The Mind Turns to Twitters

I’ll be interviewing Margaret Atwood in little more than a week, and I’m wondering what I might talk to her about.  I hear she’s a serious twitterer, so I was thinking I’d ask her how that’s going.  I’m sure no one has done that before.

I rarely Twitter.  I never text.   But it seems like there are hordes of folks busy at it.  Some people are tweeting poems.  Others are writing novels serialized in posts of 140 characters.  I hear these novels are big in Japan.  Words, words, words.  Between the Blogosphere and the Twitterati, the social networkers and self e-publishers of all stripes, an awful lot of people are writing.  More every day.  Some think this a bad thing, that somehow rare and golden flecks of genius will be lost in the dust storm.

When I was a kid the number of people who live in China and India sparked my imagination.  I didn’t know the number, really—just that more than half of all the people in all the world lived in those places.  I considered that if every Chinese and Indian got up on a stepstool and leapt off together at just the right moment, the impact of all those feet hitting the ground at once would send the world careening into the sun.  The thought still makes me smile.

So what if everyone got up tomorrow and, instead of merely feeling they had a story or poem inside of them, took the leap to write it down.  What if they twittered or blogged it; texted, kindled, or simply went old school and scribbled on paper or their walls or their arms?  What if the sun came up on a planet awash in stories and poetry?  It would be apocalyptic.  Something huge would crumble.  Great glaciers would melt and move and reshuffle the continents.  I can almost hear the crack and crunch of it. What a lovely day to be alive that would be.

I still don’t know what I’m going to talk to Margaret Atwood about.  But I’m going to pay more attention to Twitter:


About the event:  Folio Weekly, The Fix,

I Don’t Give A Shit

Okay, so yesterday I heard some guy is going around saying I don’t give a shit. Ticked me off. I steamed over it. After all, who the hell is going to tell me I don’t give a shit? But he didn’t tell me. He said it to other folks. It just got back to me. And now I’m going have a trouble liking this guy. What a nuisance.

He seemed all right before. Didn’t know him well but wanted to. Chatted a few times. Got the impression we were simpatico, and I don’t get a hell of lot of that sense around where I live. Now, in retrospect, I guess those conversations were just politics. Okay. It’s a political world. I don’t give a shit.

Most likely I don’t give a shit about some of the same shit he gives a shit about. In the context of the universe of which he is the center, my attitude probably does come off as more general. Context, if not everything, is a lot. And there’s no accounting for universes. We all make what sense we can out of the world, and we only have our own feeble perceptual and cognitive powers by which to construct the conceits we live by. Sometimes, when I get a glimpse into one of those worlds, I’m glad there are so many others.

I don’t have a need to get along with everybody. I don’t trust people who do. But that doesn’t mean I want to do anything about them. I just take it into account. Instinctively. Beyond that, I don’t give a shit. There’s too much else to do.

I like walking with people. I like it when there’s wine and the gab is good and we’re walking and picking up stuff along the way to make a noise with. I like the improvised syncopation that happens, the joyful stumbles, the sounds of voices charged with merriment. I like the word “merriment.” But when the route is mapped and the drumbeat insistent, I prefer to slip out. I disdain neat rows. The irrefragably programmatic. The very idea of like-mindedness as the highest aspiration makes my sinuses ache.

I kind of like that “build it and they will come” concept. But when it’s married to blaming the ghosts who don’t arrive, it loses meaning. They don’t come because there is greater nourishment elsewhere, or because there is some other place in that moment where they must be to manifest more according to their own lights. That’s obvious. It ought to be respected.

So what do I give a shit about? I don’t know. I think as long as there is food in the world, everybody ought to eat. As long there’s medicine, everybody ought to have what they need. As long as there are people, everybody ought to have a friend and a lover with whom to make crazy love all the time. I think there is nothing sweeter than a kiss, and I want everyone to know what that can be, to judge for themselves. I believe the world has a lot of hardness in it, and we ought to make things easier for the next person when we can. We ought to help one another find and do what each of us loves to do because, in the end, at the heart of things, it makes all the difference. The quality of our sleep depends on it. Every morning, we leave pieces of our dreams on our pillows. These get into the air we breathe.

I believe one of the greatest gifts we can give one another, one that is within the reach of everyone to give, is encouragement. The most remarkable state of being is not to be inspired but to inspire. And I know the value of that from having been given inspiration. And whatever the temple, no matter how tempting it is to appoint oneself gatekeeper, it’s better to “Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!”[i]

Oh, and yeah, everything is personal. Everything. That’s probably why I was still so ticked when I started typing this. I wish I wasn’t so hot-headed sometimes. After all, it’s pretty stupid to get all fired up by hearsay. But I’m smiling now. In another couple of days, I’ll forget why I was so bothered in the first place. Maybe that means I don’t give a shit.



Meeting the Living/The Julian Beck Interview

I met Julian Beck through Jack Gelber in 1984, shortly after the Living Theater returned to New York for a run at the Joyce Theater. The press was harsh; more like ridicule than review. After 10 years of self-imposed exile and more than 30 years of relentlessly experimental work, the Living Theater was broke and broken up.  When I arrived…

To read more and listen to the interview: UbuWeb Sound :: Julian Beck

Ten Years After

In 2001, The Ari Files was a weekly column I’d kept for several years.  When 9/11 happened, my son, Noah, was going on three. Kezia, my daughter, had just turned one.  Jan and I were in a tough spot financially, so I picked up some classes at the University of North Florida.  I was on my way to teach what was my first fiction workshop there when I saw folks gathered in front of a TV screen in the public area of the building where the class was held.  Through the spaces between shoulders and heads,  I watched a clip of a plane smashing into the towers. A part of me didn’t believe it was real.  Another part instantly knew it was.  My brain couldn’t buy it.  But all the flesh and blood–it was like falling through myself.  Just falling. And I didn’t know I was crying until I heard the sound of it.

I know I musthave gone to the classroom, but that’s all blank now.  I don’t know what I said, what I did.

That night, I took down The Ari Files. I’d wanted to write something, but couldn’t.  So I just took it down.  And it stayed down for nearly two weeks. The following is from September 23, 2001.


Words and One Eye Open

Some folks have written me to ask why The Ari Files has gone dark.  I’ve thinking of two, a couple of pals–a Canadian and a Staten Islander–who thought I shouldn’t just clam up, that I should write something about what I’m feeling.

The Canadian had lived for some years in New York City, long enough to become part of a neighborhood.  That’s how you become a New Yorker.  That’s how she gets under your skin.   Once you’ve got a neighborhood, you’ve got the whole town, and you take her with you for the rest of your life.

New York makes you a part of her.  The timing, the tension, rubbing bellies in narrow green grocer aisles; breaths shared, mouth to mouth, over meek distances in crowded trains and elevators and laundromats; the confluence of streams of humanity bunching up on street corners and sliding, headlong, up and down sidewalks in human eddies; words spoken or left in the bubbling stir of thoughts behind blinking eyes; all the living and some presumed dead languages of humanity escaping from tongues and through ears to cling to the sides of buildings and on window glass, making dunes in the panes; words mixed with carbonic soot and just as black.  Black.  The color of the deep and distance and the unknown.  The color of poets in leather jackets or cotton Ts.  The black of boots and berets and moons beneath tired eyes and asphalt.  The black of Homburgs in Williamsburg and Borough Park.  The Lower Eastside black of fishnet stockings and hip tight skirts and dyed hair and painted lips and fingers and toes.  Ebony Jazz.   The black beard of dockside Romeo dropping fishhooks into the inky Narrows.  The glossed lampblack empty nucleus of an open eye through which everything may enter and beyond which everything is revealed, including the wonder of ultimate unknowability. This black pools in the pores of your skin.  You carry it with you.  It gets into your blood.  It stripes your soul with a brush dipped into a concentrate of richly mixed humanity.

My Canadian friend took the terror planes in his belly.  Just like the rest of us.  The Staten Islander lost a dozen of his people.  Oh God.  The scent of dear flesh blown from bones onto the air in fire and chemical smoke. Screams and tears rush into the hollows of charred periosteum.   Eardrums shatter.  Silence, desperate leaps.  There is no air left in the world.

Everyone is missing now.  Everyone.   What words could there possibly be?

We need time.  To catch our breaths after a blow to the windpipe.  To let cohesion return to the mind.  To let sadness have sway. To squeeze rage out of our rag hearts and let it drain into gutters.  To bury our dead.

What can I say?  Watch your back.  All this sadness and rage: we’re going to be crazy from it for a while.  You’ll have to sleep lightly now.   And keep an eye on that guy over there wrapped in a flag.   I think he’s looking for trouble.  Better keep one eye open at all costs.  For safety’s sake. I’m talking about the neighborhood here.


You know, everybody’s working. Just ain’t everbody getting paid. Eating dust and being broke is about the worst gig there is. That’s on the hours and benefits alone. And sure, it’s the scare of that gig that keeps you pinned to the job and folks who are sucking life out of you—though some of them can’t help it: a black hole does what a black hole does. But, man, there’s them other ones, the ones who say, “Well, if you don’t like it heeeeere, nobody’s forcing you to stay. It’s a free country.”  Ain’t that a kick in the ass? Thank you sir, may I have another.

Anyway, here’s my nomination for a new national anthem, the better pledge of allegiance, or a rosary prayer for the goddam god of get a fucking clue.

Work Song by Dan Reeder