Speaking Volumes Presents: “NO IS NOT ENOUGH” by Naomi Klein

Knockout (1)

SPEAKING VOLUMES: Art, Music & Literature in Review by Martine Compton

Featured Title:

NO IS NOT ENOUGH: Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need by Naomi Klein

Tweeter-in-Chief

The American title No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need” will prompt U.S. readership to pick up the book faster with the Tweeter-in-Chief’s, as Klein so aptly puts it, name in the title.  These readers will see author and activist Klein’s new incendiary work as the beacon of hope that it most certainly is.  As for me, I had obtained a British text of Klein’s book online with Abe.com (the global, independent-bookstore-driven version of Amazon) after a state-wide inter-library-loan search (MelCat) struck out completely.  All were checked out or, as in my library’s case, copies did not exist.

NO IS NOT ENOUGH” is a call for unity.  Klein invites us all to kill our “Inner Trump” and this part of the book is especially empowering.  Like her colleague and fellow Canadian Naomi Wolf’s The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, “NO IS NOT ENOUGH” challenges the reader to reclaim citizenship as both a right and a responsibility.

Klein reminds readers that by looking at the big picture we can reclaim our birthright as world citizens.  Her work convincingly connects unchecked corporate greed and climate change with a global refugee crisis, xenophobic fascism, and links all these to the forced evictions, pollution, and mass incarceration at home (in North America).  And this is just the tip of the melting iceberg.  Action is necessary because alignment with status-quo neoliberal politics breeds a zoned-out apathy akin to waiting for a superhero billionaire to counter those destructive forces at work today in Washington and Wall Street.  Though I wholeheartedly agree, I would like to point out that the same section which speaks of “Marvel Comics superheroes” then lists Superman and the Flash.  Point of order: that’s D.C. Comics, not Marvel.  Ahem.

Klein’s message is one of great hope.  The current crisis, she argues, is a rare opportunity for change.  Artists and activists around the world are fighting locally and globally for a better future.

Where did our jobs go?

Last winter, my town’s used bookshop closed (now moved to Abe.com, hence my purchase), having been a local business for over 15 years.  The owners elected to close shop shortly after the library opened its own bookstore.  The Friends of the Library sales, which open for four-day periods about four times a year, sell books for $.50 or $1.00, a rate which cannot sustain overhead or labor that is not publicly funded, and against which bookshops simply can not offer sustainable competition.  Like the longstanding booksellers down the road from the library, the two bookstores (in neighboring towns) I worked and shopped at previously, have closed its doors.

Needing books like some people need cigarettes (my old boss at the now closed Royal Oak Books, Pat Jonas, once confronted me about my reading addiction: “Do you have a sickness with books?”), I decided to volunteer to work a local library branch’s community book sales.  Due to my extensive experience in the book world, I was immediately pushed up the ladder to work in the Friends of the Library Online Division, the most robust arm of the library.  In truth, I hungered to return to my vocation of sticking books into people’s hands, but at least I got to handle books, and a perk of my post was getting to screen new DVD donations at home for “quality”.

While at my library desk for the online sales, I overheard two administrators discussing paid library positions.  One said to the other in conspiratorial tones, “…But, if we can get a volunteer to do it…” Shortly after hearing this, I quit doing the online sales and volunteered only at the in-house sales.  At these public library book sales all labor, such as mine, is unpaid, despite the fact that the memos we volunteers receive at the close of each sale boast of the thousands of dollars we help raise each time.  When I read a recent mailed letter gleefully thanking me for helping raise nearly $20,000 at one sale alone, it was impossible not to realize that a portion could support a going rate for the services people like me provide our community.

Say it loud, say it proud: “Not my values!”

The local Barnes & Noble has a used book section I sometimes patronize.  My town is the only one in this part of the country to have a used section at their Barnes & Noble, the demand is so great it rivals book towns like Portland, Oregon.  My last post at a Barnes & Noble, a company which once provided excellent benefits and hours to its workforce, was in 2001, and the following year the number of independent bookstores halved.   It became to me undesirable when we clerks were effectively expected to put customers present in the store third to phone and online sales.  I made the move then to antiquarian books, which was my bread and butter for the next fifteen years.  Once those shops could not compete with online and library sales and closed, I moved to work for “Friends” of the library, and took to underpaid caregiver positions to earn a living (Michigan’s rates fall almost 10% below national averages).

While on “duty” at my final sale in my local library’s book room, the head Shift Volunteer pulled me aside and asked me why I wasn’t at my post.  I replied that I had been, but as someone had requested my help, I’d taken them to find the section they wished.  She looked at me, and said hurriedly, and a bit aggressively, “But that’s not your job.” She wanted me instead to stand nearby the cashiers, (where they had overstaffed and subsequently there was no chair for me at the table with the others), in case there was a line.  My job? I thought with disgust.  The look on my face must have been clear as a bell, because she was afterwards solicitously conciliatory.  The head volunteer’s choice of words got me thinking about how though I was not being paid, I was being treated as though I was.   Now it was abundantly clear that helping the community find good books was not only not in my “job description”, it wasn’t a job anywhere anymore.  Paid or unpaid, service professions are being consistently undervalued in place of commercial ones.  In the words of the immortal Nero Wolfe, “Pfui!” Not my values.  That incident marked my last sale there.

Today I am filling out a catalog request form for “NO IS NOT ENOUGH” as my first step in a more community-minded life.  As a former library volunteer, I happen to know that copies put into the “donation bin” within the walls of the library may not be entered into the catalog system.  They will first be screened to see if the Friends of the Library (apart from the library’s, incidentally) can sell it online at a profit (for more than $6), then sold at the library’s seasonal in-house book sales, made entirely of donated or discarded volumes, and open to the public.

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We’re All in It Together

Klein’s book underscores the notion that green living is holistic living, including a living wage double the current minimum wage.  Service jobs traditionally held by women, such as librarians and teachers, are consistently underpaid, underfunded or cut altogether in favor of those that are traditionally held by white males and overfunded.  My Godmother who is a librarian and her daughter, my Godsister, who is a music librarian moved to Boston because there were no jobs in Michigan.  And yet our libraries are wealthier than ever.

Not unmentioned in “NO IS NOT ENOUGH” is the sad reality that this American election has severed friendships and other significant bonds.  In my own experience, a writer friend of mine used a small gathering of a friends mourning the sudden death of our beloved brother, to declare out of nowhere that she feels people who neither voted for Trump nor Clinton de facto elected Trump and “are just as much to blame” as Trump supporters.  A friend present there whose abusive ex destroyed her absentee ballot was particularly wounded by this loud-mouthed and unhelpful invective (all present including myself had none of us voted Republican).

That Klein warns against silo-politics, or single-issue approaches, is an important aspect of her vital work.  Who voted for whom, she insists, is unimportant.  Klein urges us to leave behind petty squabbles and to work together toward common goals based on a wise, earth- and civil-rights-valuing approach to public and private life.  Let us spend less time in our cars, and more time with the most vulnerable in society.  As a hard-of-hearing person who professionally has cared for children and the elderly and infirm, I was buoyed by this reminder that how you treat others helps create (and sustain) the life around us.   It put me in mind of writer and economist (and co-founder of the Occupy Wall Street movement) David Graeber’s work, “Debt: The First 5,000 Years.   Among the other life-changing ideas in his book, it puts forth the radical idea that the underpaid or unpaid people whose main occupation involves caregiving and service contribute in important ways to a better, stronger future and that NO ONE, not pro-bank politicians, not the payday loan sharks backed by the courts and prison system, has the right to tell you “how much you owe”.  Graeber warns, “Any system that reduces the world to numbers can only be held in place by weapons, whether these are swords and clubs, or nowadays, ‘smart bombs’ from unmanned drones. It can also only operate by continually converting love into debt.”

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Take the Leap

The last chapter of Klein’s new work contains The Leap Manifesto.  This is a document recently drawn up by activists and leaders in government, civic forums, the arts and grassroots politics that goes further that transcends the status-quo’s defensive approach and creates forward motion. For instance, its “polluter pays” principle is a call to reroute funding from wasteful warmongering operations to child and elder care and community centers.

The Leap Manifesto was drafted in Canada but anyone can join the cause.  Read it for yourself, and if you believe in what is calls for, join the growing movement.  If we don’t act soon, we have everything to lose.  And go to your local library to read or request a copy of Klein’s new book.  Reader, treat yourself.  You deserve the dose of hope.

Martine Compton

Rochester, Michigan

August 2017

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Reader Review: “The New Codependency”

Melodie Beattie’s “The New Codependency: Help and Guidance for Today’s Generation”, Thorndike Press.  A Reader Review by Martine Compton

My library offered three copies: one electronic, one audio, and the large print edition.  Of the three, the audio would have been my choice but as I was taking a cross-country trip with my recovering husband, I felt the large print edition was more discreet, and as it turned out was more helpful for late-night hotel reading.

“What was the title of that book? I think I want to get it from my e-library.” These were the words of my very best girlfriend last night over the phone.  We are forever sending one another information about what we are reading through our conversations, visits and texts.  I had sent her a photograph of a page I liked of Beattie’s new book (2009, mind) and my amiga texted back, “Can you send the next page?”

Recently I had read that reading itself can be considered an addiction (Hello, my name is Marty, and I am an…) as books are “mood-altering substances”, and as I read everything from dictionaries to soap containers, certainly I qualify.  (See Francis Spufford‘s The Child That Books Built for a marvelous read…) Yet very seldom is it that I get the sensation, “This was written for me.” Beattie’s manual inspires just this feeling.

Strange that a book on recovery should do this for me as I have been known among many recovering addict friends as one who isn’t addicted to anything. Stranger still was it to read that when she first shopped the draft around for Codependent No More, the author was rejected with the message, “Nice idea, but…” There weren’t, publishers felt, enough such people to make an audience, these “codependents”.  Beattie went from the experience of typing “codependency” on her word processor and getting no spellcheck entry, to: flash-forward decades later, when her Beverly Hills internist told her that her work had been required reading at med school.  Now, that’s success.

Books are nothing without readers, and I am not me without books.  I suppose I could choose to work on that, but why would I? I’d rather enrich YOUR life by telling you the latest, and keep my harmless, bookworm nose RIGHT where it is.  Here is a gem of a thought from Beattie’s work: You don’t need to be codependent AT anyone (like having a son, a wife, etc. who is an addict).  You can be codependent all on your own, in that a codependent is one who, say, puts on her own oxygen mask second.  And if she is flying the plane, man, are the rest of us in for it!

Learning to maintain one’s self-sufficiently is kind, is key.  Giving help that no one wants and causing others to wither without us is harmful.  It sends the message that we think others inferior or incompetent, and taken at acute stages in life, we can actually train capable people to become crumbling wrecks.  It is dangerous not to practice self-care.  We are bad news if we try manipulating others into behaviors by demonstrating, “See what I just did? Now, you do that for me!” rather than stating verbally and owning our needs.  We must not presume we all think the same, nor expect our needs to be mirrored in others’ often quite different points of view in order to think our own views valid.

The book is interesting.  Beattie writes well.  Hers is the clean, brisk prose of one who has composed and drafted over ten books.  As a reader, I can detect the seasoned author.  The work moves along.  You learn at each section.  Beattie does not think she is god, nor does she proselytize.  She writes from trial and error, and a life of mistakes and lessons informs her wisdom.  I did learn that currently AA has an app, that is free, wherein you can type your zip code and be alerted to local meetings, at home or on the road.  Go to aa.org for more information.

ALANON meetings are harder to find, it seems.  For readers interested in caregiver assistance, I have found Common Ground to be very useful.  Click to connect.

Martine Compton 2017

Writing from Knoxville, TN

Photo by Dr. Gravity 

DREAMGIRL

TLWC 2 HK comix

Comix Home Base Tribute to Masters Series:

A Retrospective Featuring the Art of Theresa Lee Wai-Chun

January 2015

“How did you find us?” the tall, slim young man shyly asked us.

As I was busy filling out a questionnaire, my husband answered him. “The Hong Kong Cultural Center had a poster. We hopped on the train and came.” He added, “We love comics.”

On Hong Kong’s fashionable Mallory Street, Comix Home Base celebrates its “Tribute to Masters Series II”. Inside, three floors of the glass and steel building are dedicated to Theresa Lee Wai-Chun’s artistic career. The exhibit, curated by Connie Lam (Executive Director of Hong Kong Arts Centre), spans several snaking rooms over four floors. The suggested route starts not on the ground floor or even the main floor (2nd floor) but on the third, then up to the fourth, then down to the second and finally ending on the ground floor. (Phew!) Thankfully, the staircases are not steep and there is a public elevator.

In the “first” room (floor 3F) is the “Retrospective Timeline of the Artist’s Creative Career”.   A great white plastic glossy disc the size of a tractor wheel encompasses the 1960s through 2014, ending with the grand opening of the exhibit last winter. Large, jet black and hot pink print details the artist Theresa Lee Wai-Chun’s achievements and modes of art. Famed for her cartoon heroine, 13 Dots, Wai-Chun has worked as a seamstress and fashion designer, a Fine Arts craftswoman. The holder of advanced degrees, she is the recipient of many honors and awards for her original work and for her contributions to the lives of budding artists.

Located on the same floor as the time wheel, the Multipurpose Room is step two of the walking tour. The exhibits it contains are: “Theresa the Kidult”, “Theresa the Tireless Creator”, and “Theresa the Beloved Mom”.  On the left as you enter through glass doors stands an installation representing the artist’s work table, laden with a mid-20th-century Singer sewing machine. Beside this stands a monitor and headphones. An interview with the artist, complete with subtitle captioning, plays on a continuous loop.

During the 1960s-1970s, Wai-Chun says in the video, clothing manufacturing provided good, steady jobs for women in China. The industry provided a creative outlet for their tireless energies and wild dreams. The fashion of the times embraced bold colors. Concepts of functional beauty changed as women’s roles expanded to include a life outside the home.  (Just a generation before Wai-Chun, Coco Chanel famously remarked: “Women drive cars now.”) Later, when the textile industry churned out fabric for rock-bottom prices, she laments: “There was no incentive” to design and sew any longer.  It became comparatively expensive to construct original clothing. Off-the-rack, pret-a-porter fashion became the order of the day.

Myriad influences shape any artist’s career. Ever modest, Wai-Chun cites inspirations for even her stand-alone drawings.   A remarkable quality of Theresa Lee Wai-Chun is her humanity.   Many artists not only appropriate other styles but fail to give credit where credit is due.  A sketch of a tottering treehouse owes its genesis to a dream, Wai-Chun tells us.   One night she dreamt that her family home was literally up a tree. Another intriguingly wild pen and ink drawing is of a roofless home. We learn from the caption pinned below that a university lecture on architecture inspired this piece; Wai-Chun even has remembered, twenty years on, the name of the lecturer. The drawings are reminiscent of George Booth (The New Yorker cartoon artist) or Shel Silverstein panels (illustrator and author of “Where the Sidewalk Ends”), but Wai-Chun’s style predates the similar works of these master American cartoonists by some years.

In the center rear of the room is a handmade doll’s house behind glass. It is part of the “Theresa the Beloved Mom” segment of the tour.  On the wall, a large color photograph of the artist with her children tells the story of its construction as part of a family project. The exhibit’s personable warmth inspired my nostalgia, and I thought of how father taught his daughters to fashion miniatures. Much like Theresa’s family, we crafted beds and book cases from soft scraps of wood, and sewed little satin pillowcases from wide, dime store ribbon. Spools empied of thread became end tables, postage stamps glued above the tiny hearth became landscape art.

Theresa’s little home draws us in instantly; soon we are resting our weary feet on a hand-sewn ottoman, are seated outside on the patio at a rickety table watering paper plants. Rotary dial telephones share shelves with tiny money-cats, pink alarm clocks sit on window sills next to potted ferns the size of thimbles. Complete with modern conveniences like radios, hair dryers and laptop computers, this model home would fascinate a time-traveling Arrietty Clock of Mary Norton’s fantasy The Borrowers.

Norton’s classic children’s book tells the story of a tiny, flesh-and-blood family no larger than finger puppets, the likes of whom perhaps have lived quietly in your house.   The Clocks live in secret below the floorboards of an estate of giant “human beans”, making use of “forgotten” items.   They turn coins into platters, and make their beds from matchboxes and sardine cans. Wai-Chun’s doll’s house is just where Norton’s “Borrowers” would retire in diminutive bliss.

The three-story miniature home has a bustling, bright kitchen with groceries on the table, a living room with books as wells as a t.v., bedrooms with floral print coverlets and curtains, a bathroom with a shower head, an attic stuffed with toys.   In each room, crafty little windows overlook our behemoth “human bean” world. We regret our lumbering frames and hover longingly before this imaginative little world before moving on to the next installation.

Behind twin glass doors lies the next room. Easy-to-read captions mark each framed and mounted original illustration. The lighting is soft if bright, the rooms spotless yet inviting, with aisles wide enough to accommodate filing crowds and lollygagging gawkers alike.

Dozens upon dozens of original drawings adorn the walls, mounted and framed.   These are not only the splashy, riotously fun glamor gal Hi! 13 Dots comic covers. Here we see into Theresa’s dreamtime imaginings, the beginnings of her vision of feminine power and magic. Wistful swathes of purple and gold like smoke surround the forms of tasteful nudes. These and dramatic close-ups of imaginary, fanciful models, their heads surrounded by exotic feathers, are each simply captioned: “Carefree drawing.”

On the fourth floor, we step into a trapezoidal, glass room flooded with daylight and peopled by milk-white mannequins garbed in Swinging Sixties getups right down to their platform shoes. In an homage to the artist, design students took inspiration straight from the pages of the famed comic to construct life-sized 13 Dots fashions.   The results are fit for the runways of Paris, true to Diana Vreeland’s legendary maxim of haute couture: “The eye should travel.” And travel it does, across moonwalking silvers, peppermint candy stripes, Marcel-Marceau suspenders, pinwheel handbags, and smart city caps. On a far window overlooking the bustling city street, a wire-like outline of a cartoon girl dominates an entire picture window pane. The pouty, pixie-like maiden gazes blithely at the world as if from the edge of the moon. This exhibit is aptly titled: “13 Dots: The Fashion Queen”.

Courtyard

“Polka 13 Dots” takes us to 2F. Outside, a level above a coffee shop, larger-than-life gamine girls in groovy get-ups adorn the walls of an industrial, roofless courtyard. Jubilant, eternally young and sassy, they stretch their cartoon arms to the sky. For the segment “Comix Salon and the Reading Area of Theresa’s Comics Works”, re-enter the building and follow the signs in the hall.

At a sweeping desk of a minimalist-modern design, a quiet young volunteer oversees the reading area. Along the rightmost wall is a glass cabinet containing Theresa Lee Wai-Chun’s original comic books. There are perhaps hundreds available for perusal, all well-cared for if a bit worn through the years from rapt, enchanted reading. A cave-like nook in the rear of the low-lit room contains a round booth and low table for your reading pleasure.

Though Theresa Lee Wai-Chun’s art is breezy and fanciful, her message is profound. She tells us not to chase wealth and fame, but to use art to “bring forth your unique qualities” lest we be “swallowed up by society”. In her “Artist’s Preamble”, Theresa Lee Wai-Chun writes:

“Once you leave this exhibition, please forget about me. Do not indulge in my dream. Instead, rush out to pick up a pen, a computer mouse, a mobile phone or some clay… Whatever medium you use, start to build your own dream. Be the guardian of your own spirit!”

What sets this “Tribute to Masters” series apart is not only the eye-catching artwork but the inspired curation. By taking us through the artist’s works chronologically, curator Connie Lam underscores the importance of growing from apprenticeship to mastery. The variation of the displays emphasizes how myriad facets comprise artistic expression. Gone are the days of the lone master seeking accolades and a great name. This superior series will inspire a new generation of artists to celebrate the collaborative nature of art.

Comix Home Base Masters Series offers something for everyone. For upcoming events, log onto their website: www.comixhomebase.com.hk or telephone (852) 2824 5303. Comix Home Base is located at 7 Mallory Street, Wanchai, Hong Kong. Hours of operation: 10a.m.-8p.m. Free admission.

Martine Compton

Hong Kong, China

Insights on Modern American Living by Linda Tirado

Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, poverty thoughts

There’s no way to structure this coherently. They are random observations that might help explain the mental processes. But often, I think that we look at the academic problems of poverty and have no idea of the why. We know the what and the how, and we can see systemic problems, but it’s rare to have a poor person actually explain it on their own behalf. So this is me doing that, sort of.

Rest is a luxury for the rich. I get up at 6AM, go to school (I have a full courseload, but I only have to go to two in-person classes) then work, then I get the kids, then I pick up my husband, then I have half an hour to change and go to Job 2. I get home from that at around 1230AM, then I have the rest of my classes and work to tend to. I’m in bed by 3. This isn’t every day, I have two days off a week from each of my obligations. I use that time to clean the house and soothe Mr. Martini and see the kids for longer than an hour and catch up on schoolwork. Those nights I’m in bed by midnight, but if I go to bed too early I won’t be able to stay up the other nights because I’ll fuck my pattern up, and I drive an hour home from Job 2 so I can’t afford to be sleepy. I never get a day off from work unless I am fairly sick. It doesn’t leave you much room to think about what you are doing, only to attend to the next thing and the next. Planning isn’t in the mix.

When I was pregnant the first time, I was living in a weekly motel for some time. I had a minifridge with no freezer and a microwave. I was on WIC. I ate peanut butter from the jar and frozen burritos because they were 12/$2. Had I had a stove, I couldn’t have made beef burritos that cheaply. And I needed the meat, I was pregnant. I might not have had any prenatal care, but I am intelligent enough to eat protein and iron whilst knocked up.

I know how to cook. I had to take Home Ec to graduate high school. Most people on my level didn’t. Broccoli is intimidating. You have to have a working stove, and pots, and spices, and you’ll have to do the dishes no matter how tired you are or they’ll attract bugs. It is a huge new skill for a lot of people. That’s not great, but it’s true. And if you fuck it up, you could make your family sick. We have learned not to try too hard to be middle-class. It never works out well and always makes you feel worse for having tried and failed yet again. Better not to try. It makes more sense to get food that you know will be palatable and cheap and that keeps well. Junk food is a pleasure that we are allowed to have; why would we give that up? We have very few of them.

The closest Planned Parenthood to me is three hours. That’s a lot of money in gas. Lots of women can’t afford that, and even if you live near one you probably don’t want to be seen coming in and out in a lot of areas. We’re aware that we are not “having kids,” we’re “breeding.” We have kids for much the same reasons that I imagine rich people do. Urge to propagate and all. Nobody likes poor people procreating, but they judge abortion even harder.

Convenience food is just that. And we are not allowed many conveniences. Especially since the Patriot Act passed, it’s hard to get a bank account. But without one, you spend a lot of time figuring out where to cash a check and get money orders to pay bills. Most motels now have a no-credit-card-no-room policy. I wandered around SF for five hours in the rain once with nearly a thousand dollars on me and could not rent a room even if I gave them a $500 cash deposit and surrendered my cell phone to the desk to hold as surety.

Nobody gives enough thought to depression. You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired. We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation. Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn’t give us much reason to improve ourselves. We don’t apply for jobs because we know we can’t afford to look nice enough to hold them. I would make a super legal secretary, but I’ve been turned down more than once because I “don’t fit the image of the firm,” which is a nice way of saying “gtfo, pov.” I am good enough to cook the food, hidden away in the kitchen, but my boss won’t make me a server because I don’t “fit the corporate image.” I am not beautiful. I have missing teeth and skin that looks like it will when you live on b12 and coffee and nicotine and no sleep. Beauty is a thing you get when you can afford it, and that’s how you get the job that you need in order to be beautiful. There isn’t much point trying.

Cooking attracts roaches. Nobody realizes that. I’ve spent a lot of hours impaling roach bodies and leaving them out on toothpick pikes to discourage others from entering. It doesn’t work, but is amusing.

“Free” only exists for rich people. It’s great that there’s a bowl of condoms at my school, but most poor people will never set foot on a college campus. We don’t belong there. There’s a clinic? Great! There’s still a copay. We’re not going. Besides, all they’ll tell you at the clinic is that you need to see a specialist, which seriously? Might as well be located on Mars for how accessible it is. “Low-cost” and “sliding scale” sounds like “money you have to spend” to me, and they can’t actually help you anyway.

I smoke. It’s expensive. It’s also the best option. You see, I am always, always exhausted. It’s a stimulant. When I am too tired to walk one more step, I can smoke and go for another hour. When I am enraged and beaten down and incapable of accomplishing one more thing, I can smoke and I feel a little better, just for a minute. It is the only relaxation I am allowed. It is not a good decision, but it is the only one that I have access to. It is the only thing I have found that keeps me from collapsing or exploding.

I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don’t pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It’s not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn’t that I blow five bucks at Wendy’s. It’s that now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be. It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to. There’s a certain pull to live what bits of life you can while there’s money in your pocket, because no matter how responsible you are you will be broke in three days anyway. When you never have enough money it ceases to have meaning. I imagine having a lot of it is the same thing.

Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It’s why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It’s more basic than food. You go to these people who make you feel lovely for an hour that one time, and that’s all you get. You’re probably not compatible with them for anything long-term, but right this minute they can make you feel powerful and valuable. It does not matter what will happen in a month. Whatever happens in a month is probably going to be just about as indifferent as whatever happened today or last week. None of it matters. We don’t plan long-term because if we do we’ll just get our hearts broken. It’s best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it.

I am not asking for sympathy. I am just trying to explain, on a human level, how it is that people make what look from the outside like awful decisions. This is what our lives are like, and here are our defense mechanisms, and here is why we think differently. It’s certainly self-defeating, but it’s safer. That’s all. I hope it helps make sense of it.

Update: The response to this piece is overwhelming. I have had a lot of people ask to use my work. Please do. Share it with the world if you found value in it. Please link back if you can. If you are teaching, I am happy to discuss this with or clarify for you, and you can freely use this piece in your classes. Please do let me know where you teach. You can reach me on Twitter, @killermartinis. I set up an email at killermartinisbook@ gmail as well.

This piece has gone fully viral. People have been asking me to write, and how they can help. After enough people tried to send me paypal money, I set up a gofundme. Find it here. It promptly went insane. I have raised my typical yearly income as of this update. I have no idea what to say except thank you. I am going to speak with some money people who will make sure that I can’t fuck this up, and I will use it to do good things with.

I’ve also set up a blog, which I hope you will find here.

Understand that I wrote this as an example of the thought process that we struggle with. Most of us are clinically depressed, and we do not get therapy and medication and support. We get told to get over it. And we find ways to cope. I am not saying that people live without hope entirely; that is not human nature. But these are the thoughts that are never too far away, that creep up on us every chance they get, that prey on our better judgement when we are tired and stressed and weakened. We maintain a constant vigil against these thoughts, because we are afraid that if we speak them aloud or even articulate them in our heads they will become unmanageably real.

Thank you for reading. I am glad people find value in it. Because I am getting tired of people not reading this and then commenting anyway, I am making a few things clear: not all of this piece is about me. That is why I said that they were observations. And this piece is not all of me: that is why I said that they were random observations rather than complete ones. If you really have to urge me to abort or keep my knees closed or wonder whether I can fax you my citizenship documents or if I really in fact have been poor because I know multisyllabic words, I would like to ask that you read the comments and see whether anyone has made your point in the particular fashion you intend to. It is not that I mind trolls so much, it’s that they’re getting repetitive and if you have to say nothing I hope you can at least do it in an entertaining fashion.

If, however, you simply are curious about something and actually want to have a conversation, I do not mind repeating myself because those conversations are valuable and not actually repetitive. They tend to be very specific to the asker, and I am happy to shed any light I can. I do not mind honest questions. They are why I wrote this piece.

Thank you all, so much. I don’t know what life will look like next week, and for once that’s a good thing. And I have you to thank.

(Photo credit: D. G. Tobey)

INTERVIEWS WITH DEAD PEOPLE

img014 (2)by Charlotte Fey

Subject: James Joyce

Interview Date: June 6, 2014

LONDON, “Hardy’s Public House” back patio, 12:30 p.m.

JJ: Tarrrum ta-ta ta tiddly-dee tum

CF: Cheers.

JJ: Brrrrrt

CF: Thanks for meeting me. A long walk to get here this morning?

JJ: Oh do you mean Excalibur here? (He lifts an elegant, horse-headed cane.)

CF: Pardon?

JJ: (Proudly:) A fine walking stick. What can pry me out of the kit can cut a blade from any stone.

CF: It’s a lovely piece. Is that ivory?

JJ: (Nods three times.) A gift from my dancing daughter.

CF: Fine taste.

JJ: Should say, should say.

CF: Yes, Lucia being the only one in your family besides you that ever read your works, you said?

JJ: Oh I never did neither.

CF: …Read your work?

JJ: It took me ten years to write a single piece; by the time they were done I was out of ears.

CF: Ears?

JJ: Years.

CF: My hearing.

JJ: Mmm. (He sucks on the dregs of a filterless cigarette, takes it out, crushes it under his heel, and says in a cloud of smoke:) I’ve a livery proclivity for speaking in typographical error.

CF: Oh.  I’ll pass that along to Mr. Bernard.

JJ: I haven’t seen him since Trieste, the muck-ferreting dog.

CF: No, I meant– Never mind.  Do you have any advice for today’s writers?

JJ: Ah… As a matter o’ fact, I have.  Write whilst you’re living.  You canno’ write once you’re dead.  Trust that I’ve tried.

CF: (I make my notes.)

JJ: (Looks about him, under the table, and then looks as me confusedly.) The foodstuffs is a long time in coming.

CF: You mean here? We just got here.

JJ: (Grandly:) That hardly changes things, does it?

CF: How did you get here, anyway?

JJ: (Long sigh:) Aaaaayyye riddled m’self up the lane.  I forgot something.

CF: You mean here, at the restaurant? Last time you were…here?

JJ: (Stony stare.) I can’t think that far ahead.

CF: I see.

JJ: Oh, fiddledeefum. I’m foolin with you, girl. Untwist yourself. (To waiter:) Two of your foulest whiskeys on the double.

CF: I don’t drink.

JJ: Well don’t tell me that, place your own order. (To waiter:) And two beef sandwiches. I’m right starved.

Waiter: We don’t serve whiskey here, sir.  But…

JJ: What is the price of a plate of green peas?

Waiter: That’s just next door, sir.  The whiskey, too.

JJ: Then a clean glass and no sass about it!

CF: Oh. Um, coffee please. And a ginger biscuit.

JJ: That’s cannibalism! (Points his cane at me accusingly.)

CF:  Thanks.  (I pat my ginger head self-consciously.)

(The waiter departs.)

JJ:  (Swats his stick above and around my head.) Is that from a bottle or from above?

CF: My hair? Oh. It’s natural.

JJ: It’s unnatural red. Fine fiery shade of the devil’s own arse!

CF: (Laughs.) Ever hear from him?

JJ: Oh, him’s a she right as I’m sitting here.

CF: Good for her.

JJ: We often meet for tea.

CF: Bags or loose?

JJ: Oh she plays one and I the other. (Pulls a silver cigarette case from his jacket, inside it’s empty.) Damned Lucius! Thieving bastard.

CF: Who’s Lucius? (I offer him my packet of smokes.)

JJ: He’s the man what always reads the newspapers. (Tucks my entire pack away in his jacket pocket along with his case without explanation.) Oh… (He waves a dismissive hand.) Where did I put…

CF: (I check to see if my mobile is switched off.  By the time I look up he is comfortably smoking a pipe of tobacco.)

JJ: What is that t’ing there?

CF: Oh. Nothing.

JJ: ‘Nothing’ interests me more… (He takes my mobile from me, and examines it through his thick cloudy spectacles.) How does this work then?

CF: (I move around to assist him as the waiter delivers our order.) This is a list of contacts.

JJ: In order of importance? (He presses the first entry and holds it to his ear.)

CF: No! Don’t press that one! It’s the number for…

JJ: (Listens to the phone and then answers:) Yes!

CF: Mr. Joyce…

JJ: ‘Emergency’?! Whatever makes you jump at once to that, woman?

CF: Look, I’m afraid you’ve dialed 999…

JJ: LET ME FINISH! (Nods and smiles at me, then frowns and says into the phone:) Right. Well. (Sighs, and smokes a moment.) I’ll rattle you a list and you can t’ink on it all. The devil’s a woman and God is dead, but music is alive in the hearts of men. The raging Euphrates is salting the fish underbelly underfoot, and…what?

No. No! The drinks have only just arrived. (He reaches into his jacket and retrieves a flask, which he empties into the glass.) Well, I fail to understand your massive concern.  Medical history? What other kind is there in the rotten heart of England? I’m right where I ought to be, more’s the pity.  Where might I ask might you be?  Ahh…it’s a little al fresco place; a beer garden of Eden by the name o’ “Hardy’s” over on…er… (He gives me an inquiring look and holds the phone out to the air.   He whistles with his fingers and someone shouts: “TRAFALGAR ROAD!”)

CF: (I cover my face.)

JJ: (Taking the phone back to his ear:) Aye, that’s the one.  Oh, death has got me by the short and curlies.  No, I’m already dead, I’m certain of it.  I canno’ taste nor smell nor see nor hardly walk. Yes. Well, only if you like. (Hands me the phone which I put to my ear at once.)

CF: Hello? Emerg- (The operator has ended the call, so I slip my mobile into my shoulder bag.  Then, folding my arms, I give Mr. Joyce a scowl.)

JJ: (He smokes thoughtfully on his pipe.) Your mother is peculiar.  Poor woman; suppose I worried her some; still, maybe if she were to gander down I might show her to enjoy the fierce mild morning.

CF: Your accent is different than I imagined.

JJ: (Sighs philosophically:) Oh, you know, I’ve done the wee spot of traveling.  I like to get about.

CF: Learn any new languages?

JJ: (He reaches into his jacket and pulls out a pocket watch on an impossibly long chain.) As a matter of fact I’ve picked up some English.

CF: (Giggling:) And how did they like that?

JJ: Ah! (Slams his fist down on the table in appreciation.) I see you’re cracked in the right places. Cherry Yot, Cinder Bride o’ mine. Supposin’ you read this clockface for an old man. (He holds out his pocket watch.)

CF: (Leaning in, I squint at the clock face which blurs as I try to read it) It’s…warped. I..I think it’s moving…it’s out of focus. (I rub at the glass cover with my sleeve but still can make out nothing of the time.)

JJ: Ah! T’ank you! Here all the while t’inking it was I what was blurred. (Picks up the menu again, lifts up his eyeglasses off of his nose.) Why, this card is perfectly legible.  (Removes his heavy eye glasses and shouts:) Great Lord below me! Heavens within you! I can see! Plain as day! (He stands up, wobbling the table.)

CF: (Righting the table, I exclaim:) That’s wonderful!

JJ: (He tosses his iconic pair of eyeglasses away in the grass. I scramble to pick it up and stow it in my bag.) Shall we head on to Dublin? (He rises from his place.)

CF: Dublin?!

JJ: Ah, you sound as you might be surprised, Cordelia.

CF: Charlotte. You never went back to Dublin once you got famous! You left…

JJ: Have I ever left? (He sits down and crosses his legs gracefully.) Well, truly, where’s the use of heading to your homeland if you can’t as much see your own face? (He tucks the watch away) Lettin’ alone the face of Father Time. Would you scamper off to Manchester back to hearth and home if the good Lord took your hands away, say in a scuffle with a tiger? (He slips his hands into his trouser pockets and seems not to expect an answer.)

CF: (I excitedly gather up my things, and leave some notes on the table for the bill.) Maybe we can make the centennial celebration of Bloomsday!  How are we getting there?

JJ: (He shouts above a wailing siren that is getting closer:) What?

CF: (It is now deafening, and I plug my ears.) I SAID, ‘HOW ARE WE GETTING THERE?’

JJ: (Joyously:) ON OUR FIVE FEET, TOGETHER! (He leaps up and taps Excalibur on the ground.)

CF: (The noise has stopped, and I hear the peel of rubber.) Um…oh. You mean walking. Well, listen, that’s quite a ways away…

(Just then a London Ambulance Service van pulls up, and two EMT workers, one man and one woman, dressed in uniform, get out of the van and slam their doors shut.  Frantic, I hurry toward them, and attempt to  explain to the male driver the misunderstanding about Mr. Joyce’s call on my mobile.  Meanwhile, the illustrious author has chatted up the female and I can see she is eyeing him warily. He claps her on the shoulders and laughs heartily.)

(The man returns to his ambulance in an angry huff, presumably for paperwork. At this point, Joyce approaches me.)

JJ: Well, now, how’s that for a lark? She says she’ll take us directly to the Kite Festival! (He pats and squeezes my shoulders, grins at me and then turns his back.)

(I am bewildered and turn to see the other patrons on the patio are by now stone silent and gaping.   Upon hearing the sound of the doors to the ambulance opening, I look to see Joyce has gone inside.  He perhaps does not see the woman unpacking a strait jacket and holding it up to Joyce’s back for size.  She shakes her head and returns to the front of the van.)

CF: What are you doing?! (I march up to the rear of the open ambulance. Both drivers are back up front in their seats.)

JJ: (He reaches out and pulls me in by my shoulder strap, which pitches me forward.) In you come; naught’s the time for jawing!

(I tumble into the van, and he holds me down with one foot and stands holding up his flask of whiskey, shouting to the staring patrons:) To agreeable interludes! (He drinks, then reaches up and out to slap the hood of the van, and the engine starts; he closes us inside.)

Note to Ed.: I am sending this piece via my phone, Marty. I’ll text you when I know where we’re going.–CF

 

 

 

 

From Tamas Frank

HoBo (Homeward bound) in Rogers Park
We might be living in a perpetual dawn
Have we not changed in so long
Another dawn of an age with many names
When will we learn to not be so lame
Not to be so lame not to be so lame
I ran into an old friend
Who has taken on some new shapes
I asked him where he’s going
He responded as a noun as a noun
As a noun as a noun
We juggled adjectives
And we did some verbs like a clown
Would
I tuned into a frequency
Or rather turned into a frequency
Resonating colors that you could see
And painted the town painted the town painted the town
As we spiral two a galaxy filled with new and old debris
My friend reminded me
You can still climb a tree
In the calamity
I am young enough to hop a train hop a train