The one-tracked mind

There has been nothing on my mind lately except for baseball. I hate being one-dimensional but there are practical reasons for monopoly that hardball has on my mental processes. It won’t likely subside until October. That’s eight months away.

Snow is on the ground. The powder sprays into the air from my boots as I amble down the sidewalk to get my newspaper. The dog lies moping in the corner. He hates being cooped up but is smart enough to know that no beast is fit to live outdoors in weather like this. I’ve thrown the remnants of a roasted chicken into a stock pot. Sometime this afternoon, it’ll turn into a fully-realized pot of chicken noodle soup. Ugh. There is no raison d’etre for this entry. I only do it because on my task list for Thursday, February 10 it says ‘Write a journal entry…’

Screw this. I’m going back to my baseball projections.


An honest entry

Towards the end of 2003, my writing was stuck in a quagmire. When things are really bad, it seems hard for me to even remember the things I wanted to write, much less write them. On January 1, 2004, I wrote a long entry in my computer journal and set in motion a pattern that held true for over ten months.

The problem was that I became obsessed with writing journal entries. Everything I wrote, including e-mails, newspaper articles and comments left on a bulletin board, was either written in my journal or copied and pasted there. I figured out how many words I’d have to write each day in order to generate a minimum of 100 pages of journal per month, a figure I flew past each of the first ten months of 2004.

After the baseball season passed, I launched myself into my novel, La valise perdue, and worked steadily on it for about a month in the home office I constructed for the sole purpose of composing that book.

One day in early November, the whole works came to a grinding halt. For six weeks, I wrote virtually nothing. As is usually the case, the inability to write left me feeling inadequate and useless – a failure, if you will.

I may still be a failure, but at least I’m writing again. The novel is still forming in my mind and much has been accomplished in its creation. I think, someday, I will finish it. As for now, baseball season is upon me once more. While I will scratch and claw in trying to write about things other than baseball, that one subject will occupy most of my writing time until the fall.

In the fall, I’ll be getting married (again) and then will head to France for ten days. Since my novel is set in Paris, I would imagine that when I return, I will be able to tear off another big chunk of La valise perdue though I would be surprised if I am able to carry the momentum all the way through to a completed first draft.

Writing is a fickle occupation. It comes and goes.

In the years after I left college and moved to Chicago, I always made it a point to tell people that I was a writer. I had no business doing that but there was a powerful need to instill legitamacy in what I wanted to do very badly.

After that, I went the opposite direction and didn’t want to tell anyone that I was a writer. This was during my own personal dark ages, during the end of the last century. Now I’m pretty ambivalent. I don’t tell people that I’m a writer any more. It never occurs to me to do so. Yet, everything I write these days gets published in one form or another – including this. Some of it I even get paid for. During my non-work hours, I spend at least 75% of my waking time writing, thinking about writing, reading with writing something in mind or preparing for something that I am going to write.

Does that make me a writer?

Don’t answer that. It doesn’t matter. Really, it doesn’t.


In the Streets of Baghdad

My assistant, Ibrahim al-Yussuf, is my only link to the unbridled anarchy in the streets of Baghdad. Without him, quite simply, I would be lost.

Ibrahim’s cousin, Jalal, who worked on Abdullah’s farm, was killed by a bomb while walking in a kill box set up by American troops in Zambrania, a small farming village just outside Baghdad. In these kill boxes, the pilots can drop bombs on anything that moves. Jalal, who did not realize that he was walking in a kill zone, was on his way to have lunch with Abdullah, his closest friend.

As it turns out, the kill zone was brand new and Jalal’s house was right in the middle of it. But Jalal did not know this and when he walked out his door toward’s Abdullah’s farm, a bomb fell on his head and tore him to pieces.

Ibrahim had been thinking of moving to Zambrania to stay with his cousin. They had both agreed that it would be much safer than remaining in Baghdad, where a stray bomb might topple a building which could fall on top of Ibrahim. Now, even the farm country did not seem safe because you did know where there would be a kill zone.

Ibrahim had studied literature at St. Olaf University in St. Cloud, Minnesota and he spoke English with almost no detectable accent. He was a very smart young man and he decided that the best place to be was close to an American journalist. He wanted to be a journalist himself and he had heard that the journalists needed help because they could not go out into the streets because of the insurgency. He came to the dusty headquarters we had set up at the Hotel Palestine and volunteered his services.

“Only for food,” he said. “And a reference for when I move back to America.”

Ibrahim was a polite and strikingly handsome young man.



It? What is it? The past that’s what it is. The past is bogging you down ever so gradually. It comes slowly, like lava, rather than sudden – like a Texas flash flood. But the result is nonetheless overwhelming and everything turns to black except for that little foggy tunnel of light that is right behind you and extends all the way back to your mother’s womb.

So you try to disarm the past by looking at tangible objects in front of you. The idea is to keep the tip-ass part of your little finger grounded in present reality. You don’t want to dwell on it because it seems regressive. Move forward. How to move forward? Try not to think, first of all. Thinking is what fucks everything up. Don’t think – act, do. Deal with the real things that are right in front of your face. Everything else are shadows and ghosts. If you pay them too much attention, they will destroy you. But it won’t be quick and painless, it will eat away at you like a lazy cancer.

So what are these concrete objects? Is it the mug of coffee sitting at my side? Is it my little halogen touch-lamp? My composition book? How ’bout the handmade desk, crafted by my very own father, upon which I toil right now? Sure, it is all of these things. But they are also the words that appear one after another on this digital screen. And so are they the words that you read at night yet are part of somebody else’s past, like Henry Miller’s. Once words are recorded in the blindingly honest way in which Miller wrote his, the past is not only the present but it serves as a map to navigate the future. The stepping stones are the wonderful variety of words he introduces, words that have never before been discovered, relics that give you a hint of a larger and greater universe to be traversed. Words like crepuscular, a word that envelops in one robust sweep the entire immaterial stillness of twilight, not just dusk per se but all things twilight – the end of eras, of love affairs, of years, of friendships, of disease, of sanity – of life itself. We all pass through crepuscular phases in our lives, every day, in fact. And that is why on a summer eve I can sit on the hill atop Hawthorne Park and look at the pink Western sky hovering over the rotting entrails of Kansas City and feel a communion with everyone and everything that has come before me and will ever become again.