31 October 2009


I'm not afraid of my own so much, anymore – at least, that's what I think in my safe room. This has something to do with middle age: the saying has it that when you're more afraid of old age than death, that means you're middle aged. It holds for me. Still, it's rather too easy to say.

I did some work on this as well. I took to heart Seneca, who said that to be afraid of death is worse than dying.

Better than that is the exercise outlined in the Hagakure, Yamamoto's handbook for the samurai. Yukio Mishima wrote a commentary on it. The exercise is to start each meditating on your own death; more specifically, you visualize the circumstances of your dying a heroic death. This is an excellent way to begin the day, better than a cold shower.

My visualizations tended to be garish, like the climax of some cheesy 70's cop drama. But this practice did reduce the gnawing angst of my inevitable death.

No, what I fear most is the death of the people I love.

I have found no meditation, no motto, no religion or faith to overcome this.

painting: The Race, by Albert Pinkham Ryder

Terrors: Scary Movies

Real life terrors, continued: Snakes!

     From as early as I can remember, I loathed snakes. I found the patterns of their skin ugly. The unbelievably smooth contraction and relaxing of their muscles as they slithered across the ground was the stuff of nightmares. The vertical slit of the pupil. The flicker of the tongue. All horrible beyond belief provoking a physical reaction would seize me almost before I knew it.
     It made complete sense to me that Satan would take the form of a snake to fuck everything up.
     Early on, I learned to stop screaming and crying like a girl upon sighting them in the yard or on a trail. It was simply too shaming, even for a little kid to behave that way, and I knew it.
As a teenager, I undertook the project to get over my repulsion. I went to the zoo and made myself stay in the herpetology room for as long as I could stand it.
     In college, among the many moronic vogues, was a fashion for reptiles and particularly snakes as pets. I made myself stroke their oddly dry scales with what must have been a hysterically fixed grin on my face. I could take it. But even after all the hard work, that flinch left over from my early fear never quite left me.

image via

30 October 2009

Real life terrors: 1) Bears

He doesn't look particularly frightening here. And truly, when I've encountered bears -- the small variety, one time a black bear and the other, a brown bear -- we went in opposite directions, carefully, our dignities intact.

But once, on a hike, we camped  in bear country. We carefully put anything that smelled -- toothpaste, soap, anything with scent -- into a bag, and hung in from a tree. I didn't think anything of it. I did wonder if our rank and stinking bodies might attract some attention, but the more experienced hikers told me not to worry about it.

I didn't. Then, deep in the night, on the other side of the thin nylon walls of the tent, I heard this sound. A snuffling, snorting, rooting kind of sound, with a big bass note to it. I was petrified, honestly. The beast, could, of course, rip through the fabric and there I was in my mummy bag, trussed up like a nice little sausage.
But as the sound lasted and I waited, something even more terrifying was at work.

Mechanical hunger. Unstoppable, obsessive, greedy, yawning, gaping, insatiable, driving the bear on and on, through each crevice and crack, each fading trail, each false hope.

He went away, finally, disappointed.

But that memory of ravening, ferocious desire never left me.

How could it, since it's in me as well.

Striking the pose: Posture creates confidence

From a recent study:
 Body Posture Affects Confidence In Your Own Thoughts

    Researchers found that people who were told to sit up straight were more likely to believe thoughts they wrote down while in that posture concerning whether they were qualified for a job.

    On the other hand, those who were slumped over their desks were less likely to accept these written-down feelings about their own qualifications.

    The results show how our body posture can affect not only what others think about us, but also how we think about ourselves, said Richard Petty, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

You can read the whole report here.

This is fascinating on at least two levels. I've always been surprised at how fluid self-presentation can be. How if you're committed to presenting a face or a mask, people tend to buy it. And beyond that, you tend to live into that persona -- that what you pretend to be, you tend to become.

Personae and masks in social life has been an obsession of mine ever since adolescence.

More than this though: I recently studied Viewpoints, a new approach to acting. I don't want to get into the whole thing now, but it breaks with the way acting has been taught for the last few years in the United States. Instead of an emphasis on psychology, it uses other techniques to get actors in their zone, in an expressive, large state.

Several of the exercises are externally driven. This has been a taboo. Delsarte, who offered a series of stereotyped gestures to convey an emotion, was justly ridiculed.


One of the exercises was to find a gesture that expresses an emotion or state of being. Just the physical gesture, that's all -- no memory attached to it, no context. Then you go around the studio performing that gesture; the other students work on theirs.

And goddam, if you didn't start feeling it pretty quickly. And 'it' -- the expressive content of the gesture -- worked from the outside in, until -- very spookily -- you were feeling grief, power, anger, royalty, whatever.
Simply by adopting the gesture alone.

What's on the surface shapes what's beneath. It's not merely superficial.

 If you're intersted in improving your everyday posture, I recommend the Alexander Technique, a practical, Western-based series of exercises. You will feel better, and perhaps even be more confident.

You can read about the technique here -- maybe I should post a longer series about it soon. It does sound a little like a crank/quack system, but it's not.Or perhaps I'm just overly confident because of my newly found elegant and dominant posture.

28 October 2009

Petersburg Junkies by Lorena Ros

Lorena Ros does documentary photography of such light subjects as sex trafficking, Latino gangs and HIV positive victims.
She also has an amazing series about junkies in St. Petersburg.
Her site is here.

Surrealists -- eyes wide shut

The gang's all there, including Louis A, Luis B., etc.
Bunuel, in his autobiography, noted that the surrealists were all strikingly handsome men. Although I'm not an expert, I think I see what he means.

22 October 2009

Going to Kansas City

Denver native and Eastern Bloc popstar Dean Reed sings about my itinerary.
In glorious Soviet-era Moscow.
Be sure to see him riding horseback on what looks like a traffic island with some Soviet apartment houses behind him. Or warbling on what looks like a Constructivist balcony.
What any of that has to do with Kansas City, I have no idea.

21 October 2009


“One should judge a man mainly from his depravities. Virtues can be faked. Depravities are real.”

-Klaus Kinski (via nytimes.com)

Before/After Klaus Kinski


Not bad. Apparently, the key to looking good until you drop dead of a heart attack is to drink, rage, whore, fume, smoke, snort coke, act, shag, thunder, act, rave, wallow, shag, sleep without a roof, recite Villon, develop a Jesus complex, shag, blow your top, shag, act write, rage, act.
Oh, and be some kind of genius.

photos via

18 October 2009

Branson Fairy Tale

My father and his friend went to Branson, Missouri. My father’s friend wanted to buy a place for some relatives, and maybe a second place for himself, as an investment.

They discovered a house on the lake selling for next to nothing. A simple, 1970s-style A-frame, but on the water, with a dock. The owner wasn't around, so they poked around and they saw the owner had  done a lot of work on the place. Reindeer pranced in concrete or grazed next to a home-made gazebo. A statue of Santa Claus raised a jolly hand. A concrete grotto enclosed some lake water. A bar-b-cue pit stood ready. A hot tub. A miniature golf course with red carpeting. All kinds of Christmas decorations were up, even then, in the early summer.

They both agreed that it was tacky as hell. But a great price. They called the owner. They asked, without asking directly, why it was so cheap. Then they got the story.

He was a widower who fell in love with a local woman. She promised to marry him. But, she wouldn’t either marry him or move in with him until he’d remodeled his place, the A-frame house on the lake. She insisted that he make it into a dream home fashioned after her tastes and fantasies.

He didn't have a lot of money, so he undertook the work himself, building, planning, pouring cement, digging out terraces. He worked full-time in a hardware store, so the labor of love happened over weekends and evenings for several months. The woman was fanatic about Christmas, so he added Santa and Rudolph and the rest to please her, and added more decorations. She was crazy about miniature golf, so he laid out a little course.

In the meantime, even with the work underway, even with Jolly Old St. Nick in place and the pipes to the hot tub laid out, she didn’t give an inch. She’d only marry him when it was done, and she certainly would not move in with him, either.

He finished. They set the date.

Four months before the wedding, the woman died.

image via the first national convention of santa clauses, branson mo
 If you look through your camera and see an image you’ve seen before, don’t click the shutter. Alexey Brodovitch


Sunday Morning - Kris Kristofferson & Johnny Cash

16 October 2009

Drinking in the Daytime by Frederick Seidel

Anything is better than this
Nursing on a long-stemmed bubble made of crystal.
I'm sucking on the barrel of a crystal pistol
To get a bullet to my brain.
I'm gobbling a breast, drinking myself down the drain.

I'm in such a state of Haut-Brion I can't resist
A fist-fucking anus swallowing a fist.
You're wondering why I talk this way, so daintily!
I'll tell you after I take a pee.
Now I'm back.
Oilcoholics love the breasts they attack.

I'm talking about the way poetry made me free.
It's treated me very well, you see.
I climbed up inside the Statue of Liberty
In the days when you could still go up tin the torch, and that was me.
I mean every part I play.
I'm drinking my lunch at Montrachet.

I'm a case of Haut-Brion turning into tar.
I'm talking about the recent war.
It's a case of having to raise your hand in life to be
Recognized so you can ask your question. Mr. Secretary! Mr. Secretary!
To the Secretary of Defense, I say:
I life my tar to  you at Montrachet!

I lift my lamb beside the golden door to pee,
And make a vow to make me free, and we will find their WMD
So, I supported the war.
I believe in who we are.
I dedicate red wine to that today.
At Montrachet, near the Franklin Street stop, on West Broadway.

Elevator 1

Jeanne Moreau and Miles Davis during the shooting of Eleavator to the Gallows. He improvised the now classic score while watching the movie as it played out over his head. They finished in four days.


Elevator to the Gallows

15 October 2009

Why I Slept with 1,300 Women

I am a connoisseur of prostitution: I can take its bouquet, taste it, roll it around my mouth, give you the vintage. I have used brothels, saunas, private homes from the Internet and ordered girls to my flat prompt as pizza. While we are on the subject, I have also run a brothel. And I have been a male escort. I wish I was more ashamed. But I’m not. I love prostitutes and everything about them. And I care about them so much I don’t want them to be made legal.
Sebastian Horsley, who had himself crucified and was recently denied entry into the United States for "moral turpitude" offers a dandified explanation of his, um, whoring.

Read more here 

Old School Dandy: Sebastian Horsley

From an article dripping with bon mots, Mr. Horsley describes his flat. Good lines include
The bed is for little people and I have to sleep diagonally. I bought it drunk. The gun beside the bed is there for effect - everything I do is for effect - but it is real and it is loaded. I like to remind myself that every morning I'm making a choice to live.
My wardrobe is trimmed down now. I used to have about a hundred suits in my late twenties and early thirties when my stock was riding high and I was rich. But then I was introduced to crack cocaine and I squandered my money on drugs and prostitutes. I've been off drugs for 10 months. There's a romantic myth that drinking and taking drugs engenders creativity - I'm not sure who's responsible for it; me, probably - but it's not true. When I take drugs, that's all I do. The point of an artist is that he is supposed to be more aware, and the point of heroin is to make you forget that your leg's been cut off.
 I keep the shutters closed because I like to work in a hermetic environment. I like mirrors. When you look out of the window all you see is ugliness, but when you look in the mirror all you see is beauty.
Don't miss the rest, including the bit about collecting shrunken heads.

Catching The Big Fish by David Lynch

Generally, I avoid books about creativity, feeding your inner muse and so on. First, because they're usually written by people not noted for their originality. Second, because I learned from reading the "writers at work" series in the Paris Review that how people work is as individual as the smell of their breath.

But I picked this up because David Lynch is an artist. Sometimes he’s a juvenile one and sometimes a hokey/folksy one, and sometimes an infuriating one. Especially when he falls back on the trite narrative solution: “It was all . . . just a dream.”

Still, he’s a visionary. His images both surprise and seem oddly familiar, as if he can dredge up nightmares and tableaux from a shared unconscious. He can make a swinging traffic signal seem freighted with dread and significance. And he’s absolutely courageous, willing to follow his ideas wherever they lead him. (A dwarf who speaks backwards? Cast him!) Maybe they don't always hang together, but they're elegant or evocative or dreamlike, and how often can you say that about a movie?

Because his vision is so strong, he’s one of the few directors to earn an adjective: Lynchian. And even if you can’t precisely define what Lynchian is, it works as shorthand for the terror and the strange that lurk at the margins of life.

His book is short and easy to summarize. Lynch says that the secret to his success, and the way to delve deep and come up with The Big Fish – the ideas that will make your work glow – is to practice Transcendental Meditation™. He offers a few stories along the way, encouragement, and some practical advice. Don’t work out of fear. Have a place to work. Working at the same place around the same time can be helpful. He's often charming; you can hear his homey Jimmy Stewart delivery as you read his book.

Otherwise, he sounds as elusive and as concrete Charlie Chaplin does when talking about coming up with ideas. You sit around and think. Lynch sat in a Big Boy with a shake. Chaplin wasn’t as specific in his autobiography, but that’s what it boiled down to.

Sitting around.


I’ve met several people who practice Transcendental Meditation (TM). They find it helpful, and cite – as Lynch does – several studies to back up its effectiveness at reducing stress and promoting tranquility. None of them are David Lynch, though, or even Clint Eastwood, another meditator.

And you certainly don't need to meditate to be a visionary; see Brakhage, Cocteau, Fellini.

Now I'm going to stop.

And sit around.

And think.

Vee Speers


14 October 2009

13 October 2009

Yes, it is.


The English Surgeon

Any one can tell you it's much harder to show goodness than evil. We love and remember villains; good characters doing their duty? We pay them lip service, but look at how few truly memorable good characters there are in films or books. Genuinely good people are difficult to portray without descending into mawkishness, sentimentality, or worst of all, self-consciousness.
The English Surgeon avoids all these traps and  brilliantly transcends the bald summary of its story: an English neurosurgeon helps Ukranians.
Using all the elements of fiction cinema -- sophisticated composition, concrete metaphors, the impact of sound -- the documentary creates a portrait of a morally serious man in a hellish place who's committed to helping patients trapped by their own biology and geography. We meet him in Britian, in his woodshed, using a drill to put together a packing case -- a drill nearly identical to the one we'll see him use to operate with later.
It even manages to be funny, here and there. What it never is, is trivial, bathetic or self-conscious.
You need to see it.

The official web site is here.

10 October 2009

Crush by Mark Scott

"To have a crush on someone" --
that's a schoolgirl's phrase,
the lexicographers say.

But I have a generalist's temperament
(like Napoleon's)
any aunt or schoolgirl can daunt and tether.

and I have had crushes all my life,
once on my aunt, my uncle's wife,
sometimes for many days together.

crescit sub pondere virtu:

What's so passing about it?
It's Byron's "Everything by turns
And nothing long,"

and you would have to have
Frank O'Hara's mental life
in Georg Simmel's metrolpolis

not to be ground up in its mills.
How pervious and flappable
can you afford to be?

"Marble does not laugh," said Diderot --
yes, but even marble twitches

From Tactile Values


photo by Patrick Armstrong

Fonda on the beach

by Dennis Hopper

Lana Turner

“A gentleman is simply a patient wolf.”

-Lana Turner (via)

07 October 2009


Collapse Stephen Batura


Nocturne, by Stephen Batura


Stephen Batura has been working from the photos of Charles Lillybridge, who was active in the west and in Denver around 1900. With a rough alchemy, he transforms them into lyrical or brutal or spectral paintings, all emotionally powerful. His work loses in reproduction because of their spectacular textures and their subtleties of color and scale. But you get the idea.
His show at Robischon Gallery is up through the 31 October.

06 October 2009

Edward Limonov, poet

The scent of autumn on the fields,
of royal British tea. It shields;
I place my hopes and dreams
on this liquid drawn from the streams.

I raise my cup and smile, thinking
I melt misfortune by drinking.
Because I know where bad luck goes.
And on my tracks, it slows.

Original version:

Осении запах и прерии
Чай из Британской империи
Я возлагаю надежды мои
На этого струя

Пью улыбаясь и думаю
Может убью я беду мою
Тем более знаю где и когда
Ко мне привязалась беда

Thanks to Tanya for help with the Russian and to Thierry Marignac for drawing my attention to the poem.

polaroid by Andrei Tarkovsky, via

05 October 2009