Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
I wouldn’t call Musashi ordinary.
But he is. That’s what’s extraordinary about him. He’s not content with relying on whatever natural gifts he may have. Knowing he’s ordinary, he’s always trying to improve himself. No one appreciates the agonizing effort he’s had to make. Now that his years of training have yielded such spectacular results, everybody’s talking about his ‘god-given talent.’ That’s how men who don’t try very hard comfort themselves.
It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.
Zeus, who guided men to think,
who has laid it down that wisdom
comes alone through suffering.
Still there drips in sleep against the heart
grief of memory; against
our will temperance comes.
From the gods who sit in grandeur
grace is somehow violent.
1. Listen to the birds
That’s where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren’t going anywhere.
2. Your guitar is not really a guitar
Your guitar is a divining rod. Use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. A guitar is also a fishing rod. If you’re good, you’ll land a big one.
3. Practice in front of a bush
Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush doesn’t shake, eat another piece of bread.
4. Walk with the devil
Old Delta blues players referred to guitar amplifiers as the “devil box.” And they were right. You have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you’re brining over from the other side. Electricity attracts devils and demons. Other instruments attract other spirits. An acoustic guitar attracts Casper. A mandolin attracts Wendy. But an electric guitar attracts Beelzebub.
5. If you’re guilty of thinking, you’re out
If your brain is part of the process, you’re missing it. You should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore. If you can trap that feeling, then you have something that is fur bearing.
6. Never point your guitar at anyone
Your instrument has more clout than lightning. Just hit a big chord then run outside to hear it. But make sure you are not standing in an open field.
7. Always carry a church key
That’s your key-man clause. Like One String Sam. He’s one. He was a Detroit street musician who played in the fifties on a homemade instrument. His song “I Need a Hundred Dollars” is warm pie. Another key to the church is Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitar player. He just stands there like the Statue of Liberty — making you want to look up her dress the whole time to see how he’s doing it.
8. Don’t wipe the sweat off your instrument
You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.
9. Keep your guitar in a dark place
When you’re not playing your guitar, cover it and keep it in a dark place. If you don’t play your guitar for more than a day, be sure you put a saucer of water in with it.
10. You gotta have a hood for your engine
Keep that hat on. A hat is a pressure cooker. If you have a roof on your house, the hot air can’t escape. Even a lima bean has to have a piece of wet paper around it to make it grow.
Hector Mannix, waterworks clerk, San Juan, has entered a lion,
Boysie, two golden mangoes bobbing for breastplates, barges
like Cleopatra down her river, making style.
“Join us,” they shout. “Oh God, child, you can’t dance?”
But somewhere in that whirlwind’s radiance
a child, rigged like a bat, collapses, sobbing.
A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is “merely relative,” is asking you not to believe him. So don’t. Deconstruction deconstructs itself, and disappears up its own behind, leaving only a disembodied smile and a faint smell of sulphur.
Blue snow. They’d taken her to see it as a child, that magical weather born from the Min river that floats up, not down, past the cypress and past the peaks and eventually paints the sky. Snowflakes that choose not to fall.
I wrote this story some years ago, and was honored to see it win a small flash fiction prize in Hong Kong. It grew over time, and to see it published today in Issue 41 of Literary Orphans, an exquisite magazine partially dedicated to what Yasunari Kawabata called “palm-of-the-hand stories,” is an even greater honor.
Thus, my sad little three-minute tale: Blue Snow.
Thus, in criticizing fiction we must be careful to distinguish those books that satisfy our own particular unconscious needs — the ones that make us say, “I like this book, although I don’t really know why” — from those that satisfy the deep unconscious needs of almost everybody. The latter are undoubtedly the great stories, the ones that live on and on for generations and centuries. As long as man is man, they will go on satisfying him, giving him something that he needs to have — a belief in justice and understanding and the allaying of anxiety. We do not know, we cannot be sure, that the real world is good. But the world of a great story is somehow good. We want to live there as often and as long as we can.
In it, we discussed my fifteen years of writing in China, the raucous Shenzhen arts scene during the late-2000s, utopias, transnationalism, and how one manages a writing habit as the world seems to dissolve around you.
Really, in the realm of literary magazines, Spittoon does a champion’s work. They also have a rocking graphic designer:
Truth told, it all started with the fish-market children. All summer long they’d assailed Black Tooth, begging he teach them his secret technique for smoking cigarettes in the rain. Whenever a typhoon squall would rise, they’d gather beneath the umbrellas on the pier, wait for the boatman to light his Marlboros, then squeal and applaud as he kept the embers glowing amid downpours like great iron sheets. The trick, he’d told them with the air of a magician, was seeing all the spaces in between.
…honored and irrationally pleased to see my story, The Unicorn King, appear in Spittoon Monthly. Spittoon is a remarkable arts collective with multiple publications, beautiful design, lucid criticism, and localized communities around the world. I wish more literary magazines aspired to these heights.
The true joy of a moonlit night is something we no longer understand. Only the men of old, when there were no lights, could understand the true joy of a moonlit night.
Do these vintage international Japanese novels have the most incredible covers ever, or what?
There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
…the great and powerful Somerset Maugham
There are musicians whose hearts’ antennae broadcast from dark and beautiful worlds. And then there is Sturgill Simpson, their legendary ronin.
A hundred times I’ve watched this video, an acoustic “Oh Sarah,” the 8th track from Simpson’s 2016 album, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. And I’ll probably listen a hundred times more.
Storytelling is the first and oldest spell, cast around lamps and fires since before there were cities, alphabets, and domesticated herbivores. The lives we live through stories intermix with our own memories, and because of stories our experiences multiply; our apprehension of the humanity of others is broadened, improved, and complicated, and each voice we hear becomes a small part of our own experience on this earth.
Upon your penitential morning,
some skull must rub its memory with ashes,
some mind must squat down howling in your dust,
some hand must crawl and recollect your rubbish,
someone must write your poems.
…from “Mass Man,” by Derek Walcott, in The Gulf and Other Poems
….their destiny is tied up with our destiny.
…their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.
Both listening to and rereading this speech are visceral, unifying joys. It gives you chills. It’s the height of achievement with the English language, and it’s as important today as it’s ever been.
This is why young men and women fall in love with the composition of the written word: the belief that they too can make people feel something so immense that their lives, and their worlds, are irrevocably changed.
I urge you to read the great man’s greatest speech today. It will remind you of all that is good and worthwhile in humanity.
You are always new. The last of your kisses was ever the sweetest.
…John Keats, from Selected Letters.
The calendar has a magic that makes us imagine a memory can be resurrected and revived, but nothing returns.
…Naguib Mahfouz, Palace of Desire: The Cairo Trilogy
At six o’clock he rises, creaking, and says “How are you?” to the flower pot on the table. It is empty. Outside, smog saddens the day. The tram’s copper bellchime sounds through the balcony, and this is a bad Tuesday, he thinks, though it is Wednesday. He checks the clipboard, then wanders off to water your Aglaonema.
My very, very short story, Flower Pot, was recently published in decomP Magazine, for which I am grateful. Very short stories can be very fun, but I like them best when they hew close to prose poetry.
It is sometimes useful to remind ourselves of the simpler aspects or things normally regarded as complicated. Take, for instance, the writing of a poem. It consists of three stages: the first is when a man becomes obsessed with an emotional concept to such a degree that he is compelled to do something about it. What he does is the second stage, namely, construct a verbal device that will reproduce this emotional concept in anyone who cares to read it, anywhere, any time. The third stage is the recurrent situation of people in different times and places setting off the device and re-creating in themselves what the poet felt when he wrote it. The stages are interdependent and all necessary. If there has been no preliminary feeling, the device has nothing to reproduce and the reader will experience nothing. If the second stage has not been well done, the device will not deliver the goods, or will deliver only a few goods to a few people, or will stop delivering them after an absurdly short while. And if there is no third stage, no successful reading, ,the poem can hardly be said to exist in a practical sense at all.