The Austin Chronicle

http://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2007-10-05/546679/

Page Two: Cat and Mouse

Slipping in and out of dreams, films, and comics, in which nothing is revealed

By Louis Black, October 5, 2007, Columns

A brick is thrown at a head. The thrower is addicted to the throwing. The one who is hit by the brick takes it as an expression of love and swoons. The law, representing order, arrives.


I

There really is nothing like the sweet drowning in cheap melancholy when one just wants to sink. The kind of melancholy bought at discount stores and never shared with close friends, as you know after they leave they will talk about how shocking it is to see their friend purposely bathing in cheaply made, gaudily colored, Kool-Aid-brand self-pity.

Writing is no longer natural or easy. There is a smell in the air some of the time that, I have now figured out, is a sliver of slow rot in the ever ongoing blessing of my life.

Sporadically but consistently, and too often, I'm thinking about what I'm going to write in this column. Like an ice floe floating down a raging yet ice-clogged river, a chunk of an idea splits off by itself, rapidly flowing along toward possibility, bumping into other chunks along the way. I hone these chunks into shape, sculpt them into meaning. Metaphoric or imagined, ideas ebb and flow, not trapped by me but rather trapping relentlessly.

Each week, some of them drift together until the shape is obvious. Rarely do I work in wholes but instead focus on and further craft separate floes. Much of the time, at the end they just rush out. Often, however, I feel like Lillian Gish at the end of D.W. Griffith's Way Down East, jumping from ice floe to ice floe during a blizzard, just trying not to fall into the freezing waters.

Gish had only a shawl to wear in a real storm (much as Zoë Bell clung to the hood of the car in the chase at the end of Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, Gish really did much of the jumping from floe to floe without the benefit of cinematic trickery). Traveling through these storms finds me clad somewhat more warmly, if in no way more safely, than Gish. I am clothed in all-too-well-worn memories; usually they are comfortable, but they also can cut, slit, and tear open old wounds until everything is soaked in blood. Still, when singing Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, a celebration of survival despite its brutal costs, there is always a kind of enjoyment – though often not of joy alone.

Regularly, even in the midst of conversations, I slip into dreaming – often so intensely that I am no longer anywhere near where I am but instead deep in the dream life: daydreams, nightmares, and deeply rooted, meaningful, but incomprehensible dreams. Boundaries between the imagined, the enjoyed, and the real fade to nothing.

After I graduated college, I lived with the family of one of my professors, helping to take care of one child through the birth of a second. Often, Eric would observe that he was sure that there was a continual strip running through my head all the time, asking, "Is this a movie? Is this a movie? Is this a movie?"

Writing, at its best, is to leave everything behind somehow (especially as much of me as possible), jumping forward from ice floe to ice floe on a river flowing toward the sea. In the fluidity, logic and proportion fall softly dead so that there's little to dam the flow. Hitting the flow, the last thing I need is a clumsy intelligence trying to hold things up by asking questions or making inanely inappropriate comments. Imagine it as somewhat like hanging out with a friend who tries to be an aggressive member of your team but doesn't begin to understand the game. This slows him down not at all as he wrecks the game, angering all your friends with whom you regularly play.

Order loses to romance; emotion destroys logic. What is left is the poetry of a brick thrown at and hitting a head.


II

I do believe. I believe in decency, humanity, sincerity, possibility, and redemption. But sometimes belief, though necessary, is not enough.

Last night, all through the night, I was so sweetly tormented, thinking about words, possibilities, and emotions, that I slept not at all. Tortured fever-thoughts about this column – not just the one you are now reading but the ongoing, weekly entity – kept me awake. Usually I know what I want to say but frequently don't know if I really want to say it.

During the first six years of the current presidential administration, this column more often than not was about politics. There was not a hint of fantasy about effecting change or influencing others in doing this.

It was about keeping a record of the time. A record of an administration methodically and consistently distorting and destroying the Constitution of the United States. A record of citizens too easily swayed, of libertarians, radicals, patriots, and "freethinkers," who, wowed by the administration, were so delighted to scuttle and torment liberals that they gladly abandoned idealistic aspirations about constitutional principles for cheap thrills. Yes, according to many polls, 70% of the American people now want to get out of Iraq, but those same polls showed that almost 80% of them were in favor of Bush's invasion of Iraq. A record for the Chronicle, myself, my family, and for all of us who also couldn't believe the viciousness and extent of this assault on nearly every principle that defines this country nor comprehend the cheerleading of "patriots." I've slowed the frequency of my political columns; this is neither promise nor guarantee but, rather, just description.

Many who comment on the Chronicle are full of contempt and disdain for us and for the paper we produce. They make suggestions: Fire the staff, quit, run fewer negative reviews, run more negative reviews, why not just change the whole focus?

They attack. How dare we think the coverage we offer is of consequence? How dare we not tackle the important issues (which are always their issues, concerns, and causes)? They want more investigative stories on local, state, and especially national issues. Why aren't we sending investigative teams to dig into what really happened on 9/11, exposing the corruption of the Bush administration, digging into the real story of illegal immigration, revealing that income taxes lack any legislative mandate, and most often, writing about Iraq?

Not only do they know the stories; they also know what our take on them should be. None of them asks about our interests (neither mine nor the staff's). They don't care about us. They know the truth; they also know we must know what they know, because it is the truth. We need to get the best reporters to investigate these stories; we need to publish them to mobilize the country and change history. They understand the Chronicle, how severely crippled and near death it is, but they can save it and yield it like a mighty sword of media righteousness.

We, the more than a quarter-century of "we" who created and nurtured the paper, are lost and should leave it to them because, whoever or whatever their deity, they have been told exactly what to do.

Lately I've been talking in my sleep. Sometimes I've even heard myself screaming as I break the surface to grab a breath before sinking back into dreaming. The voices in my head that have always been there are irritating; they keep at me, not allowing peace or calm. In comparison, the voices heard while awake might take very small bites – though still bites – but they echo as though being sung by a choir of mutes.

There is a Kat, a mouse, and a dog. Surreal, stark, and beautiful, sparse and richly detailed, it is a tale told by a jester, wiser than everyone else and funnier, maybe because he never quite lived among them. One might call him a poet, but his work is not poetry. He is an artist – that is true and without question – but his work is unlike the work of other artists. Again and again and again and again, for decades, he offered chapter after chapter in the story of a timeless romantic triangle, of love so unrequited and impossible that it is perfect. In much the same vein, some science and math teachers will give a perfect grade to a test where every single answer is wrong, it being even harder to fail completely as it is to succeed at all.

There is a Kat in love with a mouse who when he connects with her does so quite literally, hitting her in the head with a brick. Consequently, the mouse is often pursued and often jailed by the local law officer, who quite loves the Kat himself, though he means nothing to her.

Year after year, decade after decade, George Herriman produced Krazy Kat: a comic strip on the comics page of Hearst newspapers. Each week there were daily strips and stunning Sunday pages telling the same story over and over, though it was never the same. Constantly the same situation was repeated, yet it was never really repeated at all – set against a desert background of sand and cacti out of Warner Bros., Salvador Dalí, the Fleischer Brothers, and Georgia O'Keeffe.

Krazy Kat longed for Ignatz Mouse. In response, Ignatz regularly and continually beaned the Kat with bricks. Officer Pupp tried and failed to maintain order, as his own heart ached for the Kat (mostly one does best to stay away from sexually specific pronouns when talking about this cast, though it is slightly safer in regard to Officer Pupp). The strip ran because William Randolph Hearst liked it. When its creator, George Herriman, died, so did the strip.

Feeling lost and unable to sleep, I read collections of Krazy Kat Sunday pages, as I have so many times before, until the first dim light began to slip under the curtains. Still lost, weary, and drowning in cheap and lazy doubts, I was in the place that is like no other place, where Krazy Kat always takes me. Nothing is revealed; things are not made right; what had made sense once but had come to make no sense still doesn't. Still, I finally slept, and when I woke up, I wrote.

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