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Pre-flight notes, al mojo de ajo, or in Equivalents: Crawford, Baran & brother's ashes

Dear Internet,                                                                           June 25, 2013

We are writing this on our crumby old laptop .... in anticipation of being nomadic most of the summer we transferred files, etc to this here machine. We've had this black Macbook since around 2006-2007 .. back when we were living like rats in the East Village. Since then it is has gone with us pretty much every where we've been in the past 7 years .. in Africa, SE Asia, Europe. It's the modern equivalent of a travel journal (speaking to the object aspect of it). A lot of 5cense posts were written on this. We're constantly deleting files to make room for more (it's only got 120 GB) .. & it's duct-taped in a few spots where it's splitting apart at the seams. There's no sound & all the software is terribly outdated .. & it's running Leopard so there's not much we can do about it. The swiping is backwards from our desktop .. which is weird. But it works.


what it looks like writing this post

We're not traveling yet .. still in NYC .. tho our better half is in Chicago. Last post we said we finished The Becoming .. but we've been tinkering with it more since .. deleting two more pages worth. And we almost forgot .. we needed a back cover ....

The Becoming

This morning we sent it to the printer just to get it out of the back of our mind .. to free us up to think about other things.

We doubt anyone will «get it» .. but that's ok. At least we didn't lie to ourselves. To the best of our ability, every word is where it should be.

If you are interested in checking out The Becoming, let us know & we'll send you the digital version. The book version won't be out til August.

Sleepingfish 12 .. we'll get that back from the printer in July.


We've been reading A Garlic Testament by Stanley Crawford. After writing a string of great novels in the mid 60s & early 70s (Gascoyne, which we talked about here, Log of The S.S. The Mrs. Unguentine, which we talked about here, and Travel Notes, which we'll talk about later in this post), Crawford (& his Australian wife he picked up in Crete) decided to settle down & buy a farm in northern New Mexico. A Garlic Testament chronicles this experience.

Stanley Crawford: A Garlic Testament

We read it partly because we love everything Crawford writes & also because we've been contemplating (or dreaming of) a similar lifestyle change .. throwing it all in for some evergreen pasture.

.... not that A Garlic Testament will sell you on the idealistic merits of such a move .. to the contrary, Crawford, in his self-described «cranky farmer» tone, makes it seem for the most part like a royal pain in the ass .... or at least something that is not for everyone. That is, he tells it like it is.

While A Garlic Testament is a work of non-fiction, Crawford always maintains his creative & philosophical writerly angle .. always bringing it back to language.

«What we're given in words and cultivated plants has been worked over for hundreds of generations before it comes to us, and the chances of our adding much to it are very slim. What we add is illusion: each time we're born, the world looks new, which gives us a strange kind of leverage against the accumulated biological and cultural existence, which means for a while, off and on, now and then, under certain circumstances, we believe we are the owners or managers of the franchise operations of this world, not the other way around, and that we have invested almost everything in sight, from the words that drop so easily from our mouths to the plants we grown in our gardens.»

Crawford rides a lucid middle ground here .. somewhere between the drug-fueled musings of Terrence McKenna (who said «Animals are something invented by plants to move seeds around») & more recently Michael Pollan (who has also speculated whether humans are pawns in corn's plot to take over the world) .. in understanding man's role in relation to plants. Shit, in relation to the world at large. The way Crawford talks about garlic, it's as if he was selected by garlic .. to be it's shepherd (he doesn't care much for eating the stuff). This he does with some defeated resignation & mounting bitterness (which is where writing comes in .. to let off steam) .. but the relationship between garlic & Crawford is somewhat reciprocal. He achieved success with his books early enough on to know that there was more to life .. even thru all his travels when he was in his 20s .. he knew this sort of experience was transitory .. that at the end of the day it «don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world». (Though it wasn't the noble calling of a movie like Casablanca that inspired him, but actually Easy Rider.) At least he coud have a hill of beans to call his own.

Stanley Crawford

If anything speaks to us in such a way, it's goats. We'd give up our life to ensure the continued survival of a herd of goats. And speaking of goats, Crawford's farm is not limited to garlic, but he grows & raises other things, including goats (which he characterizes as the one thing above all else that will «keep you at home»). And the chapter on the adopted magpie was our favorite of the book.

Crawford is somewhat experimental & detached about his relationship to farming, far from a control freak.

«In fact I have probably learned as much or more about the life cycle of garlic by observing the behavior of plants that have escaped my control than the ones I have planted.»

And again, beneath the farmer's overalls, Crawford remains a writer .. as if his experiments in farming are really to fertilize thought in his own mind:

«The fact of the matter may be that by the time the written words do finally arrive, with all the usual bureaucratic delays, the truth has been sitting around waiting on the edges, in the ditches, by the side of the road, for the longest time.»

Anyway, we could go on. The book has a lot to offer both aspiring farmers & writers alike. Words to help you cope with the various special interests groups trying to shape/corrupt your life .. consumers asking «is your garlic organic?» over & over .. to which Crawford doesn't just say «yes sir, yes sir» but turns the question around & asks if the way we lead our lives is organic. Seriously, what does that really mean besides just a buzz word?

We often feel this way in regards to publishing books. Our economies teach us that the only variable that matters is quantity (in regards to consumers) .. to sell even to the devil, if they got money to burn. But what about quality of the consumer? Buying something shouldn't be a right. Sometimes people are such disrespecting idiots we don't want them buying our books. Any producer of goods should have the luxury of choosing consumers .. otherwise you risk being disenfranchised with yourself, of selling out. Just to make a buck.

Like us (hopefully), Crawford always manages to keep consumerism & money at an abstract level (which is probably not the best idea if you want to actually make money).

«There are those who are disturbed by the lack of correspondence between money and goods, as indeed nearly everyone is at one time or another. Now and then a wound in the fabric of exchange opens, and we seem to see nothing but meaningless tokens and symbols. Yet we are far less troubled, if at all, by the lack of correspondence between objects and words or even between words and the grander abstractions which seem to rule most lives. The distinctly human power lies in abstraction, a kind of going to seed, analogous to the way we can move a field of wheat across a continent in a burlap sack on our backs, or carry a redwood tree, a chestnut, an oak, across the ocean in our pockets. Language, images, numbers: these are the human seeds or spores by which we reconstitute ourselves anywhere in the world, back into materiality.»


We also just re-read Crawford's Travel Notes. Back in 2010, we read it with an eye to possibly re-issue it. But then we went to Rome & we weren't sure what we were doing with the press or whether we could do it justice from there. But now that we're back in the saddle of NYC we're considering again ..

Stanley Crawford: Travel Notes

We already talked about it before, so we won't say anything more. Suffice to say, here's a few more passages that stuck out on this reading, this mind-bender about books & baggage.

«Books probably, the suitcases were things that contained books, whereas most books contained things, which brought up the interesting question of whether there was a book which was also a thing, and a thing which was a book—inseparably, which contained no other thing but itself.»

Or this lamentation about the pitfalls of travel:

«She admitted to a certain fatigue with this wandering life, and I likewise, though without denying the rewards of endless variety and the beneficial effects of constantly new experiences, which sharpen the mind and stabilize the heart. Though I confessed to a seeming unreality about my travels, which could not be helped, such was the world nowadays, invaded by a uniformity that threatened to make all places alike and the people the same everywhere, devoid of even national character; and often I felt like I was treading water, without advancement.»

.... & Crawford wrote this almost 50 years ago! The world was already corrupted by tourism then ... it's always been corrupted .. even the ancient Greeks were bitching about it. But as Crawford points out, our only choice is to plunge on.

This feeling of plunging on prevails in Travel Notes. You get the sense that it's all one long dream. And while, like dreams, not all of it makes sense, Crawford dutifully chronicles his sub-conscious peregrinations, without questioning why, as if merely reporting the facts .. at times reminiscent of a hybrid between the visionary mythologies of Amos Tutuola & the campy strangeness of Richard Brautigan. So we'll see .. we've asked Crawford if he's up for reissuing it .. hopefully we can resurrect it from an almost 50-year dormancy. [in the time it took us to write this post, Crawford has already responded in the affirmative .. so you can add Travel Notes to your list of books to read in 2014 .. if not before that (though no digital copy exists, so like The History of Luminous Motion it will need to be transcribed by hand or OCR).]

We also read Equivalents by Jessica Baran.

Jessica Baran : Equivalents

Can't remember where we first heard about it, an excerpt somewhere, or by virtue of the fact that Lost Roads published it .. but we're not sure it lived up to our expectations (granted they were perhaps lofty). By design maybe, the poems felt even loftier, ethereal, bleached out .. wistful & drab .. out of reach .. at least to us in our current mindset .... the mindset being on a train north, to some dinner party in some suburban place along the Hudson. So the book was competing with the distraction of staring out the window at the river (amazing how much wider it gets up there, compared to our view). Here's a poem that stuck out to give you the idea:

«Your autobiography is less interesting than when you read or hear about similar life-events taking place in other peoples' lives. You see it in a coloring book. You see it in a flea market photo album. You see it on the movie screen, and it strikes you as authentic. That never happened to you. The color of the sky was raw. You wandered beneath it, on the narrow shell-strewn beach, at the ridge of a high bluff, looking for no one in the unrelenting Mediterranean sun of the Antonioni film. It makes for a palpable memory—the empty sunburn, the cinematic light.»

The Antonioni reference is apt, as the poems often felt as such .. like long ambient shots with not a lot going on (this is meant as a compliment) .. at least on the surface. But always a subtextual longing.

At this dinner party on the Hudson, the moon was spectacularly big. The house was full of interesting eskimo art & other tribal objects.

The surveillance saga continues .. Snowden's now in Moscow. Or is he? The image of a plane full of journalists on that Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Cuba .. expecting Snowden to be in seat 17A .... but, haha. Must've been a fun time anyway. Speaking of Cuba, ends up our country not only monitors our own peeps but ends up Carlos Fuentes was under surveillance for 20 years & barred entry to the U.S. for being buddies with Fidel.

And what does Ecuador have to do with anything? What else. Fucking Romans killed Gandolfini .. either the mafia or the carbonara .. & Berlusconi was found guilty .. whatever that means .. sure there'll be appeals. We actually lost weight eating all that carbonara in Rome .... we dropped to 70 kg there, but since coming back to NYC climbed back to 75 kg .. this was two weeks ago .. we've since been eating less & running more & are down to 72-73 KG. 

In preparation for Nepal (we leave day after tomorrow) we've been reading our brother's journals from his trip there in the 80s. We've threatened to transcribe our own old travel journals here on 5cense .. but there's also our brother's to consider. In fact, we hope to one day make a book out of his writings & notebooks.

Not sure we'll have time to do the trek he did .. to Annapurna basecamp. And it's rainy season & it seems northern India & Nepal are having the worst monsoon season in 80 years. & we're not a fan of leeches. But we'll see.

When our brother died, we had thought to one day scatter at least some of his ashes in the Himalayas .. given the way he talked of his Himalayan trek. But when we got the little pack of ashes out recently .. the reality of fulfilling the gesture sunk in ... of explaining what it was to the customs officers .. «really, it's not what you think it is!» .. as they dabbed their finger in it to taste .. especially since we are going thru Doha .. & some sort of shit seems to be going down there .. a sort of transfer of power from sheik what's his name to his son .... so, the ashes stay home. But a sleeping bag? We'll find out ....


  >> NEXT: Correction, the origins of 'SSES"3 & chasing higher orange dudu to Katmandu

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