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From the Big Apple to the Big Easy reading Michael Zell & writing our own Errata


A RIVEr not the one we live on

Dear Internet,

We are on a plane now flying to Charlotte, NC. We could be connected to you, The Internet, in flight, but likely it cost money & sometimes it's good to detach ourselves from the invisible webbing that more & more weaves all us podded people together .. for better or worse. Charlotte is not our destination .. our destination is New Orleans. But in light of the last post on Derrida, is there ever a destination? Do we ever arrive or are we constantly in a state of de-arriving? Is anything original (at the origin) or is everything derivative? If you look & think about words too much you never get anywhere .. or maybe this is the only place worth living .. embedded in the fluxed stitching of strung together morphemes.

whale parking lot

a parking lot at our destination

While we were waiting for our plane, we read Errata by Michael Allen Zell. We made some art once for Zell, for another book, that if our memory serves was called Stitches of Light .. but that book is not out until 2014. We have never met him in person, though it seems we might soon when/if we arrive in New Orleans ....

Errata by Michael Zell

Errata reflected down own Royal Street (shown on map on cover) from our hotel room

Errata is 22 days in the life of a New Orleans cabbie. The book starts on November 22, 1984 .. which coincidentally happens to be our 16th birthday .. the day we 'came of age,' .. whatever that means (the words, when you stop to think). It also happens to be exactly 19 years after Kennedy was shot. But we or Kennedy are not mentioned in the Errata book. The cabbie's name is Raymond Russell .. which we suspect is a play on Raymond Roussel. But we haven't read enough Roussel to know the significance of this .. if this is indeed true.

It's that kind of book .. Zell's a writer's writer, specifically for those versed in the likes of Borges & Schulz, whom he brings in frequently. Reminiscent too of Pessoa, but his name is not dropped in the book. You might think that such a literary type & a cabbie are mutually exclusive, but Raymond is a 'hack' cabbie .. not officially licensed .. a 'gypsy' cab as they call them back home .. though after spending time around real gypsies in Europe one wonders where such monikers come from as gypsies & livery drivers that drive under the radar have nothing in common (unless perhaps they 'gyp' you (again .. if you stop to think where words originally stem for, we'd just assume stop speaking)).

bicyclist dauphine street

Bohemian bicyclist riding down Dauphine street (also shown on the map on the cover of Errata)

Like us, the cabbie-writer in Errata is a compulsive documenter, yet (also like us) at the same time painfully ever-aware of the vanity of it .. of ever chasing down ideas to try to tag them with words.

«Life is not a document. Life cannot be documented. Documents cannot be lived. The writing process is at odds with reconciling life and living sensibly.»

Sometimes we wonder what toll blogging takes on actually living, or reading. We are descending now, we are told we need to fasten our seat belts ....


sneezey graffiti in the big easy

.... & now we have ascended back up into the blue of cruising altitude .. we walked off one plane & onto another without even sitting down. Charlotte remains in our list of cities that we have passed through multiple times but haven't really been (Houston, Zurich, Amsterdam, .... ). We've driven through Charlotte too we think, but that doesn't count either.

jackson square new orleans

tree in Jackson Square, NOLA

It occurred to us as we passed all the fast food chains & fat people in Charlotte airport that we haven't been to America in a long time .. since 2009. We visited NYC a few times a year when we were living in Italy, but NYC doesn't count .. not as an American city. It's its own country. In our mind, every other place in America looks & feels the same .. except NYC.

We fell asleep as we were accelerating on the runway .. which has become a sort of pavlovian habit of ours. Taxiing & accelerating in airplanes puts us to sleep. But now back to our senses .. back to Zell. As mentioned, Zell is a writer's writer, ever-cognizant that he's writing. Somewhere in the book he reiterates the note-worthy advice of Harry Matthews, «don't tell the story, tell the telling of the story.» On day 9 (page 50) Zell says this:

«Although it seems like we breed minute creatures of all types in New Orleans, these particular sudden scurries are embedded within the pages of my daily record as if each letter is a plant moving discreetly in accordance to external stimuli. Also, plant-like, but in it own fashion of no-longer-dormant verticality, the text creeps upward while also rooting into the earthy paper, making embossing look simplistic by comparison. I should mention that my relationship with the revision of this disclosure-in-print is unusual. The act of rereading (what with harsh critiquing and thoughts of mortification while trying to wrestle loose tangled disciples on the page), appears to cause literal wounds to the text itself, mortal cuts that lay the groundwork for regeneration.»

Just the other day we had a sort of anxiety attack thinking about the self-editing process in our own book we are working on, The Becoming. Though we don't think of it in such organic terms as Zell .. we write on a computer, so the rhizomed  spindles are invisible to the naked eye. We panicked over all that is lost, the keystrokes .. changing or deleting words or sentences, or whole blocks of text. There is a paper trail when you write by hand or with a typewriter, but on a computer all vanishes unless you are able to somehow extract the revision history from your auto-saved versions, or beyond that you somehow decode the cashed bits encoded in the silicon of your harddrive .. molecules re-arranged but perhaps still fixed as such .... until these memory blocks get over-written or reallocated.

laoborde printers

storefront somewhere just west of the French Quarter

.... ok, it wasn't quite a panic attack so much as lamentation of how static & dead a finished book can seem compared to the writing of it .. & us musing on potential ways to somehow show the revision process in time .. to somehow let the reader see the text unfold as it unfolds from the writer's fingertips .. the cursor back-spacing over spelling errors (wherein sometimes these errors, the errata, are the juiciest bits .. the cursor jumping around to other sections to insert words .. jumping back .. the pause of the cursor (when writ) not reflecting the pacing of the sentence read.

fire hydrant

Esplanade xing

On day 10 he vents about his dislike of dialogue, of which we share the same gripes. It's gotten to the point with us (now wearing the hat as editor to Sleepingfish, of which we are currently accepting submissions for .. & in which Michael Zell has also been published), where if a story we are reading has dialogue in it, we don't bother to read further (hint, hint .. if you are planning to submit). « .. rarely allowing for transcendence» is how Zell puts it, which is a good way to put it. The instant you read those preceding quotes, you become conscious that you are reading someone telling a story .. out loud, to be heard .. trying to mimic language but never quite capturing it. These dialogue quotes are like little breaks in the ether of suspension. They sever or spoil the intimacy of connecting the private & otherwise direct thoughts between brains.

houses & wires

 communication lines somewhere in New Orleans

Anyway, we don't want to reveal too much more about Errata, except to quote the final sentence (spoiler alert), which speaks to us .. speaks straight from reader to writer .. summarizes the book & summarizes why we write .. why & how we distill language down to an ethereal flux that we know can't be put into words but still we try to get as close to the source as we can:

«Life, on the other hand, surprises where an individual's gathered fragments gain the coherency of strength, and startles when its unpredictability permits or is unable to prevent the occasional chance clustering of those who lean toward common tribes, these endlessly rippling constellations linking naturally to the unnatural, and it's imbalances, allow for any two or more individual's imbalances allow for any sustained sharing of the echoing fabric of peace and madness, tragedy and triumph that presents itself, cleaving us like a written word, goaded, pillaged, and  occasionally restored. Flux stars fall into the internal laws of syntax.»


Uneeda (pics in synch with blog journ-ey now)

Landed at Louis Armstrong, took a cab .. our cab driver was nothing like the cabbie in Zell's book. Weird riding on the freeway & into town near the Superdome as the last images we have of that are as a backdrop for the aftermath of Katrina. It's been a dozen years or more so since we've been to New Orleans .. the last time was when we were pulling a U-haul across the country with all our belongings with no particular destination in mind (we ended up in Savannah, GA .. a town reminiscent of New Orleans perhaps, but quainter & smaller). We're staying at Hotel Monteleone where literary greats such as Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Capote, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, Sherwood Anderson & Richard Ford have stayed. We're not big with the restaurants showing photos of movie stars who ate there, but it's interesting to think of the famous people that may have slept in your room .. especially if they are writers.

cops on Bourbon

horse-cops on Bourbon

Ate a dozen oysters & then we flâneured around the French Quarter some & down to the river. Then met some of J's colleagues & had jambalaya (can't remember the name of the restaurant, but it was pricey), ducked into a few Jazz clubs but didn't stay, walked down Bourbon street but didn't go into any bars .. it's all so cliche & predicated on alcohol .. a theme park where the only ride is to get stupid drunk .... though we ended up at the Carousel bar in the lobby of our hotel .. a circular bar that spins around in circles.

Day 1

In French, the word journal conjures it's daily measure. Like Zell's book we will count this post in days. You might argue that this should be day 2, but it's always bothered us that we don't start counting with 0 .. like when you are in the ground floor of a building, that should be floor 0. When you go up one flight that should be the first floor, not the second floor. This is the way Italians (& other Europeans) roll, that makes sense to me, just like how they logically write dates from most granular to least granular. Of course mathematicians also follow this logic, the origin on a graph being (0, 0). Similarly, the first day of a trip is not day 1, but day 0. Day 1 doesn't begin until you sleep somewhere.

On day 1 we woke up & worked out in the rooftop gym, saw what looked like a meteor fly through the sky not only leaving a white jet trail of smoke, but also a straight black line that dissipated after a few minutes. Then we met the Brothers Goat for a coffee at Royal Blend. Brothers Goat are two dudes we published a few years back in Sleepingfish. In person they lived up to the goatly aura they exude through their writing.

Walked around some after that, down along the riverfront (which strangely is not developed much) the area west of the French Quarter, then back through the northwest part of the French Quarter (which seems the most interesting). Bought The Moviegoer by Walker Percy (by recommendation of Brothers Goat .. in regards to books set in New Orleans) at Beckham's Bookshop on Decatur, which had lots of old books & a spastic cat. Ate some bad sushi, then flâneured in the other direction along the river but ended up in tacky malls cluttered with unsightly souvenir shops .. unfortunately not much to see along the river. And the warehouse arts district east of Canal was pretty benign .. just hotels & touristy restaurants as far as we could tell .. maybe a gallery to two with paintings of minstrel-types playing trumpets.

Towards the evening Michael Zell met us at our hotel .. the first time we've met him in person. So now we were going for a real-world drive around New Orleans with the guy who authored the above book about a cabbie in New Orleans. He gave us the scenic tour as we drove us to the Press Street HQ .. an old two-storied house converted into event space .. for the launch party of a chapbook, We're Pregnant. Interesting literary/arts scene & impressive turnout. There were photos around from various photographers that had contributed to the book.

First up was Leyla McCalla, who from what we understand is classically trained (someone said Juliard, but her site says NYU) & plays on the streets of the quarter. Fortunately she wasn't playing classical music for us though, but mostly Haitian folk songs, sung in Creole (her parents are Haitian). She played cello, banjo & who knows what else (we couldn't see it was so crowded & we were in the very back) .. until we remembered that we had our camera that we could effectively hold up high & use as a periscope.

Then Nathan C. Martin read, who was the author of We're Pregnant. We're not one to comment since we think most readings are silly.

Then this band Hawn played. Half of the Brothers Goat (who we'd just met that morning), Michael Jeffrey Lee, is the singer for Hawn. While the Haitian folk singer seemed to have people flocking in & craning their necks to see .. Hawn managed to clear the dancefloor, since they were fairly noisy & experimental in comparison (seemingly a bad fit to the audience) .. good for us as now we had a chair in the front.

Besides being the author of Something in My Eye (which he generously gave us a copy of) Lee is quite the singer/performer. The band didn't have a drummer & the music wasn't very rhythmic, but at times it seemed his vocal delivery was the rhythm section .. he would bob up & down like a chicken pecking & deliver short bursts of evocative lyrics, while the keyboard player poked jaded jangles & the guitarist spent more time tweaking his pedals then he actually did plucking strings. Lee's voice also reminded us some of David Byrne, but far more spastic & urgent, while still being quite melodic. Good stuff, we think.

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