Thursday, October 20, 2011

Blogs That Are Not This One

I wrote a post about games as art and have started another blog--this one with some more purpose. Go ahead and giv 'er a read.


andwegotolder.blogspot.com


also, more Pathologic at . . .

pathologistics.blogspot.com

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

In case you were curious . . .

I didn't quit blogging or anything. I've been working on two projects over the past month/longer that have been occupying more of my time. The first is Pathologistics, a blog I started with my good friend Kevin. After reading an intriguing review, we're playing through Russian game Pathologic and chronicling the blood, sweat and tears shed over the course of that outing.


I'm also meta-editing Aesthetic Experience with my friend Barbara. We write about music--not like most music blogs--from a more personal view, sharing how it has impacted our lives.


On top of that, I'm working on a novel, trying to keep up a pace of 2,000 words per day (every other day, really), so that I have a draft by the end of winter. We'll see how that goes.

I'll keep you more up to date as things develop. PLEASE feel free to check out Pathologistics, cause it's crazy interesting stuff, and if you like music, go to Aesthetic Experience. I'll put some ideas/snippets from whatever I'm writing up here soon. I just hit a breakthrough on my current novel and will post some thoughts soon.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Slope


Last week I went on a trip to the canyon with Sarah, Andrea and Seth. I wanted to replicate the awesome (!) journey mom and I had up the river two summers back, so I took us to the same place where my mom and I made our dangerous descent (and ended up having to walk up the stream, climb up the waterfall and navigate Colorado's equivalent of Emyn Muil). The problem was that two years of erosion managed to wear away what little slope the sides of the canyon had, leaving only crumbling dust that held together what looked deceptively like solid rock--about fifty feet to the bottom of the river.

For about half a minute I thought we could (carefully) make our way down a small crevasse that gave way twenty feet down to crumbling dust, leaving a stretch of near-vertical descent to the canyon bottom. I should have realized after a few steps down--the tumbling rocks, the shifting sand--that any further movement would seal my fate. I should have turned around. I'd gotten Sarah to come down after me and I shouted for her to turn back just as my footing slipped and I slid vertically 30 feet to the base of the canyon. I started up a miniature landslide; rocks the size of my fist skipped down in pairs, narrowly missing my head. The whole time my mind was ablaze--I was terrified. I couldn't stop sliding down. My only hope was to keep my balance, keep from tumbling headfirst so I wouldn't snap my neck or impale myself on a jagged piece of dry timber.

When I reached the bottom I turned around, stared up to see my sister pumping her feet, trying to clamber up the side of the cliff which, from my vantage point, was obviously vertical (how could I have ever thought it wasn't?) My invincibility--the confidence I wield on every walk out to the open space, skirting the edges of cliffs, the crannies where rattlesnakes lay, coiled, trying to escape the sunlight--evaporated in a single moment as I realized that I had absolutely no control over anything. This fear of death, the realization that I was anything but safe, stayed with me as I traced the water upstream. My sandals (a buck from Old Navy, those bastards) broke as soon as I set foot in the creek, and I had to make my way barefoot a half mile to what was left of the waterfall I'd climbed in 2009. It had been a generous ascent before; caked mud and jutting rocks had let me carefully scale the meager 15 foot waterfall, but again, two years changes everything. The holds for my hands and feet were worn smooth, the mud long gone. I was forced to climb around the waterfall, a sheer forehead-slope of cracked mud which looked deceptively like worn rock. It was twenty feet up that I realized again, as I rounded the slope to the top of the waterfall (my path looked something like a parabola--a large inverted U, a steep hump): if I so much as slipped, I would actually fall onto the rocks at the base of the waterfall, and probably break both my legs if I was lucky. The only shrubs I could grab were withered and came out at the roots, and I felt the earth give beneath my right foot; I looked down, saw several clumps of dirt skip down to the waterfall. The grass snapped in my hand. I latched onto a nearby rock and pulled myself forward, crab-walked down the remaining slope to the top of the waterfall, and laid back into the water.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

And then ABBA broke in

What's it worth to be a fiction writer in our contemporary culture? The stuff people look at is on the internet, game menu screens, film. What's the place of literary fiction, short stories, novellas? Why does only the pulp get the buzz?

Something else.

I think yesterday I had the perfect moment--a grey Colorado sky, tea in one hand, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard in the other, cradled on my bathrobe, and Bon Iver's Beth/Rest in my ears while, behind me, the cinematic monstrosity that is Momma Mia! was playing on my parents' flat screen TV, blissfully drowned out. I kind of stopped and thought, "Holy crap. This is perfect." And then ABBA broke in.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

(22) Announcement

Again, still trying to figure out and refocus this blog so it means something. We'll see what I write about. Not sure at this point. I'm in the States and finally over jet lag, so I expect to start writing again now or soon. Keep well.

--jd

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

(21) Memories of Laos

Looking back on it, there was one moment in January 2011, while teaching ESL in Laos, that left me mystified. I was the only American in the office during that stretch—Brad and Stacy had left to have their baby—and as such, I was invited to all events.

I was about a half hour into teaching my 2D class when a student from C came to the door, nopped, and asked if I would please come to the ceremony in the next room. I gave the students a writing assignment and headed over to find the students all standing stock still, with several desks arranged at the very front of the classroom with bottles of water and a tall stack of gifts wrapped in silvery paper.

The head of English, Nakhavet, along with Sifong and myself, sat in the chairs as the students stared dutifully at us. The whole time I was thinking how little I’d asked my students to read, and when it would be over. The head of the class stood up, gave a ten minute presentation in Lao, and the class clapped mechanically for a full thirty seconds. They then gestured to us teachers. Nakhavet stood up, chuckled, and delivered a clipped three minute speech. Then Sifong, in her sixties, stood up and launched into a seemingly urgent speech that, like the tide, ebbed and flowed for a good twenty minutes. I didn’t pick up much, but I heard a bit about water and blessings—one of my fellow teachers leaned over and whispered the metaphor. “The wisdom of teachers spill onto the students to grow them like a spring harvest,” he said.

Finally, my moment came. The head of the class smiled and said, “Please, share wisdom with us.” And although I’d spent three years performing on stage in college, making things up as I went along, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what to say. Wisdom? ‘Life’s Lesson’? It sounds like a really entertaining improv game, actually. So rather than manufacture anything of my own, I turned my eyes up to the signs on the walls. Students make an effort to spruce up the classroom with traced drawings or—the eternal favourite—mis-translated sayings from their textbooks.

“Better to be the head of dog than the fail of lion,” I began, then stopped myself. Nobody batted an eye. So I kept on.

“A rolling stone gathers not moss,” I said.

“Money is time, and it is never too late to mend.”

Emboldened by some of the students’ looks, I continued to scan the walls.

“The wise man is always a good listener. And only education leads us to the successful,” I said with a flourish.

Each student sat in rapt attention except for one—the class president—who began to follow my gaze. I let my eyes wander to the far side of the classroom and happened upon the last of the aphorisms.

“Everyone learn from mistake no one is perfect.”

“Where there is a will there is away.”

“Single rod can’t be made a good fence.”

“The blind leading the blind.”

As I said the last one, almost unthinking, the perfect irony dawned on me, and I sat down doing my best to stifle a laugh. The class gave a mechanical clap, and Sifong stood up for a few words before the president handed each of us gifts in turn. As he presented me my gift, he slipped a small package underneath—a personal token from one of the students—which I later unwrapped to find a striped orange and brown tie folded in an old Marlboro box.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

(20) !!!

Augh! No! This blog is suffering from purposelessness! Will solve as soon as I start giving a crap again. Which will be AFTER I move back to America. Shame, huh? Only two more weeks. I know you're holding your breath...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

XIX: Move-In

From a draft of a work in progress. Maybe I have a loophole--I'm removing the text in one week. Lemme know what you think.

[removed]

The novel stands at 40 pages. Ish. Continuing on...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

XVIII - On Fear

So this has been mentioned to me in the past, and was the primary reason that the last incarnation of this blog was shut down. First Publishing rights. If I put up anything, some nit-pickers tend to think I've published it. Which I haven't. Because, I mean, really? Who reads this? I mean really?

So. Consider this a change in focus. If you would like to read what I'm writing, feel free to leave me a comment. From here on out, I'll only put up stuff I would never *seriously* try to get published. So what is this blog about? Let's figure that one out together, hows about.

Note now the slight transition from "reasonably intriguing showcase of one's writing" to "lame-ass blog"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

XVII - On Writing a Novel / Soulless

So I’m apparently in the middle of writing a novel, which is exciting. And, though I am writing, and writing quite a bit, I don’t feel comfortable putting up even intermittent snippets—for me, getting critiques about the writing as I’m putting something together end up killing the process for me, as I discovered on my old blog. I’ve lost whole short stories (like my shotgun coffee shop/live painting story in 2009) because I just put stuff up before I’d gotten through a whole draft.

That said, I can share some other things. I find that, as a writer, I respond especially to music as I compose stories. The music affects a wide range of things—most noticeably my mood, and the overall emotional timbre of the piece. I’ve had short stories spun out of lyrics or concept albums—like my seven dreams piece, which was really rooted in Shearwater’s Palo Santo. For Americano—which I’d sum up succinctly as Faust in a coffee shop, replete with train stations through hell, strange guardian angels burrowing through basement walls, and a lot of tempo changes—I turned to both Amanda Palmer (specifically her persona, drunk in an empty auditorium singing radiohead covers) and other strong female singers, as well as Nick Drake, Anais Mitchell’s Hadestown, Blonde Redhead’s spare euro-pop album Penny Sparkle, Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock, and, earlier in the process, Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love”. Near the end of the process, and the novella, I found a tone in Boards of Canada’s album “The Campfire Headphase”, which sounds like you’re sixty years old on a salt-sanded beach.

Overall, after I’d smoothed out the kinks with the voice, I was left with a second draft that was, largely, controlled and sad and, for the most part, distant. I’d told a story that spun Eurydice on her head, made her a sex-crazed emotionally torn Faust, and left her, at the end, more or less in hell. It wasn’t an easy thing to write, and though I found a lot more hope in it than others, my impression from readers was that it was more or less depressing, and in their eyes, hopeless. This was not my intent, but the music sang, and the prose spoke, and the character ended where she would.

It’s my hope, as I move forward with this novel, that I find a different emotional core, a different voice. If Americano was Eurydice, then this one’s Orpheus. Doesn’t mean it’ll end happy, but I think it’ll end differently, if nothing else. It’s turning deeply personal, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes out of it. At the time of this writing, it’s at 26 pages and counting.

I’ve compiled a playlist for this album, too. It’s massive, and I’ve tried to keep it alternating between two extremes—every other song. What’s on it? I started with Patty Griffin and Over the Rhine, the National, M. Ward and Joni Mitchell—warm, soulful voices—and then I heaped artists like Aphex Twin, Radiohead (Kid A & King of Limbs style), Flying Lotus, the Knife, and Boards of Canada—distant beats, cold, quick sounds. Among others. Sigur Ros’s Untitled album looks to be a fair influence too, for different parts. It’s my hope, through my voice, if nothing else, that I can produce something warmer, though just as trying and emotionally resonant as Americano.

I’d like to close with a short letter one of my close friends sent me—some harsh criticism that I really took to heart. Posted without his permission, of course, as is my wont.

I did read your book, and I found it to be further proof of your excellence as a writer. Indeed, Joe, you've quite surpassed the rest of us in that regard. I liked the hell scene and I thought your unctuous Mephistopheles -- Mr. Bean -- was the perfect tempter. I was not convinced, however, by the logic of the Faustian bargain. In order to sell her soul, Mary had to have one in the first place, and I found little evidence of that. She seemed too cool, detached, cynical. The sex she engaged in was horrible in its passionlessness -- it reminded of the encounter between the secretary and the "young man carbuncular" in the Wasteland. But maybe that was your point -- to show the blending of earth and hell, to rewrite the Faustian bargain as something easy and unconscious, rather than momentous and signed in blood. But this brings me to my primary concern: why is it, my dear Joe, that you refuse to allow your main characters souls? Real, living, human souls? The ghost, the little mermaid, the necrophile, now Mary -- I feel like it's becoming a problem. Really, I'm curious. Your newsletters are so full of color and life -- but your fiction is always gray and, well, dead-feeling. Beautiful, too, don't get me wrong. Dead things often have a kind of ethereal loveliness (and when you aren't being intentionally ugly -- with the vomit, urine, mechanical sex -- this story has it too). But seriously, what's the deal with that? Why do you think this has become your aesthetic?

Friday, April 15, 2011

XVI-Truck

It took us four hours to get out to Dondet. It’s an island resort for tourists with a sizeable village and loads of Beerlao. From the Kilometer 8 bus station, my friend Saleumsai and I left on a pickup truck stuffed with Lao people trying to get away for the new year. This was a pickup truck on the small side, blue, with a tin roof and three benches set in parallel rows in the truck bed. By the time we pulled out of the bus station, we had 35 breathing passengers, maybe four kids, and the top was loaded down with luggage. Over the course of the journey, I think ten more passengers were added, hanging off the poles on the back of the truck, and dropped off early. Newcomers were given special seating on the top of the roof, with no protection from the 42 C sunlight, though I imagine it was exciting.

What could/should have been an hour and a half trip (100 kilometres, about 50 miles) turned into a four hour study of human emotion. Tranquility gave way to discomfort, discomfort to irritation, to anger, to hatred, to jealousy, to despair, to confusion (where are we even going anyway?) and finally to resignation. I actually attempted to “go to my happy place” and imagine myself flying over the surface of the earth.

Oh, and every other kilometre, we found ourselves bombarded at homemade Pii Mai “checkpoints” where we were doused with water according to the whims of local children. Water balloon, hose, spray gun, bucket: anything goes at Lao New Year.

Believe it or not, I’m not jaded or angry. I knew—I was almost certain—that we’d be soaked, so I ziplocked everything, wore clothes I didn’t mind getting wet, and kept a stiff upper lip. What did grate on me, however, was our pitstops to various villages, sometimes several kilometres off the main road, and the long waits as passengers unloaded, came on board, or the myriad pauses to let the vendors swarm the truck with bagged chicken, sweets, drinks. As the heat thickened, the little boy across from us started to cry and was silenced by his older brother, who wore a cloth over his face to hide his diseased (or defective) eye.

I suppose the sole consolation for me was that, among my fellow passengers, all of whom have been raised in a society that prizes face above all else, I saw the same misery and frustration reflected, at least for brief moments. Misery loves company, eh?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

XV

Today was some kind of turning point. I sat on my plastic faux-leather couch with my friend Saleumsai, my feet at a rude angle against the wall, while he sat next to me holding a pirated copy of the Coen Brothers’ True Grit. Bao Bao Ling, my 8 Bit NES knockoff game system, was on a cushion in front of us, and the house was hot as hell. I was in a weird haze quoting Monty Python, substituting in Bedak for Spam, and he kept turning the film cover over, examining the back. I don’t think either of us said anything coherent for a full hour. I finally figured out that opening up a window might lower the temperature a few degrees, and we settled back into coherence.

I don’t know what today means. But happy Pii Mai Lao. Everyone’s getting out their water guns and buckets so they can “bless” any hapless passers-by who are dumb enough to venture out on their motorbikes come Wednesday. My plans to go up to Luang Prabang with Saleumsai are shot, though we might make it out to a waterfall or something majestic. Who knows?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

XIV: Momentum


(something about weddings. message me if you wanna read the opening passage of my novel)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

XIII: On John Gardner's Advice

John Gardner recommends when we don’t have anything to say ourselves, it’s better to go and rewite something you read; he guarantees you won’t write it the same way. Very true. I took something one of my writer friends wrote and put my own spin on it. Here’s the first page or two.

She stands up, gathers the purse, her hand on the chair, thumb absent-mindedly rubbing in circles, her hair pulled up in sharp blonde ringlets, a few strays wisping out. She breathes twice—short breaths, clutches the purse leafs through it, two twenties now folded in her hand, takes his hand, coughs, walks. The restaurant is busy, a clink of glasses, smell of iced tea and a line of seventy-year-olds at the side of the room, half with thick glasses, their backs bent, their old sweaters, their lined faces, the years tugging at their once-young chins.

Christopher, she snaps her hands. The son under the counter pulls back his groping hand, full of peppermints, into the Sunday Best his mother has put on him: khakis for kids half his age, he’s short you see, she tells the newcomers after the service, it’s cheaper see, cause we don’t have to buy him new every season. The mother sighs, hands the cashier the check bills, and turns to watch her father, a swollen red-skinned man, of Indian descent, leaning on a dark-wood cane, the arm of his wife looped through his own, both of them as wrinkled as old fruits, and walking slow but with intent past the buffet lines. The old man sways as he passes the beets, then obvious disgust, an oddity considering the heap of beets he scarfed not twenty minutes before.

A thresher of a man, large-mouthed, small-souled, with a deep timbre and the sort of boots that deserve spurs, though there’s no use for them here in the deep swamps. The family walks out of the restaurant into the heat of the parking lot, the smell of tar rising in waves and painted yellow lines, the way it sucks at their feet as they make their way to the car. The old man’s mind is tarred, feathered, a cluck a cluck you’d think not by looking at him, so weathered and calm. Christopher, running in circles behind them. Christopher, stop, says the mother, says Marie, his mother. His eyes dull and he skips once in defiance, then turns his head down, shielding his eyes from the glare of the cement. Marie brushes a line of sweat, already formed, five steps from the door. Her dress tugs uncomfortably at her shoulders. She’s two sizes too large, ten years past fashion for this old dress worn like a uniform every Sunday, every Sunday like a good church girl, the way she was raised.

Dammit Ellen, her father says, as he falters briefly, the cane angled beneath him, his wasp-nest of a wife holding her thin hands on his back. He pushes her aside, I can do it, he says, lurches across, a short a long a short step, to the car, cusses as he opens the door, a yellow Georgia sun in an eyeblue sky above. Marie straightens her dress, the one she’s had since high school, the one she wore to prom, a faded floral print, roses maybe, potpourri, orange rinds, the smell of her parents’ house now. An inward resentment, hearing her father cuss in front of Christopher, smelling the old fabric, the old woman smell, of her spindly mother who, until last spring, had been the plumpest in the family, as the family slides into the 1987 station wagon.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

XII: Teachers


Avoiding this.

For whatever reason, I started thinking about my old teachers this past week. I didn’t have a whole lot of crazy pedagogues, to be honest (ask Alyssa) but there were a few. Namely Mr. Burnham, sixty-something, sporting a Harley Davidson, some fifty acres of South-Texas soil and a gold-digger wife. He told us he became a teacher for the hell of it.

The name of the course was “Integrated Physics and Chemistry” and, in the midst of a semester populated by sparkling gems such as “World Geography” with Mr. Westmoreland, or my one honors English course (with an uncomfortably hot blonde chick, recently graduated from Baylor with—shoot, a two year old), Burnam’s class was some weird breath of fresh air. I had him seventh period—the last class of the day—along with a sorted array of druggies, punks and rejects (you know. Usual high school stuff).

I was consistently amazed at how little he taught. The man, deeply tanned, wiry, with a smoker’s cough, would launch into long tirades about his fifteen year old son, how he just wrecked his second car, or they walked in on him having sex in his bedroom, or whatever. Most of his stories just trailed off, or devolved into talking about bedroom drama.

We came back from Christmas break to find several containers of now-fermented bits of Trix and Coco Pebbles cereal. After several increasingly-uncomfortable weeks of smelling the stuff putrefying in the corner, he dumped the whole thing into a complex apparatus and set to distilling the alcohol. He told us it was for Biology class. “Burnam’s White Lightnin’! Get it ‘fore it’s gone!” he shouted as we left.

I stayed after class one day and asked for help on an assignment, and he regarded me with this sort of wry amusement and told me he felt sorry for me. “Why?” I asked. He coughed. “Well, cause y’know, you. You—you’re not like the rest of them. You wanna learn.” He gestured toward the empty rows of desks. “And, they, uh. You know,” he said.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

XI: DREAM OF THE VAGRANT

Currently Re-revising some old short stories as I'm preparing to publish. I would love your feedback.

(If you wanna read it, then comment)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

X: A Hit! A Palpable Hit!


I want to tell you why you should listen to Chris Kiehne. As the one listener on Last.fm with (currently) about half of his total plays, I’d say if any one person has the right to do this, it’s me.

I was first acquainted with Chris Kiehne on some backwater forum that discussed the chilling and gratuitous The Dead Will Walk, Dear by The National Lights, a weird meeting of beautiful, quiet folk and, well, the bastard love child of Buffalo Bill and John Wayne Gacy, Jr. I followed some links, ended up on megaupload, and eventually had five tracks of the as-yet-unfinished Pray For Daylight, Kiehne’s first “full” album which, after a devastating hard drive crash, was more or less abandoned.

So, knowing this, I dumped them into my iTunes, plugged in my headphones, and began listening. What I found was something entirely beautiful, clean and unassuming. I’d had a similar experience with The National Lights’ album—yet the songs he’d written for Pray For Daylight didn’t mask or belie any sort of underlying vitriol. The album seemed, almost, to be mourning itself as I listened. Chris said that if The Dead Will Walk, Dear was about killing [and then eating/raping/burying] your girlfriend, Pray For Daylight was about trying to save her.

And it is. I latched onto the music, for whatever reason, and, in keeping with my mild OCD tendencies, I just put the album on repeat and let it grow on me. I ended up sending a message to Chris on last.fm, got to talking about his album, and found out he was thinking of going back and finishing the project. I asked him for lyrics and we started talking about the whole thing—what the album was doing, what it wasn’t, what it was about, and everything else. Pray For Daylight’s lyrics were surprisingly cohesive, building a strange picture of zombies, teen romance and loss. Yeah, zombies. Don’t worry, no brains, no blood—just scattered images, invocations of dead or undead love, and loads of beautiful guitar backed up by Sonya Cotton’s breezy, otherworldly voice.

All that said, Chris finished Pray For Daylight and released it on his website for a whopping five bucks. He’s currently working on The Western Throne—a denser, fuller body of work that, from what I’ve seen, has pushed beyond the territory of Pray For Daylight’s breezy, mid-tempo folk to more dynamic, literary material, drawing heavily on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, from what I’ve heard. He’s got loftier aims this time around and a lot more to say, which manifests itself both through his matured vocal performance and the busier song arrangements that populate the album.

Dunno when The Western Throne comes out, but you can bet I’ll post it here. Also, if I get his permission, I might stick up an mp3 somewhere. As it is, here’s the gorgeous Diomedea from Pray For Daylight.

Chris, man, you gotta coat this album in venom and stick it to those pricks at Pitchfork.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

IX: For Alice Pt 2


First bit here. Ghost story. I always imagined it in my old house in Mosinee, Wisconsin.

(Message me to read the rest)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

VIII: The Golden Archipelago (Or, a herald for more pretentious music snob nonsense in the future)


(Stolen from an older post for another blog I used to write for. I may have to post some more stuff there. Keep your eye on it here).

Shearwater is my favourite band out there right now. I love every inch of their arty pretentious emotionally-fueled rock, and they've rewarded us with their latest album, The Golden Archipelago.

2006’s Palo Santo was a raw affair, a concept album conceived by the band as they struggled to find their footing after Will Sheff’s exodus. While it featured what I believe to be the band’s strongest and most consistent lyrics, the sonic texture of the album was extremely uneven between the ambitious arrangements of the five standout tracks (1, 2, 5, 8, 10) and the slower songs like Failed Queen and Nobody. This disparity was made more acute with the release of the deluxe edition in 2007, which featured vastly improved recordings of the five standout tracks.

I’ll stand by Palo Santo; it’s still my favourite, though it’s a flawed record. When I write stories I find they typically reflect the sentiments and emotional timbre of the music I’m most attached to at the moment. I wrote a series of short fictional “dreams” based on seven different faces of the Tarot, though as the writing progressed it became increasingly clear that Shearwater provided most of the inspiration for the work.

I came to Shearwater through their 2008 release Rook. Where Palo Santo was rough and course, Rook was as smooth as glass. I can’t name a single weak song on the album: each one is well-constructed and minutely refined, like a delicate piece of stained glass or an ice sculpture. The whole album swoops, flutters, dives, much like its namesake.

And while I found Rook to be technically satisfying, breathtaking, I couldn’t help but find the textured sound of Palo Santo more compelling. I’ll freely admit that Rook is the “better” album, but Palo Santo got under my skin in a thousand different ways, and each time I listened through I found something new, some lyrical hook or link I hadn’t found before.

So far I don’t know what to make of The Golden Archipelago. I do know that, from listening through it dozens of times, the album manages to hone the band’s sound. The raw energy of Palo Santo meets the careful construction of Rook. The sonic landscape of the album is entirely new as well. Palo Santo sounded like an undercover transmission from across enemy lines in some war-torn wasteland, replete with an unsettling feedback interference that pervaded every track. The album is uncomfortable in every respect. Rook took me north to a landscape of craggy glaciers and moonlit wastes. The waterphone “South Col” impresses the image of a graveyard of wrecked ships captured in the ice, the wind scratching across their hollow shells. Take a look at Kahn & Selesnick’s most recent project, Eisbergfriestadt (from which the cover image was taken) and you’ll get a clearer sense of the sonic landscape Shearwater are building.

The Golden Archipelago journeys south to the Pacific. The album hits you like the swelling of some huge wave: the sea, the storms and the tide create the heartbeat of the album, which is warm where Rook was cold, welcoming where Palo Santo was alienating. Like Rook, The Golden Archipelago is all about the narrative and emotion, less about the strength of the individual songs, though each song possesses a singular and unique effect as each one did in Palo Santo. I can’t pick a single song I don’t like. That said, I’ve yet to be impacted by the lyrical content.

Having grown up in Nabire, a small town on the beaches of Western New Guinea, I find the album’s approach to be quite powerful. The Papuans, descendents of the Aborigines, have found their freedom hounded away by the constant press of the Indonesian military. As a people their very identities are being auctioned off to machine gun carbines and motorcycle smoke. Songs like “Uniforms” and “Runners of the Sun” embody the steady attrition of this people’s way of life. It’s an album of unimaginable scope and scale—encompassing every facet of the landscape I grew to love, from the slow moving glaciers up in the mountains to the humid chokehold of sea level. And always the sensation of wind and rain, the images of the sea woven throughout, the devastation of the tidal wave and the fury of a volcanic eruption.

Yeah, I’m all about the hyperbole. Shearwater invites these images, though. I remember when I first introduced my friend Josh to the band on the floor of my parents’ basement in Colorado (“La Dame et Licorne” from Palo Santo) he got this far away look in his eyes and told me this was the band he’d been looking for. Fire and water and earth and wind: it had them all. Shearwater gives voice to the unspoken fury and serenity of the natural world, a rage in the face of all we’ve taken for granted in the day-to-day ho hum of concrete suburban/urban life. Take this band up the mountainside or into the blanketing quiet of your bedroom and you’ll find yourself transported to a world with its own mythology and a pulse all its own.

--Duke

Sunday, February 27, 2011

VII: Uh Oh (Or, Reasons Why I Will Never Be Published)

Here are four reasons why my novel is never going to get written.

Dark Souls
I was a huge fan of Demon’s Souls for the PS3, which was the most punishing (yet fair) game I’d had the privilege of playing in a long while. I’m not an exceptionally good player, but I relish a challenge, and as my skills have sharpened as I’ve gotten older, I’ve done kind of ridiculous things with games I used to find difficult—like playing through Zelda: Ocarina of Time with three hearts and no shield. I consider that, along with Demon’s Souls, to have been my all time low-point in my battle against my masochistic impulses*

All that said, I cried beautiful, harsh man tears when I finally beat Demon’s Souls, and I intend to do the same with Dark Souls.

*well, almost


The Last Guardian

I was a huge fan of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus—two games that verged on “transcendent”—and I really don’t use that term lightly. The art direction and overall “feel” of the games made by Team Ico is unique; there’s a good reason people use Shadow of the Colossus as fodder in the “Video Games as Art” war. That is, of course, another discussion. All that said, most people probably have The Last Guardian pegged (rightly) as an “Old Yeller” waiting to happen.


Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
It looks to me as though Skyrim will do most of what Oblivion failed to do. The world seems real—with new wind, water direction, and lighting effects, I can see myself getting lost here. Oblivion’s dungeons—really, most of the world—all began to look the same after the 30 hour mark—a flaw Bethesda seemed to notice, as they’ve hired eight dungeon designers this time around rather than one.



Dead Space 2
I love to be scared. And zombie aliens are scary. I recall the perfect, mind-numbing dread that accompanied me through each of Dead Space’s 10ish chapters—how the fear was this constant, wonderful, terrifying presence, and how even at the end I was jumping.

Y’know, I think it’s that masochism thing again. Dang. I have problems.

VI: Town Sketch


(Impressionism--working on the novel ideas. Things evolving.)

Pines fringed town, the black water –lapped shores and fishing men in white sailed boats. An old man and a Labrador out for the morning walk, shadows etched against the fog and spray. A calm day. Five two story red brick buildings, the eaves frosted with the early winter snows, a clattering diner on the cobbled main road, and a lone figure, pack slung over his right shoulder, walking down the road, cracked leather and flannel and scuffed hiking boots.

Round white stones. The sound of birds and the quiet sough of the lake in the morning, and the sour breath of fishermen. Five men work in a small mine, pointless venture begun generations, a hope of gold or diamonds, kept aloft only by the occasional windfall. Tourists unwelcome. Founded in the latter half of the 19th century by enterprising Frenchmen who promptly forgot they’d built their new home on the edge of the world, at the farthest reaches of hell. It’s a cold town, a drowning town, a whispering town: ten plump middle-aged women, ten greying mid-lifed men, and the few children who’ve stayed to tend the shops and their grandparents staying home.

There are two ways out: the rustling crick across languid waters, or fifteen miles of old pavement, past the parish and graveyard, to the backroads to the seven eleven to the ridges of mountains and rivers. It is this quiet, prized life the wandering man seeks. He walks into the café, bell-rung door, sits on a creaking bench to be seated. Seven AM and the men have gone to fish, the tourists have bought their tickets and the coffee has begun to settle, to thicken. The newspaper is two weeks old; the dark wood of the café smells of smoke and beans, and the air is warm, so the man sloughs off his jacket, rises and rings the bell on the counter.

If you LIKE it, then COMMENT!!! (And if you don't, then TELL ME)

V: The Little Mermaid Part 1


(If you followed my old blog, then this is rehash. I started working on a project with Redmoon Theatre about a year ago--writing the script for a re-imagining of "The Little Mermaid". I went straight to Hans Christian Andersen's classic--no Disney here--and wrote the first half of the play until the project was scrapped. I intend to finish it . . . someday. The following is spoken by the Little Mermaid herself. I've removed stage directions as well, so use your imaginations, why don't you!)

(Message me if you wanna read it. Sorry, but I really want this one to get published some day)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

III: Sam Adamski, A Character Sketch

Every day Sam Adamski wears his Packers cap, blue dungarees and dark flannel to work at Banders Paper Co., a mere five minute drive, or fifteen minute walk, down the road from where he lives, a white two-story house with off-white whitewash and dark grey shingling, the mortgage paid for after the accident by his older brother, well-off, who lives off a well-laid investment in computers up in his apartment in Wausau.

Sam Adamski, in his thirties, his dark beard broken only by a two inch scar beneath his right cheekbone where five years ago men found a pinewood stake lodged, as nearby a half-unconscious Sam complained for the last time through a mouth of bubbling blood that there was a problem with the chipper and would someone please fix it, please. The work of those doctors, who painstakingly extracted it and most of the splinters in his lower gums and the roof of his mouth, is something his wife and father will never forget.

It was not the accident but the infection that stole Sam’s mind. Whether he was not prescribed enough medication or, because of soaring medical bills, his wife took him home for a week’s bed rest until the fever capped—only the lengthy settlement process and Rose’s conscience can truly reconcile.

When he finally woke, something had gone. What was mistaken, at first, for bliss, was something perpetual, something slow. Sam had been a drinker, a thinker, a man they’d pegged to go on to found a business or join something National or International. The words, all there, and still spoken, but delivered with unnatural slur. His eyes dart back and forth in vague confusion as his two daughters, three and five, are brought to his hospital bed. When he rises he wears a look of dawning recognition, as though he’s always about to get the joke.

Banders County Clinic quietly shoves money in his direction, hoping to avoid a lawsuit. His wife packs up their trailer home with the help of St. Anthony’s strongest teenagers and picks a choice piece of real estate situated between downtown Schafer and the Mill, where Sam will likely work until an early retirement. On paper, it’s tragic. Yet every night Rose would spend crying alone is spent in the arms of her silent husband; every evening her children might have come home to find their father drinking cares, he’s pacing the floor to welcome them with open arms. Sign language is beyond him, along with most writing and reading. Yet his life carries on; his drinking buddies welcome him with open arms to work, to all-star barbecues and football on the lawn and, in the winters, hockey out on the lake. On weekends he’ll wear jerseys and walk the neighborhood like a restless dog.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

II: Haiku

lingering question:
with internet forsaken,
will I write this week?

I

Someone said I should start blogging again.

So here we are.