Sunday, March 29, 2009


First of all I want to apologize for the non-blogging over the past week. Now that Facebook has replaced this blog as the place to find my impulsive pop culture lists, I've been a bit remiss. I'll try to change that.

What's the most embarrassing thing that can happen to a responsible adult like me while in a car with my mother?

Yep, that's right. I got a ticket for having an expired registration on my car. I happened to get the ticket with my mother in the car next to me. The Pasadena police happened to pull me over during the only five-minute period over the past six months in which my mother has been a passenger in my car.

Apparently I was supposed to renew my registration in January. I was confused. Until I got the CRV, my registration has always been due in April. This goes back over 10 years with two cars in two states. April means springtime, baseball season, tax time, and new little stickers for my license plate. I bought the CRV used and its registration is apparently due in January. Oops. I do remember getting the notice from the DMV back around Christmas. I thought they were giving me extreme advance notice.

Luckily all I have to do is pay the registration, take the ticket and proof of regsistraion to a Pasadena judge and pay a $10 administrative fee. But the true cost of the experience is my mom saying "I can't believe this" in her most judgmental, most Swedish accent.

(And yes - I bought the CRV in 2007. When I renewed the registration in 2008, I did it in January. Yet, the April date was still stuck in my head.)

This brings me to an important issue: My level of responsibility. There is a clear discrepnacy between these elements of my life:
My Ph.D.
My alphabetized, choronologied-within-artist CD shelf
My consistently managed web presence
My reliable cat feeding behavior
My perfectly even sideburns
And these elements of my life:
My irresponsibility in paying bills on time
The frustration I have most mornings in not finding a matched pair of socks
My incomprehensible method of storing data files on my work computer
The number of CD boxes on the perfectly organized shelf that are missing their CDs
My worse-than-it-needs-to-be credit card debt (but yes I have plan)
How do I reconcile these two lists? Is the first list really accurate? Was my Ph.D. an accident of time and circumstance? Would Lily mention that most days she gets smushies (i.e., canned food)
in the morning but sometimes she has to wait until the evening? (She always has dry food and water though. Always.) Are my sideburns really even?

Rather than analyzing and reconciling the two "sides" of me, I will simply resolve to be more responsible from this point on. My upcoming move will simplify my life a bit. I'll have to get rid of some unnecessary stuff. The lower rent will put a dent in the debt. (That last sentence is pure poetry.) I'll make a spreadsheet of my responsibilities. I'll put it on my refrigerator if only I had a big refrigerator magnet. I'll take walks along the ocean and look out at the sailboats and the cargo ships. I'll pair up my socks and buy some new ones because I deserve it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Robot or Ghost?

I'm writing this on the windiest day I've experienced in quite a while. My cat Lily is clinging to me, purring and sensing danger. The final episode of this season's Big Love is on in the background. I'm cold. There's laundry to be done. I need to sleep. The view outside is dark and cloudy and fuzzy and twinkling. I'm thinking of leaving the view of the hills behind and replacing it with something smaller, less far reaching. I sense the need for change.

The scene I just watched was heart-crushing. Nikki... knowing something with certainty, wanting something for someone else, unable to act, unable to change minds.

And now my mind is racing as I'm warmed by a cat, chilled by a wind, and shocked by a plot development. I want the racing replaced by peace. I want the peace to be easy and long-lasting. I want people to stop going away, to start coming back. I want all the papers on my desk at work to be organized. I want to swim tomorrow - midday, between meetings.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

One Night in Cleveland, One Decade in Dinkytown, and One Lifetime in the "Family": 2009 NCAA Picks

I will continue my sort-of annual habit of predicting the NCAA basketball tournament. I will blend my half-assed knowledge of college basketball (some years I know a lot; this year I do not) with my personal experiences with each college and/or city, throwing in pop culture references. Seeds in parentheses (lower number = better team). Enjoy.

Midwest Region

Louisville (1) vs. Morehead State (16)
Again, I struggle with the karmic clash between loathsome Louisville coach Rick Pitino and heroic/brilliant Louisville singer-songwriter Will Oldham (aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy). I say that the two cancel each other out. But do they? Is Billy's new album cover really enough to nullify Pitino's arrogant asshole-ish talentless arrogance? Maybe not but Louisville is a far better basketball team. My pick: Louisville.

Ohio State (8) vs. Siena (9)
I got nothing. My pick: Siena.

Utah (5) vs. Arizona (12)

Big Love vs. the Meat Puppets. Uh oh. That's a close one. Big Love is having its best season. My pick: Utah.

Wake Forest (4) vs. Cleveland State (13)
I once spent an amazing few hours in Cleveland one summer night in the 1980s. My pick: Cleveland State.

West Virginia (6) vs. Dayton (11)

Struggling to come up with something funny. My pick: West Virginia.

Kansas (3) vs. North Dakota State (14)
I would love if the gutty hoopsters from Fargo won in a Coen Bros.-inspired upset in a game played in Minneapolis of all places. Marge Gunderson could roll down south and east over the white prairie sheets while her husband hits the buffet back home. She could have lunch with her old crying friend at the Radisson and maybe catch a Jose Feliciano show over at the Carlton Celebrity Room. Maybe that one girl from White Bear and the other one from Normandale could hang out with her. Yeah if NSDU won, it would be a good story. Even if it might hurt (it wouldn't) my friend who spent some time at KU. It would be pretty cool. But god people from the Dakotas are annoying and potentially insufferable. But that's mostly South Dakota. And even within SD that's mostly those upriver folk. Or is it downriver? My pick: North Dakota State.

Boston College (7) vs. USC (10)
This is my first year of employment at USC where I haven't attended at least one basketball game. But I have a feeling this is the year they will go far. Besides, my nephew applied to USC but explicitly told me he would attend Boston College if both schools admitted him so it would be fun to see BC lose. Really? You'd turn down an offer to join the #27 school in the country, to be part of the Trojan Family, you'd turn that down to spend four years in hellhole Boston with its pale drunk college students and its horrid infrastructure at a school that doesn't even get close to the top 40, academics-wise? Would you really do that Tommy? You would? Yeah so would I. My pick: USC.

Michigan State (2) vs. Robert Morris (15)
Abbreviated version of my history with an MSU grad: "It could have been me." Collectible tourist spoons. Pensions. Indian food. Grosse Pointe Blank. Soul Coughing. My pick: Michigan State.

West Region

Connecticut (1) vs. Chattanooga (16)
Whatever. My pick: Connecticut because it's easier not to misspell.

BYU (8) vs. Texas A&M (9)

LDS vs. buzz-cut Texans? LDS. My pick: BYU.

Purdue (5) vs. Northern Iowa (12)

The Big Ten is a horrid horrible horrific basketball conference. My pick: Northern Iowa.

Washington (4) vs. Mississippi State (13)

What I wouldn't do to be offered a magical job with a big salary at the University of Washington. I just might have to take it. Seattle = awesome. UW = great school, cool neighborhood. I might have to work on that one. My pick: Washington.

Marquette (6) vs. Utah State (11)
I've been to Milwaukee three times in my life. Two of those times were among the 20 greatest days of the 2000s. Marquette is in Milwaukee. My pick: Marquette.

Missouri (3) vs. Cornell (14)

My pick: Cornell. Because of that guy <<:

California (7) vs. Maryland (10)

Berkeley. Whatever. Really? My pick: Maryland.

Memphis (2) vs. Cal. State Northridge (15)

When the Northridge quake of '94 hit, my cats were freaked out. They hid under the bed. They shuddered at any noise within 1000 feet. Nobody does that to my cats. My pick: Memphis.

East Region

Pittsburgh (1) vs. East Tennessee State (16)

Jamie Dixon = coolest coach in basketball, the anti-Pitino, born in Burbank, raised in NoHo, schooled all over the place, coaching a fun-to-watch team in a city I've never seen. My pick: Pittsburgh.

Oklahoma State (8) vs. Tennessee (9)
Another reason to note what is special about the state of Tennessee:
1. The blood there runneth orange.
2. It is the land of hot middle-aged women.
3. And it is the land of club soda unbridled.
That's enough to say: My pick: Tennessee

Florida State (5) vs. Wisconsin (12)

The Big Ten is just awful. It's hideous. It's an embarrassment to basketball. None of its teams (except for one) should be eligible for tournament play. My (reluctant because it's FSU) pick: Florida State.

Xavier (4) vs. Portland State (13)
Along with UW, I would totally accept a job at Portland State - great campus, lots of trees, nice neighborhood, amazing town, etc. Xavier, on the other hand, is in Cincinnati. My pick: Portland State.

UCLA (6) vs. Virginia Commonwealth (11)
Number of dates I have gone out on with students of / alumni of UCLA: 11
Number of dates I have gone out on with students of / alumni of Virginia Commonwealth: 0
My pick: UCLA.

Villanova (3) vs. American (14)
My favorite basketball team between 1982 and 1985? Villanova. My pick: Villanova.

Texas (7) vs. Minnesota (10)
Yes, the Big Ten is awful. But there are 11 teams in the Big Ten. This leaves room for one of them not to be awful. Here are 9 reasons why Minnesota will win:
1. I went to school there. Twice.
2. They opened a Chick-Fil-A at the remodeled Coffman Union.
3. They remodeled Coffman Union.
4. I lost my virginity on that campus. Sort of.
5. Espresso Royale in Dinkytown kicks ass. (The other location, less so.)
6. Tubby Smith
7. Bell Auditorium on the campus of the UofM is where I saw: Being John Malkovich, Lola, Judy Berlin, The American Astronaut, American Pimp, Dancer in the Dark, and Vertigo, among others. (Yes I know that two of those films are awful but still.)
8. I saw Soul Coughing on campus back in '00.
9. I liked it there. A lot.

Duke (2) Binghamton (15)
Binghamton? Binghamton??? My family used to stop there on its way to visit relatives in Wellsville, NY. Long time ago. Duke? Well, Duke is Duke. God, I hate to pick another upset but Binghamton fills me with warm memories because it wasn't yet Wellsville. My pick: Binghamton.

South Region

North Carolina (1) vs. Radford (16)
My friend Patrick's cousin went to Radford. In fact, here is Patrick wearing a Radford sweatshirt in the 1980s. I had a crush on Patrick's Radford cousin. Which I probably already wrote about here once. But still - is it enough to go against a number one seed? Well, a number 1 seed has to lose at some point in our history. Here goes. My pick: Radford.

LSU (8) vs. Butler (9)
Nothing to see here, nothing to say. My pick: LSU.

Illinois (5) vs. Western Kentucky (12)
See my above Big Ten-related comments. My pick: Western Kentucky.

Gonzaga (4) vs. Akron (13)
Gonzaga pros: Fun team, lots of talent, been there before
Gonzaga cons: Miniature tea cups!!!!!
Akron pros: That one short story about cheese I wrote in 2000, Chrissie Hynde
Akron cons: In Ohio, smells like rubber.
My pick: Gonzaga.

Arizona State (6) vs. Temple (11)
I've been to Tempe. Oh how I've been to Tempe (interestingly, one letter off from Temple). I've been to Philadelphia. Yeah. I grew up near there, came of age near there, almost went to school at Temple. My pick: Arizona State. Because of that Harden guy.

Syracuse (3) vs. Stephen F. Austin (14)

I have never not liked Syracuse basketball. My pick: Syracuse.

Clemson (7) vs. Michigan (10)
Yes I know someone at Michigan, someone slogging through the Ann Arbor late-winter at this very moment. But you're in the Big Ten, artist friend. My pick: Clemson.

Oklahoma (2) vs. Morgan State (15)
My fingers are tired. My pick: Oklahoma.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

As the Intercom Crackles with Love: Songwriters, Career Arcs, and the End of Love (with digressions)

I love music. When I find an artist that I like, one that I champion, one that I listen to for years, I stay loyal. I'll often stick by these bands as their critical acclaim wanes, as their record labels abandon them, as they move to Broadway, as they begin to over-experiment, as they sell out, as they fail to sell, as their career arcs are dismantled.

I'm particularly enamored with underappreciated, quirky, smart, singer-songwriters. In my lifetime I have:

- Written two (of my best) short stories about past-their-prime singer-songwriters
- Written several others that you have not yet read
- Written a seven-part poetry series about the post-fame lives of Natalie Merchant and Michael Stipe
- Written a screenplay about a Leonard Cohen-inspired poet-in-hiding who is stalked/worshipped by two escaped convicts, one of whom is named after a toothbrush
- Attempted to write a novel with main characters that (very loosely) combine the most interesting elements of this guy

and this guy

and her

This is why I found this interview with Clem Snide lead singer Eef Barzelay fascinating - he (and the band is essentially him, with a rotating set of bandmates) has been through a lot this past decade - failed marketing experiments, faint critical acclaim, big critical acclaim, TV theme song acclaim replaced by TV theme song abandonment, etc. In the interview he talks about much of this and throws in a mid-life crisis, a possible change of career from music to teaching, concern over mortgage payments, and puzzlement over a swirly career arc. He frets about his mortgage payments. He insults his former rhythm section. He moves from grandiosity to regret and back. He talks about a visit to a college. It's all pretty damn readable.

Let me get this out of the way: I think Eef Barzelay is one of the greatest lyricists working today. And despite the presence of a guitar in his hands onstage and a band behind him, it's his words that take center stage. He's the modern-day heir to Leonard Cohen - he loves his words (enough to repeat his climactic lines twice, a habit that annoys some people), he loves his songs, and he will never stop writing words and setting them to songs.

He might disappear for years (like Leonard Cohen when he succumbed to drugs in the seventies and the monastery in the nineties). He might play maudlin sets to a few dozen people on a wintery West Bank Minneapolis night, like he did in 2002. He might weird people out with paranoia (from the interview - "I think shit is about to go down"). He might write at least one cringe-inducing song per album (e.g., African Friend, Chinese Baby) and toss off a queasiness-creating line here and there ("roads paved with liver and onions") but he won't stop writing songs and I won't stop listening to them.

You see, Eef wrote Joan Jett of Arc. In it, he wrote this verse:

And the birds that were crushed
Once had air in their bones
As oil was refined in her honor

This followed verses with good/bad puns about Joan Jett, Hall and Oat(e)s, and John Cougar Mellencamp. It's the prettiest tribute to an eighties road trip that's ever put to song.

And Eef Barzelay wrote two of the sweetest love songs ever - Bread and Exercise - which really are about bread and exercise, respectively, but mostly about love. He wrote a song sung from the perspective of a female dancer in a Ludacris video struggling to finish nursing school, a conceit that could easily embarass the hell out of the best songwriters out there but he pulled it off (The Ballad of Bitter Honey).

And this song (and video) from his recent solo album are pretty cool and perfect for the recession/depression/impatience/patience era we live in. Plus it's a good introduction to Eef's white suit which he seems to like to wear:

The Barzelay interview is a reminder of how just how tenuous art can sometimes be. The new album is the one his band tried to make in 2006 but it became too much and someone else's vision clashed with Barzelay's. He retreated to solo work, releasing two albums as bleak as this decade deserves. Then he recorded the new album again, with a new-ish Clem Snide, and it's almost perfect.

(Small-type digression:

About 10 years ago I read an interview with the lead singer of a local Minneapolis band, one whose glory had been 10 years gone at the time the interview was published in the local alternative weekly paper. I remember being distraught at the notion of one of my favorite singer-songwriters not being able to write like he used to, to singing to audiences of a couple dozen people who only wanted to hear the old songs that didn't make him any money anyway. The singer didn't really know what to do with his life. He worked at a Starbucks in Minneapolis while his brother (who was in the long-lost band with him) went on to form a new band that made more money with one song that the first band made with 50. It all made me kind of sad - especially that he had to work at Starbucks and not one one of the many independent coffee shops (though I'm sure Starbucks had/has better benefits).

(Note: There is absolutely nothing wrong about working at Starbucks or any other coffee establishment. It was just the juxtaposition of power-pop-rock-god (in my eyes) and somber barista that got to me.)

Which brings me to my oft-told story about
another Minneapolis singer-songwriter, from the era that fell in between when the Starbucks guy had some success and the Starbucks guy had to work at Starbucks. (I know - I could have just said "the mid-90s".) The story about standing next to him at an Of Montreal / Ladybug Transistor show a few years after he stopped recording/performing music and he asked me if the discarded French fries by my feet belonged to me. Because he was hungry. And being big in precisely two places (Minneapolis and Japan) in the mid-90s was not a recipe for certain fame. The fries weren't mine. He ate them.)

Eef Barzelay isn't from Minneapolis. He lives in Nashville where, presumably, you can last a bit longer without having to eat cold soggy discarded fried food. In the Eef Barzelay interview, there's some of that same career angst and confusion but at least he's still getting his music out there. In this MySpace/iTunes/mp3-era, it's harder for a musician to make a living but easier to stay in the collective conscious. Career arcs and record sales aren't as important. Good art gets out there a little easier and I sleep better.

On the new Clem Snide album Hungry Bird (out now! on tour now! Minneapolis on the 25th, Madison on the 26th, L.A. on April 7), there's an amazing song called Hum which drones on for five-plus beautiful minutes. It starts with a lie - "I know that not everyone will die" - and moves on to making the lie into truth.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My Career as a Stalker

As I entered the 101 freeway this morning, my phone rang. Not having my hands-free device handy, I normally wouldn't have answered. But this was someone who never calls me. Someone who never calls me calling me at 8:15 in the morning. Someone who almost always calls me from a blocked number calling me from an unblocked one. So I answered.

I would have expected our conversation to be full of reminiscences and future plans to meet again, plans to meet that would not be met. Instead we talked about mortgage rates and mental health licenses, about difficult relationships (hers, mine) and the economy. There was absolutely no traffic. Considering that this was morning rush hour in Los Angeles on freeways that run through the center of town, I was surprised. I exited the 110 at Exposition, 15 minutes after my drive started. This was my quickest commute ever.

Our conversation spanned the entire drive. I told her I was pulling into the parking garage at work. She casually mentioned that she was passing the exact same parking structure at that very moment, on her way to an appointment at the elementary school down the street.

This would have been a perfect opportunity for me to say something like "You're across the street from me. We haven't seen each other since 1998. Let's meet at the Coffee Bean, the one that each of us could walk to in less than three minutes." And I did say something like that, except I left out the whole 1998 thing. She said no, she has to work, her appointment is in a few minutes. I got out of my car and looked out onto Figueroa from the fourth floor balcony. I tried to see if I could find her car but what would I be looking for? That little white car she drove around Fullerton back in 1989 when I first met her, in college. That's the only car I know.

Later in 1989, I sort of stalked her once. Not in an illegal way, nothing close to that. But there wasn't much to do then. I was living in Brea - glorious Brea, dirty Brea. By that fall, my coterie of friends had diminished - John was in Ohio and that damn circle of close-knit friends and more-than-friends, the circle that spawned hundreds of pages of bad poems (and dozens of pages of good ones) from at least three unpublished poets, well that circle dissolved into stray dotted lines across north and central Orange County, lines walked upon by mannequins and corpses and one or two of the living. She wasn't part of that circle, not even close.

It was late '89, around the holidays. I liked to drive around then, listening to cassettes of bands not played on the radio. One night in particular I drove east from Brea. I crossed the line into Los Angeles County, heading toward the town where she grew up and still lived. I had no reason to go there. It was a good 15 miles away. There was nothing for me there. But still I kept going. I knew what I was doing. I wanted to drive through the streets of her town.

This wasn't all that creepy. It's not like I knew her address. I didn't expect to spot her white car coming towards me. Her town wasn't that small. I just wanted to, you know, drive around.

At this point in the story I'm going to toss in something I call a fact but you might call apocryphal. Like there's no way that happened, like I had to invent it to keep this story going. But yeah - I was listening to the Go-Betweens. I was listening to their best album 16 Lovers Lane. And as I drove around the town of XX XXXXXX, I played the song Streets of Your Town. I played it more than once. I rewound the cassette - side two, song one:

To me this song is more a lament for the place than the person whose town it is. The narrrator associates the town with a long lost love. He begins the song with the chorus (a technique that should be used more often) - "Round and round, up and down, through the streets of your town." He ends it by saying "I still don't know what I'm here for." The "you" of "your town" isn't coming back. The town isn't coming back. They shut it down.

But yeah I listened to that song. Kind of creepy but not as creepy as listening to Every Breath You Take or Elvis Costello's I Want You. By the way, never ever put Elvis Costello's I Want You on a mixtape/mixCD/playlist intended for a person you like/love. Don't even do it ironically. It's never taken the right way.

I only did it once, drive through that town. Even after another 20 years, 14 of which I've lived in the greater L.A. area, I've never gone back there. No reason to. No freeway traverses it. It is not in between places I go.

(Did you catch that last joke?)

Nothing much in the way of love came of my stalking and my pages and pages of poetry about her (pre-Internet, pre-Facebook, all communication between humans was done via poetry). I told myself (and others) that I was in love with her. I never told her but it's likely she knew. We remained friends. We had lunch or dinner once or twice a year through the 90s. I moved to the Midwest. She got married. I got married. She got divorced. I got divorced. Grant McLennan, the Go-Between who wrote and sang lead on Streets of Your Town died in his sleep at age 48 in 2006. Sad.

In 2007, someone gave me a mix CD with a fine cover version of Streets of Your Town by the band Ivy. That meant a lot to me. The one who made the mix CD and the one who refused to meet me for coffee this morning - they live in the same town now, a much bigger town than the one I drove through. I thought about moving there too - Long Beach is big enough for all of us. But I like where I'm living. No one is stalking me as far as I know. Living at the dead-end of a short cul-de-sac in a house with massive picture windows, I can't be stalked without me knowing.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Writer's Block and the Dizzying Distractions: Breaking the Three Golden Rules of Blogging

(First I break the second golden rule of blogging: I write about my lack of blogging. One should never do what I'm about to do.)

I've been trying to figure out the reason for my recent extended blog-writer's block. My posts, though generally longer, have been appearing in steadily declining numbers since mid-2007:

Look to the right and you'll see:
  • Posts in 2007: 171
  • Posts in 2008: 98
  • Posts in 2009 so far: 16 (if I maintain the same pace, I'll reach 91)
What could explain this decline? Facebook? Wellbutrin? Age? An uneventful life? Well, let's rule out the final two reasons listed - once you pass the age of, say, 36, nothing really changes. Until you hit 52. And my life has actually been rather eventful over the past 18 months. Let's rule out Facebook because its linking feature actually gives me a reason to post more, with my captive audience and all. So we're left with the anti-anxiety/depression medication Wellbutrin which I started taking in mid-2007 and partially blame for my lack of writing output and maybe some other changes. At the same time, it has had a lot of benefits (e.g., I'm happier. Probably.)

(There, I broke the third golden rule of blogging: I wrote about a relatively personal medication I have been taking. No one needs to know that.)

I debate friends about the romantic notion of the "tortured (depressed) artist," that it's mostly a myth and if Van Gogh hadn't chopped off his goddamn ear and if Cobain hadn't pulled out his gun, there would be no reason for debate. But I actually think the anti-depressant-as-creativity-suppressant argument has some merit in my case. My writing - on this blog but especially in my fiction and poetry - is rather dependant on the idiosyncratic way (that I think) my brain works: thoughts stir around like crazy; random or unexpected connections are made; memories clash with reality; the past is a cloud that gives us shade, and so on. No, I'm not the only human with neural connectors. But there was something going on in my head to make me write this in 2005, from my short story Demolition:
There are buildings ugly as war, their spotlighted hallways showing nothing but a dust trail - their jig is up and out the window. There are buildings beautiful as a split pea, uncovered and cleaved and asking for trouble. These buildings are museums and toy factories and fractions of an earth's material and memory and the weaving in of texts and spoken story. These buildings make the misfits one step closer to the fire, the black water, the eerie joy.
I could deconstruct the meaning here if I could remember (or decipher) it. And standing alone the paragraph isn't much more than a (likely over-caffeinated) brain spilling out language and structure without remorse or a plan from the corner table of the Literati Cafe in West L.A. But in the context of the full story I think it's pretty amazing. These days those words wouldn't come out. Maybe I need to embrace the way they do come out - smaller, more contained. But the true and fictional stories I write now tend end too soon. And I want them to go on.

Between 1996 and 2007, I wrote almost exclusively in the cafes of Minneapolis and Los Angeles. I hardly ever wrote at home or anywhere else. I still go to those cafes. I still drink the coffee. In fact, this morning I drank a $4 coffee ($4 - not for espresso - but coffee) at the Intelligentsia coffeehouse in Silverlake. But now when I sit and try to write in these public places, I get through one page before being distracted by something - an annoying conversation, a need to check my email on my iPhone, a desire to read a page or two from a book that I likely won't finish. In the past, the annoying conversation would become its own short story, the email would trigger a poen, and reading a book would lead to a longer short story. These days, that doesn't happen.

(Could part of the problem be that I go to places with awful names like Literati and Intelligentsia? What name will they think of next? The Algonquin? The Bloomsbury? The Insufferable Elite?)

No these days, I can only write like I used to in the confined quarters of an airplane. I fill notebooks on airplanes. I wrote the only story I've written in the last two years that I'm really proud of on an airplane. What is it about airplanes? I'm still taking the Wellbutrin. I'm using the same pen-and-notebook or Macbook. I'm still me. Is it that I have nowhere to go? Is it that I can't pack up my things and leave the scene, walking back to my car a little disappointed in what I didn't accomplish? Yes, that's exactly it. My wandering, roving mind cannot go anywhere else.

Before Wellbutrin (or before the divorce, or before 40, whatever explanation you like), I was content with my mind racing and my fingers writing it down. Now, my mind moves and my hand reaches for a distraction (iPhone, book, crossword) or just gets up and walks away. I need to go back to that place/time where I was not afraid of my runaway thoughts. How do I do this? Do I move back to Minneapolis or Santa Monica? No, that would be a cop-out, although it may have other benefits. Do I try harder to find a girlfriend or true love or a life's meaning? No, trying too hard to is like love is like oxygen - you can't do too much.

No, the solutions are simple: Keep working on the writing. Have some discipline. Try some new things. Go on more airplane trips. Read more books/see more movies/listen to more music - all the stuff that's always inspired me.

Take today, for example. It's an impossibly beautiful 60-degree day in Los Angeles. The sky is clear and the air is pure. When I drive home later, I will see snow-capped mountains beyond the glorious (underrated) downtown L.A. skyline. I should write about buildings. I should write about the shapes of distances between people. I should write about how things look different from hills. Yes, I'll do that.

(And there I broke the first golden rule of blogging: Never, never, never, ever write about the weather.)