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Kris Saknussemm KRIS SAKNUSSEMM is a writer, painter and musical producer. He is the author of the international cult novels Zanesville and Private Midnight. Random House is bringing out his third novel in the USA in March 2011, and a new book called Reverend America has just been completed and is already being sold in Europe. A Fellow at the MacDowell Colony, he has won First Prize in the Boston Review and River Styx Short Fiction Contests, and received the Fiction Collective 2 Award for Innovative Writing, in addition to publishing in a wide range of places such as Playboy, Nerve.com, Opium Magazine, The Missouri Review, The Hudson Review, The Antioch Review, New Letters, Prairie Schooner and ZYZZYVA, amongst many others. You can find more about him on his Facebook Page.

Recent Work By Kris Saknussemm

It always distresses me when I hear writers (often memoirists) say that they could never have told the story they did if certain family members or friends were still alive. Frequently, these are child abuse stories, but they might also involve alcohol and drug problems, a coming out experience—crime. Or perhaps the work in question simply presents an unflattering portrait of certain people that the author is reluctant to own up to face to face. Novelists and poets can confront this same dilemma of course, although there is the perception (read: illusion) of greater creative distance (Thomas Wolfe could’ve told you about the pitfalls there)—but it’s precisely this margin of difference, however thin and vague it may be, that the memoirist is trading on.

The Ear

By Kris Saknussemm

Memoir

Saknussemm Family

Every perfect family needs a Shetland pony, right? Girls and horses.

I missed my sister’s doll era (I don’t think she had much of one), but she was deeply committed to miniature horses. I’d say there were over a hundred by the time I could tie my shoelaces by myself. She kept them dusted with a moist washcloth every day. From there it seemed a natural evolution to getting her a real horse of some sort to ride. (I sorely wished this same principle had applied to my interest in robots.)

Our mother, who felt that horse riding was the ideal way to emphasize what she considered her aristocratic bearing and patrician heritage, aided her in this scheme. (In truth, her father had just been a country doctor with a thick head of white hair and a modest talent on the viola, who’d inherited a big drafty house full of chimney swifts and field mice-but in her mind it was a mansion on the hill, and she couldn’t believe she’d given up a room full of suitors bringing her corsages for my minister father who tied fishing flies at the dinner table and did ridiculous imitations of Hitler with a black comb held above his upper lip, even if he hadn’t been into the infamous “cupboard” where he kept his hooch.)

The family’s fixation on horses (along with all their associated costs) would have some profound repercussions on our finances and solidarity when the divorce eventually happened (which was something like the earthquakes we experienced so often, only it didn’t stop, it just kept shaking things apart). But the obsession started out modestly enough, with a Shetland pony ride at Tilden Park for my sister. I was quite happy to stick with the merry-go-round. (I particularly enjoyed riding the giant rooster, so perhaps I shouldn’t make any comments about girls and horses).

Of course worshipping miniature horses is one thing, actually getting on a slightly less miniature horse is another. My sister was petrified, which I found deeply amusing. Somehow, it seemed like such a long way to the ground to her-and yet she so wanted to be able to do it. Dad’s solution was ever a lateral one (although many would’ve said “skewed”).

One of his techniques for getting us over any fear of the water had been to blindfold us. As strange as that may sound, it had worked very well, and both my sister and I became good, fearless swimmers at a fairly young age. It was true that I was forced to wear a life preserver in open water like a lake, but even Dad occasionally employed some sensible precautions.

Seeing my sister’s alarm at having her dream fulfilled, but worrying that she might wet her pants with anxiety on her first real ride, he took the pillow case off one of the pillows we’d been sitting on the lawn with, and put it over her head. I think the people running the pony ride were rather surprised by this move-and I’m fairly certain several other parents were-to see this little girl wearing a white hood led around the ring on a pony. “Mommy, am I going to have wear one of those?” a girl behind me asked.

I see my sister parading around the circle of dust, looking like a kidnap victim or a Klan child undergoing some initiation rite. My mother was scandalized (but that was easily done). Two circles around and the hood came off. Dad’s methods were unorthodox, but they worked.

After that success, for so it was counted, the next step was a true ride out in some fields and on a real trail. The “ranch” was out in Martinez, which is the seat of Contra Costa County (where I would later serve my only jury duty assignment, an interesting murder case that finally hinged on a photograph of a driveway where the outline of a car appeared, proving that it had been parked there during the rainstorm when the crime was committed). It’s also the birthplace of Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, and home to a massive Shell Oil refinery and tank farm that gives the live oak California ranchero air a distinct tinge of industrial grit.

But the pony farm my father located was there, and so off we went one Saturday. Everything seemed fine at the start. My sister was calm (and no doubt glad not to have to wear the pillow case). The pony was a fat thing named Suzie and seemed smaller to me than most of the merry-go-round animals. I figured if I could ride a big crazy looking chicken, my older sister could ride a half-pint horse. What could go wrong?

Well, that’s the problem when things go wrong-it becomes very hard later to say where the drama started. Was it Dad’s lack of attention to the security of the saddle when the woman with the big bazooms came out to water some of the other ponies? Was it her husband with the terrible stutter that put us all off? Was it the mix of gold grass and black oak pollen combined with the harsh waft of oil smoke and plastics being made? The fact that my mother wrapped our crumbed chicken picnic in cellophane and not foil, which then peeled off the skin and meat, could’ve been a factor too. Maybe everything counts when an emergency transpires. Maybe accidents don’t just happen, but are delicately if secretly orchestrated.

What occurred in this case was something my sister would’ve been better off wearing her hood to have experienced. The pony got loose and shot forward at full gallop. That may sound funny, and the whole idea of ponies is indeed a bit foolish-but they’re still powerful creatures, and this little tubby thing got up to speed in a way that stunned us all. My sister especially.

We watched her gallop off, just like in a movie. At first, I admit, I thought it was funny. There was an element of someone’s hobby getting away from them-of Life, even at pony size, being more than they bargained for. But there was an acute sense of our family running away from itself too. The shrill cry of my mother blaming my father, when it seemed to me that she was every bit as much at fault. The whole horse passion was really hers. And what good did it do to yell at him anyway when the problem was two hundred yards away and escaping? Without understanding it, I learned a vital lesson that afternoon. The first person to assign blame is the most likely to be at fault. Think about that when stuff happens. I’ve found it to be a very sound rule. “I thought your father had it all under control,” are words that might ring across the ages and at least two of the major religions.

My father, for all his shortcomings, had a theological position that can be summarized as: don’t lose faith even when the blood starts to flow, and in this world, God’s work must truly be our own. He leapt into our old Rambler and bounced across the fields around the back. Meanwhile, my sister had slipped from the saddle and appeared to be almost dragged along the ground, her head seeming to bounce even more than the car.

Dad returned about fifteen minutes later, leading the pony, with my sister back in the saddle, her face streaked red with tears and fear-and blood. He held something in his hand with an uncomfortable level of care.

Not two minutes later we were in the stuttering rancher’s car and headed to the hospital. My sister was in a state of shock, holding the left side of her head. I wanted to hold the ear, which was wrapped in some of the cellophane left over from our picnic.

You think we might’ve learned from that episode, but not us. That was just the beginning.

I glanced at the ear in my mother’s lap and noticed there was some chicken skin on the side of the transparent wrapping. It made me think of the mad rainbow colored rooster I’d ride on at Tilden Park. We were all on a carousel, without even knowing it.

“It’s only a piece of the ear,” my father said to the rearview mirror. (He’d later do that even when the back seat was empty, old habit.) “It’s going to be all right. They can do wonders now. Just some stitches.”

“If I had a pony of my own, this would never have happened,” my sister choked, in a brilliant seize the moment ploy. Dad would’ve handed her the car keys just then-anything to duck Mom’s wrath. I meanwhile, was wondering what an ear would taste like-figuring it would probably be a step up from my mother’s chicken. We were all on the same carousel, lost in the same stampede.

“It’s going to be all right,” Dad repeated, and I knew that he’d say that at least five more times before we got home again.

Joseph Cotten

For years I lived in fear of the monster that I believed emerged from a pond in the movie Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. I could hear the eerie song echoing in my head from some movie preview seen in childhood…visions and memory scent of the Grand Lake theater in Oakland or the Oaks in Berkeley…scenes and shadows seemingly cast on the cavernous walls of Larry Blake’s restaurant where everyone in the family ate salad but me. I see the old decaying house and the long spiralling staircase from the monster’s point of view as it climbs the steps, dripping leaves and mud…some awful shape of nightmare curiosity…

When I finally saw the movie all the way through many years later, I realized it wasn’t a pond, but a creek, and the monstrous shape I’d been imagining all that time was really Joseph Cotten. He and the crooked Olivia de Havilland are trying to drive Bette Davis mad. What I’d been seeing in my mind and dreams was a supposedly drowned Joseph Cotten come back from the dead.

Flashback to a summer night in Tahoe…

My father’s friend Bill with the deep smoky voice, his ballerina wife and their two children, Wade and Wendy, are there. Bill is going bald and his skin has a stained leather look. I think he has liver spots. The wife’s hair is pulled back tight into a bun, her body is slender and petite, her face vaguely Spanish looking. My mother never knows what to say to her unless they’re beating the men at bridge. She dislikes them because Bill and Dad disappear off to Stateline or Reno and gamble all night. Bill plays blackjack and has won as much as $5,000 in a weekend. Wade is a weird kid and Wendy wets her pants and cries. We go to the movies. The drive-in in South Lake Tahoe. (My God, there are still drive-in’s.) A Hammer horror film is showing, The Mummy’s Shroud. I cover my eyes throughout, only glimpsing up at the most terrifying moments which two decades later I realize are actually quite ludicrous. It’s a hot dark August night full of bugs thick like fog in the light, and far outside the glow of the giant screen and the cinderblock snack bar the stars are trembling.

I see now that it’s Bill I’m really afraid of. But back there in the car before the shining screen I don’t know why. I only sense it. A darkness taking shape. I think what I’m afraid of is his deep smoky voice and the curling lip of his laugh which I never know how to take-and the way he always says my mother’s name as if it’s a question. It’s not the colors of the movie that I close my eyes to hear…it’s the way he wants me to look, the way he likes that I’m afraid. The way he eats his Good n’ Plenty with methodical calm.

Wade whispers about penises and ladies’ things. Wendy sobs softly and the stars dissolve over the Sierras. The smell of popcorn and steamed hotdog buns fills the car and for years I’ll be afraid of a bad movie, not knowing why.

Saknussemm\'s Tattoo

I got a tattoo on my 19th birthday. I figured I was old enough to get one and I was definitely still young enough to dream of waking up one twisted dawn in Singapore or Copenhagen and looking in the mirror and remembering the wasted golden days of my youth.

I started thinking about the tattoo the moment I arrived in LA. I visited Cliff Raven’s studio. His specialty was Oriental design, but a tiny black unicorn, beautifully detailed, would’ve cost me about four months’ rent. I put the idea on a back burner until the afternoon of my birthday, when I found myself drifting around Hollywood, pleasantly pickled with my friend Matt Bauer, an ex-pro baseball player addicted to painkillers.

Mad life was streaming by. Huge fat Hispanic ladies screaming at their husbands, grotesquely powdered Jewish ladies arguing with shop assistants, car horns honking, music thudding, black kids dancing for money, cute little blondes in cut-off jeans, gays with their shirts off, old Italian men talking with their hands, old hippy ladies talking to themselves, Japanese tourists blinking in the sun after seeing Deep Throat a second time-a man in a straw hat talking about God, the Devil and retiring to Arizona.

Bauer kept saying it was important that I do something significant for my birthday. I told him about the tattoo idea. He became obsessed. I tried to fend him off. When it came down to it, I was a little nervous. He kept at me. Finally, we came across this place called the West Coast Tattoo Studio. Bauer said it was now or never. I said I had to find the right tattoo. Bauer asked what I had in mind. I thought for a second, and figured that a clown was a pretty unlikely design for them to have. And it couldn’t be a wimpy clown. It had to be cool, like one of those old circus posters. It had to have a certain look, a certain expression-it had to capture that vanished sideshow-ghost carnival feeling. I said, “I’ll do it, if I can get a clown tattoo.” Bauer slapped me on the back.

The place was up on the second floor in a window overlooking the street. I don’t know what I was expecting-some big bearded fellow chewing Red Man tobacco-a lot of skulls and Rebel flag designs in glass cases on the dirty walls.

What we found was a cross between a Sam Spade-type office and a veterinarian’s. A Korean-looking guy without a shirt on was working on a longhair’s forearm-putting the finishing touches on a coiled rattlesnake. He was locked in sweaty concentration and his own chest and back were entirely covered with an elaborately detailed series of dragons, imperial warriors, winged horses, naked women, and suns with fiery faces.

The next customer, or patient, was a vaguely Latina woman who lay back on a vinyl seat with her pants down and her you-know-what right up in the guy’s face while he gave her a bright pink strawberry just above her pubic hair. His back was to me. He had a hatchet-head and a white T-shirt with huge sweat stains under the arms.

The third tattooist looked like a skinhead version of Richard Chamberlain. He was wearing a white cotton madras shirt that disguised but didn’t hide the most disturbing tattoo I’ve ever seen. Fortunately, he didn’t show it to me until after mine was done or I’d have chickened out. I was plenty ready to chicken out and of course I had my excuse all ready-they didn’t have the clown face I wanted.

Skin Man listened to my description, scowled and lit a cigarette. He pulled a ring binder off a shelf and flicked the pages. He stopped, then showed the page to me. It was exactly the face I had in mind. I looked at Bauer who grinned hugely. Skin Man said, “The colors will fade a little in time, but when you die they’ll be nice and bright again.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. I took off my shirt and Skin Man traced the outline from the stencil. The humming, sewing machine irritation was just enough to keep me alert. Bauer went over to chat up the strawberry girl while I sat observing the swarming little dramas of Hollywood Boulevard unfold.

What I became fixated on was a wino-at least I thought he was a wino-lying motionless in the doorway of the International House of Pancakes across the street. I concluded later that if he was a wino, he was a fairly well to do wino because at first he had on a green fedora, a herringbone jacket, burgundy polyester trousers, white leather loafers and pale pink socks. It was a bright warm afternoon, thousands of people in the street. This guy was lying down in the doorway of a popular restaurant and people were stepping over his body to get in and out. Hundreds more were stepping past him every minute.

I looked away to ash my cigarette and when I looked back, his green fedora was gone. I turned away to answer Bauer-for a split second-and the guy’s shoes were gone. I thought I was seeing things. He was being picked clean and it was happening before my eyes. The crowds kept churning past. Then I lost sight of him again-and when he reappeared I got a glimpse-the guy was barefoot!

Finally, I watched an actual derelict steal the man’s coat. It was done cleanly, but not so fast that it couldn’t be seen by me, and about five hundred other people. I didn’t see who got the trousers. Bauer came over after the strawberry girl left and I got distracted. When I looked back the man was lying in a short-sleeved shirt and a pair of boxer shorts. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even notice that my tattoo was finished.

As if to welcome me to the fold, Skin Man took off his shirt. His chest was white, surprisingly delicate and hairless. Then he slowly turned to show us his back, which was entirely taken over by an enormous octopus-something out of an opium nightmare-Bosch meets an old Dutch map. The sheer intensity of the thing made me cringe. In each tentacle was a sword or an axe or-something. There were mermaids crushed in the grip of the suckered arms, black ink rising-sailors’ knots, sunken ships, skeletons and sharks.

“It took 75 hours,” he said without emotion. I nodded. He nodded. I paid and we left. We looked in a couple of store windows and watched this guy performing on the corner. He must’ve had double jointed jaws because he was able to open his mouth, or what seemed like his whole head, just like a Pez dispenser. Anyway, by the time we got over to the I-HOP, an ambulance or the cops had taken the guy in the doorway away. Completely gone. The slow fade finally finished.

It was frustrating because Bauer hadn’t seen the guy from the window and hadn’t really believed me when I told him what had been going on. What could I say? The mysterious thing is that later, whenever I tried to point out the West Coast Tattoo Studio to anyone, I could never find it again. It seems to have vanished off the face of the earth. No one even remembered where I thought it had been.

Of course I only have to roll up my sleeve to prove that at least for one warm afternoon, it existed. No matter if I wake up in Singapore or in the doorway of an International House of Pancakes. Even when I’m gone, the glitter in the clown’s green eyes will still be bright. Skin Man told me.

(a distorted memory)

Disney sign

Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy-the magical portals to the Magic Kingdom.

“This was the American dream, a prayer for the future. But that golden goal was not to be had without cost. The American Way was not gained in a day. It was born in adversity, forged out of conflict.”

Conflict?

Let me tell you about conflict. It’s watching two of the Seven Dwarves kicking the shit out of each other in costume in one of “backstage areas” and hearing one rant, “You gave me herpes!”

Conflict is on one of your days off thinking it would be very funny to drop a hit of acid with your craziest friend and toodle around the park as if you were a civilian…only to find yourself peaking on the “It’s a Small World” ride, which gets stuck, while the song keeps playing over and over, the animatronic dolls representing all the cultures of the world, squeaking, “It’s a small world after all, it’s a small world after all…” while the world does indeed get smaller as the drug comes on harder, a pregnant claustrophobic woman begins to sob, children become dangerously excited-and your lunatic friend rises and begins singing the song at the top of his voice.

Mr. ToadWe were very fortunate not to have been taken away in a net on that one-and when you get expelled from the Magic Kingdom, before you find yourself in lock-up in downtown Anaheim, you get a special debriefing by park security behind closed doors, a prospect that was considerably more hallucinogenic than I could cope with. (The prospect of what this would entail today in our orange alert War on Terror warmed climate doesn’t bear thinking of.)

Remarkably, we escaped the small world and beyond a minor incident on Mr. Toad’s Wild Road (where I found it necessary to physically restrain my friend Steve), I was able to return to my normal duties two days later, although “normal” was always a relative term in the Magical Kingdom.

I worked as a “Cast Member” captaining the Amazon Belle on the Jungle Cruise in Adventureland…and here verbatim is the spiel (which we were taught to refer to as “the preset narrative”) that I’d recite. After you’ve delivered this little speech three times you begin to get the disturbing impression that you’ve been turned into an animatronic character yourself.

Here we go deep into a tropical rainforest. Yeah, it rains 365 days a year here. Over on the other side there’s old Smiley, one of my favorite jungle residents-and also one of the craziest crocs in these parts, folks. Nobody’s seen him move for over thirty years. What a croc!

Hippo

And that there is a Bengal Tiger folks. He weighs over 500 pounds and can jump up to 25 feet from a dead standstill. Oh, look at this, the little headhunters! Watch out folks! And beautiful Schweitzer Falls. Named after that famous African explorer, Dr. Albert Falls. Oh, oh a huge African Bull Elephant. For those of you with short memories, that there is a huge African Bull Elephant.

Hang on now. Hippos! Got to scare them off. Cover your ears. We’re back in headhunter country now. Not a good place to be headed. Those are spears-and those are poison arrows. If any of them hit you folks, you throw them right on back-you’re not allowed to keep any souvenirs. Now let me take this opportunity to point out some of the rare tropical foliage to you. There’s some. And there’s some more over there.

And there’s old Trader Sam, the head trader for the area, folks, but business has been shrinking a little lately. He’s got a special deal going-two of his heads for just one of yours. And folks, you don’t wanna miss this. This might be your only opportunity to see a rare African mallard. Oh, what do you know, we’re returning to civilization. This could well be the most dangerous part of our journey. You have to careful. Not all the animals are in the jungle. Ha, ha.

Yes, this was the American dream, a prayer for the future. Where the Matterhorn rises over Frontierland next to the Enchanted Tiki village. Now a thrilling adventure cruise through dark mysterious caverns where dead men tell no tales. Clear the decks lad! Remember, The American Way was not gained in a day. It was born in adversity and forged out of conflict. Strike your colors you bloomin’ cockroaches! By thunder!

(That bit about the mallard was my improv by the way. You couldn’t always count on the ducks being in position to have them written into the script. Funny about that.)

I have many fine and important American friends. But I have two that I will call on in the end, who I’m fairly hopeful will survive me, to help me achieve my final request. I want my ashes spread on Mono Lake.

Why? Because I was born in California and I want to return there.

Because the Pacific Ocean is an ocean, and I’ve spent too much time abroad.

Because Mono Lake is the most beautiful, haunted place I know.

I’ve always felt that once over the mountains and into the high desert air, I was free of the city, free of the past. Although I spent a lot of time in the Sierras growing up, this was my domain. No family memory shrouded it.

There’s a smell in the air here, and a shimmer not merely of light, but of being, that defies all description. I’ve been in the Sahara and in the Gobi, and this is more intense to me.

The lake itself, with its towers of tufa and the volcanic craters around conjures visions of other planets. But to turn west is the thing.

This is the vision that broke the hearts and minds of many. If you know where to look for Tioga Pass, you may, just may, pick it out. But if you’d never scaled those heights and were already weary in soul, the sight of the Sierra spine rising in full monolithic monstrosity would do you.

Many of the Lahontan era natives, down to the Paiutes and tribal conservators of Yosemite never crossed these mountains. They stayed either side.

Mono Lake was known amongst the Native Americans of the Great Basin as a place of salt and resting seabirds. They intuited an ocean from the nature of the birds-even though they never saw it. A magnificent deduction.

It was and is also a place of flies-and one of the nicknames for the local tribe was “The Fly Eaters,” for their practice of using the salt from the water to dry meat.

Mono Lake is today in a state of severe environmental crisis. It could go the way of the Caspian Sea and other once vital bodies of water.

But just look how glorious she is. A place of mystery and hardship. A place where people died hoping. A place where some, like the rawhide and trail dust Kit Carson said, “We can do this.”

Kit Carson, for all his toughness was a very small man. How did he get over those big mountains? He wisely listened to Indians from the other side. People who were just as surprised as he was to turn back and look west.

To look east from Mono Lake is to view a lost world. To look west is to see what many thought they saw. When I’m done, burn my heart and spread it like salt in the wind across the water, and then I’ll be home.

When Dr. Johnson defined patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel, he was unconscious of the then undeveloped capabilities and uses of the word “Reform.”

-Roscoe Conkling (1829-1888), machine Republican in the Garfield-Arthur Era, one of the most prominent proponents and beneficiaries of the “spoils system,” or pork barreling, whereby successful political candidates reward cronies and associates with positions, contracts and a chance to “put their snout in the trough of public spending.” A sworn enemy of the Progressive Movement.

Kris Saknussemm

Q: You’ve got three books out right now, yes?

A: My collected short fiction Sinister Miniatures is out from Lazy Fascist Press in Portland, and a portfolio book of my paintings called The Colors of Compulsion from Les Editions du Zaporogue in Europe. Enigmatic Pilot from the Del Rey imprint of Random House, a prequel to the world of my first novel Zanesville, will be released on March 22.

Q: Busy boy.

A: Not a boy anymore.

Q: Feeling the pressure?

A: Always. On the other hand, art is what I care about most. I got a cut on my arm the other day and I looked at it—in one of those distanced moments—and I thought that’s just fucking beautiful. Sure it hurt, but visually it worked. I was only sorry I had to clean it up before I could photograph it properly.

Q: Some people wouldn’t call that sane.

A: Art and sanity have never mixed well. But the measure of sanity is finally paying your bills and staying out of custody. That’s all.

Q: You worked with seriously insane people once, didn’t you?

A: I did, and it forever influenced my ideas. The truly deranged, who can’t look after themselves, are a tiny and universally abandoned minority. Psychopaths and sociopaths however, abound and often rule, as we know too well.

Q: Is that one of the key themes in your writing?

A: I’d like to think a broader definition of sanity is. Some of my work is dark, but I value intelligence and humor…loyalty. Most of the behavior we class as insane is actually an attempt at a rational response to perceptions that fall outside society’s accepted frames. I’m very concerned about those who curate and manipulate these frames.

Q: Speaking of such, Enigmatic Pilot is steeped in paranoia…conspiracy theories…mysterious ancient orders…counterfeit people…hypnotic devices…

A: Emerson talked about the two tribes of Hope and Memory. Sounds innocent. Forward looking on the one hand or nostalgic-conservative on the other.

The paranoid version sees these tribes as secret societies in perpetual conflict. My form of cultural anxiety simply addresses this schismatic view of human development in terms of the chessboard of history—with some special kinds of masks, nightmare machines, hallucinogens and media puppeteering mixed in.

Q: Which side will win?

A: The biggest mistake any gambler can make is to be too sure who’s actually in the game.

Q: More paranoia?

A: Prudence. Old drug ways. And something I’ve learned from Facebook.

Q: Final question. If you had one wish that could be granted, what would it be?

A: I’d like to know a whole lot more about whoever can grant such wishes. And I’d be very curious to learn how long they’d been watching me.

My father served in the 10th Mountain Division, in the Second Battalion of the 86th Infantry Division from 1943-1945. He participated in the bitter cold February offensive against the enemy position on Mt. Belvedere in the northern Apennines, overlooking Highway 65 into Bologna-a baptism by fire for the newly formed alpine division, which resulted in a decisive victory known by the Americans as the capturing of Riva Ridge.

Belvedere had previously been taken and lost by Allied forces repeatedly. The Germans had the benefit of many entrenchments (including fortified bunkers, trip-wired booby traps and hidden “shoe” mines, not to mention the crucial tactical advantage of controlling the heights. The skills and courage of the 10th Mountain Division in rockclimbing, mountaineering and navigation under extreme winter combat conditions played the key role-and eliminated the threat of anti-aircraft strikes from the ground, allowing bombers from the 22nd Tactical Air Force to fly with impunity, carpeting the region with incendiary bombs (which prompted the Germans to call the situation Die berge in flammen, “the mountain in flames.”

From this success, my father’s outfit was directed to lead the Fifth Army’s offensive to take control of the Po River Valley. In the words of my father’s friend, 1st Lieutenant Frederick Fisher of the 85th Infantry, “The 10th was the only outfit that got any opposition at the Po River. It was artillery fire from about twenty 88 mm guns. We had moved in so fast that air cover couldn’t support.”

It was in the course of this action that my father sustained a shrapnel wound in the leg from mortar fire, for which he received a Purple Heart.

He was born on April 4, 1924 to parents who made their living as commercial artists. The family moved soon after to a gray Dutch shingle house in a part of Minneapolis that was still relatively rural then, allowing my dad the freedom to camp in the woods and go exploring with friends, enjoying a decidedly innocent and adventurous childhood view of the Depression years. One of the only points of contact with his stern and hardworking father was a love of the outdoors and shared experiences fishing, camping, skiing and snow shoeing.

This love of nature and the skills to enjoy it would be heightened when the family moved to a more rural property on West Mountain Road in Ridgefield, CT, where my father later graduated from high school. Although conflict continued between father and son, there was reconciliation prior to my grandfather’s sudden death, and it may be that this reconciliation heightened my father’s passion for the outdoor pursuits they had shared.

World War II began during his first year at the University of Connecticut. According to his diary, “I joined the Enlisted Reserve Corp because my eyes weren’t good enough for the Air Force or V-12 Navy program, and then elected the newly formed 10th Mountain Division because I saw a notice on the gym board, Men wanted for new unit, 10th Mountain Division – skiing and camping experience necessary, rockclimbing helpful.

He went on to train at Camp Hale in Colorado, a newly established military installation at what was formerly a railway stop on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad near the wild and woolly mining town of Leadville. His diary recalls the ruggedness of the conditions. “March in Colorado is colder than a witch’s you-know-what. 20 feet of snow at 10,000 feet.”

He excelled at skiing (not quite a sport at this point in America) and was in his element with other young men who enjoyed the same things. Rockclimbing in Holy Cross Valley, a turkey roast on bivouac and winning one of the big ski races were happy memories, offset by the suicide of his friend Duke and his being passed over for Sergeant for not having an “aggressive enough temperament.”

Upon completion of the high altitude mountaineering and combat training, his division was transferred to Camp Swift in Texas (just east of Austin), to acclimatize them for large scale national maneuvers in Louisiana. Why an elite unit of alpine trained soldiers would be sent into the swamps of Louisiana was something which baffled many people in America, including of course the young men who were forced to switch gears so suddenly-wondering all the time when they would be deployed in Europe. In real fighting-and snow.

Throughout this military training period he underwent a period of increasing tension-in part of course due to the anxiety of going to war, but also because of a war going on within himself about his religious faith. (His grandfather on his mother’s side had been a famous Baptist preacher and missionary into what was in the 1880′s, the wilderness of Minnesota). Did he really have any faith? What kind? Was it enough? This period of deep searching and increasing stress culminated in one of the most significant moments in his life…as his diary relates.

“A critical incident happened on a night maneuver when I was standing watch between 2 AM and 4 AM. I had a vivid impression of a vision of Christ. Jesus comes as one unknown, as of old he came to them by the lakeside in Galilee, and he speaks to us the same words. Follow me…for those who hear in his voice…in their suffering, in their trials and in their silences, they will come to know in their own experience who he is.”

The Louisiana maneuvers were canceled soon after and my father’s division immediately dispatched to the Italian Alps to confront real action and a very real enemy-freezing weather-ruined churches, starving children. His vision on guard duty would go on to have a profound influence in his choice of career-he later became a minister. But it played an even more important role in his war experience. Here are his words recounting the action leading up to his wounding on a chaotic day in April 1945, just after his 21st birthday.

“Artillery fire bursting all around. Mines had killed a large number of men and mules. My best friend Jack was killed by German mortar fire. When I went forward to take his place-seven miles through smoking villages and mine fields…had very little fear. God was with me. When I was hit later that day and started to lose blood, I still knew it would be OK. Days later, waking up in the hospital in Montecatini was almost like being in heaven.”

Of the 10th Mountain Division during World War II, 997 men died and over 4,000 men were wounded in 114 days of fighting. I was pleased to read the following poem at a special gathering honoring the achievements of this unique American fighting force in Washington DC.

AVALANCHE LILIES

Only the keen eye
of a Nazi rifle sight could see
that a seemingly empty alpine meadow
might be deadly
with snowmen-

White hoods moving
in moonlight reconnaissance,
silent except the sudden scrape
of a ski edge striking
a blue spark
of hidden ice.

Of all my father’s stories,
I’m haunted hardest
by the tales of his time
with the 10th Mountain Division-
visions of nightblooming parachutes
and the fear of ambush,
of Riva Ridge and the secret
of sleeping in the snow caves.

I close my eyes and I can see him
bivouacked with his weird patrol
beneath the winter and the war,
reading of Lazarus out loud
from his breastpocket Bible
with the iron cover to keep
bullets from finding his heart.

Too young to be men,
too old to be boys,
they breathed their brightest lives
as ghosts, rising each day
in clouds of flesh
to telemark and stillhunt,
fresh from the deeper
camouflage of sleep.

*For more information on the colorful history of the 10th Mountain Division, visit the following websites.

Hal Burton has also written an excellent book call The Ski Troops, published by Simon & Schuster in 1971.

Charles Bukowski

Over the years, I’ve been proud to have my fiction appear alongside writers I greatly admire (William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, Margaret Atwood). The first poems I ever published came out in an issue of The Hudson Review that contained James Wright’s last-from his wonderful final book, This Journey. It meant a lot to me.

I’ve recently been doing a big clean out…and in staggering down memory lane, one name keeps appearing with baffling frequency…LYN LIFSHIN. She is everywhere. And of course, my humble publication record doesn’t even give the slightest hint of just how truly ubiquitous she is.

If there’s ever been a journal that has published poetry, the Vegas odds are she’s been in it. It’s astounding. Over 120 books she’s published–I think. Thousands of mag publications. Literally.

I’m torn between admiring such prolific output…and wondering about all the postage. I imagine all the cover letters…the envelopes laid out in long hallways (like M.C. Escher winding stairs). What must the machine behind that enterprise look like? Simply to keep so much material out in the mail is a logistical feat.

And keeping track. Last week I got a “thanks but no thanks” letter from the Indiana Review–for work submitted three years ago! I’d forgotten I’d written the piece, let alone sent it. Maybe Lyn’s just really well organized.

I think too of the loneliness of some poor editor of what will end up being a two issue journal or webzine…and they don’t get a submission from Lyn. How would you feel? Lyn, we’re waiting…

I’ve occasionally considered the possibility that Lyn isn’t actually an individual, but a code name for a cooperative.

Then the truly disturbing notion occurred that perhaps she’s doing a Joyce Carol Oates on us (one of the funniest articles I’ve ever read was on Oates, in the Atlantic Monthly, called “Stop Me Before I Write Again”)…not only publishing endlessly under her own name, but under a range of pseudonyms. Lyn might be sitting back and thinking, “Hmm, I’ve got 200 poems I wrote yesterday, how am I going to get them all out?” Yes, a ticklish question arises for Lyn Lifshin scholars-just how much contemporary poetry is she responsible for?

Questions fill my mind in the case of writers like Lifshin and Oates. Do they lick all the stamps themselves? Have they ever lost a piece of writing? I just found a whole book I’d forgotten about and am resurrecting. A BOOK-not one poem or story. Admittedly, one of the reasons I’d forgotten about the book is that it was written in a period of deep alcoholic and narcotic confusion in Tonga, where it actually seemed like a reasonable proposition to shoot a speargun at a government official trying to protect himself with a giant tortoiseshell (I got the bastard, don’t you worry–right in the thigh-and then I got my passport back).

I watched 200 handwritten pages blow out the window of a twin engine Otter over Papua New Guinea and seriously considered going after them (I was skydiving then and figured the jungle canopy would be kind to me). Then I thought they looked rather lovely floating down. They reminded me of a great moment at an old Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference concerning the soon to die John Gardner–his angry ex-wife had hired a plane to drop leaflets all over sunny green Middlebury, exposing his cadlike behavior. My friend Stanley Elkin, who had to walk with a cane because of MS, insisted I scurry after some. Tim O’Brien and I laughed ourselves sick.

I wonder too if Lyn and Joyce are now diligent about backing up. They’d be good backers up. Press Save. Press Send. I only recently lost 150 pages in a computer crash. Bang. Gone. Imagine how Lyn and Joyce would feel.

I’m very suspicious of people who are well organized and save everything. Hunter S. Thompson (someone you’d think I’d be pretty supportive of) worried me with his neatly mimeographed letters.

As Miles Davis once said…and I happened to hear because I was the only one with him…he wasn’t exactly talking to me…”Not all music has to be heard to be listened to.” It was kind of a Bruce Lee insight.

Some writers are so prolific you wonder how they have time to even proofread their work, let alone actually read it back and consider. William T. Vollman is a good example. You can skip not just pages, but whole sections. Hell, you can skip books.

What’s my point? Well, I don’t apologize for that speargun incident one bit. That dill hole had it coming and I nailed him. I tracked him down and I hit the target. It happened in the lobby of the Dateline Hotel. I pressure packed him and reassured the guests who witnessed it. “Just a personal matter,” I said.

It’s easy to forget words-and let’s face it, most of them should be forgotten. I couldn’t quote a Lyn Lifshin poem to save my balls. You remember people you wound-and help.

The strategy of trying to put out as much as you can into the fossil record of culture is fair. Just as long as it has the thzing. That’s what the speargun sounded like.

Saknussemm on the Beach

It was beautiful. I took a pompous little civil servant down, on the run, at 10 feet, missing a major artery. I got my passport back and legal clearance to leave the country. I left behind the book I was writing then. Cost of doing business. It’s taken me a long time to learn just what business I’m in.

It’s called Thzing. Our mission statement is “Wounding and helping.” We choose our shots-and when to extend a hand. Let others crank shit out.

Before my father lost his faith in the church and became a psychologist, he was quite an inspiring preacher-although he had a humorous knack of confusing words at dramatic moments in such a way as “to bring the house down” as my choir director mother put it.

He could, for instance, raise his arms in that gentle entreating way of his and request that the congregation all stand…”Please rise now and turn to face the person next to you…and give them the Piss of Keace.” (His “splash” of gin prior to each service may have had some influence on this tendency. I certainly always relished it when he would say things like, or try to say things like, “the Apocrypha and the Pseudopigrapha” after his third splash. I didn’t know what he was talking about then, but it made me giggle.)

More than once he bewildered his attentive listeners with such variations on accepted wisdom as, “It’s easier for a rich man to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a camel to enter the kingdom of God.” (Once the needle ended up in the camel’s eye and another time there were rich men searching for needles in heaven.) Despite some celebrated gaffes that caused an uproar of laughter, many slid by the majority of church goers only to end up in circulation around the Sunday afternoon dinner table, which invariably caused my father to spill gravy on his tie-such was his mixture of chagrin, disbelief and chuckling enjoyment at his own misstatements. You could never fault him for not being able to laugh at himself. As much as he loathed and shrunk and wilted at the slightest hint of a barbed criticism, if anything was ever funny, he’d laugh.

To his further credit, it must be said that he did excellent heartfelt weddings and his Easter services were always exceptionally meaningful. There were clearly some key aspects of Christian theology that were at odds with his personal beliefs and anything along the lines of harping on doing good grated on him-but he could blow the hell out of a theme like the Resurrection and the Life. One could easily imagine the stained glass windows coming to life on Easter Sunday.

My mother adopted a kind of player-coach role in the choir, often taking the solos for soprano (and sometimes for alto too). Although she could be abrasive, she always raised the standard. People kept in time and in tune, and if by some odd chance my father took to rambling, she had sufficient control of her team and music generally to be able to spontaneously introduce a piece that wasn’t listed on the hymn board. The songs never rocked as in a black Baptist church, but they occasionally soared and they never once sank or stank. (It would be impossible to count the number of thoroughly average people over the years my mother taught how to “dee-liver the message.”)

My father had no musical training whatsoever and not a clue about the volume and strength of his own voice (which could easily overwhelm the entire front row on even a packed morning)-and he often seemed to take a competitive stance toward the choir. Fortunately, he was gifted with a naturally pleasing voice, resonant and committed, with none of the “slushing and slurring” that so infuriated my mother in most others. At their best, they were a true President and First Lady partnership, and they were at their best when they were in partnership. Church was the family business and they were unquestionably good at it.

Which isn’t to say they didn’t have some considerable failures-of a relatively spectacular nature given the context. I was involved in perhaps the biggest one, although I’m exceedingly relieved to say I wasn’t the weak leak in the chain. That role fell to little Grace Kenneally.

If you know anything about the Protestant racket, you’ll appreciate the savor of winning back some Catholics, and the Kenneallys were a big Catholic family (just like the Gages who lived next door to us). Mr. Kenneally, whatever his first name was, was in retail and on the rise commercially. I don’t know what it was he sold, but it had something to do with house wares and he had a vast warehouse down on San Pablo, and was always passing out business cards and making fine tactical use of the after-service coffee time to shake hands and pass out ever more cards (I always wondered where he kept them all). His wife looked continuously exhausted, as perhaps a mother of six well might-but she was extremely proud of her brood and her tight clenched face would overly relax into a soft doughy mass when any compliments on their dress or demeanor came her way. (I got brushed and mussed and primped each Sunday myself, but I think those kids got a full military inspection.)

Gracie was the bright light in the bunch. Horace was her twin (who in their right mind would name a child Horace?). They were my age. Sadly, Horace had a speech impediment, so when it came time to assign roles for the young children’s contribution to the annual Christmas pageant, my mother made the decision to feature Grace, as a gesture of compensation to the image-conscious Kenneallys. It took a great deal of restraint on her part not to force the starring role on me, but she knew the game and what was at stake. Mr. Kenneally placed real folding money in the collection trays that went around each service-and did so with great ceremony. Horace was hopeless at speaking a word in public, Grace got the nod. An understandable move.

It was my father who insisted that the pageant not be an isolated event in the Sunday School, but that instead, it be brought right into the main service for all to see. Let the little children come unto me. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all. Luke 18:17.

So, in my mother’s practiced wisdom, we practiced. We rehearsed our little asses off-for three full weeks. I had a line about the Wise Men following the Star. Gracie had five lines…including the big finale. It was a call and response deal that Mom wrote herself. Dad would say… “And who is Christ?”…and Grace would answer… “He’s Lord of Lords and King of Kings.” Easy.

I don’t know how many times we went over that. It seemed endless. And poor Grace was forced by her earnest socialite mother to be forever repeating that grand end line even when we weren’t in rehearsal. One would’ve thought the child was going spare the way she was always mouthing it to herself and to those of us sentenced to the same Sunday School-where there was always much talk of the Lamb of God and the Lamb lying down with the Lion-and then lamb served at the dinner table only a couple of hours later.

Well, not surprisingly, the sanctuary was full to fire regulation limits on the day in question. My parents didn’t mess around when it came to drumming up a crowd-or rather a congregation. My father even went so far as to initiate a FREE pancake breakfast on the same day, as a lure to the street people, who were beginning to show distinct signs of an increase in numbers. There was going to be no question that the Christmas pageant would be well attended, slackers or not. Every inch of every pew was crammed with flesh, however willing, whatever way their spirits were inclined. I’ve never smelled so much perfume and cologne in my life-which was a good thing as some of the park sleepers who took up the back rows more than balanced the equation, with body odor, felt, weary old denim, scabies skin and maple syrup.

It started out rough, when my father asked the assembled children, “Whose birthday are we celebrating today?” Billy Piper was quick to raise his hand and announce, “Mine!”

That got everyone snickering and threw off the timing of the recitals, but my mother icily reined us all back in. Slowly we made our way through the script, as the congregation shuffled patiently in the pews, eyes wide and hopeful that we’d pull off our respective parts.

And we did. We dee-livered the message as my mother would say. I got my star over the manger. Young Horace, somewhat thick of tongue and thicker of mind managed to raise his branch of holly at the correct moment. Gracie shone. In fact, we got some black rouse out of a mainly white house…until…until the grand finale.

I looked over at my father, thankful I hadn’t messed up my line, knowing that he was ever mindful of my mother, watching over all of us like the proverbial hawk. One step away from total success. One simple question in what he could make sound like a big booming voice. One simple answer from Gracie-and we’d be done. We’d have blistered it. Applause in church, which is unusual for white people. We’d be heroes-or at least have passed muster in my mother’s eyes-one step away from the patio and the remains of the pancake breakfast anyway.

So, my father stepped theatrically forward, right on cue, steady as he goes (it was definitely but a one splash morning). “And who is Christ?”

Cue to Gracie…

The whole congregation, even the street people, who were a little rowdy and unused to the stained glass and organ ritual, went stone still.

Grace, who’d done so well up to this point, suddenly paused. Her face froze over with an expression of pure terror. She’d forgotten the line. Gone.

There was a moment of awkward silence verging on pain…and then people started shifting and murmuring. Jesus, that sound can only be so loud in church.

My father, ever the optimist, didn’t grasp the nature of the crisis. He didn’t realize Gracie’s mind had gone completely blank. He thought it was just an opportunity to enhance the theater of the performance. He tried again…

“And WHO is Christ?”

“He’s Lord of Lords…and…”

And? And? And…?

Gracie just didn’t have the line-the final line. The closer! The cue for the organist and the choir. Everything was stopped. Stalled. Dead in the water. The street people were getting restless.

I watched my father peer over quickly at my mother, looming before her robed choir. It was beginning to dawn on him how serious the situation was. The Kenneallys (the entire clan other than Grace and Horace) were in the front row-and they were squirming with anxiety of the purest kind. Mr. Kenneally’s face had clouded over so darkly it looked like he’d never pass out another business card again. Mrs. Kenneally looked so clenched it seemed like she’d never pass water again. And one of the more degenerate street people my father in his enthusiasm for the event had invited in to witness the celebration of Christ’s birth was mumbling something about “Lord of the Bored” back near the doors.

My mother gave him one of her most piercing glances, as if to say, “This is all your fault-you never should’ve let those people in here.”

Of course it was too late to worry about that, and my father was never one to worry about a bad decision anyway-things would work out. He’d just try the line again.

And so he did. Same response. No response. Worse response! One of the ushers actually laughed. I heard my mother clear her throat (never a good sign). The fuse had been lit. She was fuming! She was about to cue the organist. She was about to unleash the choir to cover the debacle. The pageant was in disarray. There’d be hell to pay for this. Disaster. Apocalypse!

And then…and then

Then I saw a glimmer of illumination in Gracie’s eyes. The penny had dropped. She’d recovered. The horror was past. Her stage fright had evaporated. She’d remembered the words. She was going to pull the line and all of us out of the fire. She was back in time and in tune, and she was going to proudly let it rip with all her heart. My mother always said, “If you can say it-and you will say it-then sing it out! Make people sit up and take notice. This is not about being an eeny weeny quiet little mouse-this is about making the people in the back row know you’re alive!”

Gracie gave a slight but confident nod to my father. Cue me again. Have faith in me. She nodded to my father, who had faith in scabbed people scratching themselves audibly. She put it right back onto him, the one person in that whole high ceilinged room, who would never have gotten into a fight but who would never ever have knocked back any dare if it came to a matter of faith and a possible good outcome. My father knew he’d been challenged where he lived-and he stepped right in close and dee-livered that cue line as if he’d never said it before…

“Tell me Grace, who is Christ?”

“He’s Lord of Lords!” Gracie belted out.

“Yes?” my father interjected for theatrical effect. “Yes…?”

Gracie screwed up her pretty little face and literally bellowed…”And…HE’S KING OF THE JUNGLE!”

Faster than you can blink, my mother flagged her arm and commanded the organist and her choir to hit it-the Hallelujah Chorus at full bore. But not even that onslaught of music could drown out the laughter or the awful mechanical and pastry settling sound of the retraction of the Kenneallys’ egos. It couldn’t even outdo my father’s own hilarity. He buckled over double in his shiny ministerial robe and just plain guffawed in weeping gratitude for this new insight on the nature of Christ Our Lord. He chortled. He whinnied. He held nothing back. I tell you, if it was funny, my father laughed and you did too. And if it was very funny, then he gave birth to some new emotion, right in front of you.

“I knew it!” one of the homeless men shouted with Old Testament conviction and then proceeded to give a spirited “roar” for the Christ child. My mother did her best to lift the decibel level of the choir, but she couldn’t match the lion’s roar-or the further explosion of mirth it triggered in my father. I doubt seriously if any church has ever shaken with so much joyful noise. People were physically clutching their stomachs trying to contain themselves.

What followed was decidedly different. The Kenneallys made it through the after-service Christmas party with a grim, stoic calm (without Mr. Kenneally passing out a single business card). They were never seen in church again, which is a sad ending to the story, for little Gracie had done exactly as my mother had instructed. Plus King of the Jungle has a nice ring to it-and very possibly a lot more Christmas spirit than King of Kings, which to my ears sounded a bit too much like one of Mr. Kenneally’s ad slogans.

To make matters even more pointed, my father mistakenly tried to sum up the proceedings and smooth things over once we were back at home and seated at dinner, by remarking as philosophically as he could sound, “Well, you know what they say about show business. Never work with kids or children.”

To which my mother replied with a frosted glare, “The line is, never work with kids or animals, dear.”

Of course that only got my sister and me started once more. I think it’s safe to say the gravy fairly flew that day.

For years after, the very softest suggestion of anything even vaguely like “King of the Jungle” would bring up my father’s belly laugh, tears streaming down his face. From that day forth, we were never without a means to cheer ourselves up at short notice. And as it turns out, we’d damn well need it.

“The fans, which move from time to time, touched by invisible currents, serve also as some form of communication known only to the Reptiles.”
-William Burroughs

One of the key purposes of art in my view is pure inquiry-to ask ourselves some new questions, or to be invited to consider familiar or obvious things in a new way. As mainstream commercial art in all its forms becomes ever more committed to the quick narcosis of superficial entertainment, I think this inquisitive and participatory aspect of more thoughtful art becomes all the more significant.

What I\'m Working On Now

• horror movie sheep sculptures

• inflatables on water

• sand skeletals

• night fire figures & industrial effigies

• cheval-de-frises

• steeplechase grounds for huntsmen spiders, along with a family of
giant puppet figures made from piano wire & polystyrene,
foam, poultry supplies, gauze & nylon stockings full of hay

• oatmeal-textured plaster encrusted mannequin heads

• sexual ceremony boxes that look like beekeeper’s hats

• cheesecloth covered molds of limbs
and faces & exaggerated genitals

• skeleton men made of coat hangers

• complex diagrams, models & blueprints of imaginary machines,
maps, games, intelligence tests

• illuminated mental illness manuscripts and talismans
of luminous casual revelation and continuous apocalypse

How nervous is that?

Having lived in Australia for a long time now, I’m always surprised what my friends overseas imagine my environment to look like.

Sunday

Things are only as they appear when you see clearly.

The Lone Ranger made his mask from his dead brother’s vest.

Sometimes self-destruction looks like survival.

Resist temptation and it ceases to be temptation.

You can’t keep a hummingbird in a jar.

There’s a point where the wind and the rain sound the same.

The light changes. The light changes everything.

While you were waiting, something else happened.

Keep something hidden.

Monday

The proof of having broken a code is not being able to understand a message-but being able to send one.

To come from behind is to know more precisely what you need to achieve.

If there’s not a weak point you’ve got a problem.

If it were worth doing you’d have done it by now.

Simplicity is complexity you understand.

The Wild Men of Borneo came from Ohio.

Don’t be afraid to abandon all hope.

Intensify all ambiguities.

Take all the time you need. This is an emergency.

Tuesday

Certainty in anything always implies completion-an end of change.

Would you rather break a leg climbing up a steep mountain on the other side of the world-or tripping over a curb outside your house? Think carefully.

Fire moves fastest up a hill.

Humble yourself and make repairs.

It is not necessary to catch a fish each time, to enjoy fishing. But it is necessary that there be the possibility of catching one.

A walking stick makes good kindling.

There is a reason why the gods are pictured with the heads of animals.

An unidentified key is useless.

Options diffuse momentum.

Wednesday

Use fewer tools.

Deorganize.

Search through what you’ve discarded.

The man swimming in the shark cage died of a heart attack. Not a mark on him.

The slightest doubt derails the whole enterprise.

The fissures in the granite run north-south. The rabbit runs clockwise around the pond.

Lose your confidence but not your curiosity.

Simply renaming a weed a flower won’t stop it from spreading.

Everything is a reflection.

Nothing can hold back the person who is willing to reevaluate everything.

Thursday

Wouldn’t you try to paddle the leaking boat as far as you could?

All the clocks tell slightly different times.

When would precision not be desirable?

The secret goal of music is the restoration of silence.

Failure is the least of your worries.

Find the hidden assumption.

Never approach a horse or a helicopter from the rear.

Redefine the boundaries.

Striving for originality has been the undoing of many.

Friday

Constantly compromise-until you master the secret of it.

When you know when to stop, you’ve gone too far.

It is the fence you stumble over, not the property line. Yet, after the flood, the property line remains.

Time to change your password.

Try not to lose or depend on the element of surprise.

The difference between surgery and dissection is of vital interest.

Carefully plan all surprises.

In any crime, motive is the most important factor.

Intentionally make the mistake you most fear.

The search for answers is the art of asking ever better questions.

Saturday

Take a hammer to your seashell collection.

Savor your uncertainty. It won’t last long enough.

You look down at the wake of the ferry, and see your shadow at the rail.

Patience is a virgin.

Be generous with your anxieties.

Because people are not always what they appear to be does not mean that they are never what they appear to be.

The most interesting things can only be seen out of the corner of your eye.

Secrets have a life of their own.

If you’re ready for anything, you’re probably not very well prepared for what’s actually about to happen.

The old woman in the wheelchair has not forgotten how to ride a bicycle.