Friday, January 8, 2010

The Year In Alphabet, 2009

I've been absent from this blog for about eight months. Sorry, folks. I've decided to make my re-debut (if I can call it that) an account of my year via the alphabet. I got this fantastic prompt by reading Diana's. Thanks for the fantastic prompt.

On May 20, I relapsed, got shitty, got in a car, got pulled over, got thrown in jail, got out of jail, got myself back into a program of recovery. A busy day.

Amphibious Car
These were made in the 1950s and 60s. I rode in a German one. A guy staying at the resort I worked at owned it. I asked him all about the car while admiring it on my cigarette break. He asked me if I wanted to go for a ride after my shift. Rhetorical question. It’s a strange experience— riding in red convertible, doing forty, then cruising right down a boat ramp into a lake before motoring out, going under a bridge in a car that is also a boat. When wake came over the hood, the owner turned on the windshield wipers. Before he turned on the lake, he used turn signals. It was a surreal feeling to be riding in an amphibious car across a lake while having a revoked driver’s license.


More like bondswoman. Mine wore a pink flowered shirt and tight pants when she came to get me out of Dickinson County Jail. She was nice as pie. I paid her $100 cash and promised not to violate my bond terms and appear at my court date. She said, “If you disappear, my husband will find you.”

What a fantastic nickname.



I got back into restaurant cooking at a breakfast place in Okoboji, IA. On days when it felt nothing was going right, I chopped onions and green bell peppers and mushrooms and bacon into bits for omelets. The rhythm of chopping and dicing soothes me like a cooing mother soothes a child.


Driving Privileges

When I first started driving, my father said, “No one has the right to drive. It is a privilege.”
Ten some odds years after that warning, my driving privileges were revoked. I got rides from friends in recovery to attend meetings. I rode my bike everywhere until I got a Temporary Restricted Work Permit, which allowed me to drive to and from work only. I’ve never been so grateful to be allowed to drive to and from just one place. The bike ride to work helped shave some pounds and form strong legs. Round trip mileage =12 miles. In the autumn, the bike ride at 5:00 a.m. was brisk, but beautiful and peaceful.

DOT (Department of Transportation)

I am convinced that the DOT uses two words in nearly all their dealings: no, cash


Enough is enough. After months of saying I didn’t need a program of recovery, I became an active member in one.

Fly Fishing

Over the summer, I would fly-cast from the front of our family motor boat or the family dock. The rhythm of fly-casting calms and soothes me the same way chopping does. This summer, I caught a 15 inch northern on my fly rod. It felt like a whale. When the white bass swam the docks at dusk to feed on shad, I was there, casting a small hula popper, dragging it across the top of glass-calm water. The memory of watching those bass hit the top-water lure brings me joy.



The guy I cook with nicknamed me this. It stuck. I love it.

Gratitude Lists
I can bitch about my shoes being tied, so just imagine when I hit a rough patch. Each day I write a list of what I am grateful for. It shapes my perspective from woe to luck.


I started wearing a baseball cap every day, again.


I am seriously considering building one of these out on the lake. There’s at least a foot of snow covering West lake Okoboji. This is my winter solution to an ice house for ice fishing. Stay tuned.

Interlock Ignition Device
I had to put one of these mother fuckers in my car as result of being allowed my Temporary Restricted Work Permit. It is a breathalyzer. It does not work well in the cold. You must breathe into it to start your car. You must breathe into it at random times while you drive your car.


I love to wear orange, but only on a voluntary basis.

I write in my journal every day. This summer I wrote and wrote and wrote to relieve stress and relax and process how I was restarting recovery, how I was living in a new town where I didn’t know many people, how I was in trouble with the law and didn’t want to be, how things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to, but the culmination of all of these events since May turned out in ways I needed.


In wheel pottery, I loaded three gas kilns. It is tedious, labor intensive work—arranging all the pots close together, but not too close that the glazes melts them together. The kiln shelves are very heavy and balanced on small, vertical bricks. Loading a kiln is like playing a very breakable version of Jenga backwards.


I hired one for a very large sum of money. I carried his card in my billfold in case of legal emergency. At times, I wanted to tear my lawyer a new one. At times, I wanted to kiss my lawyer on the forehead.

I wrote a lot and received a lot of these. I saved each letter as desert mail after reading through letters from my lawyer and financial shit.


Milford, IA

After renting my parent’s basement for the summer, I moved into a cozy apartment off the lake and into this small town. At first, I bitched about Milford, but I love my quiet apartment in a quiet town. I discovered new ways to write poems. I discovered how to reach out for help from strangers because I was living in a place with no friends and no pre-established community like when I was in school.

I graduated with this degree from Mankato State Univ, Mankato in early May 2009

In undergrad, I lived in Maryville, MO. In grad school, I lived in Mankato, Minnesota. Post grad school, I live in Milford, IA. I am stuck in the Ms and don’t mind.


Negative Temperatures
This winter has been the coldest, snowiest of my life. The “feels like” temperature was -36 when I got up this morning. We have had two serious blizzards. It is only January 8th. We are at the mercy of the wind.

This is the name of my begonia. He’s an I before E in all circumstances kind of plant. Recently, someone accused him of being “spindly.” He did not appreciate the attack on his Swerve.


OWI (Operating While Intoxicated)

When I met with my lawyer for the first time, he said “In the state of Iowa, it is easier to defend a murder case then and OWI.” Of all the things I wish I wouldn't have done, this tops the list.


Thanks to RockSaw Press, my chapbook Botched Heroics was published in April 2009. The book design is beautiful. The designer, Jorge Evans, hit the nail on the head with the cover. Thanks, RockSaw!


The first three months of post-relapse sobriety I got into a lot of these with loved ones and friends. I’m slowly but surely making amends.


In late October, Lee Ann Roripaugh mailed me her newest book, On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year. Fantastic read. In a time when I felt like I’d estranged myself from the world of writers because I was busy trying to stay sober, this book came to me at the perfect time, in a perfect way. Thanks, Lee Ann.

I worked the front desk at one on East Lake Okoboji this summer. I loved the people I worked with.

I have never been so confused as to how an event happens while it is happening. This is how an addiction makes you its bitch if you are not successfully working a program of recovery.


I got one. I am eternally grateful.

Suppression Hearing
A lawyer will request that specific evidence be suppressed from a case due violations of law. My lawyer argued that there was not sufficient probable cause for me to be pulled over. The police report claimed that the initial tip-off that I was driving impaired was by driving 25 mph in a 30 mph zone. There were many other technicalities. All in all, the judge sided with my lawyer, which is rare. We won the case because the stop and everything after the stop became suppressed evidence. My lawyer called me with this news at 8:24 am on New Year’s Eve.

I tried it on my own from January to May. This time around, I am happy to report I am nearing eight months of sobriety. The longest stint since I was 14.


Thrift Store Finds
In the last days of December 2009, I made two miraculous thrift store purchases:

I purchased an Armani 100% Pure Virgin Wool Sports Coat for $8.00. It fits me perfectly. It has no flaws. The value of this coat begins at over $500 due to its condition.

A couple days after the Armani purchase, I found a set of eight white Fiestaware cups with seven matching saucers. I bought the set for $4.00.

I enrolled in voluntary, extended alcohol treatment. I have a fantastic counselor. The other day when we met we were talking about how hard it is to remain recovered and avoid taking the next drink. He told me, “People who stay sober weather a lot of storms that people without addiction problems can’t imagine. Sobriety takes perseverance. Perseverance builds character. Character builds hope. And hope will not disappoint.” This is one of the most profound things anyone has ever said to me.


Some days I wore them around my apartment. Some days I did not.


Valu-Time Cookies
I ate an incredible amount of Mint, Fudge, and Peanut Butter flavored ones. I think the company’s stock rose three points.


This is my jade plant. He likes to watch it snow.

Wheel Pottery
I took this class in Spring 2009. It changed a lot of what it helped me gain a more profound, hands-on understanding of how creating art is a process of mistake-making.

Walleye Fishing
Due to a mild summer, the walleye fishing was astoundingly good on West Lake Okoboji. I caught three walleye over 20 inches, two of them one day after the other.


Marks the spot.
Many times I don’t quite understand how I come to live in a place. Moving to the Okoboji area came with a host of post-relapse difficulties. A quote that helped me cope with how things hadn’t turned out the way I’d planned or hoped: “If I am unable to change the present state of affairs, am I willing to take the measures necessary to shape my life to conditions as they are?”


I stopped thinking in terms of what had happened the day before. I made strong progress toward remaining present and focused on solutions to problems instead of burying myself in the woe of problems. I wasn’t always successful, but I grew to accept life on life’s terms (most of the time) best I could.


The guy I shared a cell with popped zits while looking in the stainless steel mirror. I told him how I’d relapsed and ended up in jail eight hours later. I told him how I’d been trying to stay sober. He told me, “The Big Guy must love you in a tough way.” He was on his way to the federal pen for drug charges. I would like to get a cup of coffee with him when he gets out.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Tad on "Tunnel Vision"

The past couple of days I've been thinking a lot about the conversation my ceramics teacher and I had about "tunnel vision." During my final critique he asked me to tell him a bit about how each pot was different and branching out in the sense that he could tell I was "taking a risk to see what the clay could do." I know "tunnel vision" drives him absolutely crazy because a student's reluctance to try new forms means that student gets stuck making the same pot over and over. That same student gets pissy about making any other form than the form he or she has appropriated as a comfort zone, which makes his life more difficult since the student becomes reluctant to being taught anything new.

The same happens to writing students. I imagine that "tunnel vision" is a problem of all artists in any genre in any part of the world. I did go through my little diddy of tunnel vision, though I remained teachable because I'm an idea thief. This means I listen, I read, I scratch my head and then take whatever I've observed and try to make it my own. I'm sort of a sponge that way. But, my first year of graduate school I wrote only from the perspective of a submarine. When I felt the submarine poems going stale, however, I ditched them. I didn't really have much of an emotion about ditching the submarine sequence. I just knew it had to happen. At first, the submarine poems were liberating, but as they grew stale I realized I was trapping myself.

My teacher is a firm believer that students rob themselves of spontenaiety and the pleasure of learning what clay can do--the ultimate chameleon as he calls it--because they get wrapped-up in the idea of grades and praise and the word "good." Yeah, I've gotten wrapped into those things before, but not for all that long because it's not worth the energy. I went through my "is it good?" phase until I realized I had no fucking clue what "good" really means. The only thing I know about what "Good" means is that the definition of "good" depends on who you are talking to. Personally, I'd rather explore the bounds of what can happen in generating and revising and tinkering than taking on the burden of effectively commenting on the nature of "good." People have been discussing what "good" means since people have been able to speak and we still don't know what exactly it means because the term is always in flux. And the idea of "good" will always be in flux because human beings are creatures of contradiction and change.

I told my teacher it was more effective not to have an opinion about my pots while making them because I was more interested in learning how to react to accidents while working. I think there are two ways to create art: 1. excercising control over the work; 2.) reacting to accidents. You're doing a favor to yourself if you manage to do both while creating the work. I agree that writing and making art, as Diana Jospeh puts it, is a series of choices and each choice has an effect. From my practice I have found that to be not only an effective route but a responsible one because that line of thought requires integrity from the artist. I'd like to feed off of that expression by saying that making art is also a series of accidents and your response to each accident will have an overall effect on your acceptance or resistance to tunnel vision.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Hunt for the Mysterious Bad Smell

Yes, it's a little like Hunt for the Red October; I just cannot locate either the origins or breeding ground of the pungent funk haunting my abode. This smells has wicked-good ninja skills. I have emptied trash, hurled trash, cleaned the trash cans, cleaned the bathroom, looked under the couch, looked in corners, peeped around in closets. All dirty dishes are clean. Nada. Something somewhere is producing an industry of smell.

It's a smart smell. I can't figure out exactly what the cause is like with spoiled meat or rice or laundry. Some smells are sneaky in the way they lay dormant but you can locate them by distrubing the funk. This smell is not dormant. It's omniscient. It's an all seeing, all knowing smell. This can mean only one thing: a drain smell.

I suspect that my kitchen sink drain has accumulated some serious jazz in its throat.

Okay... just a second...

It's not the drain, well, there's probably some problematic jazz in that drain, but I just now located where the empire of funk is. Not all dishes have been done.

Recently I made some yummy soup. I thought I cleaned out the stock pot. Not so much, I guess. I must have slid it into my oven while cleaning a couple of days ago. Bad, bad move.

I just pulled the stock pot out and said, "This can't be it. This is clean."

This was it.

I barely lifted the lid and the empire of funk attacked with its smell akin to biological weaponry. There was just a bit of the soup including chickpeas, black beans, sweet potato, grilled ham, and tomato left inside. It does not help that my oven is always slightly heated AKA incubator for accelerated production of NASTY.

Time to battle against the stock pot. The goal is to have this place of mine pretty spotless by this evening. It shouldn't be that hard especially considering the phrase "pretty spotless." Spotless, but please please please do not open THAT door. THAT door is not where the evil monkey lives. THAT door is not the portal to Narnia. THAT door holds back all quarantined nasty.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

In Praise of Fusion: Kanye West and 1950s Visual Art Influence (Warhol & Pollock)

I love what Kanye West is doing in his music videos for Good Life and Heartless:

Both of these videos are excellent examples of how to borrow from previous artistic movements in a different art form and contributing to those already established forms as a way to create something fresh.

These videos are visual sugar, sonic joy, and flat-out enjoyable, smart narrative and rhyme. The next time I teach poetry, I'm pretty sure I'll do a couple units on Rap. I just love love love how much there is to learn about spontaneous turn and humor and earning intentionaly subtly and intentionaly raw emotion.

I could go on and on intellectualizing why these videos represent so much about what I believe art should do, but that would ruin the visual and musical integrity of these works. I would rather sit back, enjoy, and appreciate that this work is in the world.

Good Life


Sunday, May 3, 2009

MSU-Mankato Surplus Sale

It is a miracle I walked out of there empty handed, a matter of self control, a matter of, well, I had a GOT TO PEE BAD and PEE NOW situation on my hands.

The word on the street is that FIVE randal pottery wheels are getting surplused and sold. Some thought they would go for dirty dirt cheap this semester. Some said September. Either which way I got my ass to the sale at 7:15 a.m.

I'd heard that people will line up for the surplus sale starting at 4:00 a.m. I'd heard some camp out all night. For the most part, this is entirely true and entirely wrapped around the idea of buy computers and other electronics for next to nothing--all computers go for $35, the majority of monitors go for $25. You can buy a baby grand piano for $75. You can buy a nice office desk for $20. You can put in a bid on a fishing boat and trailer included. You can buy anything that the university is getting rid of because of upgrades.

At 7:15 a.m. there must have been 150 people in line already. Even if there were a pottery wheel available, which I doubted due to the fact I saw them in the cermaics studio on Friday, my chances were pretty shot.

At the front of the line was an army of twenty to thirty absolute nerdy, gawky, gangly computer types who looked liked maybe they played and extended session of Dungeons and Dragons in the parking lot all night. A small sacrifice for cheap computers.

I stood in line drinking coffee thinking this would be complete chaos as soon as the massive garage door to the sale goods inside the surplus garage opened. Parents were telling their children DON'T WALK OFF, STAY WITH US, STAY IN SIGHT. One guy said, Why don't they just open the goddamn doors already. I sipped my coffee while preparing to elbow and be elbowed. I sharpened my ninja skills, my ballet moves to gracefully slide around people in a panic driven crowd.

As I was bullshitting with some African guys the doors opened. The African dude had been going down the list of sale items with a pink pen in hand listing the items he wanted to go for first. I said, "Good luck, dude. Hang on to that pen or someone will pick it up. I have the feeling nothing is safe here unless it is in your hand."

That warning was a little like Hunter S. Thompson's in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas "We're in Bat Country. Poor bastard is on his own."

Either which way, the crowd was moving, the game was on. I was ready.

You know how hoards of fish surface and roll around when people pay 25 cents to feed them, how there is a frenzy of rolling and eating and some fish fight with each other? That's pretty much how the surplus sale went.

By the time I got inside the surplus garage, all good laptops and flat screen monitors and classroom projectors had vanished into the hands of the nerdy, the not so nerdy, and the homeless looking. It took me under five minutes to get into the garage, too.

People were scattering like ants, rifling through computers, tools, office supplies and all the whatnot. Electronic guys were on their cell phones already selling the laptops and nice Apple computers and flat screens. Electronic guys were saying, Hey, I'll buy that computer from you right now for fifty cash.

In about forty mintues all the good stuff was claimed, lines were drawn, territory was claimed. I picked up a nice looking backpacking backpack and a man said, PLEASE DON'T TOUCH THAT. IT'S MINE while he was looking at microscopes. I thought, What dipshit puts down his bag at a fucking frenzy sale like this?

My favorite moment was the mother who was standing beside the baby grand piano marked $75. She held her son by the hand. He was having an absolute fit and crying and shouting and she was trying to keep him quiet. The look on her face and body language said, You touch this fuckin' piano and I'll break your face. I thought it was a kind of a beautiful and complex emotional moment. How the son, probably seven, might remember his fit, his crying infront of all of these strangers panicing like ants swarming in an ant mound. How the mom will remember his fit and how she just wanted this piano for herself, for her kids, for her family. That the way we bring art into our homes requires some emotional sacrifice sometimes. That no kid or adult can get a $75 baby grand piano without giving up a little something first. I like to think that that little boy might be the next Chopin or Motzart. I like to think that people will gather in concert halls to see him play and even if he messes up in his performance, even if he tanks, even if he screws the pooch more than anyone thought the pooch could be screwed, it wouldn't be as bad as his first experience with the piano. That from this day on, his relationship with the piano is complex.

If I had gone into the surplus sale with buy buy buy on my mind I probably would have forgetten all about that as soon as I saw the people reacting to this situation. I couldn't keep myself from looking at this man and woman debating on if they should buy an old card catalogue cabinet. The man said, I could keep my paints in here. I thought, That's a lot of fucking paints. The woman said, Where will we put it? The man said, We could put it in the garage or the shed. The woman rolled her eyes.

That's exactly how I am. I buy shit and collect shit and keep shit that I think I'll use someday or invent a purpose for. Once, I kept a bunch of old wooden futon frames in my apartment with the idea that I could use the wood to make a little boat. Once, I riffled through a dumpster just for some five inch think binders. I've been trying to thwart my bullshit collecting, getting a grip on what I need and what is needed right now. It's pretty hard for me. But I'm working on it.

In all of of my debating on what to buy and not buy--I looked at an outboard motor, some computers, thought about putting a bid on a fishing boat, thought about carting off a desk I don't need, shelves I don't need, tools I could live without right now--the PEE BAD GODS said we must leave. We must leave right now. I could hold it no longer. Pissing on a tree in the parking lot was considered. Too many people. I could piss in a cup in the car. No cups.

I drove 45 mph straight to Nelson Hall (the art building). I slammed on the breaks, hopped out, keyed into the building. I made a full out sprint, Maurce Green eat your heart out, to the bathroom next to the wheel cermaics studio. Inside the bathroom I did the PEE PEE DANCE while fiddling with my zipper before the pure pleasure of urine vacating a maxed out bladder.

In the midst of patting my own pack for not pissing myself and not buying anything at the surplus sale I looked inside the ceramics studio. The wheels are still there. September, I told myself. And, yes, I do plan to drive back up here for one of those wheels. I might even stay up in the parking lot all night with the nerds playing D & D. Maybe my character will be a wizard or a mage. Someone who casts spells would be nice.