Why the Prison System is Working as Intended
Need to get on the road today. Heading from Portland to Eugene. In the mean time, here is a brief overview of the new Ta-Nehisi Coates article on race. I have taken small issue with certain things Coates has said in the past, but I think he is generally right and always worth reading.
I write as if I’m running. Trying to get away from the last thing I wrote as fast as possible. It was true at the time, but the more I reflect upon it, the more holes I see in the argument. The language becomes clumsier with each passing moment. “What is this inspirational bullshit you are peddling?”, I think.
“Do you even believe that? Who the fuck do you think you are to speak up? Why are you adding to the amount of shoddily assembled ideas that are floating around out there?”
“If they really knew what you were thinking they would close down your whole deal, like one of those rabid dogs at a shelter.”
“Write something else, keep writing, and write again. Once you have written one thing, create a mountain that no one will be able to make heads or tails out of. Don’t let them pin you down. Are you getting closer to the truth or are you just kidding yourself, believing something because it fits in cozily with your world view?”
Doubt, doubt, doubt. Up above is a slightly fictionalized version of what I go through every time I write. However, I see doubt as a friend rather than an enemy. Doubt is not only what keeps the pen moving, but also the thing that keeps the ego from constantly writing self-satisfying screeds. It is the thing that sharpens the blade. If you don’t doubt yourself from time to time you end up like Sarah Palin, creating sound without meaning. If you are lucky, like she was originally, you might end up with fifteen minutes of fame, but eventually you’ll be irrelevant. Doubt only becomes the enemy if it shuts down your whole operation. I think you want enough doubt that you never feel content, that you never stop questioning. I like to invite doubt in. I just don’t want it to stay too long, preventing me from getting on with other things. It’s a balance I guess. Doubt, failure, obsession, limitation, and so on. Everything bad is good for you if you can keep the doses manageable…
It’s funny how a fool can see the light
When the sun goes down
– Conway Twitty In My Dreams
List of the Lost Press Release
I’m looking forward to reading Morrissey’s first novel. It comes out September 24th. The details are above.
I really enjoyed his Autobiography. Here are five other books by musicians, in no order, that are worth checking out:
- Bob Dylan – Chronicle
- Henry Rollins – Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag
- Larry Kirwan – Green Suede Shoes: An Irish-American Odyseey
- John Lydon – Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs
- Lou Reed – Between Thought and Expression: Selected Lyrics of Lou Reed
All of the books, except the Lou Reed book, which is a collection of lyrics with commentary by Reed, would qualify as autobiographies. However, each one of them is better than the standard autobiography or biography. Dylan’s is written with the kind of wordplay and imagery that one would expect from Dylan. Rollin’s is as much about self-realization under duress as it is about music, though of course there is a great deal of music commentary included. It’s jet black and deeply funny. Kirwan is not only a musician, but also a playwright. His book is not only expertly written, but features a great deal of really interesting information on the history and culture of Ireland. And Lydon’s book is not only an unsentimental look at his past, but includes commentary by other people that were around him at that same time. Even if they flat out contradict him, he seems not to give a fuck. He is interested in getting to the truth, and the truth depends on one’s perspective.
Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish was, in my humble opinion, the most consistently interesting blog while it operated. (Sullivan has now retired from blogging.) I still have yet to see something that rivals it. I think one reason for this is that Sullivan understood the possibilities of blogging in a way that many did not before him. I found the following passage tonight, from Sullivan, that hints at what a blog can be and what differentiates it from other forms of writing:
Everything is true, so long as it is not taken to be anything more than it is. And I just want to ask that future readers understand this – so they do not mistake one form of writing for another, so they do not engage in an ignoratio elenchi. What I have written here should not be regarded as interchangeable with more considered columns or essays or reviews. Blogging is a different animal. It requires letting go; it demands writing something that you may soon revise or regret or be proud of. It’s more like a performance in a broadcast than a writer in a book or newspaper or magazine (which is why, of course, it can also be so exhausting). I have therefore made mistakes along the way that I may not have made in other, more considered forms of writing; I have hurt the feelings of some people I deeply care about; I have said some things I should never have said, as well as things that gain extra force because they were true in the very moment that they happened. All this is part of life – and blogging comes as close to simply living, with all its errors and joys, misunderstandings and emotions, as writing ever will.
Tibetan lamas say
the worst thing you can do
to break your vow
is to rape your mother at noon
on an alter during her period
when she’s a nun, nobly born
& a relative of your guru.
No, I didn’t do that
but neither did I look
the homeless woman in the eye
as sure as I gaze at these stars.
– Patricia Donegan
More Posts On Poetry Include: Shitcanned In So and So
David Mitchell Interview
One of my favorite writers in recent years has been David Mitchell, who can seemingly do anything or go anywhere. In some of his novels, epics like Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks, he can use many voices, cover different time periods, and make each seem authentic. Not only is he able to do this, but he is able to connect all of those voices to form a compelling overreaching narrative. Meanwhile, in something like Black Swan Green, he is able to use a much smaller canvas, in this case a British school kid in the 80’s, and make it just as compelling. One of the true originals of our time. The link is a short piece accompanied by a longer video interview.
Ta-Nehisi Coates – Between the World and Me
I have been a longtime reader of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog over at The Atlantic. Although I occasionally think Coates’s blog is too narrow in scope, there is no doubt Coates is an unusually gifted writer. (Andrew Sullivan, who wrote alongside Coates at The Atlantic for awhile, was not only able to be an uncompromising advocate for marriage equality, but was also seemingly able to cover an unbelievably wide scope of topics. I found that having a sense of how Sullivan viewed the wider world actually strengthened his arguments for justice. Anyway, this is splitting hairs and is a topic for another day. I would feel amiss if I didn’t say anything, but this is really an argument about format and outcome, and not quality of writing.) Coates has a curious mind and without a doubt is someone that is always reaching for truth. Before I found myself reading a lot about the Civil War, Coates own research and exploration of that time period was extremely fascinating. I am happy to see that his new book, Between the World and Me, is getting rave reviews. The above piece is not only about the book, but also a look at Coates as a man and writer in general. It is a well written and interesting piece worth your time. Also, if you are someone that reads several blogs a day, I would definitely add his blog to your list.
The first-class brains of a senior civil servant
Shiver and shatter and fall
As the steering column of his comfortable Humber
Batters in the bony wall.
All those delicate re-adjustments
“On the one hand, if we proceed
With the ad hoc policy hitherto adapted
To individual need…
On the other hand, too rigid an arrangement
Might, of itself, perforce…
I would like to submit for the Minister’s concurrence
The following alternative course,
Subject to revision and reconsideration
In the light of our experience gains…”
And this had to happen at the corner where the by-pass
Comes into Egham out of Staines.
That very near miss for an All Souls’ Fellowship
The recent compensation of a ‘K’ –
The first-class brains of a senior civil servant
Are sweetbread on the road today.
Mortality by John Betjeman
I rarely ever reread my own blog, unless it is for the sake of editing or correcting a mistake. I have always tried to treat this blog like an outward looking journal. If I am excited by a certain idea or a piece of art, hopefully that excitement can translate into words and create something that will get the reader to take notice of the same thing. The idea is to get the reader to want to explore more things on their own, not to create a place that is a definitive take on anything. I’m not bound to write or cover anything, so what I write about are things that I am generally passionate about. This doesn’t negate other forms of writing, but only compliments them. Someone that is paid to understand the science behind global warming, for instance, will have insight and knowledge that I will never have. However, I might be able to get people interested to where they will find the more substantive article where they previously wouldn’t. Meanwhile, with more subjective matters like art and music, you should want both the writing of people that get why something is interesting because they are passionate about it and writing that takes a more cold clinical look at a thing’s importance in time and place. Between the two you can weigh out the subject for yourself. The only thing I will never write about is something in which I feel I have no grasp at all of the subject matter. I haven’t written about the crisis in Greece because I feel that I do not understand the complex financial systems in place in anyway. I can read other writers and get an idea of what is going on, but I feel that I would just be parroting them. This kind of writing is harmful because it can spread bad ideas without there even being any malicious intent.
But anyway, because I view blogging as a somewhat emotional and in the moment format, I have trouble rereading my own work because, quite frankly, I often find myself embarrassed by it. It can be like if you were caught on camera jumping up and down at the ball game. A picture like that might really translate the true feelings of that moment in time, but you certainly don’t want to relive it. You find yourself looking on and thinking, “Yes, that was exactly how that moment felt, but goddamn I was drunk…”
David Milch and Michael Mann Interview For Luck
Lately I’ve been diving back into the world of Michael Mann, culminating in his masterpiece Heat. I want to comment on that film at some point, but I’m still collecting ideas, putting my thoughts together. I have also been watching the show Luck, which was on HBO a couple years back. It’s a show that centers around a racetrack and the personalities that surround are a part of that world. Mann was a producer and director of the pilot. The show was created by David Milch who is one of the most interesting minds and greatest writers in television. Deadwood, a show he created, is one of the high-water marks of television for me. It is as close to Shakespeare as we are likely to see in our time. I think anyone that wants to understand our country should visit that show. Anyway, while looking up information on Luck, I found this interview with both Milch and Mann. It is short but fascinating.