Mr. X Decides to Build His Dream House
During what was the longest six months of my life, bedridden after a near-death experience, I could not sleep and the only thing that kept me alive was Eraserhead. I watched that film nearly everyday: 138 times in 184 days. It seemed to me I had ingested David Lynch. I became Henry X — but my head had not yet been cracked open for eraser meat, and I wasn’t father to a squalling baby. I did miss my lady in the radiator — oh so much.
So I linked to VCR Party Live on the Beaumont Theater website because I was curious about the Found Footage Festival that was coming to town; I wanted to watch the trailer and maybe buy tickets online. I remember I had three layers of clothes on that very cold morning. It was 37 degrees outside with freezing rain falling, and the thermometer in the living room read 65 degrees. I put on my liners so I could still navigate online on my phone, a wool cap, a hoodie over my Tom Waits concert t-shirt, and a light orange puff jacket that I usually wore during late fall or early spring backpacking trips. It’s as if I were setting out on a journey while sitting on the toilet watching YouTube with my flannel pants bunched around my ankles. I had the sun lamp on in the bathroom. I still couldn’t warm up.
But while I was watching the found footage trailer I got the idea to visit local thrift stores in search of any 8mm or 16mm films and VCR tapes I could find to make found footage films of my own. I don’t know if the Internet Archives film database was online yet, in any case I didn’t find out about it until 2017, but it was during my eventual trip to Goodwill that I found the box of three VCR tapes and a scrapbook that would alter the course of my life. The tapes were full of just about every commercial and cable television show about Ariel Castro — the Cleveland man who kidnapped three women and held them against their will, as prisoners, in his home for a decade.
After watching 6 hours of footage I was left wondering what really separated me from him; or from Jeffery Dahmer or any of the other sociopaths and psychopaths that become notorious. Then I thought about all the ones that get away with their crimes. I thought of all the missing children, women and men in this world, and the men — it’s always mostly men — that are responsible for their disappearances.
How is it that Castro became what he became and Dahmer what he became and I didn’t? We shared so much in common in our early lives. How is it that I’ve never crossed the line and had done something as monstrous as what they did?
And then I thought I should do something about that.
What I’m Reading, or: What I Just Finished Reading (a continuing series)
Fences / August Wilson (1985)
This was one of my longest “lying about” tsundoku (books that grace bookshelves or night tables, sometimes for years, without being read) — that’s no longer the case. This is potent stuff, at times bordering on melodrama, but about very serious race issues and gender mores.
Troy Maxon is one of the most complicated characters I’ve come across in writing for the theater. At times one pulls for him and is equally repelled by him. A truly unforgettable character. / Paperback, 01/17/21.
The Sentence is a Lonely Place / Gary Lutz (2016)
The transcript from a 2008 lecture on writing and the literary life presented to Columbia University writing students. Lutz recounts how he was hooked by language and then gets down into the grammatical, orthographical, and syntactic weeds. Interesting in its granular approach, and typical “slantness” from Lutz. / Audiobook, 01/18/21.
The Memory Police / Yoko Ogawa (1994/2019)
A disappointment because I had such high hopes. One maybe better off if one read this as an allegory. If you’re looking for a well constructed dystopia with its own logical construction and reason for existence you may be disappointed. It also toggled constantly with a novel within the novel that was worse than the primary book. Translated to English in 2019. / Audiobook, 01/18/21.
The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America / Tim Snyder (2018)
Snyder surveys how Europe, Russia, and lastly the US made hard right fascist turns in their own home cooked ways in the 20th and 21st centuries.
But the creation myth that Putin and his club o’ fascists cooked up around the time of his second installment as head of Russia is as batshit crazy as it gets — it seems like “too-far-out fiction,” but unfortunately it isn’t. Supreb book. / Ebook & Audiobook, 01/19/21
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century / Tim Snyder (2017)
Slight volume that packs a punch. Should have been required reading in the US and the world at the turn in the new millennium. Now, we are all so far gone! How do we reel this socio-cultural shit show back in? This book provides some ideas. / Ebook, 01/20/21
The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin / Masha Gessen (2012)
The second Gessen book I read this month on autocracy, this one specifically Putin’s. She lived through the rise and lifelong installment of Putin and the death of a nascent democracy in Russia. This is a personal history of that time, mostly 1998-2012, with Putin as the focal point. Plenty of biographical facts about Putin. Updated in 2014 for the audiobook. / Ebook & Audiobook, 01/23/21
Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo / Grant Faulkner (2017)
One of the main folks behind NaNoWriMo and the founder of 100 Word Story, among other things, Faulkner writes a pretty nifty book on approaches — and pep talks to cover an entire year — to kickstart your writing. / Ebook, 01/24/21.
Inadvertent / Karl Ove Knausgaard (2018)
This is the first Knausgaard I read, other than a recent essay on LitHub.com, and I’ll be reading lots more. This short book delves into his attraction to literature, how he eventually becomes a writer, and his love of art. / Audiobook, 01/26/21.
Obit / Victoria Chang (2020)
A haunting and haunted poetry collection nominated for the 2020 National Book Award for poetry. Chang creates something transcendent from loss and grief. The (mostly) prose poems, in the format of short obituaries for just about everything in Chang’s life, are sharp and askew enough to make loss intellectually engaging and new. / Ebook, 01/27/21.
In Short: A Collection of Brief Creative Nonfiction / Judith Kitchen & Mary Paumier Jones (Ed.) (1996)
I picked this up after reading an interview with Dinty W. Moore (the editor of Brevity) on what he thought were the top five short-form creative nonfiction books. This was number two in chronological order. It’s flaws are mostly those of elision. If you’re doing flash (or micro) essays why include long essays with portions omitted for space? Great line up of writers. / Hardcover, 01/28/21.
Convenience Store Woman / Sayaka Murata (2018)
I really enjoyed this loopy take on a life given over to a convenience store. Offbeat characters in odd situations, but also feels like a bit of an existential confection. I already placed a “hold” on Murata’s new novel Earthings, so I’m looking forward to some more “askewness” soon. / Ebook & audiobook, 01/29/21.
“There are many dark things flowing in this world now, and most films reflect the world in which we live. They’re stories… And so, even though I’m from Missoula, Montana, which is not the surrealistic capital of the world, you could be anywhere and see a kind of strangeness in how the world is these days, or have a certain way of looking at things.”
— David Lynch / Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity