Saturday, April 29, 2006

Poetic Justice Isn't Just for Poets Anymore

From - Rehab, $30,000 to keep Limbaugh out of court: "Firebrand radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh was charged Friday with fraudulently concealing information to obtain prescription drugs, but prosecutors will drop the charge after 18 months if Limbaugh remains in treatment for drug addiction, his lawyer said."


"The radio host turned himself in to the Palm Beach County sheriff's office on Friday and was released on bail before 5 p.m., a sheriff's spokesman said.

"Although Black urged reporters not to call it an arrest -- because Limbaugh turned himself in and was never handcuffed -- a sheriff's spokesman said technically he was under arrest during his booking." -- O, these hairsplitting cretins!

Drug addiction is a disease, not a crime. I agree with the late comedian Bill Hicks in his thinking that the American Drug Czar ought to be someone who was a former addict and knows not only about the ravages of that sickness, but has sought and obtained help, and knows firsthand what is involved with recovery.

That said, I find no small amount of poetic justice that the self-ordained and widely acknowledged mouthpiece of the American rightwing conservative movement, Rush Limbaugh, is an admitted, practicing drug addict. Of course he is.

I have listened to Rush Limbaugh here and there over the years and have never regarded him as anything other than a performer. Some performers remove their clothing before live audiences to earn their living, some performers fornicate on film, other performers play "death metal", and the truly reprehensible performers out there receive their ill-gotten gains by spreading bile and hatred, divisiveness, ignorance and bigotry.

The late comedian Bill Hicks once mused on stage that he believed Limbaugh to be one of those kinky people who enjoyed lying in a deep bathtub as others urinated on him. Of course he does.

Having listened to performer Limbaugh here and there over the years, I've been amused by the fact that only the soppiest, ass-kissiest callers are ever allowed through his switchboard and onto the air. Without fail, as these mentally impoverished, slow of foot and mouth, fearful, quivering sycophants deluge their master with squeaking praise, Limbaugh argues even with them! As they quote back to their succubus the particular bile that made their cretinous days, Limbaugh actually splits hairs over their incompetent quotes, and argues with them. Christ almighty, this guy cannot even get along with his most devoted supplicants!

And Limbaugh proves that the only way in which one can believe the things he believes is through the constant administration of drugs into his fetid physiology. The only way to be a true Republican party member is to literally be high on dope. Which, in true Republican hypocritical fashion, so many of these avowed rightwing hate-mongers would love to see stiff jail sentences, if not the death penalty, meted out to habitual drug addicts. Like Limbaugh.

All that separates Limbaugh from any other drug addict rotting in prison is geography -- rather than procuring his dope in low, bawdy dens of iniquity, Limbaugh purchased his scag in high-rent, well-appointed doctors' offices.

For all the years that Limbaugh has "doctor shopped" in order to feed his habit, this miserable miscreant ought to have been shopping for a goddamned soul. That's something his Centurion American Express card can't buy

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Song That Signals Spring

Seems every spring there is one song that banishes winter, welcomes spring and carves a doorway unto summer.

In 1983, that song was "I'll Melt With You" by Modern English. The night I heard that song for the first time was the Friday I connected with my first girlfriend. It was late May and I saw the Modern English music video on the WRIF Video Cafe hosted by Steve Costand on Detroit's WXYZ. "I'll Melt With You" ignited a Pentacostal flame of romantic-horny-poetic-clamor in my bones and soul. I wasn't the same after seeing that music video, hearing that song.

Two years before that it was Led Zeppelin's "Fool in the Rain." I know that the Beach Boys are the offically recognized anthemeers of summer songs, but for me it's the intensely melodic, lyrically melancholic songs that wrench spring out of winters claws.

In 1998 it was Dave Matthews' "Crash." That was a season of spasmic unrequited love that seared me to depths I didn't know existed within me. "Crash" assuaged those pangs to a point at which I was at least able to breathe. I didn't get the girl that spring, but the strangled, inchoate longing I felt for fair Aisling was cut by "Crash" like laudanum -- transfiguring my psyche without outright poisoning me.

This year the song of spring is "Second Date" by Isaac Johnson. On the first listening the song immediately embodied the merry-melancholy sense of April, the universally acknowledged "cruelest month." I have been spending time recently with a special person, and this song immediately traced her outline within me, like a hand-shadow on the wall of my memory. Without question, "Second Date" is absolutely stunning work, evoking all of the awful, delicious uncertainty that makes early dates in a budding relationship so weighty, dreaded, and star-zapped.

I take the song to be an internal monologue the narrator conducts with himself in the midst of his second date; an internal monologue accelerated by anxiety, vividly painting the scene:
So I'm sittin at this table and I stare at her eyes that shine so bright
And I wonder what she's thinking now and if I'm doin alright

In the restaurant with no name I love to watch her smile
And I swear if it gets any brighter I just might go blind
Yeah, that's how it is. It's too early in the relationship for the narrator to be in love with this woman, but certainly not too early for him to be blown away by her looks, manner, laugh, and smile.

The part of the song that makes me think this is all interior monologue is that which serves as the chorus:
And I'll never understand why being everything is never enough for you
You don't even know why but you've made up your mind and I think I'm losin time
It's easy -- too easy -- to believe songs are always sung to someone else. I think this is the narrator prodding himself, losing his cool behind his calm exterior. Particularly the line "And I'll never understand why being everything is never enough for you." That sounds just like a guy silently beating the shit out of himself.

The music of this song, alone, would move me to the same heights of feeling. Isaac Johnson is clearly an accomplished guitarist, traversing the fretboard of his acoustic guitar with an effortlessness that is certainly guided by inspriation. He finds all the right phrasing to bring this song -- which skates up to the edge of awkwardness at times, but remains on the side of right -- through its difficult geography.

What makes "Second Date" by Isaac Johnson the Song of Spring 2006 for me is Johnson's soulful vocals. Like Robert Plant taking the listener through the raw pangs of "Fool in the Rain", Johnson's voice is vulnerable, confident, and uncertain -- all at the same time. Those are contradictions on the page, but they work in Johnson's vocal performance. Particularly in the song's final line: "I'm losin time love, don't waste all my time, Don't waste your time, Don't waste your time, Please don't waste my..." In other words, Please be for real.

I'm off to hear the song again.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Lee R. Raymond, Vampire -- The Swine Leading the Swine

Necrophiliac, graverobber Lee R. Raymond was handed $400 million in 2005 as Chief Swine in Charge at Exxon. News of the Valdez oil spill in Alaska in the late 1980s didn't have this much an infuriating effect on me.

It is time to storm the Bastille.

Easter - the Bizarro Christian Debacle

I guess given the rarity and complexity of someone rising from the dead is what sets Easter celebrations on their ears. Even as a kid I had serious questions about the ambulatory bi-ped bunny silently shown in cartoons and television ads running around with eggs. No catchphrase like "Ho ho ho", "I Am Who Am", or even "Up yer ass!" or anything associated with this quiet, menacing image.

My own Easter celebration was equally bizarre and not altogether unpleasant.

After a morning bike ride with my wife -- no, I was not smoking a pipe or wearing a cardigan sweater -- she went over to my mother-in-law's house, while I lay down to read some of a George C. Chesbro novel. Invariably, I fell asleep. I usually wake from such lapses after an hour or two, so no harm done. Yesterday was no exception, but for the fact that I wasn't wakened by a sound or my own natural coming-back-to-lifed-ness. No, I was wakened by a foul odor. Something like sulfur. Yes, the idea that I was waking in hell did, actually, pass through my mind for a few moments. However, when I heard a weird small explosion in my kitchen, I figured I was still an inhabitant of this world. Unfortunately, I was correct.

I went into my kitchen to witness a scene that can only be described as a cross between Peter Cottontail and Hamburger Hill. Seems my wife had been boiling some eggs and had left the house, forgetting that they were still on the stove boiling. They boiled themselves "dry" as my mother-in-law later explained the technical term to me. After boiling themselves dry, the eggs proceeded, one by one and in no particular order, to explode. It was the quintessence of "Not nice," as my grandmother's great condemnation would dictate.

Fast forward to my inlaws', all of whom I love and enjoy, but whose taste in TV and entertainment I cannot abide. Golf -- all the time. I hate golf. I'm nearly to the point where I hate people who like golf. Sitting in the family room with the giant TV tuned to golf and hearing my father- and brothers-in-law talking about their most recent golf games, I felt like I was being beaten by pillows that had been treated with a low-grade poison. However, they're good guys and often pause when they notice me turning green with boredom. We then speak and laugh about how I don't know how to hold a hammer properly, don't know the difference between a bolt and a nut, and that my wife is the one who installed our dishwasher when we moved into our house.

Then, dinner. Lovely, glorious dinner. No kidding. My mother-in-law, aside from physically looking like a fourth Charlie's Angel, cooks like Mary the Mother God. Spectacular food. Even had two pieces of carrot cake that my sister-in-law had somehow weirdly stepped in the day before.

The pinnacle of the evening was -- and always is at these family gatherings -- when my autoworker brother-in-law begins pontificating. He's a good guy, but an angry person. He informed us that "they" have a cure for cancer, but will not release it. He said much the same thing about fuel efficient vehicles (something I actually believe, as well). Oh, he went on to world politics, NAFTA, and invariably to his miserable job as a line-worker at an auto plant. People there earn $30/hour. There's a guy he knows whose only job is to wash and fuel executives' cars -- he earns $30/hour plus all of the lavish benefits autoworkers in my area enjoy. His reasoning why autoworkers do and should earn so much money? Because it's "braindead work." Funny, I always thought people should be paid well for using their brains.

This from the guy who once regaled us with his plans to murder his ex-girlfriend. No hyperbole, no figurative speech -- real, actual murder plans. As the writer and metaphysician of the clan, I couldn't even sit through that.

And so, with exploded egg-carnage awaiting me in my kitchen, and a confused and aggrieved cat waiting for me at home, I ducked out of my inlaws' house.

The origins of Easter celebrations may have their roots in the supernatural, the transcendant, the miraculous, but in the hands of human beings we'll bastardize everything and anything to the point of marking the day with chocolate eggs, hackneyed biblical movies on TV, and family rituals that fuel and amuse only satirists.

Instead of the Pope leading Roman Catholic Easter celebrations next year, I think we should have a southwestern Ontario autoworker take his place.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Now We Know Who the Faithful Are -- Dominik Diamond is Not Among Them

'God made me cancel my own crucifixion': "BRITISH broadcaster who travelled to the Philippines to be crucified on Good Friday for a television programme pulled out of the stunt in tears yesterday — and blamed God for his decision."

Dominik Diamond broke down and wept after watching nine Filipinos take their turn to be whipped and nailed on crosses and realising that his turn was next. “God wanted me only to pray at the foot of my cross,” he sobbed, sinking to his knees and praying as local people and tourists started to boo.
Many are called, few are chosen.

Easter 2006 saw that there were only nine Christians in the world -- the nine Filipinos who took their turns being whipped and nailed on crosses in the event known as Karabrio held in the village of Cutud, 50 miles (80km) north of Manila.

So, Dominik Diamond pussied-out of being crucified this weekend, and blamed God for it. It's this kind of lame, blatant misrepresentation that is killing God's image on earth. Yahweh, Jehovah, "I Am Who Am" is a blood and violence fetishist.

God the gambler -- whose idea of gameliness is asking Abraham to sacrifice his long-awaited son, and then pulling the rug out from underneath him at the near-to-last-second -- is interested in only one thing: playing "chicken" with humankind. Look at the Book of Job. Job was subjected to merciless psyops and cruel and unusual treatment by Yahweh at the mere suggestion of a wager by Satan. If I'm not mistaken in my reading of the Book of Job, God lost the bet (no doubt God appealed on the basis that laborious, agonized lamenting does not constitute faithlessness or rebuke). The God of Abraham is the God of Technicalities.

God even rolled the dice his own son, Jesus Christ, and came up snake-eyes. So it goes.

And God took a shot with creme puff Dominik Diamond and found yet another spineless, faithless idiot hiding behind the guise of "humility." God has no use for humility. Do you think the creator of the oceans, mountains, Sonia Aquino, or the stars and the moon is a modest personage? Alberta's Lake Louise, alone, is the work of a terminal show-off. And one does not appeal to such a personality with acts of humility, especially unmanly displays of weeping, and the wretched inaction of "prayer."

Don't misunderstand, Dominik Diamond began on the right track. Hosting a Channel 5 program titled Crucify Me was just the sort of arrogant genesis God could appreciate. It's just that sort of hollow bravado and misguided machismo that has caused God to bless George W. Bush's war in Iraq so heavily. And what spiritual journey has any validity if there is no camera crew recording it? Come on!

Diamond at least demonstrated a great understanding of God at the outset of his narcissistic project. But the whole thing was shitcanned when Diamond revealed himself to be a complete Christian fraud. Since when does God ask anyone not to shed blood? Never.

Oliver Cromwell never blanched like that. Nor did any Crusader or any rightwing neo-conservative worth his weight in gunpowder. God created the world as his own three-dimensional video game. And what is the object of any video game worth playing? To kill.

So, happy bloodless Easter Dominik Diamond. Hope your communion wafer on Sunday tastes like a Pop Tart and that you don't overeat afterward at your boiled and fried brunch. The God of Abraham, Noah, Sodom & Gomorrah, and Jerry FallWell and George W. Bush glares down at you from his velvet lounge in heaven like coach Bobby Knight giving the deathray to a senior missing two free throws. May your soul rest well in the quivering, jelly confines of your spaghetti spined body. Remember, the Son of Man comes like a thief in the night, and he doesn't like crybabies.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Memo to Marketing Teams and Advertisers -- Quit Your Jobs and Go Home, You're Failing

Comedian Bill Hicks was known to ask his audiences, "Are there any people who work in marketing here tonight?" When a few drunken louts cheered or applauded, or otherwise made their presence known, Hicks would calmly follow-up with, "Good. When you go home tonight, kill yourselves."

It's been eons since I last listened to commercial radio. Even as a teenager, I owned enough cassette tapes (now CDs) to listen to music for days on end without hearing the same song twice. It's been different with television because I've always enjoyed television. I'm one of those "active viewers" who does not aimlessly surf channels, nor sit drooling, zombified before any old thing playing on whatever channel happens to be on when I flick the TV on. As a writer, as an educated person, it's fashionable or expected to say I shun TV. I really enjoy television, but over the past few years have come to shun it almost entirely. Not because of the so-called "reality shows" (shit, those wretched works of detritus only demonstrate how much writers are needed; Joe Blow and Jane Doe off the street are as boring as dogshit), or any other deficiencies in programming. No, I have come to hate television for one reason -- the commercials.

Even before my great distaste for television had fully formed, I'd always had a silent agreement with myself -- I would never buy a product I had seen in an advertisement. It's been a surprisingly easy pact to keep.

Times I do encounter commercial television, I've become more and more astounded, appalled and bewildered by what I see in advertisements. I understand what I see and hear -- that's what troubles me. Based on what I see, I've made a few guesses about the advertising industry (one of the few industries in which I've never worked):

* Obviously, people who make commercials are not paid -- no one would pay money for that work

* Clearly, makers of commercials were conceived in test tubes, reared in featureless padded cells, and work in sterile laboratories with only old in-flight magazines from defunct airlines as their connection to the world outside

* Marketing folk have no friends -- who could be friends or even casually associate with someone involved in polluting the world's consciousness with the insulting, stupid tripe that comprises advertising

* Advertisers have misshapen craniums -- like lawyers, advertisers' minds (or what passes for their minds) lack those regions in which creativity, intelligence, and conscience reside. As a consequence, their cranium vaults sag inward into the void

* Commercials causes physical illness -- watching or listening to advertising causes the functions of the human body to slow to such a degree that low grade rigor mortis sets in and viewers'/listeners' internal organs actually begin to rot, thus leaving victims prone to infection and compromised immune systems

I suppose it doesn't matter. With TiVo and downloading movies and TV shows from the Internet, viewers have more opportunity to skip commercials altogether. However, that does leave the physical landscape outside our homes at their disposal. Every time I'm on highway, seeing those obnoxious, endless billboards passing by, I think to myself, "And this is within the law -- incredible!"

Not that any greedhead advertiser is going to listen to me. But if some person involved in marketing is home some night, drunk, sitting at their PC in soiled clothing, surfing the Web, and comes across this blog posting -- listen to Bill Hicks.

Update 04/11/2006

See Slate's The Nastiest Wife on Television for an example of what I'm talking about. People couldn't possibly get paid to come up with this crap.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Hollywood Experience (Treatment) in My Own Hometown

Last summer I joined a film group organized by wedding videographer who sought to branch out into making feature length movies. Although the brainstorming sessions grew copious and tedious, after a number of weeks the group (about a dozen regulars with a few scattered curious joining on various occasions) came up with a premise for its first film: a family driving in a car on their way to a funeral. As a practicing writer for the past fifteen years, and a publishing writer for the past seven years, this is the type of premise I would never conceive of touching. Years of reading and scribbling away at my work has served to Scotch-Guard my mind against cliches. Not that they don't still occur to me from time to time, but that there is nothing in me to give them purchase. They surface, quiver painfully in my imagination for a few moments, and then blow away like pollen. The film groups' premise couldn't have been more pedestrian, boring, lacklustre, inane, or trance-inducing if a team of malevolent philosophers set to the task of creating just that: The Worst Idea Ever.

As the brainstorming sessions teetered toward the inevitable, I saw it was time to excuse myself from the group. I was happy for everyone who was satisfied by the progress, but I, for one, have gotten to the point where I cannot be a part of projects that are not credible. I'm not nine years old anymore trying to draw an animated cartoon with my friends using highlighters and crayons. So, I bowed out quietly.

However, the contrarian in me -- the inverterate burlesque-monger and satirist in me -- could not simply walk away from The Worst Idea Ever. As a writer, I've only ever worked with my own ideas and my curiosity was pricked by the morbid challenge of working on this idea that not only originated outside of myself, but yielded so little promise. So, I had a go at it drafting an initial 20 pages of script. But the inner kamikaze who sometimes guides my steps wasn't satisfied with my toying with The Worst Idea Ever. No, it prodded me to collaborate with a friend and once-fellow group member. This person wasn't a writer, but that didn't matter. All a person needs are ideas. But this person had only one idea about our inaugural collaborative session: he would lead the writing of the screenplay (with me as typist). There was much to admire about his drive and willingness to "step up to the plate," but there was unmissable, inherent folly in the idea, as well. Thirty seconds into hearing his ideas on how to conduct our collaboration I saw that he would unintentionally have us tread the selfsame minefields I had spent a decade and a half learning to avoid. Questioning the basis for his creative outlook only inflamed him. The situation was so obvious it almost defied analogy -- but here's one: you have two guys, one is an auto mechanic, the other knows nothing about cars. Who are you gonna trust to work on your car?

So, the collaboration was stillborn and so seemed my 20 pages of script in which emerged five characters: father, Gerhard Schwanghammer, who went by "Gerry," his wife Grace, their daughter Abigail, son Andy, and the deceased grandfather. Gerry worked a low-level job at a radio station, Grace was a piano teacher, Abigail a disaffected teenager, and Andy a quirky, annoying kid with a fetish for stand-up comedy, and deceased grandfather who popped up in the car with wry memories and observations about the volatile family.

After some back-and-forth email with the leader of the film group, I commenced to see where Grandpa, Gerhard, Grace, Abigail and Andy took me. I titled the script Mr. Brightside.

It took me six days to write the initial 86 pages. After meeting with the film group leader, who said everyone was excited by the excerpts I had sent to them. At the group's request, I took another few days and brought the page-count up to 112 pages. I submitted the script to the film group leader, received his "Thank you for the gift of this script" email, and was dropped from his consciousness like a facialized whore in a darkened alley.

Yes, I left the group. Yes, I didn't seek to be a part of the production. All my choices. But that script was the work of my hand. Yes, I would be credited as the writer, but somehow not consulted when the need for changes arose. Just from a common sense perspective wouldn't it be the best route having the person who created the script make the needed alterations? Especially when no one else in the group could even come up with a script of their own? Not in this case, it seemed, where the tinkering commenced almost immediately.

Nor did I have the wherewithal to countenance the farce that was the "audition" process. Oh, I heard all about the pantomime of a search for the right "Gerhard," but in the end the leader of the group (now director) deigned to cast the group member who (in my experience) displayed the least amount of concentration, seriousness, or commitment of the entire group in the lead, as Gerhard Schwanghammer. This person was, coincidentally, a friend of the director's.

The immediate problem with that choice was that the script was dialogue-heavy. The lead roles demanded actors with professional experience. Unfortunately, the only two professional actors in the film group were relegated to menial, off-camera duties (though one eventually shone in a bit part). In fact, when one of these professional actors did audition, the director amazingly ran out of film just before it and thus was unable to show that audition to the rest of the group. Didn't matter because the auditions consisted of "cold reads" anyhow, and the professional actor (as anyone would) was described as "not connecting with the character." Hearing of the catastrophic casting blunder -- giving the "class clown" the lead role -- I wrote the director expressing my frank misgivings about his choice. Accusations were made regarding on whose behalf I was actually voicing my opposition. But my point of view was simple: creative projects like making a feature length film are fraught with difficulties. Why unnecessarily hobble yourself before getting out of the gate?

But there was to be much more hobbling to come.

First, the group didn't understand the genre of the script they received. The script was a drama with flashes of humor throughout. The group misinterpreted this and believed the script was a comedy. That's like being at the wheel of a vehicle you believe is an automobile, when in fact it's an air plane. There are some fundamental differences at play that must be understood.

Then the changes came (changes are inevitable, of course; my complaint is with the hackneyed, ham-handed, arbitrary way in which these were made -- never with any consideration about what the changes did to the overall story).

Gerry goes by "Gerry" through most of the film, except when his wife, Grace, is angry with him, and snaps, "Gerhard!" It's not very funny insolated like this here. Read the script, you'll see how it adds texture to the characters. The director trashed this. No one in the group understood the use of the two names.

Tedious flashback scenes were added to the film involving the deceased grandfather. And characters were added. For instance in the middle of the movie, while at a hotel, daughter Abigail goes down the hall to the soda machine. There, she is accosted by a wan, failed Mormon. Someone in the film group raised the question, "Don't Mormons go around in pairs?" This may be true, I don't even know, but rather than accepting that possibly this failed, lone Mormon -- banished to missionary work in this lost burg -- is so hopeless as to be sent into the world with no partner, the director simply added another Mormon. This changes the dynamic of the scene entirely: You have a lone teenaged girl now confronted by two men at the end of this empty hallway. Humor turns into menace. A complete wrong turn.

Better yet was the addition of a transvestite to the diner scene in which the family is eating breakfast. Why not go for the cheapest, least substantial laughs imaginable? The director, in a fit of creative gusto and ecstacy, decided that the breakfast scene absolutely demanded a campy transvestite enter the restaurant to give the film that nanosecond of mirth as the entire place turn and look in surprise.

How do I know of these things, and more, having excused myself from the group before production commenced? I know. If the group met at the bottom of a missile silo, I'd know what was happening with my work.

Unfortunately for the production, the girl playing Abigail quit the project entirely. I feel for the cast and crew because this loss effectively destroys the second half of the film. I don't know as yet if any firm solution has been arrived at to deal with this, but one idea I heard was bandied about involved the daughter simply disappearing with none of her family particularly concerned where she had gone. At the end of the movie Grace, the mother, would receive a cell phone call, smile, and announce that daughter Abigail is safe and sound -- somewhere.

To be fair, this production is the film group's first effort. It would be entirely unfair to expect perfection or even a sturdy level of competence from them (anyone) at this point. No zing intended on that. Especially with filmmaking where there are so many tangible, technical aspects to be mastered. When attending the meetings, it was my opinion that the group wouldn't produce anything of competence or consequence until -- at least -- its fifth or sixth project. I know about the learning processes involved with creative work. There is no way to rush it; no easy way around it. And I do admire the group's willingness to forge ahead in the face of setbacks.

One thing never changes with regard to creative projects -- they are created one decision at a time with each decision's impact having a knock-on effect throughout the entire work. Edits, revisions, alterations are inevitable in any work, but they should never been made simply so someone can leave their own fingerprints on a work. Also, I firmly believe in running with peoples' strengths. If you have a professional writer at your disposal, trust him with matters relating to the script. You have some professional actors, use them onscreen. I'm making short films with friends at present and this is our strategy, and it's working out great.

Ultimately, my feeling about this is "shame on me." I brought this (whatever "this" is) on myself. I should have known no matter whom I delivered my script to it would be treated like a drunken cheerleader at a fraternity keg party. It's just one of those laws or rules that greases the wheels of the universe.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Lateral Life - If a Book Falls in the Forest Does Anyone Hear It?

I'm in the midst of watching again the documentary Stone Reader about Mark Moskowitz's quest to find author Dow Mossman who wrote the 1972 novel The Stones of Summer.

After reading a review in 1972 that declared The Stones of Summer the "novel of a generation", Moskowitz bought a copy, read some of it, and put it away unimpressed. Years later, however, he rediscovered the novel and came away thinking it was one of the best books he'd ever read. He then set out to read everything else Dow Mossman had written -- and found that Mossman hadn't published another book. In fact, it was as though Mossman had dropped off the face of the earth. So, Moskowitz set out to find him, which he documented in his film Stone Reader.

Watching this film again, it's got me thinking about what I get from books. I'm in a period right now in which I feel ravenous to read. I've never been a particularly fast reader, plodding through books, taking weeks to get through the slimmest novels. Then I have periods during which nothing satisfies. My personal library is invisibly pocked with countless half- or quarter-read novels. It's frustrating when I get into one of those inconsolable spins. At present, I'm at the other end of the pendulum swing, enjoying everything I pick up. Last Monday I read Ken Bruen's crime novel The Dramatist. On Wednesday I began Louise Welsh's Tamburlaine Must Die. On Friday I picked up Michel Faber's massive The Crimson Petal and the White, of which I had only read 240 pages a couple of years ago. I read as much over the weekend, and am now a little more than halfway through the near 900-page novel.

The simplest way to sum up what I get from book is the lateral lives they open to me. Bill Vitanyi's Kyuboria, Fred Exley's A Fan's Notes, Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor novels are all set in familiar territory: office life, bar rooms, urban Ireland. Yet they offer me insights my own seared and sucker-punched senses didn't pick up when I was in similar circumstances. Then there's the work of Tim O'Brien and his Vietnam stories opening a portal onto experience that has never been a part of my life. The final section of his book The Things They Carried is about the truest, most wrenching writing I've ever read, when he speaks about a little girl named Linda whom he knew in elementary school.

It's not so much that books and stories are opening doors on aspects of life I know nothing about, it's more like they educate me about what my own experience has meant to me.
I remember so vividly one day when I was six years of age standing in the school yard of Sacred Heart elementary school in Windsor, Ontario -- seven houses away from my own home -- watching a fight between two boys a couple of years old than me. One horrible aspect of watching this fight from a dozen yards away was seeing that no one around the scuffling kids paid them any notice.

At one point, one kid flipped the other onto the ground, where the subdued kid sat, stunned, dust rising around him. It seemed the fight was over with, and all of the anxiety that chaos and entropy and fear of physical violence caused me could tuck itself back away in my mind and await the next outward eruption of turmoil to latch onto. However, the fight was not finished. As the boy on the ground sat in stunned ignorance, the boy who had flipped him walked over to the edge of of the school building, which was only a couple of yards away. There he picked up a piece of jagged concrete that had been knocked loose from the school's foundation. The hunk of concrete was big enough to require its carrier to use two hands to lift it. And the kid who seemed to have won the fight turned from the school wall, lugging that large piece of concrete, approached his adversary from behind, and dropped it onto his head. Witnessing this, my nervous system went incadescent.

Until that moment, in the neverending loop of my own fears of schoolyard violence, I had always figured being kicked in the face to be the worst thing that could happen to someone in a fight. That piece of concrete fell square onto the head of the kid sitting on the ground, hyperextending his neck so that his chin struck his chest under the blow. As the hunk of concrete fell to the ground, the injured kid sprang to his feet and ran in a circle. It was clear he was moving with no more purpose or thought than a foul ball ricocheting off of a baseball bat. The injured kid then ran to the school and banged on a classroom window. It was recess or lunch time so there was probably no one in the classroom. Didn't matter. At that moment, the teacher who was on yard duty came by. All she saw was a kid slamming his fast against a classroom window. Rather than helping him -- she had no idea what had just transpired -- she, in fact, gave him shit. My stomach felt like a well into which any rock thrown would take an eternity to hit water.

That was my first experience with true life horror.
And it was that first taste of the outside world that was reintroduced to me by Ken Kesey's observations about "The Combine" in his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or what faced Jim in Huckleberry Finn or Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird.

If books and stories are portals onto lateral lives we have lived yet not lived, or have lived and need examined by other minds for us, what of novels like Dow Mossman's The Stones of Summer, which are "lost"? Or, those used-bookstore-gems like Tom McHale's body of work, particularly his first novel Principato? Can we only find ourselves in bestsellers? Of course not. For me, the lateral life has never been more lush and open than stumbling across a work wholly unknown to me until the moment I discover it on a used bookstore shelf. Like Christopher Nolan's Dam-Burst of Dreams, or Scott Smith's A Simple Plan, or Thomas Tyron's The Other, or Terry Griggs' Quickening, or Richard Grayson's Highly Irregular Stories, or Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth, or Larry Brown's Big Bad Love, and so many others.

Beyond lamenting my own obscurity, there is a writer I know and whose work I have read living in Iowa whose books and plays should be in every bookstore and on stages across North America. His name is Gary Britson. I interviewed him last year for an article titled Authora Non Grata: Interview with the best writer you've never read. I have read two of Britson's novels, half a dozen of his short stories, and a couple of his plays. He is an excellent writer whose wry sense of humor continually takes me by surprise the more of his stuff I read. But for some reason book publishers and theatrical producers deign to ignore his work. Our loss.

I have a copy of Dow Mossman's The Stones of Summer. I tried reading it the day I bought it two years ago, and didn't get far. The writing is exceptional, but dense and with little sense of story developing. I set it aside to read other books, but will get back to it. The documentary made about Mossman's rediscovery is a worthy testament to all "lost" novels that moved someone somewhere. It's wonderful hearing the filmmaker Mark Moskowitz speaking to people about the books that meant so much to him, and to hear of authors and titles I'd never read. All those lateral lives out there. All those clues strewn about bookstores, in attics and basements, in boxes gathering dust.

As a writer, it's heartening to imagine that something I might create may one day mean as much to some reader somewhere as Mossman's novel means to Moskowitz. At present my most frequent strangers speaking my name are bill collectors. Manuscripts are piled in my office and in my basement like mute, outsized doorstops. Beyond my desk, I'm unemployed Matthew St. Amand, deficient Matthew St. Amand, always-looking-for-a-job Matthew St. Amand. But as a reader and a writer, I flourish in my lateral lives where my victories suffer under paradoxes similar to Flann O'Brien's mystic elevator in his novel The Third Policeman that descends into heaven/hell -- I can take nothing back to my own life except myself.