Sri Lanka & A Second Blog!

Greetings friends, family, and whoever else has navigated this way.

Hello from Ella, Sri Lanka. A sleepy little backpacker town in the hills of Sri Lanka; around some of the world’s most famous tea fields.

I’ve been in Sri Lanka now for about two weeks now; starting in Colombo, and venturing through the middle of the country. It’s been a great experience—this small island has so much to see—tuk tuks, temples, beaches, mountains, elephants, etc….And the people have been unbelievably kind (both as a hospitality-based country and just as a part of their culture.

One example: I asked the managers of the hotel I’m at currently if I had the right plan to get from Ella to the airport on Tuesday and was counter-offered with a free ride to Colombo (near the airport) with one of them. Five and a half hours. And in this wonder of an automobile.

I’ll post some pictures below of Sri Lanka. But it’s been a blast—traveling with friends for the first half and wandering alone for the second (where my daily life has been hiking, eating, writing, and reading. Not bad!)

In between all of that, I’ve been writing a lot on my first novel and things are going well. How well? Well, I won’t tell you yet.

Instead, I’m going to direct you to my other blog; which is still in a work in progress but does have some writing posts up and running on it.

Why the two blogs? I’m not totally sure yet. Other than the other blog (a) having an amazing name (hopefully you’ll get it once you explore), and (b) being on squarespace as opposed to wordpress, the only reason I chose to have another is because it felt like the right thing to do. That I could keep this as something personal and that as something, I don’t know, professional? Or focused on just writing. Singular. Topical.

But we’ll see. For now, I am in two places online. I’ll be posting updates on both—likely travel and other thoughts here and all writing-related items, like updates on my novel and a series I’m doing on pieces of advice I read on how to write fiction on www.iAmEricAnAuthor.com (do you get it yet?).

So check it out. And then check back.

For now, I bid you farewell from Sri Lanka. I’m heading back to Indonesia on Tuesday and then to Laos on August 17. Will be updating from there.

Thanks for reading!

Some pictures, yes?

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Goodbye Chicago, Hello To All Of That

Greetings from Indonesia. It’s been 10 days since I left the U.S and it’s already felt like a whirlwind—returning to Asia, bouncing around places familiar and un-.

I wanted to post some thoughts on leaving Chicago before I did actually leave, but I didn’t get a chance to. So I’ll post what I had written (you’ll see it’s still not finished) and give some updates after that.

_______________

I’m going to be leaving Chicago. Fairly soon.

I’ve been here for 33 months. Pippen’s number. Maybe that means something, though likely not. What 33 months does mean, though, is the most I’ve been in one place since college. My Pilsen apartment here the most I’ve lived in one place since my parents’ house. This has been a home. That was already a home. That will always be home, even when it’s not.

And so I wanted to write a bit on leaving and remembering and home.

I’ll start with coming back. I called it my “Ithaca”. I have a soft spot for Odysseus and though there was no Penelope, there was some sort of fighting off sirens and plotters led me back here. I just don’t know what those things are or were.

When I got back, I felt lost. I had been a nomad for over 5 years. I wasn’t one anymore. I got a place. I got some life essentials I didn’t have. A garbage bin. Forks. A bed.

I read this wonderful letter fifty times. I posted a quote from it on Instagram with the first picture of my Pilsen apartment—where I was for 24 of those 33 months.

I was looking for something. An answer to why I came back. Why I had sort of lost the desire to be a nomad. I wrote this. I wrote a lot more that’s in some notebook somewhere.

I met a girl. I had my Ryan Adams ‘Dear Chicago’ moment on Friday after work.

I had a job I liked. I worked hard at it. It helped me adjust, it gave me new friends, new experiences, and a cache of good memories.

I saw my friends. I hadn’t seen some in years. I saw them a lot and it was tremendously comfortable—full of laugher, life. Wholehearted goodness.

I saw my family. I had only gotten to see them sporadically, and always on my schedule (when I’d be returning). I got to see my baby sister grow up, my other sister live her dream and succeed. I got to spend more time with my parents and take from them more important lessons on being an adult. More pictures, more smiles, more of them in my life.

So why leave?

Well, that’s a complicated question but one I’ve answered several times for people. The short of it is two-fold:

(1) I love travel and recognize that life events will shape my opporunities to do so: and

(2) I’ve wanted to write a novel since I was 15 years old and I have a sort of window to do so now that I wanted to take.

So I march on—to Asia and into my soul to extract whatever writing talent I have in there to draw out onto the proverbial page.

On leaving Chicago, though, few thoughts stick with me.

Do you know the now-infamous David Foster Wallace speech on “water”? If you don’t, check here.

What the water here refers to is the mundanity of everyday life. The check-out counter at the grocery store. The trifling through of email. The plans made, cancelled, rain-checked, etc…The day in, day out stuff.

He goes further into what that means, and since it was done as a commencement speech, proceeds to give graduates advice on what watter means to them.

For me, in these particular thoughts, what I come to is that Chicago is the most water. Or the place of most water? The deepest pool? I don’t know how to articulate it (change)

Can something be that? Are there levels of water? No, but there are levels of society, of everyday-ness, and this place is the most for me. And that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes, on crushing days of brokenness, this is the most splendid of all things, to be held in comfort and in what I know. The alternative? Well, travel has almost no comfort to step into. It is life constantly thrust at you. And that gets me down, but not as much as it pumps me full of energy, of vitality. And it makes me forget about water, which I have not yet learned how to swim through. I see these commuters and ask, “what spirit is getting them home?” and what I’m doing is really asking myself.

Big cities amaze me. So many people. Everywhere I go there are people. Who are they? What do they think when they see me—that I’m just another person in this metropolitan wallpaper. Chicago has this. Others do too, but since I call Chicago home, it has a more sincere oddness that so many others make this their habitat, and that they move. And some own boats. And some are working three jobs. Some get off at four in the morning when no one is around and I am fast asleep. Where do they eat? Shop? Is anyone in this city of 3 million thinking of me? See last four lines.

My sister asked me what I’ll miss the most about Chicago aside from friends and family? I had to think about it. Chicago has a lot. Some things I don’t like. Nothing I ever missed so badly I needed to see it when I got back. Away from here, it was easy to criticize Chicago. The sports bar city. The big four firm city. The segregated city.

But I’ll miss it. Even those things.

What I said was nostalgia and sentimentality. The streets here can provide that like no other city can. Memories written into glass, dunked in potholes. I know the Ogden exit is close to the United Center from being a kid. I know how the John Hancock stands proudly at the end of Lake Shore coming down, like you’ll drive right into it. And I always love these things, even if they’re drowned in the water that we’ll never get out of it.

Because no place else is home.

___________

Okay, so that was my post. I wrote that about two weeks ago, maybe three. And to read it now is nice. I do miss Chicago. I always did miss Chicago, but the world is so big and full of everything that I wasn’t ready to stay?

What happens later? To come home or not? I haven’t the slightest ideas.

For now, I can tell you this. I just had a brief but oh-so-wonderful foray back to South Korea with some great friends. The memories and laughter were overwhelmingly postive and brought me back to a sentimental happiness from and for my time there.

And now? I am sitting inside my “villa” in Lombok, Indonesia. Yesterday I surfed in the morning and laid on one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen (the one pictured). And I’ve resumed my writing.

I am still adjusted to whatever this is—travel, lifestyle, whatever—but I’m not too worried. I have words and maps ahead of me. And those that know, know those things sit at the foot of wherever I go.

Ciao for now. Thanks for everything to those back home. More updates somewhere further up along the road.

An Update: The New Project & South Africa

Hello from Stellenbosch, South Africa — wine capital of this part of the world, and all-around beautiful little slice of land. South Africa has been a dream for the first 9 days and I expect it to continue to be so. Cape Town was hilly, unique, cloudy, sunny, wet, wonderful, empty, full, etc; everything and all of life bursting in so many ways. Inspiring, sure, but moreso just a great place to pass some days in joy.

What I want to write about here though is my new project—the beginning stages of my attempt to write a novel. It is the most daunting of tasks I’ve undertaken, and I’m just beginning so nothing has happened so deserving of praise quite yet.

But I’m on my way. I’m sketching notes in my notebook, writing words and fragments that come to mind and starting to form my foundation. I said that my timeline goals for South Africa were: committing to a plot (done!), writing 10,000 words (done!), and settling on a disciplined approach to daily work/writing (not done yet). So, well on my way for Part I, with some decisions left to make on just how I’ll get this project done.

I’m not going to reveal the plot here quite yet, nor the characters. That will come soon. But I did want to take a minute to take a stepped-away look at the novel writing and be happy with what’s come so far.

The next part will provide some writing break as I wrap up life in Chicago before taking my longer hiatus to try and do this whole thing. I expect that to take several months, but more likely longer—a year? (longer?) and really challenge me to dive deeply into these characters and myself. Of this, I have fear, nervousness, and a tremendous deal of an anxious, excitable orientation. I have no idea how I’ll take to the challenge.

What I do know is that what I’ve written so far is the easy part—clips of scenes that have come to mind easily. Smoothly. Without resistance. The basics of characters. But what about the longer scenes? What will happen to one of them when chaos ensues? Disaster strikes? Disagreement descends? I don’t have these answers but I’ll need to after some time. So far, too, I have exposition. My explaining of these things. I’ll need to turn that into dialogue. Action. A narrator that does not know everything. Setting. All the things that go into a novel. Luckily, I’ve read some great books, so I’m in the hands of some great teachers. I just need to make sure I’ve paid attention—the right attention.

But, for now, I have another 11 days in South Africa—including a safari! So I’m going to enjoy that, keep dreaming of my half-made characters, and work on finding whatever routine is best going to help me get into “flow” so I can write at my best.

More updates soon!

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2017: In Review

I’m a few days late to wrapping up 2017, but I think that will hardly matter in the grand scheme. This is my 5th year recapping, so happy to continue a good tradition. And, well, years usually seem to shift more on my birthday (January 9) then the Gregorian calendar (January 1st), but that’s not too vain……

I always enjoy answering the questions below, but always struggle a bit to do this part (this intro). How to sum up a year?

Not sure. Still not sure.

2017 was light(er) on travel—which is super relative, considering I went back to Asia, both coasts (a few times), and I think 10 states if I’m counting that correctly. It was full of concerts, parties (the Mardi Gras party from February may have been the best one I’ve been to, and we hosted it!), movies, books, the like. For these, I’m always grateful and looking back fondly.

It was a big year for weddings. Three of my best lifelong friends got married to wonderful women; and I even got to officiate Kevin and Emily’s, which was most certainly a highlight of 2017.

What else? Too much. I still find these years filled with so much richness that it makes it hard to summarize. That’s a gift. To live variously to a degree that simple summations cannot possibly do justice.

My goal for this year was to be ontologically leaner. That meant to be consume less, take less, register a bit less in the atmosphere. I wanted to see if I could produce more with less weight, burden, energy, etc….I don’t know how I did. I know I bought less. I built more. I spent more time with myself—meditating, reading, writing, floating. But Chicago is still a city of friends and I’m still an unabashed extrovert, so I still went out. Still bought things unnecessarily, still drank more than I needed. I guess the leaner part will have to be a lifelong pursuit; and that’s probably a good thing.

And 2018, what does that have in the waiting? A whole lot. Big, big plans for this year. The biggest? Get started on this book. Do my dream thing.

But that’ll come. Here’s the rest of my notes from 2017. Thanks to anyone reading for being a part of it!

Other Notes

Travels: Chicago > NYC > Santa Fe > Manila > Bali > Manila > Phoenix > Florida > Lake Geneva > Martha’s Vineyard > Phoenix > Los Angeles > California Road Trip > Minnesota > Madison/Lake Geneva > Austin > San Diego > Los Angeles > San Francisco

Writing: Lots of notebook (learned what a commonplace book was and realized I’ve been doing that for years…). Did an experimental month of poetry, wrote a few blogposts. Overall, probably my lightest year of “public” writing—but I think a lot of that is gearing up for a massive 2018 where writing takes over my life.

Reading:  Finished 24 books, and somewhere in the middle of half a dozen more. 2017 was the year I finally finished Moby Dick. I read two Anne Lammott books, two Irvin Yalom books, and focused more on books about writing or the self. Less reading of novels (fiction) (only 5 of the 24) than previous years too. I said I wanted to touch on spirituality in reading this year and I didn’t do that specifically, but I did dive in where in certain places (poems, psychology…..actually I barely did this. Hmm). Full list of books read in 2016:

  1. The Argonauts (Maggie Nelson); January 1st
  2. A Sport and a Pastime (James Salter); January 28th
  3. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (Anne Lamott); February 12th
  4. The War of Art (Steven Pressfield); February 17th
  5. Desert Solitaire (Edward Abbey); March 2nd
  6. Wise Blood (Flannery O’Connor); March 6th
  7. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life (William Finnegan); March 15th
  8. Iron John: A Book About Men (Robert Bly); April 25th
  9. The Servant: A Simple Story About The True Essence of Leadership (James C. Hunter); May 9th
  10. Book of Hours (Kevin Young); May 10th
  11. The Harmonious World of Johann Kepler (Sidney Rosen); May 12th
  12. Collected Poems (Jack Gilbert); June 8th
  13. Meditations (Marcus Aurelius, trans Gregory Hays); June 14th
  14. Liar’s Poker (Michael Lewis): July 18th
  15. The Dog Stars (Peter Heller); August 14th
  16. You, Beast (Nick Lantz); August 25th
  17. It Ain’t No Sin To Be Glad You’re Alive (Eric Alterman); September 6th
  18. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Emil Ferris); September 11th
  19. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (Herman Melville); September 23rd
  20. The Counterfeiters (Andre Gide); November 12th
  21. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anne Lamott); November 19th
  22. Love’s Executioner (Irvin Yalom); November 20th
  23. The Three-Body Problem (Cixin Liu); December 5th
  24. Creatures of a Day (Irvin Yalom): December 26th

For record-keeping purposes, I read 19 books in 2015, 21 in 2016, and 24 now!

Professionally: Another year at Uber down—with some amazing progress here! Expanded my team and put in some first-of-its-kind infrastructure that wil surely outlast me in my role there. 2017 was a year in which the team and I took those steps; rather than being hustling to be reactive to the calls of the business. We got more organized, more streamlined, more specific, and because of that and the talents of those around me, achieved more than we have in any other year. Pretty proud of 2017s professional accomplishments!

Pearl Jam: no shows, but Let’s Play Two came out and saw the premier at The Metro.

 

Favorites

Favorite 2017 New Thing: Cryptocurrencies

This is an obvious one even if it’s not my favorite “thing” as the title suggests. It certainly consumed a good chunk of my time this year, after consuming so little of it in years past (even after buying some Bitcoin in 2014—I wasn’t reading or writing about it).

I think crypto has become a favorite thing of many in 2017 (as I’m sure bull markets make favorites out of many things). So it has some of the cliche and I’m okay with that. But it wasn’t just monetary growth, it was actually a hobby of learning about this technology, writing about it on a few sites, and discovering little-known “coins” that have intriguing offers. In other ways, this became part of my identity as people found out I knew a bit about it. No idea where this whole thing goes, but 2017 was certainly the year I dove in.

Others: Commonplace Books (link), Mardi Gras parties 🙂

Favorite book I read in 2017: A Sport and A Pastime by James Salter

Salter’s book is well known for its eroticism and probably some readings of misogyny, as well. I won’t deny the latter and 2017 has certainly opened my eyes to more of these readings. But I think what gets written off with both of these summations is the prose that the author composes here. It’s fresh, it’s French, it’s sort of full and light at the same time. I haven’t read a book in a long time with so much underlying and marginalia—a big part of why it was the favorite book I read this last year.

That and a undeniable desire to be in Paris and around love and lust and freedom. Salter has enough in there to leave you kind of gasping for that experience a few times over.

There was some serious contention here with The Three-Body Problem which became (I think—trying to avoid some recency bias here) my favorite science fiction book.

Other Favorites: The Three-Body Problem (Cixin Liu), Collected Poems (Jack Gilbert)

Favorite 2017 movieLady Bird

I really liked Lady Bird; it stuck with me for some time after and I was happy that my mother and sister saw it and liked it as well. I normally find my pretentious self looking for holes in first-time directors films, but Greta Gerwig pulled this off with amazing style, grace, and some serious conflict with Sacramento.

The acting, too, is great. The script much the same. Really enjoyed the

In general, 2017 was a low one for me with movies. I’m still working through a bunch so maybe the tides will change, but no movie blew me away the way that some in the past few years have (Moonlight, Deus Ex Machina).

I did see The Handmaiden this year which I thought was excellent. And Jules et Jim, and I’m sure a handful of others that were great. Nothing just blew my hair away.

Other Favorites: Columbus, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Personal Shopper

Favorite 2017 album‘A Deeper Understanding’ (The War on Drugs)

Lots of solid music came out this year (this album and the other favorites below are probably four of my top 10 current bands, hard to ask for more from one year).

Other Favorites: ‘Capacity’ (Big Thief), ‘We All Want The Same Things’ (Craig Finn), ‘Sleep Well Beast’ (The National)

Favorite 2017 song: ‘Mary’ Big Thief

Probably the easiest pick of favorites from the year. This song stopped my cold on the first listen (after a pretty magnificent album (it’s the second to last track). Simply put, this song is beautiful—it’s Adrienne Lenker’s voice over a piano and it’s as bare as its lyrics are winding. She takes it to the last of her breath, giving off a surreal vision of something wonderful. It made me remember that one single song can be a tremendous journey; unconfined to itself, a marvelous trip the ears lead the mind down, hand in hand.

Other Favorites: ‘Knocked Down’ – War on Drugs, ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny” – St. Vincent, ‘New York’ – St. Vincent, ‘Carin at the Liquor Store’ – The National

Favorite Place Visited: Sequoia National Park

There’s a somewhat common trope of Americans traveling abroad and marveling at other nations’ natural (and manmade) wonders without remembering or realizing that the U.S. is home to some of the most marvelous landscape our planet offers. That’s certainly true and my trip to Sequoia helped me remember that. I hope it’s long before I forgot it again.

The trip to Sequoia is coupled with the roadtrip taken to get there—which involved renting a 31-foot RV. For free. Yes, that’s right. For free.

Favorite Meal: Dim Sum at Din Thai Fun

Had some very solid meals in 2017, including some homemade ones. This one made an impression (truffle dumplings, seriously?) and I went twice in one trip while in Manila—so think I gotta give it to this place.

 

And, that my friends, is a wrap on 2017! Some more pics!

 

Dum V. V. | hyperlinked poetry series | #5

What goes up
Must stay in sky. Dum v. v.

What ain’t ancient
Ain’t coming back. Dum v. v.

I howl Dum v. v.
From the back of my throat
Which is filled with malbec
Matched moonlight
And you say you can’t hear.
Dumb to see. Let us be.

What spills from the block of clouds
Are gifts we string to pearls.
Dum v. v. is a blessing
Of your sacred art.

I flop with dum v. v.
In ocean and salt sticks to hair
And you are sandside, waving in a black bathing suit
And the sun is a knuckle. We get drunk
And stay drunk
And get drunk again when we come down
And live where music never stops
This is Mexico and all else before anyway
It’s easy to say dum v. v.

I found my Ithaca to come back to every night
Excited and with barrels of wine, dum v. v.
And you dum v. v. late nights with you finish before they’re done
V.
Very
Merry
I’ve never had a bad time living hard.

What we miss don’t matter
What we build is the only standing thing
Dum vivimus
Vivamus.

Another, Then The Rest | hyperlinked poetry series | #4

You are gorgeous and I’m sadly ostracized from the table
at the moment. Intrigue and blue
Awnings, the ceilings we celebrate fade to night.

If the wind breaks, the crops they creak. They have no other feet.
If the sirens call, the dirt cannot to them speak
Back, cannot haunt the sleep
Of a farmer pushed to the bed’s brink.

Day one, something in you died. Where there is growth
A small angel takes things away.
Tell me the difference between an angel
And a ghost? One is active,
The other deliberate.

All walls bring terror; bring about nothing that eats
Sleeps, peaks.

I’ll have another unexpected catastrophe
Then the rest of the onslaught can carry me to a tune,
Away.

Counting Little Explosions | hyperlinked poetry series | #2

I come to
[from a coma break]
And you are up counting little explosions
[that broke my head back then].

All this mist
All this mutter
I won’t know the gifts you dreamed you gave me
[So half this heart
Has all the fun]

In the morning, you are still and I am crowbarring
[with the spare of my mentality]
Into the hot engine steam of your midnight expenditure.
Once in, I see
You tidying your nightfalls
[and my steam is molecular bounce]

Years later, when I think of this moment
I’ll say
The pain you woke to was not the urgent argument you contended.

You had not
Set up the crosses appropriately.
And that I could have stood another
Takedown of your raw twirl.
[that time you were my Orpheus, and I the suffering-to-be-saved Eurydice]

I should have
Never invited you in; though how would
I have a record of every little thing that breaks
And bursts, then.

H1 Goal Review + Q3 Goal Planning

For the sake of ledger(ing), here’s a review of my H1 2017 goals and a listing of my Q3 2017 goals (all personal goals—professional goals excluded).

H1 2017 Goals

Buy less than H1 2016

— Success. I’m sure I’m missing a few variables (tracking reimbursable work spend, for instance), but my YoY spend through Q1 and Q2 in 2017 is down 15.02% from the same periods in 2016.

I don’t have a great hack for this—I still think I spend too much. I tried to spend less on Amazon (down almost 50% in same time period as last year). I tried to make myself think about any clothing purchase for at least 3 days before purchasing (do I really need this?). Lastly, I tried to not buy books, with the only reasoning being that I have more than enough to read through this year (and several more). I’m essentially building my own queue that’ll hit impossibility eventually. So…….I bought 11.

Volunteer at least 25 hours

Not success. I volunteered a total of 21 hours in H1. I have no excuses here. I know that volunteer work is good for myself, my community, and my world. I didn’t prioritize this. It was a failed attempt at a worthwhile goal. And it’s not that many hours. Darn.

Publish 2 literary criticism essays (+1000 words) on my blog

Not success. I published one very not-well-thought-out piece of criticism. I had another draft. I just couldn’t get behind this. It’s not an excuse since it’s just a lack of discipline but it wasn’t my favorite goal. I did throw up one review of the exceptional Nick Cave documentary, so many that can count too. Either way, no success on this one.

Deadlift 160% of BW

— Success. On 6/5/2017, I deadlifted 275lbs. I weighed myself that morning at 169.8 pounds. That’s 162% of my bodyweight. I’m glad I set this goal too since it was the morning after a later night—U2 show at Soldier Field. Without having this goal set, I likely would have skipped the gym or held off from going for 275.

Can’t say how good this feels to see progress in my deadlift. It was just 4 years ago I was walking with a cane in Vancouver.

 

Q3 2017 Goals

Moving to quarter goals. Here’s what I’ll try to achieve before October 1, 2017.

Take SuperLearner course (link)

10 pieces of writing as part of a themed project (theme is TBD)

Two weeks on time-restricted diet & two +24-hour fasts (link)

Deadlift 295lbs

The Geography of You, Reader

wise blood o'connor book coverUnsurprisingly, I think a lot about destinations. A lot about geography. This comes naturally to a traveler; and for a long time I identified as a traveler. In even the slightest of caged-in moments, I still do.

Some of this came swelling up my stomach recently as I read W.S. Merwin’s lines: ““we travel far and fast/and as we pass through we forget/where we have been”

These lines pained me in a small way; thinking that the destinations of the past might not have the hold they once did. That travel is tied to a being-present(ness) and it becomes a series of moments that center around the current.

Anyway, it got me thinking about destinations, like I said.

And all of this got me thinking about another time, one from earlier this year. It was in a moment where I had a fleeting obsession with my own geography. Of my very particular geography. And it happened in Bali, in March.

It happened in Bali because while in Bali, amid doing the things one normally does in paradise, I read Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood. Why I made this decision, I don’t know, but since I didn’t find any bookstores flying from Manila into Bali (late at night) this book was what I was going to read at my villa—or on the beach—for the next 4 days. And that I did.

While reading, a gulf occurred to me. A rather meaningful one too, or at least I thought so at the time. Wise Blood is the story of Hazel Motes, a vet returning home to the South, sometime in the early part of last century.

Through the story, he takes his disenfranchisement with certain cores of Catholicism to bat—by way of oratory and persuasion on the less intelligent. As it unwinds, it drives him to murder. In between all of that is a slew of creepy characters, copycats, and more Biblical allusions than one could mark properly in marginalia.

For me, it’s not O’Connor’s best, but O’Connor’s best is some of the best there is. But this isn’t a book review. So here’s why all of this matters.

Wise Blood is dark, ominous, and foreboding. There’s not a happy step in it. And I read this in perfect 89º weather, with a pool, the ocean, fresh fruit, yoga, beautiful people, you name it. Paradise.

Even more, Bali isn’t just all aesthetics. It itself has religious roots, though far from the ones Hazel clobbers with his sloppy proclamations. It is the Hindu foothold of Southeast Asia; a place whose beauty is owed to the various gods, whose rice paddies are in pious symmetry. The landscape a sort of prayer, or ode, of its own.

This was odd enough to be remarkable (at least to me, which is why I’m writing this at all). Why so? Because it left me with a central question: the criteria for any good literary essay. And the question is this: what does the reader’s geography mean to a story?

So let’s start here: I don’t have the answer. And I don’t expect to find one in the next few hundred words, either. But let’s see where we get.

Undeniably, we’re colored by our landscape. Our moods, our smiles, our tone are all affected by the seasons and the views we’re in at any moment. Wallpaper matters, you know. And I’m confident the same can be said for any reader. Even the best reader, so absorbed and engrossed in some text, is textured by setting. Think of any time your room is too warm, too cold, or too loud. These change you as a reader.

So we know there’s an effect. The question is on the magnitude of the shading.

And so I’m looking for the longball here. I’m thinking about the effect of opposites; reading something totally antithetical to surrounding. And it’s not the actually effects of my surrounding worth examining here, it’s the geography of place. I can’t change the settings on Bali like I could on my air conditioning.

First, my thoughts are on the escapability of your two worlds. A book is easily escaped, at least tangibly, simply by closing it. You have, then, no access to anything further, and all that you could bring up are (a) already read pages, based on your memory, or (b) a memory of your feelings while reading the preceding pages.

Your limited in your geography in a similar fashion. You see what your eyes see. You feel what your heart feels; warmed by sunlight, calmed by the tide, or disturbed by something jarring. You can know more by hearing about a place, but cannot go beyond knowledge—into experience—until your senses grab hold of your surrounding.

So we have equalization there—in one’s exploration of each of these facets.

In the comparison of physical geography and literary geography, one of these is easily defeated, however. The world of a book ends in totality when that book is closed; even really if you’ve kept it in your mind. It exists only in the worlds on the page—while the real world one occupies is created based on the five (or more, definitely more) senses. One would need to lock oneself in a room with no windows and walls of concrete to escape ones real geographical surroundings—and even if one did, that stale room would then become one’s geography. You cannot escape place. You can likely escape words (can you language?), and certainly someone else’s.

One last point is about contributors. We can say that, with varying degrees of effect, an author is affected by her geography. More suitable critics than I can pick where those effects take part in one’s story. But the author does not know the readers’ geographies; and cannot predict. This puts one at a disadvantage if we can assume, and I think we can, that a reader’s geography plays some part in the experiential part of being an audience.

The author can provide instructions on reading, which may mitigate this mystery. We see this in music sometimes (the Stones’ Let It Bleed came with the very specific instructions of “Play this LOUD”, for example) but it’s not often, it holds no guarantee of instruction following. AND it might impose a limitation in story that many authors are not interested in.

Going back to Wise Blood, I cannot imagine O’Connor penning these words on a beach, and likely can’t imagine her imagining her reader reading her words on one. We know, from its history, that part of it was written in Iowa, part in New York, and others in other inland places of high Americana. No Bali listed on that part—nothing foreign, no Indian Ocean tide. The terrains seem light years apart.

I think this is where the geography question gets most interesting. It’s intriguing to me to think about reading southern catholic gothic (some call this the “grotesque” in O’Connor’s works) in one of Earth’s most beautiful places. It’s even more bewildering to think of O’Connor trying to hold the idea of her book being read one day in such a diametrically opposed setting. That for me holds the most substance.

For now, I think that’s where I can take this. I’d add in an urge to any reader to reflect on their environment. Where are you reading this now? How is that changing your reading of even this? On the other side, authors must somehow come to grips with the mystery of what any future readers setting will (not might) be; and then somehow sacrifice some truth of their story to the whims of geography.

Waxing [Theatrically]: One More Time With Feeling

I got turned onto Nick Cave by way of a smattering of recommendations, and from all angles. See, it’s fairly apparent after spending time with me that I have a sway toward deep-voiced, brooding lead singers (see Morrison, Jim and Vedder, Eddie). Nick Cave fits into that—with a more poetic bent than the rest, another reason I was drawn to him once I heeded those recommendations.

I saw on Metacritic that Cave’s last album Skeleton Tree was getting rave reviews. I read some of those reviews. I quickly learned the story that has become inextricably attached to that album: it’s a portrait of heartbreak after Cave’s 15-year-old son died unexpectedly during the recording of the album.

It takes not even one single second of starting that album to get that vibe. The first track ‘Jesus Alone’ starts with a wicked theremin-like wail of lightning. And then Cave’s voice comes on, guiding our ears through the tunnels of some dark, dark, dark poetry. And we’re entered into it all.

Around that same time, Metacritic also featured an exceptionally praised new documentary called One More Time With Feeling.  It was a music film (I’m tempted to avoid the word “documentary”) about Cave making the album. Or, more appropriately, it’s Cave putting the final touches on the album—post-tragedy.

nick-cave-bad-seeds-one-more-time-with-feeling

Let’s just say that the air is thick with this one. There’s a few light moments and they cut through hard, but the mainstay is much closer the character that Cave portrays externally—dark, suited, clean around the corners, and bathed and aged in experience.

This is, at least, the main crux of the film. There are other parts mixed in—Cave’s narrating of out-of-studio scenes, for instance, allow us a glimpse into the man’s existence. There’s also a crafty director playing games with the cinema of the music; swerving camera angles and bending our perception points. The whole thing is filmed in black and white (with spontaneous bursts of light so stark it might as well be color) and with some new-fangled kind of 3D camera. I’m sure there’s more info on that online.

The director that pulls these disparate parts together into a cohesive unit (at least as cohesive as a chaotic punk like Cave would allow for) is Andrew Dominik. I know him from The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford—a film as solid as its title is long. He’s benefited, at least in my view, by Cave’s knack for understanding the point where music can meet with cinema for a collaborative and combined, rather than negative, effect. Cave, after all, has scored several movies (including last year’s excellent Hell or High Water).

It could be for this reason, or another entirely, that Cave plays his part on camera so well. While his voice echoes almost like statuary, he is animated in the way a wise elderly poet is animated. His genius is cast through. His musical partner’s genius is cast through by way of lens work, as well. We are swarmed by genius—musically, visually, emotionally.

In the end, its one of the most unique films I’ve seen in years and touches upon the nerve of the viewer in ways both beautiful and dark. And that doesn’t require one more time. It’s got all the feeling offered that we’re ready or able to accept.