Monthly Archives: July 2013

#51: Benefit Car Crash

car-crash

I misread the advertisement for a benefit car wash
as a benefit car crash, honestly enough,
my eye glancing quickly over the headline,
eliminating the ‘a’ in car and the ‘w’ in wash,
the brain filling in some redundancy so
that sense could be made–because no one
would advertise a benefit crash
without specifying the kind of crash
one could expect at such a benefit,
and subsequently I saw fireworks.
I could see how this kind of benefit
might be a huge money maker, as
people both like to feel they’re helping
and hurting their fellow man simultaneously.
So they line up, pay their hard earned money
to support their favorite cause or charity,
get into the car, or better yet, pay even more
to get someone they don’t like behind the wheel,
and then the cars take off, helter skelter,
the worse the driver’s skills the better,
dangerously fast around a track,
or, to speed up the process, the cars
aim directly at one another so the desired
outcome is certain and quick.  Drive like hell
until someone gets hurt or killed, and
enjoy the great American paradoxical pastime:
Hold a benefit car crash;
destroy the village in order to save the village.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Poetry

#50: On Trying Again To Read Moby Dick (Again)

moby-dick

I’m not reading again, but instead,
trying again to read for the first time,
the problem being, as I’ve said before,
not one of starting but of finishing,
which, I fear is, but hope is not,
a general pattern in my life.
Call me Ishmael.
What a great first line.
I read it twenty times before moving
to the next sentence.
But this time I make a vow
only to read the passages I’ve marked
from my previous three efforts,
and in this way, I will proceed
through the first 160 pages,
which I have read before,
in record setting time,
being able then to begin my endeavor
where I left off–with a sense of that thing
many of our favorite television shows do for us:
“Previously on The West Wing. . .”

Moving quickly through the etymology
and extracts, and, even though it hurts me,
skipping 1, 2, and 3 entirely, I arrive quickly
at the first passage I marked last time,
Ishmael’s words of wisdom as he climbs into bed with Queequeg:
“Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.”
Amen to that, Brother. And then,
“A good laugh is a mighty good thing. . .and the man
that has anything bountifully laughable about him,
be sure there is more in that man than you perhaps think for,”
and I immediately remember how funny this novel is,
and how much I thoroughly enjoyed every failed attempt at reading it.

I can’t move too quickly, though, through my review
of the first 35 chapters because I discover I am
completely out of book darts–little post-it notes
I use to mark key passages when I’m reading a fancy edition
in which I am loath to make permanent or pencil marks.
To slow myself down, I think I may write a poem
about every passage I’ve thus far marked, or,
to the chagrin of all my “friends,” turn every key
passage into a facebook post.  Nothing but Moby Dick
from me for the next month or so.  There’s no good
reason it should take me that long to purchase a new
package of book darts–but it is entirely in the realm
of possibility. But I want to know more about Captain Ahab,
who has been in hiding, who finally comes out to give up smoking,
place his peg inside an augured hole for stability,
and tell Stubbs he was “ten times a donkey, and a mule,
and an ass,” and that if he didn’t get out of his sight,
he would “rid the world” of him.
I get out immediately to the local office supply store
and get me some book darts.

I continue my review.  I want inside that big boat.
Starbuck says, “I will have no man in my boat who is not afraid of a whale,”
and I say out loud to Starbuck that I am afraid of the whale and of Moby Dick,
Herman Melville’s beautifully intoxicating and totally intimidating novel,
and my fear is what will ultimately push me toward the conclusion.
Quickly moving through Chapter 35, Cetology, Whale Studies 101,
the attempt to answer Ishmael’s question: what is a whale?
He admits and then heroically accepts his failure
at being able to satisfactorily answer the question,
and then comes to this most stirring conclusion:
“God, keep me from ever finishing anything.
This whole book is but a draught–nay, but the draught of a draught.
Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience,” and once again I say Amen,
amen to never finishing anything, amen to a draft of a draft,
amen to the desperate need for time, strength, lots of cash, and patience.
Ishmael, I love you like a brother
and I will finish this novel if it kills me.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature, Poetry, Writing and Reading

#49: On the Eve of Our 27th Wedding Anniversary

gartershot

On the Eve of Our 27th Wedding Anniversary

Earlier today we looked at each other
and kind of shrugged. What do you want to do?
I don’t know. How about you?
Should we get a sitter and go out or should
we do a special thing as a family?
Let’s do the special thing as a family.
Yeah, that would be better. So, what should we do?

Still partially undecided,
our 27th wedding anniversary plans
will wait until tomorrow to solidify.
She’s putting the boy to bed
and I’m drinking a bourbon in the backyard
thinking about the solidity of a marriage.
Events or circumstances have at times
conspired against it, storms came through.
There were blissful days and torturous ones
and sometimes those days, both blissful and torturous,
turned into months,
once or twice they became years.
Our marriage, tank-like, a fortress,
has withstood it all, and we are practically
the only living couple I know who have lasted as long.
I’m not bragging.  We were and remain lucky and committed.

We live on a property covered with these majestic,
ancient oak trees and when the weather is bad
sometimes large limbs fall into the yard, the driveway,
impale themselves into the soft winter dirt, but
yesterday, one fell, on a perfect summer day,
directly across the drive.  They call them widow-makers,
and for good reason, because if I had been under it,
even if sheltered inside a car, I think I would right now
be a dead husband and my wife would be a widow.
We know we need to talk to a tree person.
What I’m trying to say is this (there’s a metaphor
at work here so bear with me):
It’s us against the oaks.  They’re going to try to outlive us
like they will outlive all the other tenants of this place,
and they might succeed.  They may also try to kill one of us.
But we’re going to talk to a tree person and between now
and the time when we can afford to have the work done
we’ll be on our guard against heavy falling branches.
And despite the fact that neither one of us has huge plans
for the big day tomorrow, we know something good will happen,
as we know there will many more anniversaries,
some with really important even numbers
attached to them, some for which we will throw
huge parties, probably all the way until
the year we die or one of us is killed by a falling limb.

6 Comments

Filed under Poetry

#48: Learning to Ride

Learning to Ride

He’s seven, reluctant to ride independently,
most of his classmates far ahead on two wheels,
which has not been a problem for him, so he says.
No, I’m scared, he has said.  No, I like the scooter better, he has said.
I will never ride a bike, he has said.  Never, he repeats, for emphasis.
But there was something about Dad saying this would be the summer.
And today was the day.  Dad has no worries or anxieties, really,
about his boy’s slow and reluctant approach to two-wheel independence,
only a sense of the importance of this step, of marking out
this particular summer as one in which something
great is accomplished.  So Dad says, Let’s get the bike out of the garage
and remove those clunky training wheels.
Let’s practice on the grass, so if you fall, it will not hurt.
And that was enough.  A few false starts, awkward
on the browned-out lawn, pedals uncompromising
and stubborn, lots of tipping, a failed attempt to lower the seat,
some awkward pokes to the groin area and some dramatic escapes
from the tumbling cycle.  But really, after only about ten minutes of this,
the first independent ride, short-lived, ending in collapse, but no injuries.
And then, Dad, not wanting to let this moment escape, produces
his phone for a rare captured moment.  He begins filming,
the boy mounts the saddle, Dad steadies the bike and begins to push
until the boy says, Daddy, let go–and Daddy lets go.
The boy makes a complete circle on his bike, independently,
in the yard, and you can see it on his face and hear it in his
father’s voice, a kind of triumph, a vibe of victory, the purest
kind of pride.  On the boy’s part, a sheepishness, as if to admit
much ado about nothing, but an unwillingness to let go of that innocence,
the baby boy who needs the training wheels.  And Dad, really,
on the verge of tears, a great emotion welling up inside,
for the accomplishment of the feat, yes, the tackling of one more
rite of passage, but of fear, too, and sadness, for the boy
who sets off and keeps on pedaling farther and farther away.

2 Comments

Filed under Parenting, Poetry

#47: Letting the Lawn Brown Out

browngrass

Letting the Lawn Brown Out

Otherwise, it would cost a small fortune
for all the water it would take
to keep it green, and who’s to say that somehow
green is prettier than brown?
It’s softer, yeah, sure, but I’m not
a barefoot kind of guy so I’m always
wearing shoes and I’d never
know the difference.
And brown grass doesn’t grow
so I haven’t had to mow
the stuff all summer long.
I am getting used to the idea
that a brown lawn is just as attractive
as any other lawn color,
and that’s good, because I think
we’ll all have to get used to brown
lawns, eventually all year long
until everything just shrivels up and dies
while we sit around admiring the beauty
of the dried up grass, the withering trees,
the lovely gray, tan-tinted roses in the garden.

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

#46: Call Me Reverend

Ministry

Call Me Reverend

Call me reverend, call me padre or father,
man of the cloth, pastor, minister, oh wise one,
leader of men, shepherd, or guy who became
an ordained minister on-line in less than
five real live human minutes.
Call me the guy who has credentials
to marry and bury and a parking permit
and a press pass and a free pass
and a bumper sticker that says,
“We are all children of the same universe”
above the symbolic representations
of all the faiths on the planet,
some of which he recognizes,
many of which he does not
and none of which represent
a faith he belongs to or practices.
Call me the Atheist minister,
the guy who became ordained because
someone asked him to officiate a wedding
and he said yes,
who believes in the basic goodness
and dignity of every living thing,
who believes not in an afterlife
of heaven or hell,
but of an afterlife in the memory
of those left behind and whose
lives he touched, for better or worse,
the guy who believes, in a nutshell,

that this is it,

and heaven or hell,
heaven and hell
are right here and now, baby,
and that one can be
exchanged for the other
with the right or wrong
kind of practice or with a good
or a bad kind of luck.
His ministry or creed:
be good to people and the planet
and all the living things upon it,
and that will go an awful long way.
It’s all we’ve got, in the end.

Coexistence-Children-of-the-Same-Universe

2 Comments

Filed under Poetry, Religion

In Celebration of My 100th Blog Post

It’s a milestone, don’t you think? It seems so to me. This blog post right here, the one I hope you are currently reading, is the 100th blog entry by Michael Jarmer. It took me two plus years to get here. So help me do the math. What is it? 50 posts a year? That’s 4.166 posts a month–but that wouldn’t be accurate, really, because there have been months at a time when I posted not a thing, and I’ve never posted less than a whole post, a fraction of a post, unless you consider a poem as something somewhat less than a full post, but then you’d be in some hot water with the poets. I wouldn’t want that for you.  But, to be truthful, the 45 poems I’ve posted, 30 of which were composed one-a-day as part of National Poetry Writing Month in  April, did enhance my numbers, productivity speaking. So, suffice it to say, I’m pleased with myself and I hope you are too–and to all of you who have made this blog site a regular stop of yours, I thank you from the very depths of my being.

Other than just to make a celebratory statement about my 100th blog entry, I’m not sure what to write about here.  Perhaps I could just muse a little bit on the effect blogging has had on my life and on my writing.  That might be good.  Perhaps, I could talk about the pros and cons of blogging.  At the very least, there may be some learning about the whole process that I could discover and then articulate for your reading pleasure, that is, if you find that kind of thing pleasurable.  Let’s have a go at that, shall we?

Blogging has made me more productive.  I’m a fiction writer, primarily, but I find that to write fiction, I need sustained amounts of time to immerse myself in the fictive dream, so to speak, sustained amounts of time that don’t occur for me on a regular basis–so my fiction composition is as slow as mud;  it took me ten years to finish Monster Talk and probably another ten years before the start of that project to finish my first novel, the one that’s been sitting in a box on my desk now for the better part of the last decade, yeah, the one about Spontaneous Human Combustion. Outside of my fiction writing, before blog (B.B.) I’d find myself writing poems every once in a while, sometimes in flurries far and few between, and sometimes I’d write a little bit of something in the context of my teaching for my colleagues, and whenever I could I would write alongside my students. But never could I say, that over the course of a year or two, that I had “finished” 100 pieces.  I’m still writing my fiction, slowly, I’m still doing odd writings here and there at work for colleagues and students, but on top of that, I have completed 100 blog entries. Perhaps, embarking on this endeavor, I have written more, finished more short pieces than I ever did B.B.

Blogging has widened my repertoire. I’ve written here essays about teaching, essays about parenting, essays about music, essays about writing, essays about fashion for crying out loud (thanks to Betabrand), autobiographical essays, cultural criticism essays, and blogs about blogging.  And I’ve written poems about 45 different things.  First off, my non-fiction output has shot up from no thing to 100 things! And secondly, none of those things are the things for which I think I am truly skilled and for which, as evidence of said skill, I have a piece of paper and a book! So blogging is helping me come into my own, I hope, as an essayist.

Blogging is spontaneous, improvisational in nature, at least it is for me, and that’s helpful because it has enabled me to explore things about which I have questions.  I choose a blog topic simply by intuition.  I’ve got lists here and there, but I don’t often refer back to them.  Rather, an inspiration will hit, stick with me for a day, an hour, or a few minutes, and I kind of know right away, I get a kind of temperature, and if it’s hot, if it sticks with me, if it compels me to sit down and begin typing, I go for it.  I rarely abandon a piece that I’ve started writing.  So blogging has also brought me a level of commitment toward finishing the things I start.  I appreciate that.

Are there any negatives in my blogging experience?

There’s a part of me that says ANY writing I do is a good use of my time.  Writing is something I want to do, so if I’m doing it, that’s a good thing.  But I have to ask myself, if all the time I devoted to creating blog entries over the last two years had been spent on fiction writing, how much further would I be toward the completion of a new novel–and wouldn’t that have been a BETTER use of my time?  My gut response is to answer no to that question.  When I think about the pleasure I have found in blogging coupled with the productivity and the way I feel like it’s broadened my writing, I am glad to have started the blog site and glad to have kept at it for two years.  I wouldn’t want to undo that progress in exchange for a draft of a new novel.  And what’s to stop me from blogging progress on the new novel?  What’s to prevent me from blogging fiction?

Now this is a difficult and dicey proposition, one that I have explored a little bit in an entry I wrote after National Poetry Writing Month.  There’s something scary and negative and offensive to me about drafting fiction in public.  I’m not sure exactly why–but I kind of feel like it demeans it somehow, and I’m guessing real poets feel the same way about publishing poems on a blog site.  I’m not sure I consider myself a real poet.  No, that’s not true.  I’m as real a poet as any other poet. Maybe it is that I have a different relationship to my poetry than I do with my fiction.  My poetry is kind of offhand, not meticulously crafted, and doesn’t have behind it a piece of paper and a book.  I know that and accept that about my poetry, so I’m not as guarded about it or as protective.  And the comment earlier, that I’m not a real poet, is only an effort to honor those poets who are guarded and protective about their work,  who feel like publishing their poetry in a blog post would somehow be demeaning or disrespectful to the work.  I’d love to hear other writers’ takes on this.  Ultimately, I think it’s all in my head.  That’s the truth of it.  And that leads to another potentially negative aspect of blogging.  This stuff in my head, emerging, not quite perfectly formed, sometimes even faulty, frail, wrong–it’s all right here on my blog site.

Blogging has made me a kind of statistic blip addict.  And that’s not a good thing. It’s something I want to work on–not being so needy about that. Part of the beauty and conversely the danger of blogging is the experience of instant publication and often instant feedback. How many visitors, likes, new followers, new comments, did that entry receive and what does it all mean?  This is something bloggers should be interested in, I suppose, but not obsessing about.  Only once have I obsessed–and it was terrible. Long after its original composition, a blog entry I wrote entitled “English Teacher Math: Teaching 200 Students How To Write” was posted and roasted on the Reddit social network  site.  It resulted in the busiest single day or two ever on my blog, and it resulted on Reddit in some pretty good conversation, some of it smart and helpful, but it also resulted in a number of absolute looney tunes posting comments after that blog entry on my site–all of which culminated in a near complete and total TIME SUCK in my life and in my head.  You know, hatred from strangers will have a tendency to do that–unless you have developed a strategy for dealing  with it, which I had not. I was a complete basket case for three days.  I got over that, and I have never had a repeat performance.  If another one comes up, I hope I will deal with it more effectively.  Blogging should not be a stress producer–and I’m thankful to say that exactly 99% of the time it has not been!

So there you have it, for now.  A meditation on my first 100 blog posts.  If you got this far, I thank you.  If you have been a regular visitor or a follower, I thank you.  If you would purchase my novel Monster Talk, I would be forever grateful.  It’s been a good trip, thus far.  I think I will continue doing this thing.  Cheers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry, Publishing, Self Reflection, Writing and Reading

#45: The Seven Year Old Understands Adult Psychology (Whispering Across the Table)

Em Hast

The Seven Year Old Understands Adult Psychology (Whispering Across the Table)

So the boy and his mother are bickering,
you know, the usual stuff, it’s time for dinner
and someone won’t put away the iPad.
There are repeated requests, some back talk,
further struggling, the ubiquitous countdown,
and then the final capitulation with
an accompaniment of sass and accusations
about Mom’s bossiness and grump.
It’s uncomfortable there for awhile until the boy
bites down on his kabob and hurts a tooth and
begins to cry–which elicits from Mom
sympathy and comfort–and then when
the hurt’s over, everyone is once again happy
and loving.

The boy, sometime during the meal,
whispers over to Dad that the hurt tooth
was really not as bad as it seemed and that
the crying was a bit of a calculated ruse
“to make Momma happy again.”

Absolute genius.  But disturbing in its way.
I wanted to say that there are other strategies,
perhaps more direct, perhaps more honest,
for restoring the peace, one of which might
have been an apology, another of which might
have been smiles instead of pretended tears,
but I could not say these things because we were,
after all, whispering across the table
and all was once again right with the world.

1 Comment

Filed under Parenting, Poetry