Becoming What We Defeat

days of destruction days of revolt cover.jpg

The chapters of this book are titled Days Of…

  • Theft
  • Siege
  • Devastation
  • Slavery
  • Revolt

Each chapter of this book takes place in a particular city or town of my beloved #americant. Each chapter goes deeper than the previous into the negative of what makes a once great country no longer great again. And each chapter features characters that were interviewed by Chris Hedges.  But before I get into the good, first this. The only problem I have with this book is 1) other than the chapter Days of Revolt, it doesn’t really inform (me) about what is going on back home that I didn’t already know and 2) the comics–or as others might put–the graphic novel sections of this book–felt to me to be more in the way than on the way. I guess I’m not a fan of comics–sorry, graphic novels. But I am interested in reading and/or owning the graphic novel Watchmen–and I already own Maus. But I digress.

I read Hedge’s American Fascist and Empire of Illusion a few years ago. Since then I’ve been reading his articles on truthdig.com. Unfortunately, not much from his books have stuck with me. That’s not because of Hedges, though. In fact, I’m a big fan of his speeches that are numerous on youtube. It’s just that, well, I guess I’ve started to lose my intellect. Either that or I just don’t give a sh*t anymore (about certain things). I suppose, in a way, I can easily blame such a loss on the frequency that I visit my beloved #americant or the amount of stuff I read about it (her)–which has been quite a bit since my step-father past and my mother isn’t getting any younger and #eurowasteland politics bores the krapp out of me. Indeed. Each visit to my beloved homeland has been scarier and scarier and scarier. My most recent visit, just last month, set new heights regarding what can come of a nation suffering from something that is no less than pathological. America really is starting to look and feel like a land of zombies. In fact, I bought Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt to accompany the trip.

I managed to read two-thirds of the book on the flight to PHL and within the first few days of my arrival. Then I got sick as a dog as the weather in Maryland was worse than in Germany. I mean, I froze my butt off the first few days I was there. And it’s not that I’m not used to cold weather. I guess I’m not used to going from far north Germania, where it was warm, to somewhat southerly Atlantic coast Maryland and freezing my a$$ off. So. Yeah. I got sick. And then I got caught up in the all work I’m supposed to do when visiting my mom. It’s just that my sickness didn’t want to go away. Of my two week visit, I was out of it for almost ten days with the worst head-cold and flu that I’ve had in years. I ended up finishing this book when I got back to Germany. But, again, I digress.

By-the-bye, I got lost in Camden, NJ, once, which is featured in one of the chapters of this book, after I switched my Atlantic flight destination from Dulles Airport to PHL (from Frankfurt). Back then there was no GPS to guide me and I made a few wrong turns leaving PHL and the next thing I know I’m in NJ. Aghast! Other than the panic that ensued being a caucasian driving a rental car through Camden, I remember vividly the landscape of #americant that was nothing new to me. It was just another broken place. In fact, a city like Camden looked as familiar as the small coal mining town my step-father grew up in that has been decimated like any other with mine and plant closings galore. To me, these places are all part of Reganomics and neoliberal greed politics that #americants have been voting for–a world that I was able to get out of so many years ago. As I follow all the goings-on back home, it’s sometimes hard to have mercy on those who are obviously too stupid to see what they are doing to themselves. I guess, in a way, I saw it all coming–first hand! Camden, NJ, is everywhere in the US. It’s everywhere there’s an abandoned strip mall, more potholes than asphalt on highways, it’s in every dive-bar where jaundice drunks occupy the rundown churches as much as the rundown Walmarts and every–EVERYONE!–is screaming about making something great again. Yes. Everywhere.

With that in mind, this book didn’t do much for me on the learning front. Except for the last chapter. Indeed. The last chapter, Days of Revolt, saved this book because I haven’t read enough about the Occupy Movement that, to me, seemed to come and go as fast as a rational thought on #americant cable TV news.  On top of that, Hedges manages to make a connection that has been lingering in the back of my mind for years. When people ask me “why Germany” I usually just tell them it’s because of the girls and the beer. But sometimes I’ll break down and give them the real reason. It was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that brought me to my expatriation–because I was right in the middle of it. And it was not just the joy of living in the end of the Cold War. It was the fact that the idear of authoritarian rule was finally gonna end. In those days I never thought in terms of America being the centre of the universe–whether it’s great or great-again. To me, the idear of how the people in Eastern Europe were able to discard the authority of The Soviets without violence was beyond mesmerising. Never in my wildest childhood Cold War dreams did I think it could happen. And even though the whole movement didn’t start in East Germany, the fall of that Wall will forever be my beacon. And then there’s the connection I started to make–not unlike Hedges makes in the final chapter of this book.

A quarter century has passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Neoliberalism is rampant and unabated in the western world not unlike an opposite ideology was rampant in Eastern Europe thirty years ago. The result of having gotten rid of the authoritarian rule of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union hasn’t quite turned out to be what it should be. Or? In my worst-opinion, the west has become the thing we defeated. Hedges manages to see this in the last chapter of this book. And so. I’ve always wondered where are the revolutionists that would call out the West for what it has become. Is that revolutionist Chris Hedges? It might just be. Or was it the movement that came and went with the Wall Street Occupiers in Liberty Square, NY, in 2011? I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that there is a heavy irony when considering what #americant has done to itself and subsequently the world since the fall of the Soviet Union. Just look deeply at our response to September 11, 2001, including the subsequent largest government expansion since… And check out those bank bailouts and the amount of consumer credit run amok. And then there’s the recent election that has given the world Trump & awe….

Why has no one been able to see the connection to a not-so-distant past with all that has happened in this still somewhat young new century? Ok. At least Chris Hedges has seen it. I think I have too. So. What the heck. Let history repeat itself.

Good luck suckers.

Rant on.

-t

Who Eats Who And What Is On Third

the devils chessboard cover.png

“We Kennedys eat Rockefellers for breakfast.”

Imagine Robert Kennedy saying that. Imagine the vehemence that could fill the air once those words were published. Imagine the Kennedy and Rockefeller families with a slight twist: they are the Hatfields and the McCoys. Or just just forget all that and go back to third grade (or maybe fifth or sixth or seventh–or, at the least, never graduate above the sophomoric). In a system that has thrived on greed and allure–both being the catalyst for the economics of trickle down–it’s a wonder that more #americants haven’t slaughtered themselves as trickle down withers to zero. But then again, with what’s going on in Oregon these days, maybe there is something out there that might cause a mass wake up. Most certainly the death (slaughter) of the Kennedy family woke no one up. Yet, worst-writer can’t help but question where all this nonsense comes from. Nonsense being best defined through the behaviour of people, the behaviour of a nation. It is said that a persons true character comes through in a time of crisis. Does the same apply to a nation? But I digress. §I came across the book The Devil’s Chessboard through an interview I watched with the author here back in October. Recent travel meant I had to fill my Kindle and this book made the list. Of course, I was skeptical about buying it but something did stand out based on the above referenced interview. The interview did give off a hint of conspiracy-theory but David Talbot was able to convince me that this piece of work had something more to it. In my quest to maintain as rational a mind as possible, it’s hard at times to sift through the nonsense that is #americant without falling prey to conspiracy theory. The advent of faux newz on the one hand and the long standing mindlessness of conspiracy-theory on the other, it’s a wonder that the country hasn’t fallen prey to some blonde blue-eyed dictator. Or has it? I, for one, never thought much about the conspiracy to kill JFK but the Warren Report didn’t make much of an impression either. Yet the movie by Oliver Stone changed all that. Now don’t get me wrong. The JFK assassination isn’t the same conspiracy-theory as the moon landing. The Zapruder film saw to that. But there is something about all the unanswered questions regarding JFK that the government covered up. I mean, “cover-up” is really the only thing we know that happened. Or? Nomatter. §David Talbot does something different. He’s actually explaining a mindset in this book. He takes a new angle on trying to explain a mindset, a rationale, of how certain people within the upper echelons of government and (big) business actually think. That such a way of thinking could lead to the assassination of Kennedy is a bit far-fetched–and Talbot doesn’t make that direct link. But what he does make clear is that JFK did represent a new way of thinking in America. And that way of thinking was counter to how a few other people thought. Is that then the reason he was killed? What exactly was JFK’s way of thinking? §Enter Allen Dulles, the CIA and a bunch of old, conniving white men who are stuck in the mind of a ten year old that has Howitzers sticking out of every orifice. What to do with those Howitzers, eh? I guess–so goes their rationale–one has to put them to some kind of use otherwise they’d just be a waste. And so. The mindset of adult-children with cannons sticking out of their arses has taken over a once great nation-state. Which means all we can say now is: it was fun while it lasted. Or? Indeed. The Devil’s Chessboard is a bit of a bore to read–if you know anything about American history and American foreign policy. Yet I stayed in the book because of how the author was able to weave a single thread through it from beginning to end. That thread is the idea that a certain way of thinking is what rules the show. It’s not so much about politics, parties or individuals running things. America is run by a way of thinking. And not only is there one way of thinking but a different way of thinking will not be tolerated. This is how the system conspires, how it perpetuates. And since most Americans have fallen for the lie of trickle-down no other way of thinking can prevail. Which brings me to #americant. If anything is true/real about David Talbot’s book, it’s the fact that America still has a chance. It has a chance to break free from the singularity that rules it today. And even though Talbot doesn’t go anywhere near trying to explain that, he does masterfully explain the mindset of one of the rulers, one of the powers-that-be, a man who’s way of thinking is the reason there is so much demagoguery, right-wing batshit, faux newz, and/or militiamen fighting for “rights” they never had in the first place. Or maybe not. Rant on. -Tommi

Science Fiction Saves The Middle East

der golan marathon

Der Heimatlose: Heimatlosigkeit is das schöne Gefühl, in der Welt zu Hause zu sein.

The Displaced: being displaced is the comforting feeling of being at home with the world.

First. Dear worst-reader, I’m no book critic–even though I probably should be. I mean. I’ve read a thing or three about writers who never made it but ended up being book critics. Or do they end up being journalists, bloggers, drunks? Nomatter. I finally got around to reading my friend’s new novel The Golan Marathon. I’ve obviously got a few things to say about it and as a pseudo writer who might end up with a swollen liver, that may or may not be a good thing. Btw, I read Yassin’s first novel, which I blogged about hereBefore I get to this new book, I have to worst-write a bit about what’s been going on for the past few months where I’ve barely blogged and even found myself brain dead in the realm of micro-blogging, aka twitter–which I usually don’t put much effort into anyway (as any tweeter can tell). And so. For those interested in The Golan Marathon, scroll down. For those who wish to waddle through more worst-writing… Good luck.

Second. I’ve been traveling. Actually, let me put that another way. My better half has been traveling–and I’ve been allowed to travel with her. Which means, other than being a failed writer–or is it a wannabe writer?–I usually join my better half for travel because she needs me to carry her luggage. Which is ok. Husband luggage carrier is also a career. Or? And. Free flights to Asia and Africa ain’t such a bad perk either. Nor do I mind sitting in economy while she enjoys the view from business class. The other good thing is, traveling ain’t such a hindrance to my work on account

  1. I’ve got an ageing but fully functional laptop plus an ageing and poorly functional iPad4 (which Apple is making obsolete because of its stupid iOS updates) and
  2. I actually like typing on airplanes–even virtual typing on airplanes with an iPad.

Btw, my better-half’s luggage has a nickname. I call it the weight of kill-man-jar-oh.

(Short pause. Breath.)

Third. I had a ghostwriting deadline for mid November. I suppose it doesn’t matter that I got the assignment way back in July. Although I thought I could manage the travel and the work since then, the thing I can’t manage is the procrastination. This caused me to go into panic mode by the end of October when we started travelling. The only thing to do at that point is shut down all extra curricular activity. In other words, shut down anything requiring brain work that doesn’t charge per page. Of course, the most significant thing I had to shutdown was reading. For you see, when I read I really, really read. Sometimes it fully occupies me–even more so than the occupation of following each letter with my forefinger and moving my lips in sync with the words on the page. And if you think that’s bad, get a load of me when I’m reading German. I’m a royal mess when I read German. After all these years I still find it tortuous. And so. It breaks my heart when I have to put down a book on account I have to make a living. It’s like leaving a movie right in the middle. But so is life, eh dear worst-reader! With that in mind, I had to stop reading The Golan Marathon when I was about half way through it. Damn! I had to put it down for almost three weeks. Luckily I got back to it. Yeah, I got back to it.

Thoughts on The Golan Marathon by Yassin Nasri.

Heimatlose is German for displaced person. I had to look that up at leo.org. In a different context the word Heimatlos (without the ‘e’) means homeless-person. Confused yet? Don’t worry. It doesn’t get any worse. Unless, of course, the author decides to use words like Schwer–another confusing German word that I post about here. But that’s enough about how difficult German can be. 

The year is 2033. The Syrian conflict is over. The  pointy-eared, weasel-eyed dictator Assad is long gone. What is left is for Andy to find some roots. So he travels from Germany, where he was raised, to Syria, where his family is from. What Andy finds, though, is not what he expected. He not only gets caught up in the past of his family but he also realises that there is an alternative world out there. An alternative world that is ultimately an idea–and I will assume that it is a grand idea directly from the soul of the author. Luckily the idea is simple. It goes something like this. There is a unified, peaceful middle east by the year 2033. In this world there are guys and dolls who hang out, are cool and they all use futuristic gadgets like Google Glass and Apple’s Siri. Heck, there are even electric cars that rival Tesla. Yes, Yassin has created a world. And not just any world. A world of ideas.

At other times while I was reading this book I kept getting confused. And not just confused because I was reading it in German. I was getting confused about where this story takes place: Syria and the middle east. A place where, these days, there aren’t very many ideas. Is it possible that the middle east can someday find peace and harmony where young people from Israel and Syria can hang out at cafés and wear t-shirts with political statements? Really? Andy, Yassin Nasri’s alter-ego, makes the impossible possible. Andy dallies through Syria as though he’s sitting on a flying carpet and the world is his sweet date. In fact, I’m so convinced of the impossible after reading this book, that I can’t wait to go to Aleppo or Damascus… and just hang out. If all goes well, I might even still be alive in 2033 to do just that. I mean. Come on, dear worst-reader. A story has been written that perfectly describes peace and harmony in a place that reality dictates must be war-torn and kaputt? Yeah. Is this book a first of its kind? For me, at least, I think it is.

Once again my hat is off to Yassin. This book is a wondrous achievement in the genre of science fiction, the middle east and optimism. What a combination.

Rant on.

-Tommi

Notes From Underhuman

underground dostoyevsky

Thoughts this morn about Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground. I’ve been enjoying the taste, feel and smell of this 1972 paperback for the past few weeks. I think I acquired it while visiting London in 1995. Obviously it’s not dealing with age and dryness but neither am I. Funny thing is, I’ve already gone through three or four rubber-bands to keep it together. Looks like I won’t be reading The Double anytime soon. Oh well.

To begin, here’s the intro from the author where he, for whatever (literary) reason, feels the need to qualify his work.

“The author of these Notes, and the Notes themselves, are both, of course, imaginary. All the same, if we take into consideration the conditions that have shaped our society, people like the writer not only may, but must, exist in that society. I have tried to present to the public in a more striking from than is usual a character belonging to the very recent past, a representative figure from a generation still surviving. In the chapter entitled ‘The Underground’ this personage introduces himself and his outlook on life, and tries, as it were, to elucidate the causes that brought about, inevitably brought about, his appearance in our midst. In the second section we follow this personage’s memoirs of some of the happenings in his life.” -Fyodor Dostoyevsky

What’s the saying about Russian novels? If you’re happy–don’t read one. As far as this worst-reader goes, since happiness is over-rated, you’d think the likes of Dostoyevsky would be for me. But the truth is, after reading The Idiot so many years ago, I’ve spent more time staring at my old copy of The Brothers Karamazov than reading it. (Ok. I’ve read parts of it and plan on reading it whole. Someday. Maybe.) Like most of Dostoyevsky’s work, the biggest hurdle is not his subject matter or its depth but instead the winded, drivelling, unending sentences, not excluding multiple page single paragraphs. I mean, come on, you gotta be smart to read this guy–or?

When I can get through the sentences, two things happen (in my worst-mind) while doing so. First. If aliens ever come down to visit and they want to know what it is to be human, they should read Dostoyevsky (or Gogol). Second. After Dostoyevsky, and living in #eurowasteland for so long, I’ve concluded that no one knows The European better than the big D. Yeah, baby. That’s right. The only way to understand The European is to read depressing Russian novels of yesteryore. And what is The European, you ask. How ’bout this. Bureaucracy. Greed. War. Clans. Fascism. Authoritarianism. Genocide. Etc., etc. All the industry, farmers, cheese, booze, classical music, cars, art and architecture, theatre, etc., etc., pale in comparison  to the death, destruction and human waste The European has given humanity. Seriously. All of the world’s problems stem out of the inhumane death and greed culture that is The European. And before you attack me regarding America–heed this. America is not just bluejeans and Hollywood, war and money, different kinds of cheese, art and fascism, and let’s not forget, the new world and the land of the free (to be stupid). That’s just a front, a story, a narrative. America is The European thru and thru. In fact, it is The European version 2.0. Did I mention how we all need to be so thankful to The European for imperialism?

It was/is The European mindset that slaughtered the Indians of North America. It was that mindset that fought the silly clan war known as the American Civil War, igniting it all because The European needed slaves to build its new world. It was that mindset that perverted capitalism and turned the northern hemisphere into a cult of self perpetuating greed and death. Indeed, dear worst-reader. When I read Dostoyevsky that’s what I get out of his writing. And it feels kinda good to read it these days, as though something inside me is vindicated, as though, after all these years in Europe, among these The Europeans, I can finally read him. Yeah. Maybe it is time to get on with Karamazov. Or maybe not.

Notes From the Underground is short novel about the narrator who can’t control his anger and frustration while trying to exist in the blossoming automaton world of late 19th century (far eastern) Europe. I’ve read on the Interwebnets that some think this work is the beginning of existentialism–but I have no idear what that is supposed to mean. All I know is, if you could bring the narrator of this story to life, you could put him right in the middle of the corporate world; he’d fit perfectly. Even though there is a huge amount of anger and confusion rolled up inside him, he is docile and weak on the outside; he seems to stand for nothing except musings about Russian soil. His ego is so overblown that when he argues with comrades and ends up challenging one to a duel, no one even shows up for it. Instead they all go about their meaningless, automaton lives in the(ir) bureaucracies, the(ir) cafés, the(ir) dinning halls of sloth and gluttony. And just like the automatons in the corporate world, the narrator  himself is fluff and meaninglessness–all on the verge of sissy tears–just like all those soccer “men” who fall down on the field like gurly-girls in order to find an advantage. Yet, does the narrator find meaning in his search? The question hasn’t changed since the late 19th century. The automatons find meaning in what ever they deem fit. They find it in their arrogance. They find it in that other great European pastime that is the opposite of humility–misbegotten pride. They find it in their nationalism, tribalism, clans.

The earth knows no noses higher than those noses in Europe. (-tommi)

This is a quaint story to read. I rather enjoyed it–long sentences or not. I felt a kinship with the narrator–or was it empathy? Nomatter. The important thing to keep in mind about it is that there is contempt between “the author of these notes” and “the notes themselves” (see quote at beginning of post). Dostoyevsky is obviously extremely judgemental of his surroundings yet he never quite reveals why. There is something naive about how he writes this. Or maybe it’s carelessness. I don’t mean his prose, though. His ability to transcribe the mind’s eye is flawless. It’s just the subject matter he’s addressing that gets me. It’s as though he created the narrater in order to just mock everything about the world he’s forced to live in–The European world. Either way he is judging society by portraying its components and how they interact in the most banal of all settings.

“We Russians, generally speaking, have never been stupid transcendental romantics of the German, or especially the French, kind, who are not affected by anything; the earth may crack under their feet, all France may perish on the barricades, but they remain the same, they won’t make the slightest change even for the sake of decency, but still go on singing their transcendental hymns right up, one might say, to the grave, because they are fools. But here, on Russian soil, there are not fools, as everybody knows: that is what distinguishes us from all the other, Germanic, countries.” -Notes From Underground, FD

There is something eerily profound about what Dostoyevsky is getting at in this short novel–that I may be confusing with my own worst-prejudices. And. As usual. I’m not sure I understand any of anything I read. But he makes me think of the wave of revolution that preoccupied Europe before and after Dostoyevsky. Before Dostoyevsky I’m referring, of course, to the French Revolution. In its essence wasn’t the French Revolution not just an attempt break the chains of feudalism and monarchy, but also an attempt to subvert The European? In a lesser attempt, the Russian revolution–which emulated the French–tried to do the same thing. Is there no irony in the fact that both those revolutions lost and who was the winner? In Russia, The European turned to authoritarian communism embodied by Stalin and the Soviets. In western Europe, The European turned to predatory capitalism disguised in the bullshit called socialism. I couldn’t help but feel that Dostoyevsky was alluding to this level of human failure that could only come from the mindset that is The European. The people he argued with, the female he so clumsily fell in love with, the servant he couldn’t stand up to, etc. They all represent The European. And like all Europeans, the story just reaches the last page. Or something like that.

Rant on. -Tommi

As I Die Laying

as i lay dying paperback

It takes two people to make you, and one people to die. That’s how the world is going to end. -Darl

Took me a while. Can’t remember exactly when I bought the book. But I do remember buying it in Frankfurt off the Leipziger Strasse near the university. I also remember reading Faulkner in College so many years ago. Can’t say the memories are fond, though. I think we read some of his short stories. Nomatter. As far as reading him goes, Faulkner is not unlike Hemingway (to me) even though the two are completely difference writers. When I was younger I just couldn’t get through either one. The pages confused me. The writing cadence (is there such a thing?) through me off. Hemingway had a way of just boring me with his endless narrations of landscapes or seas. Faulkner’s writing style threw me off, too. Something about stream of consciousness, perhaps. Or it had something to do with school, the pressures of grades, judgement. Reading in order to write a paper for a professor never did me any good, that’s for sure. Not that I’m cutting on professors or schools. But I have often thought about whether or not writers realise what is done with their work at university level. Is it a good thing? Is it a not so good thing?

A few weeks back I decided to give my library a thorough one-over and dusting. In doing so I also created a nice little database of my books. Been wanting to do that for years. Luckily technology has caught up to my wants. Found an app for my iPad that scans book bar-codes. Works like a charm. If there are no bar-codes, as is the case with this old paperback, then all I have to do is input the ISBN number and the app locates it. But I’m off subject.

ripped page
Copy not in the best shape. Missed a page.
I picked up this old paperback with the idear it was time to try again. (Btw, I’ll be trying the same thing with Hemingway soon.) And although it was slow reading, it seems I’ve finally found a way in–to Mr. Faulkner. Maybe. Here’s my first impression. Faulkner writes As I Lay Dying with a vengeance. Even though I was only able to get through one or two chapters with every sitting, I looked forward to the next time I opened the book. The breaks in-between allowed me (my mind) to breath–from the Anstrengung. Yet Faulkner has a style, a cadence, if you will, that is tumultuous. I don’t know if its because of his ability to write as his characters actually speak or if its getting my mind to play along with the accents of the southern characters he’s portraying–accents that I know so well. In fact, I found it sometimes easier to read the text out-loud. My better half would often tell me to stop moving my lips while reading. “It means you’re stupid,” she’d say. Reading this book out-loud stopped my mind from having to think about each word written, how they were placed, etc. Having grown up around rednecks and Volk that aren’t the brightest stars in the heavens, the sound of Faulkner’s words were easier to speak than to read. Wait. The probably doesn’t make much sense.

Not only have I read what is probably one of the greatest books ever written but I feel as though it speaks to me, as is the case with a few other books/writers. Umberto Echo is one. The Master And Margarita is another (a book I must re-read, btw). Not sure when I’ll get to it but Faulkner’s The Sound And The Fury is on my list now. That said, this book, as difficult as it is, is a joy. Supposedly written in a matter of weeks while Faulkner was working at a power plant, it was also submitted “as is” for publication. Italics are used in the text which I can only assume indicate some form of correction, collation, etc., and was set by the publisher. Other parts of the text have obvious grammar issues but I suppose that has to do with Faulkner re-creating the jargon of his characters. Although there is much said about this book, I’m wondering if all the sayers missed something.

For example. There is one thread that binds As I Lay Dying together. Although many consider it a brilliant portrayal of a downtrodden American family coping as best it can with circumstance, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of cynicism on the part of the author regarding that family. But is Faulkner also a cynic regarding the American ideal? What is portrayed in this book is not just a clumsy group of half-wits facing uncertainty. Faulkner is sharing a point of view regarding how Americans cope with that same, ever existing, uncertainty.

The death of the matriarch requires that the family trek her un-embalmed corpse for nine summer days so she can be buried in her hometown. The way Faulkner describes how they build her coffin, the text even includes a small drawing, is brilliant. But because the mother wanted to be buried in her wedding dress, they think they have to lay her up-side-down so that the dress won’t be crushed by the shape of the coffin. Imagine a bumbling group of half-wits trying to figure that out! Because of wild weather and a flooded river the family not only shows its lack of cognitive ability but also its self-destructive nature. Crossing the river causes great loss plus a broken leg for one of the sons. The fact that the father eventually pours concrete on the broken leg to try and stabilise it, well, that also says a great deal about intelligence.

Let’s see. What happens next? Oh yeah. The daughter is sexually abused by a family acquaintance on the trip and her prescribed naiveté plus ten dollars isn’t enough to get her an abortion. And here’s the real kicker. Although they make it to the mother’s wished final resting place, there is very little written about the funeral. Instead the father 1) meets a new wife and 2) with the ten dollars his daughter was given for her abortion, of which her naiveté won’t allow her to speak about it, the father takes the ten dollars to get new teeth. Indeed. That’s kinda hi-larry-us. Obviously. The best of the American family isn’t quite best enough, eh, dear worst-reader.

It seems to worst-moi that there are three ways to portray the American “family”. There’s the funny way, there’s the sad way and then there’s the violent way. Funny and violent seem to mix well. The Sopranos comes to mind. Portraying the American family sad is a bit more difficult to do. I mean, who wants to watch reality? But I’m sure there are examples out there. To categorise the Bundren family this way might be a bit belittling. And that’s ok. The text, the challenging way it is written, makes up for it all. Or?

But my mother is a fish. -Vardaman

Once again, probably for lack of proper (academic) training, and as much as I enjoyed reading this book, I can’t help but consider it a criticism of America and the ideals that permeate the American mindset. Portraying the family as a unit that must depend on its ability to rationalise any situation can only mean that it is as strong as its weakest link–I mean it’s as strong as its weakest thinker. Or maybe not. I don’t know what to say about this book and I’ve already said too much. But that’s what I do.

Rant on. -t

Deep In Me

Deep Freediving Cover Nester

Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science And What The Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves, by James Nestor

At first it was difficult for me to share the astonishment and shock James Nestor expresses upon his initialisation to the world of freediving. I’ve been a fan and admirer of it for years. Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of swimming deeper and further, the ocean being the ultimate gateway. When there was no ocean around pools, lakes and rivers served me just fine. Up until a a few years ago I could hold my breath easily for more than two minutes. I used to go to the bottom of five meter pools and just lay there until I was forced to go back up and suck on that ugly teat of life. But up I went because I new that all I had to do was take a deeper breath and I could go back down to my tranquility. Of course, the deepest part of pools was usually under some diving board area. Before I could get enough tranquility someone would always come over to me and ask that I stop what I was doing because I was in the way of those wanting to use the diving board. Safety, rules, regulations come first, eh? I would nod to the local-yocal policing-person–you know the type: the person in a public place that can’t mind her/his own bidness. In the back of my mind I would tell that person to fuck-off, hoping, wishing, that fireworks would burn out of his ass. Then, for shits & giggles–and for my exit from tranquility–I’d take a deep breath, find my way to the bottom of the pool, close my eyes and slowly crawl along the edge, away from the diving board area, up the slope to the one meter swimming area, the whole time following the ocean that is the lie of my mind.

When I was a kid we used to camp along the Indian River Inlet in Rehoboth, DE. The inlet was a great place for fishing because of how it was artificially maintained. Huge boulders and rocks lined the inlet making it both a home and a hunting ground–besides providing access to the ocean. The constant turbulence of seawater being exchanged from the Atlantic and the brackish water from the Indian River Bay made it a lazy fisherman’s dream. There were times you could cast a line with a worm rig and within minutes you’d be reeling in Tautog or Black Drum. But there was a catch to fishing there. Those fancy lures and hooks would get caught on the rocks of the inlet. You were guaranteed to lose rigs. You could hear the fisherman at times cursing the rocks. Which brings me to my first scuba experience.

My stepfather started scuba in the mid to early sixties. He owned all his own gear, including regulator and tank–stuff that looked like it was right out of an early Bond movie. I’d strap on that tank, throw the mouth piece of the two stage regulator hose over my head and started sucking. “Breath normal,” he’d say. “And don’t leave the rocks.” I filled my mask with spit, wipe the glass, and then covered my face. I wore thick plastic gloves so that the hooks wouldn’t pierce my skin and strap-on sandals to protect my feet. Other than that I wore a bathing suit. I would submerge myself without fins–because I wasn’t supposed to swim anywhere, just pull and/or walk along the boulders a few feet under the surface. I’d go under and in a few minutes return with a handful of perfectly useable and sellable fishing rigs. I paid for a lot of rides and cotton candy at Ocean City, MD, boardwalk that summer by selling those rigs. Cool.

It took twenty-five years before I would strap on scuba gear again. My better-half, who was already a master diver when I met her, was skeptical (as all Germans are) when I told her that I would gladly get certified to go diving with her. Part of her skepticism was that it took her, even after getting certified, about fifty dives before she felt comfortable at depth. Within a few days, in the middle of late winter in Germany, I got my scuba certification–diving in a lake in Hessen that was almost frozen. Needless to say, I quickly proved my diving worthiness. It’s like riding a bike, I said. But there’s one problem. Now with more than a hundred dives behind me, having experienced places like The Red Sea, Bali, Thailand, etc., I have to admit that something is missing. Every time I get in the water with that tank strapped to me I know that there is something else out there. Something more. Something more tranquil.

The thing is, when I dream about diving–and I dream about it all the time–I never dream that I’m wearing an aqualung. I dream of freediving. Heck, even when I walk our dog I hold my breath for as long as I can–thinking about how soft ocean water feels on my skin. When I walk through forests I don’t see trees and leaves and green. I see an ocean vastness where I’m condemned (for all my crimes) to walk on its floor with my feet. So I shut my eyes and start mis-echolocating and bumping into trees. Indeed. Bumping into trees while dreaming about oceans. It’s my dog’s laughter that makes me open my eyes again.

James Nestor has written a stunning, beautiful book that I didn’t know I was lusting to read for a long, long time. When I read about Natalia Molchanova dying recently during a practice freedive I became a bit obsessed with trying to understand not only the mechanics of freediving but the emotional attachment that so many have to it. Even though I’m only a muggle (scuba diver) and not a magician (freediver) I think I can understand what these people feel–not only at depth but the longing to be in the salty-sweet bosom of  The Big Her. Mr. Nestor answered most of the questions I had regarding this sport. Also, Nestor, without condemning the sport, makes it quite clear why freediving as competition is probably not worth the danger. In recent years there have been too many deaths. Yet something drives people to compete and dive further, deeper, deeper. I get that.

Nestor saves the day, though. The way he articulates the beauty of freediving, the importance of the ocean on this (our) blue planet or some of the science behind how sperm whales communicate, is worth every word. This is one of those books that I got through in a matter of hours and the whole time regretting that the reading would eventually come to an end.

Rant on. -Tommi (a freediving dreamer)

The Farnsworth Dictation

the farnsworth invention coverBeen too long, dear worst-reader. When was the last time I read a play? Back in the day, I used to read plays as fast as I could afford to get my hands on them. I love(d) reading plays. In fact, I preferred reading them to putting all that effort into watching them. But watch them I did as well. Yeah. Back in the day. Now that life has taken that turn (where so many lives are taken) and self-medicating and avoidance is a substitute for reading, it was gonna take a bit more than curiosity to get me back in the saddle. Which brings me to a different form of self-medication. Btw. Self medication is more than the use of caffeine, alcohol, recreational narcotics, sex as sport. Yeah. Self medication is also anything and everything that takes the mind away, where avoidance (of everything) is the norm. You can see it everyday. The automatons walking the sidewalks with their heads bent over and their eyes glued to those mini touch screens.  Or the compulsive behaviourists, aka careerists and corporatists, who spend their bored lives binge watching Mad Men, Sopranos, House of Cards (US), etc. And we see it in the rest of society that hasn’t made it, the Have-nots, who don’t know any better than to compete with the Haves so that they too can enter the realm of glorious avoidance and self medication. Yes. It would take more than just hearing about a new play and saying: yeah, maybe I’ll get to that one when I wake up (someday). Enter Podcasting.

Worst-writer prefers beer and podcasting when it comes to avoidance and self-medication. I prefer north German Pilsner to any other sort of beer. Goodness knows I hate all this “micro-brewed” krapp that’s popping up everywhere. The bitter and pure the beer the better. In summer, I like beer cold. In winter, I like my beer cool at best and sometimes will drink it at room temperature. And that’s all fine and good. Which brings me to another form of avoidance that has nothing to do with chemicals and misbegotten biology. Podcasting. I listen to at least one if not two podcasts everyday. Seriously. And I’m not even ashamed to admit it. In fact, I’m proud of it. Proud because I haven’t watched so-called “TV” in about five years. I know what you’re say dear worst-reader. You’re saying, “Well, Tommi, you asshole, you got off the norm only to replace it with the same difference.” And that may be true. Still. The point isn’t so much about competing–as a Have-not with the Haves–but instead being able to say I’m not a fucking lemming or an automaton and my life is bad-ass digitised to the hilt. Yeah, baby!

So I’m listening to a tech news podcast the other day before the daily beer drinking alarm goes off and the subject of who invented the television comes up. The moderator was shocked to hear that his audience didn’t know who invented the TV. At that moment I figured that the moderator was gonna proudly teach his audience something by saying the name Philo Farnsworth. But he didn’t say it. Instead he told his audience to go see a play called The Farnsworth Invention. And that’s when bells & whistles went off in my head. Talk about motivation. I had no idear that someone had written a play about Philo Farnsworth. What an interesting story that would make, I thought. In fact, I thought once or thrice about writing a play about something similar. Of course I never got around to it (because avoidance and self-medicating took over). But that’s all neither here nor there.

The Farnsworth Invention, a play by Aaron Sorkin, is a great read. And before I continue: WARNING! Spoiler alert.

I finished it the other night and although my usual think-about-it period after reading produces some interesting thoughts–in order to blog about it–not this time. Since I’m well aware of the drama of who invented television–as I’ve put some effort (even while self-medicated) into knowing #americant dysfunctional history–especially the parts of our blossoming as an industrial power–it would take a bit more than a dictation of events on a subject to make it worth my while. There really isn’t a lot to ponder about this piece of dramatic literature, except for the moments where Sorkin takes the author’s liberty. For example. Although it’s quite witty and I’m sure it will give rise to a few giggles in the audience, I really don’t see the necessity of having Philo mistake Douglas Fairbanks for Charlie Chaplin during a situation that never actually occurred–even though its occurrence is implied in this reenactment. Also. Sorkin basically leaves the door open in his story about who snitched on Philo to David Sarnoff so that RCA could utilise it’s legal rights because of an invalid patent. It’s just not necessary to throw in sex-crazed secretaries has potential snitches. The problem is, Sorkin chose a story that is basically a narration by one of the characters who, conveniently, breaks the fourth wall. I suppose it would work if the rest of the story didn’t fail at dramatising something that was ultimately evil–which is ultimately nothing more than yet another example of the true nature of the American Way: greed, coercion, manipulation, authoritarianism, predatory capitalism, etc. Still. The story, as Sorkin has framed it, works well. It’ll entertain a few (an audience). An artist can ask for nothing more. That said. This play, as much as I like it (because I must), just didn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know and on top of that it basically does nothing more than avoids reality. With that in mind. The play kinda reminds me of something Eugene O’Neill might write if he were on ecstasy or meth or both. But then again O’Neill didn’t have the writing staff Sorkin has. Ok. Maybe the drug reference and O’Neill is a stretch. But I’m gonna stick with it only because I could have written Philo’s story better. That’s right. My story would be better because I would get much deeper into the American Way of things–as opposed to buttering it all up. Still. This play is a great read. I liked it. It’s sufficient. Well done Mr. Sorkin. And thank you–and all those like you–for allowing us Have-nots to live in your world.

Rant on.

-Tommi