Monday, May 25, 2015

Don't Let a Poet Rake Your Leaves

     I've taken on some landscaping work this spring and summer, more just to be outdoors and have some time away from screens and electronic devices than anything else. I'm working with another artist, a musician, and we often discuss how being outside away from televisions and computers is the best way to refuel the creative process. Because I was raking leaves the first poem that came to me was about raking leaves.

Don't Let a Poet Rake Your Leaves

Your wife will end up contemplating
Enjambment at the breakfast table
And the children will begin using your earnings
Reports to compose trioles.
If that poet takes off his shirt
Your mistress might crash the Civic
You bought her as she rounds the corner
Of Hemlock and Elm.
Save the money for a prop bet
And never let a poet rake your leaves
Even if he grew up in the carriage house
Of your estate.
Given enough time on your grounds
He'll turn the trumpet vines against you
And the orioles will compose ariels
Mocking your manhood....

     I began this poem at the beginning of last summer when I was doing some lawn maintenance work. It was nice to get outside and earn some money for our vacation, but as the summer progressed I began to wear down. I haven't finished this poem yet. 

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Freedom of Speech Is Not Important. Especially Yours.

The Dirty Tricks Squad doesn't think freedom of speech is important. Especially yours.

     Lovers of the written word and enforcers of freedom of expression have a very grave paradox to deal with in American culture, and it is this: freedom of speech is destroying the quality and force of the written word and burying under avalanches of pointless and hollow expression the very brave and vital perspectives that necessitate the eternal struggle for freedom of expression in the first place. Simply put: there's too much stupid out there and not enough genuine, inspired and novel. With the explosion of the cyber world everyone in America now has a blog and a website where they are the star and are free to parrot whatever synthesis and regurgitation of cultural events is currently being shoved down their gullet. Recently I was invited by my butcher to visit his blog, which I had hoped would reveal some wisdom and unique insight into the art of butchery, which I must confess I know little about (at least the animal physiognomy). Instead I was treated to yet another in depth analysis of the current season of American Idol.

         Freedom cheapens the value of freedom and obscures its rarity and absolute beauty. Freedom blunts the desire to contemplate the sacrifice and discipline necessary to maintain freedom. Like a cat who refuses to behold it's reflection one wonders if Americans are so fiercely in tune with the tragic misuse of our freedom that we hide behind our own banal, uninspired blogs and stubbornly refuse to behold our grotesque, bloated reflection. Has any civilization in history done less good with more resources than we have? Has any epoch in human history failed to produce more beauty and truth and reason to fight for the liberation of the human spirit than we have in the midst of the absolute freedom much better and truer minds suffered to provide us? 
  Freedom is enslavement. Only the keenest among us can accept this. Only the slave is a freedom fighter. All others are captors. We are the slave owners of the world. We are the ones who benefit from the enslavement of our fellow humans and do nothing. We are the ones with the gall and lack of irony to write incessantly about freedom and our greatness and goodness when we are neither and in fact quite the opposite: we are the weakest and the worst. Only enslavement can free us from our deep sleep. What Americans need is a great deal less freedom and a lot more opportunities to become freedom fighters.         

Take these examples: in Stalin's Russia some of the great poetry of the 20th century was written. Beautiful, symbolic pleas for freedom and liberty. Poets like Anna Ahkmatova and Lamerntov wove the case for the individual's right to express human emotions and desires into poems that unfolded like birdsong: somewhat confusing if one doesn't know the language but undeniable in it's message: freedom. These poets wrote knowing full well to be discovered was to be brutalized and imprisoned in barbaric camps like Baba Yar, but they wrote and published anyway. They led lives of privation and died badly in prison for having the courage to demand freedom, not only for themselves, but for all.         

You don't have this courage. Few Americans do. And it's an insult to those of us who have the balls to actually defend something to be deluged by your idiotic, unoriginal and cowardly banterings day after day. It's an insult to listen to rednecks and schills ape the old adage that our soldiers have died for our freedom throughout American history and we should thank them. Our soldiers have never fought for anything but the property rights of the elites and are pathetic victims of an evil ruling class. Indeed the only examples we have of our troops being used in the battle for freedom are in an effort to suppress freedom to benefit the ruling class. The labor movement where protesters and union organizers were murdered by American troops while attempting to champion fair wages, safe working conditions, the forty hour week and the abolition of child labor are one example. The Civil Rights movement, the Free Speech movement and each and every attempt to gain freedom and equality for an oppressed minority or unpopular principle were met with violence from American soldiers.         

The worst insult is that we are told we should "Thank the troops for fighting for our freedom." The only people who owe the troops a thank you is the few who benefit financially from their occupation of a foreign country. My freedom has never been threatened by anyone but agents of the United States of America. It is the troops who owe those of us with the courage to challenge the system a thank you. We are fighting for their freedom and safety and a thank you would be appreciated.  
The closest thing American history can offer to an actual freedom fighter is comic book creator William Gaines. Ya, I said it. At a time when anyone who wouldn't get in lock step with the current regime and anyone even suspected of entertaining ideas not endorsed by the elite was blacklisted and ostracized there were only a few people with the balls to say anything. It's not much different today. In fact in many ways it's worse.         

Here's a few examples of the cowardly nature of the modern American and why I believe most of you haven't earned the right to express yourself freely and restriction of your freedoms would actually lead to more happiness for you. Some of you might remember there was a little incident in New York when "someone" knocked down a couple of building with aeroplanes. The culprits were quickly identified as Arab terrorists and an oil-rich nation was subsequently attacked. It was irrelevant  to Americans that the terrorists identified couldn't possibly have planned or executed the terrorist attack and all evidence indicated that American elites had planned the attack in order to invade a nation that contained oil resources they desired. Then despite the fact that the county designated for attack was not even purported to have been involved in the terrorist act United States troops invaded and destroyed the country. Ironically, many people in the Executive branch profited greatly by having vested interests in the companies that produced the armaments used to destroy the country and also the companies that were awarded no bid contracts to rebuild the country. They also made a few billion dollars on the oil they now pumped out of the country.         

Remember that? I do. Just like it was a few years ago. What I remember predominantly is that almost no one in America spoke out against the war or the invasion of Iraq or raised any questions about the actual perpetrators of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center or challenged the billions and billions of dollars of profit those who were in the Executive Branch made while American troops, primarily minorities and the lower classes, died to defend the oil fields.         

Remember that? Virtually no one raised their voice to protest or demand accountability. I must admit a few hippies and greenies and generally weirdos did take to the streets but their protests seemed more like block parties than real protests. Ninety-five percent of the people agreed with the war and it was literally dangerous to disagree with this violent majority. I remember this clearly. People were adamantly convinced the war in Iraq was the right thing to do and if you disagreed you put yourself in physical danger.         

I took the trouble to waste three paragraphs of your time to make the point clear: virtually no one spoke up after 9/11 or the invasion of Iraq to challenge the prevailing opinion. Recently that changed. It's all but impossible to find anyone who claims to have supported the war or now believes it to be a good idea. Now I'm no math genius but since I know 95% supported the war and that now no one claims to have supported the war someone is lying. Not lying about a golf score or their age or how much money they make but lying about surrendering their freedom and laying down to give the Elite the power and authority to 's sick. use the volunteer Armed Forces of the United States to invade a foreign country merely to make a profit for a small, inhuman elite.         

That's sick. And cowardly. I refer to the American public not the Reptilian pigs who engineered the disgrace. They have never been anything but what they are now. They did this right in the open and with a near unanimous outcry of approval from the American people. No one said shit and those who did were shouted down, threatened and labeled un- American and unpatriotic.         

Isn't irony a bitch? Four years later the stigma has been removed from questioning the war and now the floodgates of ignorance are open and the cowardly and gutless feel the entitlement to tell the few of us who resisted from the first how they always were on our side. I looked around briefly in 2003 to see who was on my side and I didn't see anyone. To have even questioned the Executive Branch in 2003 was thought of as treasoness, but four years later even the mainstream will now joyfully hop the bandwagon and join in the debate whether or not the American government bombed its own citizens in order to profit.         

So, back to my assertion: the power of free speech is only as good those who have the courage, power and willingness to say something of value and uniqueness. We don't have that in America. We have an abundance of clever smartasses who can say something witty and culturally relevant about just about anything. We have 25 million bloggers explicating and interpolating on every topic from Global Warming to stand up comedy. We have 24 hour news networks and political pundits spouting at all hours of the day and the internet and Google and newspapers and websites and think tanks. What we don't have is a corp group of courageous and capable patriots and intellectuals with the balls to ignore the group think that has pervaded American culture and tell the people you're all full of shit.         

Even if we did the voice of those patriots would be drowned out by the herd of sheep bleating out whatever position their captors force down their throats and spending their intellectual resources on debating who should be voted off American Idol this week. (Note to future generations: you'll have to Google American Idol to realize the full farce of how much time people wasted discussing it while their civilization withered).         

So, free speech has become tits on a nun. I watched while the Executive branch and their Reptilian masters suspended your Constitutional rights one by one and I waited for all the self-avowed patriots and freedomsties to say something. I read the full provisions of the Patriot act and waited for someone, anyone, to stand up and protest. I must admit numbness when I heard that habeus corpus had been repealed and that the goons of the state could invade my privacy anytime and unwarranted. It didn't matter to me anymore. Do you know why? I'll tell you. I've always been the person who eventually lost his freedom to defend someone elses. I've always known and accepted it was incumbent upon me and those few like me to stand up and defend something. What I have trouble accepting is how the rest of you have shirked your responsibility to defend your own freedom and cowered before the will of the state and all but surrendered everything but your right to agree with whatever enslavement is forced upon you.         

It is a shame that Americans continue to enjoy freedoms that they no longer deserve. America has proven that it doesn't value its freedoms enough to even speak up when they are taken away. The fourth Amendment can seem abstract until the morning you are awakened from sleep by agents of the state standing over you with guns drawn. After this the right to privacy tends to elicit a greater appreciation. The First Amendment can seem unassailable when everyone can spout out whatever thought comes to mind in forums and through technologies thought inconceivable only years ago. Consider the insulting possibility that what you are saying has neither the relevance, courage or gravity to merit even the passing disgust of another human being. Consider the stinging evaluation that at your best you pose no threat to the cabal of the elite. It will not be you who is forced to oppose the true enemies of freedom. It is not you who will be awakened in darkness. Go back to your computer and write something clever and innocuous about something clever and innocuous. Someone else will fight your battles.         

Freedom is enslavement. Those of us who bear the greatest burden of freedom, the inability to lie, to say black is white and white is black, will continue to wander and babble among babblers in the largest of prison of all. 

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Why USA Network's Night Flight Was So Important In the 1980's

USA's Night Flight aired from 1981-1988

MTV debuted on August 1st 1981. USA Network's overnight video and music show Night Flight debuted June 5th 1981, featuring not only a healthy dose of videos from alternative bands, but B movies, interviews with artists and cultural figures, cult movies, short videos, cartoons, and stand up comedy. It was a lifeline to those of us living in small towns where there was little to no access to anything alternative or weird. In fact, in the town I lived in MTV was banned until 1985, but since they couldn't ban an entire network I looked forward to Friday and Saturday nights and Night Flight. 

The show began at 10 p.m. Central time, and lasted four hours. It was then reshown at 2 a.m., and the rising sun often found me sitting there watching that second showing in its entirety even though I had also watched the earlier showing. 

There was no "host" in the early years, just the voice of Pat Prescott doing an introduction to the individual pieces. It was the first place I encountered the Church of the Sub-Genius in the segment Love That Bob, and most likely the first time I saw the Devo video for "Whip It." other segments included New Wave Theater, featuring punk and New Wave bands, Atomic TV, featuring Cold War era videos, The Video Artist, and Tales From Tomorrow. No doubt about 99% of it was going right over my head at 13 years old, but I knew I liked it and longed for a world that was more like Night Flight than the small town reality of conformity and Revenge of the Nerds type bullies I existed in. The 80's really were a lot like the high school John Hughes' type movies about cool kids and jocks and freaks and geeks. Despite current fashion standards that geek is sheik, and being a nerd is cook, it sure wasn't in 1983. And that's what made Night Flight such a lifeline to geeks like me who were so outnumbered and so isolated in small towns across America.

Night of the Living Dead, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dementia 13, Eraserhead, and The Terror were shown in their entirety on Night Flight. There was nothing like it. MTV was nothing like it. Nothing like it existed before, during, or after its original run from 1981-1988. I guess you had to be there and know what it's like to live in a world without 24 hour access to every cool and new and interesting thing, and social media blasting out and sharing it all so we all virtually instantaneously can share in every new zeitgeist to understand what it meant to have just that one source of connection to someplace out there that contained people who thought and believed and created the way you did, and weren't punished or ostracized for it, they were revered. 

By the time Night Flight left the air in 1988 the era of grunge was about to sweep out the long national nightmare of Reagan, hair metal, and blind conformity. By 1990, everyone in America was cool, and  Night Flight was just one of dozens of ways one could access what was cool and hip and new. It was there for those who needed it at a time where there was almost no alternative. 

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Toughskin Rhinoceros Wrangler Company Second Printing

I wrote my first children's book, The Toughskin Rhinoceros Wrangler Company three years ago for my little guy Jack. The reason I wrote him a book about rhinos is that he was short and stubby and his chubby little legs reminded me of a rhinoceros. So I wrote a book about a little boy who was called every time rhinos escaped from a zoo. His mama drew the pictures, and his sister created a list of "Rhino Facts." And we published it. It turned out beautifully, and because we did such a small press run we ran out immediately. They sold so fast, in fact, that I didn't even get one. 

The picture you're looking at is me reading The Toughskin Rhinoceros Wrangler Company to Jack for the first time. After which he said "We should buy that book." That seemed like the perfect response. He lives with a poet and an artist mama and a big sister who has already written her first book at 11 so it doesn't seem at all odd to him that people make things. It is strange that this was the first time I had ever read it to him. We read books all the time, just not this one. 

We did a second printing recently. Life is going by like a blur. I've had a serious heart surgery since the first printing, and Jack is getting tall and lean and doesn't at all remind me of a stubby little rhinoceros anymore. The West African Black Rhino is gone from the planet forever since I wrote this book. All of life seems to be going by so fast. 

I'd like for you to buy a copy of this book. Reading it just now I realized I'd included some really adroit sprung rhythms that made me smile as I untangled them in the reading. One of my challenges as a writer writing for children for the first time was not being sing-songy with my rhymes or condescending in my message. I wanted to make sure I was writing something I'd want read to me if I was a child again. I remember my mother reading Syd Hoff's Julius the Gorilla book to me over and over as a child. It was one of my favorites.
Me reading the book I wrote for Jack for the first time

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I Didn't Catch a Crappie Mermaid At Pierce Lake

Went out to Pierce Lake at Rock Cut State Park Sunday. My brother had rented a cabin there by the lake, and we all got together and charred meats and hid beers in red cups and threw some fishing lines into the water. None of us was really very serious about fishing that day, but I did take a picture of this fishing chart for the lake.

If anyone has ever pulled a four foot Muskie out of Pierce Lake I'll be a dipsy do. Can't say for sure a fish like that doesn't exist, but I doubt anyone will ever catch one.

It's more likely someone will catch this Black Crappie mermaid before that four foot Muskie
There are two species of Crappie indigenous to North America, black and white. Their favorite habitat is highly vegetated, slightly acidic waters. They are a fish that likes to travel in schools, and will also school with other panfish. They like to congregate in submerged structures, but move out to deeper waters during the day, moving back to shore during dawn or dusk to feed. Crappies don't hibernate during winter, so they are prime targets for ice fishers. The largest crappie ever caught, both black and white, is five pounds. 

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Muskie Mermaid

Muskie Mermaid by Jenny Mathews

I've never fished. Well, I've been a few times, mostly as a child, and I've been invited a few times since then, but up until now I've never found the prospect that appealing. I suppose I should head across the street to Arnold's License Services soon and get my fishing license. I feel like fishing may be part of my future. I've heard the names of all these fishes Jenny transformed into mermaids in the past.

The Muskellunge, usually referred to as the muskie, is a long, slender fish that is often mistaken for the Northern Pike. Muskies are relatively rare in the United States. The largest muskie ever caught was 67 pounds and was caught in Wisconsin in 1949. Those receiving SNAP benefits would not be able to buy it. They have vicious, needle-like teeth, and no predators except humans. 

Muskies are ferocious predators, extremely elusive, and a challenge for even the most skilled angler. They spend most of their time laying in wait at the bottom of bodies of water. Because they strike so swiftly and violently, the sight of a muskie taking a lure is quite impressive. After catching a muskie it is important to use the right tools to avoid their razor sharp teeth. 

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mermaids of North America

Mermaids of North America
“Freshwater Mermaids are something I started working on when doing a public art project for the city of Beloit, WI. When I painted my first river mermaid, and it occurred to me the mermaids we are all used to seeing are ocean mermaids.  They are often long, and have flowing locks of hair to compliment their beautiful, sparkly and graceful bodies. We have seen them starring in movies and cartoons, and in popular culture all around us.  The famed oceanic mermaids have tails that move up and down like other swimming mammals, but freshwater mermaids live way up north in freshwater lakes and rivers.  I figured they probably do not leave for the winter, they are elusive, well camouflaged and quiet, and so obviously cold- blooded. Cold- blooded swimmers evolved differently, with a side-to-side swim movement, and a vertical tail and gills.  These are the primary differences between freshwater and salt-water mermaids.  Once I realized what I was looking for, it was easy to find what Freshwater Mermaids looked like.  Their elusive figures and faces revealed themselves to me every day, and I could hardly sketch fast enough. Unlike their glamorous saltwater sisters, they are as varied in shape, size and color as the women you see all around you every day.” -Jenny Mathews

Mathews' mermaids challenge stereotypes of female beauty, and societal standards of acceptable body types. These are not the typical depictions of the mythical creatures, instead they draw upon species of fishes indigenous to fresh-water bodies of water, primarily in the Midwest, but throughout all of North America. 
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