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Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

Visual Art – Creative Writing – Social Commentary

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Reviews of concerts, film, writing and art

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Shopping

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Shopping

It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon, two days before the Winter Solstice. There are no flowers blooming, no buds bursting forth, no harkening to the delightful song of peepers in the pond. Instead, wind howls like the furies over piles of icy snow. At this very moment, members of the Electoral College are casting their votes for the 45th president of the United States and I sit here, still in my jammies, “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” This anachronistic expression has its roots in urban tenement life and alludes to a person waiting for the second shoe to drop after being awakened by an upstairs neighbor loudly dropping a shoe on the floor. In this case,I think it’s safe to say the other shoe has already dropped and it’s all over but the crying.

If climate change with its unseasonable and unreasonable weather patterns, polar vortexes, melting ice caps, rising sea levels, wildfires, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, super volcanoes and solar flares aren’t enough to worry about, there are plenty of other boogeymen and evil clowns lurking under the bed to haunt my dreams in the wee, wee hours. At least one of them has a tragic hairstyle with an extreme comb-over. Never mind that a deer tick smaller than a poppy seed lurking in the grass is capable of inflicting an unholy host of autoimmune disorders. It almost makes me glad the lawn will be covered by a sheet of tundra ice until April.

The American political landscape is a 3 ring circus, a carnival freak show, a Wrestlemania smack down, an episode of the Jerry Springer Show meets Family Feud. While I had no illusions that the country was filled with happy campers from sea to shining sea, I had no idea that so many people were so pissed off about so many things, all at the same time. It’s kind of harshing my mellow. Why can’t we all just get along?

The super wealthy and all-powerful squirrel away fortunes in shell corporations and off-shore cookie jars. They buy up abandoned nuclear missile silos and build bunkers designed to withstand the impact of Planet X striking the Earth. It makes me wonder how far the spare change in my sock drawer and that extra can of Spaghettios in the pantry will take me when it all hits the fan.

I shouldn’t whine. When I think about it, I have so much to be grateful for. I’ve got my health, my demure figure, and more of most anything that I really need. I have food, clothing, shelter, modest resources and access to medical care and a social network in a place where everything isn’t blowing up or blowing away. Really. What more could I ask for? Well, maybe a little more leg room in Economy on commercial flights and tequila that is actually good for me. But still, I can’t seem to shake this sense of existential dread. Although maybe existential dread is itself a luxury? Who has time for existential dread when you’re trying to outrun a hungry lion, hide out from killer robots, or work two minimum wage jobs just trying to eke out an existence? What’s it all about Alfie?

But what truly effective action can one take to prepare for just about anything that might happen at any time? Some people become hardcore preppers and stockpile enough ammo and supplies to arm a militia and survive for years in a bunker. Some people count on being rescued by aliens, while others find solace in religion and await the Second Coming and the Rapture. Still others turn on, drop out and tune in to America’s Got Talent which really is just a 21st century version of Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour. This, and The Lawrence Welk Show ruled the airwaves during the infancy of television. Even as a young child, those shows evoked in me profound feelings of existential ennui with so much cognitive dissonance that I thought I must be witnessing an alien invasion. Although, seeing an Amateur Hour contestant enthusiastically play The Star Spangled Banner on his dentures as if they were a xylophone, did leave an indelible impression on my unformed psyche.

Anyway, what does one do as it appears that the human race may be sliding irrevocably into dystopia? Squat down in the back yard, covering our collective asses with our hats and scan the skies for the apocalypse? Maybe six pack abs would help, although a six pack of IPA would be better. Perhaps positive affirmations or motivational phrases might be the ticket. Something like “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Hunter S. Thompson’s version of that was: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Maybe he meant when things get weird, people who have always been weird really come into their own or get even weirder. That certainly seems to be the case in what is evolving into a collective TV reality show.

But seriously, how does an ordinary Joe like myself respond to the threats we now face? What can artists do in the face of such madness? The artistic community in Europe, responded to the horror and brutality of World War I with the Dada movement, a clarion call to awaken modern art from its slumber. It was a call to renewed awareness and a new kind of social action as paradigms shifted and the old ways of doing things fell away. We are at a similar juncture at this point in history. Perhaps one of my responsibilities as an artist in these times is to persist in the face of adversity, and continue to try to make art that matters; art that helps elevate the human spirit and brings light and levity to the darkness. Be vigilant. Remain aware. Stay awake. Stay connected. Model civility. Perform random acts of kindness. Offer moral, emotional and economic support to each other. Be kind, but remain fierce. Keep your chin up and your eyes fixed on the horizon.

These thoughts do make me feel a little better. There are things I can do, even if it’s a little bit each day. Although, to begin, it wouldn’t hurt to actually put on some real clothes before 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Get out there. DO something. Even if it’s to go shopping, because when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. Even though going to the store in one’s pajamas has somehow become the new normal, the least I can do is to go shopping in something resembling a civilized dress code.

 

 

 

To Do List

To Do List

Before enlightenment

Haul water Chop wood

After enlightenment

Haul water Chop wood

In between

Haul ass

Mister Paul
Mr. Paul

MGM

Summer Solstice 2016

Drive-By Book Review “Spent” by Antonia Crane

Spent by Antonia Crane

Published 2014,  Rare Bird Books, A Barnacle Book

Spent cover

I just finished reading Antonia Crane’s gripping memoir Spent, and I realize it happened again. I fell hard for a book. After inevitably coming to the end, I am, once again, left wondering “Now what in the Hell am I supposed to do?” I end up doing the only thing I can do in a case like this. I talk about it. I used to write book reviews, but it’s something I really don’t do much anymore. However, there are times when a book really lights a fire and truly captures my interest, and the best way for me to process what I’ve just read is to talk about it, and sometimes rant and rave about it. That’s what’s happening here. To be clear, I am not even attempting to write a piece of serious literary criticism. This is just me responding, reacting, processing. This is me just sayin’: “You gotta read this book!”

 Spent gathers early momentum with a depiction of Antonia Crane’s childhood in coastal northern California, the disintegration of her family life and her coming of age in a small town that just doesn’t offer enough to keep her there. She moves to San Francisco and later to LA, where she supports herself by stripping. She lives a bohemian, alternative lifestyle, hits bottom doing hard drugs, but finds connections that lead her to sobriety. She becomes a powerful political activist within the sex worker industry, earns an undergraduate degree and enrolls in graduate school. Crane’s reconnection with her mother is heart breaking as it occurs just as her mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer. At a new low, with no other resources, Crane returns to sex work which leads to an arrest. This serves as a clarion call to change her life. At the risk of sounding trite, the old adage “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” seems to apply here. While the sex industry is the setting for Antonia Crane’s journey, on a deeper level, it is a memoir about the human condition, the search for meaning and finding one’s purpose, and the importance of connection through family and community.

Every so often I’m lucky enough to come across a book that is so well written, so personal, so honest and unflinching and so compelling that I never want it to end. I just want to go on and on, living with those characters in that world. I wish I could say that about all the books I read, but I can’t. It’s not to say that they are not good books or well written, but, for whatever reason, they just don’t command my attention and engagement the way this one does. Spent is a special book, a searing memoir that got under my skin in a serious way and left me hungry and longing for more.

Antonia Crane is an articulate and vibrant story teller and a force of nature as a performance artist. I’ve had the good fortune to actually see and hear her read selections from this book on two separate occasions, once in Boston and again in Seattle, shortly after publication. I was a participant in the reading in Boston. It was my first public reading and I was nervous. There was a timer on the podium to help us keep our readings to the allotted four minute limit. Ironically, it looked like a dildo and started blinking red to signal 30 seconds to wrap things up. I was on the schedule immediately following somebody I’d never heard of named Antonia Crane. The author hosting the reading called her name and I watched as she emerged from behind a pillar across the room. She was tall, blonde, athletic looking, dressed in black leather, with muscular tattooed arms. She approached the podium looking like some kind of Viking warrior goddess and delivered a reading about rough gay bondage sex fueled by crystal meth. She had the audience enthralled. The timer started blinking at the 30 second mark and Crane quickened her pace, picked up the timer and held it aloft as if she were the Statue of Liberty, dramatically finishing her piece just as the timer went off. She tore it up and brought down the house. It was unquestionably the best reading of the event. And there I was, holding a crumpled piece of paper with my staid, little poem, dressed in my tweed jacket with patches on the elbows and I had to follow that. It was like the teeny bopper pop group, The Monkees following a mercurial guitar player named Jimi Hendrix. I’ll never forget it.

Everyone has some kind of story to tell. But not every story is worthy of a written memoir. Memoir writing takes a very unique and special kind of skill. It requires an almost mystical legerdemain to put the reader inside the author’s head and Antonia Crane totally pulls it off. Spent is a memoir right up there with the very best. It goes toe to toe with some of my favorites such as Kate Braverman’s Lithium For Medea and Frantic Transmissions To And From Los Angeles , Ghost Bread by Sonja Livingston, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Just Kids and M Train by Patti Smith, Things I Like About America and 501 Minutes To Christ by Poe Ballantine and Chronicles by Bob Dylan. These are the Titans of Modern Memoir in my world and Antonia Crane is right up there on Mount Olympus with the rest of them and the best of them.

Antonia Crane is an author, writer and teacher. She has worked as an adult dancer and performer. Her writing has been published in The Rumpus, Black Clock, ZYZZYVA, Slake, Smith Magazine, and The Los Angeles Review. She received her MFA in creative writing at Antioch University. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in the UCLA Extension Writers Program.

Find links to her publications at http://www.antoniacrane.com

Also listen to a wonderfully entertaining and informative interview with Brad Listi at

http://otherppl.com/antonia-crane-interview/

Drive-By Book Review: Beyond Redemption by Gary V. Powell

Book Review: Beyond Redemption by Gary V. Powell

2015 Fiction 121 pages

I tend to like flash fiction and short stories in general, but I am absolutely knocked out by the flash fiction and short stories in Gary V. Powell’s gem of a collection Beyond Redemption. I wonder if Gary Powell’s training in the law helped him to develop a disciplined approach to writing in such a powerfully concise style that gets straight to the point. He knows exactly how and where to pack the power in his punches. His prose is lean, compact and taut, yet lyrical and poetic enough to be powerfully evocative and compelling. It takes great skill to compress all of the necessary story elements into this kind of short form and Gary Powell does it with aplomb.

Beyond Redemption consists of 20 pieces, 18 of which have previously appeared in various literary journals, and every one of them is a winner. If this were an old school record album, then this could easily be a collection of his greatest hits.

Beyond Redemption explores the struggles of adolescents to assert themselves, young people coming of age, middle aged couples coming to grips with broken dreams and broken relationships, laid off factory workers, patients in a psych ward, people struggling to reconcile dreams of the past with the reality of the present, and people bumped, bruised and dinged up by life, but who find a way to dig deep and muster the resolve to keep on keepin’ on. Conflict lies at the heart of each piece and creates the tension that drives it. However, these are not depressing stories. Each one of them is, in some way, about resiliency of the human spirit.

Powell demonstrates an impressive ability to drop the reader into a specific time and place while wearing the character’s point of view like a second skin. He is not constrained by age or gender. Powell writes just as convincingly from the point of view of an angst ridden teenage girl looking for acceptance as he does from that of a disaffected middle aged man plodding through an unrewarding corporate career.

Many of the stories are colored by a very recognizable regional mid western flavor with references to Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and the Great Lakes. However, Powell writes just as convincingly about the deep south and the bayou country of Louisiana. Gary Powell is a great story teller who is, in my opinion, in the same league as widely recognized contemporary masters of the form including Tobias Wolff, Amy Hempel and Ann Beattie. Beyond Redemption is a collection well worth reading and my only regret is that I came to the end of it.

About the author:

Author photo

Gary V. Powell’s stories and flash fiction have been widely-published in both print and online literary magazines including most recently at The Thomas Wolfe Review, Fiction Southeast, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Best New Writing 2015.  In addition to being the winner of the 2014 Gover Prize for short-short fiction, several of his stories have placed in other national contests including The Press 53 Prize (2012), Glimmer Train (2013) and The Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize (2014).

His first novel, Lucky Bastard, was recently published by Main Street Rag Press.

For this, and more of his work visit http://www.authorgaryvpowell.com

From North Beach

North Beach (1)

Like Quicksand

We walk the streets of North Beach
follow the footsteps of Ferlinghetti
and the ghosts of Ginsberg and Kerouac.
In Washington Square Park,
under St. Peter and Paul’s twin spires,
an old hippie sits on a bench,
finger picks a vintage Epiphone guitar.

Next to him, another man
stares off into space,
cradles his mandolin, listens.
Joe Dimaggio marries Marilyn Monroe
in that church, she lifts her veil,
steals a kiss on the granite steps;
here in Joe’s home town.

Italian restaurants and coal fired pizza,
storied nightclubs and tattoo parlors,
psychic readers, butchers, bakers
and kite makers.
The City Lights Bookstore
stands like a shrine, a beacon.
Ground zero for a revolution.

A man lies fast asleep on the ground, under
a sparkling, golden sky and a pile of clothes
in the middle of the afternoon.
Some changes happen before we notice,
others sneak by under our noses,
but Time, a slow train runnin’
creeps up like quicksand.

Book Review: F250 by Bud Smith

Book Review: F250 by Bud Smith

Piscataway House Publications 2014

Fiction 230 pages

“It’s a novel about a noise band, some car crashes, kids with bloody faces, strange loves….” Bud Smith on F250

Thus reads Bud Smith’s hyper minimalist synopsis of his own novel F250. While this does summarize some of F250’s plot points with hilarious, deadpan understatement, needless to say, F250 is much, much more.

Set against a backdrop of the Jersey Shore somewhere around 2003-2004, the novel’s narrator and protagonist, Lee Casey, plays in a noise band called Otter Meat. The band teeters on the edge of either breaking big or breaking up and the dream of moving to LA beckons like some sort of mythical land of Milk and Honey. Lee works a day job as a stone mason. He hauls rocks, gravel and cement, his scant personal possessions, musical equipment, and his friends in his F250, a battered old workhorse of a truck that seems to crash into things like a heat seeking missile. Lagoon House is the dilapidated house in the process of being systematically demolished that serves as living space, party house, crucible and metaphor for a colorful and motley cast of characters going through life’s momentous changes together.

F250 depicts a group of friends whose lives are changing and evolving into something new as their old lives fall away. Preconceived notions of personal identity morph and grow into something new. It’s a story of farewell to youth and coming of age into adulthood and a story of self examination and self realization. F250 celebrates synchronicities and the peculiar kind of ephemeral magic that occurs as peoples’ individual orbits briefly come together before once again separating and twinkling into the heavens like the Perseid meteor shower. It’s about how the flash of one monumental event can change everything forever. F250 is about coming to grips with mortality and human frailty as we learn to understand our own individual gifts and strengths. F250 is about learning to forgive and to accept ourselves for who we really are and others for who they really are.

Some passages of descriptive prose are pure poetry.

“Outside, everything flickered like the world was film being fed through an 8mm grindhouse projector. Splatters of light struck everywhere reflective, creating a slowly rotating light show – glass and high sheen metallics caught the last rays of the falling sun. Reality was exaggerated. Colors were over-saturated: thick green, gold, plum.”

With references to regional cultural icons like Kiss, Bruce Springsteen and Thunder Road, Seaside Amusement Park, beaches, boardwalks, the Pine Barrens, Jersey salt marshes and 4th of July on the Jersey Shore, Bud Smith captures a unique slice of life and a snapshot of Americana at a particular time and place with lyrical agility and an unflinching eye. The book is also an exorcism, Last Rites, Kaddish, a memorial, and a celebration of life and love for each other.

With F250, Bud Smith has written his own “Moveable Feast” of sorts, with reflections based largely on his life as a younger man on the Jersey Shore; woven into a realistic work of fiction that is a totally enthralling and enjoyable read. With passages of cinematic prose and dialogue that captures moment to moment banter in spot-on colloquial fashion and characters large as life, Smith weaves a tale that is so engrossing and compelling that you won’t want to come to the end of it. At least I didn’t. It’s one of those books I could have devoured, but took forever to read, because then what the Hell was I going to do? It was like saying goodbye forever to my best friends.

F250 is a great book and Bud Smith is a hopeless romantic, which is a great thing to be in this fucked up world. I hope that Bud Smith revisits these characters in a future novel. The potential is there, and I would very much like to reconnect with these old friends as our lives once again intersect at some point down the road.

About the Author

Bud Smith is the author of the novel Tollbooth,  the short story collection, Or Something Like That, and the poetry collection, Everything Neon. He works heavy construction, lives in New York City and has a pet jackalope.

F250 Bud Smith

Bud Smith reviews Kevin Ridgeway’s “Riding Off Into That Strange Technicolor Sunset” for MadHat Drive-By Book Reviews

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I am very pleased to welcome Bud Smith on board as a guest reviewer for MadHat Drive-By Book Reviews with his insightful review of Kevin Ridgeway’s “Riding Off Into That Strange Technicolor Sunset.”

http://madhatarts.com/madhatreviews/bud-smith-reviews-riding-off-into-that-strange-technicolor-sunset-by-kevin-ridgeway/

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Book Review: What Happened Here: a novella & stories by Bonnie ZoBell

My review of Bonnie ZoBell’s wonderful book What Happened Here: a novella & stories is up on MadHat’s Drive-By Book Reviews.

http://madhatarts.com/madhatreviews/book-review-what-happened-here-a-novella-stories-by-bonnie-zobell/

Final-Cover-What-happened-Here

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

ripvan-pic

(attribution ~ http://americasstudies.com/)

My physician recently recommended that I undergo a sleep study. This took place in a sleep lab where my private room was like a high end hotel room without windows, a mini bar or private kidney shaped hot tub. And, by the way, I was hooked up to 30 electrodes, and a device pinching my right index finger while under the scrutiny of an infrared video camera. The electrodes were hooked up to various parts of my body, although the majority of them were attached to my head with some kind of waxy gel that made me look like a character in Clive barker’s cult classic horror film “Hell Raiser.”

hellraiserfeat

Nighty night, sleep tight. I’ve never been one to count sheep anyway and it certainly didn’t work for me under those circumstances. Honestly, it felt like I didn’t sleep a wink. Although apparently I dozed off long enough to record enough data to analyze my sleep patterns, which revealed that I have severe sleep apnea.

Simply put, sleep apnea is a condition where your airway relaxes and constricts to the point where you actually stop breathing. This happens with enough frequency to actually prevent falling into a deep, restorative asleep. I had multiple such events recorded within a one hour period where I was not breathing for as long as 58 seconds. That’s almost a minute! I can’t hold my breath for a minute when I’m conscious. At that rate, I should be training for competitive free diving or spearfishing.

poseidon3

After learning some of the possible outcomes of untreated sleep apnea include obesity, heart attack, stroke, dementia and sudden death, I didn’t need too much convincing to begin using a CPAP machine. CPAP is an acronym for “Continued Positive Airway Pressure” which is delivered from a machine through a mask or nosepiece. The pumped air keeps my airway from constricting or closing altogether, thus ensuring that I continue to breathe while actually falling into restorative sleep. I figured I may as well go all in and opted for the complete Darth Vader CPAP Starter kit. This includes a Darth Vader mask, helmet, cape, storm trooper boots and a continuous recording of James Earl Jones saying: “Luke, I am your Father!”

Grumpy cat

So, now I now need a machine to sleep. It’s just comforting to know that along with all of my e mail, phone calls, credit card purchases and social networking activity being monitored by the NSA, all of my sleep data is now uploaded to a satellite in space. It’s nice to know somebody cares!

Although, as one of my friends pointed out: “They’re certainly watching but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they care.”

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