Monday, July 28, 2008

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sunday Morning Rain

I woke very early Sunday morning, and to my great surprise I found it raining. Ah, rain: giver of life. I realize now how much I took you for granted. I decided it was a good omen.

And here is my haiku that it inspired.

Early morning rain
brings thoughts of home, where we say
"Lord knows we need it."

Here there be dragons.

After the rain, around noon, I realized that I could study no further without a copy of Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. I drove into town, to the library, which I learned is closed all day on Sundays.

Upon returning home, as I turned into my driveway, I encountered this monstrosity. My first thought was that it was an iguana, and I had a moment of confusion, having to remind myself that I was in the desert, not the Florida Keys.

Other than the Gila monster, I didn't realize we had a species of lizard this large. Thankfully, I knew it wasn't a Gila monster. I've written here before on my aversion to snakes and elsewhere on my preoccupation with alligators. While this was neither, it resembled both enough to keep me in my car until it receded into "the burning bowels of this earth."

And yet I did in fact like him or her (probably a her,) this lizard. To come across it like that, with my camera within reach, it was pretty cool.

Our friend, I later learned, was a COMMON CHUCKWALLA or Sauromalus ater. Just as I figured, it presented no danger to me, also pretty cool.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

My first attempt at adding video here

Let's see if it works.

Parker, AZ Indies

One of the things I like about Parker is that it has a lot of locally owned businesses. With only a handfull of the restaurant chains and no Wal-Mart within 40 miles, independents have a real fighting chance here. Joshua St. Mall is home to several, but the whole downtown area is full of them.
I recently spoke to one owner who has been operating here for 35 years. I had hoped to do an in-depth profile on the business, but this owner frowned and explained that "I have negative connotations associated with the word 'blog.'"
How this person passed up the opportunity to be featured in such a premier and celebrated forum as Go Independent is truly beyond me.
Now, Tiffany's Bistro, which you can see in the second photo below, is one of our newer additions. They make killer sandwiches. Pay them a visit when you're in town.

Friday, July 18, 2008



"Standing on the bare ground -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinte space, -- all mean egoism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God"
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Not quite that, but early the other morning I went out on my back porch to switch my laundry and caught some nice light against the cliff. The sun was shining, but there were some darkish clouds forming, fueling hope for rain. (It did not, of course, rain.)

As far as back porch views go, mine is not bad. I've had much worse. Having grown up in a mostly flat Central Florida, I still find myself moved occasionally by the mountains that surround me. That morning was one of those times. The moment seemed to demand the sensibilities of a poet. So here's my haiku:
Summer desert morn
Socks and underwear drying
Wild heat hours away

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Think About It

I realize that this is just a rough mock-up, but it gives you a general idea of what I'm thinking. Who's in? Feel free to submit a draft of your own vision.

Transportation: Option 5--See The Potential


I realize that the dream of the single, sustained book tour/road trip has been revised and postponed, but on my walk from the mechanic to my office today I spied this bargain.

You must view it the way you might a first draft of a short story, not in its current state but in its potential for greatness. And we could also make its restoration a group project. Have you guys ever seen Grease? Imagine us in our own auto-restorage montage, wearing jump suits, having paint and grease fights, wrenching along to the music as the van is transformed before our eyes. Forget that few of us have any automobile knowledge whatsoever. I know Nick J and J-man have a few skills. Nick C--former mechanic and tugboat crewman--what do you say? We need you!

Most importantly, we need to come up with a good name. Grease Lit-ning? Omnibus? Groo-Van? I'm open to suggestions.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

With Age Comes...

I've been studying for my upcoming comprehensive exams, most recently reading a lot of Emerson and Whitman. I remember encountering them as a young English major many years ago and embracing their wild optimism and their celebration of the individual self. Now, when I read them, what I mostly see are clear symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Consider this passage from Emerson's Nature:

"Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear."

A textbook manic episode?

I'm not sure if my reaction is part of our current tendency to read pathology into everything, an adept amateur diagnosis, or a projection of my own jadedness.

Here's a stanza from Whitman's Leaves of Grass:

Smile O voluptuous cool-breath'd earth!
Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees!
Earth of departed sunset--earth of the mountains misty-topt!
Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged with blue!
Earth of shine and dark mottling the tide of the river!
Earth of the limpid gray of clouds brighter and clearer for my sake!
Far-swooping elbow'd earth--rich apple-blossom'd earth!
Smile, for your lover comes.

Of how many potentially great poets are psychotropic drugs robbing us today?

Back to the books.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Not a Review: Brief and Late Thoughts on _The Kite Runner_

I recently listened to the unabridged audio version of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. I wasn't sure I would like it, which is one of the reasons I got it in audio from my local library. Something this popular can't be very good, I figured. I was prepared to dismiss it.

And I will admit that I found plenty of passages and tropes that made the MFA student in me wince a little. Although it is quite well written overall, this is not a book that would survive the fiction workshop unscathed. (Is there any such book?) And yet, I have to admit that I was deeply moved by the story. It remains with me days after having listened to it.

"There is a way to be good again." I keep pondering this line.

All of this has to say something about a work's literary value. I'm not saying anything new here. For decades now critics have been seeking to rescue books like Uncle Tom's Cabin and Charlotte Temple from being dismissed as mere popular or sentimental writings.

Minutes ago I finished watching the movie version of The Kite Runner, which I thought was a worthy interpretation of the book, although--as usual--the film fell well short of the depth and texture of the novel.

Taking the two together I feel that I have a better appreciation of Afghani history and the plight of this country's people. It's an example of how a focused narrative can foster interest and emotional investment in ways that newscasts and histories rarely can. This is one of the reasons the novel will never die.

Readers, what do you think?

I look forward to seeing some of you in Florida soon!

"For you, a thousand times over!"

Monday, July 7, 2008

Guest Column! Ari Olmos Reports from His Life Abroad

Isla del Sol
by Ari Olmos

If I ever feel impelled to sequester myself on a remote island 3000 meters above sea-level, I won't have any doubts as to where to go. Isla del Sol.On my way back from La Paz, I spent one night on the island at Don Ricardo's hostel. I arrived as green and ill-prepared as you could possibly get. While everyone else had hip-strapping backpacks, I alone tried to hump a rolling suitcase up the steep dirt trail. No matter how many times I stopped to catch my breath, my chest would begin to pound after two minutes' ascent. But while the Danish girl and the medical-school-bound Seattle snowboarder I met on the boat never made it to the top, I am really, really glad that I did.One of the most extraordinary views I have ever seen awaited me at the top. The enormity of Lago Titicaca. Glaciers visible in the distance. The water lit up by a sun of other-worldly proportions.

But when I reached the hostel, Don Ricardo was nowhere to be found. It was Saturday, and music blared from a reunion at the town's only school. I had chosen the hostel due to the gushing recommendation in Lonely Planet, and I was reluctant to go elsewhere. Eventually, a neighbor checked me in, offering me my pick of one of 4 rooms that had keys already resting in the locks, assuring me that I did not need a receipt. I accepted this distrustfully, and took the nicest room of the lot. As I was sweaty from the hike, my first action was to attempt to use the shower in the tiny bathroom.

The shower had no curtain and was not separated from the toilet, and the brown clay or concrete floor was freezing. There was no water heater, but an electric showerhead that was supposed to deliver legitimately hot water. I waited, shivering, for the water to warm up. When it didn't, I fumbled with the temperature knob, and when that didn't work, unwilling to concede defeat, I ran my hand over the green and yellow wires that stuck out suspiciously from the unit. It took me a second to register the sensation that came next. I'd been shocked before, but never for more than an instant. I'd never felt like current was passing through me continuously. I could swear there was a buzzing sound in my ears, and before I knew it, I was screaming. I wrenched my hand away, snapping the plastic pipe in two.

I got the water off, and took a moment to gather myself. The situation, I decided, was unenviable. I didn't have a receipt. The showerhead was dangling by a cord next to the window. No one had heard me scream. I hadn't succeeded in taking that much needed shower.
But I did not dwell.

I dressed again, and headed up to the summit to catch the sunset. I passed a restaurant with a few tourists, and knew that wasn't my scene. On the road, an old man called to me from his bodega, and invited me to buy snacks or drink a mate at the table behind his shop. I took him up on the latter. I let him serve me mate de coca, and I pulled out my notebook and attempted a little writing. Pretty soon, the feel of the mug in my hand, the warm drink in my throat, and the mood-altering view made me forget all about my troubles.

In another hour, it was pitch black. Moonless night. I stopped at a restaurant and ate delicious fresh trucha, then I staggered back to Don Ricardo's in the dark, by the light of my cell phone. This time Don Ricardo was to be found. He and another guest, a woman of around 30, were talking and preparing soup. Don Ricardo greeted me in his Argentinian Spanish, the sound of the Argentine "je" recalling my brother's guitar teacher, a chill and friendly dude.

It was night now and freezing cold outside. It was dark, and not a streetlight was to be seen. The mood in that warm room, with the soup cooking, was instantly intimate. Don Ricardo offered me a portion, and while he cooked for the three of us, I spoke with the woman. She was British, of Brazilian parents, living in Sao Paulo. She was doing a masters in art therapy. I told her a little about the work I was doing at SKIP. I told her I had thought about teaching creative writing to the SKIP kids, and she showed me a book of exercises she had with her. Writing as therapy. Writing without the aim of writing perfectly, but solely serving the writer as a form of release. I told her about the recently-discovered joy of learning the guitar--playing for the sake of playing, with no grand hopes or expectations. A tape played faintly. A woman singing in French, the instrumentation mellow and slightly electronic, music I'd never heard.

Soon thereafter, she produced a deck of tarot cards and asked me if I would like to draw one. I told her I would. "Think of a question," she told me, "you would like answered." She shuffled the cards a few times, then fanned the cards out on the table face-down. At first, I could not think of one. Then I thought to myself: why not ask the scariest unaskable question?
Should I pursue writing as my career?

I am not a superstitious person, but at that moment, the question seemed to rise through my blood, through my soul. It seemed to me that my entire trip to Peru had been about accepting the reality that I could not hack it as a full-time writer, about making the transition to writing as a hobby. Taking the pressure off. Getting writing back in perspective. Certainly it was not healthy to view writing as the only thing, to hinge my whole self-esteem on this one thing I could not yet do.

I'd traveled to Bolivia specifically to talk to my uncle about working for his development company, Chemonics. I was telling anyone who cared to ask that my work at SKIP was the most worthwhile thing I'd done since I graduated college. It wasn't that I was hedging in all this thinking, hedging against the possibility of a bad card. On the contrary. I was ready. If the answer was no, my reaction would be relief.

She told me to close my eyes and draw a card using my left hand. I did as she said. The card I drew was the 6 of batones. Six of clubs. The picture was of six muscular arms spiraling out from a center circle, each of the 6 fist brandishing a club.

The significance, she read to me from a book, was great success. Great success and achievement await you. Be careful, the fortune admonished, to guard against excessive hubris. Great success can bread arrogance.

I mused, at the time--what if I was to take as a given that I would eventually be highly successful at writing at some unknown time in the next 50 years. How would that change my approach? How would that free me? I cannot say I took my card seriously, though there was a certain pleasure in a good omen reaching me at such an unexpected time and place.

The next morning, I woke before sunrise, and hiked for two hours before breakfast. I hiked purposefully but without destination, without any care for seeing the sights tourists were supposed to see. I reached the point of the southern part of the island, and sat down and meditated for a few minutes and felt very much at peace.
Ari Olmos is a man of many talents. Writer, Filmmaker, Snowboarder, Chess Champion: These are only a few words that apply. We here at Go Independent call him dear friend.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

No One Tells Me Anything

It's amazing how, in this world of information technology, key information can still fail to reach those who most need it.

Apparently, this week, ending today July 6, was designated "Independents Week." This is a national initiative. Linked below are some clear reasons for shopping at local independent businesses.