Liquid Ink

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The story of my vasectomy

WARNING! This link will take you to a video of an actual vasectomy. While I highly encourage people to watch it—all surgery is fascinating, and this is the kind of “no scalpel” procedure I had done—I should state that it presents a tug of war between stainless steel instruments and very thin and sensitive body parts.

I was never this nervous going into a medical procedure. I’ve had four wisdom teeth beaten out of my skull. I’ve had my wrist screwed together. I had to get plantars warts burned off of my sole with a laser. Nothing quite compares to lying on your back mostly naked with your shaved scrotum (I did it myself) the focal point of the afternoon.

Weeks before the surgery, my doctor had explained the procedure in pretty vivid detail. Of course, my writer’s imagination had gone wild, and it did not help to see, so soon as I had entered the room, a stainless steel tray holding almost a dozen surgical instruments, and also gauze smeared with iodine, the color of brown scabs. I knew it was iodine. But iodine recalls the color of coagulated blood.

There I lay, nards under a tissue-thin square of sky blue paper, and the doctor came in with a host of people: four (at least) medical students, all of them preparing for lucrative careers of nard hacking. In the small room, I soon developed a sense of claustrophobia, this while my testicles swelled to the size of peaches. Supine, I stiffened to a board, sweat beating my brow, the room a trash compactor, my nards now ripened Michigan fruits, their skin red and downy. And I had a multicultural audience wearing scrubs.

I was wearing my dashiki. The doctor said, “Hey, this shirt looks Caribbean. Let’s put on some Caribbean music.” Songs by Mark Anthony and the loathsome Ricky Martin streamed from a corner. The procedure had begun before Ricky could sing Go go go! Ole ole ole!

“You’re just going to feel a pinch.”

Indeed, a pinch, if that’s what you want to call a needle stabbing your sack. I tried to be mindful, as my Roshi had trained me, but my mind went rather haywire, and I started hearing all sorts of idiotic associations, including the jingle, “You save big money when you shop Menards.” It did not go well with Ricky Martin, not when Raymond Jack Szmanda (the Menards guy) danced before me, his nuts bleeding.

The doctor was training his students, explaining all sorts of things about skin and vessels and placement and tools, and using words like cauterize, and a nurse kept handing him some branding rod attached to five million watts of electric death. I could smell my testes burning.

It hurt to be yanked around. Not the way it hurts when you stab yourself with a screwdriver. But the vas is short and rather thick, thicker than you imagine; the sound and vibration of cutting it was similar to what I felt when I cut my kids’ umbilical cords. There’s also very little room to maneuver, and with so much attention on me, I felt I was in a toaster.

I was pouring sweat. The doctor opened the door to let in air. This made a nurse feel she could now come in to ask random questions. “Just one quick question, doctor.” Are those Michigan peaches? Could someone cauterize Raymond Jack before he bleeds all over the floor?

The stitching required more yanking, more explanations, “These are going to dissolve.” Dissolve? How? Where? Into what? “We won’t need to remove any sutures.” You’re damn right about that. “Oh, good. Rihanna is on.”

Now that I was all stitched up, nauseated, a dripping human sponge of sweat, the doctor asked me, his hand on my shoulder, “What kind of music do you like?”

“Me?” I gasped. I found the breath to say, “Tom Waits.”

The doctor and the audience exchanged clueless glances.

“Should we know him?” he asked.

I nodded. “If you die today, what deity you believe in will meet you at the gates of paradise. And you’ll be asked, ‘Do you like Tom Waits?’ Answer ‘No’ and you’ll go to hell where five strangers will cut your genitals.”

They all guffawed. “We’ll look him up. We’ll look him up.” The doctor patted my shoulder. “You did great. You’re all done.”

Just pay at the counter. And spread no seed.

Pecan nuts on tree

Pecan nuts on tree

Photo from Wikipedia.


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I’m like Shakespeare

I can now say, without arrogance or hyperbole, that I have at least one very important thing in common with Shakespeare. This is no small joke, as Will is one of my all time greatest heroes, and I would very much like to be him. I would kill my entire identity if I could be Will for as little as a year, during which time I’d write two world-altering plays and seduce everyone, male and female, old and young, with my poetry.

So, it gives me great joy to report that we have evidence—as if we needed any, to be honest—that William Shakespeare was a pothead, or at least that his soul called out to the buds on occasion, as all good souls do. Read it right here. Share with blunt instruments, like Chris Christie.

180px-Cannabis_Plant


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Five months from book launch

I’m unable to take it for granted. Each time I tell people, “I have a novel coming out in December,” I get a little buzzed up.

I reread the book one more time over the last two weeks of July, cutting a phrase here and adding a word there. When I completed it, I went out to water the garden. Dazed, I was transported back to my small room in New York City, right on the corner of Broadway and 113th, where I originally penned the first sentences of a short story—Yuri’s Window—that would eventually become The Fugue. The novel, all 120,000 words, set (mostly) in Cicero, Illinois and handling a cast of over a dozen characters, started out as a short story about a sculptor living in Amsterdam who made his own window frames and stained glass out of shattered beer bottles and pieces of fences. The first words were put to paper in late 2000.

The short story became a novel on the advice of several classmates at Columbia. Really, it was at the insistence of my teacher, David Plante, whose feedback saw me change the setting, that I started realizing I really did have a novel. Fifteen years later, that novel is going to be published.

I’ll be telling the story of how I wrote the book and what sort of ideas I played with, how long it took me to develop them. The story of how The Fugue was written is almost as interesting as the story the book tells: a sculptor is sentenced to prison for murdering his parents, and upon release returns to his hometown to convalesce and sift through memories, shattered narratives and the ongoing psychological effects of a World War. Over the span of the novel, the plot moves from a nondescript field in Western Ukraine, through the landscape of Chicagoland, eventually to extinguish itself at the back window of a bungalow, only seconds before the home’s conflagration.

There will be time to explore all that stuff.

In this post, I want to cut a question off at the pass. I know someone will ask: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Yes. Don’t ever give up.

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The public piano and the homeless man

Here is a video of a homeless man playing a public piano in Sarasota, Florida, as part of the Sarasota Keys Piano Project. It requires no introduction or commentary.

My first experience with a public piano was this past spring in Amsterdam where I took this photo:

DSCF3238That moment was about as great an experience as I have ever had with public art. I stood by that piano for almost an hour, just waiting to see what kind of people would sit down to play; each time I returned to the train station, I walked by to see what was going on. People took turns politely, complimenting and thanking each other, and the pianists ranged from a few Asian tourists to very obvious commuters (as the man in the photo is most likely a Dutchman coming hom from work).

The piano music mellowed and calmed the experience of the busy train station. It also opened up the space and contributed to the rhythm. I was so moved by the music, the openness and trust experienced between the city, its residents and strangers, that I’m convinced every city should have multiple public pianos in places like train stations, post offices and outside the DMV.


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Dariya Marchenko: Art from Ammunition

Here’s the brilliant Dariya Marchenko making a humanitarian statement on the continued atrocities perpetrated by Vladimir Putin. This Reuters report should leave you provoked and moved. Daria assembles a portrait of Putin from bullet cartridges collected from the front lines of the war in Ukraine, and the art is being presented in conjunction with a novel (which I’d very much like to read).

Please share this report.

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Photo by Gleb Garanich/Reuters


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Cecil has me thinking…

I can think of few moments I have observed on Facebook that compare to the response I’ve seen from people regarding the killing of Cecil, the lion. The uproar in my timeline is pretty dramatic, and rightfully so. While I have posted nothing on the matter myself, I’ve been following the story. I’m among those who find it hard to get into the head of someone who’d not only take interest in killing a lion but would also be willing to pay a good chunk of money to have the opportunity set up.

I have to admit, however, that the response had me thinking. Why isn’t the uproar greater over the killing of our fellow citizens by police?

Cecil deserved to live, as does any creature. But Cecil was killed, not by a security force charged with protection, but by a wealthy hunter gone to a foreign country with the intention of killing an animal. Many of the people upset about Cecil’s death eat meat, and their demand results in the deaths of more creatures than a lion. The faceless and nameless pigs and cows and chickens usually live lives in conditions much worse than Cecil’s.

Most of us have killed an animal directly, if even just by swatting flies or mosquitoes, or spraying a spider with Raid. This summer, I killed an entire colony of ants. Yes, Cecil is a rare animal, more regal, far more intelligent than common ants, and he was not harming anyone; killing an animal in order to eat or defend your home from damage is completely different from killing to feel an ego rush. Even so, his killing should leave us wondering why we value certain creatures more than others, and if we’re so upset about his death, could we perhaps think about how our desires and actions impact all life?

We should also be asking another set of questions. Are we more upset, moved to greater emotions, by the killing of a lion than we are by the killing of our citizens? (It’s not August, but police have killed 605 people in America this year.) Someone will say, “These people getting killed by cops are less-than-noble.” Who deserves to die, for what reason, and who gets to decide? Perhaps we truly are more upset by the killing of our fellow citizens as compared to a lion, but we feel more comfortable expressing our outrage over the death of an animal, outrage pointed at a wealthy, privileged man who’s killing for sport. If that’s true, what do we actually fear? That someone might get annoyed with our outrage over the deaths of our fellow citizens?

I don’t know if social media outrage is an indicator of actual outrage, or a measuring stick of any value. My timeline is only an indicator of whom I choose to follow. I just found it rather striking that my timeline endeared itself so easily to a lion most had hitherto never heard of, while the posts and comments regarding police killings were, at least by comparison, a trickle. I guess I’ve written this post to see if I’m the only one who observed this.

Lion_waiting_in_Namibia

Photo from Wikipedia.

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