December 29, 2002

just another winter day

She stumbles through the familiar European street. Her numb feet plod along the cobblestones, resonating in their sockets. The street is busy, today, she thinks as she knocks into a frowning man with a box tucked under his arm. She squirms out of his way and stumbles onward. Why are all these people out in this miserable cold? She loses focus and the thought slips out of her fingers. A snowflake gets in her eye. She goes to rub it out, but as soon as she brings her hand down another one enters and melts on her cornea. Then another. A gust of wind freezes her eyes in their sockets and her vision glazes over. She gives up and soon the flakes stop melting. It’s cold. Cold.

Everything is faded, and she feels like she’s looking at the world through frosted glass. She tries to focus her eyes on the swirling gusts of stone and cloth and flesh, but it is tiring. The cold air plays across her face and through her fingers, and sinks to her bare feet.

Frost fills the cracks between the cobblestones. Her knees crack as she pushes further against the crowd. The sun disappears behind the colorful buildings and the spectrum slides to blue. Everything is blue, now, a haze of cold. The poison works through her veins and turns her blood. First the eyes, then the hands. She raises her hand to wipe the frost out of her eyes, but it is blue with frostbite. Now she mustn’t touch her eyes or else they, too, will be bitten. That’s the way it is when it gets this cold. Everything you touch turns to frostbite. She raises her frozen palm to the throng in front of her and the flesh scampers out of her way. The poison seeps into her brain.

She plunges deeper, deeper. The bustle of the street echoes slowly through the alleys in her mind. She picks up muted traces of conversation here and there, how they have never seen the likes of a holiday this cold, how they would be best to run on home, how a night in front of the hearth with a glass would be fitting.

She stops suddenly and a women walking close behind narrowly skirts around her. She blinks against the crystals in her eyes. A languid melody drifts out of a tavern across the street and catches her ear. She turns her head, the bones in her neck cracking against the cold. A single gas lamp lights the entrance to the tavern with a soft amber glow.

She makes to start again but her feet are frozen to the cobblestones. She grits her teeth in effort as she tries to pull a leg free. The strain. With a series of snaps the stone peels from its socket, still stuck to her foot. She wrenches the other foot loose and heads for the orb of the gas lamp. Each step is excruciating as stone on stone echoes through the alleys. Step. Step. The orb seems to retreat farther and farther away as she closes in. The joints in her legs threaten to pop under the strain. Tears well up in the sides of her eyes and freeze. Everything but the lamp disappears into blackness.

With the last of her strength she throws herself to the ground. Her fingernails claw at a crack between two cobblestones and she wrenches herself forward into the glow. Her feet thaw from their stone shoes.

December 23, 2002

last-minute gift idea

Is it December 23rd and you’re scrounging for that last-minute gift for a loved one?

Buy a wig. Buy a box. Buy a Zippo lighter. Rig up the box so when they open the box the Zippo fires and falls into the wig. To ensure the optimum delight from this gift, request a wig that is highly flammable.

This holiday season, give the gift of love. Give the gift of burning hair.

December 19, 2002

virtual victimizers

National Institute on Media and the Family says video games victimize women.

In its annual review of the video game industry, the Minneapolis-based institute singled out several games, most notably “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.” In that game, participants ramp up their score by having sex with a prostitute, and gain additional points by killing her. The game includes scenes in which blood splatters out of a woman’s body as the player beats her to death.

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said such games “are creating a culture of virtual victimizers.”

Ok, here’s a lesson for you advocacy groups out there. if you’re going to get pissed off at something, get your facts right. In Vice City, your score does not go up when you pick up a prostitute. Your health goes up and your money goes down. You can kill the prostitute and get your money back, but it’s only $20 or so… you can get much more than that by killing gang members or killing country clubbers or working as a taxi driver. Doing so would also make the NIMF really happy because then you could kill men, who apparently deserve to die.

Also, blood splatters out of everyone when you beat them in Vice City. Women bleed just as much as men. Fat mafia members bleed just as much as pimps. It’s really neat when you carve someone up with the chainsaw, because then the blood splatters on the screen in neat little refractive drops. Some delicate programming, there.

Now, if your spat with Vice City is that it victimizes everyone, I’ll give you that. Vice City is completely reprehensible and devoid of any moral value. It is also quite possibly the best video game in creation.

grunt, stumble, write copy

This semester I wrote my first short story since junior high. As I wound the thing up I was floored by how few words made it into the final copy. It ran 12 pages, but I had just as much deleted copy that never made it out of the wings. It was all superfluous. Unnecessary details. Plot turns that wouldn’t fit. Descriptions that were lame. I had to slice it all without remorse.

If Krakauer’s Into Thin Air runs 378 pages, he probably had at least another 100 pages of copy that got tossed out during the process. Even though the book is a personal account (which to many non-journalists would open the floodgates for subjectivity and inaccuracy in the name of creating LITERATURE), he probably had at least 100 pages of facts, references, etc. that he had to sift through to get those 478 pages. My estimates are no doubt inaccurate (I have no fargin’ idea what goes in the writing biz beyond my own experience) but if anything my estimates are too low. Writing is a messy business. The cutting room floor is knee deep in giblets by the end. It has to be or else you get crappy meat, and no one wants to eat that.

The problem with being a writer is that it once-removes you from reality. As you move about in the fits and starts of your day you’re always looking at things and describing, looking and describing… carving reality into manageable chunks of nouns, verbs and adjectives. As you become a better writer it gets even harder because you begin to toss out adjectives in favor of more descriptive nouns and verbs.

It differs from many professions in that it is completely absorbing. It alters how you allow yourself to perceive reality. It’s not good enough to just look at something and say “that looks nice,” or “that sucks,” as any fool with a lump of grey in their skull can say that. What makes us individuals is how and why we think things suck or don’t suck, and that is the experience that the writer is trying to externalize. Writers just need to order their thoughts so people besides themselves can understand them. It places a heavy burden on their mental operations, so don’t be surprised if your local writer seems exhausted even though he doesn’t really do anything. It’s all going on upstairs.

Also mind that this doesn’t mean your local writer should always be left to his own devices to pine away with an oil lamp in a dank cellar. He enjoys that activity, yes, in a certain masochistic kind of way, but he also needs to get out in the world to find something worth writing about. There’s a whole world going on beyond the cellar that the writer is trying to represent, and when confined to the cellar he finds it quite hard to accurately portray it.

The secret is striking a balance between experiencing life and writing about life. Perhaps this is why I am so passionate about body-consuming activities like windsurfing, snowboarding, backpacking, climbing, etc. Physical activity seems contradictory to the writer’s creed, but deep down I feel a burning thirst for labor and exhaustion. When I’m entirely consumed by what I’m doing, when it takes every ounce of effort just to maintain my existence, only then do I feel alive. Only then can I completely let go of the page, the pen, the computer screen, the Danish fretting. It all drifts to the background and becomes transient in light of physical labors.

This is one reason why working at summer camp was such a bittersweet experience for me. It was all work. Twenty-four hours a day. Six days a week. I would not allow myself to slack off from my job, even to maintain my sanity among chaos. It was all a test. Pulling boats out of the swamp while suffering from strep throat. Carrying the canoe rack down the shore into Trips. Running a river trip that I intended to be leisurely but turned out to be six days at a grueling pace with meager rations. Billy got snakebite. Billy got typhoid. Billy died. Caulk the wagon and float it across. You killed 2,000 pounds of food, but were only able to carry 50 pounds back. Meanwhile, your family ate 75 pounds of food, because you haven’t killed enough kids, yet, to turn a surplus while out hunting. The Oregon Trail came and went.

The most vivid feeling I remember from camp was walking back from an all-camp game. It was probably four cones or something, where a bunch of us counselors would get totally into the game, slide tackle the green team through the mud, grab their cone and book it back to our territory. After a long, hot session of this, while walking back to the cabins, I can still feel the muddy sweat flowing down my face and dripping off the tip of my nose.

I was numb. I was exhausted. I could hardly breathe. My brain could only perform a few basic operations: grunt, stumble, grunt, yell at kids, stumble.

And then the waterfront emergency siren went off, signaling drill time. All the counselors needed to run down to the waterfront as fast as possible, get in groups and search for drowned milk jugs. I channeled up energy from nowhere and ran for the lake.

But the best part of it was I wasn’t worried about writing. I could not concern myself with penning the experience, as the whole thing itself took so much out of me that I couldn’t possibly entertain such menial thoughts. I was distracted from the writer’s maladie. I was an agent in the world, taxed to my functional limit, concerned only with enduring my task. The exhaustion was proof enough that I was alive.

December 18, 2002

a handful of haze

I’ve done a lot of stuff this semester. I won’t belabor the point with a list or anything, as there’s nothing invigorating about someone listing off their accomplishments. If you did something grand I want to see it. Take pictures and write about it, sure, but bring your experience to me. Please don’t say “Egads, twas so beautiful mine words cannot do it justice.” That may be so, but such is the burdern we shoulder in being social creatures. We need to twirl our words not only to describe reality, but to recreate it.

Such is one reason I became a writer (and to say I ‘became a writer’ makes it sound like I mailed off a check to Young America to order an official certificate. If I did do this, perhaps at one of those seams where the memories don’t line up right, I’m still waiting for the paper. I would frame it. You don’t so much as become a writer, as you muck around with words for so long they start cooperating against their own will). I feel a responsibility to distill my experience down into words so others can have a taste of this backwoods swill. In this, though, I don’t feel like anyone owes me anything for my words, as though because I’m a WRITER and I’m WRITING that they damn well better read my tripe. Nah. I say if you like it, read it, please, and enjoy it. If it ain’t your fancy, so be it. I don’t like football. Golf is for ninnies. We don’t all agree on what’s fun or not. I’m just tryin’ to make this as much fun as possible for those that, well, find it fun.

Thoreau once said he wouldn’t talk about himself so much if there was anyone else he knew so well. I think there’s a lot of truth to this, but I also feel that our friends know us better than we know ourselves. One way of knowing more about yourself is to see what your surroundings think of it. Don’t get hung up on it, per se… if people think you’re a fool because you’re playing school girl paper-fortune-teller games at Old Chicago during a jazz party, so be it. Be aware, but don’t care, really.

Our friends are special in that they can act as feedback loops upon ourselves. Take Mr. Luke, for instance. When this boy is having a good time everyone knows it. He trips on the dishwasher and blames the dishwasher, and then blames the Dishwasher. Everyone lays down on their backs and watches the fan spin. Suddenly they’re all riding bikes! Suddenly they’re all injured! Suddenly they’re in Alaska and Mr. Luke is flinging rocks at Canada! Suddenly he’s riding a sled down a glacier and mowing down an entire family!

Being aware of the Secret Powers behind your friends makes you more aware of yourself. Many times I’m so conscious of the flies buzzing in my head that they drown out all other thought, and I’m left an irritated husk of introspective skin that I believe isn’t quite representative of me. By seeing fragments of yourself externalized in your friends, you become more familiar with your own being. Often times the buzzing can be so loud that you are surprised by what they know about you, and what you may have forgotten.

You break your toe and your foot doesn’t fit in your shoe anymore. You wear sandals for a winter’s week. Your friend says something about headaches and it doesn’t make sense. Then you remember that you get bad headaches when your feet get cold. You had forgotten. Your friend remembered.

If this past semester has taught me anything, it’s that the memory is infinitely fallible, and we really need to do everything in our power to compensate for it. I’ve forgotten many, many, things. I unwrap some burritos for the microwave and ten seconds later make pitas and hummus. The microwave dings and I wonder what the hell is cooking. I rise from my meal. Oh yeah. Burritos. Don’t need these, anymore.

I leave the milk out. I miss combo rehearsals. My car disappears. I’m lucky I don’t have a girlfriend because that would give me a whole host of new and important things I would need to forget. All this forgetting is exhausting, and I need to pace myself. I can only take on so many things to forget.

But really, you can’t dwell on the things you forget because, well, you forgot them, didn’t you? No sense on dwelling on something that isn’t even there. I say compensate for the human mind, sure, but don’t rag on it. I think that’s an intrinsic difference in the minds of guys and dolls. Ladies, listen: When a guy forgets something, IT’S GONE. POOF. There’s no hierarchy of less-important/more-important things that will be forgotten/remembered. If we forget something it’s not because we don’t care, or because we don’t think it’s important, but because that section of the brain went dead. Completely. For us, it isn’t a choice between picking you up at the airport or playing Grand Theft Auto. If we forgot, it was because the thought of picking you up just TWAIN’T IN THE HEAD. We have no choice in the matter, really, and it’s an infuriating feeling for those of us that want to be loving individuals.

At least so far as my experience. If he’s forgetful and an asshole to boot, lose the jerk and give me a call.

So really, with a mind splitting at the seams it’s a bit difficult to pick out the main points from this semester. I could conclude that I haven’t done a damn thing, but that would be an inaccurate representation of reality. What actually happened? I can call up the details… sneaking into the Banff Film Festival, exploring the abandoned ore docks, sitting in front of my computer for six hours a day, setting my graduation date for next May, maintaining academic excellence across the board, getting spun into the debate between nature vs. nurture and evolutionary psychology vs. social constructionism, honing my intuitive skills as a photographer, registering and building an empire at, sauna-conversations attempting to resolve my romantic soul with my intellectual brain, the Gorge, then not the Gorge, then suddenly the Gorge again, definitely, this time around…

I need a bit more distance to draw meaning from these swirling colors, but so far it appears to have been a productive four months. It looks like a microcosm of my four years in college, with all sorts of people and activities and atoms bouncing around in whopper-jawed patterns. Am I a better Writer, now? Photographer? Philosopher? Old Woodsman? Person? Certainly. But in what ways? In what ways that will be condusive to a long and vivid future?

The writer in me demands an order, a sort of meaning that can be skinned, dried, and hung in the sun. The story is in the details, and it’s also about how you’ve arranged the details. Every detail you throw down should be there for a reason, and you should know those reasons, even if you don’t voice them in the text. But such is the counter-intuition of human life, where we dance around with only a hazy idea of why. We dance around so we can burn off the haze and find out why. Like all good fiction it is indirect and demands that we dig. Dig and burn.

However, just as with all those forgottens, you may need to just let that one go. Perhaps there’s no logic at work here, but big freakin’ deal. Breathe deep.

Hold what you got.

December 17, 2002

why we love lileks

It’s stuff like this that got me writing in the first place:

‘They called it Bloodmas Eve – aye, the older reindeer still talk about it. The red-nosed one stood in the stable door, eyes wide as wagon wheels, gore-flecked foam gushing from his mouth, the entrails of our friends wrapped around his antlers like string in a cat’s cradle. His nose burned like a coal from Satan’s furnace, it did; the snow made a horrible hiss as it touched the nose and sizzled into steam. He made a cry they say no reindeer has ever made before, or since – a sound of pain and fury that would chill the blood of the Abominable One himself.

“Then he started in on the elves.”

You can almost hear his rocker.

December 16, 2002

get out of bed, she’s on the telephone

Today I woke up to an amazing sunrise and felt those collegiate pangs of wanting to fall asleep at that time, not wake up. Oh well. A sunrise is a rare thing for a college student, and seeing as how my earliest class next semester is at noon, I may just start greeting them from the other end. Go to bed at 6 am, wake up at 11.

Oh, I talk big, and I know it’s not going to happen. I like daylight too much. Darkness was made for trolls and programmers. I don’t live under a bridge, and if things pan out the way I plan, I won’t ever have to… unless I want to live under a bridge, which might be kind of cool. I could eat goats.

Or I could just move to Puerto Rico and be poor and not pay taxes.

I whipped it out on a philosophy final this morning. 8:00 in the bloody morning. The professor handed us a pile of Blue Books and a pile of essay questions and I took out my Aegean Shovel and went to work. Now my brain feels numb and dull and I’m trying once again to grease the wheels with the blood of the Ancients. I’ve got one more final to take this afternoon, and then I need to hoof it out to the backwaters of northern Minnesota for a spunky jazz gig of Christmas Might.

Seriously. I have nothing to say now but dumb blather. Plum Lather. Al just got a muffin. He was thinking, “I want a muffin,” and then she popped in and tossed him a muffin.” I should probably be studying or sleeping or buying Christmas present right now.

That’s the problem with being in college… it’s all you do. College. You go to class, you study, you go home, you study, you fall asleep. The days creep on and on at their petty pace as you receive immunizations to the world at large. You fold inward and inward until you are a tiny spot, a microcosm amongst yourself. You are surprised when hailings from the outside world fall upon you like the tinkling bells of the season. Where the heck did the season come from? you wonder. It was just November the other day, just October, just September, just last May and you were sitting on a rocky beach with a bunch of Woochers and a fire and a bottle of wine.

Just the other day you had an 8:00 final and instead of studying the night before you hung out with friends on the shores of Lake Superior. Just the other day you took your philosophy final. Just the other day you were greased with the blood of the Ancients. Where do they go as we spin around and around in this swirl of galaxies and orbitals and epicycles and tides and brains?

Where do the days go?

Puerto Rico?

December 15, 2002

ode to advertisements

I’m doing (as usual) everything in my power to avoid studying for big hairy finals. Let’s continue the tradition by dragging Den Beste and advertising into the mix!

Telemarketers have been going crazy the last two weeks in Duluth, as though they’re scrambling these last few days before Christmas to make sure everyone’s Holiday Stress Quotient is at maximum. A few days ago a stuttering fool tried to give me his schpiel, and when I sat and listened without affirmation, he paused.


I hung up.

Some jerk woke me up at 9:00 Saturday morning, asking that I stir my roommate to receive his call. I denied the request. Another time they asked for a person that hasn’t lived in this apartment for three years. Every one of them wanted to pawn off his credit card on us.


And even for how much hate boils within, I WILL NOT PUNCH THE GOD DAMN MONKEY.

December 13, 2002

this is your said uncle

A brief upate before I collapse from exhaustion and drown in 3mm of water in the shower.

My social calendar for finals week has more stuff going on than I’ve done all year. It’s really weird how this happens, as though everyone’s sitting around studying all year and suddenly someone perks up and says, “Crap! We’re supposed to be college students! Let’s go party or something!”

Rehearsal with the combo, eight Lukes a-smashing, seven snowboard carvings, six hours of sleep, five foggy parties, four drunken brawls… three web designs, two Old Chi hangs, and a jazz gig at some crazy bar.

Yesterday I jammed my toe on the staircase and broke my pinky toe. Now it’s all black and purple and I can’t wear shoes. I’m just happy it’s still attached. For how hard I hit that thing it should have popped right off and sailed behind the couch.