December 6, 2014

The White Moderate

Unfortunately, the white moderate is still the problem.

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter From The Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.

December 5, 2014

Not Every Blank is X

It's no coincidence that the truths that make us feel the most uncomfortable are the ones so many of us feel the need to try to soften or outright deflect with phrases like, "Not every blank is X." You see, we don’t like to deal in truth as humans. The truth is messy and uncomfortable and scary, and it often means accepting that our march through life takes place contrary to our wishes and fantasies. We tend to spend a lot of our lives wanting and acting like something or someone is a particular way despite evidence to the contrary. And that’s often why we suffer and are unhappy.

But it’s precisely because a truth makes us uncomfortable that we must needs confront it. It is only by dealing with something directly and honestly as it is, not as we want it to be, that anything can be changed. Running from the truth only makes things worse. It makes it worse for you, for me, for them, for everyone. If your go-to response is, “Well, not every blank is X,” not only are you denying someone the validity of their experience, but quite fucking honestly, that makes you part of the problem.

You are why this is going on.

Listen, if you haven’t accepted this by now, there is only a single and indisputable absolute in this life you are currently living and that is that someday you will die. Period. That’s it. The only absolute ever. Got it?

So, now let’s be clear, no one is saying that every single cop is a racist killer. It's just like that other conversation we were having not that long ago when no one was saying that every single man is a misogynist. However, the problem IS that for each of these enough of them ARE that we find ourselves right here, right now in this very predicament.

And here’s the thing. You know it. You really do, deep down. You know it as the God’s honest. What you’re doing is compartmentalizing it. Oh, well, you know, that’s just this isolated thing over here. It’s not a larger issue and certainly not anything that concerns me. You're hoping that way you won’t have to do anything or examine anything and can go on about your life pretending. You can't. You live here too. 

So stop.

Just like that. Stop.

October 27, 2014

Rotten Fruit at The Fall Creek Review

I have a lengthy essay up at The Fall Creek Review. "Rotten Fruit" reexamines Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange...but I also talk about Stanley Kubrick, Shane Stevens, the gang novel, juvenile delinquency, and class warfare. If you have a minute, hope you’ll check it out.

August 13, 2014

Tell Them Robin Sent You

I nearly wrote this very lengthy post, an essay really, about what Robin Williams meant to me and the impact he had on my life.

I talked about how when I was a child and sitting home alone all day while my parents were at work, my two best friends were my dog and Mork (thanks to back to back episodes shown in syndication.)

Nanu nanu.

You cannot begin to fathom the impact of Dead Poets Society on my life, how many different formats I’ve owned that film, or how many times I’ve seen it. It lead me to so many good and perfect things. Least of which, I can quote a number of Whitman poems thanks to that movie. Every summer when the blooms on our lilac bush die, I stand on the front porch with the dog and recite the first stanza to one of Uncle Walt's poems:

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d, 
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night, 
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring, 
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west, 
And thought of him I love.

Good Will Hunting is the same.

When the lovely wife’s eyes started getting really bad, we sat down and watched a number of movies together that meant a lot to us. One of them was Good Will Hunting. The thing that really struck me on that rewatch, especially now being an adult going through the beginning of a crisis of my own, now no longer a teenager who connected with Matt Damon or Ben Affleck’s characters, was how moved I was by Robin’s performance as Will’s therapist. The “I will end you” scene floored me.

I wrote about all that in great detail.

Then deleted it for the beginning of a very angry post about the people who’ve felt the need to either be dismissive or say nasty, hurtful things. But I deleted that too. They don’t deserve the satisfaction. We currently live under the tyrrany of petty and ignorant men, but that will change. Let them stew in their chosen misery and turn your face away from their offered cup of bitterness. Some day they too will have a moment of awareness and see, as their lives draw to a close, how they will soon sink beneath a dark and lonely ocean of tears to be forgotten.

(And that's something else too, if I can take a moment. Journalism is mostly dead. So in the days to come you will see the ghouls on the march, hoping to join the trolls. The buzzards have already circled. Ignore them. Don't click. Don't share. Don't listen. You do not have to engage.)

The whole time I struggled with what I wanted to write, I kept thinking about Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem Richard Cory. And I think that’s something to remember. How sometimes the stories we tell ourselves about other people can be just as deceitful and unhelpful as the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.

But even that somehow feels too dark, I think.

For me, the thing I keep reading that sticks out in my mind, the thing I want to keep hold of is how many times Robin went out of his way to cheer people up when they were sad or suffering or even just nervous. That’s a fucking legacy right there. It doesn’t need any eloquence to prop it up, it doesn’t require any spirituality, it just is. On the most basic human level, it's fucking gobsmackingly beautiful. It's something anyone could and should be proud of, cold hearted internet sonsofbitches be damned.

So that’s what I think you should do, if you want to honor Robin. Don’t be sad. Don’t even sit at home and watch a marathon of his films. Don’t share some motto or meme or phone number. Go connect with another human being right now. I guarantee you that you know someone who is depressed or sad or suffering or worried or nervous or frightened or even just lonely. When was the last time you spoke to them? When was the last time you made them laugh? Reminded them that you cared? Now's a good time. Right now. Go. Call them up. Knock on their door. And when they answer, tell them, “Robin sent me.”

Nanu nanu.

August 11, 2014

A Dirty World Full of Dirty People

I’m a longtime John D. MacDonald fan, honestly still in awe of the quality of his prodigious output. Years ago, coming out of a lengthy Travis McGee bender, I read The Red Hot Typewriter: The Life and Times of John D. MacDonald by Hugh Merrill.

Starting at the bottom of page 71, Merrill reprints a funny spoof of Mickey Spillane that JDM sent Dick Carroll, his editor at Gold Medal, following their publication of The Brass Cupcake:

"It was one of those afternoons when the greasy sunshine flooded Third Avenue like a men’s room with a broken john. She came out of the alley lapping at her juicy red lips with her pointed spicy tongue.

I shouldered her out of the way and blew the smoke off of the end of the rod. He lay there in the alley and he was dead. I don’t know why I did it but I aimed at him and blew off the other half of his greasy skull. It was a dirty world full of dirty people and I was sick of it. I felt the crazy anger welling up in me. He lay there in the alley and he was dead. She rubbed her thorax against me. I blasted his teeth out through the back of his neck.

Pat shouldered her out of the way. He was picking his greasy teeth with a broken match. A smart cop, that Pat.

'I knew you was going to go kill crazy again, Mike. This has got to stop.'

I knew it couldn’t stop. Not while there were people left in the world. Dirty people in a dirty world. I had to kill all that I could. Even if they lifted my license. He lay there in the greasy alley in the greasy Third Avenue sunshine and he was dead and I was glad I’d shot his greasy skull apart.

'Mike, Mike,' she gasped, stabbing her tongue into my ear. It tickled.

I fingered her haunch, then shoved her away hard. She looked at me with those wide, spicy hot eyes.

'You haven’t fooled me a bit,' I rasped. Then I laughed. My laugh sounded like two Buicks rubbing together.

She knew what I meant. She said, 'Look what I can give you, Mike.' She unlatched her Maidenform.

I looked at it. I felt the sadness, the regret. But the anger was there. Pat sucked on the greasy match. He turned his head. He was a good cop.

The first shot nailed her against the alley wall. While she was slipping, her eyes still pleading with me, I wrote my initials across her gut with hot lead. It was tricky shooting.

Pat sighed. He said, 'Mike, the D.A.’ll have something to say about this.'

'Screw the D.A.,' I said. My voice sounded like a lead nickel in a stone jukebox.

We walked out of the alley, down through the soggy sunshine. Somehow, I felt very tired."

See. It’s funny, right? I thought so then, and still think so now. Though it's also a little sad that the genre is still overrun with prose and thought that still amounts to: “a dirty world full of dirty people…”

July 30, 2014

That Kind of Disappointment

I remember vividly when I was in elementary school going to music class. Twice a week or so, we’d gather around Mrs. Perry’s piano to be instructed on the basics of music, sing songs like "America the Beautiful" and "Oh! Susanna," or learn to play the recorder.

I can still fumble through a yowling-cat-in-heat version of "Hot Crossed Buns."

But I really really liked going to music class when I was a kid. My brother Nathan was killed in a car accident when I was in kindergarten. I also have a cleft palate so I spent most of my early school years attending some form of speech therapy. Music class was one of the things I looked forward to the most in elementary school. It made a very unpleasant time just a little more bearable.

I think that’s one of the reasons it stung so badly years later when I learned that they taught us a censored version of Woody Guthrie’s "This Land Is Your Land." When I heard it much later, I understand immediately why.

Yet, understanding never quite fixes that kind of disappointment.

This Land Is Your Land
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land, this land is my land.
From California to the New York island,
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters,
This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway,
I saw below me that golden valley,
This land was made for you and me.

I've roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts,
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting, a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway.
Nobody living can ever make me turn back,
This land was made for you and me.

July 23, 2014

Don't Make Fun of Him, Be Appalled

So many things annoy the hell out of me about Gov. Perry and his bullshit photo ops with machine guns at the border.

First, let's be honest, the Border Crisis he keeps talking about is in reference to children. He’s got the National Guard staked out at the border to stop children from crossing. Yes, I know he’s given some bullshit about how all these resources being diverted to dealing with the children are allowing some Invasion U.S.A. style influx of criminal aliens, but it’s just that--bullshit. He's hoping if he repeats it often enough, you'll forget this is all really about kids and just remember him saving us from evil foreigners like this is the mid-80s and he's Chuck Norris. It’s all a shell game to portray what should be a no-brainer bipartisan response to a humanitarian crisis as the lax liberal policies of the Obama Administration contributing to the disintegration of this country. Just like the pictures of him with military weapons at the border, it’s bullshit PR for his 2016 Presidential run we all know we’re going to have to suffer through.  

And let’s talk about the children at the border who've endured a hell you cannot even fathom to make it this far. The bulk of them are from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.  Honduras has the world’s highest homicide rate, El Salvador isn’t far behind, and all three countries are incredibly impoverished with "30% of Hondurans, 17% of Salvadorans, and 26 % of Guatemalans living on less than $2 a day."

You spent more at Starbucks this morning.

What else do those countries have in common? Every single one is a victim of America’s terrible foreign policy. Just take a look at the WikiLeaks documents about US support for the 2009 coup in Honduras. Or spend five minutes reading about The Salvadoran Civil War. Or maybe the US backed 1954 Guatemalan Coup that sparked the Guatemalan Civil War.

This is what he's capitalizing on. Poor children from Central American countries who've sufffered a great many terrible things due to our meddling. Don’t make fun of Rick Perry, be goddamned appalled. Seriously. Be appalled.

Oh, and fuck that guy. Seriously, fuck that guy. Repeat that until you remember it. We've got a long time until November 2016.

July 21, 2014

Pretty Deadly

Pretty Deadly is a creator-owned comic series from Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios.

And it’s amazing.

Fucking seriously. I’m not going to bother with some fancy write-up because I couldn’t do the comic justice. Pretty Deadly is a beautiful, violent, magical realism, manga spaghetti western. A mythic, glorious story with breath-catching prose and artwork I want tattooed on my bare arm.

Highly, highly recommended.

July 18, 2014

To Each Their Own Till We Go Home

I heard “Turtles All The Way Down” by Sturgil Simpson again this morning. Even if country music hadn’t died under a corporate bootheel and now lives only vegetable existence thanks to twangy, second-rate pop singers, this would still be a kind of perfection.

I've seen Jesus play with flames in a lake of fire that I was standing in
Met the devil in Seattle and spent 9 months inside the lions’ den
Met Buddha yet another time and he showed me a glowing light within
But I swear that God is there every time I glare in the eyes of my best friend
Says my son it's all been done and someday yer gonna wake up old and gray
So go and try to have some fun showing warmth to everyone
You meet and greet and cheat along the way

There's a gateway in our mind that leads somewhere out there beyond this plane
Where reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain
Tell me how you make illegal something that we all make in our brain
Some say you might go crazy but then again it might make you go sane

Every time I take a look inside that old and fabled book
I'm blinded and reminded of the pain caused by some old man in the sky
Marijuana, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT they all changed the way I see
But love's the only thing that ever saved my life

So don't waste your mind on nursery rhymes
Or fairy tales of blood and wine
It's turtles all the way down the line
So to each their own till we go home
To other realms our souls must roam
To and through the myth that we all call space and time

July 16, 2014

The Greatest Television Married Couple

The lovely wife was not feeling very well over the weekend so we watched The Addams Family. No matter how many times I watch episodes of the original television show with John Astin and Carolyn Jones or even the two features films with Raul Julia and Angelica Huston, I’m always struck by the fact that, still to this very day, Gomez and Morticia Addams remain the single greatest married couple that's ever been on television.


Full stop.

End of story.

Seriously. Think about it.

July 15, 2014

Elvis Still Dead

Mick Farren
Still enjoying my slow trip through Mick Farren’s Elvis Died For Somebody’s Sins But Not Mine. Yesterday I came across this little gem:

“Needless to say, alienation was one of the major motivators intended to create the psycho-civilized society that was the authoritarian dream for the second half of the 20th century. The goal was to breed a population that was isolated, uncommunicative, obedient, conformist, and very, very afraid. In some demographics, it worked all too well.”

July 7, 2014

Zen and the Art of Not Smoking

There’s a tough to process but very important Buddhist concept called anattā which means “no-self.” In very brief and very poor layman’s terms, the idea is that the unchanging and eternal self is an illusion, our identity is constantly shifting and born from the clash of an ever-changing storm of forces. “No-Self” is the lynchpin of Buddhist thought, it’s considered to be one of the three marks of existence shared by every sentient being, it’s directly tied to the notion of dependent origination, and it’s the key to liberation. So much of our suffering and dissatisfaction comes from the “I” stories we tell ourselves.

I understood anattā a lot better when I quit smoking, or as I still think of it constantly, “Today, I chose not to smoke.” I had tried to quit smoking before but it had never worked, it never stuck. I knew people who had tried to quit smoking before and they never made it more than a couple of months. One friend of mine regularly quits every couple of months, only to start right back up again. Barring those sometimes smokers and the people who I suspect have a genetic trait that runs counter to physical addiction, the people I know who had stopped smoking and hadn’t started up again all did it without the aid of patches, pills, or gum. The only way is to sweat out the week of physical withdrawals then commence the mental battle until you’re through the woods.

After several days of choosing not to smoke, I remember one day thinking how “weird” it was to not be smoking. Then I remembered being a kid and hating smoking with every core of my being. My father chained one cigarette after another, burning through several packs a day. On his day off, after finishing the grass, he’d sit in the television room and watch war movies and smoke cigarette after cigarette. I couldn’t stand to be in that room. The haze was so thick. It burned my eyes. And it stank something awful. I swore when I was a kid that I would never smoke cigarettes. There was even a teenage relationship of mine that had difficulties because she smoked and I hated it. If you had asked anyone if Chad would ever smoke cigarettes, they would have told you no.

Not smoking was part of the unchanging and eternal “Chadness” for me.

But see, then I did start smoking once I went to college. There was a girl I really dug who smoked, a friend who had picked it up over the summer, and an entire LARP where pretty much everyone smoked cigarettes so if you ever wanted to interact you had no choice but go outside and step into the cloud.

After college, I never stopped. I smoked a lot. And often. I liked smoking. It was a ritual. Wake up, smoke a cigarette. Drive to work, smoke a cigarette. Take my break, smoke a cigarette. It was relaxing. Stressed, smoke a cigarette. Anxious, smoke a cigarette. It was helpful. Awkward new social situation, smoke a cigarette. If you asked me, I would have told you that I was smoker and would always be one.

Smoking was part of that unchanging and eternal “Chadness.”

It wasn’t until I chose not to smoke that I remembered both times, that I saw each side by side and remembered how everlasting each had felt when they were perceived to be true. It was a liberating and fulfilling realization. And one I keep trying to go back to.

Then just the other day, before the start of my vacation, I was walking from Bloomington Bagel Company to my office on campus. It was early. Still pretty quiet. Not too warm, a little cool in fact. As I walked and ate my bagel, I was thinking on anattā, rolling the concept around in my thoughts, trying to apply that insight quitting smoking gave me, when I had this sudden revelation about “no-self” in regards to death. It filled me with such intense warmth and such a deep sense of comfort, I found myself crossing the bridge over the Jordan and smiling like a madman. For the seven steps it took me to go from one end of the bridge to the other, I was without fear and anxiety. I mean that completely. No fear about what the workday would bring, no fear about whether I’d have enough money this month to pay every bill that needed paying, no fear about my wife’s blindness and what it will mean for her and for me, and no fear of death.

Then, once on the other side, I couldn’t remember it. Whatever it was. Whatever connection I had made, whatever insight I had had into the human condition, whatever it was and whatever you want to call it, it was gone.

Immediately afterward, it made me a little sad.

Later in the day, walking around on my lunch break, it made me laugh.

July 6, 2014


Netflix finally added Lawless to their streaming service. I had wanted to see this crime drama back in 2012 when it was released, but there’s very little that will actually get me out to the theatre. Seeing a film on the big screen is too expensive. For the price of a single ticket I can pay for an entire month’s worth of Netflix with money left over. Not to mention, I can’t remember a time in recent memory when I did risk the multiplex that wasn’t ruined by audience members who couldn’t seem to understand that seeing a film is a shared experience between a group of strangers who don’t want to hear their commentary, incessant coughing, or help them chase their kid down.

After seeing it on the small screen, I’m glad I waited for Netflix.

Lawless has a lot going for it. Even with Shia, whom I’ve never ever cared for-- going all the way back to Holes, the cast is top-notch. Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Gary Oldman, and Guy Pearce all deliver with what's given. Australian director John Hillcoat shot a beautiful film. And Nick Cave’s screenplay comes by way of Matt Bondurant’s historical novel The Wettest County In The World.  Not to mention, I’m just a sucker for moonshine films. I come for a long line of ridge runners and seeing Thunder Road on television as a child is probably half the reason I put together Hoods, Hot Rods, and Hellcats.

But Lawless falls short of all my expectations by a country mile. The film is an unsatisfying mash of art house and violence. The terrible pacing is made all the more awful by an unnecessary prologue and epilogue, only the intense violence breaks the monotony and even that is ultimately unsatisfying since we’re given not much of anything that we haven’t seen before in some other gangster film. Worst of all, there’s more than a good deal of mumbling, usually to deliver that sort of down home philosophizing that’s only written by men who either aren’t from the country or make their living trying to sell you on some rural myth.

Mostly, Lawless is a pretty film that reminds you how much money you save with Netflix.

July 5, 2014

Elvis Died For Somebody's Sins But Not Mine

Mick Farren’s Elvis Died For Somebody’s Sins But Not Mine is a must-buy for any of his fans. If you’re curious about Mick and unfamiliar with the stunning breadth and depth of his work, it’s a great introduction to this now lost talent. Mick's last collection includes some of everything: bits of memoir, reminiscences, rock journalism, cultural criticism, political writings, interviews with everyone from Johnny Cash to Gore Vidal, song lyrics, unpublished fragments, blog posts, a sampling of his nonfiction books, and excerpts from his novels.

I purchased the book nearly a year ago, shortly after Mick died on stage in London. I’ve been taking my sweet time reading it. Whenever I finish reading a novel or complete a piece of my own writing, I’ll pick up Elvis Died For Somebody’s Sins and read several sections.

Yesterday, I came across this little gem from Mick that I absolutely related to:

“I have neither trusted nor desired power. At its most honest, it seemed to require oversized Greek pillars and a hollow marble echo to sustain itself, and, when it was less than honest, it was capable of about any atrocity. Routinely capable--which made it all the worse. I was never particularly attracted to the concept of power. Being expected to tell others what to do and order them around on a whim or a theory held no appeal. Quite the reverse. I have no desire to issue orders and even less to receive them. To separate the two would be hypocrisy. Fame I might cop to. I wouldn’t have minded being famous when I was young and had the lungs, but the idea of wielding power was a complete anathema.”
Pick up the paperback copy here.
A swanky hardback copy here.

June 16, 2014

Shane Stevens At The Slaughterhouse

I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m a Shane Stevens fan. He’s my crime fiction idol and, in case you’ve missed noticing the tab at the top of this blog, he’s also my long-term research obsession. Recently, I was pleased to learn Richard Godwin is also a fan.

If you head over to The Slaughterhouse, you can read a lengthy and very in-depth interview Richard conducted with me recently—one Stevens fan to another. He asked a lot of great, probing questions, really pushing me to think long and hard about Shane and his work. It was so engaging and exciting for me, I had to sweeten the pot and offer Richard one of the rarest things ever—a picture of the man himself.

June 15, 2014

Galaxies and Supernovas In The Growing Dark

On the way to work last week, I actually listened to the radio for a bit. The only worthwhile local station happened to play “Supernova,” the new song by Ray LaMontagne from the likewise titled album. I liked the song, thought it was catchy and a little bit more upbeat than his usual fare, at least what I’ve heard of his music.

It’s so rare to hear something new on the radio that I like, I had to send the song to my wife. I searched on Youtube for what I thought was a vocal only track. Her vision is so bad now, I worried that if I sent the music video she’d strain to see it and that would upset her more, serve as a vicious reminder how much her sight has deteriorated. Soon as I saw this this one labelled: Supernova (Audio), I sent her the link.

But I didn’t watch it.

She texted me a few minutes later, said she liked the song and “that’s what I see.”

I texted her back: ?

She told me to close one eye and put my hand over, start the video and watch it up close with the other eye squinted, then turn suddenly and stare a blank wall.

As her sight fails, the growing dark fills with galaxies and supernovas.

June 13, 2014

Of Men and Lizards

The first volume of Veridical Dreams is now available from Beat To A Pulp. Using fragments from poet Kyle J. Knapp’s dream journals as their inspiration, The Lizard’s Ardent Uniform features brand-new fiction from Chris F. Holm, Terrie Farley Moran, Patti Abbott, Evan V. Corder, Steve Weddle, Hilary Davidson, and Garnett Elliott.

I’ve been reading this on my lunch break, and it’s pretty damn good. Variety is always the appeal of an anthology, but’s also usually its drawback too. So far, however, every story has been top shelf. I hope you’ll take a moment and check it out.

For the story behind the anthology, go here.
For the ebook version, go here.

For a print version, go here.
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