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the shoelace January 30, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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by Charles Bukowski.

a woman, a
tire that’s flat, a
disease, a
desire: fears in front of you,
fears that hold so still
you can study them
like pieces on a
chessboard…

it’s not the large things that
send a man to the
madhouse. death he’s ready for, or
murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood…
no, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies
that send a man to the
madhouse…

not the death of his love
but a shoelace that snaps
with no time left …

The dread of life
is that swarm of trivialities
that can kill quicker than cancer
and which are always there -
license plates or taxes
or expired driver’s license,
or hiring or firing,
doing it or having it done to you, or
roaches or flies or a
broken hook on a
screen, or out of gas
or too much gas,
the sink’s stopped-up, the landlord’s drunk,
the president doesn’t care and the governor’s
crazy.

lightswitch broken, mattress like a
porcupine;
$105 for a tune-up, carburetor and fuel pump at
sears roebuck;
and the phone bill’s up and the market’s
down
and the toilet chain is
broken,
and the light has burned out -
the hall light, the front light, the back light,
the inner light; it’s
darker than hell
and twice as
expensive.

then there’s always crabs and ingrown toenails
and people who insist they’re
your friends;
there’s always that and worse;
leaky faucet, christ and christmas;
blue salami, 9 day rains,
50 cent avocados
and purple
liverwurst.

or making it
as a waitress at norm’s on the split shift,
or as an emptier of
bedpans,
or as a carwash or a busboy
or a stealer of old lady’s purses
leaving them screaming on the sidewalks
with broken arms at the age of 80.

suddenly
2 red lights in your rear view mirror
and blood in your
underwear;
toothache, and $979 for a bridge
$300 for a gold
tooth,
and china and russia and america, and
long hair and short hair and no
hair, and beards and no
faces, and plenty of zigzag but no
pot, except maybe one to piss in
and the other one around your
gut.

with each broken shoelace
out of one hundred broken shoelaces,
one man, one woman, one
thing
enters a
madhouse.

so be careful
when you
bend over.

The Edge of Friday Night January 29, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, art, blues, French Quarter, music, Toulouse Street.
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The Kerry Irish Pub is the first bar with music pouring out the door the tourists reach as they enter the quarter from the Casino and the downtown hotels nearest the river. The regulars are crowded up toward the door but the tourists gravitate toward the band for a few songs, as obvious and routine in their appearance as the homeless. A couple wearing feather boas; the three men in odd hats, one in a ten gallon wool hat with a Burger King child’s crown over the crown of the hat, another perhaps in a Carnival-colored jester hat or one of those tall Cat In The Hat numbers: it doesn’t matter. I really don’t remember, just their motleynes, announcing to the world that they are in New Orleans and not at home in Alabama or Arkansas or east Texas in a corporate office park or a construction site, not tonight. They are playing dress up with drinks, a combination of the innocence of childishness and the fervor of youth, the way my daughters guy friends might act when they smuggle beer into the backyard and got into my hats.

You sit in front, listening to the band but you ask the transients between songs where they are from, what they plan to do in New Orleans. They never stay long; all our bound for Bourbon Street: Disneyland Sodom where the only thing real is life of the barkers, the bartenders, the musicians playing endless covers of Lynard Skynard when they pack up for the night and and leave it behind. I live next door to a Bourbon Street guitar player in this dismal shack of a shotgun, so pathetic looking from the outside that when the landlord was doing some work and took off back to Mississippi leaving my door ajar for hours no one came in and cleaned me out. No one was looking for a place to light a crack pipe I guess, or perhaps there is still some honor among the poor. I live on the edge of a gentrified neighborhood and the pickings are better a few blocks over. Taking my bargain basement TV and laptop might strike a little too close to home–who might be robbing their own house of their few ill-gotten things–and the shopping is better up the block. That’s reality, where my neighbor the musician and I live, not the roaring noise of Bourbon.

But the tourists coming in, drawn by the first live band they hear, don’t care. The New Orleans of their dreams is calling, the exotic drinks, the beads and boobs and Big Ass Beers, the daily festival of public drunkenness reserved in their hometowns for a season of Saturdays tailgating before The Big Game, reliving the memory of drunken college parties acted out every night on Bourbon for their entertainment and themselves the star of the production.

I remember a quiet night when a couple and their children stopped outside a bar while the band played a song the parents remembered from their youth, the father explaining to the ‘tweens how they loved that song when they were young and all of them–parents and children alike–staring into the bar over the banister railing that closed off the french doors, the parents lost in a reverie of youth and the children imagining their parents as people young and wild, living out what seems to a twelve-year-old the dream of what life might be if they were only free. I stopped and lit a cigarette that night and watched them until they passed on, imagining the thoughts running through their heads.

You sit at the Kerry with just a few companions in front, the regulars of the bar sitting in the back and the band is just juke box to them, the soundtrack recorded music has taught us to expect of life. The band is a pick up gig. One of your companions is the sister of the drummer and band leader and you know that the regular players were unavailable and the two guitarists are just sitting in for the night. One is an older black blues musician you have hoped to see since a friend gave you an old CD to copy, Mem Shannon, the reason why you came. As the band is unfamiliar it takes them a song or two to fall into the practicality of the blues, a form as stylized as the baroque and and well known to them all so the players quickly pull it together. Shannon plays a red lacquered guitar covered with the dials and switches of the days before every player had a row of effect boxes at this feet, plays with the easy facility of long experience, and you think of B.B. King. The other guitarist is a guy named Danny Dugan, and on his jet black guitar with the whammy bar handing loose and broken he plays in the familiar rock-flavored tenor with occasional metal slide of a llife long fan of Dickie Betts.

They are two men of the same age but different in race, experience, the musicians they emulated. And yet as they play in an unfamiliar combo they follow each other from the corner of their eyes. With an occasional eyebrow arched like inverted slurs they support each other’s solos with perfect rhythm work, two practiced disciples of the blues each in their own style. The band leader gives directions between songs, sings with a voice pure and inspired as gospel for the love of the music. The tourists come and go and none leave anything in the tip jar. The regulars chatter in the back but fill the jar with cash when it is passed, understanding the price of their chosen ambiance. No one except the few of us in front is really paying attention. I sit rapt and follow the the way these two musicians settle into an unfamiliar gig and find a way to make incredible music with the grace of toreadors practicing without a crowd.

I mostly watch Mem Shanon, the fast and delicate finger work, the wrist flicking vibrato, as concert house perfect as any violinist but learned over decades playing to disinterested bars for the pure joy of the music, eyes sometimes closed with a slight smile of delight and other times looking up to the sky as if to search for approval from the God his elders told him hated the devil’s blues, the gospel tempos of the church stolen by scoundrels. I watch him eye the other guitarist as they trade licks just for the pure pleasure of it and the hope of enough in the tip jar and the bar cut to buy them dinner after and a cab home, playing not for the disinterested tourists who drift off to Bourbon or even for the regulars who make offerings to the tip jar the way the jaded fill the collection plate but for the pure love of the music, playing for themselves, for each other as the sort of men who play an edge of the quarter club on a Friday night for tips and drinks because they only want to play, would bring their own beer and find a room and play because they can’t imagine another way to live.

This is how art is born and tradition lives, not because of but in spite of the crowd, because these unfamiliar players share just enough of the vocabulary and are long practiced to make a pick up gig into something wonderful, because they can’t imagine a better way to spend the evening. An audience of two or three is almost irrelevant, but I like to think we add something to the moment, the smoke of our cigarettes rising up to heaven like josh stick offerings to the real heart of why New Orleans is, people who play and live and make an art of life because they can’t imagine another way to be.

Embrace your demons, learn their names January 28, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in art, books, literature.
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Art is expression, art is laziness. Art is a rejection of capitalism. Lay on the couch, reflect on your experience, your feelings about the world, wait for a flicker of emotion, a ripple along the surface. Reproduce your inner life on a canvas, in a poem, a looping narrative. Redirect your angst into a play. It fails when you don’t go deep enough, when you think what you’re saying is inherently interesting, when you think your audience is your mom. But it’s still art. Art is intent. Art is narcissistic, you have to believe you have something to say, though we’re all so similar. I remember a story of two boys determined to drink a beer with Bukowski, staring through the window to his crappy apartment as he tossed and turned for days without writing a line. Art is the opposite of going to work, [you] have to embrace your demons, learn their names. If you’re absurdly lucky you can make a living off it, which is like winning the lottery, which is like being paid for being alive.

– Stephen Elliott from today’s Rumpus Email.

Odd Words January 27, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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Let’s start this week with literary tattoos. For over a year I had poet/playwright Raymond “Moose” Jackson’s haunting spoken word poem about New Year’s Eve 2006 in New Orleans “o’neil’s lament” on my I-Pod and would listen to it over and over again, with it’s powerful refrain that seemed to speak for everyone in New Orleans: “I am not allright, but I am upright.” When I went to get my fifth anniversary tattoo, a fairly common (for us) fleur-de-lis, I knew just how I wanted to personalize it, with those very words.

After I wrote the intro over the weekend, local artist provocateur Rex Dingler shows up on Facebook with these pictures. The site linked to above has a message that comes back if you email them saying they have such a backlog they don’t know when they’ll get around to posting anymore. If you have a literary tattoo send me a pic and some information on yourself and why you chose it and maybe we’ll make that a feature here.

And so, to the listings. I haven’t mentioned the ground rules in a while. I don’t post everything going on in town, just things I’m liable to show up for purely out of personal taste. Or because, well, it’s Odd which is a recurring them here. If you have an event coming up be sure to drop a line to markfolse ~AT~ rocketmail ~d0t~ com. If you actually read the blog, chances are it’s cool enough to list here.

§ On Thursday editors and contributors of the bilingual Arabic/English literary series Meena present a reading with musical accompaniment. 7 p.m. at Little Morocco , 7457 St. Charles Ave.

§ This sounds like a fun read, if you’re of a certain, um, bent : Meet Jeffrey and Randal, two desperate junkies and your guides on this top-to-bottom fun-house tour of Hollywood’s underbelly. From infamous crime scenes to celebrity treatment centers, SICK CITY is an outrageous page-turning adventure set in the sun-bleached wilds of LA. Tony O’Neill will be reading and signing Saturday night at 6 p.m and at the Maple Leaf Book Shop at 1 p.m.

§ While the library calendar is mostly listing story and reading time for kids and that sort of thing, I think I’ll need to wander over one day and check out this exhibit at the Main Branch on Loyola Avenue: Freedom Riders–A traveling exhibition developed by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in partnership with American Experience to tell the story of the 1961 Freedom Rides. On display at the Main Library during the month of January.

§ The Maple Leaf is an open mike on Sunday, and 17 Poets! will return next week with a very special feature pair. Watch this space for details.

Odd Words: Walker Percy Edition January 26, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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The column’s not ready, but tonight (Wednesday):

The Walker Percy Center for Writing and Publishing will show Walker Percy: A Documentary Film at Nunemaker Auditorium, Monroe Hall, on the campus of Loyola, Wednesday, January 26, 2011, 7 P.M. This documentary was an official selection of the 2010 New Orleans Film Festival. For more information about the movie, visit walkerpercymovie.com.

This should have been in last week’s. Still time to make it if you hurry.

Curiosity Killed The Cat? January 25, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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Why is the time line of modern literature line with the cold bodies of so many depressives who could not cope? Everyone needs an impetus to write and is depression one of those drivers? The quote below raises an interesting question: is there a point where depression expressed as excessive introspection flips into an insatiable curiosity, one that is informed by the writer’s own plumbing of his or her own motivations, mistakes, doubts, the question of where these come from and how these play out, that are in large part the stuff of narrative?

Consider this from an interview with David Lipsky of Rolling Stone discussing an interview with David Foster Wallace conducted in 1996 that has just now seen publication. Wallace was a chronic depressive who took his own life in 2008. There is a link on the Rolling Stone site but it’s currently broken.

There’s a very funny remark that Elizabeth Wurtzel made: she said that the flip side of depression is curiosity. I don’t know if she’s right, but I could see what she meant: I think depression is examination you can’t turn off: Once you start the examination you can’t stop it, and it kind of settles on you. But if you can somehow change the spigot you get incredible curiosity. Because if you’re examining things all the time, when you’re depressed, the hard thing is you’re examining yourself and your life and how many things can fail. The Nardil let him turn that outward. The one thing I think is reductive about that thought is I don’t think Wallace’s talent had anything to do with being medicated.

I would agree that talent is key, but whether that talent finds an outlet is the issue. I wonder how many depressives started out as quiet children obsessed with books and themselves. Wallace, the longer interview points out, was not. He was a tennis star and a popular kid. He was not apparently the classic melancholic. What interests me is Wurtzel’s take on it, the idea that there is a connection between the excessively introspective person and a curiosity that becomes a drive to write. I think somewhere in there is a third component, the need for the perhaps obsessively introspective person to try and organize their thoughts through writing or some other medium of art. This is what I think turns the spigot. Talent is simply a matter of how easily one masters the outlet, through native talent, obsessive persistence or both.

Excessive self-examination without the curiosity, now that’s probably a problem. I have tended both, combining a melancholic introspection with a curiosity about the world, one I filled as a child as much by taking radios apart as by reading constantly but the strongest inclination was toward myself, and toward the world as portrayed in books (itself a form of self-obsession, an opposition to going out and examining the world around you). Couple that with a fly away mind, one that latches onto some thought and cannot stop running with it and you have a volatile mix, one that’s gotten me into some sort of trouble ever since the first school teacher called me out for day-dreaming, or caught me with another book behind their text.

After decades of trying to suppress the natural working of my mind as unhealthy and unproductive, I started writing again in direct response to the events of Hurricane Katrina, an act which turned Wurtzel’s figurative spigot. By starting on a blog that suddenly got a lot of attention because of it’s subject, rocketing up the Technorati stats pole, I was forced very quickly to begin to discipline my thoughts, to lasso chaos and structure it, stringing sentences together that were compelling and sensible to an audience not familiar with the reality of the subject of Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood or who held romantic and foolish notions about New Orleans. I found it is possible to take that excessive self-examination and channel it, to redirect the the flow into a critical dissection of the world.

Over time my initial posture of journalist, a natural one having spent more than ten years in that business, turned into a more reflective if not introspective one. I ended up doing on Wet Bank Guide what I have done here, to spend my time like the protagonist of Walker Percy’s Lancelot mentioned in my last post, ruminating on the nature of New Orleans and its people and our own place in that scheme. I turned back inward to process the material I wrote about, in the classic nature of first person essayist. At the same time, that turn led me back into the dark corridors of excessive self-examination, down the paths tread by the likes of Sylvia Plath and John Berryman. I must confess I prefer the tragi-comic mask of vaudeville in which Berryman dressed up his own confessional monologues but in both their cases the destination is the same.

And lately things got might quiet around here for a bit, in case you hadn’t noticed.

I don’t want to buy into the whole tortured artist mythos. That way madness lies, quite literally. The question is, do you become like William Styron who went on to acclaim after publishing Darkness Visible, or do you end up like Wallace or John Berryman, swallowed by your disorder rather than embracing and managing it. I’m not suggesting you can write your way out of depression or any other ilness but at a certain level clinical disorder is — as Lipsky interprets Wurtzel in the quote that started all this — a different way of looking at the world. When it becomes pathological, the solution is to see someone about it just as you would about anything else not right with your body. At the margins, however, is is a place where compulsively taking the world and its people (and your own self) apart to figure out how each works (or rather, why it doesn’t) and putting it all back together in ways that make a new kind of sense is where art is born. Medication may only be necessary when you suddenly are so paralyzed that you can’t act, and for me the gauge of that is the inability to string sentences or stanzas together.

Then ask yourself: can you write yourself into depression? I wonder sometimes when I look back at some of my posts about the Counting House, or some others on the nature of art by such cheerful fellows at Charles Bukowski, Henry Miller and William Burroughs. “Nothing better fits a distracted and melancholic have-another-drink funk than Bukowski: pure despair for the savor of it, like a cheap cigar” I once wrote.

Consider the question posed by Maud Newton [sigh] on her blog this week: whether an artist should be feeling the emotions of her characters, especially if these characters are particularly unhappy.

I asked my friend Alex Chee in email this weekend, after reading a new story of his that powerfully evokes the kind of moony, depressive, sickeningly self-reflective state I’ve been in. “Because the end of this novel is completely kicking my ass. I hate what I’m learning about myself as I write it, but the dissociated part of me is fascinated that I’m learning so much about myself by writing something that is not literally about me at all.”

Moony, depressive, sickeningly self-reflective state. Yep. I’ve got all those checked off on this list right here.

Perhaps that is why I spend so much time here, because if there is one thing we learned from the experience of 2005 is that blogging writing is therapeutic. So many people started writing public journals of some sort after the storm and flood, not just topical comment and reporting but their visceral experiences. I got to know a good many of them and one thing I think they would agree with to the last man and woman: writing about what they were going through helped their sanity. (Revisiting what they wrote is another experience entirely, as we learned at the reading/launch of A Howling in the Wires. Lets just say it took some coaxing and a lot of alcohol to get everyone through that night. Don’t let it discourage you from the book, which is fascinating. Just imagine having to stand up and read some of those pieces from five years earlier in front of an audience.

I should end this on a happier note, perhaps a borrowed photo in which the cat haz her cheezburger and eats it, too, or a You Tube of crucifixion sing along from Life of Brian but that’s not why we’re here. We are here to open the spigot wide, to let all the steam go howling up the chimney pipe before the boiler goes. I was going to quote some of my favorite lines by Everette Maddox, the famously alcoholic poet laureate of New Orleans, but most people won’t find it uplifting. Instead, I think we’ll finish with this, the poem I send to people who need cheering up with its wonderful line “…ultimates and ultimates buoy him up.”

He will leave in the morning
by the ordinary door
and walk in the shrill gray streets
in the old soot and sunshine.
He has learned all he needed to know,
what he already knew, that he is happy.

Walking out the door with that poem ringing in your head instead of the other I did not quote: now that’s something worth fighting and writing for.

I’d Rather Stay Here With All The Madmen January 21, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Almost everyone thinks of Confederacy of Dunces as The Great New Orleans book. When my daughter started Loyola this year, every entering student was handed a copy. I love the book as much as anyone else, but I think to raise it up on a pedestal like that ignores the fact that, while the city has fared poorly on film before Treme (and I have routine arguments with people even over that), it has produced a great many books that actually capture the sense of it, what Walker called in the Moviegoer “the genie soul of…place“.

Attorney, blogger and author Billy Sothern muses a bit on Walker Percy’s Lancelot, which owns its place in the canon for the character’s reflections while confined to a mental institution on the character of the city. Here is a fitting excerpt as we start to think of Carnival seasons.

What is it I can smell, even from here, as if the city has a soul and the soul exhaled an effluvium all its own? I can’t quite name it. A certain vital decay? A lively fetor? When I think of New Orleans away from New Orleans, I think of rotting fish on the sidewalk and good times inside. A Catholic city in a sense, but that’s not it. Providence, Rhode Island, is a Catholic city, but my God who would want to live in Providence, Rhode Island? It’s not it, your religion, that informs this city, but rather some special local accommodation to it or relaxation from it. The city’s soul I think of as neither damned nor saved but eased rather, existing in a kind of comfortable Catholic limbo somewhere between the outer circle of hell, where sexual sinners don’t have it all that bad, and the inner circle of purgatory, where things are even better. Add to that a flavor of Marseilles vice leavened by Southern U.S.A. good nature. Death and sex treated unseriously and money seriously. The Whitney Bank is as solemn as the cemetery is lively. Protestants started Mardi Gras, you know. Presbyterians take siestas or play gin at the Boston Club. Jews ride on carnival floats celebrating the onset of Christ’s forty-day fast.

If you don’t follow his blog, you really should. Check out Character and Fitness from last Tuesday.

Odd Words January 19, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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Let’s begin with an interview on TheMillions (and likely a book) every serious blogger should have a look at: The Made-Up Self: Impersonation in the Personal Essay by Carl H. Klaus. The author is the founder of the NonFiction Writing Program at The University of Iowa and a prolific essayist himself.

I disagree with one part of the interview because it makes the mistake of generalizing bloggers when bogging is in fact a format, and in that format you find a wide range of writing from the most mundane to the truly inspired. (We sort of fall in the middle here, or at least I hope just a bit in the upper end of the class):

TM: Let’s talk about Montaigne. Andrew Sullivan has written in the Atlantic that Montaigne was “the quintessential blogger.” And Sarah Bakewell, who has just come out with a new biography of Montaigne, recently wrote in the Paris Review that “bloggers might be surprised to hear that they are keeping alive a tradition created more than four centuries ago” by Montaigne. I think you get much closer to the truth in your essay on Montaigne when you write that he “openly espouses a policy not of naturalness but of studied casualness or, to be more exact, artful artlessness.” Would you agree with me that it’s wrong to equate most bloggers today with Montaigne’s “artful artlessness?”

CK: Well listen, the differences between Montaigne and bloggers are so manifold that I find it surprising that anyone would even think of comparing them – because they have different agendas and completely different ways of going about writing. For example, Montaigne’s freewheeling style is grounded in an overriding concern with echoing the flow of his thought. Now the bloggers aren’t concerned with that kind of interiority. Their writing is largely concerned with topical subjects of the moment, and they have no consciousness of consciousness. That’s not what they’re after. Even more importantly, bloggers’ pieces are one-shot affairs, whereas Montaigne took his essays through three separate revisions. And the revisions were made by additions, by accretion. He never dropped anything.

If you’ve actually shown up here by anything other than a complete accident and have read so far I think you can surmise what my objections are. Toulouse Street is certainly concerned with the flow of thought, with interiority. It is entirely about my observations of the world (the city in particular) and about things I come across in my reading that set a train of thought running. I don’t write about public affairs, sports, food, my children, etc. Blogging is category so generic as to be almost meaningless. It would be like calling all writers “bookers”. If anything, this bit of the Internet has evolved from a sort of cork-board of odd pictures and moments into something else, just as Wet Bank Guide evolved from an exercise in explaining Katrina and the Federal Flood into one of explaining New Orleans. In both instances, I landed in the same place: telling not so much a story as what I’m thinking about at a particular place and time in a way that makes it worth the bother to read.

Still, for all my quibbles with that one question and answer, I think The Made-Up Self: Impersonation In the Personal Essay is yet another book I’m going to have to find time to ready.

§ I’m publishing this entry a day early so you’ll still have time to make this event at the Maple Street Book Shop: Jordan Flaherty, along with local poet Asia Rainey, will be the shop at 6:00 P.M. to discuss and sign Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to Jena Six. Eve Ensler, playwright of The Vagina Monologues and activist and founder of V-Day, says, This is the most important book I*ve read about Katrina and what came after. In the tradition of Howard Zinn this could be called The People*s History of the Storm. Jordan Flaherty was there on the front lines. For more information about this book, please visit floodlines.org.

§ Otherwise another quiet week. At the Maple Leaf on Sunday Cleveland poet Russell Vidrick reads from his work with poet Joseph Makkos. 17 Poets! is still on hiatus until February. Nothing else much at the bookstores of interest to me (the criteria for getting listed. That or a beer).

The Sentence is a Lonely Place January 16, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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I knew exactly what I wanted to try to write: narratives of steep verbal topography, narratives in which the sentence is a complete, portable solitude, a minute immediacy of consummated language—the sort of sentence that, even when liberated from its receiving context, impresses itself upon the eye and the ear as a totality, an omnitude, unto itself. I once later tried to define this kind of sentence as “an outcry combining the acoustical elegance of the aphorism with the force and utility of the load-bearing, tractional sentence of more or less conventional narrative.” The writers of such sentences became the writers I read and reread. I favored books that you could open to any page and find in every paragraph sentences that had been worked and reworked until their forms and contours and their organizations of sound had about them an air of having been foreordained—as if this combination of words could not be improved upon and had finished readying itself for infinity.

– From The Sentence is a Lonely Place, a lecture delivered by writer Gary Lutz to the students of Columbia University’s writing program, reproduced in McSweeney’s The Believer. H/T to HTMLGiant.

Good Food Fakes Time January 13, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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I was tasked recently to come up with resource hour estimates for a wide range of projects in the Supplicant-Left Offerings Group of Moloch (more affectionately known on good days as The Counting House). They are using a 170 hour work month as the basis of their analysis. There are on average 22 work days in a month, so that works out to 7.72273 hours of productive time a day.

The Project Management Institute standard last time I checked is 6.5 productive hours actually allocated to project work (as opposed to reporting to your boss, getting coffee, dealing with HR, going to the doctor, going to the bathroom, eating something), but it’s been a while. Where does this leave us? Dangling from the arm of a tower clock as it slowly ticks downward toward the vertical? At the least mandatory catheterization can’t be far off. In fact, a combination of intravenous feeding and catheterization could mean a tremendous bump in productivity. I think I may have to slip this in the Suggestion Box.

All this put me in mind of the seminal book of software engineering project management, The Mythical Man Month, written in the misty dawn of time (1975) when tube testers could still be found at your corner K&B and computers were really big and some had literally to be fed punch cards. The book offers useful information not only to the project manager but also to captains of industry in general. For example: nine women can not have a baby in one month. Thirty-five years later and much of the world of business has still not figured this out yet. Then again, based on the immutable laws of the stock market–profits must grow every year–they haven’t quite figured out the whole perpetual motion thing yet either. That’s probably why you see so many of those ball knocker toys on their desks. They’re still trying to figure that one out.

What is interesting about this book is that it starts out with a quote from a very old version of the menu of Antoine’s Restaurant (pirated here for your viewing pleasure) which is entirely in French. I’m not sure if the “f” in what should read “takes time” in the epigram translation is an egregious typo in the first edition, or an attempt to fool the digital rights police. If so, it works, because I found the entire book as a PDF.

Yes, it does. Take time. And fake time, wondering where those four hours at the table went. Perhaps if they left the empty wine bottles as a marker we could keep better track, given that the entire city here lives on (Insert Culturally Insensitive Reference Here) Standard Time. I like to think of it as Central River Time, and by that clock the 7.72273 hour productive day is, well: waiter, more wine please.

And for our mouth watering finale, a copy of the menu. Fortunately it’s too small to read really, so you won’t miss actually getting up to go have lunch somewhere other than your desk. I think I’ll have the Pigeonnaux sauce paradis, avec pommes de terre souflees et salade d’anchois. Someone recommend a wine. (Sorry. It’s been a long, tiresome day. You want ax-scents on that soufflees, baby, they extra).

If I have accomplished nothing else useful today, I have added catheterization to the Mozilla Firefox spill chucker. And I managed to send a work email at 5:33 pm, having sent my first at 6:28 am this morning, indicating that I am–even as I jotted notes toward this in Notepad during that interminably long phone meeting–a Dedicated Member of The Team and all sorts of other things that float around on my screen saver when I stop to eat my mundane lunch. At my desk.

Odd Words January 13, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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My own fascination with the Arctic began during a decade in North Dakota, that unbroken site line to the horizon over the frozen landscape, but what’s captured my attention in this discussion of Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams is the connection between the author’s time in the earthquake disaster zone in Chile and the connection he found to the experience of the people of the Arctic north to place, and their sense of dislocation due to modernization and industrialization, the sense of profound attachment to place: mundane geography (to the outside) as a primal anchor, almost a sacred precinct. This book is jumping way up to the top of my endless backlog.

§ New Orleans is a town in love with its history of burlesque, with what seems a half-dozen troops of artists practicing that art of erotic dance. So its no surprise that Octavia Books would host author Karren Abbott and her book AMERICAN ROSE: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee. You have to love the Oscar Wilde quote on the store’s home page announcing this event: ““America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.” January 15 at 6 p.m. at Octavia Books which is of course on Octavia Street.

§ UPDATE A new reading series hosted by Thaddeus Conti, Saturdays at 7 at the Jupiter Gallery across from the R-Bar. I was at a birthday party for Jonathan Kline and was told about it but forgot to write down who was reading. I carry a pen and notebook for a reason, or could have put it in the phone but the party hosted by his wife and local poety Gina Ferrara was too much fun. No guarantee of a reading this Saturday, but I’ll try to find out before then and update this post.

§ UPDATE On January 19th Jordan Flaherty, along with several others TBA, will be at the Maple Street Book Shop at 6:00 P.M. to discuss and sign Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to Jena Six. Eve Ensler, playwright of The Vagina Monologues and activist and founder of V-Day, says, “This is the most important book I’ve read about Katrina and what came after. In the tradition of Howard Zinn this could be called The People’s History of the Storm. Jordan Flaherty was there on the front lines.”

§ UPDATE The Maple Leaf Bar Poetry Series will be an open mike this Sunday.

§ UPDATE 17 Poets! reading series at the Goldmine Saloon will resume Feb. 3.

We do seem to like to have our salons in saloons here in New Orleans. Again, if you have an event coming up, please be sure to email me so I can make sure it’s on here.

Oceania January 12, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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A meditation on the late shooting by Steve Almond for TheRumpus.net.

In says, in part:

Kurt Vonnegut believed the human race was doomed if we failed to engage with acts of imagination, because we would then become incapable of imagining the suffering of others.

Vonnegut was one of the few human beings who lived through the Allied bombing of Dresden. He was a POW cowering in a slaughterhouse as planes flew above, dropping bombs on people and buildings.

This was how America fought Fascism.

Do read the whole thing.

To what country will we flee if they triumph, and who will rise against the modern perfection of crude 20th Century fascism when the most powerful nations in the world are no better? Welcome to Oceania.

“It was curious to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same–everywhere, all over the world, hundreds or thousands of millions of people just like this, people ignorant of one another’s existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same–people who had never learned to think but were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world.”
- George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 10

Silence is Violence 2010 January 11, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in Crime, je me souviens, Murder, Remember, the dead, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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I began listing the murder victims of New Orleans from 2007 in early 2008, partly because I could not make a Silence is Violence march. I did it again the following year because of the number of people I discovered go searching for their loved ones (I hope, and not gloating over their victims). I didn’t do this last year because I started a writing project (unfinished) called Murder Ballads instead, but I feel bad I did not post a list last year. Since NOLA.com now has a database of murder victims with links to the news stories on that site, I may go back and do 2009, but for now, here are the victims of 2010.

I have copied liberally from NOLA.com, giving more detail than I have in the past.

What I wrote in a piece about one victim still about sums up the reason for this exercise best:

Everyone person on that list, even if they had gone down that dark path and died with a handgun in their waste band and an empty look in their eyes, all of them were once as Chanel once was, as my own children once were: as innocent as a lamb in the lap of Jesus.

The list is long so I’ve placed it on a page here.

Begging Your Indulgence January 10, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Nothing says “cheer me up” like Allen Ginsberg growling over his harmonium a bit of William Blake. There is some secret key in these words, perhaps in part Ginsberg’s ululating tremulo and the howling of the harmonium, that distills the sad impulse to listen to this into a moment of beauty, the flash of hopeful light in the eyes of a tubercular Covent Garden flower girl holding out her basket of violets. You purchase a bunch, and that simple act is worth more in the eyes of death than a hundred indulgent scapulars of St. Jude.

Watch Out World January 9, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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I don’t normally “daddy-blog” but I couldn’t resist posting this picture of my son, Matthew, during a driving lesson.

The Brink January 8, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, Rebirth, Recovery, Sun Ra, The Narrative, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK, Writing.
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Today’s literary tidbit is courtesy of Marco who sent this on to me as an example of Something Not To Read while I was posting something else indicating I was perhaps less than cheerful. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s public recounting of his “crack-up” isn’t the typical confessional piece of someone who’s gone completely over the brink. This isn’t William Styron’s Darkness Visible, a chronicle of the descent into near madness. No white coats or shock treatments or pill cups from Nurse Ratchet; just a withdrawal from it all and a deep peer over the brink that lies inside all of us. And some quiet time to think about it all.

I’ve hesitated to post this essay but it would seem to answer a private question from one reader who wishes to know how I’m doing, or rather what I’m doing. Like Fitzgerald, I’m trying to figure it all out somewhere on this side of the brink, and not in the monstrous way Fitzgerald resolves it. My problem, or rather my solution, is quite the opposite.

I wrote a lot in college and right after (somewhere I have a poetry manuscript, alas, but there’s always hope the cockroaches and mildew have gotten to it), but as I fell into journalism I wrote less and less and typed more and more. I wrote perhaps a half-dozen poems over 10 years when some line stuck itself in my head, only because I never stopped reading poetry. I wrote a theme for the Washington Mardi Gras that led my co-worker to ask me what I was on in college, but they used it anyway because it was good. I started a novel but didn’t get far. Mostly, I read and went about the business of life: small children, a series of houses, rungs on a Jacob’s ladder to the conventional American heaven on earth.

Then something happened one afternoon August 29, 2005. Something literally snapped and it wasn’t just a string of Mardi Gras beads hanging from my rear view mirror. The experience of Katrina and the Federal Flood, witnessed from 900 miles away, didn’t so much break something as steal something away from me. Call it faith: faith in anything. I looked at the social contract and it appeared to have been written in another language with its own alphabet. All the threads that tie us into society from the family up to the nation state snapped at once. All bets were off and the rules became as bizarre of those of Calvin and Hobbes’ ball game, made up on the spot to suit the situation.

And somewhere in all that I lost the ability to lie to myself.

I could no longer convince myself that what I witnessed was an anomaly and not the way the world worked. When all of your assumptions about life and society, even those one mocked (religion, the government) were proved to be made of thin tissue that could not stand up to the flood waters, when confronted with all of the lies required to live as a decent, respectable human being in this place and time, it was more than my mind could handle. I struggled to assemble some new organizational scheme, some way to make sense of the world and myself.

This isn’t the same as suggesting I could not or cannot today deceive myself. We’re all much too good at that. It’s as deeply wired into the survival instinct of modern man as any carry over from our days with sticks and skins. It just became impossible to keep up for long. Eventually all such attempts—societal, professional and even personal–fall apart. It’s a personal, interior version of the film Liar, Liar, and it is not particularly funny.

It also doesn’t suggest that I’ve lost the ability to lie to others, to put on the mask appropriate to the situation. I still have responsibilities I can not just walk away from. I have to hold onto a job and pay all the bills that come with decades on the treadmill. It’s just that over time things start to leak out, especially once you’ve started writing in a public forum like this. Not just the piece about the broken beads, suggesting some extraordinary connection beyond coincidence, which someone–say a future employer–might find disconcerting. There is the piece long ago where I announced I am (as almost everyone in this town is) a racist, but one who has recognized the disease I inherited from my family and city and from which, like an alcoholic, I will spend the rest of my life in recovery. Then there are my occasional posts expressing my obvious dissatisfaction with my current career and carefully never-mentioned-by-name employer, the Counting House.

What the Hindu’s call the veil of Maya was torn away, the illusions proved not to be something mystical, a natural by product of our creation from some greater soul but rather the cheap tricks of a casino lounge magician, the chicanery of politicians we agree with. We were all having such a good time; it wasn’t worth trying to puzzle out how it was done and spoiling the moment.

When the underpinnings of your world suddenly shatters, when even the convenient fictions of every day life prove to be just a drapery in front of something more monstrous that you imagined in your darkest moments, something is going to happen. One in a million people becomes the Buddha. Sorry, not me; not this time around. Most become suicides, substance abusers, or aimless drifters standing on the corner all day with a stare fixed on some distant point but no idea where to go.

Some become writers, madly cataloging their thoughts and creating fictions knowing that is what they are doing but knowing it is of their own creation, an extension of the preservation impulse that raised the gods up out of the muck and gave them names, the stories told around the fire that animated the stars. The author and editor of TheRumpus.net Stephen Elliot has an excellent essay titled “Why I Write” in which he talks about “the scream,” the sudden realization that you have something you must say, a impulse so powerful it comes out (must come out) as a shout. This is my shout, not a cry for help but something like the fierce, instinctive howl that came out of my throat once when cornered by a pack of feral dogs that scared them away.

I should probably be writing this privately as a journal entry somewhere, or as a letter to some specific individual who will (or will not) understand. That’s how things like this are handled, right? Except that as with the alcoholic or other twelve-stepper, if you’re going to succeed at healing yourself you need to stand up and announce to the world: I am a terrible liar. And given the path I’ve gone down, once I decided to post the story quoted above about the broken beads and all that has followed, what is the point of writing to myself or an audience of one when there’s a whole world out there to remake, millions of pieces to rearrange until they make sense and become something beautiful?

I am very fond of the jazz and performance artist Sun Ra, who used to speak about “the shield of beauty” which I have come to understand as something like the shield of Perseus held up to the Medusa. Writing is my shield of beauty, without which the monstrosity of the world would destroy me. It’s that simple. And that complex. And if I don’t spend the rest of my life at this, well, there’s always the bottle, the razor, the silent man sitting in the chair in the corner thinking and doing nothing, but who—once you are this conscious of the decision involved—would chose those?

So, that’s why I’m here. Why, curious reader, are you?

Odd Words January 6, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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Last week I wrote about Bary Hannah,and someone sent me this link to a NYT reviewer’s take on the Long, Last, Happy.

I accept their criticisms of his iconic treatment of conventional plotting but I wonder myself if conventional narrative is essential. I just watched the film Crash and had a long discussion about it revolving around the idea that it was a story born of story boards, the creation first of characters and the situations that defined them and then the arrangement into a narrative that came not so much as an afterthought but as something born of those character and the situations, an assemblage of flash fiction nuggets into a narrative that ultimately works. Perhaps that worked so well here because it was a collaborative process, a collage assembled by many hands saying “no, no, this goes here”, something natural to Hollywood and the making of film.

In the end, what matters is that the work is engaging, opens a door to another world. For the purposes of pure providing the reader escape from their mundane life conventional narrative is as essential as the conventions of sitcom or daytime drama. If one’s purpose is the transformation of perspective, the opening of doors in the readers’ mind they did not know were there perhaps a disordering of conventional expectation about narrative is essential. If the goal is to take the expectations of a Southern Writer and to smash them and assemble something new out of the pieces, it’s perfect.

And so, to the listings.

§ UPDATE A new reading series hosted by Thaddeus Conti, tonight (Saturday) at 7 a the Jupiter Gallery across from the R-Bar. I was at a birthday party for Jonathan Kline and was told about it but forgot to write down who was reading. I carry a pen and notebook for a reason, or could have put it in the phone but the party was too much fun.

§ The first reading of the year at the Latter Library will be on Saturday, January 8th. The reading will happen at 2pm before the Saints play Seattle. The featured poets are Megan Burns, Jonathan Kline and Joseph Makkos. These readings are organized by another fantastic poet and contributor to A Howling in the Wires, Gina Ferrara.

§ On Sunday, January 9th Poet Bob Matlock reads from his work, followed by an open mike at the Maple Leaf Bar, 3-ish. No Saints game this Sunday so it should be peaceful on the patio.

§ Catholic school children were spared both Louisiana History and Health classes, so I had no idea there was a major slave revolt in New Orleans in 1811, but consider that I lived through (as a small child) the ugly days of New Orleans’ Resegratation in the early 1960s (which at least partly explains why I was in Catholic school). I call it resegratation because that’s precisely what happened, the erection of new structures to defeat attempts to desegregate the schools and we live everyday with the results of the creation of educational Bantustans. I may not make the signing, but apparently I know more about the slave uprising in Naiti than I do in my own state, so even if I miss this the book goes on the list. Garden District Books will host a discussion and signing of American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt by Dan Rasmussen Jan. 8 from 1-3 p.m.

§ Maple Street Bookstore is starting a book discussion group for writers, focusing on books about writing starting on January 10th. First up: read and discuss Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. You’ll receive a 10% discount on the book if you purchase it at Maple and join the circle! I’m not anxious to quite The Rumpus online poetry book club, which already sets be back $20 a month for a pre-publication title, but this sounds interesting.

§ In a similar vein Garden District Books will feature The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. So if you’re got a manuscript or even just a good idea you can drop by and give a one minute to pitch your book ideas to a once-in-a-lifetime, all-star cast of publishing experts, including Arielle Eckstut & David Henry Sterry, co-founders of The Book Doctors and co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published; Kathleen Nettleton of prestigious Pelican Publishing; and Susan Larson, author, ex-book editor of The New Orleans Times-Picayune who now hosts The Reading Life on WWNO-FM, is vice president for programming of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Just keep in mind that your chances of success fall somewhere between those of an American Idol contestant and those of the kids up the street at Stalling Park who want to play in the NBA. My recommendation, buy the book on writing at Octavia and Write Like a Motherfucker.

§ New Orleans is a town in love with its history of burlesque, with what seems a half-dozen troops of artists practicing that art of erotic dance. So its no surprise that Octavia Books would host author Karren Abbott and her book AMERICAN ROSE: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee. You have to love the Oscar Wilde quote on the store’s home page announcing this event: ““America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.” January 15 at 6 p.m. at Octavia Books which is of course on Octavia Street.

Roots of Music January 4, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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Here in a city where a ten-year old might dream of playing snare like Dineral Shavers or blowing ‘bone like Trombone Shorty as other children dream of being the next 50 Cent or Kanye West, programs like the Heritage School of Music and Roots of Music are critical to the training of the next generation of musicians.

If you watch this video, the Roots of Music program run by Derrick Tabb’s of Rebirth Brass Band gets a dollar from Spin Magazine so give them a virtual hollah and watch it. If you have not seen these kids, they are amazing. Standing at the Square one Wednesday last year the drum corps took the stage, none of them looking a day over 10, and one gentleman standing next to me leaned over and told his friend, “those little kids are going to shame some high school bands come parade time.” Truer words I’ve never heard.

Take 10 minutes and give these kids a dollar.

Villages in the Midst January 3, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, 504ever.
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Our friends over at THE RUMPUS kindly accepted this, along with pieces from several other New Orleans writers (none of whose pieces are about New Orleans but hey, I’m obsessed) for an online collection of very short pieces on Neighborhood. Thanks Susan Clements and the whole Rumpus team.

Start from the division of the city along Canal Street by a median strip called the neutral ground, one side Creole and the other American, the no man’s land where the old New Orleans of the French and Spanish reluctantly mingled with the Yankee new comers of two hundred years ago. Walk either direction from Canal more than a dozen blocks, downtown past the French Quarter or uptown through the Central Business District and things begin to blur. The grand avenues of St. Charles and Esplanade are both lined with the grand old houses of the wealthy, built when the city could call itself Queen of the South, but a few blocks behind either stand the same square cottages and long shotguns of the working class.

This is where conventional demography breaks down and neighborhood begins: where you got that po-boy or snowball, where you went to school, which church’s bells wake you at six in the morning, the store your parents sent you to as a child for liquor or cigarettes because the owner knew you. There are more than two cities here, not just the division of the old city into Creole and American but also the historic city and the post-war suburbs. Whether your boulevard is lined with grand mansions or strip malls, the back streets share an architectural homogeneity that makes the name of your corner store–not the Piggly Wiggly but the one with a family name–that much more important. This is neighborhood.

There is pride in neighborhood. Is there another city in America where a ten year old can tell you which civil ward he lives in, might even break into a sing-song chant of “1st Ward, 2nd Ward, 3rd Ward: that’s Uptown! 7th Ward 8th Ward, 9th Ward, that’s Downtown!”? The Mardi Gras Indians of either side sew in different styles, one geometrically abstract and feather-heavy, the other defined by detailed patchwork of primitive realism. These streets are where New Orleans’ iconic music is born, played not for the door but for pride; where the food is best not for Fodor’s but because your grandmother’s name is on the sign; where parades are not the lumbering floats of well-to-do Carnival but the high stepping second lines of century-old Social Aid and Pleasure clubs.

These neighborhoods are the villages we create to tame a place in the wild subtropical jungle that surrounds us.

2010 in review January 2, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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While 58,000 visitors won’t get you into the top percentiles at Technorati it certainly is a reminder that I’m not just whistling in the dark. Some of those came looking for something specific. Others were referred here by spam links but its the Internet, you can’t help that. And a few come by on a regular basis, as a goodly fraction of my visitors come from some aggregator like Google Reader. Thank you all for listening.

The number of people who come by to visit the Silence is Violence posts reminds me I did not put up a list of those murdered in 2009 as I did in 2008 and 2007, and those visitors come looking for some mention of someone they loved and lost to violence in this city. Hardly a month goes by without someone coming by one of those posts and commenting. I think I need to do two things: get back to work on the writing project Murder Ballads I told myself last year was more important but did not make much progress on, and put together a list for 2010. I think I’ll get started on that right now. You are remembered.

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

About 3 million people visit the Taj Mahal every year. This blog was viewed about 58,000 times in 2010. If it were the Taj Mahal, it would take about 7 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 171 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 736 posts. There were 51 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 25mb. That’s about 4 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was January 14th with 489 views. The most popular post that day was Help Haiti.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were twitter.com, adrastos.blog-city.com, righthandthief.blogspot.com, facebook.com, and en.wordpress.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for haiti, cargo cult, toulouse street, ashley morris, and crows.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Help Haiti September 2008
1 comment

2

Grandpa Elliot and Friends: Stand By Me October 2008
17 comments

3

Cargo Cult of the Endymionites March 2007
1 comment

4

Ashley Morris April 2008
5 comments

5

Silence is Violence Remembers January 2008
18 comments

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