<= 2004.06

2004.09 =>

[JULY 2004.]

There's been a tradition around here since, oh, 2003, that when I disassemble my apartment to bare floor and bare walls, this site undergoes a concurrent disassembly. Metameat is packed up. It is ready to go.

Everything is in boxes, more or less. Sunday the first of August is Highway Day. Reservations have been made with Eurail and hotels with funny consonant-heavy names. No, I don't speak Polish yet. I rented the Dekalog but haven't watched any of it; I have a children's book titled Zuchwaly Strzyzyk with a happy cartoon bear on the cover and I can't understand a damn thing.

Because I am still aware of the world around me, I'll note that I knew Obama was a shoo-in for the Senate because his Republican opponent had been caught in a sex scandal; and I knew said scandal involved asking his wife to have sex with him in public; but I did not know that said wife was Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager! America, God shed his grace on thee!


my big head

I am woozy and the apartment is a mess, but I want to poke my head up long enough to say that very occasionally something like this shows up, and in that light if you ask whether it was worth all the time and money and effort, the answer is a certain Yes.

More prosaically, I'm also perfectly content with "He can't sing, but it's all right."


--Ship ¡Llévalo a la Gente (catalog BYZ002) to the nice people who wanted it
--Other music: The South Pole (Berkeley band!), projected solo record Triage (working title), Le Sacre du Printemps for punk quintet. Need a copy of Stravinsky's orchestral score. This dude arranged it for solo acoustic guitar in the eighties, but I need my $90 to move.
--Approaching Zero. Making stabs at it, but difficult under current conditions. Wait, perhaps.
--Clean kitchen. Maybe bake a pie once kitchen is clean.
--Boxes. Sundry boxes.
--Make ancillary domains (paulkerschen.com, byzantinerecords.com) somehow coherent, worth looking at.
--Cancel phone, broadband, newspaper. Cell phone to East Bay area code. Deactivate email, Slap that spam.
--Books into boxes. And so on.
--Viola skillz. Cello skillz. Saxophone skillz. Chris says he'll retrieve his alto sax from Ohio if I make it beautiful. Make Chris's sax beautiful.
--Polish. Get that Polish polished. At least learn how to ask when checkout time is. Once that adventure is over, pick up the German and fucking stick with it before you decide that the language you really need to learn is Tocharian B or something.
--House needs washer and dryer if there are hookups. There are things in the basement that look like hookups; how sad is that, that I don't know what a fucking washing machine hose looks like? House could use a vegetable garden, if it won't be too late to plant this year. A removable soundproofing plug for the window of the music room, maybe one for the adjacent bathroom. Pad the doors? Seal the frame tight, anyway. Some big cheap echo-absorbing rug.
--Rooms need painting; too much flat white. A little later, maybe, once I've convinced the landlady of my aesthetic sense. Kitchen has lots of white tile that would look just lovely with a sky blue. For that matter the exterior of the house could use some jazzing up, but that's a different magnitude of project.
--Call movers. Confirm the existence of a hand truck. All that.

Okay [retracts head into burrow].


slipping over the horizon

Old Man Internet, you got to go away;
Old Man Internet, you got to go away;
Maybe you and I will meet again someday.

By the time I'm back from Warsaw the world will be new;
In a month I'm back from Warsaw, the world will be new;
Old Man Internet, what things I'll have for you.


"shch" as in "girlish charm"

What to do, what to do. In about a week I have to get serious about the relocation; for now I'm beholden to nothing, I'm some kind of warmth-eating lizard. I was going to try to write this week, but that's probably a bad idea. Instead I'll have a Reckoning. A Reckoning is where you take your book, or the half so far completed, to a coffee shop, and then you pull out your brightly colored pen and you start to read it. At the end of the day you Reckon to yourself whether it should have been brought into existence.

The question arises of what I'm going to do with this Polish after I get back from Poland. I'm finding it a very cool language (though the grammar is fucking impossible—seven cases!) but I'm not sure what literature in Polish is worth reading. They say Czeslaw Miłosz's early poetry is all right, if you avoid the criticism, and Wislawa Szymborska? I really love Adam Zagajewski's "Try To Praise the Mutilated World" but am less wowed by other pieces of his. Another reasonable thing would be to use Polish as a springboard into another Slavic language—Czech is very close but again, what to read? Karel Čapek? There's always Russian, but it seems like everyone learns Russian. Maybe if I'm really going to deal with one of these insanely inflected languages I should just go for Greek. If I had unlimited processing power I would love to improve on my smattering of Japanese, but reading adult-level Japanese is obviously a much different kettle of fish than ordering a bowl of miso, and I don't think I'll ever learn the thirty thousand kanji, or however many there are. Sadly. Anyway, this is all pretty academic until my German gets much much better.


storm the bastille of your imagination

On the plane back from Berkeley I was sitting next to a man speaking an unidentifiable language; eventually it came to light that he was an applied mathematician from Brazil and had been speaking French with a Portuguese accent. I was reading Teach Yourself Polish, printed in the United Kingdom in 1964, while he was reading The Pickwick Papers, of all things. We had a bit of conversation about that.

I am now the proud holder of a yearlong lease on a small house near the Berkeley campus. There is a fig tree in the backyard. I found a lot of other things besides the house; friends, fog, the word WONGER! (clearly a French verb: voulez-vous wonger avec moi ce soir?) carved in the sidewalk, the word GWART on a van, which was so damn funny that I gwarted my Gatorade all over the sidewalk and then fell over.

It's all about to change, my friends; surely for the better. Parts of myself have shrunk in the past two years of seclusion, and only now do I remember that I still possess them, that they're still in working order. No, that's not meant sexually, you pervs. Nor (I am told) does Wittgenstein's darüber muß man schweigen work as a pickup line. I'll take it to heart regardless. Enough about me. Let's talk about Teach Yourself Polish, which at the end of each little chapter gives you some English phrases to translate into Polish for grammar and vocab practice. It was a weekend of finding things, I give you a bit of found poetry, which honestly gives me the chills:

I am surprised that this flat is so cold. Flats in old houses are often very warm. I don't like the cold. He lived with my brother. My husband was very ill, but he is better now. It was very warm at the seaside. Who is learning better, he or she? Now they are ashamed of this letter. We are rejoicing over your victory. Mother was expecting a letter from my brother. My office was very dark and cold. The children are staying here for the holidays with the grandfather and the aunts. Don't laugh at this. One often sees that. One often saw that. One often hears that. One often heard that. Why are you burning this letter? What is burning here? This window does not close. Your life is beginning, mine is ending.

In a few days I'll be able to give you that in Polish. It has been suggested that I could use these phrases to terrify Polish children. While wearing a weird hat.


q & a: 5

All you interrogators have been awesome—this is the last go-round, really, because tomorrow I have to go to California and find a place to live. I'll be gone for a week at minimum, I hope not longer. In the meantime the Iowa crew (McColough, Marlowe) has popped up on Blogspot.

what was your favorite song that enamel played? who was your favorite enamelite (besides you of course)? why did enamel burn so bright so as to fizzle by year 2?

My Enamelites are like my childrens; I loved them all. Any four-piece band with that much erotic energy was bound to be fractious. The same thing happened to Tin Machine. I always loved "Build Up." Or "Building Up?" Fuck, what did we call it?

what, at this point, do you think of love as a thing you both wholly possess yet need to share?

I think there are semantic problems with referring to "love" as a noun, sort of like calling "time" a noun. Who owns it? What color is it? What is its net weight? One doesn't get anywhere asking questions like that. To me love seems to be a mode of being; I still have this Taoist-type view of it being a way that one can follow, and if one is attuned to its promptings and follows them sincerely and without overanalysis, then one is seldom steered wrong. Well, obviously it's very easy to fuck yourself up by doing this. But you're unlikely to hurt the other, which I still feel is the point.

what was your favorite place you have lived thus far?

My current apartment is by far the coolest that I've inhabited, and as a city Portland can't be beat. I moved here for terrible reasons and with no plan in place, but that should not obscure this town's excellence.

if you could completely master one skill in life, what would it be?

At the moment the idea of becoming a world-class cellist is awfully appealing. Unfortunately I started about twenty years too late.

do you ever feel nostalgic, and if so, what are the most common things you feel nostalgic about?

Do I ever. I moved back to Tucson solely because of nostalgia over the landscape, and I still feel that way; I entertain dreams of buying a low-budget "ranch" in rural Arizona consisting of a converted trailer on a few dozen acres of rural land. It would be an excellent refuge. I think often of my senior year at Stanford, which was certainly the best (or at any rate happiest) year of my adult life.

can you pinpoint any specific sentence you have said to someone in your life that you wish to retract or re-phrase besides the MathCounts girl?

Honestly, nothing is coming to mind. I've had relatively few bitter arguments in my life. I suppose there are times when I didn't tell someone off and later wished I had, but those are all far in the past and it's probably for the best.

DID you FINALLY get a copy of l.a. riots EP?

No! Have you been hiring a dyslexic to write the address labels?


q & a: 4

how was your fourth of july?

Oh, just fine. We drove to a blueberry-and-wheat farm outside Hillsboro and hung out by a reservoir until it got dark, and then a nice lady with a banjo showed up, and even though the electric tuner confused her so the banjo ended up sharp, we all played blues in G sharp for an hour or so while the kids shot enormous quantities of illegal fireworks over the water and periodically stopped to stamp out the brush fires.

If you could relive one single day from your past exactly as it was the first time, what day would you choose to experience all over again and why?

I've spent a lot of my best days on highways. The best part about moving is the time when you are actually in motion, your worldly chattels gathered around you; it's one long moment of anticipation and hope. Like the first day of driving to Iowa was pretty great. We saw a lot of beautiful mountain scenery and made it as far as Rock Springs, Wyoming. The next day harsh reality, in the form of Nebraska, set in; but I love the beginnings of journeys. It's about to happen again.

If you could recover one thing you've lost in your lifetime, what would you wish to find?

From age 5 to 7 or so I had a green plastic Tyrannosaurus rex, no more than two inches high, whose name was Mr. Tyrann. Mr. Tyrann was a regular passenger in my pocket for those years; I'm pretty sure I took him to the first grade every day, and so forth. Inevitably, one day I came home from school and discovered that Mr. Tyrann had not come home with me; I was inconsolable. If I had him now I would keep him on my desk next to Penguin X, the windup blue penguin.

Describe your ideal mate.

I am not old enough, nor have I performed enough mating dances, to have the first clue. If said mate can't handle the sound of guitars feeding back or the arias I sing in the shower, it's probably doomed to failure. I tend to go for idealists, neurotics, and misfits; the pragmatic and well-adjusted are somehow uninteresting, or at any rate seem to inhabit a separate and incommensurable world. That might not be the greatest command decision.

what are the best things you've seen at night? best five, maybe?

1. A big old colony of Bewick's Swans (Cygnus columbianus) hanging out in the rushes of the River Cam; I belonged to a kiddie ornithology club in England, and one night we got to go out and watch them from a blind.
2. Moonrise over the Catalina mountains. It's difficult to explain the quality that the crags and cliffs acquire under strong moonlight—both jagged and ethereal. Lizards and small rodents dart through the underbrush; you can only hear them. With enough distance the city turns into a glowing amber bowl.
3. The Andromeda Galaxy. Not that it looked particularly impressive through my binoculars from the backyard, but locating it on my own was a great triumph.
4. A small and very affectionate puppy in Tucson; and if drugs were involved with this one, perhaps you could make a tedious argument that the experience had more to do with my perception that any quality inherent to the puppy in sich; but it was less than a month old and it was pure love. I spent hours with it.
5. A girl of my acquaintance jumping without warning and fully clothed from a wooden raft into a seasonal lake.


q & a: 3

Can you tell a pansy from a rose from an iris?

If you put the three in front of me, I could get it right, but only by inference; I don't know what pansies look like. (Obvious joke skipped.) Irises are my favorite flower, followed closely by orchids. Southeast Portland front gardens seem to have a lot of them.

If you watched TV as a kid, what was your best-loved program?

This is a bit tough. I Dream of Jeannie almost won. But after my Sesame Street and Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye years were over, I would have to go with The Pink Panther Show. Weirdly, the BBC aired it all the time when I was living in England, so I watched it a lot that year; even though our television was black-and-white, obscuring the pinkness of the panther, I had a fascination with big cats, especially one with this much savoir-faire and the good grace never to open his mouth. The Inspector Clouseau shorts were all right, while I only dimly remember the Ant and the Aardvark, but I never got tired of watching that panther's adventures set to Mancini. I recommend you follow the link and relive the cartoon.

What makes this game a "meme?"

I dunno. That's what Douglas and Lauren were calling it. While the basic concept of a q&a might not be distinctive enough to count as a meme, this particular strain going around the web seems to fit the definition.

If you had a choice between being James Joyce or Bono, who would you pick?

Being? That's an odd kettle of fish. Given that Joyce was alcoholic, depressed, neurotically fixated on his wife's fidelity, and skirting the poverty line for most of his life, I have to say Bono probably leads the happier existence. And Bono still lives in Dublin as opposed to Joyce's exile, so getting a pint of Guinness would never be a problem, unless I-as-Bono was touring Laos or something. But that comes with the territory.

I surmise from reading Metameat for several years that you are quite intelligent. Why, then, don't you exercise regularly?

Dr. Sisyphus's Super-Fat-Burning Workout
Boulder, up hill
Boulder, dropped

What cause are you willing to die for?

The older I get, the more suspicious I become of abstractions. I don't think I could accurately define most of the isms, let alone summon enough passion to lay down my life for them. I would hope that in a clear moral test case—pushing a six-year-old out of the path of a bus, something like that—I'd act without regard for my own life, but having never been in that situation I can't tell you for sure. Have you seen the John Sayles film Men With Guns? There's a scene where a priest who had served in a Central American village recounts how the army showed up and gave the names of six people in the village who had to be killed for suspected subversion; the priest was one of them. He fled and later returned to the village to find it burned to the ground. Would you stay there, knowing your death would allow hundreds to survive? It seems to me that this sort of sacrifice, rather than any nebulous "cause," is the important thing.

what's it like being fluent in and intelligent about so many media? Do you think it's ultimately energizing or distracting?

Well, I should probably amend that to "what's it like to know just enough to name-drop people and schools of thought in a wide range of media?" I think I'm actually qualified to express opinions about fiction and rock music; on everything else I'm "an enthusiastic amateur" or "that fucking dilettante who shows up at cocktail parties and pretends to know everything," depending on your viewpoint. But I really do treasure the scraps of knowledge I've picked up from various fields, and they do seem to inform each other in unexpected and enriching ways, all the damn time.

This blogsite has morphed into an interesting thread. Based on the great lyrics of your albums, actually ballads, what are your thoughts about doing a rap song or album?

I don't know about rap. I could try to do Mark E. Smith's aggrieved sing/speak some time, and see where that takes me.

is there indeed no sauce in the world like hunger? (i think it's true)

So do I. It seems to me as an amateur hedonist that any pleasure too often indulged is a pleasure dulled; marathon sessions of adolescent onanism aside, isn't a color film a marvelous thing after weeks of watching black and white, a punk record after a glut of symphonies, a poem after a stack of nonfiction books? Or vice versa? About every two months I will buy a Snickers bar in the supermarket; once every four or five months I will step into McDonald's and order fries and a Coke. With impunity.


q & a: 2

Why do you get so unhappy so often when you are obviously very talented and well respected and liked by so many?

Oh dear. Is this one from Mom? I guess I'll split the difference on the mind/body problem and say it's half chemical and half the human condition.

What do you think about in your spare time?

Banal things. Mostly about women and money, and my lack of either. Sometimes I will sit down and try to have serious thoughts about the book I'm working on or some other art project, but generally those aren't too productive; the best thoughts come out of the blue, when my mind is empty. So no, I certainly don't have any highfalutin Stephen Dedalus-type interior monologue. Sometimes I will murmur phrases in foreign languages to myself, but only so I can feel smart. Kein Mädchen, kein Geld.

You awake one morning from uneasy dreams to find Franz Kafka sitting on the end of your bed. What do you do?

Feed him! If he can't eat, as seemed to happen a lot in his diaries, I would offer him some milk and have some milk myself, to make it less awkward. If he seemed up to it I would take one of his stories off the shelf and ask him to read it out loud. We might run into language problems, but if Max Brod is to be believed, Kafka could read his stories in such a side-splitting manner as to leave everyone in the café in stitches.

You mention your cat from time to time, and yet your cat remains a furry loaf of mystery. Can we please have a brief (authorized) biography?

Anyone who missed this endearing bright-eyed photo is advised to go check it out. Now then. When I was fourteen we got Cammie, short for Cambridge, since we had lived in England a few years before and her gray coat reminded us of British weather. Nominally my sister and I shared ownership; in practice she turned out to be a one-person cat and attached herself to me. She always did (and still does) sit on top of me when I'm falling asleep, etc. The formative trauma in her life would have to be the 1996 move by airplane from Tucson to Reno, which required her to sit for six hours in a kitty carrier surrounded by awful lights and noises. She's been a little more skittish ever since. For seven years she stayed in Reno with my parents, starved for affection, while I was off at various schools; since September she's shared my vagabond existence from Oregon to Nevada and back, now to California. All things considered she has learned to do very well in the car, especially for her venerable age of twelve. But she will never learn to tolerate other cats—until two years ago she thought she was the only one on the planet.

You just won the chance to erase a memory: which memory will you erase?

Can it be a group of associated memories? In that case I would definitely get rid of the girl from Phoenix whom I fell in love with in the seventh grade because we were both part of the Arizona MathCounts team that went to Washington, D.C. (I know, I know.) We kept in touch after the competition, mostly by letters, and at that point no one had told me that girls will sign their letters "Love, X" in order to communicate a much milder sentiment. I started calling her too often, which culminated in a perfectly excruciating afternoon in which I awkwardly declared my passion, to be answered by silence and an eventual "Um, maybe you shouldn't call any more." It set back my emotional development by at least two years, and I'd really like it gone.

Would you count Approaching Zero as metafiction? If so, wouldn't it be great to maybe have your own score, say in the way of The Ugly Organ or In the Aeroplane Over the Sea? You could glue a CD to the back cover- it would be great. I mean, aren't those albums really soundtracks to Collodi's masterpiece and the Diary of Anne Frank, respectively? You could do the reverse and log your first classical or instrumental recording- scoring your own book. No lyrics unless you have songs; Gravity’s Rainbow had songs but can you hear them? Of course not! I just thought of this while writing, but doesn’t The Soft Bulletin make the same sort of noise as Gravity’s Rainbow? It’s not a bad thought.

Approaching Zero has a few pomo elements in the narration and a couple of elements that depart from strict realism, but it's still too earnest to count as metafiction—Gravity's Rainbow looms large over it, but so do Graham Greene and Robert Stone. I can't hear all the songs in GR, but a few of them actually have very clear tunes in my head, like "The Penis He Thought Was His Own." The part where the tenor sings "Where the girlies all played Telephone" and the bass answers "Te-le-phone"; Lord, that cracks me up every time. Sticking a CD in the back cover brushes up against the realm of marketing, which I don't know a damn thing about and am happy to leave to the publicity department of Publisher X, assuming they don't completely screw me—nonetheless, it's something to keep in mind. It would be fun.

You’d make the best candidate I know for metamedia, given your compositional talent and deft writing ability (I like Palo Verde, the song and the short story). The arrangements on your latest album are fantastic and there are a handful of songs where the vox fits just right. On others though it seems that you are either tone-deaf or in need of a voice coach for breath support. What do you think? I love a lot of your music and I think it’d be prudent and life-saving if you worked on those chords in your throat. I mean all of this by the way, so please reply in earnest.

Yeah, my singing ability or lack thereof is certainly the perennial bugbear I've had to fight. For I while I was hoping I could get away with it à la Liz Phair, but she's cuter than me. It is getting better—playing live in Portland has helped, and that's largely what I was referring to when I said the live recordings sounded better than the album. See for example the live So Blue (mp3, 2.24 mb). At this rate I should be Roy Orbison by the time I'm 80.

What have you been secretly hoping that someone would ask you?

I'm still holding out for a marriage proposal.


q & a: 1

on an every-night-for-the-rest-of-your-life basis, would you rather have moderate nightmares or searing dreams of perfect happiness?

Ouch, those searing dreams sound physically addictive; I would want to do nothing but sleep, and I'm too close to that situation as is. At least I might get some weird poems or something out of the moderate nightmares. And if they contained enough common elements, perhaps in time I could learn to recognize them and lucid-dream my way through them. I was pretty good at that for a while in high school.

who's your daddy? and what does he do?

The man is right here: as I understand it, his current research involves cavity resonances, in which the air in an enclosed space will start to oscillate in a spring-like pattern. Sometimes the oscillation will decrease over time, sometimes increase, and he's trying to figure out how and why. It creates a noise similar to when you're on the freeway with your window partially rolled down and the air starts going whomp whomp whomp. Not the same phenomenon, but in the same family.

Did You Bring It?

If you think I would take It out on the road with the political situation being what it is, you're a madman! For now I've buried It beneath the grass in the courtyard, with a few air holes so It can breathe, and if It doesn't rust I'll bring It after the election.

What role did Chanson de Roland play in the deification of Charlemagne in France?

The most significant effect of Chanson de Roland was to allow me to write a novel titled (perhaps unwisely) Song of Roland, which the Industry would not touch. Aside from that, as you probably know, the Chanson was written around the time of the First Crusade and conveniently turns a rather snarled historical event (Charlemagne's invasion of Spain) into a Christian v. pagan dichotomy. The enemy becomes the Mohammedeans rather than the Basques, and while the historical Roland was a Breton, in the poem he becomes a true-blue Frank. I mean, the archangel Gabriel shows up at the end and tells Charlemagne that now he has to go fight some other Mohammedeans at Imphe. The poem is a chanson de geste, which can mean either "song of heroic deeds" or "song of a race/people." Basically it's consolidating French national identity through Moor-whupping. And Charlemagne is the divinely directed whupper.


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