UNDERSTANDING (DIS)ORGANIZATION

Lets talk about being organized! The SCARIEST thing in life since sliced bread. Wait. That’s not how that works. Anyways, being organized is something that I am simultaneously great at and terrible at. And I mean TERRIBLE. Like I have books in four different places in my room, and none of them are where I keep my books to be read. I have things in my clothing drawers that are not clothes. Like organization is not my strong suit at home.

But then at work, I organize nearly everything more systematically and efficiently than anyone else on shift, and I carefully keep up that organization. If a staple is out of place, I’ll know. If the inventory gets messed up, I’ll know. I mean, I can’t really do anything besides complain about it, because I’m not the store owner, but I knew there was something going wrong.

So what gives? You think I would care about my living space more, right? Well, I think it has to do with a few different things. Firstly, I am more comfortable in my living space than at work. Less people to impress. That’s why any of us would. Secondly, I’ve lived here forever. FOR-EVER. I know every nook and cranny of this place, and so when you ask me where my copy of Hamlet is, I can tell you it is in stack one, versus when you ask where my copy of Beowulf is, I can tell you it is in stack two. At the store, if you ask me where something is, I have to go check to verify nobody else moved it before I tell you where it is, because working with co-workers is HARD (insert heavy sarcasm because it really isn’t difficult to work with co-workers as long as they just put things back and keep the room a little cleaner than before but NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO why would they do that. Ok, rant over).

Anyways, what do you think? Is your place spick and span, or do you have a well detailed map of the place in your head? Let me know!

 

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DREAMING ABOUT DREAMS

I recently was reading through some of the dreams that my late grandfather wrote down in his lifetime, and was struck by how bizarre they were. People trapped in houses, sexual symbolism, unknown entities hunting him down…really just the works. Yet in spite of this, they were completely enthralling. Maybe that’s why they were so interesting. Regardless, dreams are cool.

When you think about it, dreams really are something that we should value higher in our lives. So many people get up quickly just to rush their way back into reality—myself included. I think that’s probably the default state of being for people, perhaps because dreams are often forgotten quickly, and like to hide in the back of our consciousness. There’s a short list of dreams I can remember. But considering how historically important dreams have been to us, I would think we would care about them a little more.

Einstein is a famous example, who dreamed about sledding down a mountainside so fast that he began approaching light speed, which, when he awoke, he used to help form his theory of relativity. The idea that he could use a dream to inspire and create the work that made him famous is incredible. Yet it wasn’t because he just happened to be struck by this dream—it was also because he sat and thought about it.

If I haven’t sold you on dreams yet, think about famous speeches. The “I Have a Dream” speech plays on the mythic qualities of dreams. If we thought dreams couldn’t be reality, it would be a stupid idea to try to use them to persuade others—which, in truth, is part of what that speech was about. Maybe it’s just because dreams are outside reality, which makes them seem better than they are, maybe not.

Outside reality is an interesting side topic for dreams, as it relates to drugs. I mean drugs are usually used as another route to escape—in many cases, people use them to have hallucinations that are very vivid that they can interact with (sound anything like a lucid dream to you?). I’m not sure this is as bad a thing as many people make it out to be. Certainly, some of them can be addicting, and THAT can be dangerous, but simply experiencing the imagery and immersing yourself in the wiles of imagination (because where do hallucinations come from if not imagination) does not seem like it should be entirely feared. Many people produce important work while in a “dream-like state” from drugs—just look at the Beatles!

Ok, anyways, dreams are something super valuable that most people take for granted, which is a sad concept. What do you think? Do you have any special dreams that have changed your life? Let me know in the comments!

 

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CRITIQUING BILLY COLLINS

So, I just got back from USC this past weekend after my month at the USC/LARB publishing workshop, which was an absolutely amazing experience. The people at the Los Angeles Review of Books are all extremely outgoing and kind. They clearly care about the value that every publisher brings to the table—we heard from smaller presses like Angel City Press and Tia Chucha, as well as massive corporations like Netflix and Amazon, and all the magazines, authors, and so on in between.

It was this constant dedication to diversity that made me wish to discuss the work of Billy Collins today briefly. Specifically, I wanted to talk about the poems in The Rain in Portugal, since I just finished it and it is fresh in my mind still. I should preface this with A) that I have not read all his work—in fact this is the only collection of his work that I have read, so take what I say with a grain of salt and B) that I really enjoyed his work. Like it was some of the most inspiring, thought provoking poetry I have ever read.

With that in mind, I wanted to talk about the issue I have with the collection. The issue I have found is that, in many cases, Collins provides only a male-centeric narrative to his poems. Under the Stars, Cosmology, and A Day in May (also titled “May Day”) I think illustrate this issue the best. Under the Stars portrays a person, who is most likely a man, pissing under the stars. While the overall message is to find tranquility in the most unusual of areas, the emphasis on fraternity creates a sort of in-group versus out-group mentality, where the reader may feel alienated if they lack a penis.

Similarly, Cosmology paints the image of the world resting on a variety of unusual pictures (the infinite backs of turtles, for example). Collins decides that placing the world on the back of Keith Richards, holding a bottle of Jack Daniels and smoking a Marlboro cigarettes is the ideal place to rest the world. Of course, this is meant to create humor, but the decision continues to uplift the male narratives. Which isn’t necessarily bad, until Collins begins to represent women to the contrary.

In Collins work, women often become objects. A poem is personified as a woman, for example. And truthfully, it is extremely romantic and lovely to read. But it also can be one-dimensional. One example of this is in A Day in May, in which Collins highlights a girl telling him “have a nice day.” In his brief commentary afterwards, he mentions this statement as being “an irritant” because the girl could not possibly know how good the day was already. Yet to describe her as an irritant seems unfair. She was simple a cashier doing her job, and being polite about it at that. This representation presents women as “lesser” people. Which I think is on the border of cruel.

Anyways, that’s just my opinion. I still adore his poetry—I just ordered a couple more of his collections. But I still think that we can do better—or at least should be aware of the problems that exist even at the highest branches of poetic form. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

 

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TALKIN’ ‘BOUT POETRY

So I made a friend recently (whoa! so hard to imagine, right?) in my time at USC, which isn’t to say that I know them super well, but I really wanted to talk about an interesting conversation we had the other day. They shared with me some of their poetry (like ten poems), and I got to read through it. it was super cool (sorry I can’t show you all, but it’s not mine to reveal).

But I did want to recount the awesome parts. Which aren’t really…well, aren’t really the actual words that matter. I mean, obviously the words of a poem matter, they’re what make a poem poetry…but that isn’t what was important to what we were talking about—it was the discussion. Which is not only where a poem sits in the history of poetry, but also how it affects and influences the reader. For example, I’ll use an aspect of my poem yesterday (because what kind of self-centered author would I be if I didn’t refer to my own work?):

 

“as I hang there suspended, swinging

in the breeze on a nice, thick rope

 

like back in Florida, above the water,

while my father roared with laughter”

 

So those lines, are the last two and first two lines of two different stanzas, and I like to think that they create a nice contrast in perspective. The first two lines, from the end of the first stanza, create the image of a body swinging from a rope…which, lets be honest, sounds like a suicide or a hanging. The break makes the reader pause, and allows (ideally) the brain to process it. Then, the latter two lines contrast the darkness of those lines with the nostalgic image of falling into the water, with a father laughing in the background. This creates a dialogue in the readers head, which I think everyone reacts to differently. Is the narrator actually suicidal, and reflecting how their life went? Are they happy, and just being cynical? Are we just misreading them? Hard to say.

Anywho, I just wanted to pause some questions, because I think poetry reading is one of the most interesting things there is. Let me know your thoughts!

——

 

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REVIEWING THE BOOK REVIEW

Book reviews always make me curious. I love them, but at the same time, I wonder why people read them. And people DO read them, The Los Angeles Review of Books (aka LARB), which is a lovely website, thrived when they filled a void that existed in the industry for book reviews—but I wanted to talk about the idea of a book review.

When I think of a book review, I think of some detailed discussion about a few things. 1) What the book was about, 2) the key elements of the plot, themes, and other motifs, and finally 3) how it all relates to the bigger picture of life. Which is certainly something that matters to the overall discourse of the world, isn’t it? It presents a different interpretation, as well as potentially missed aspects of a story someone read.

Yet papers often run book reviews concurrent to release dates. LARB does this sometimes, though they also do book reviews of things several years down the lines. The classic book review though, which is designed to boost the popularity of a book on release, comes out often the same day as the book. Which doesn’t make sense to me. What discourse can that add to the world? It will get lost in the paper. I’m not going to finish my brand new book, track down the now week-old paper, and reread a book review to really understand how it ties into the bigger picture of things. Not when Goodreads comments often add just as much value. No wonder that industry went through a pretty hard reset.

How would I improve this? Well, I mean it’s really just adjusting the dates of release. If a book releases Wednesday, and it takes two weeks for the average person to finish reading…well then they should publish the review two weeks later. It’s not like a superfan is going to be upset the review is a bit later, and people often rave about books the most right when they finish. Repetition and intensity are what make people remember a product.

What do you think? Would you rather read a review a few weeks later? Let me know in the comments!

——

 

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SWARMS

Watching the people flock

To the Los Angeles food vendor

Is like watching the cockroaches

Swarming across the stairs.

The sizzling morsels,

Greedily devoured by

Greasy fingers and hungry mouths,

Are like crumbs for starving pests.

Oh, there are polite ones,

To be certain. They drift by

At a distance, with calm aloofness.

But the pack is like a mob,

And would turn on you

In a heartbeat, if it served them.

The screech of brakes

And the roar of horns;

Deafening to the average ear,

Remind me of our own insignificance.

That we are, at the heart of us,

Just another swarm of insects

Infesting the cracks in the world.

Our world, as we claimed it.

Though we have yet

To claim responsibility for it.

Oh hey I’m on vacation and can’t copy my normal stuff here.

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THE IN BETWEEN

As I sit and look at the people from my own restaurant seat booth, I see myself as a part of the world, and yet completely apart from the world. I’m delighted by the smiling faces of the family at a table not ten paces away from me. They have aligned themselves in the most stereotypical of ways—the women on the left, and the men on the right. Yet they couldn’t be happier. The family members poured in one by one, and the whole room was filled with cries of “Hey!” and “So good to see you!” and they have yet to stop laughing. It is something quite beautiful—so few people live their lives to enjoy each other. So many live to simply enjoy themselves.

Take the couple across from me for example. I had expected an older couple to enjoy each other’s company more than my technological youth, but they are instead sitting, staring at their phone screens. They are leaned over, scarfing down their food like ravenous wolves. Their phones in hand—I don’t think they have spoken a word since they got here. They even sat on the same side of the booth. Perhaps they simply appreciate each other’s closeness. Perhaps at that age, there are simply no more words to say—but I would certainly hope not.

And then there is me. I sit in the in between of life. There is a void of silence that lingers, impenetrable, for feet around me at all time. Even the waitress, whose brimming smile roused the old couple to life for a moment, quieted as she took my order. My life has become all business, and they can feel it. I had been working diligently at the spreadsheets I had brought with me. It didn’t even cross my mind to ask someone to breakfast with me. I wouldn’t even know where to start. I am an invisible man—not the Ralph Ellison kind, but invisible nonetheless. For all the words I say, the people I meet, and the lives I change, I am forgotten.

That is, to everyone but her. You remember her, don’t you? We don’t say her name anymore, because she is gone now, but for a short while we spent all our time together. We went off, sailing away into the distance, with champagne, sunlight, and smiles. You know the one, don’t you? We have all met that person, who changed us. Who made the world feel whole and the frigid winters a little less frozen.

But she is gone now, and I sit in the in between. Between this cold, awful world, and whatever comes next. There is too much to lose in reality, yet too little to cling to for me to stay grounded. I am a mind without a body—moving through the world with complete awareness of self, yet no desire. I’m told desire stems from the gut. Perhaps that is why the office has come to call me gutless. It doesn’t matter. They will be long dead, and I’ll still be here: watching, listening, and waiting for her return.

——

 

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COVFEFE AND CLIMATE CHANGE

There is never a week that goes by when something entertaining isn’t going on. The Climate Change denial is real. The covfefe is real. The bragging about things that really don’t matter enough to be bragged about is real. But enough about Donald Trump. I can see the logic behind the argument against the Paris Agreement, but there is some fault in it. Namely, that if we don’t have a livable globe, the fact that someone is “for the people of Pittsburgh” is irrelevant. Because there will be no people left. Although, being for the people of Pittsburgh would indicate being for the people at all, which isn’t even clear to me. Though presenting a healthcare program that knocks some twenty million people off healthcare doesn’t seem to support a “for the people” position in the slightest.

Whatever. There are too many things to talk about today and I don’t want to get sidetracked through this whole post. Climate change. It is important because it is real. For anyone saying it isn’t real, take a moment and think to yourself: is it possible? If you answered yes, please read over the science, as I think you will find that your assertion is incorrect when presented with evidence. If you answered no, I’ll be responding personally.

So why not? Why can’t people cause climate change? Is it that the Earth is some sort of infinite object? For those of you reading along, this is one of the biggest reasons people don’t get climate change. They believe that the Earth is too big for us to have a real impact on it. This dates back to the Old Testament, and other religious inclinations that swayed society hundreds of years ago. The Earth is viewed as immortal, evergreen, etc. But think about it. It isn’t. It’s just a ball of matter.

Think of any ball of matter. Actually, lets think specifically of a ball of wood, the size of your hand. Put a lit match to that wood—just one. Now, it probably didn’t light up. Add in a few more matches. It might still not light up. But eventually, it will, right? Maybe after 10 matches, it lights up on the side, but dies out quickly. After 100, it ignites. That’s the problem with man-made climate change. It takes literally billions of matches to make an impact, because the Earth is huge. If you saw your house burning, you wouldn’t say “that’s nothing.” You would be thinking “Oh god! How do we put out this fire!?” The science is the writing on the wall, in the moments before ignition. The fires have started, and while some have burned out, people are still lighting matches. It won’t be long before it burns up.

Ok, yes it is true this is a bit of a crude metaphor, but it is a metaphor for a reason. And the logic is sound. The Earth is a ball of matter, like anything else, and it can only be burned so much. Pulling out of the Paris Agreement displays the ignorance of this situation. Truly caring for citizens—both of Pittsburgh and the rest of the world—is to protect them, their children, and all peoples there after.

——

 

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NOTHINGNESS

What is the value

Of nothing?

 

Think of that empty space

Between your hollow doorway

And the angry, outside world.

Nothingness has saved you.

 

Think of the silence that rests

Between your last words

And their first thoughts.

In those moments, the air

Feels heavier than the ocean

As its waves break against your back.

And yet it is lighter

Than the gentlest breeze.

 

Because the unknown is full of surprises,

And nothingness

Is the most unknown thing of all.

 

Nothing begets value.

For something to have worth

People must know what it means

To be worthless.

 

We fight, and burn, and bleed

Our whole lives away

So that we can be something.

Because to be nothing

Is to be worthless.

 

But I see the world

Through a different lens.

To be nothing is to be…

 

To be…

 

To be…

 

To be originality.

 

To be nothing is to be

The name that hides

In the corners of every room.

 

To be nothing is to be

The darkness in between

The shadow and the man.

 

To be nothing is to be

The blank page before

The writer begins their story.

 

To be nothing is to be

The catalyst of revolution

Tens years before the ideas

Spring into the philosopher’s mind.

 

To be nothing is to be great.

Because there is nothing

That can compare to it.

——

 

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LOVE POEM#40 – THE GAME

She told me that I had to play the game,

Like love was some sort of arcade machine.

Or else, they wouldn’t remember my name,

And I’d be part of the men left unseen.

And I told her love wasn’t just some sport,

Where men won women like they won trophies.

It was more like a queen and king in court,

Who fell in love because they were lonely.

But with a small, wry, smile, she replied

“Well then go learn to play your game of thrones,

Though I think you’ll find you win or you die.”

And with that, she turned and left me alone.

And as I played I found myself a king,

But she told me that I’d lost a good thing.

——

 

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