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The Play’s the Thing

Shakespeare was the best writer because he had the most fun writing. Admittedly this is just speculation– there is no historical evidence for his enjoyment at the writing desk. But it is the overwhelming impression I get from his work. No one could could write lines like “No, this my hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incarnadine / Making the green one red” without feeling joy. Because it is so fun. The pleasure of the play of language, the exhilaration of meaning-making and sound-scoring and the way meaning and sound and rhythm can come together and come alive– this was the driving force of his literature. Undoubtedly he wanted to please the audience and make a profit, but he had to please himself first. He had the great good fortune that his self-indulgence was delightedly indulged by others (is there a happier fate?).

The language play comes first. Everything else emerges from that. It is not ornamentation but the creative act itself.  I do not believe Shakespeare had some deep well of wisdom and acute understanding that he simply drew upon, shaping into words that would convey it, bottle it up and ship it out. I don’t think it works that way. Meaning is not articulated, articulation produces meaning. Play produces articulation. To curiously and exuberantly pursue the possibilities of language, cherishing the taste of it, the way it works on you, eager to to discover what it can do, thrumming with its electricity– this the way of a Shakespeare. Do this over time and ideas will emerge. Voices will find form and become character.

Storytelling is a bit of a different gift, and it is notably not where Shakespeare shines best. It is not primary with him. He took his plots from books and let them be an armature for the words of his characters. Event is valued as an occasion for speech.

There is endless speculation over what he meant, what his ideas were, how he thought and felt, what his life was like. I think he meant to write well. His idea was to write well. And that, all and all, he was a person like any other, except he wrote so very well. And what a great time he must have had doing it.



forest, glade, smothers brothers

silk, titties, coleslaw

marinade, truth, probation

anon, enough, locutionary act

flint, fist, marshmallow

The words come easily enough
to those of a certain age.
Born of the interregnum,
Chaucer to Chappaquiddick.
(the movie– I mean now)

But sometimes a sense isn’t in the sound,
the sound sounds not,
and nothing holy loves you.
Spatters, no Pollock.

No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail.
— As Beckett would have written
Had he known his words
would ever dare
to inspire.

Coco Loco (Mucho No Poco)

For a long time, I have been struggling to break my blogging silence. Fitfully I have started, stopped, squandered. Trying now some philosophy or politics, then a little criticism or gnomic fiction. I have attempted to write on the music of one friend, the memory of another; the death of Smullyan and the birth we never leave behind. Love-writing, hate-writing, slap-happy word-drunk writing– I have tried it all. Nothing has worked, nothing has broken through to completion. But I think now I have finally found a subject with which I can begin again, and crack the dam that has held me back, to let the fruitful, pent-up waters of my mind flow freely once again. I think now I have it.

Friends, I want to tell you about a great new product that I hope you will enjoy as much as I have.

If you eat ice cream then you know the Turkey Hill brand. (Or maybe not– I don’t know the extent of their market penetration.) They are humble people over at Turkey Hill. They don’t make the best ice cream. You don’t find their product in those precious little pints that promise a guilty but oh-so-extravagant indulgence. You buy Turkey Hill in solid one-and-a-half quart cartons (oh for glory days of my youth, and the half-gallon standard… gone now, like so much of the best of America) and if you are paying more than three dollars you might want to shop elsewhere. It’s cold, it’s creamy– it’s ice cream. You eat it, your life is a little better, what more do you want? I most often get the Colombian Coffee (note the sourcing– they might not be the the best, but they’re not the worst, and have a touch of class) then I bake some brownies and have a delicious fancy a la mode experience.

Recently I was browsing the freezers at Kroger (Barracks road store, for locals) and I noticed that they had a new flavor on offer. Labelled “Trio’politan” and then, below that, “Coco Loco”. Trio’politan appears to be an umbrella term for a variety of Neapolitan inspired triple-flavor cartons. (I have not had any of the others and can’t comment on them.) Naturally I was intrigued and took a closer look.

Coco Loco combines caramel, coconut, and chocolate ice creams.

Whoa. They did it! The good people at Turkey Hill broke the ice cream code. They finally figured out the perfect ice cream flavor combination. (Without cheating by adding by brownies, which is obviously the best possible thing.) Three deep, rich flavors; essential flavors of the earth, without frivolity; staples of the confectionery art, beloved everywhere. Three flavors that go perfectly together. You don’t even know where one flavor begins and the others leave off; they all speak with the voice of a singular god.

Reader, I bought it. And I took it home. And in my kitchen I opened it and spooned it out into the waiting bowl, carefully including all three flavors in every spoonful. And I did eat. And it was Good.

I am now halfway through my second carton of Coco Loco. A third waits behind it in the freezer. And let me be honest: I don’t know exactly how I will feel about it after that third carton. I fell in love with a novel Turkey Hill flavor once before, and it lasted a while and then I grew to loathe it, never to taste it again. Turkey Hill is not the best ice cream. It’s poor people food, with just a touch of class. And I don’t know how long Coco Loco will be available. It looks like a limited edition deal. I have had my heart broken by those before, as well as by flavors that seemed to be here for good but then disappeared. (Mr. Häagen-Daz, if you ever discontinue Chocolate Chocolate Chip, I will find you and I will kill you.)

But I will never stop believing in the glory of caramel, coconut, and chocolate. The essential truth of Coco Loco will never die. I have seen the light and tasted the truth. I don’t know how I missed it before. It’s so simple. But a least now I know. And maybe you do too, dear reader, pending personal confirmation.

Thank you Turkey Hill. Not just for Coco Loco. But for this. You have given me back my words. I might even say, you have given me back my life. I can only hope that I can live up to your inspiration. Simple and cheap, but with a touch of class, and the occasional flash of genius.

Subverbo Rising


A Good Bloomsday To You

Bloomsday has a way of catching you unawares. Fixed, scheduled, certain– nonetheless it has all the surprise of a living animal. Sometimes you try to prepare for it, make plans for it. You pull out the dusty book from your shelf and flip through the dense pages in anticipation, attempt to pull yourself together, ready to meet the day. And maybe that works out well for you. Maybe not. Sometimes — more and more as the years pass — you arrive at it through distraction or insouciance. Your mind is on other things. Isn’t it always? Some things that are just other. Or you feel cocky: doesn’t it always work out, Bloomsday? Why worry? But then the sad regrets come. You feel like you have just let it slip away from you, again. Someone, somewhere, must be doing it just right. Those smiling faces that you pass. The confident ones. Heroes of their own stories. But then, not quite Joycean heroes are they? Wouldn’t it being doing it wrong, to do it so right?

And as you count them out, your Bloomsdays, you know they must come to an end. Only so many, then no more. How terrible that anything could be so precious, that you must lose. The only worse fate: if nothing were.

And what about the Guinness, The Milkshake of Beers? Always giving you a headache, and yet you’d have to drown in it to get drunk (which is, they say, the Irish custom). You will have to turn to whiskey later, and ibuprofen.

But now it has come, Bloomsday again, and your glass is full, your mind a river of words. It feels like something, like being alive. The earth turns on its axis.  If you grasp the day too tightly the bloom will never show. Hold it gently, attentive and curious, like a bird or an old book. Yes.

The real potato is the potato of imagination. Here it is. Take it. Put it in your pocket. Happy Bloomsday.

The Fedora of Melancholy

For every one man who successfully pulls off the fedora, we should pay tribute to the dozens more who tried and failed, fashionslain, humiliated. (You were right to dream friends, but the dream was not yours to achieve.) Without those many, there would be no one. And without the one– a bareheaded wasteland.

Every success stands upon the embarrassed corpses of failure. Tip that hat to them, triumphant one. Let your glory be their redemption. In this vertiginous, bottomless cosmos, losers are the necessary stepping-stones of elan.

This is what Jesus taught, and all the saints, sages, and orient kings. And promised to make good. But I do not think they will. A stepping-stone is just a stepping-stone, and no balm can heal that hurt.

What Is Life Most Like?

a) a bowl
b) Brad Paisley
c) Splenda
d) spoken-word tour by semi-celebrity overcoming suspiciously unspecified addiction
e) a terrible row among coelacanths
f) denim
g) beard of a hobo
h) the nicotine patch
i) an ambiguity between slur and jest
j) Moses Malone
k) blooming cloud of ink in a diamond-clear sea
l) the unwashed hand of God
m) spätzle
n) injustice
o) a counter-clockwise movement of the neck and upper torso
p) Spokane
q1) overflowing fountain of tears
q2) overflowing fountain of Mountain Dew
r) the Ford administration
s) girl named Beth, neither fat nor thin, her eyes like money and lips like honey
t) spätzle
u) water-stained 6,000 page book of Fun Facts
v) your mama
w) a pearl of middling price
x) death on an installment plan
y) sasquatch, not unwonted
z) Oklahoma!

Print out, circle your answer in pencil, and mail to an address of your choosing.