Overcoming through Art

Teacher Student Relations

You are gonna meet all kinds
of people who will tell you
your words are
not as good or
not as worth mention
as the words they say are
better but the truth is
most of them
have big drinking noses
not big writers eyes
and the truth is
they will gather dust with
chapbooks nobody will ever read
and they will piss off more students
then they will help but the most important
thing you will learn from them is that
you can overcome the urge
to remind them their personality
is drift wood
and not even the cool kind
that artists can fashion
something beautiful from,
just gnarly clenched up shit
that nobody
not even their close friends
really thinks any excuse can
justify.

You will also
meet some amazing and
helpful and inspiring ones,
and you will remember them by the
books they developed to show you that
you were not some extraterrestrial to greatness,
and they will always, pound for pound,
outweigh the bitter ones who should
be locked away and kept from the
hands that scrawl on walls the demands
of a new tongue-generation.

They are the ones you need to
worry about impressing,
because they are the people
who teach you the importance
of only writing for yourself.

So let the drift wood
drape its ageing ideal
on the beach
of someone weak enough
in character to actual give a shit.

You have the Gregory Corso gift.

You will rip what little advice can be gleaned from them,
and shave their existence from your margins, otherwise.

If greatness was something that could be mapped
by washed up never-were much’s,
then they would’ve struck the iron,
they would’ve hit the horse
between its eye in their own time,

not still be repeating the wrote requests of
“don’t write like this,”
“this is not how it is done” or
“I hate vampire stories”.

Whatever it is they tell you.
Keep this in mind.

A teacher is only as great as their weakest pupil.

Best Friend

My Best Friend

for HJM

When I needed someone
to protect me from the car
of angry Mexicans I
drunkenly slurred at one night
by merely getting out of
the car while I shivered
a bit in the back seat with
scrawny ginger shame,
it was him.

When I needed someone
to grab me by the throat
and push my face into
a desert of glass on my patio
after roughing me up and
letting me struggle a little,
it was him.

When I need someone to
goad me into picking up the pieces
when all the whore has run out on me
and all the drunk still in me

writhes and whimpers
“like a little ginger bitch”
Again, I am indebted,
to him and him alone.

You can talk on and on
about the myth of masculinity.

You can talk about male hegemonies,
and about the patriarch.

But I still dig having a best friend
like Christian Troy, you know why?

Because the world is filled with Kimbers,
and nobody wants to be Sean McNamara

All the time.
Anymore.
Or ever.

When I come across
The newest picture of
someone having done something
too stupid not To be
internet-mummified
by way of meme;

a ghastly old woman painted
to look like a demon
or one of a ginger zombie
Ronald McDonald making love
to a deadite dressed as a nurse
while in the background
various characters from Hellraiser
and Event Horizon do foul things to
stuffed people with stuffed animals,

It’s his wall I copy/paste it to.
Not even my own.

And that is what a best friend is;
the person you excitedly take
a new piece of discovered darkness to.
So you can both laugh at it, in the face,

And try to find something to top the others
recent post. Another heaping handful of hell,
to pass the hours with.

Anything else would be healthy and balanced,
all that other boring shit reserved for those
earning their way into heaven with
public displays of pompous charity.

When we find people like that we just nod,
look to one another with bug eyes on the side,
knowing full well that shit is just for show.

Comic Book/Stored Antithesis

The soft, off yellow light often
produced in the dim chamber
of your childhood comic shop
and its ability to seem
from the kneeled position
over gargantuan strip boxes
of back issues, back then, in the
middle of your proverbial Sandlot
to act as temporal vortex.

A conversion of worlds,
a threshold.

Campbell was right.
It is all journey.

(This one shop owner in our core
had an eye patch and a limp
and I’m sure he did jail time
for weed. He hired us as helpers
me and my buddy from Sekura)

We had the whole back of the
store to go through, just tons of
back stock and all the new stuff.

It was the greatest thing that had
happened to me since Zelda and
sure, maybe even Shadowrun.
(but that’s entering the debatable)

I found The Maxx and Savage Dragon
as the boys from Image left their own
safe worlds and travelled to unknown
riches

(most of them anyway, Sam Keith
is like me I bet and re-watches Cheers,
missing Coach and Diane and the 80’s

as they go by in a slow tightening of flare
and lessening of hem’s, until culmination in
Rebecca’s premiere a la red leather mini-skirt. )

Reading a superhero like Keith’s Maxx gave
me new dreams as a writer. Aside from Steven King,
no other influence has tainted me so deeply,

as those I found in the downtown comic book
stores (there were three at one time, where now
only one will ever at a time today)

Frederick Philip Grove talks about how he
found this call to adventure in Siberia when
he encountered these Khirgiz herdsmen who
yowled and yawped and sang out the true
beatific essence of life, masked in beard and
riding a slow trail to insignificance.

I don’t regret my influences at all.
The darker the Cave, the brighter the sunshine.

Meanwhile, Back at the Glass Cabin…

(for R.E. and M.W.)

Up until now, I only understood my old friend in passing. I mean I knew his type of (or rather what I until now regarded to be) his type of cynic. Or even a passive aggressive way of dealing with the acceptance of legions upon legions of things one knows today that readers of Dickens’s serials didn’t likely have to bear the weight of. I’d get drunk and pick arguments that had no real conclusion, knowing he would say the same things he said, and I would say the things he said. And I would feel smug, and then shameful for thinking that of someone so important to me. There are certain voices in your life that might take you a decade to hear properly, but when you do you have one of those synchronistic clashes of a bunch of things like at the end of Signs. Except creepier because I actually do bear resemblance to the scariest 2 seconds of an alien apparently, ever.

“It’s always been bad. Have you read the Canterbury Tales? Shit has always been bad, but I believe people will figure it out. They always have.”

Then I would go on about some new internet sensation, something about Monsanto or Bees (but nothing so ridiculous as the last parts of The Happening), and we’d always end up at the same seeming loggerhead. Recently I found the center of that kernel budding in me, and much like the cocoon-gestation state for the baby face biters of Ridley Scott’s far superior, (pre-Prometheus puritan right here) Alien/s series, the early life of what I will call the “letting go of fictional friction” because I see now that is what it all is. Fiction.

Even if the government is out to get you, what good is it to run around like Charlie Sheen with your crack cut off?

Our fear for the future is a frictional fiction, something we invent to justify whatever we need to, in order to survive in body and mind. This shouldn’t be mistaken for the real kind of change people pursue as a result of the need for change, like reducing ones footprint or recycling (unless you worship at the church of Pen & Teller’s bulls**t) or any number of proactive tings people are doing in hordes nowadays, like the kid in Pay it Forward Because people can do things in a calm way, a collective way, after being presented with facts and proof, and logical and sane practices in presenting them. But nobody ever changed the world with worry or the worrying of all around them. No matter of scare-mongering or chicken little-fretting ever really amounts to anything, except antagonizing one’s community. State your concerns, write them out, act them out, film them or sing them or scream them to the nearest mountain (like all those terrible Scripturama’s, or even the occasional gem), and let it be, like the song, the sentiment and the necessary sacrament to the acceptable social cues and norms.

Because otherwise you’re just waiting for someone to teach you a similar lesson. Like at the end of Rudy when the coach got the ole “we are all Spartacus” treatment. Nobody left in the Western hemisphere is going to benefit from being grabbed by the proverbial shoulders’ every day and called a “sheeple” told the sky is poison and the government is under their boogeyman beds (like Howie Mandel before the germ thing in Little Monsters).

You know what? People need solutions. People need a hundred more Venus Projects before one finally sticks, they need engineers busting their assess and they need to understand how rigged the democratic system is. They can learn all this in morsel like bits of earth shattering info, but I have yet to see anyone in my life take to the kind of fervent, snake-oil hucksterism of most extremist conspiracy nuts (Alex Jones, et al.) when they pound the same points in daily, in some effort to – for all I can seem to interpret- ascertain some level of control in their lives. Join Greenpeace. Sell your car. Dig wells. Plant trees. Garden. And yes, collectively mobilize. But there’s no need for Jerry Maguire tactics. “Gee you know, that maniac in the street daily screaming about chemtrails dear, I think we should really heed his prophesies of doom, don’t you?” – said but nobody rational, ever.

And I for one stopped reading a bulk of the more preposterous links. I don’t benefit from that kind of hyperbolic mindset even if its 80 percent true. Why? It’s gaudy, that’s why. Yeah I said it, I like my philosophy like I like my women, presented clearly and cleanly in fresh, and inviting formats. I don’t go for the bottom of the barrel assholes like David Icke and Jones et al. I’m sorry. That’s not how you win friends, and it is only how you DISASSOCIATE good people form learning anything. So from now on I read nothing that’s hackneyed and ridiculous, unless it’s my own poetry during the dreadful next day scan, like buddy with his Kublai Kahn in Pandemonium.  If it has some level of professionalism and doesn’t simply reiterate the Alex Jones “They Are All Part of One Grand (I’m kind of off my meds so I see grander patterns than usual) Insidious Plot of Illuminati”, then I just scroll on, brothers and sisters. Unless it’s Unsolved Mysteries, I have a soft spot for that level of “professional” terribleness it imprinted in childhood. Perhaps that’s why I have trouble taking people seriously that present facts like Sean Penn high on blow in Hurly Burly mid-rant.

Old friend if you are out there, know that I acknowledge it. You were right. It’s never THAT fucking bad. People will rally, and shit will get fixed, or it won’t. No need getting out of your groove over it, right? Besides how else are we ever going to get to see a post-apocalyptic world where you can buy peoples experiences on the black market like Strange Days, if it doesn’t keep on truckin’ right? We already have Juliette Lewis primed as a singer for it too…

I guess what I’m saying is, I would rather talk movies, than hollah at the masses so often, they fail to listen when I finally do, Marvel and Greek God’s forbid, say something. Leave the slaughterhouse to the task of setting about chickens sans top, now and again. It’s been happening since Chaucer and will long after “Mr. Vickers” aka “The Heff” aka “Ginger” et al.

Dedicated to the Spirit of Film Friendships,

Namely Mr. Ebert

(and the sock puppets formerly known as Theodore and Roosevelt)  

The Rest & The Peace

On my tombstone
there will not be
a history
of my online debates
or a recent perusal
of my playlist or
the movie’s I was obsessed
with and there will not be room

for all the books I loved and that
is because I want my stone to
have a list of about a dozen
people I loved, trusted and learned
from in this life.

There will be some left out,
because I plan on going out poor
unless published, the stone will be
thin I imagine but my point is

treat your life like it’s going to
have about a stones worth
of space to fit in the immense
amount of booze you drank

or the many many lays you were
a part of or the jobs and roles and
dignify your every moment with
something, somehow,
more sacred than a
all the times you beat or
were beaten in a video game.

Or how quickly you got the new ifucktoy
in contrast with the other kids
or the salad you made from

the self garden you cooked from the
more the more ethical choice
in your yearly struggle to out-hippie
the last ones on the street.

Give it the chance to be a list of love.
Or fuck it, don’t.

I could really care
less,
but that would take effort,
and like most,
I save it for the few
who ill take a piece
or two or will take a
piece of me when they
too leave this digital,
fleshy, omniverse.

To be honest somewhere between
year 8 of the 9/11 discoveries and
analysts disputed claims and aliens
on the history channel and reality tv,
I just decided to say fuck it,
and accept one very important thing.

Nothing is True anymore, if it ever was,
except love. Use it or lose. Abuse it or screw
it to the wall like another bragging right.

It’s there to help or haunt.

And yet no amount of it is going ot do any good
if its wasted on shit that goes nowhere.

So keep your list short.
And keep those folks close.

And you might just get lucky,
And round out with a full dozen.

Losing the Teacher

I’ve always been quiet, and even more so scrawny, even frail in form, and most especially so when in that most wretched and inspiring, that most depleting and renewing of places; the institutions of education and vocation. I make this distinction not to inflate the story herein; for be assured it is a short and narrow version of a variety of moments. I have always been a thin fellow, and at 30 years and just barely entering my 3rd year of university, (and what was incidentally my first since leaving St. Mary’s in Halifax to come home, to Memorial), I was just a little less so on both accounts. I was still in that earliest of stages to the campus: when I entered the tunnels I wasn’t sure where I would end up, when I wanted to go to the Library from anywhere, I walked above ground no matter what the weather…it was…trying. Instinctually, I took a day before classes started and mapped out my class locations- I was after all, a two year vet to the game and the race.

His class was three of my mornings, every week, earliest of them too. Anyone who has had a morning class knows how debatable mere attendance, let alone the gods forbid, attention, can be at these classes. But I love short stories, and from the start I enjoyed His lectures both for their literature, and his personal asides. There is not even really much mystery to why the fondness was so instantaneous either, I hate to disappoint, although in fairness: I warned you this story was short. It’s really hard not to be content with a teacher who at once evokes figuratively and literally, the reincarnation of Santa Claus with white beard, round face, blue eyes and even pot belly, and in temperament were like the kind sort of grandfather everyone idealizes someday. He even had a couple blue wiry veins along the nostrils, like mine did, although I suspected for different reasons.

It helped that the stories were so good I think; Poe’s “House of Usher”, “Sonny’s Blues”. “The Lottery”. Oh and that one where the captain watches over his men in a boat after their ship is sunk. That was one of my favorites. When He read passages from the story He got into the roles of the different men, and even waved when reading the part about the useless priest on shore. I got a real kick out of him I must say. It wasn’t one particular thing he said or did either; it was the overall way he said it all. He was almost…sly the way he snuck knowledge into stuff. Took a little while, see, because as I said I have long been thin and quiet, and even after you age some, the rooms of uniform chair-desks, still have a way of…quieting you. The room, and my foolish choice of spots in it- they kept me uncomfortable for most the semester. But I took solace, perhaps especially so, in the Grand-Pa-Santa performed tales all the same.

Front Row, top left had corner of the class. It’s been one of my preferred seats for some time now; you are far enough away from most the students to avoid most eyes, and when the time nears you can make a decent bolt around whoever threatens your anxiety-like, sweat-drenched, and itchy exit.  All because of one unseen, but major issue which quickly, ahem…’arose’ that first morning. I hadn’t really considered, and it worsened as class progressed with such steadiness that I actually began to clear a course of each one based on my state of discomfort- each state that worsened told me we were one step closer to the climax, then the denouement, and finally, His final remarks on the story. My release from this mental ambrosia, this physical hell. You see, the entire circumference of the left bank of our class, our troop toward understanding- our exile from darkness to lights unfathomable- was window…window that called the heat of earths mother, a window that was directly and forevermore, facing the god-damn sun.

It was not even an issue for much of the left bank of the institutional trench; it was just the top corner of the teachers desk – which incidentally He never once sat at, for obvious reasons standing centre, in the beloved and cool shade of the other 80 percent of the warzone of quiet ignorance and brilliant conjecture of young minds, which somehow surmised my place in the whole of things- skinny, quiet, and usually somehow on the fringe, mature student in the hottest little corner of the room, wondering on that fateful morning when silence killed the battlefield all over- even (and be assured to my shock) my own lips couldn’t find it- the name of the town or state or city of the days short story. And there he was, finally exasperated with months of only a couple students answering the bulk of the questions, and ready to blow his top. They had finally done the impossible with their silence: they had broken the sunny demeanour and light hearted kindness of Grampa Santa. But first, a lesson in the history, short as it had been, yet excruciatingly long for me, of that very quiet front.

As established, I was older than most 2nd years, having doddled a bit with my course load and not entered University until 27. And I have always been thin, and quiet. And fair skinned. One might even hazard the term, “red haired and freckled”. There we have my state, and of course here we are  at my predicament; the sunny corner of short story class taught by coolly shaded Grand-Pa Santa, who just happened to be a naturally gifted teacher of one of  my fondest subjects, as though the torture of basking in the rising sun, magnified by double pained Atlantic ocean style windows. Already born quiet and thin, it seemed my lot to waste away in sweat during what should have been a joyous traversing of the hollows of literature. I should have been as free as that biplane pilot in the Alice Munro story, but instead I was stranded, with only one calming source of hope- the man himself.

Every once in awhile his Newfoundland accent washed up, quite intentionally mind you, and yet he didn’t do it haphazardly. It was so sparse, see.  And He used it to both drive a point home and restate a previously “properly enunciated” version of the same sentence.

“So…what’s ‘dis all about”. “Now, what in god’s name is Poe on about with dis passage”.

That was part of the charm I guess. He already emulated Gramps, now he occasionally became the old man when he was on the piss. For like Him, Gramps could manage mainland elocution just fine- if he chose to do so. Unlike many younger teachers, he didn’t waste time trying to win the affections of his students either. And to me that was respectful of him, the profession and us most importantly- to be an ambassador of learning, a Captain of the written word as it were, this is an honourable title in my opinion, and it’s one that needn’t wilt or waiver in the face of modern youth’s expectations of “new wave” teaching. Rather than capitulation, we got these wonderfully crafted excursions into the jungles of each authors mind and life- we became enthralled by osmosis- myself perhaps also some photosynthesis- of being in his well laid path. We were safe from many things, though. We wouldn’t be spoiled. Fooled into thinking it was easy to navigate a great short story. Imbued with the notion that stand up comedy and lecturing university are one in the same. No Sir.

We were going to learn the easy way- which is to say the only way, that is, the Right one.

He was never forceful, quite the opposite in fact. He would ask and re-ask and re-ask questions, never a hint of stress level raised, never any indication, save the accent coming out in planned, perfect intervals for humour and emphasis that anything changed in him despite its obvious challenge. Especially when it was place names and easy stuff like that: stuff that was on the first damn page. But he didn’t. And I guess that’s where I found some recompense for silently melting to death in the top left hand corner of the chemistry building at memorial, those September days. To raise that arm and quietly break the calm more than usual. Because I was about to experience one of the quietest semesters…of my life. Perhaps, I thought, squinting one day with arm raised so as to both block sun and grab His attention, of all time.

Yes ,it was That quiet. Young people today, I remember thinking, are just quieter I guess. Tweet, Text, Gaming Online. It’s all very semi-social, and often with the graces of distance between target and shooter, talker and listener, teacher and student, to wit. But even by that standard, this class was a trench of young kids yet unable to even raise the white flag of uncertain hypotheses. It got so that each time I raised my holy thin branch of relief, I would first look back to the class and just make sure I wasn’t being too eager. I’m no greenhorn remember. Never once did it occur that way. Never. Once.

Maybe it was because he was so kind, the kids could sense it as a way to subvert the morning and half sleep through his lectures, my answers, the wind whipping around the curtain in the left corner of the room, the only redemptive burst of cool in the sun-lit area, which was two desks away from me at all times. And not a word mentioned that wasn’t dragged out, often with such reluctance He almost had to do it himself. It was a horror-show some mornings. If I had read the wrong story or not had a chance to re-read the one we were covering, it could get truly atrocious, even gory.

But then one day the impossible happened. Nobody could answer the first and most basic question of the story. I had been under incredible stress that week, my best friend and fatherly-influence, my grand, grand Grampa…had taken a stroke. Then a second. Now he was hospitalized. He was tied up so he wouldn’t continually rip out his own feeding tubes, with his gnarly, bar-fight-fed fists. He was 76, and still drank a flask or a half in the evenings with is best friend “Prince William”, a black lab “left on his Texada Island property by some crazy old goat lady down the way. He whined all night in my boot on the porch II wouldn’t look at em at first.” Mick had just had the second of what one day would be all three of his sons, all to Heroin and her varying side-effects; OD’s, HIV-related pneumonia. Found inevitably in parks and dirty hotels. Eaten by a war unacknowledged.  He had been my confidante for a decade or so of close conversations and laughter and home cooked meals, and now, he was one foot in the grave and refusing anyone outside his own kids the chance to visit.

And here was this man, who by all accounts had given it the best fight a man can give in the battle for young minds’ attention and, god forbid, the insight of that holiest, most divine thing: an individual thought. A step. It was all he had begged for, just one foot gained. It wasn’t as though he’d expected us to win the war. Just take a yard. Even a mile. And all that withstanding, if nothing else couldn’t we please Name the god fer’saken town b’y da jeeesus. This was late November now. We had been to the House of Usher, we had survived the sinking of the Lusitania with Stephen Crane and we had even worn the smothering sad injustice of Gogol’s Overcoat, and now we would fumble and break the perfect demeanour near the end, hung up on a story I can’t even recall, though I am sure it was either Cheever’s The Swimmer or Carver’s Cathedral. I mean these were modern stories, not like Poe with the weighty tongue of old gothic- and yet I couldn’t summon the answer. And he finally broke. The man who had been by all intents my Grand-Santa, smiling back at you when you asked who is speaking in A Clean, Well-Lit Place, smiling when he agreed about the ending of “The Yellow Wallpaper”, smiling and kind despite the artillery of silence and more silence daily aimed toward him, despite all the eyes blankly unable to mouth even a guess and left him to lean on even the hope of one- had finally had enough.

“Well.”

“Well I Just Can’t Believe It. I mean come ‘Awn guys”

“This is ‘tree months IN”

“Does ANYone know the setting? It’s not a big question here guys… ”

I think of him now with the other running list of them. The good ones; Mr. Pardo and the voice’s he used to do on the side for his friends and neighbours answering machines. He decided to quit the job eventually and do voice work full-time.  Mr. Hadwyn; taught me the word ambrosia, in the context it was the word he used when he had to smooth something over with the missus- “just compare her to ambrosia, the fruit of the gods gentleman.”. Ms. Macdonald who wanted my short story to get published way back in grade nine. And Mrs. Kelland later in adult high- the one who he held all other people to as a sort of moral and human meter-stick. Who attended my first big readings. The ones who should never have had to run out of patience. Not because of that gawd fe’ersakin quiet, of all ‘tings.

I was perfectly out of place to see it all; I was older, I was 3rd year, I was the guy who’d deluded himself out of adolescence with delusions of being the next Jack Kerouac or London, but ended up looking more the Burroughs, or worse, Huncke. I could see the literal unfolding of the silence over just a single gap of time – a decade and a half or so- from my earliest years as the tall lanky ginger, wise-cracking but otherwise shy kid. In high school I don’t really remember cell phones. Just weed and hacky sack, pool halls and public parks. Now a hush comes over the titillated mind. The over-twittered, under-spoken. A nation of shyness to hold us back.  And the last few good people aghast at the funeral of conjecture, of discussion, of thought- paid to try to hustle a few marks into an average, nothing more than monks robbed of their patience, hope. Passion.

And yet, by the next class, his temper returned to the infinitely Buddha-like smile and, as though Cheever’s Swimmer, half –senile, or as even the rider who manages to escape Usher- Mr. B- made his way through the trenches of quiet once more…a few good hands to aid, be assured, but amidst the fiery true force of a silence just the same.

By the time I lost Mick, exams had rushed past. I wasn’t really there anymore though. I was finally making my way from the hellish prism of that vantage; court side to the slaughter. It didn’t even occur to me until shortly before sitting down to provide my portion of the events leading up to December 8th that he was technically only a few parking lots away the whole time. My grandfather, who hated more than anything the thought of dying for years in a hospital, visited by those he hated but loved. He had refused me admittance after the second stroke with the spastic waving of clawed hands, a childish face according to one family member, who in her usual crudeness had remade the sour pus and claw outside Carnell’s Funeral Home.

The entire time I was writhing in wonder and later despair and being powerless in his end, he had made his way closer still to my discomforted place.  Whereupon he was eventually sedated and restrained after several, quite violent and swift attempts to dislodge his air tube- he finally followed that hellishly bright light.

Mick loved a few things enough to break his staunch agnostic approach to life. “I say a prayer still for my boys dead and buried” his eyes red each time they came up, “and my old man.” (his father, a veteran at 15 – notoriously declared himself the youngest Newfoundlander to enlist, lying about his age at 14 to escape the coal mines of Glace Bay)

He loved to drink, he loved his dog, he loved a woman once, and he loved to tell and almost as much hear a great story. Maybe I am misguided in my detail of his last attempt then; perhaps; hearing the silence broken by the voice of a clearly trained professional in the trade of storytelling and re-telling and re-telling again – perhaps ole’ skipper wanted just to get a better seat for the show!

To sneak one last laugh out of it all! To be away from dat god forsaken hospital. There’s a story yet to be told. It’s a good one, about two atheists who end up praying on each other’s souls, in the end.