This month marks the third anniversary of Yo Ivanhoe, and considering the similarly wasted years I spent shoveling words in a similar hole (Open All Night) at City Pages, I’m not much in the mood to celebrate five years of futility.
When I first started doing this nonsense I was nothing but a clueless conscript to an online enterprise that meant absolutely nothing to me. Blogging? Seriously, what the fuck?
I still don’t understand it, but I’ll be damned if I haven’t blogged. And I’ve discovered that in five years a guy can shovel a serious shitload of words in a mighty big hole that just seems to get deeper and darker all the time.
Originally I decided to just approach this monkey business as an illogical extension of my usual pointless routines; every night for the last fifteen years I have sat down at the bottom of the day –usually in the wee hours– and written at least 300 words in a series of uniform, lined black books that now fill an entire small bookcase next to my desk. Most of those words are utter nonsense, and a small fraction of that nonsense has found its way here.
I never wanted the black books to resemble a diary, but I did want to be able to look back at those words and find enough recognizable clues –however small– that I would be able to remember the exact day and circumstances that I wrote them. Little things like snippets of conversation I might have overheard or engaged in that day, a quote from something I’d read, or details from someplace I’d stumbled into while traveling would work their way into each entry, usually as little more than launching points for something entirely else, but from these fragments –and this never ceases to astonish me– I can now piece together days and weeks and months of my life, often with such clarity that the black books really have come to function as diaries of a sort.
At some point I decided that this project (and at some point I did start to think of it as a project –I haven’t missed a single night since I violated that first page all those years ago) was a personal version of The Thousand and One Nights, with me playing the roles of both Scheherazade and King Dunyazad. I really believed those words and stories and stretches of impenetrable automatic writing were keeping me alive. Night after night they provided a bridge to another day, and somewhat to my surprise the days and nights did keep coming, and the words kept coming right along with them.
This part of that project has eaten up a lot of my time and energy, and there have been times when I’ve tried to wean myself, but I always seem to creep back. I’m not sure why, to be honest with you (and to be honest with you, I’ve seldom been honest with you, just as I’ve steadfastly refused to believe in your existence).
I guess, though, that there’s some sort of challenge to it. In the earliest days, and for a long time, actually, I would just move the words from the black books directly into cyberspace. As time went on, though, I started spending a bit more time fiddling with them, and trying to become a better writer. On many occasions over the last couple years by the time I finished fiddling and hit ‘post,’ the words that appeared here barely resembled the words I had originally written in one of the black books. I don’t know that they were truly improved, but the effort, and the time spent looking at them and thinking about them and moving them around felt like some sort of progress.
It still, though, doesn’t feel like real writing to me, and for the most part it still feels like a waste of time. But if I’ve learned one thing about myself over the last five years, it is that I am a Titan of wasted time –mine, and yours.
This is my life, more or less. This is who I am. This is what I do, and all I know how to do. I read books, look at photographs, listen to music, talk to my dog, ramble with my dog, literally stop breathing whenever I try to sleep, and get the hell out of town every chance I get.
I am trying to write a story about a bullfrog who falls in love with a cow, and a man who has his cat turned into a woman, and a goat who smokes a pipe, wears spectacles, and speaks the plain, hard truth. Old, old stories, every last one of them, yet still, I think, worth telling.
I worry, though, that I’m not long for this world. But who doesn’t?
I’ll leave you with some selections from the Yo Ivanhoe Commonplace Book, another in-progress and almost certainly never-to-be completed project of Open All Night, Inc.:
A Very Troubled Human Being
What if an
individual is perceiving a daydream and a series of external sensory inputs at
precisely the same time, and has lost the capacity to distinguish one from the
other? What happens to his perceptual world? Clearly he will be peopling his
universe of awareness with elements that are altogether private, presences
generated within which for him will be a genuine part of the real world; these
are what he sees, or hears, or is otherwise sensing. And should he then be
unable to differentiate these from his everyday perceptions, then indeed he may
move into a haunted, nightmarish world, and be a very troubled human being.
—Joseph D. Noshpitz,
“Reality Testing: A Neuropsychological Fantasy,” in Comprehensive
Mr T: A Flower Unfolding
No more small-time stuff for Mr. T. No more bit parts, no more local
talent jive….I call the shots. I am in a position to pick and choose. More
movies, more TV commercials, talk shows, speaking engagements, banquets,
receptions in my honor, autograph sessions, the red carpet treatment everywhere
In the words of my pastor, Henry Hardy, Mr. T, you are a shining star.
The heavens are warmed by your presence. You are a flower unfolding its petals.
The universe is alive with your fragrance. You are a voice caressing the dawn.
The silent spaces are filled with your joyous hope. This is your day! Live it
in love because you are an expression of the life of God.
T, Mr. T: The Man With The Gold. An Autobiography.
St. Martin’s Press, 1984
Talk Radio Explained
I’ve been poking through this great book, African All Stars: The Pop
Music of a Continent (Chris Stapleton and Chris May) for several days, and
last night I stumbled across the Yoruba word for radio, As’oromagb’esi,
which is literally translated “One who speaks without expecting a
Also, here’s a terrific quote from Ko Nimo, a Ghanaian musician: “The
old people are my friends. I think of them as libraries on fire. They are
passing away….as a musician you must be versed in the history of your
The Bush Bible
shall conquer every fortified city, and every choice city, and you shall fell
every good tree, and stop up all springs of water, and ruin every good piece of
Elvis In Prophecy
For Memphis shall become a
waste, a ruin, without inhabitant.
The Gospel According to Red
…For the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
Of the Frying Pan As An Instrument of Torture
Mention is made of the frying pan in the Second Book of the Maccabees (Ch. VII) and in very many collections of the Acts of the Blessed Martyrs, as of St. Eleutherius the Bishop, Saints Fausta and Justina, virgins and martyrs.
frying pan –if we may trust the the natural meaning of the word and
the afore-named histories of the Blessed Martyrs– was a wide open dish
or plate, which (as the Acts of the Martyrs bear witness) was
filled with oil, pitch, resin, or sulphur, and then set over a fire;
and when it began to boil and bubble, then were Christians of either
sex thrown into it, such as had persisted steadfastly and boldly in the
profession of Christ’s faith, to the end they might be roasted and
fried like fishes cast into boiling oil.
–Rev. Antonio Gallonio, Tortures and Torments of the Christian Martyrs
Madame Curie Dreams of Radium
Pierre and Marie, alone in their poor place, left their apparatus for a moment
and quietly let their tongues run on, their talk about their
beloved radium passed from the transcendent to the childish.
I wonder what it will be
like, what it will look like, Marie said one day with the feverish curiosity of
a child who has been promised a toy. Pierre, what form do you imagine it will take?
I don’t know, the physicist answered
To which Marie replied, I should like it to have a
very beautiful color….
Curie, from Madame Curie
Amish Recruitment Drive: Serious Replies Only
men and women to join ongoing, harshly-restrictive experiment in rural
living. Requirements: severe dress code, piety, hard work, frugality,
and facial hair for the gentlemen (with the understanding, of course,
that one can’t get blood from a stone). Bee-keeping skills a plus.
Absolutely no modern monkey business.
–Classified advertisement, Grit. January 5, 1988
Socrates: The Man Could Hold His Liquor
And we are
told that Socrates, though indifferent to wine, could, on occasion, drink more
than anybody else, without ever becoming intoxicated.
Russell, A History of Western Philosophy
Adventures in Etymology
How about this definition (from Cooper’s Thesaurus Linguae Romanae and Britannicae) for ‘fanatic,’ by way of the Latin fanaticus:
‘Ravished by a propheticall sprite’? And how can you not like a word like absquatulate,
and wonder not just at its meaning but also it’s origins? (To make off,
away, skedaddle –one marvel to define another, and, as for origin, the
experts throw up their arms). The etymology of abstruse couldn’t
be more perfect: from the Latin abstrudere, to push away. And here is
the lovely South African name for an antelope: klipspringer (cliff
springer). Finally, I give you the Greek origins for testicles,
translated literally as ‘bystanders.’
Curiosities of Science
year 1639, a woman was delivered of two eggs at Sundby, one of which was sent
to Olaus Worm the famous naturalist, with ‘attestation signed by
Ericus Westergard, Rotalph Rakestad and Thor Venes, coadjutors of the pastor in
the parish of Niaess.’
certified, that upon ‘the 20th of May in that year, by the command of the
Lord President in Remerige, the lord Paulus Tranius pastor in Niaess, we went
to receive an account of the monstrous birth in Sundby by Anna, the daughter of
Amundus and wife of Gudbrandas Erlandsonius. Upon the 7th day of April she
began to grow ill and her neighbors came to her assistance. She brought forth
an egg like that of a hen which was broken by the women present. They found
that in it the yolk and white answered directly to the common egg. Upon the
18th of April, about noon, she was delivered of another egg, which in figure
was nothing different than the former. The mother reported this to us and the
woman with her confirmed the truth of it.’
Worn, the ornament of the University, preserved the egg in his study to be seen
of as many as please.
This story is
reminiscent of the case of Mary Tofts, ‘the rabbit-breeding woman,’ who deceived some of the
leading physicians in the time of George II by her assertion that she had given
birth to a number of living rabbits.
Thompson, The Mystery and Lore of Monsters. 1930
The Perils of Home Schooling
We are a
community theater whose players are comprised of home-schooled Southwest area
children between the ages of five and eighteen, devoted to enriching the lives
of our children and our neighborhoods through challenging and creative explorations of stories, ideas, and identities –in short, the very best of
the theater arts. Our first offering of the 2003 season will be a performance
of Harold Pinter’s The
Homecoming, with 11-year-old Tim Rickard in the role of Max, the aging patriarch
of a dysfunctional London
—From The Southwest Harbor
Gazette, June 14, 2003
Auto-Eroticism: A Brief Reader
serious psychic struggle that the onanists undergo before they yield to the
temptation of going through the act. They surround themselves with a thousand
oaths, they try to protect themselves with prayers and resolutions, etc. They
are strongly determined not to fall again! If they must yield –this one time–
let it be the last! And yet, in spite of all self-conjurations and in spite of
all their resolutions, the instinctive craving persists within them and –there
is a ‘next
yield once more; they slip back, again and again, in spite of everything. The
spiritual katzenjammer of defeat naturally brings on a severe depression.
A young man,
23 years of age, showing all the typical signs of a severe neurosis confesses
that for the past two years he has given up the habit of masturbation. Since
that time he suffers from anxiety attacks and sleeplessness. Freud, as is well
known, has pointed out that masturbators become victims of anxiety neurosis
when they give up the habit. They become unable to live without masturbating.
Any physician is able to verify this pertinent revelation. We find the most
severe neuroses among those who give up the long-standing habit.
[The female patient] was
firmly convinced that indulgence in the habit had made her ill. She resolved to
masturbate no longer and kept to her resolution for about three weeks…. Then
she was amazed to find herself masturbating during a state of
half-consciousness. Great was her horror, and she now feared going to sleep;
she tied a bandage around her pelvic region, and woke up from sleep with a
feeling of dread. Nevertheless her craving was supreme and she felt herself
giving in. She could not bear the thought of confessing to her husband. He held
so lofty a view of woman’s purity that he would have scorned her and
possibly would have left her. But she loved him passionately and could not live
without him. In her dilemma she decided she must die, took a large dose of
veronal, and wrote her husband a parting letter, which I reproduce below as a
touching document illustrating the depths of human suffering….
When you read
this letter I won’t be among the living any more. I pay with death for my
wrong. I cannot keep on under the burden of a terrible habit, while you held me
to be a pure woman. So, therefore, know: since childhood I have practiced
masturbation. The habit began during childhood and I have kept it up after
marriage. Finding myself too weak to give up the habit, unaided, finding that
the consequences of this terrible habit already begun to show themselves, and
as I do not want to burden you with a sick wife, I part voluntarily and give up
this life, though with heavy heart. Indeed, how shall I look you in the face,
how shall I look my children in the face, when I find myself so badly dishonored
No! I cannot
stand this any longer. For the love you have so richly bestowed on me, I thank
you. I wish you the company of a woman worthy of your confidence and love. Do
find a woman worthy of you. Kiss our dear children for me. It is hardest to
part from you.
Forgive me. I
cannot help it.
My last sighs
go out to you.
examination of this case reveals two important facts: first, that ideas of
suicide bear a certain relationship to masturbation….
represents merely the extreme consequence of abstinence. It is possible to
construct a scale, approximately as follows: anxiety neurosis, hypochondria,
moodiness, depression, melancholia, suicide. From the day masturbation is given
up life ceases to be worth while….These cases demonstrate to our satisfaction
that many persons are unable to live without masturbating and that they would
rather renounce living altogether than try to get along without their customary
suicide through the abuse of masturbation is by no means rare; it is a
particularly frequent occurrence in jails. This form of self-annihilation
I have called ‘chronic suicide.’
–From Wilhelm Stekl’s Auto-Eroticism. 1950