Saturday, January 30, 2010

I, Vampire: Part III


Angoisse / Anxiety: One can define these terms in many ways. One awkward, but revealing way is to say it’s the tension one feels when one realizes they’re always running the risk of being abandoned or existing in a state of revulsion – just after they’ve felt the glorious moment of engulfment or, well, the myth of total unity. Absolute unity is a condition reserved for the afterlife. No one really wants it in the here and now, no matter how they profess a desire for it.

The road to Wal-Mart was barricaded by police cars cordoning off the rural hospital so a med-evac helicopter could land on the two-laned asphalt street leading to the emergency room. Tinguely turned the corner as a deputy sheriff waved angrily at her, and a man with a headset spoke and looked at his watch.

Tinguely’s stomach clenched. She averted her eyes. Her pulse raced. She did not want to think about what might happen next. She felt anxious.

As the automatic doors slid open, Tinguely felt herself calm. The smell of grilling hotdogs mixed with disinfectant.

The Wal-Mart greeter said hello to Tinguely. Another offered her a glistening hunk of sausage on the end of a toothpick. When Tinguely shook her head “no” she moved on to the next guest. Tinguely did have a chance to ask the greeter if they carried Roberto Bolano's final book, 2666, in Spanish. She half-expected to find it in the original Spanish, since at least 60 percent of the population spoke Spanish. It used to be more, but Burmese and Somalian refugees had been brought in to fill the slaughterhouse jobs that had once been filled by illegal Mexican immigrants.

At the very least, she'd be able to find the English version. She felt sure of that.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. There were no books in Spanish. There were a few Spanish language tabloids, and a few DVDs featuring black and white "clasicos" of "el cine mexicano." She recognized Cantinflas, a populist everyman who rivaled Charlie Chaplin in popularity. Cantinflas had a bit more "chispa" or spark. At least, that was Tinguely's opinion. She had only seen one Charlie Chaplin movie, and she disagreed with its politics.

There were a few shiny best-sellers and a wall of Harlequin romances. A middle-aged woman looked up, startled, as Tinguely walked by.

Tinguely experimented with telepathy. She directed thoughts directly to the woman: "I know what you're after. You're hooked on the raunchy hot scenes! We all know what's in those books!!"

If the woman could hear Tinguely's thoughts, she gave no indication of it. Tinguely peered into her shopping cart. A twelve-pack of Fanta Grape. An eight-pack of Charmin toilet paper. Cheerios. Doritos. Salsa. Needle-nosed pliers. Cat litter. Bunion pads.


The Wal-Mart book section was next to the in-store McDonald’s. A young Hispanic woman sat with her two children. They were eating French fries and drinking a Coke. The woman was examining a bottle of nail polish. Tinguely thought she would enjoy 2666. But, perhaps she would not.

Je t’aime! It had the same sound as a meadowlark’s song, or a crow or a raven. It is the sound one makes when one is flying in one’s dreams, or simply with eyes closed, gripped in a fatal embrace. (For the lonely spirit, that fatal embrace is also known as “life.” For the vampire, that fatal embrace is also known as “blood”).

Back to the books. The latest vampire series was next to the section marked Inspirational. Nowhere was there the award-winning masterwork of a thoughtful Spanish-speaking writer (translated to English), whose noir Touch of Evil for the 21st century explored what, exactly, lived in the border between states of being. This time the work of art would focus on Ciudad Juarez and not Tijuana. In both cases, the emphasis was on appetite. At least that's what Tinguely wagered. She had no idea, but wanted to know.

If Wal-Mart could sell vampire fantasies to middle-schoolers, why couldn't they sell a novel that confronted the way people prefer to go subterranean when they feel their core identity is at risk? Why is it they go underground when what they really are could make them vulnerable?

Go subterranean when your core identity is compromised.

Go underground. Invest in a human trafficker. Move north, south, east, or west. Believe in reinvention.

Reinvent & wrap your their fingers around the throat of hope. Touch it. Then run from it. It is the only logical way to live.

The woman seated at a bench table at McDonald’s with her two children took out the nail polish, shook it, then deftly applied the tip of the tiny brush to her younger daughter’s index finger. The girl was wearing a pink hoodie and wore a pink bow in her dark, wavy brown hair. Her ears were pierced. She wore pearls.

It was easier to keep the vampires in lightweight fiction written by a conservative Mormon virgin, whose creatures of the night were innocuous prom-goers and paragons of faux-Goth fashion.


I love you! Je’taime! Te amo! It makes no difference how one says it. The words simply reflect the inadequacy of language to express something that probably should stay ineffable. After all, if you stripped love of its ineffability, you’d probably strip it of its power.

Disappointed to not be able to buy the book, Tinguely roamed through office supplies. She decided to buy a pack of multicolored file folders and index cards. For reading material, she grabbed "The Worst Celeb Diets" issue of the National Enquirer. Cellulite and shots of celebrities who had packed on 50 or 60 pounds reassured her that yes, we're all ordinary mortals.

The sound of an ambulance distracted her as she walked through the Wal-Mart parking lot. Love and death had been united since the time of Dionysus, perhaps even longer.

Death, life, and the sacred.

A north wind brought the smell of the stockyards to her. The acrid smell burned her eyes. A Burmese man wearing a long fold of cloth like a skirt walked pushed a bicycle. A Catholic nun stood in the corner of the parking lot. A small, sand-blasted, sun-faded van looked to be filled with folded lawn chairs. Tinguely saw a small box filled with small plastic rosaries -- the ones you'd receive as gifts at a first communion.

Tinguely thought of the Tibetan prayer flags she had purchased in a small store near Lark Street in downtown Albany, NY. Would a refugee set up a small Buddhist shop here in the Texas Panhandle? Would the Somalis set up shop, start small enterprises here on the prairie?

Unlike the seething dynamism of the Mexican-American border, the Somalis and the Burmese were clumped together. Islands? Dollops of humanity plopped onto cracked caliche? Immiscible cultures, at least for a generation or so. That was the impression that was given.

It was a kind of protection.

At least, that is what it seemed in comparison to the cultures that did knot, twist, stream, and flow together (and apart). Helicopter rotors. A man shouting. Blood on a gurney. A man taking notes, writing. A woman searching for a book to explain it all.

And that same woman walking back to her car forced to satisfy herself with a tabloid and the realization that the only one who had any solutions at all in the entire 10,000 square mile expanse was the lone nun with a van full of lawn furniture and rosaries.

Pray if you can.

I, Vampire, Part II


Captivity and all its synonyms. They are so potent, they almost have a taste. One could say they taste like absinthe, but that would be too easy. The spirit’s captivity is the stuff of mad poets and a person who likes to extract juice from a wormwood tree.

Tinguely pulled out her checkbook and a pen.

Bazila masked her “alpha dog” dominance and feigned submission.

Tinguely laughed ruefully. “Bazila, admit it. It feels good to be a captive. It’s stimulating to plot and scheme our escape. And then, there’s the sweetness of the revenge fantasy. Or, if you’re not in the mood to be a rebel, you can whine about your condition without doing anything.”

“On behalf of the LLC, I would like to thank you most sincerely for your generous donation,” said Bazila.

The donation was satisfying, but ultimately futile, thought Tinguely after she left.

Tinguely would wager all the cash she had in her wallet (which was around $350) that Bazila spent her evenings working on her own teen vampire novel. Would Bazila’s version feature sexual slavery and forced abortions for stem cells?

Tinguely shuddered.

The taste of freedom is not sweet. It is not sour. It is either woody or metallic. Once you swallow it, you realize you’ve been poisoned.

“It was the best book I ever read,” said the girl at the Dairy Queen, whom Tinguely spotted with a copy of I, Vampire. She appeared to be about 12.

“You were able to read this stuff while eating?” Tinguely was surprised. Was it the same book she had read? Were she and the girl with the book even on the same planet?

“Well, the stuff about embalming fluid was sort of creepy, but I’m not really sure what that is,” said the girl. “I felt sad for Romulus. I mean, he needed blood so soooo badly.”

“”I think I need to be sick,” said Tinguely.

“Oh. The bathroom’s out of order. Don’t go in. You’ll be sorry,” said the young girl.

“Isn’t it against some sort of health ordinance to have an inoperable restroom at an eating establishment?” asked Tinguely.

“It just happened,” said the girl. She picked up her book, put it into her cute Oscar the Grouch “tween” messenger bag.

A state of grace is the state you’re in when you realize you don’t have to think about the “big issues” – life, death, or whatever it is that troubles that pesky part of the cerebral cortex that reminds you of the irreducibility of consciousness.

Flickering red lights on the horizon indicated the extent of the wind farm. The blinking red lights on the tops of the wind turbines extended to the horizon like beads on a rosary or glittering paternoster lakes seen mile high as flying over the Rocky Mountains directly northwest of here.

Human beings can’t really deal with consciousness. That’s why they invented religion.

It was a good night to curl up with a true crime paperback, or to watch a rerun of a beauty pageant or documentary about the secret life of the domestic house cat.

I, Vampire: Part I


Dominate. No, don’t dominate. This calculus is not interesting. The terms are just too diametrically opposed. Let’s stay somewhere in the middle, where negotiation is at least a viable option.

“This is your recommendation?” Tinguely almost dropped the book in astonishment. She was not a prude, but it was easily the most shocking book she had ever read. And, it was being proffered as high-toned reading for the teens of this small high-plains windfarm-and-slaughterhouse Texas Panhandle town.

The local Library Ladies Club had recommended I, Vampire for the Teen Book of the Month.

It did not seem to bother the largely Christian evangelical members of the group that the book’s heroine had been made a vampire in a highly suspect, perhaps even devilish, manner.

Further, these proper pillars of the community did not seem to take note that the 16-year-old protagonist of clear eyes, cherubic blonde curls, and peony lips, was, in fact, part of a small army of minions -- volitionless undead who skulked around in the service of the gaunt yet magnetic doppelganger of a uneasily fey young Johnny Depp.

“That is, uh, different,” said Tinguely. Her voice trailed off. “Different. Yes. I’m usually all for different, but not in this way.”

“All teens feel different,” said Bazila Haycroft, President-Elect of the Library Ladies Club. Bazila was a softish woman with droopy eyes and large breasts. She had a nice smile, though. “I, Vampire shows that even if you think of yourself as a rather sickening creature with loathsome habits, you can find others who accept you.”


Dead. Undead. The two states of being are too absolute for the average person to want to accept. Give me a medium or a palm reader to communicate with the part of my own consciousness I call “the spirits” or “ghosts.” We love to roam the vast pasture where the very idea of the dead and the undead is as annoying as horseflies and sandburs.

“What was wrong with I, Robot?” asked Tinguely.

Bazila looked at her blandly.

I, Robot is not so, well, sexualized. I mean, why would you want to feed teen hormones? Especially girl hormones,” continued Tinguely. “Those little ladies can get pregnant, you know. Starve out that hussy madness, I say. Focus on philosophy and machines.”

Tinguely had just turned 30, and had clearly forgotten what it was like to have recently weathered the storms of puberty. Or, perhaps she did, and that accounted for her rather extreme position.

“I’m sorry. I don’t think we’ve met,” said Bazila, rather frostily.

“Oh. I’m Tinguely Querer. I’m just visiting. I thought I’d check out the library. Maybe make a tax-deductible donation to help you build your collection,” she said, making a groping motion toward her purse. “Do you accept checks or credit cards?”

Bazila softened. It was pretty transparent that Bazila’s warmth was conditional on the size of the perceived donation, but it was endearing rather than Machiavellian. “Yes, we’d love to build our literacy collection. We want to help our children.”

Tinguely sighed.

“Well, I don’t know why you’re sinking to the level of teen vampires. Are you really so intent on destroying every single victory of feminism? You know it will happen if you encourage this nasty habit of encouraging girls to think it’s exciting to be bitten, have blood drained from their necks, and then become the passionate slave of a tyrant vampire,” snapped Tinguely.

“How much were you thinking of donating to our library?” asked Bazila.


The body: The flesh machine. Consciousness? Utterly unconscious? Programmed? Neither state is particularly satisfying. The problem resembles the free will vs. predestination dichotomy. No one wants either pure free will or absolute predestination, even though people have even built religions around their favorite one in order to give it just the right level of gravitas to be convincing.

“Would you be willing to cull the girl vampire books?” asked Tinguely. “Oh forget it. I know you wouldn’t. Plus, I’m philosophically opposed to censorship. I hate the message of the vampire books. But, I do love I, Robot.”

Bazila glowered.

“Tinguely, we’ve just met, but I want to tell you that in my opinion, I, Robot has all sorts of unwholesome messages, too. The machines are always on the verge of killing their masters. They are smarter, more logical, and have absolutely no conscience or feelings. The robots are sort of psychopathic, if you ask me. We think it sends the wrong message, especially to our teen boys.”

Tinguely brightened at the thought of machines gaining self-awareness and either attacking their masters or simply going on strike. She looked at her iPhone. In an I,Robot world, her iPhone, hand held device, or smart phone could be her best friend. Her phone could even be her mentor. She would never have to be lonely again. Just keep the smartphone fully charged.

Truth be told, Tinguely was working on her own updated version of I, Robot. She gave Bazila a brief overview. She decided not to go into the parts of the book that dealt with organ harvesting, and in kidnapping young women to turn them into human egg incubators.

“When you finish your book, perhaps you could do a book signing here at the library,” said Bazila. “ And now I want to get back to I, Vampire.”

“Bazila, I think we’re just going to go around and around on this. I’m fearful of teenage sexuality. You should be, too. But, you’d rather be dominated by a pale, bloodsucking undead male than a strong, consistent, and predictable machine.”

“Why do we have to be dominated by anything at all?” asked Bazila.

“Because we can’t be happy unless we’re in distress, and we can't be happy unless we're absolutely desperate to break free from something we think is chaining our ankles and pulling us back to earth.”

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Review and Reflection on John Vick's Chaperons of a Lost Poet

There is something about a long poem that refers to one's youth and coming of age in Oklahoma that evokes pain, longing, nostalgia, and a bimodal innocence/experience tension.

Norman often becomes the epicenter of awakenings and self-awareness. The reason for it is often attributed to the fact that the state's largest university is located in Norman, but I think it's much more than that. After all, Norman is the convergence point of disparate but all equally emotionally destabilizing realities: Tribal autonomy, yet betrayal (Potawatomi, Chickasaw, Absentee Shawnee nations within 20 miles), the Oklahoma's largest mental health complex (not the university, as the wags would have it), the National Severe Storms Lab (with its legions of tornado-chasers), the site of the great Land Rush / Land Run, just to name a few.

Oklahoma is fond of the spectacle. Of all the states of the Union, it is probably the most theatrical -- after all, who else has a Broadway show tune as their official State Anthem?

But, I digress.

John Vick's Lost Chaperons of a Lost Poet is a long poem shot through with Oklahoma consciousness.

What does that mean? For one, it incorporates a deep, solid appreciation for all things passionate, showy, even destructive. There are tornadoes so intense they pull the grass up from the medians, reduce shopping malls to bare concrete slabs.

On another level, there is the longing and the frisson of drag. The glossy and brittle stylings of a Tulsa art deco soiree; but the 2-hour drive to Norman, where the stylings meet hot sweat and tears and awakenings -- this is what surges from John Vick's writing.

Vick's voice is decidedly phlegmatic; it refuses to pander, and nor does it whine. This is surprising, since so many of Oklahoma childhoods become hyper-aware of the unstated desires of those who surround them -- especially those who are off-limits.

There is something very compelling about the journey of memory and time; revisiting the gritty beer, pizza margarita & garlic hand-tossed or the college joints. It is a plunge into recently converted dive bar squeaky clean exotic dancer alleyways, flowering in response to the "must-do du jour" energies of the state's largest and most prestigious university and all its hangers-on...

Vick may write of other places, and his narrative takes the shape of a collage of scraps of paper, text-messages, emails, updates and feeds, "tweets.” He writes of things happening 25 years ago, but he uses the latest technologies. The reader understands that he’s using whatever it takes to have a revisited birth of consciousness.

As such, the awakening is surprising, even upsetting.

There is a sweetness about Vick's narrative, even when he is instructing the reader how to be hard; how to confront one's sweet-sad past. The sweetness tears at one's heart, and it causes the reader to understand / relate to / validate one's own experiences. There is a sadness in it. There is also a profound, inescapable euphoria. Which one will you have? Which one will have you?

Vick's long poem causes one to realize that one must confront the layered nature of reality, and how it intercalates concrete memory markers, emotions, and flashes of ambivalence and perceptual perturbation.

Lost Chaperons takes the reader into images, and burrows into the edgy, unresolved tensions between memory and the ideal.

John Vick. 2009. Chaperons of a Lost Poet. Buffalo, NY: BlazeVOX. ISBN: 9781935402459.

Check out Rina Terry's review:

The Psychic Sponge's Guide to Zeitgeistland