Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Future of Literature. And Stuff.

Because I am desperately trying to avoid writing my linguistics paper (and because I had kind of a weird day), I have spent the last few hours reading about the future of literature. I’m not trying to seem fancy; all I did was type “the future of literature” into google and then read the first couple pages that came up. Anyway, having conducted this survey of “the literature” on the topic, I think that I can say with authority that no one has any idea what they are talking about.

That is not -- BTW -- to say that I do.

Life is not a zero sum game, people.

If this is a topic that interests you, then you should absolutely read Ewan Morrison’s two-part series for The Guardian. It’s some of the most interesting and thoughtful and fun and wonky writing I have read in awhile. He also -- very gently -- goes to town on the complicated and troubled legacy that Harry Potter leaves us with. I’m glad people are starting to tackle that. I’ll get to it one of these days.

Otherwise, I can’t say that I have learned that much from my readings tonight. The crazy homeless stark raving mad contrarian in me would normally be happy to stand in the digital town square and yell at listicle writers who have never heard of me about how wrong I think they are about stuff, but I’m just not in that kind of mood.

I have things like “the future of literature” on my mind because I’m doing revisions on a short story right now and I think it is one of the more interesting and complicated short stories I’ve written (this is the D. B. Cooper thing I have mentioned before) and as good as I think it could be, I am left with this resounding and empty feeling that can only be described as who-gives-a-fuck-ness.

Now keep in mind, I said already that I am having kind of a weird day. If who-gives-a-fuck-ness was a big concern of mine then I wouldn’t have been writing this blog for the last 150 years, because - you know - no one reads these things anymore anyway.

I think the who-gives-a-fuck-ness thing is on my mind because I have been thinking alot about a conversation I had recently with one of my professors, who I respect very much. He is a professor second and a writer first and that’s why I respect him. He mentioned casually that MFA programs seem now to be looking for extracurriculars in their candidates just as much as undergrad admission officers are. That is to say that the fancy writing programs of America care as much about whether you were the prom king or the treasurer of your frat as much as they do about your writing.

I am being simplistic and reductive here, of course. But not by much.

The professor I respect was not saying that this is a good thing, he was just saying.

Well that thought has been stuck in my craw for a little while now.

I’m not Salinger or anything, but I am a bit of a loner simply as a matter of practicality and the idea of having to join things and make small talk with people in order to get what I want just annoys me to no end. “There is something to be said for Fascism, after all” Ezra Pound said.

(I made that up about Pound, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t say it.)

So add to that festering thought the idea (gleaned from my research tonight) that no one has any earthly idea what they’re talking about ... well that just seems unreasonable. The idea that there are gatekeepers I can accept (agents, editors, publishers, MFA boards, etc.) but the idea that the gatekeepers themselves have no fucking clue what they’re doing? Well that just annoys me.

In many ways I guess the internet is just a bunch of people standing really far apart while screaming at eachother. So maybe that is what I am trying to say here: that there is a lack of reasonable authority in the answers I am finding.

That’s life though, right? No religion or value system really holds up to pragmatic scrutiny, ultimately.

I guess that I sat down here tonight and googled something as pretentious as “the future of literature” because it is something that I find interesting both professionally and personally and because it is 100% not a conversation that I am having with human beings in my actual life (and I am a grad student in a creative writing program). I sit through (and sometimes enjoy) a lot of lectures and discussions about writing and literature in the the western tradition and yet I have no earthly idea if I should e-publish this collection of poems I have sitting here. They’re not particularly good, but not a single article or essay I read tonight addressed the issue of “good” writing and “bad” writing. Neither has my entire college education, by the way.

I guess I’m kind of just disappointed in a lot of things right now.

I’m not asking the world to take notice, especially not right now. There are plenty of real problems in this world and this country right now, but this is my little corner of the internet where I get to talk about what I want.

Also, I wasn’t kidding about avoiding my linguistics paper.



I came across this today quite randomly and it made me laugh.


Monday, November 24, 2014


In the post below I tell you I’m reading a weird book by a guy named Ronald Sukenick and how he is good at writing stuff with his words. This is what he says about the strange multiplicity of things that we call ‘love’:

But I couldn’t admit any of this was love, maybe partly because, as I know now, it wasn’t what we call love. The overload we put on that word just indicates the poverty of our vocabulary.

I have always said there needs to be a plethora of words to replace the English word ‘love’. Some of them should be light and silly and taste like white wine on a summer afternoon, and others need to be thick and heavy and dark and peppery like a Tempranillo in the back of a cafe in the evening, and still others need to be so completely dangerous and radioactive that we keep them under safety glass.

This Sukenick dude really gets me, you know?


Sukenick Knows.

So I needed something read this morning when I got to campus about 7:30 and so I did as I do and I wandered into the fun part of the library and quite at random I plucked from a shelf the very small novel “Doggy Bag” by Ronald Sukenick (it is maybe six inches tall and four inches wide and less than a half an inch thick, so really I grabbed it because I liked that it would fit in my back pocket) and it is a strange and fascinating little book and about 25 pages in I found this passage about the life of grad students. I think it is fun because it describes my life, but also -- I would imagine -- the life of anyone hunting an advanced degree. Anyway, if you ever wonder why I’m so moody, this is why:

But let me say something first about the life of a graduate student. Suspended as it is between the student world of the undergraduates and the workaday quotidian, and above all, between the perfection of the written word and the abjection of the rotten world, it lacks what you might call ballast. Without friction with the ordinary contingencies and tolerating a high level of anxiety aggravated by too much work and too little pay, it tends to exaggerated swing of mood.

This Sukenick guy knows his shit. Please be prepared for me to spout off more of him.


Um. The top of this wall does not seem to be working ...

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It is a bright and cold* and windy day today. (*cold by Southern California standards. Sorry Buffalo.)

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014


While talking with some of my students today and then with some of my grad student contemporaries (who are also significantly younger than I am), it occurred to me that this up and coming generation desperately needs a sunscreen song.

You remember the sunscreen song! It came out in the late 1990. It is actually called “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)”.

Well I am not trying to write the new sunscreen song, but all day I have been making dumb notes to myself about the really terrible advice I would give out if I were in any position to be giving out advice (which I rarely am, on account of my consistently poor behavior).

Below are some of the notes I have scribbled to myself. These are oddly upbeat for this blog, given that I am normally busy here doing my best Jean Paul Sartre impression. However, it is possible that this is a list I am going to revisit from time to time, until - you know - it is good.


Advice I Would Give if I Gave Advice.

Advice I Would Give if I Gave Advice.
by james bezerra

Don’t worry so much.

Your life is going to happen whether you agree to it or not.

Take a year off.

Or at least fantasize about it.

But definitely spend a year unloading trucks, or skinning fish.

Occasionally do things that don’t look good on a resume.

Do things so big and so weird and so messy and so strange that they never even make it onto your resume.

While you’re at it, make mistakes.

Make 'em big.

Make them full speed ahead.

Be scared.

Because - at times - you’re going to be anyway.

Sometimes the world is a scary place and that’s okay.

Learn to make friends with the scary.

And along the way, learn about failure, because it is the best education you will ever get.

And learn how to fail with implacable grace.

Learn to love the people who prop you up when they have no reason to.

Learn to be skeptical of anyone who is trying to sell you anything.

Have that second glass of wine, because no one ever sat there dying, looking back at their life and saying to themselves, “I really wish I had had just a little bit less of a good time.”

Accept that you are just one of seven billion people stuck to a not terribly important wet rock spinning around a second-rate star in the boondocks of a weird looking galaxy tumbling endlessly through a universe that was probably some kind of mistake in the first place.

More than 100 billion people have lived on this planet so far and not a single one of them has gotten to live your life.

So be forgiving of yourself.

And be forgiving of the people around you. Everyone you’ll ever meet is living their own first draft in real time.

Don’t worry so much.

It’s entirely possible that no one has any of this figured out any better than you do.



Below is a piece that I revised for my creative non-fiction class. If you come here often, then you might remember that a really early version of this has appeared on this a long time ago. I never felt like I got it right, so I have been using my class to hone it. I’m still not sure if I am done honing it. I may have to continue honing it. Honing is a weird word if you type it enough …

All of the examples referenced in the piece below are taken from fact. Ish. Let’s just say that they are honed from the truth.


What a Bank Does, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Financial Institution.

What a Bank Does, 

Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Financial Institution

By James Bezerra

While there are endless variations and permutations of banks and the services they provide, all banks essentially do two things: they take in money and then give it out again. There is no mystery to it at all.
Person A deposits her paycheck into her bank account and when she wants some of that money back, she removes it to do with as she pleases, to buy sewing notions or drug paraphernalia, or whatever. To the average person there is no mystery at all. A bank is just a warehouse where money is kept safe from bandits, muggers, and water damage.
If Person A is particularly astute, she might one day ask, “How does the bank afford such a nice building if all it does is charge me five bucks a month for my account?” And then she might think to herself, “Well from other people’s interest, of course!” and then go about her day, though she is only partially correct.
What would likely never occur to Person A, is that banks are not service institutions. They do not exist to make modern life easier. They exist to make money.
When Person A deposits her paycheck, what follows is an intricate and complicated ballet of movements, none of which are ever seen by Person A.
The bank takes Person A’s money and puts it into a massive pool of money, along with money from Person B and Person C and Person D, etc., ad infinitum.
The bank keeps a small portion of ALL THAT MONEY available in case Person A needs to withdraw some to pay off a gambling debt or in case Person B wants to buy some dirty lingerie on her debit card. But aside from those sorts of things, most of ALL THAT MONEY would just be sitting there all the time gathering dust; except that banks are not warehouses for money.
So what a bank actually does is spend most of that money on other things (which have nothing to do with Person A or Person B or Person C, etc.) A loan is a good example of this. If the bank takes $100 of Person A’s money and gives it as a loan to Person X, then Person X is generally required to pay back that loan with interest. If the interest is $1 a year and Person X pays back the loan after one year, then Person X has paid back $101 to the bank. And remember, $100 of that technically belongs to Person A, but the bank has made $1 just for loaning out money that never belonged to it in the first place! And Person A never even knew about it!
But what happens if Person A wants all of her money back all at once even though the bank has loaned it all out?
Well that’s okay. The bank - much like any good casino - has kept enough money on hand (from Person B and Person C and Person D, etc.) to give Person A back all her money.
But what happens if ALL the people want ALL of the money back ALL at once?
Well that is called a “run on the bank” and it will cause a bank to “collapse”, because the bank does not actually have ALL THAT MONEY anymore.
However, every single bank that has ever existed throughout all of human history - going back to the de Medicis who basically invented modern banking in Florence and then funded the Renaissance - has functioned on the fundamental principle that there will never be a time when ALL the people want ALL the money back ALL at once. Every single bank in existence today (including the one where you keep your money) has made this assumption, even though the assumption has been proved wrong virtually constantly for over 500 years.
Fundamentally, however, Person A and Person B and Person C all understand that banks loan money. It is even likely that Person A has a home loan, Person B has a student loan, Person C has a car loan, etc. The implied contract that exists between banks and the people who use them is that the banks will behave in a thoughtful and responsible enough way that everyone involved is able to benefit from the relationship. Even though this implied contract has been violated over and over again for more than 500 years.
These are all oversimplifications. Sort of.
No where on earth is there a bank that would make a $100 loan with an annual interest rate of 1%, because banks are not in the business of making only one dollar a year. Banks (and by extension, all investment firms, hedge funds, lending and financial institutions, etc.) are primarily in the business of making VERY LARGE sums of money.
Well now you want to know: How does a bank (or any other financial institution) do that?
Oh there are lots of ways! And new ones are being invented all the time!
Very large banks (like the one you probably use) like to deal with other very large organizations, like other large banks, countries, or oil companies. If a large oil company wants to build a series of oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico – for instance – it will go to a very large bank and take out a very large loan for hundreds of million dollars. The bank is happy to do this because it will make a lot of money on the interest from a loan like that. Also, a big oil company is often willing to cut the bank in on an extra share of the oil profits. The oil company is willing to be so generous because lots of times the same people run both the oil companies and the banks. How convenient is that?!
Other times a very large bank will work with a foreign country (usually a poor one that has oil or diamonds) and will make loans to the otherwise poor government in return for largely untraceable repayment in the form of raw goods like oil or diamonds. This is good for the bank because it generally gets to dictate the terms of the repayment (since the bank has the money and the country does not). So instead of a 1% annual interest, sometimes banks can charge a 100% effective interest rate! Because a lot of times the bank gets to decide how much the oil or diamonds are worth as a form or repayment, regardless of market price. How good for them! But why would any country want to pay a 100% effective interest rate on a loan when it could just sell its own oil and diamonds?
Well, sometimes the country can’t. Sometimes other organizations – like “the United Nations” – won’t let the country sell its goods on the open market. That is called an “embargo”. But why would the United Nations “embargo” a country’s oil or diamonds? Well usually because those countries are run by “dictatorships” that commit “human rights abuses” like “operating death squads”, engaging in “mass genocides” or “ethnic cleansings” or “systematic campaigns of rape and terror” or doing things like “kidnapping children” and forcing them to mine diamonds.
But wouldn’t a big bank get in big trouble for doing something like that?
Well sure!
But only if anyone paid any attention or cared, which most people don’t.
Just to be safe, banks do not loan the money directly to these counties. The loans are broken down into numerous smaller amounts and moved through a purposefully complicates series of “front companies” and “shell corporations” and most of those are located in small countries that don’t have very many banking laws. Sometimes the bank will even pay a lot of money (in the form of cash or diamonds or oil or untraceable bearer-bonds) to members of those governments to ensure that they don’t make any new banking laws in their little countries. Have you ever heard of Antigua and Barbuda? You haven’t?! That’s probably because you’re not a bank CEO.
When one of those “embargoed dictatorships” pays the bank back – say with three hundred thousand barrels of oil every week – the bank uses even more “front companies” and “shell corporations” to get that oil out to the market to sell at a much higher “price” than it credits back against the “embargoed dictatorship’s” loans. In this way, a very large bank - like Barclays or HSBC or Credit Suisse, all of which do banking for ISIS - is able to use ALL THAT MONEY that Person A and Person B and Person C, etc. deposited to make massive “profit”. And the bank doesn’t even have to share any of that “profit” with Person A or Person B or Person C, etc. How great is THAT for the bank?!
Those are only a few examples of how smart banks are at making money.
Banks are so smart that they have even figured out that they can make money off the money that they have already loaned out! When a bank makes very large loans and investments, it depletes the money that it has to make new loans and investments (and to pay back Person A and Person B and Person C, etc.). Since the bank has loaned out all that money, all it has now is a bunch of IOUs worth billions and trillions of dollars. So it may not have any money, but it has lots of potential money.
What the bank does then, is roll up all of those IOUs into an “investment opportunity” that other people and companies can buy. This process is called “commoditizing debt”, and the “investment opportunity” is called a “derivative” (named so because it is derived from something else). How exciting!
When a bank (or other financial institution) creates a “derivative” it is sure to mix a lot of unrelated types of IOUs into it (like risky home loans that it wants to get off of its books), that way it is almost impossible for a person or company to know, or even understand, what it is buying. But why would any person or company want to buy a mysterious “derivative”? Usually because the bank or other financial institution has a good track record of making lots of money! And because most of the people who run the “hedge funds” and “investment banks” (which buy most of the “derivatives”) are good friends with the people who run the banks. How convenient!
See, now the banks have managed to take money from Person A and Person B and Person C, etc. and loan it out in ways that will earn the bank lots of extra profit (which it does not have to share with Person A and Person B and Person C, etc.) and at the same time, it has managed to sell off all of its IOUs for real money. It has ended up making extra profit at least two different ways from the original money deposited by Person A and Person B and Person C, etc.! How smart is that?!
But what happens if all of those risky home loans start to go bad because people can’t pay them? And why would a bank make a risky home loan in the first place?
Well once upon a time the United States had some old time-y laws called “Glass-Steagall” (named after Senator Carter Glass and Rep. Henry Steagall). Those laws required banks to hold onto the loans and therefore to hold onto the “exposure” that would be created if a loan went bad. So way back then in the past, a bank only made a loan if it looked like someone could pay it back. Eventually though,  all the people who used to run the banks went to work for the government as bank regulators. How convenient! And then the banks lobbied the Congress to repeal those old Glass-Steagall laws, which it did.
Then banks told their loan officers (who get paid bonuses on the number of loans they originate rather than the number of loans that get paid back) that they could make as many loans as they wanted! Almost as soon as the new, risky or “exotic” loans got created and sold to people (mostly people who couldn’t have gotten one before) the banks rolled them into “derivatives” and sold them off to other people who didn’t really understand what they were buying. Everybody was making lots more money!
Except for the people who took out loans they didn’t really understand to buy houses they clearly couldn’t really afford. They weren’t making any more money than before.
Sadly, when all those people started to “default” on their mortgages – millions at a time – all of those IOUs that were rolled up inside of all those “derivatives” went bad, meaning they lost their value (or rather, their potential value). Suddenly big companies and hedge funds and investment banks which thought they had trillions of dollars of potential money, didn’t anymore; they just had “loss” and no real money left.
Once that happened, none of the other banks wanted to loan them any money anymore.
Plus, since so many of the companies were interconnected and laterally invested in each other, no one could be sure anymore who actually had any real money left. So everyone stopped loaning money to everyone else. Then whole banks and investment firms began to “collapse”. And since they were so interconnected with other banks and other investment firms, those other banks and other investment firms began to “collapse”. And for a little while, it looked like the whole world economy was going to “collapse” because no one actually had enough actual money to cover all of the “loss”.
But remember all those people who used to run the banks but then went to work for the government as bank regulators? Well they convinced the United States to give the banks lots of money (called a “bail out”) so that all of the “collapsing” would stop. The government agreed to do that so that “modern human civilization” would not “collapse” and people wouldn’t end up living like characters in a Mad Max movie.
Well those banks took ALL THAT MONEY and they did all the things that banks do to turn money into more money and some of them even paid it back to the government so super fast that it made a lot of people wonder if they even needed a “bail out” in the first place, especially since now the banks were showing phenomenal earnings. How great for them!
From diamond rings to debit cards to gasoline, it sure seems like the banks have it all figured out. Person A can swipe her card for a cup of coffee (the swipe itself makes the bank about two cents) and drive to work in the car the bank helped her get (at a 4.04% interest rate on a 60-month new car loan) to work the job where she makes the money to pay her student loans (at a 4.66% interest rate) before she heads home to the house the bank let’s her live in (at a 3.877% APR on a 30 year fixed mortgage) where she watches the evening news (about Islamic extremists selling Iraqi oil across the Syrian border to Turkish brokers) and feel completely unconnected to any of it (because if she felt otherwise, then the banks might have a problem).


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Happy Happy Go Times.

I am now in the first hour of a ten hour overnight train trip. I have claimed a nice seat on the observation deck. I have some whiskey. I have a book about D. B. Cooper. Sleepy Southern California is rolling past my window and the train is making that very satisfying thrumble that trains make. I am a happy camper for once.


Most of the power is out here.

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The 360.

I am in Union Station in downtown LA waiting to get my seat assignment and I'm noticing the bizarre plethora of humanity arrayed around me in the waiting area and I'm struck by the fact that not a single average seeming person will be taking the train with me out across the desert night. These are some of my travel companions:

Guy in camo overall shorts

Fat version of a rockabilly friend of mine

Samuel L. Jackson's soft spoken younger brother

Infant with an iPhone


Amish teenagers

Very old woman with arm cast

Obese rednecks talking about their trip to Paris

Dirty hippie with no shoes but two guitars

An aggressively large number of people wearing Hawaiian print clothing.

Man with a gambling problem who claims to live in a condemned lighthouse near 3rd street in Laguna Beach.

Guy who I swear to god is Powers Boothe

Asian Jennifer Lawrence

Man with apparently one tooth

Dude in khaki-colored jeans and straw hat and beard who can only possibly be a paleontologist.

Emma Stone if she dyed her hair that great shade of dark red and wore Hello Kitty sweats and, you know, rode on trains

More Germans

Dude who ... I don't even know how to describe. Looks kind of like a wolf wearing a black Panama hat with a red feather in it, and suspenders, and a gray sweater that can't possibly fit him tied around his waist, and the combat boots his pants are ducked into.

Neck tattoo guy in mesh Dogers jersey.

A lone glossy black electric guitar, apparently left behind but sitting in a chair in the waiting area trying to be as dignified as it can be under the circumstances.

Woman with birthday balloons

Old leathery skinned couple with matching windbreakers

Duck Dynasty lookin' motherfucker

Black British hipster

Amtrak employee announcing that at any moment the power may go out ... that's odd, right?

(Here is the view from inside the waiting area.)




Either Or.

So I am sitting at the bar in Union Station in downtown LA. I'm waiting for a train to show up and then take me to Tuscon. The drinks are WAY overpriced but the music is okay. The bartendress is very talkative but thankfully she is talking to the couple next to me who look shockingly like Rush Limbaugh and Oprah. If they can find love while looking at each other, then there may just be hope for the rest of us.

In the twenty minutes I've been here the bartendress has claimed that she sang backup on a Mariah Carey album and that she was accepted to Harvard Law School. I would be willing to believe either of those things, but not both.


LA can be pretty sometimes. As long as you are extremely choosey about what you look at.

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I am on a train! I love trains! Because they go to places!

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Adventure fun train travel times start now!

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

No Z.

Below is an embarrassingly ridiculous “story” I had to write for one of my classes. This was the product of a writing exercise “constraint” called a "lipogram" that requires the omission of a letter of the alphabet. Rather than omitting the letter I or E or anything like that, I omitted the letter Z and then sent the kids off to the zoo to see some zebra. That just seemed like more fun to me. The result - as you can see below - is actually surprisingly lame.