Ghosts of the Flood August 29, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, Corps of Engineers, Fargo, Federal Flood, Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, memoir, postdiluvian, Shield of Beauty, the dead, The Narrative, The Typist, We Are Not OK.
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” . . . so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many . . . “
The Wasteland, T.S. Eliot
Sometimes I feel them, my wife told me, their spirits, as I’m driving down the street. All that suffering, she explains, all those people. As if 300 years of yellow fever and the lash, the lynchings and gansta gun battles weren’t enough to populate a parallel city of spirits in this place where tombs are mansions and burials a celebration, the Flood came.
Now there is a brooding presence even in the bright of day, looming over us all like a storm-bent house on the verge of collapse. These empty shells of former lives that line so many streets are a daily reminder of the vast catastrophe; the windows staring lifelessly at broken sidewalks, the facades washed pale and colorless. Each still bears the esoteric marks of the searchers that mimic the scratching on tombs in the old cemeteries, some the dreaded number at the bottom that totals up the lost.
The tally marked beneath the cross now rises to 1577, a crowed like that described by Eliot. I imagine not a host but solitary figures, the ghosts we know from childhood stories. In their newness to death, I picture them wandering as curious as children in the house of an aged aunt, getting underfoot and touching what they should not, interrupting and making unwelcome mischief. The brush of their passing is still strong enough to reach out and touch a good Catholic girl from North Dakota, one as innocent of the spiritualist shadows cast by every flickering candle flame before a New Orleans saint’s statue as a Midwesterner could possibly be.
Even the most rationale and disinclined among us imagine ghosts in a city this old, where the steamy air is a tangible presence on the skin and lights flash erratically in the night through the stirrings of the thick, tangled foliage, where the old houses creak and groan as they settle into the soft earth like old men lowering themselves into a chair. Once I wished to experience that touch of the other, a product of reading too much fantastic fiction. One of the signature scenes in film for me is John Cassavettes as a modern Prospero in The Tempest, standing in his urban tower and saying, “Show me the magic.” For him, the sky erupts in lightening. I would sometime catch myself whispering those words, but they were simply blown away by the night wind.
Then one bright August afternoon I was sitting in my idling car in my driveway in Fargo, North Dakota. At just before five o’clock that 29th of August a string of Carnival beads which hung from my rearview mirror–black and gold beads interspersed with black voodoo figures–suddenly burst. It seemed strange at the time that they would break as the car sat still, would break at the bottom and not at the top where they routinely rubbed against the mirror post, where the string was tied off, the knot weakening the line. It was not the way that I, as a sailor with some idea of how a line will wear, would expect them to break.
Perhaps the beads slid about at the end of the string as I drove around, causing the string to wear through at the bottom, so that it was inevitable that is where they would break first, given enough corners turned, sufficient applications of the accelerator and brake. The timing of just before five o’clock on that Monday in August of 2005 was just a coincidence, the inevitable laws of physics unfolding without regard for the observer and his sense of time.
Be careful what you wish for is the lesson we learned in a dozen fairy tales. The longed for touch of the other, and the tide that washed me up on the shores of my personal Ithaca, into this house on Toulouse Street in the only place I have ever thought of as home, came with a terrible price: both are tainted with graveyard dust. I would undo it all in instant, if I only knew how.
I’ve written this post before–or ones very like it, that tell this story of the broken beads–and then deleted them. It seems just too strange and personal a tale to share with just any aimless visitor wandering the Internet. What will people think? I ask myself in a voice that sounds vaguely like my mother’s. What if some future employer Googles up this article? worries the husband with a mortgage and two children to raise. I don’t expect them to understand.
Unless you learned from the maid that cleaned your family home that crossing two matchsticks in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary and sprinkling them with salt would bring rain, unless you believed that a piece of candy found on the ground could be made safe to eat by making the sign of the cross over it, if people did not come in the night and scratch odd marks on certain tombs on the grounds where your family is buried; if these were not part of your earliest experience, then my tale of the broken beads sounds like the product of an overworked imagination, something like Scrooge’s undigested bit of beef, a spot of mustard.
There is a spectre over New Orleans. As the August anniversary slipped away, I thought the grim, invisible cloud that hung over the city would begin to drift away. Instead, as the weeks passed, I was increasingly convinced: everyone in New Orleans was haunted. You could see it in people’s eyes, in the way they walked, hear it in the words they spoke, or the ones they wrote online as they spoke about their lingering pain. It was a spirit as much inside as out, the ghost in the machine that haunted our every step.
Then came the Monday Night Football game. I thought about the curse of the Superdome, the one that suggests destruction of the Girod Street Cemetery has cursed the ground and all who play there. Was the spirit of the people in the Dome that night just the charm needed to lay that particular haunting to rest, to break that curse? The morning after the strut in people’s step, the lilt of their voices told me that perhaps, just perhaps a healing had begun. We were not a city in need of an exorcism: we were the exorcism.
The ghost of the Flood is now a part of who we are. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if it is ectoplasm or the synchronized firing of a million neurons in ways science does not yet understand. In the end we have to come to term with it. This is something that we as Orleanians, the people who live next to our dead in their exclusive farbourgs of marble and white-washed stone, should be able to do.
We need to honor these dead and respect them, not with the weight of Confucian ancestor worship but in the simple spirit of the pre-Confucian Japanese who venerated odd stones, in the ways inherent in our own Latin roots mingled with the traditions of Africa, where the community of saints and the loa of Africa intersect. We don’t need an exorcism. We need a conjuration, a ritual that calls up the ghosts and honors them, that welcomes them in the way the way the devotees of Vodoun welcome the possession of the loa.
Perhaps next August 29, we should all tie a brown cord on some pillar or post of the house at just the point where we have carefully painted over the water stain. Just above that, we should mark in dust of ground gypsum the rescue symbol that is now as much a part of our selves and our city as the sign of the cross. We will do this to tell whoever is listening—Our Father, Oshun, Mother of God, ghosts of the Flood—we remember. We have suffered, and we will never forget the Flood and those who did not come through. We are the people who came through and came back. We remember the lost. We remember you. Je me souviens.
When we accept and embrace this spirit, perhaps the haunting will end once and for all, will not be a permanent pall over the city, a fearful sound in the night like a howling in the wires, or an unpleasant knotting in the stomach as we pass an abandoned house. It will cease when it becomes instead like the glinting of the sun on white-washed stone above the neat green grass of the cemeteries, just another comfortable part of who we are.
First posted Oct. 5, 2006 on Wet Bank Guide.
56: Heaven on 11 May 14, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Jimi is fixed on Channel 13. Davis paces behind him muttering, “if they only had a horn. ” “Quiet, Miles. Have a taste of this. Listen. This is what we could have done if we’d only had Time.”
“Time, gentleman. Choir and harp practice in fifteen minutes,” an angel reminds them.
“Fuck you and your white-ass cracker choir,” Miles said. “Tell the Big Man the Spheres are in here.” Miles plugs the Pyle and Polks into the TV and cranks it until the clouds dissolve and ranks of angels are left fluttring, wondering what exactly is happening.
The Big Man man walks in and plops on the couch next to Jimi. “Pass that shit over here.” Miles and Gabriel play their muted horns, trading licks with the Joel Harrison.
The Big Man takes a hellacious hit, expanding to galatic diameters and lets it out slowly, a celestial tempest. “You know that’s why I brought you here” the Big Man says.”I want them all to tempt the Devil and aim for heaven.”
“Shut up,” Miles says, “and listen.”
Two January 16, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, Odd Words, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Why 365? The idea took hold when I was on Facebook and looked at the column on the right and noticed this:
Past: Writer. Sadly apt, that.
I don’t know how I got into this situation. At one point I blamed the SSRI antidepressants and their nefarious side effects (the most amusing of which is the possible combination of anorgasmia and dangerously persistent erections; I asked my pill doctor if he was trying to kill a man my age with that). Anhedonia, the inability to feel strong emotions, I have addressed elsewhere at length in “Confessions of a Pill Eater“. That was a cheap and easy explanation, but not an entirely satisfactory one. At some point poems stopped coming, or rather the inspiration, the absolute drive to put a line, an idea onto paper, to explore it and expand it and finish it, simply stopped. Writing here on Toulouse Street trickled down to nothing. To quote myself from “Confessions”:
I have a blog where I wrote incessantly what I hope are phenomenal personal dispatches from a place of constant wonder, Leopold Bloom crossing Bourbon Street. It is sometimes a personal journal as well, what most writers keep but don’t publish. I have another Beckett quote in the sidebar of the blog: “I write about myself with the same pencil and in the same exercise book as about him. It is no longer I, but another whose life is just beginning.” I was not afraid to write about myself when it was true and right and burned to get out. The pieces don’t come anymore, the spontaneous energy that drove it all dissipated…I walk down the street and instead of that perfect moment of New Orleans for the blog I look for a good place to put out my cigarette.
That’s not entirely honest. I don’t walk down the street enough. My office is a corner of my living room and I spend entirely too much time in this 12 by 15 foot cave, the blinds drawn to keep the glare off the screen. This is easily fixed. As I am unemployed, I have the liberty and will take it to shower as soon as I finish this and head out the door, not to return until sometime tomorrow. Perhaps I will go to my girlfriends after class tonight and watch movies, drifting off to sleep on my side of the bed. Or maybe I will slip out after dinner to go see the Johnny Vidacovich trio, notebook in my bag, sipping beer at the bar and observing. Music, and jazz in particular, takes me out of myself, the performance itself a platform for reverie. I rarely sit through a session of the avant-garde jazz show Open Ears without pulling out my notebook.
My other writing block is actually a reading block. Between work and school and the obligation I felt for a while to attend simply everything literary in town in my Odd Words persona, I found less time to read for myself. If you do not read you will not write. You will not come across that line that makes you lay the book down and consider that cluster of words as if you were purchasing a gem stone, will not be driven from that meditation by an urge to rip those words out of their context and make them your own because it has opened a door. I go nowhere without a book in my bag, but lately never find time to take it out. If I am free in the evening I am as likely as not at my girlfriend’s house, where we can talk for hours in her two cat-tattered wing back chairs. At the point in such evenings when I would once take out a book a read, we are more likely to cuddle up in front of a movie on her laptop. As much as I love her companionship, I need to rip myself out of that comfortable cocoon more often. She can watch a movie or one of her television series with her headphones on while I read, or I can retire to my own couch back in the cave and plop myself on the couch to read myself to sleep as I was long wont to do.
The idea of myself as writer, the internal definition and not the cocktail party throw away line when asked what you do, grew out of my Wet Bank Guide blog starting in 2005 and grew and grew until the writing stopped coming. I fretted about it but did nothing concrete until I saw that small block of text on Facebook. Past: Writer. The part of my self-identify became over the last nine years as important to me as anything and everything else in life; its gradual loss as painful the divorce that transformation contributed to. To lose that would be to lose everything. Like every other writer I desire readers, recognition, occasional applause, but the real drive is internal and deeply personal. Losing it is like losing your libido or your taste for food. Ability becomes disability. Something is wrong and you ignore it like an itchy mole at your own peril.
The term writer’s block implies something beyond our control. We unbarricade the torn up street at our own peril. We cannot perform a home angioplasty. It is only truly a writer’s block if you have set yourself time and space for the work, and do it daily. You reach a point in a piece where the next line is not coming. Fine. Go read a book. Go take a walk and observe the world around you. It is not a writer’s block as much as a writer’s lock. Somewhere there is a key. Go write something else until you find that key. In my case, 365 is that time and space and that something else, the work. And when I am done writing this I will walk out the door with eyes and ears open and a fresh notebook in my bag.
One January 15, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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The spiders are after me.
Deep in the unseen catacombs of the Internet job placement services I have never heard of are out there, aggregating resumes from other sites, and matching me to jobs. Good-sounding jobs, right up the alley I have backed myself into, at the end of which I am frantically scrabbling at the chain-link fence in too-big shoes trying to escape. I almost escaped once. Terminated with a fat severance, I went back to school to finish the bachelors I abandoned 30 years ago. I didn’t get to the end of February before Moloch* was back, asking if I would be willing to come back as a contractor. At that moment I should have said no, and gone on with a full 15 hours. I would have graduated by now. I would be on a new path. At the time, with a daughter in Loyola and the prospect of a son who had not decided between UNO and Loyola’s music programs, I had to contemplate writing another fat check to the Jesuits if he choose Loyola.
I accepted, and dropped some classes and managed to work and finish the the remaining three.
Moloch. I have nailed my theses and neuroses very publicly to the portals of the Internet, and I know enough not to name my employer. Moloch seemed an apt choice. Ginsberg’s Whitmanesque rant against America has echoed in my skull since I first read it and the further I plodded up the corporate path, the louder it sounded.
I am not anxious to go back.
It is good to know those jobs are out there if I need them. All I need to do for now is to hew to my salary demands, knowing I have fallen into the ranks of contractors, am no longer a valuable member of the team but a disposable commodity, a human pencil. I have to hope they will realize I have no bachelors degree, demand too much money, wear my hair in a long queue (I think a skull pendent at the end best for these interviews) and they will decide to pass, all so I can finish school and take some time to decide what I will do next.
If I return to corporate America it will be on my own terms. I know how good I was at the job I no longer want, have a folder full of fawning references who will attest that I am King Kong Superman and quite a catch. The work-a-day playing field is so titled against us that most people cling desperately to niches lest they fall. If I return, it will be with an ice-axe confident in my hand, a disturbing gleam in my eye and the determination to blaze a new route.
* “Moloch, whose soul is electricity and banks…” — Allen Ginsberg, Howl. [Who's in your wallet?]
Zero January 14, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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As I was checking out at the Botanica on Broad, the cheerful clerk asked how my new year was going or some such banal question. “You know, they say, how the first two weeks of the year go dictates the rest of your year.” If you’re just looking to pick up some pretty candles you could pass this off as mere clerk chatter, but if you are there on Serious Business, it sounds as ominous as the labels on many of the candles and jars of oils and powders for all purposes. In the two weeks leading up to Day 1 of 365—a series of daily posts to get myself writing again—I have become unemployed, acquired health insurance I can’t afford only after innumerable telephone calls into bottomless queues, attempted to rekindle an old friendship which ended up much the same as before in too much wine with a twist of bizarre, fell into a problem with someone close to me that falls somewhere between an episode of House and American Horror Story (hence the candles). I could go on. Should I even mention the crud and helpful chemicals that have turned my brain into a hideous midwestern Jello mold?
In spite of all this, Day 0 hints at possibilities. I have ordered or bought the books I need to finish my long ago abandoned bachelors in English Literature. It is a flimsy currency acquired over six scattered years, worth less than a year on the campaign trail or in the corporate labyrinth to my ability to examine, analyze, comprehend and communicate. Still, it is a goal, one that opens possibilities. I burned through a chapter of a simplistic course in basic anthropology and finished two chapters of Susan Sontag’s On Photography for a class in film and anthropology. I am done with English classes, and of the three classes I need to finish this last one promises to be interesting rather than rote recitation of nonsense as required.
I need to jettison the old, much as my ex deposited boxes on the porch filled with children’s memorabilia: notebooks, middle school art and poems, a plate my daughter made at the do-it-yourself ceramics shops. Why she sent all this to me I can only guess, but I suspect a desire to put 20 years of nuclear marriage behind her, to immerse herself in the present pleasure of two talented adult children. I immersed myself in all this as a tonic to wondering how to afford them in college when I am unemployed and determined to remain that way until May with the unemployment checks still flowing in. All of those construction paper and crayon masterpieces are a reminder that I have done some things right, that out of the bloody caul of childhood night terrors and teenage angst and clash something bright and beautiful is born.
Whether I will prove the old man at the Botanica wrong or leave a trail of ticket stubs from my own Grand Guignol remains to be seen.
Day 1 will dawn cold and bright with possibilities: brisk, invigorating, beckoning.
Welcome to 365.
The Strongman Weeps December 23, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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We are the ten-cent mirror in which they perceive their normality, the comfortably odd at a safe distance, caged and staged. Later they will gawk at the lithe aerialists, be distracted by lust for or envy of the magician’s smiling assistant while I herd the elephants toward the tent, just another animal in the menagerie. They will take home their greasy dreams like the stains of popcorn lard. I will retire to my caravan alone, listen to the magician’s silent assistant sing the arias of passion and dream of angels flying just out of reach.
Unhappy Hour October 29, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, Counting House, Dancing Bear, Moloch, New Orleans, Rebirth, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist.
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That hour when you realize you have lost the connection with the people you work with and wander off to another bar to drink alone. Some sadness is natural, after seven years together. Some anxiety at what comes next. Beneath it all is the realization that this is the moment you’ve been waiting for. At 56 and on your fourth “career” you remember that somewhere inside you is the spirit of Odysseus. You have lingered too long at the money tit of Circe. It is time to visit Tiresias.
You can’t get there on this bus October 18, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
“Victims 2010 91 searches”.
That is what it’s come to, really: a catalogue of the dead. And Odd Words, but in life as in literature it’s the dead who get the attention. Odd Words lives on Facebook, mostly. This is just a convenient place to store the column, words buried with a telephone.
Even the peaceful fields of Arles can drive you mad, and it has been rather quiet here, lately: a book of photographs I am less and less inclined to open, because I’m not that person anymore.
I write about myself with the same pencil and in the same exercise book as about him. It is no longer I, but another whose life is just beginning. – Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)
I’m not sure who I am just right now but I can’t complain about that. It is all part of a process, a methodical accident prompted by the subconscious, by events larger than myself, by a tiny piece of magic: a string of beads hanging from my rearview mirror that decided, while the car was at rest, to burst one August afternoon. I still keep what are left of those beads, the little black voodoo men who hung from the bottom, but these are a memento, not a fetish. They hold memory but not power. The process continues. The hollowness of not knowing who going where is sometimes an aching cavity, and sometimes the space through which cherry blossoms fall to earth.
I have a blog where I wrote incessantly what I hope are phenomenal personal dispatches from a place of constant wonder, Leopold Bloom crossing Bourbon Street . . . The whimsical distractions that turned into poems don’t come anymore. I walk down the street and instead of that perfect moment of New Orleans for the blog I look for a good place to put out my cigarette.
I wrote that a while back as a description of over-medication, not depression, but I was diagnosed with a melancholic personality. (Looks around office for jars of leaches). I swallow my Jetson’s breakfast like a good fellow. Enough has been said about depression, antidepressants and writing so I won’t go there. I did a good bit of writing after posting Confessions of a Pill Eater, but not much of it here. Then it just stopped again, my life becoming a centrifugal melee of Too Much Everything, and writing tapered off to nothing. The listings. Odd jottings. The quotes I posted on Tumblr that I used to post here.
Toulouse Street is just a memory, and the Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans that were its reason to exist come less and less often. Perhaps Odd Words needs a home of its own.
Sometimes the littlest things can prompt me to write: a fresh notebook aching to be filed, an idle hour in the coffee shop.
Maybe it is time for a new notebook.
Complicated Life September 10, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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The Wrath of Frog August 15, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Great lashings of rain like the wrath of Frog making the world over for the sins of men. Streets run rivulets & storm wash (do not cross when) peaked in white & swallowing cars & lapping at the stoups iron storm covers dance & rattle & the beer can chicken bone cigarette butt flotsam tumbles past visions of the sins we ought repent but every flood passes in its time & in the low lots all frogdom will sing with delight & we will sit again on the stoup with beer & cigarette & listen & take joy in their singing.
Certainly August 13, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, New Orleans, quotes, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: anais nin
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Daydream Believer April 8, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, Shield of Beauty, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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The tragic, formulaic sitcom of my life, as viewed with excessive empathy which renders too much of comedy painful. [I watched Synechdoche, N.Y. several times before someone pointed out it was a dark comedy.] Swallowing the draft of poison every day until I become invincible. Possible side effects include madness and sharing too much in writing.
“You give me a reason to live
You give me a reason to live
You give me a reason to live…”
— “You Can Keep Your Hat On”
The Dream Eater December 22, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
The city swallows dreams as it does the cars of the morning commute. Approaching from the east barricaded exits to nowhere stand as monuments to the vanity of speculators imagining hydrologically impossible towns, an endless extension of the city’s fringes farther into the dissolving marsh. The closer you approach, the towers of downtown bathed in a damp haze, the city appears like Atlantis ascending to reveal itself to a new age but this is just another soluble delusion. The exits to nowhere, the road collapsing into the soft earth which rolls the car like a small boat or drums a rattling tattoo, are reminders that the waters are gradually reclaiming the black muck bottom of forgotten dinosaur oceans, washed down by continental rivers, returning itself to the sea.
Every boarded corner barroom with its murals for Regal Beer is a dream. Canal Street with its tourist streetcars and its empty sailor’s stores is a dream. The mansions of forgotten cotton along St. Charles Avenue are a dream. The Lakefront shuttered at dusk against the predation of old fishermen and young lovers is a dream. The swallowed dreams confront us everywhere like empty bowls with the crazed scrapings of forgotten suppers, rattle in our ears like a bottle tree. They suck at our ankles like quicksand but the natives know the trick of crossing. We quicken our steps toward the corner spilling music and beer into the street, moving toward gumbo and corner smokers and everywhere the brass alleluia and the African drum. We move beneath the notice of the Manhattan-fashioned condos of the New Americans. Their dreams of bringing us the Anglo-Saxon gospel is another morsel for the hungry city.
Only those who willingly surrender their dreams to the city will see the windows of heaven opened and poured down upon them a blessing of dreams until there is no need. Sure its the old Malachi racket of every UHF messiah but just ask any oilman banished to Houston perdition contemplating the ex-wife bedrooms of his empty mansion as he puts the revolver to his lips. Look in the sunken, shadowed eyes of the skeleton woman backing her pearlescent Escalade into the shopping mall parking space. What use is an immortal soul without a guitar? What good is prosperity without a bar-tab entry to balance the books? What is the reason for a dream if you will not place it on the table and spin the wheel? Only the broken angels of St. Claude understand the bargain and make it freely and wear their dreams like ink in the skin. A terrible light pours out of their eyes like tears and bathes the city in dreams.
Bad Apples December 16, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Coco Robicheaux, Frenchman Street, Kenny Holladay, The Apple Barrel
The Apple Barrel is a trip hazard with a liquor license, 500 square feet maybe counting the superfluous jukebox I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard. In front Kenny Claiborne in once-white Western boots sings Indian Red like a Seventh Ward Kaddish over a mournful dobro. Momma Cat passes the tips spittoon while keeping time with a tambourine stick she says she got at church. Marco and Monica who painted the mural behind the band are in from Sarasota and as we talk Claiborne calls “Coldplay. Because we can” and the dobro hollers its own metal voice into the song. Piano Dave says the tattoos at Electric Ladyland are overpriced but I still contemplate Bukowski and Maddox on my forearms and think anyone I have to explain them to is probably not worth working for. The tourists sit mostly in the back, as expressionless and obvious as tinsel Christmas trees in a bail bondsman’s office, nursing incongruous Stella Artois until they give up or get a table at Adolfo’s upstairs. Photos of Coco Robicheaux watch over us with a Bodhisattva’s Cheshire serenity and I write and have to scratch out Kenny Holladay instead of Claiborne when I start to jot these notes but as long as there’s a band I am half right: Coco and Kenny and a host of others whose boots will never pass through these door again are as palpable as the smoke from the musicians’ cigarettes. I contemplate my bottle and think that if I have another Jockamo there’s no telling what’s going to happen but we are prepared to exercise the uncertainly principle until we raise Schrodinger’s cat from the grave. We order Reposado shook over ice and tell J.D. to make one for himself, then pour the first taste onto the floor. Somewhere outside the door is the heart of Saturday night and Apple Maps will never get you there. You have to follow the woman dressed in wrong-holiday rabbit ears through this door and never be afraid to drink what’s in front of you.
To the Moon, Alice December 11, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, Federal Flood, hurricane, je me souviens, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Hurricane Sandy, Superstorm Sandy
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The TWA terminal of gracefully contorted concrete stands ready to load orbital shuttles that will never come. I imagine Stanley Kubric in transit from L.A. to London stepping out of that building to stretch his legs and standing agog as I do, strains of the Vienna Waltz spinning through the air.
My weather app on the phone tells me I am in Far Rockaway.
There is something equally fantastic in the Jet Blue terminal, an ominous normality while somewhere beneath the view of arriving and departing passengers survivors huddle in tents. My phones’ weather feature says I am in Far Rockaway.
This does not look like Far Rockaway in the wake of Sandy. It looks like Starbucks and Cinnabon and I ♥ NY t-shirts. There is no Sandy memorial newspaper or magazine. There is no sign that just across the way people are huddled in tents in the freezing cold. They lack the dramatic quality of the huddled Black masses at the convention center, the suggestion of the alien that makes it all OK. God forbid we should see real Americans shivering in the freezing cold like Syrian refugees.
There is no mention of Sandy’s aftermath on the Jet Blue in flight video. Nothing to see here. Move along.
It can’t happen here.
Geography is Wrong December 9, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Geography is wrong. The world has its edges. You first discover this in school, especially if you are a quiet or odd child. Forget Pythagoras. Whatever your teacher said about a circular world you begin to find its corners, in retreat or in escape. Definite rectangles. Less tangible than the globe in the corner but clearly there.
Later, older and out in the world, you discover its edges.
This one is beautiful, indefinite, a faint, prismatic progression from sky to sea blue. You wonder if it has a sound, water falling over the edge like the surf on the rocks below you but steadier, a sound like sunlight on the skin, bound to the edge like the sun to its circuit. I can no more hear it from here than I can sunbathe at midnight, but I can imagine it and for now, that is enough. This is a quiet corner like those you remember from childhood, perfectly suited to lapses into imagination. I have had enough of edges—the crumbling soft rock and plummeting air, the hard mathematical choices, knives like laughter—and prefer this one keeps its distance for now: remote, beautiful and available.
There are two ways down from this rolling hill. One leads through the scrub to a road that leads to a highway that leads to an airport where planes roar backward and tail first in time toward places I have been and will not visit again. The other wanders lazily down until it is it cloven into two forks: left toward town, right toward the beach. Not a complicated choice and one completely out of your hands. You either need to go into town for something, groceries and bit of human company as you sip a beer, or you need nothing and want nothing and so go down to the beach, lay in the warm sand with your head pillowed on a spare towel, and look toward that striated edge-sky in the distance.
I arrived here, passport expired, with just enough money in a distant bank to make myself welcome. There is no need to renew my papers. Dollars are introduction enough and I am in no hurry to go. As long as the money lasts I am greeted at the market, poured my regular beer without asking, and mostly left alone. I ignore my fellow countrymen whenever I can, who arrive here only by accident or worse, driven by a sense of adventure I recognize and avoid. I wear the loose-fitting local clothes and a straw hat and let the sun be my disguise. Cornered, I smile and shrug and hold up my hands to say, not much, then direct them towards the magnificent cliffs further up the road, the explosions of surf, the rugged, sculptured stone, the cliff divers. I recommend a hotel there I have never visited and walk back up the sloping path toward the cottage.
I stop at the fork, select a comfortable rock and watch a liquid sun slowly pour over the horizon, spreading a molten orange line that momentarily illuminates the edge. I wait for the green flash, a signal to proceed, but it does not come. A shadowless twilight illuminates the path. The further I go from the shore the more the surf takes on the steady roar as of water over a cataract. Someday the green flash will come, and I will know it is time to go. Until then the sound of distant water lulls me to sleep.
Falling November 27, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, Memory, New Orelans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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It was not the burr oak across the street, the only tree I know of that reliably turns gold and red come November. It was not the ridiculously sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner, or sitting with my oldest friend the next evening on a screened porch feeling the shift in the wind that brought the first real cold snap. It was the sight of them, squirrelly in the first cool afternoon, each knot of Catholic plaid or khakis energetic as particles of a textbook atom but drifting home as slow as dust motes. Those are the days cemented in memory as the first of Fall, the irresistible urge to be outside in the cool air, an hour to cover the dozen blocks home, goofing and never breaking a sweat, the blanket of summer lifted and the holidays ahead not quite a conscious thought but somehow simply present like the warming patches of afternoon sun between the trees.
Free Radicals November 16, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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The Writer: “Why piece together the tatters of your life – the vague memories, the faces… the people you never knew how to love?”
Faction September 15, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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“I wish you had explained how my eye works,” he continued. “I enlarge, that’s undeniable, but I don’t enlarge the way Balzac does, anymore than Balzac enlarges the way Hugo does. Everything hinges on that, the work resides in its style. We all lie more or less, but what is the mechanism and mentality of our lie? Well-perhaps I delude myself here-I still believe that my lies serve to advance the truth. With a wingbeat, truth ascends and becomes symbol. “
— Emile Zola
Hat tip to Sam Jasper, who left this as a comment on an earlier post.
The Drafts of August July 29, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: bats, bicycle, drafts, Faraday Cage, Mound Street, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, South Lakeview
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Actually, July, but the first sounds better. I either never finished them or abandoned them without remembering to publish them. And so direct to you from the Royal Courts of Europe (time served and a small fine), for the first time ever in these United States of American and now in your very own home town, for just two bits, a trifle, step inside my July.
The Holiday Nod
To live in the collapsing moment: a couch, a particular picture on the wall, a cup of coffee. You just want to go on the holiday nod but the vacuum lurks in the next room, the piles of paper and books around you, all of it must go first. The laptop a glowing post-it note for homework. The collapsing moment, so many monks in their temples and once, long ago, on their mountains, the forest as company and example but the wind must never stop on the mountain. Mountains live in the wind and the trees are never still but if you sit quietly long enough and contemplate the trunks the motion of the crowns is just the sound of the invisible wind, the endless rustling drowning out the world, living in the collapsing moment until suddenly a dragonfly.
You are not a monk. You are a man with an apartment that appears ransacked by primates. Your son hast left a trail of crumbs that mark his path through the house. You don’t own a vacuum and you have to give it back at some point. The litter to pick up first, some of the papers are important and others are garbage. Sit and sort. Pass the vacuum. Sweep and mop the kitchen, clean the bathroom. Two men can turn the once acceptable porcelain and chrome of a week ago into a public urinal. It’s an old bathroom in an old house, clean is relative but toothpaste scraped from the basin, the spigots still polish, the toilet needs a good scrubbing. Ammonia and Pinesol, the scent of fresh chemicals, the American obsession. Then a lecture on the nomination of candidates. You returned for your degree in English but 30 years ago you kept you English courses and dropped the others. You have one English course remaining and a stack of electives, intellectual drudgery. PoliSci 4600. Chop wood and carry water.
The collapsing moment. The nod as inverted desire. You begin to understand heroin but then just another frantic chase. Your life is already a rodent’s wheel until you collapse on the couch and the nod comes naturally. Who needs heroin? Coffee on the other hand a necessity. Something the kind doctor warned against. . Anxiety the diagnosis and of course he asked you how much you smoke, how much coffee you drink and you lied. Symptom of addiction. Coffee and tobacco are difficult. Aroma, flavor, ritual: all the temptations accompanying the habit. Try walking in for a cigar and not leaving with cigarettes.
The coffee is clearly working or I would not be typing this. I would still be on the couch contemplating how to make the digital antenna on the wall into another work of art. Get up and work and later the bicycle, your birthday and Father’s Day present to yourself three weeks ago and so far just another thing to vacuum around. An hour around the park and then home, the pretense of a book, the nod. No mood for fireworks later but you know you can’t resist the ritual. Instead you sit in the yard with pine branches snapped from a neighbor’s tree, shucking the green needles into a pile. Tossed on the glowing dinner coals they pop and snap, send red sparks up into the night and somewhere else in China a thousand years ago a man at the bottom of the mountain watches the sparks and imagines fireworks.
Lay back in the prone folding chair. Imagine the mountain, the wind, the sudden dragonfly. Not a nap exactly, but the collapsing moment.
As the neighborhood firecrackers and bottle rockets drift off to bed, only you remain. No cars or laughing people in the street stumbling home pass. If they do you do not hear them over the rustle of the trees.
Over the Hills and Faraday
I must start the class paper due midnight tonight. I’ve already decided to take the five point penalty and turn it in tomorrow. When I am done with this post I will turn off the wireless radio in the laptop so I can sit and work on the couch without untangling the cord. I am considering turning off my cell phone.
In this Year of Our Motherboard Twenty and Twelve I will let the information stream pass me by. I will briefly cease to exist in our increasingly intemporal world. Facebook and Twitter will count off the minutes since posted and I will not be there. There will be only one time event of indeterminate duration inside this imaginary Faraday Cage, its only flaw a tiny signal leakage between The Paper and JSTOR. If you know what I’m doing, you won’t know when. There will be no orthogonal alternatives, unless the stars unwind and the clocks run backwards.
I will occupy this one point in space/time called The Paper, reduced to three dimensions shrinking rapidly toward a dimensionless line because I will not give a fuck about the outside world and that world will not notice me because I will not be available for chat, wholly consumed by the task at hand. Who knows, time travel may be possible this way, but that is just wishful retrospection, looking for hours lost under the bed. I am a prisoner of a clock-less personal and singular linearity until the paper is done, after which bat shit all might happen. Billions of years from now astrophysicists may identify the birth of their universe in what they decide to call, during one fabulously drunken night of shop talk, The Mark Zero Anomaly.
A Bicycle Built for You
So, you go out and buy yourself a belated birthday/Father’s Day present: a brand new matte black single speed coaster bike with shiny red-hubs, a pedal back to break bike one like you had when you were a kid. Hey, you read on the Internet that all those pictures you see of people wheeling home with a baguette and tonight’s dinner in their panniers are riding single speed coaster break bikes, and it’s not like I’m about to enter triathlon unless the categories are cigarettes, Belgian Ale and napping. Mostly the bicycle sits. Your life is a roaring shop fan and a shower of sparks: they keep tossing you more and more work but hey, you get paid and paid well by the hour so who’s to complain. And then there’s that Internet course you signed up for. Some readings, a couple of lectures that will only play in the dog awful Windows Media Viewer. Chat in the discussion board (minimum three posts) and a couple of short answer questions.
Short answer: what does that really mean? Probably not something you need to edit down to 1,500 words. Show off, but then you fucked up the first assignment, posting one in the wrong place (score out of ten: zero) and turned the other one in late (score:seven). It is easy to become disoriented when you reach age when a.m. and p.m. are easily confused, especially if you laid down for a nap and set your phone alarm for six and when it starts its long awful ringing you aren’t quite sure which six it is. It doesn’t help if you’re taking medication and the agate package insert mentions “bats” and “emergency room” in the same sentence, but doesn’t specify how many bats. May cause loss of coordination is funny when you spill coffee on a brown rug. Falling into the bayou helping someone launch a kayak is not so funny. s. I’ve already started taking half of what was prescribed even after a phone chat with the doctor who said, well, you’re coming in next week and let’s see how you’re doing. No point mentioning those bats, I think. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.
Through a highly technical analysis involving my $29 on-sale-at-Walmart weather station (which has lost communication with the outside sensor; again) and the ancient Indian method involving rolling up the magic window scroll until the sky reveals itself, it looks like today might be a good day for a bike ride. You live 10 blocks from the park. You are going to ride that damn thing. But you’re not going to go to close to the bayou. And no matter how geeky it makes you feel you might run out and get a helmet, at least until you do something about that “loss of coordination” problem. And those bats.
I didn’t ever become a writer, or only by accident June 25, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, Fortin Street, literature, New Orleans, quotes, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street, Writing.
If I really appreciated literature I would have become a writer for that reason. But that’s not why I became a writer. In fact, maybe I didn’t ever become a writer, or only by accident . . . maybe I’ve only ever written to understand why I was so afraid. I never wrote to participate in a noble tradition. I wrote to communicate, to explore my own feelings and work through various interpretations of the world. You know, the search for meaning, stuff like that. It wasn’t until I was at Stanford, much later, twenty-nine years old on a creative writing fellowship, when I finally met all these other writers. They all seemed to write for exactly the opposite reason of why I wrote.
That’s not even true. But many of them loved literature and wrote for that reason. How would I know why anybody wrote? Where does the poetry in this come in? Sometimes a sentence is just beautiful, but how can I learn to appreciate a painting? Do I have to learn how to paint? I’ll never be able to tell you the difference between a very good painting and a great painting. I loved the Van Gogh museum. There you just immerse in the mind of this man. It’s not required to understand which of the paintings are minor and which are major. You’re just there, taking it in.
— Stephen Elliot
I sing the body eclectic June 2, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Every now and then I am reminded that not very many people (if any) make it far enough down the sidebar over there at your right to read the “disclaimer” below. Confusing The Character with The Typist leads to all sorts of “are you alright?” emails and calls. The excessively literal read it as autobiography. It is and is not. Everything you say can and will be used against you in court. You are the judge.
Maybe I should make the type of this side bar item bigger. I like the things set on the right in their current order, so this “disclaimer” is staying where it is, along with the quote from Beckett.
Toulouse Street began as a geo-memoir, subtitled Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans, set in the character of the city. Over time is has grown in strange ways. It is, to borrow novelist Tim O’Brien’s subtitle: A Fiction. It is loosely based on the life of a man of late middle age racing frantically towards and away from death. Any apparently auto-biographical bits are about “me”, The Typist, in the sense that the ringing of wind chimes forecast the weather. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is chronologically orthogonal.
I disclaim nothing.
I encompass everything.
I sing the body eclectic.
My Warehouse Eyes May 26, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, odd, poem, Poetry, quotes, Toulouse Street.
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Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums
Should I leave them by your gate
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?
England May 19, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
I read a single word today that briefly but profoundly disrupted one small but important part of my life.
I found it tucked behind a sheet of plastic in a small faux-leather folding wallet containing two pieces of paper, one on each side.
The word, typed onto a bit of cardboard in 1946, was so faded as to be illegible. I tried scanning the wallet for fear trying to remove the bits of cardboard would destroy them, but the result was useless. And so with forensic delicacy I extracted the two pieces and placed them carefully on the scanner, and set the resolution to 1200 dots per inch. The result was still only partially legible but better.
The word was so faded that even at 100 percent zoom it still could not be read. I clipped a copy out and put it in a document until that one small black of type filed the screen and I still could not read it. I stared at it until it rendered itself, like one of those optical illusions you must focus on until it reveals itself.
The word was England.
That word, typed into a box titled Battles and Campaigns, called into question a battle narrative I have carried with me since I was a young boy. For a moment that word caused me to question not just the story but every word I have written here about the margin between fact and fiction, truth and fiction, the gray space of memory. And I didn’t know what to do with this new knowledge. I decided I will tell one person I think should know because she will read this and corner me and demand I tell her. I will tell the one person in my life to whom I can tell anything. And I think I will tell no one else. Some stories are best told to the dead.
It could be a government error of haste when there were rail yards and harbors filled with men for whom this tiny piece of paper, an honorable discharge, must by typed, row upon row of clattering with quotas to fill. Likely the typist sat in a room filled with men who cared only that it be honorable, and that they could not go home. The discharge lists the EAMETO medal which does not necessarily indicate combat but service in the European/African theater. In front of that is another citation that can’t be read. It ends in O and I can’t find it on any list. His listed assignment at the time of discharge was Administrative NCO with the rank of Sergeant.
It is impossible to know for certain the relationship between the story and this small piece of paper.
No, it is not impossible to know, but the one person I can ask I will not. Perhaps my mother believed this narrative, because she knew the teller so well she knew it must be true, could read every facial tick more accurately than any lie detector’s needle. Perhaps she wanted to believe that narrative, Odysseus returned from the dead, “and I only alone am escaped to tell the.” Either way why question their memories, my mothers and my fathers. I remember as I write I was told others who were there, comrades, told this story. The parents of one of the dead, who not doubt received a painful letter from an office, traveled from the West Coast to New Orleans to hear the story from my father’s own lips.
What is ultimately called into question is not the story but that one word. Words are incredibly powerful, even a simple government document. Perhaps clerk was his last assignment and that was all that mattered to this clerk. He said he got a terrible case of trench foot from laying in that flooded furrow, but given the horrific nature of the event–your comrades of years crying out and dying all around you–I have wondered since if his malady was not instead Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or what was called them combat fatigue, a condition considered less honorable than his discharge, nothing like the sympathetic view of PTSD of today, a desk in England a useful task for a man traumitized by combat. Perhaps that single, lazy error did not bother my father who just wanted to board a train home. We are all terribly concerned with our permanent records: our credit score, our grades, our evaluations at work. My father was more concerned with returning to his young wife and new child. Only fools like myself are as obsessed with words, and this moment of doubt clearly revealed to me how much every word must count or must go, whether we are discussing Carver or Faulkner
What I learned from this moment of profound doubt was that the truth lives in memory, not in the alleged facts of a small piece of paper in a dusty cabinet in Washington. Perhaps the story I was told as a child was not the whole truth and nothing but the truth but the version colored by the crash of artillery and the chatter of machine guns, a story of a day and night spent in a damp furrow, digging little mud shelves and lining them with paper to field strip a Browning Automatic Rifle, a story not of heroism but of simple survival, better forgotten and not worth correcting a harried clerk when all you wanted was to go home, the story told later because your son insisted on hearing about the war, as story told as best it could be remembered of a moment from which we expect a flash of brilliant clarity but instead a moment of remote terror. History records what is written whether it is correct or not, that tiny piece of cardboard, and not what is remembered and passed down by the tale (I have told my son the story). The real history is lost unless it is written down. Was the siege of Troy half as heroic as Homer made it? Most likely it was not but the blood still ran red and the people of Troy fled in terror through their burning streets. If not for the maker of the song none of that would be remembered. Achilles and Agamemnon would be forgotten.
I prefer the version in which they are not forgotten.
Green is the Colour May 8, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“Close my eyes so I can see you.”
— Pink Floyd, Green is the Colour
Studying has its own Odd diversions that have nothing to do with picking up the Hansel and Gretel fire hazard of papers strewn through the house, the one plate and cup you keep rinsing off for the next meal and putting in the dish drainer. You fill the coffee pot in the bathroom.
You realize you are supposed to read something you have entirely forgotten,a few chapters of a wonderful nature book written by Aldo Leopold back in the 1940s (1949, you are supposed to remember the year of publication by 10 a.m. tomorrow, fool) and you realize how much Edward Abbey cribbed from it but that’s not important. There is a section entitled Clandeboye about a marshy area in Manitoba.
You once live not too far from Manitoba. Winnipeg was about the same distance from Fargo as St. Paul but you never made it there in spite of the lure of legal Cubans. As It Happens on the CBC was about as close as you got. Clandeboye doesn’t ring a bell but Leopold’s description is intriguing.
One thing most of us have gone blind to is the quality of marshes. I am reminded of this when, as a special favor, I take a visitor to Clandeboye, only to find that, to him, it is merely lonelier to look upon, and stickier to navigate, than other boggy places. This is strange, for any pelican, duckhawk, godwit, or western grebe is aware that Clandeboye is a marsh apart. Why else do they seek it out in preference to other marshes? else do they resent my intrusion within its precincts not as mere trespass, but as some kind of cosmic impropriety?
I think the secret is this: Clandeboye is a marsh apart, not only in space, but in time. Only the uncritical consumers of hand-me-down history suppose that 1941 arrived simultaneously in all marshes. The birds know better. Let a squadron of southbound pelicans but feel a lift of prairie breeze over Clandeboye, and they sense at once that here is a landing in the geological past, a refuge from that most relentless of aggressors, the future. With queer antediluvian grunts they set wing, descending in majestic spirals to the welcoming wastes of a bygone age.
It is not 1941 but just over sixty years later. You launch Google maps and chose Clandeboye, MB over Clandeboye, New Zealand and Google in all helpfulness drills down on a tiny village of a dozen streets. If you zoomed close enough you could probably read the water tower, find the cafe and gas pumps, the silos on a siding that make it a place. You zoom out looking for this place of wonder and notice as you click the zoom bar in just a certain place the pixelation of the area, as if you had zoomed in 1000% in Gimp. This is Odd, so you zoom part way back in and notice the grid of fields, the Mondrian regularity of the various crops, the very thing Leopold railed against so eloquently in his book. Off to the side somewhere is a Canadian national park, a road snaking toward it. It is not named Clandeboye.
You cannot go back to reading Leopold. You take the pile of books and notes on the couch next to you and place it on the floor among all the others. You close the Kindle window and email and Google maps and open this page. The image of the pixalated fields won’t go away, like the green spots you thought were forever when you stared too long at the rising sun that last morning on the East Coast, saying farewell to the ocean before you moved to the interior, to Fargo, to a place a few hundred miles from Clandeboye.
Give up on studying. Everything you need to know from all those books from Thoreau on fills that one screen. Open a beer, close this page, go to bed. Try to make the pixelations go away. Remember the skies filled with geese one Saturday during your son’s peewee football game, a carrier pigeon armada honking south to Louisiana. You wanted to go with them.
Try to get some sleep. The world we have made for ourselves, sparrows on the blacktop, the starling whorl over Decatur, will still be there tomorrow. For a while at least.
You Make Shit Up April 22, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
Tags: creative non-fiction, facts, fiction, journalism, Truth
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Everything has a rational explanation. Those cuts you don’t remember getting until you get blood on something (leprosy or epilepsy). Why organic milk keeps longer in the fridge (irradiation or preservatives). Those mysterious stains on the linoleum that came with the apartment (ritual sacrifice or a blowtorch accident). Why my Kindle locks up two minutes before class (gamma rays or those bad things you said about Amazon on line) (never underestimate the power of Amazon). The problem is, how do you know which? The problem is, why do these things occur in my life? The problem is, why do I think about them so much? The problem is, why do I come up with these possible answers? And why can’t I turn off Comma Use (consider revising) in Word when I like the way I use commas just fine (illiterate code monkeys or those bad things you said about Microsoft online) (never underestimate the power of Bill Gates).
When your rational explanations become increasingly irrational it is time to expand your definition of rational. (Is Mercury retrograde?) Or start drinking. The two things are not mutually exclusive but somewhere this side of pink elephants there are rational explanations for things that appear to defy explanation. They are not, however, half as interesting as the inventive. I was pretty sure that thunk noise my house in D.C. made around ten every night was the building settling from temperature changes and not the story I told everyone about the tenant who hung himself from a transom at exactly that time. Expand the rational. Use your imagination. Make shit up. The entire history of literature can be summed up as: These things happened: to people, to places, to things. These things make no sense. Make shit up. God for example. Q.E.D.
(I do not own a Kindle.)
Non-fiction is not made up shit. It is potentially worse. You pitch an editor, write a book proposal. If you don’t deliver they might to be disappointed, especially if you get paid anyway. Publishing is the manufacture and sale of words, and if you go outside the control lines you are a statistical deviant. This is terribly bad if you are a Toyota, but you are not. They have manged to convince you that you are a Toyota. You can always find someone to feed your preconceived story which is possibly worse. Once you commit yourself to the path of fact you are not allowed outside the lines.
Here on Toulouse Street I am not committed to the supremacy of fact.
(I no longer live on Toulouse Street.) (I am not giving up my Google position ahead of the Doobie Brothers.)
The last time I wrote as a journalist was a few months ago. The last time before that, 30 years, so I took good notes. I brought a digital recorder and listened to it on the way home before I transcribed my notes. I was committed to the path of fact. Someone saw the story online and said I misquoted them. They told me the “real” version of the story. I listened to my recording again with my notes in hand. I got it right the first time.
I think they did, too. It was a better story, and close enough to the original I struggle to understand the desire for a correction. I can only think a dozen years of Catholic school had something to do with it. All that guilt. Please print my act of contrition and three Hail Marys.
The paper ran an online correction which probably no one read. The better story triumphed.
I was given an F in art in first grade because I refused to color inside the lines. My father the architect was furious, and went down to St. Pius and chewed out Sister Timothy, who I think came up to just above his waist. This was not how a past president of the Holy Name Society was supposed to behave. I learned to color inside the lines anyway, but not to like it. Still, I managed a career in journalism and managed a few small awards. I left that for politics, where facts are malleable weapons and control of context and the conversation is everything. I hated it and learned a great deal.
Feeling a sense of relief at being laid off is definitely outside the control lines. I like it out here. I no longer aspire to meanness, the veneration of the average. Fact lives inside the control lines, is quantifiable, measurable, metric. Truth lives outside the control lines, is a failure of controls. Truth is disruptive of process, must be brought under control, inside the lines. Just look what they did to Jesus. He did not die for your sins; he died to scare the shit out of you, your boss Yahweh in front of a flip chart stabbing his finger at your dots out there on the perimeter and having a fit.
To move Truth inside the control lines you must identify it, determine its causes, submit it to metrics and bring it under control. Once it is subject to metrics it becomes fact. And facts are only interesting to me when they fall outside the control lines: the length of a monstrous squid hauled up from the depths, the delightful irregularity of the rings on a plate of calamari.
If you are searching the world for a neat and packaged truth with a t like Jesus nailed to the wall of a room I suggest mescaline because it is a great deal more fun than church. Or a class in Six Sigma. And more honest.
I didn’t finish my Six Sigma green belt.
I don’t have any mescaline.
I don’t go to church.
If you are looking for Truth here on Toulouse Street I will deal you in. I might have all the facts or I may have a hole in my straight. I don’t have to show my hand. I can always smile and fold but instead I will bluff well and you will buy it and never know. Have another beer. It’s a nickel and dime game anyway. The statistics governing poker, betting inside the control lines, is not the point. We play in the land of wild cards and the bluff. The veracity of the stories we tell is not important. As long as you get what you came for–lost less than I spent on beer and snacks, hung with your friends, got something off your chest in front of what is as close to a sympathetic and trusting audience as men get–everybody goes home happy.
(I don’t play poker).
I am become a transparent eyeball March 13, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, Reality, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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“Serious critics, serious librarians, serious associate professors of English will if they read this work dislike it intensely, at least I hope so. To others I can only say that if this [work] has virtues they cannot be disentangled from from the faults; that there is a way of being wrong which is also sometimes necessarily right.
It will be objected that this [work] deals too much with mere appearances, with the surface of things, and fails to engage and reveal the patters of unifying relationships which form the true underlying nature of existence. Here I must confess that I know nothing whatever about true underlying reality, having never met any. There are many people who say they have, I know, but they’ve been luckier than I.”
— Edward Abbey, DESERT SOLITAIRE
Welcome to Cambodia January 21, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, Memory, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
This is The Panic Office. This post has been relocated to alternate location Tango, I say again Tango. Please reassemble there for murkier instructions.
I write about myself with the same pencil and in the same exercise book as about him. It is no longer I, but another whose life is just beginning.
— Samuel Beckett
No Fountain of Youth January 5, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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The city swallows dreams as it does the cars of the morning commute. Approaching from the east barricaded exits to nowhere stand as monuments to the vanity of speculators imagining hydrologically impossible towns, an endless extension of the city’s fringes farther into the dissolving marsh. The closer you approach, the towers of downtown bathed in a damp haze, the city appears like Atlantis ascending to reveal itself to a new age but this is just another soluble delusion. The road collapsing into the soft earth rolls the car like a small boat or drums a rattling tattoo, a reminder that the waters are gradually reclaiming the black muck bottom of forgotten dinosaur oceans, washed down by continental rivers, returning itself to the sea.
Further west the exits empty into geometric streets of modern subdivisions on the last land men managed to fill and level, dredging canals and pumping in river sand, pushing back the water as far as was feasible. The smart money moved into those neighborhoods that pushed up against the boundaries of the possible, carrying their dreams away from the old city. A larger house, a lawn, two cars in the garage, concrete streets level and straight, a shopping mall at the center. Gleaming car dealerships and stores for the furnishing of homes popped up along the highway in a wall barricading 300 years of history just as the levees held back the water.
Over the new, tall span that made the drawbridges obsolete lies the rickety the old city, the jumble of streets which fan out each perpendicular to the bends of the river, the old neighborhoods lined with narrow, clapboard affairs sagging under the weight of too many coats of paint, punctuated by the odd brick box and the last corner stores, divided by avenues lined with the grand houses of another century. Groaning trolleys with wooden seats, so old new parts must be built by hand, rumble along the neutral ground. The eldest oaks bow under the weight of age, their branches reaching back down to touch the ground.
Here people live in the powerful nostalgia of the city’s devoured and communal dreams, drifting from Carnival to Carnival, moving slowly in the humidity, sleep walkers on a journey the rest of the wide-awake world cannot fathom. They have found the fountain not of youth but of a graceful age, a freedom and ease flavored by the communal dreams, far from the frantic Yankee hustle that long ago passed us by, headed west.
Sins of Omission December 28, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street, Writing.
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“Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make. You can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years! And you may never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce.”
— From The Priest’s Monologue in the film Synecdoche, N.Y.
One word at a time. That is how it is done, how it is figured out, the million little strings. Words become sentences, sentences paragraphs. From the building blocks come a narrative, a character– call him The Typist–who is and is not the author, a composite of who I am, who I dream of becoming, who I might have been only if. If I come to understand him as every writer must to successfully create character, then I come closer to understanding myself.
Life is more complicated than you think. For example, what do I publish here, and what do I omit. I know what the divorce lawyer would say. I take into consideration whether my children read it (they say they do not), and who else might read it looking with a rigidly literal mind. Life is an adversarial competition. Everything is negotiation at best, furtive plotting at worst. If you think there is no one plotting against you then you must lead a very sheltered life. It is not what first comes to the readers mind when I say paranoia. It is something greater, a confluence of negative forces real and imagined you must understand and decode.
“…paranoia, it is nothing less than the onset, the leading edge, of the discovery that everything is connected, everything in the Creation, a secondary illumination — not yet blindingly One, but at least connected, perhaps a route In for those… who are held at the edge….”
— Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow
The Typist understands this corollary to the priest’s speech, must navigate the treacherous relations that constitute his life. A job lost and potential employers Googling, divorce and all that entails. I have of late imposed limits on what I write here, but increasingly I realize how counterproductive that is. What I write here is not an unraveling like divorce but the assembly of a quilt from bits of the real, the imagined and the desired. These highly personal pieces are not a solid thing but a phase transition, the evaporation by fire of who I was, the condensation of distillation, the transformation of one thing into another.
It is a story I am compelled to tell and not just scribble into a journal. I am not alone. Consider Sarah Fran Wisby.
A word. A sentence. A paragraph. If only it were as simple as I laid it out in the thesis above. It is the arrangement, the omission or inclusion, which makes it an act of personal transformation and ideally a transformative art. There are artful omissions, and cowardly if not paranoid sins omissions. I sat down to write something about this morning, about my son, about the realignment of our lives, but wrote this instead. By the time I reached that last sentence I began to wonder if this was a conscious omission, or a simple avoidance of action and consequences. I understand there are consequences: the poem by Wallace Stevens post about this time last year that resulted in a ranting phone call and which morphed into a peculiar present. I am too far down this road to allow for either, have said too much already, made what I write here to central to becoming.
A friend stopped public writing all together during his divorce. My lawyer would no doubt advise the same if I asked. I cannot. These words, this assembly of pieces, is too much a part of myself: past, present and future. To hold back is to omit a critical part of the formula, to fail to produce the desired result in the alembic, another failed attempt at the Philosopher’s Stone with only myself to blame.
If I stop now, I have risked everything and will gain nothing.
A Long Winter’s Nap December 24, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504ever, A Fiction, Dancing Bear, NOLA, peace, Shield of Beauty, Toulouse Street, Xmas, Yule.
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Toulouse Street is now on holiday autopilot until the eggnog is gone. I’ve posted a few of these before but we all have our own old chestnuts to roast and the one original story is rewritten and I think improved.
The sun has closed it’s circle and is born again. As we gather around the fire with our circle of family and friends to tell the old stories may it’s waxing light warm the hearts of believers and nonbelievers alike.
Cassidy November 21, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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The Grateful Dead’s Cassidy blasting through the dashboard, the hiss of the cranked, antiquated cassette deck of an ancient Custom 500 Interceptor, seals gone, car trailing a cloud of Sean Connery smoke covering a James Bond escape until the rusted iron head expands and the clattering cams dream again of high speed pursuits, the hiss of the cassette and the hiss of the balding tires passing over the long swamp causeway.
Cassidy is an elegy, yes, but not just a vanishing into the final night but the promise of tail lights merging into the arching continental darkness brilliant with Arcturus-red stars, an amphetamine stream of consciousness tossing worry like empties out the window, hurtling toward le petite morte, a flowering satori in a pair of cornflower blue eyes. Out there. Somewhere. Release. And you have to find it.
Until you understand why men go out for cigarettes in Mid-City and don’t stop until they hit Beaumont there’s no point in continuing this story. Rewind and play the song again, another pass at perfect harmony, another cigarette, another beer can clattering onto the shoulder, another chance