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The Naked and Ugly

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Monday, January 16, 2012

The Naked and Ugly

Eventful weekend.  And, no, I am not just talking about the NFL playoffs.  Though I do know two people who are very happy in Texas and Florida, respectfully (while far away Skip Bayless and aborted foetuses everywhere weep silently.)

We're talking about the art, man.  First up, Tom Pitts and I (along with El Cerrito Patch crack reporter Kyrsten Bean) are showcased in England at the upstart PoV. Which looks pretty fucking sharp (  My pieces include two selections from the oft-mentioned, as-yet unpublished memoir, here called Candy and Cigarettes, as I try to cash in on the brand name.  It's the same memoir as Junkie Love, which I'll in all likelihood change the name back to when this experiment fails, because, tipping my hand or not, the title is Junkie Love.  The first story is called "Close Calls Pt. III," part of entire chapter devoted to near missed and almost hits.  In case you missed "Close Calls Pt. I," here you go (under the original title "One Very Important Letter"):  (I honestly don't remember Pt. II, but neither it, nor Pt. IV, which is about injecting mouse shit, have been published).  Pt. III, borrowing liberally from a Bruce Springsteen live into to "Independence Day" (it's called an homage), details getting roused late one night by the cops in a 7/11 in Hunter's Point (can't find a clip with the intro, but the song is still heartbreakingly beautiful and always worth hearing, especially if you didn't get along with your dad).

The second is about this night Gluehead and I were heading to the bar after my ex-wife (the one I loved, not the other one) stood me up on our first date and we found a bunch of crack in the middle of the road following a high-speed chase.  I spoke with Glue the other day.  He's doing well, living in the Midwest.  I sent him a copy of Down on the Farm.  He'll probably hate it.  Never was a big fan of Springsteen.

For this issue of PoV, which is like the third time Tom Pitts and I have appeared together in the same publication, we decided to do one another's intro, like Freaky Friday or a goddamn Kriss Kross album cover.

Be sure to check out both Tom's and Kyrsten's stuff.  Tom's two, "High Speed Chase in LA" and "Peanut Brittle" brings back lovely memories of copping in downtown LA and, yup, injecting more mouse shit, which apparently is far more prevalent within the junkie community than you might believe; and Kyrsten's "Requiem of a Street Kid" uses the backdrop of the gutter punk scene in the Haight to segue from kiddom to adulthood, without broaching patronizing or didactic, a tough order.  It's a poem drenched in the detail of someone who's lived the life and didn't merely play the part.

Goes without saying that both Tom and Krysten are terrific writers, which is why they've been featured multiple times at Lip Service West (, where, it's true, I've never met a recovering addict I didn't like.  If I'm encountering resistance in trying to get my junkie memoir published, then I'll use what little sway I have (and, trust me, we're talking very little sway here) to provide others an avenue to get their story out.  

And to that end, I am supposed to be getting interviewed by the East Bay Express later today (another stop on the Shameless Self-Whoring Tour, 2012), which I will be certain to pimp madly when the issue comes out.  We started the interview yesterday, and the focus is going to be on Lip Service West.  When I was a part of this reading series in Miami (co-producing the event with the lovely Andrea Askowitz [My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy]), the subject matter was, admittedly, a little broader, a bit sunnier, less dank and gray.  But I am a dark mutherfucker, and while I loved working with Andrea, when I got out here and Idan "the Machine" Levin over at SPAD ( offered to sponsor a reading series, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  And despite granting me permission to use the Lip Service brand, both Andrea and her new co-producer Esther Martinez were aghast by my new choice of logo.

This sums it up.  Bloody bug splattered on the high-speed windshield o' life. Thanks to Tracey Snelling for the design.

I am not into poetry.  Although I should mention I just had another (old) poem taken by Gutter Eloquence.  And for as much as my poetry is finding new homes these days, perhaps I should reconsider and just start writing the shit again. 

Anyway, we had our latest Lip Service West reading this past Friday at Pegasus Books up on Shattuck in Berkeley.  Another packed house, rave reception, random drunk dude telling me he is going to submit something.  The free hot dogs went quickly on this night, my friends.  Always do.  And the continued success of the series has little to do with me (or my beautiful partner in crime/life/literature, the third luckiest gal in the world, Justine).  It's because the Bay Area breeds kick-ass writers like Miami does cockroaches. Fuckers are everywhere, squirming in the dingy moistness.  

This latest chapter featured Lauren Becker, who runs the East Bay-centric (and always first-rate) reading series East Bay on the Brain (, and Paul Corman-Roberts, whom I first met manning the door at the downtown Oakland event, which made me think he was a bouncer, because he looked like the kind of dude you'd find on the midnight gritty streets of a meth-soaked Las Vegas.  On Friday, he read a piece about meth-soaked Las Vegas and working in an all-nite convenience store.  Both his and Lauren's, which chronicled ball surgery, were hits.  As was Kyrsten's cough syrup confessional, and Mckay William's reportage from the front lines of Occupy Oakland and the joys of your first time getting pepper sprayed.  After everyone read, I thought (to myself as opposed to someone else) both how much I envied and admired these writers, and how lucky I am to be back in the Bay.

But there was one writer who stood out that night, not because his piece was necessarily better (or worse) than anyone else's.  It simply struck me its relation to my own work, achieving an honesty, a verisimilitude I don't think I am capable of.  The piece was called "Splatter Love" by Sean Craven, and used the stained drawing pad of a suicide to shine a light on the human condition in a way rarely seen.

Sean joked about why I wanted him to read this piece on his blog last week (, and he wasn't altogether wrong.  "Splatter Love," which I'd had the pleasure of editing earlier, is not for the weary or easily offended. The basic outline for the story: Sean finds this drawing pad, which aside from the red blotchy stain on the cover, is in pristine condition.  A poor art student, he considers it a boon, until he later learns that the pad belonged to a woman in the neighboring apartment who just shot herself.  Sean keeps the pad, unable to throw it away, and begins to form an unhealthy relationship to the pad and its former owner, as he imagines her life and the misery, insanity, vengeance that lead her to make this most final of choices; and through this exploration he is forced to admit his own unhappiness, the pull of suicide's allure, the insignificance he feels as a man and an artist, the insufficiency he feels as a human being.  He shies from nothing, however naked and ugly.

This is, of course, what all good writing is.  And everyone who reads for LSW falls into that category.  I consider myself a good writer, as well, and like to believe I am willing to delve into the same naked and ugly territory.  Except--and it's a big exception--I care too much about image.  Everything I do is concerned with image. A man doesn't spend this much time preening in front of a mirror measuring his own biceps without a unabashed nod to vanity.  This concern expends far beyond the physical, though.  We're talking persona.  This blog is a persona.  My interactions (when I leave my privileged gated enclave) with the public, a persona. Every facet of my life, from my time with my dear, sweet departed mother, to my own child, involves some degree of an act, how I want to be perceived.  And this desired effect of manufactured appearance, physical and otherwise, how I come across to the outside world, is going to manifest itself in the writing.  I don't shy from truth, and I can get as down and dirty and mired in the cesspool as anyone. But I will always pull up short when it comes to tarnishing this carefully cultivated character.  Part of the allure of Hemingway is that he was Hemingway.  Did he have private moments where he cried while watching Dancing with the Stars?  Or whatever the fuck the equivalent was in the '20s (Flapping with the Socialites?).  No, he was too busy fucking up bulls and getting drunk.  That is the story we know. And that shit is cultivated.  Don't judge; we all do it.  There is the projection we want the world to see, and if you say you don't it, then to quote John Bender, you're a liar too.

This is what struck me about Sean's piece.  He took it further than I think I'd be willing to go.  There was no worrying how it made him look to others, a step and a half beyond vulnerable.  He stood there, naked and ugly, in from of a room full of strangers on Friday, an audience which contained more than a few pretty girls, with no pretense made of hiding his flaws and warts, without giving a rat's fuck about perception.  And he did it for art's sake.  And that, my friends, is bravery.  At least in my world it is.  In fact, it's goddamn heroic.

Then again, maybe I'm getting carried away, since I am in desperate search of a new hero after St. Timmy took such a tumble from his gilded cloud this past Saturday (  I realize there are probably only about seven people left in the world who haven't seen Jimmy Fallon's Tebowie.  But we're not reinventing the wheel here, and I can think of no better send off for the man who made my morning exercises with Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith such a joy.  

God speed, Tim Tebow.  May your 47.9% completion percentage carry you back to Florida (Jacksonville?) where your unique skill set (capital G goodness, ability to scramble, and retarded-duck-on-crack throwing motion) will be appreciated, as you continue to divide football fans everywhere and provide endless hours of sports talk fodder for years to come.

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At January 16, 2012 at 11:59 AM , Blogger Sean Craven said...

Thanks, Joe. I'm trying on a Spalding Gray meets Hunter Thompson persona, but I'm finding the shoulders bind and it's not really suited to all occasions.


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