:30 at 4th Street, near Hearst; 8:30 party to follow in another locale)

cutting cucumbers and xenos

Last night, I was cutting cucumbers for a salad and overcame my usual sous-chef laziness, peeling them, making them into tiny fairy-size cubes. We all have certain voices which emerge when we prepare certain dishes, the digestive tract linked to the deepest psychological tracts, which may be why Zen practitioners emphasize meal preparation as one of the more useful mind-sharpening devices.

Most often, when it comes to dealing with cucumbers or tomatos, my inner voice takes the form of only one person: the husband of my Israeli cousin, DK, who, like most Israelis, is disgusted by the sloppy leaf-ridden salads of America and perhaps Europe. There is no backbone to such salads, they flop all over the place. A salad to DK and to many other Israelis is only this: cucumbers cut metrical and tiny, tomatos managed in similar suit, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. If one is adventurous, one adds parsley, but already that begins to overstep certain frontiers. Walls must be built. I have seen DK get a bit hysterical at an American barbecue when the tomatos in a particular salad bowl began to appear too generously sliced. Life itself can hang on the angle of the slice.

What fascinates me about DK, who may be a former air force fellow, if I remember correctly, is the extent of the control which he must exercise over the small territories in his life. Existing in such a state of contestation and siege, he cleaves to the known. There must be no deviation, otherwise hysteria ensues. "Ma, hishtagat?" he will say to the errant tomato-slicer. (What, have you gone crazy? which is actually a standard Hebrew locution.)

Counterphobia: this is the same man, I've heard, who against his family's protests, will drive visitors through disputed lands, calmly carrying a gun, riding shotgun.

If I could, right here I'd insert a beautiful painting by the artist Adelie Landis Bischoff, called Men and Guns. Areas of the canvas are left abstract, a site for one's worst metaphysical imaginings. A pair of legs, a profile of a gun.

A few years back, I had a very distant relative whose case made the headlines as a metaphor for the situation among Arabs and Israelis. He was a teenager, one of those crazed ultra-Orthodox who does not see carrying a gun as being antithetical to the teachings of the Torah and Talmud. He took his schoolchildren on a wildflower tour of the West Bank (!) and along the way, he was stoned by some Arab village kids. He went crazy, began to shoot, ended up killing one of the young Israeli girls on his tour. One of the Arab villagers took him in, protected him from the others. But to no great end; my relative wound up losing all his proto-adult memory. His yeshiva bochers were the ones who retaught him everything he could be said to know, giving him a different history regarding the origins of his disability. Whitewashed clean of guilt, he became a small child again, answering his mother obediently, while also having lost all the defining coloration of hatred.

My long-term fantasy has been to learn Arabic and then go to Israel/Palestinian territories and work in one of those Seeds of Peace projects, wherein Palestinian and Israeli kids could develop friendships which would withstand the hatred, mistrust and acculturated fear which are laid in so young -- but is this a foolish, Fulbright-like, Enlightenment-based dream of bridging gaps, akin to the dreams writ into the universal rights of man and ambassadorship? Or is such foolishness necessary?

The tomato sliced a bit too large.

At the cafe near New College, where I teach, there is a picture of a young Lebanese boy who cannot be much older than two, wearing a full army uniform. To admit that I have Israeli heritage becomes an admission of vulnerability, a site of political incorrectness in the radical environment of New College. To say the word Israel already marks me as incorrect.

Origin myths are odd. I saw this firsthand in Sri Lanka among the Sinhalese and Tamils, with their competing myths about Hanuman, kings mating with the wrong wives, monkey gods, and the crazed devils who inhabited the historical Lanka/Illangai. Perhaps in a similar vein, my family traces its ancestry back through the diaspora's Maharal of Prague to second-century Palestine, to a man named Yohanan the sandal-maker in Jerusalem. Had my father's family not left Poland when he was three for Israel, escaping pogroms, I would not be here writing: all my extended family was exterminated.

What happens on both sides is that complexity and nuance and ambivalence themselves become the enemy. Amos Oz is wonderful at articulating this, as would be Joan Didion, archdeacon of complexity. Could the New York Review of Books send Didion abroad?

Another bit to the salad: some years ago, a wonderful documentary about Palestinian and Israeli children came out called, I believe, PROMISES. What was insidious in this documentary was watching the friendships between Muslim and Jewish kids disappear under a pile of adultlike sanctities. (For fun and oddity, contrast this movie with the great Belgian movie about destitute children, LA PROMESSE).

To bring this full circle: last month I had Belgian friends visit who insisted on making the dressing in the bottom of a bowl and then piling salad leaves on top. We won't even begin to enter the psychology of Belgium. If only xenophobia could be as simple a subject as sequencing a salad, or a tail-biting blog.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

France refusing to ratify the constitution

One of my beliefs, which I'd love to be challenged on, is that many French locate themselves the most in the act of saying NO. (E.g., to the recent European constitution proposal.) It is interesting that two countries which have a somewhat exalted, somewhat difficult WWII history are those that negated the proposal (France and the Netherlands both.) And what is the reason for the no in France's case?

Is it mere garden-variety existential dread, a great intimacy with existential holes, which leads to this no? The no being an oral act which some might say is the equivalent of the two-year-old's linkage of self-identity with an act of defiance. Who has already written a theory of nations which assigns various chronological ages to each nation? I'm sure someone has. The U.S. as a brawling baby? France as a two-year-old and a worldly eighty-year-old, simultaneously? Which nation among the convocation of all the world remains a sage? Some would say Tibet, is my guess, but are there others?

Friday, June 03, 2005

Worthwhile magazines on a newsstand near you

For you literary types: check out www.kitchensink.mag;

for you radical innovator types: check out the great www.lipmagazine.org;

for you feminists interested in comments on pop culture: check out www.bitchmagazine.com

All run by noble people, all worthy of your time . . .

- Edie

Thursday, June 02, 2005

the bravery of writing students

When I began teaching writing in New York at some point in my twenties, I used to wear eyeglasses as a kind of inner-schoolmarm prop, to create a certain boundary between me and the students, and formed my own policy against too much fraternizing -- sororitizing? -- outside of regular class and advising hours with graduate students. Others with more defended personalities probably don't need to do this as much, and are able to have the occasional outing with a group of students. But I have maintained this policy for this reason: I'm often not much older than they are, and occasionally they're much older than I am. But probably the real reason: I have something of a permeable consciousness and it has seemed useful to find all the boundaries I can invent, even while I feel great simpatico with their missions.
Last night there was a faculty reading at New College at which Kate Braverman, Judy Grahn, Kris Brandenburger, Margo Perin, Sarah Stone, Brian Teare, Zaid Shlah and I read -- I felt honored to be on the same bill with others writing such risk-taking and accomplished work. I know that as a child, growing up in Oakland, Judy Grahn had represented a certain important part of the universe to me, and I was blown away by so many passages read by the other readers.
Afterward, I defied my usual policy and went out with some of the students to a dive called Casanova on Valencia Street, struck all over again by this next generation of writers: their astral hopes, the 3-card monte game they play with their talent, their intelligence and humor. If I had an evangelism, it would be about unleashing others' creative potential, and so it has been fulfilling to see several generations of students going out in the world and finding a cultural niche, some happy bridge.
Oddly, as I was writing this, a reporter from the SF Chronicle who is doing a piece on MFA programs in the Bay Area just called to set up an interview, leading me to reflect more on the worth and oddness of this phenomenon called the MFA.
More later . . .