Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Archangel G. K.

G. K. Chesterton and his glorious prose make me feel inadequate and want to ragequit writing.

But I'm not going to! Take THAT, G. K. Chesterton!

Today's Tarot card was Justice reversed:

(only upside down)

The meaning includes "inequality" and "being taken advantage of."

Today's Rilke quote was a poem about wrestling angels, which reminds me of that bit in Angels in America where Joe talks about seeing the picture of the angel wrestling the man and how it just wasn't fair that a mere human should have to fight something so powerful as an angel. Rilke isn't far from that point (maybe without the homoerotic aspect), talking about how winning need not be the goal:

His growth is this: to be defeated
by even greater forces.

So there's like honor in losing, basically. Or in standing up to a divine force, trying to achieve that same greatness and possibly failing.

G. K. Chesterton is the angel in this metaphor. I'm sure he'd be pleased.

Excuse me I'm gonna go write some imperfect prose.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

South Side of the Sky (a fragment)

Part of something larger which may or may not ever come to fruition. Written with this song in mind.

“You can feel it, can’t you?” The old man’s voice was the brush of a butterfly’s wings in that thunderous storm, barely audible, but somehow distinct and capable of great power. “The ship is part of you now. She’s in you; in your bones, in your blood.”

I could feel it, all right. Or rather I could feel everything that was happening to it. The whirl of elements outside buffeted the airship as though it were no more than a butterfly itself, wind with such velocity and vigor as would surely kill a man, rip through him like paper. We were in the upper heavens now, in the relentless void of the mountain range, where the weather was as cruel as it could be. I could feel it so acutely it was as though it were beating against my naked skin. I felt the tremendous cold and the simultaneous warmth as my blood rushed in to save me. My nerves were all fraught with confusion—I was suffering no actual damage, but my entire body was responding as though I was. I was in pain. I was terrified. My grip loosened a little.

“Don’t let go.” Pilot could see what was happening to me, even as subtle as it must have been. Immediately I felt a little surge of resolve—small, but significant. He had that effect on people. His voice was very soothing. It was what made him such a good teacher. “The ship will protect you. Think of her as your armor. Your exoskeleton. She has survived far worse than this, and she will take care of you, so long as you take care of her. You must guide her. Do not fear for your own structural integrity, or hers. You are focusing outwardly, on the storm and the world around you. Your attention is not with the ship, where it needs to be. Focus on her presence within you.” A little smile in his voice. “And don’t forget to breathe.”

In, out. I could feel the tingle in my blood, the faint ache in my bones. It was exhausting, flying a ship like this. I could see why no one wanted to do it anymore, why it had the terrible reputation of driving men to both mental and physical dystrophy. I could see why Pilot had retired, and also how he had such great vitality, even at his age. I suspected he was far stronger, at sixty-three, than I was now, in the prime of my life.

“I feel her,” I murmured, already gasping. “She’s being pulled apart.”

“She will be fine.” Pilot’s old hands were on my arms, which had started to shake.

The shorted telecomm crackled abruptly back to life and was filled with the voice of our understandably distressed navigator.

“—can’t see a bloody thing—Wick? Wickerfield? You there, boy?”

“I’m here.” I could hardly hear my own voice. The external wind filled my ears, battered my body. My fingers felt frozen.

“By my estimates we’ve still got a bit of a buffer between us and the mountain range,” she was saying, “but it probably ain’t very much. You’re gonna have to pull us way the hell up, boy, if we want out of this in one piece.”

“Do you have coordinates?”

“I got nothing. I am completely blind. This bloody storm’s knocked out just about everything I have.”

“We’ll be all right, Ofelia,” said Pilot, his voice clear and steady. “Sit tight and tell everyone to buckle down. And I mean that literally. Things are going to get wild before they get smooth again.”

Pilot cut the communication out before Ofelia could say anything more, and he said to me, “Move forward.”

“Ofelia said—”

“Ofelia is a blind navigator,” said Pilot. “She is in a panic because she does not have your advantage: she cannot feel what is happening. Go in deeper. Listen to what she’s telling you. Be calm and trust her. You’re a smart boy, and she’s an old, powerful machine. Together you can take us through.”

I closed my eyes, but my breath was coming in short, fluttering fragments. I felt fatigued, pulled apart. “I can’t do this,” I gasped. “I can’t do this.”

“You can.” Pilot tightened his grip on my arms, fortifying me gently. “You can.” Then he let me go.

I felt the sting of the cold. The rush of air. The hard knife-slices of snow and ice. But we could push, she and I. Pilot was right, this ship was old and strong. She was stubborn. I nudged her forward, and she was rocked with such force that I felt like my back was breaking.

“Don’t go gentle,” Pilot murmured. “Be aggressive. There’s no time to waste.”

We pushed forward harder, and I suddenly felt all the wind knocked from my lungs in a sudden, violent burst of clarity. The turbulence was astounding, and I am sure Ofelia called down again to unleash a stream of profanity, but I didn’t hear it, didn’t feel any of it. We rode the chaos with exhilaration and ease. We broke through it even as the storm pulled us in a thousand directions, trying to shatter us. We were too fast. We pushed ourselves headfirst into the onslaught and used its momentum to fire ourselves forward.

And then we were out. In the little center of calm. I felt a sudden, exhausting flood of warmth fill my throbbing, strained limbs. I felt like I was dying.

Ofelia’s disembodied voice joined us again. “Pilot? Wick? You boys still alive?”

“Very much so,” said Pilot. I could hear him smiling.

“Well that was absolutely mad, but we made it into the eye. I can see the mountains below us, and they are scary-close. Now can we  pull up?”

“Right you are,” said Pilot, and he helped me pull down as hard as I could, hauling the full weight of that monstrous beautiful craft upward. I could feel my own center of gravity shifting, pulling at my insides. When we were aimed at the clear, distant sky, I kicked the ship forward and we shot up to easily that I almost passed out right then and there.

We broke out above the clouds, where everything was still.

“Better take over from here, love,” said Pilot to Ofelia. “Mr. Wickerfield needs a bit of a rest.”

“Roger that,” said Ofelia. “Good work, little ‘un.”

I couldn’t reply. Pilot unlocked the mechanisms from my arms and my legs and helped me drop down to my knees. He stroked my hair briefly, a kind, grandfatherly sort of gesture. My emotions were all over the place.

“Told you so,” he said.

I had just enough energy for a smirk, even though he couldn’t see it.

Friday, January 6, 2012

And a video, to go with that post:

How Do You Like Your Blue-Eyed Girl, Mister Death?

So, one of the things that characterizes me, for which this project is probably going to end up being a big outlet, is my sometimes insane ability to make connections. Everyday objects, concepts, ideas, passages of writing, and things people say to me... these can all be logged away in my brain as something quite a bit different than the intent, or the actual meaning. I am full of personal associations and patterns and motifs, and I can ascribe them to almost anything. It's like if you think you're being stalked by a certain number, you start seeing it everywhere. I'm aware of how false this is... how much it is a product of my obsessively pattern-seeking mind. This is very similar to the way I read tarot cards, as it happens: the cards start to take on whole new meanings as I associate them with newer and different things, until "Death" no longer means anything but my growth as an individual and as an artist, particularly within this project, and "Knight of Swords" no longer means anything but "me."*

(*The Knight of Swords is depicted as a woman in the deck I use, and the meaning given is a little bit of a departure from the traditional one... it's sort of about calculation and strategy, and I've turned that into a message about my intellectual side. But that's another story for a later time.)

When I get enough of these symbols and keywords going, I start to construct whole messages for myself until my weeks become thematic, all converging on these ideas, which I may or may not have shoehorned into place. Lots of times people can't follow me when I go on these tangents. Sometimes saying things like "it reminds me of ___" makes people sort of tilt their heads at me and squint a little, trying to follow my particular brand of logic. I remember distinctly that one of the essay-writing critiques I got most often from all my professors in college was related to how they couldn't follow the jumps I'd made, that I had to explain myself further. I guess I don't really have the patience for it. I play it fast and loose, gliding over this myriad of unrelated references with this beautiful big picture in mind, unable to really clarify it for anyone else. When I ascribe personal significance to something, or a series of things, it really just becomes my own language of symbols and meanings. It's hard to explain, but I'll try to give an example.

Let me start with a relatively simple word: Yes. Yes, or one of its variants, gets used multiple times on a daily basis. Generally, conversationally, it's meaningless. But there are occasions, when it occurs in poetry, where it becomes really important to me.

The first time I noted the significance of Yes came, perhaps predictably, from James Joyce's Ulysses. This is a monstrosity of a classic work of literature that I'm slightly ashamed to admit I still haven't read, though it's definitely on the docket for 2012. My familiarity with it comes from a play I saw at college, more of a performance really, called Drunkards Walk. It wasn't strictly written by anyone so much as it was created by the director and the ensemble, which included a number of my friends. It was a highly postmodern piece, drawing from sources that included Ulysses, Spanish telenovellas, and the 2004 Democratic National Convention. It's sort of impossible to explain, and I won't try. The point is, they quoted a great deal from Mr. Joyce's large book, and pulled from the very famous final passage, one of eight massive run-on sentences, that famously closes with "yes I said yes I will Yes."

I don't know about you, but holy god that's beautiful. Ever since encountering it I've tried to mimic or replicate it in my writing countless times. And I've started to sense it elsewhere.

There's a poem by James Broughton called Wondrous the Merge, which is one of the most extremely homoerotic things I've ever read, and there's a verse that goes:

until I cried out 
until I cried      
    I am   Yes
           I am   your Yes
                      I am   I am   your
                    Yes   Yes   Yes

And this sort of stream-of-consciousness feel, both Joyce and Broughton trying to capture the sense of an orgasm, has started to crop up elsewhere, in situations completely unrelated. The final sentence of Dave Eggers' memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is an entirely different situation, sentiment and intent, and there is no "yes" to be seen. But it doesn't matter; it also captures this rhythm, and it makes me feel the same way. I mimic that writing in the same way, trying endlessly to capture the style of a rambling, frantic mind, whatever the circumstances, whether it's sex or anger or madness.

When I think of one of these works, I think of the other. It's as simple as that. They have little in common, but I have created connections. And that is how I live life. It's sort of complicated.

Today, I've managed to tie all of them to my Death-adventures that I've been exploring in this blog. In my first vlog post, I quoted some from Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, explaining that the line "And be glad and confident" was a terribly important line, and that I sort of adopted it as a message and a mantra. I told my dad about this, and he remembered, and bought me a wonderful book this past Christmas: A Year With Rilke, a sort of daily meditation book, where each day has a passage from Rilke's poetry or letters. I've been reading my daily excerpts alongside my daily tarot readings, and sometimes the combination of messages produces interesting results. Today's was about death, and it was also about Yes.

Death (I implore you to believe) is the true Yea-sayer.
It stands before eternity and says only: Yes.

Today's card was Death, yet again.

And this, finally, makes me think of another poem, by another poet.

Buffalo Bill's
       who used to
       ride a watersmooth-silver
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
he was a handsome man
                     and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
Mister Death

I like to think about the last line, there. I don't really think about what the poem means... my relation to poetry is very selfish, inwardly focused. I don't have a lot of experience with analyzing it. I just know how it makes me feel, and what it reminds me of. And that becomes important, even when it takes on a significance that is utterly unrelated to the poem itself.
These days, whenever I draw Death, I think about this poem, like a song getting stuck in my head. I have blue eyes myself. It's easy to get there.
e e cummings has a lot of things to say about death. He is also responsible for that beautiful phrase "for life's not a paragraph / And death i think is no parenthesis".
This could lead me down another proverbial rabbit hole of cummings and Dickinson and Donne, which would get further and further estranged from my points contained herein, but I think it's best to let that stay in my head, where I can try to make sense of it on my own, and try to capture it when I write about these things. Or anything.
Sorry this is so jumbled. There's sort of no other way to go about it, I guess.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Stories by R. Jackson (1)

First, a little note to say sorry for my brief absence. My computer died its long-anticipated death rather abruptly while I am over here in the midwest visiting my girlfriend, The Liminal Pagan. And I had to scramble to get a new baby. In order to break it in, I transcribed a little story that I wrote by hand in the library the other day. And now I am sharing it with you.

Warnings/Notes: This story contains a lighthearted but vulgar anecdote, which is made from the same sort of language and content you might expect from a group of dudes hanging out in a bar talking about sex. So, let that be known.

There will probably be more words from this narrator sometime in the future, on account of I like him a great deal and I think he has more to say. We'll see.

“There’s this girl up in Webster what fetishizes the writin’ hand,” I told the boy.

The bartender slid me a shot. “You tellin’ stories, Jackson?”

“No, sir. Honest to Charlie. I met her last month and she was a real piece, if you get my double meaning. It was the writin’, see,” I told the boy.

“You a writer?” he asked me.

“Sure enough,” I told him. “See I met her at this little get-together-like, up in Webster. Where all us unpublished nothings do a bit of readin’, a bit of minglin’, tryin’ to drum up attention and givin’ each other critiques and so forth. She was one of the folks just come to listen. She come up to me after, says she was a real fan of my work. Says it really touched her. She was sincere, too. We had a real good chat about it for a few minutes, about the particulars and whatnot. I had no idea she was about to take it where she took it. Took me completely by surprise.”

“Where’d she take it?”

“She told me she wanted me to come up to her room so as she could watch me masturbate.”

“She did not.”

“She did. Honest to Charlie,” I said. “And I gotta say it surprised me so much I couldn’t do nothin’ but take her up on it. So up we went.”

The bartender was listening again. “Fine way to lose your cock, Jackson.”

“How do you figure?”

He shrugged. “Sounds like a proposition some psycho would make. Good way to end up a mutilated corpse. Or else wake up in a bathtub full of ice with your phone taped to your wrist, and missin’ a kidney.”

“Better a kidney than a cock,” I said. “Say, you got a real morbid mind, Earl. A real imaginative mind. You ever thought about bein’ a writer?”

The bartender shrugged. “I call ‘em like I sees ‘em,” he said.

“Right,” I said, and turned my attention back to the boy. “So anyway, as I was sayin’, we go up to her room, and she offers me a chair and tells me to get to it. No more friendly chatter, no drink, no kiss, nothin’. Just right to the dirty solitaire.”

“Jesus, Jackson,” muttered Earl.

“So what’d you do?” the boy asked.

“What anyone would have done,” I said. “I whipped it out and spit into my hand and started jerkin’ it.”

“That is assuredly not what ‘anyone’ would have done,” said Earl.

I had the boy good and wrapped up now. “What’d she do?”

“Just sat there an’ watched,” I said. “I’d never been in a position like that before, and it turns out I’m sorta sheepish, so I just focused on the task at hand, as it were, thinkin’ ‘bout all the regular things.”

“Like what?” the boy asked.

“All the regular things,” I said.

“I thought this story was about writin’,” said the bartender.

“I’m gettin’ to it,” I said. “So this girl, she waits until I’m good and hard, waits until damn near the last moment, then she interrupts me. I was sorta gettin’ into it by then, so she sorta took me by surprise, just sneakin’ up into my lap an’ grabbin’ my hand. She looks up at me and she says, ‘This your hand what does the writin’?’ And I say ‘Yes ma’am.’ And she says ‘I want you to fuck me with it.’”

Earl let out a short bark of a laugh, but I could tell he was into it by then.

“Seriously?” said the boy.

“Very truly,” I said. “Then she proceeds to do all the fucking herself. I could barely lift a pen the next day, to tell it true. Honest to Charlie, she fucked the daylights out of my hand.”

“What about the rest of you?” asked Earl.

“The rest of me she left mostly alone. See the thing is, she gets off on the hand that does the writin’. Like it’s the hand itself that’s the storyteller or somethin’. It’s the one what holds the pen, so it’s like the mighty instrument of my authorial genius, see? The whole bit with the masturbation, that’s just so she knows for sure which hand it is.”

“But why—” said the boy, then stopped himself, like he was embarrassed.

“Why didn’t she just ask?” said Earl.

“Earl, I take back what I said. You got no imagination at all,” I said.

Earl just shrugged. He don’t take nothin’ personal.

“Because the intrigue,” I said. “This is a girl who likes good stories, remember. It wouldn’t do to just ask a thing like that. She has to be clever. Subtle.”

“What the hell is subtle about inviting you to come masturbate at her place?” demanded Earl.

“She could have asked you to sign something,” suggested the boy.

“Subtle but direct,” I amended. “And it was also about being fair. Fucking my hand was mostly about her, see? So she waited until I was good to go and then it was more evenly balanced. So we both got somethin’ out of it.”

That left them both quiet for a few.

“Well damn,” said Earl.

“And that,” I said, and finally took my medicine, “is the story of the girl up in Webster, what fetishizes the writin’ hand.”

“You ever go back there again?” asked the boy.

I said, “Nah. She was only interested in the one time. Besides, she’s not really my type.”

“Uh-huh,” said Earl.

“Honest to Charlie,” I said. “Because it ain’t the hand that does the writing, see. It ain’t any one part of me. It’s the whole me. It’s fuckin’ intangible.” I lit myself a cigarette and took a nice long drag. “She was a real wild, interesting character. But at the end of the day, she was all wrong about what makes a story.”

“Isn’t that what they say about you?” muttered Earl, his interest sufficiently waned.

I turned to the boy and stuck out my hand. “I’m Jackson, by the way.”

“I know,” said the boy, making a little glance at Earl as he shook my hand.

I grinned. “I hope my story didn’t offend you,” I said. “I been known to speak the naked truth to strangers, even perfect strangers, such as yourself.” I wondered if he’d get my little joke. He quirked an odd half-smile, like he almost did.

“You wanna come over for a bit?” I asked.

“I’m left-handed,” he said.

“I know.” I pointed to his half-finished beer, perched between his open left fingers. “Come anyway.”

Maybe he wasn’t sure why, but he took me up on it.

A little while later, when he was situated comfortably between me and my bedroom wall, he asked, “Who’s Charlie?”


“You keep saying ‘honest to Charlie,’” he said. He was a little out of breath. “I never heard that expression before. Who’s Charlie?”

I smiled at him. “You are. You’re Charlie.”

“My name’s Patrick.”

“Doesn’t matter. Charlie’s just a placeholder, see. It could be anything. I don’t believe in God, so I use Charlie, and Charlie is whatever I would swear by. Whatever I happen to be worshipping.”

He grinned. A nice grin. “So I’m Charlie?”

“Right now you are.” I leaned into his long, tender neck. “In the bar it was the whiskey.”

Later still, when he was splayed gently across my bed with an arm draped over me, he said, “Was it really a girl, in the story?”

I blew another in the long catalogue of imperfect smoke rings. “You’re asking if I’m exclusively a fag,” I said.


“I like all sorts.” The cig was boring me. I put it out in the ashtray by my bed. “And I always mean what I say.”


“Well, I’m not perfect,” I said. “But I sure do try.”

That was the story of how I met Patrick.