God in the (Vending) Machine

The first job that ever taught me anything was at a bar by my house. My commute was a five-minute drive.

It was late one night, the end of a shift, and I was wrapping up the host booth. Not too far away, one of the bouncers was there eating.

He was a great guy, great at his job, rarely complained. From what I could gather, his life wasn’t easy, but that night he was eating like a king; the kitchen had cooked a steak by accident, so that was what he was getting for an end-of-shift meal.

We started chatting, and he told me that earlier, he had thought of how great a steak might be. This thought, he said, had been broadcast to the universe, and the universe had provided him with a steak, just like he wanted. He was convinced that this was the secret to getting rich, living life to the fullest, and being successful. He talked about it like a preacher talks God, or a barefoot runner talks about how running shoes ruin your joints.

I didn’t think much of this at the time, but looking back, this was my first encounter with a particular American belief system, one supersedes all our other beliefs, even the Christianity many of us believe to be the bedrock of our country.

It’s part of a faith I call the religion of the Vending Machine God.

The Vending Machine God has its own church. It has its own texts, doctrine, and clergy.

It’s a faith you’ve never heard of, but it’s everywhere.
Continue reading

Rest on Your Laureates

A poet laureate can be understood as an official poet of a government. The US has had a national laureate for many years. I was reading an article in the New York Times that there are actually 45 state poet laureates in the US. This number doesn’t count those lower than the state level; there are tons of them on the county and city level as well. Hell, even my city has one.

The funny thing about this article, in particular, is that it wasn’t an article about how poetry is a dying art.. The writer even mentions this multiple times in the article, as if surprised herself. There was another article the Times published more in line with this narrative. The author calls on the nation’s schools to begin teaching poetry again. What is funny here is that the article is based on three false assumptions.

The first assumption is that poetry is a dead art form here in America. It most certainly isn’t.

For proof, I turn to Fancy by Iggy Azalea.

Stay with me now. Continue reading

The Rule(s) of Writing

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These pages all started out blank.

“Kill your darlings.”

“Show, don’t tell.”

Write what you know.”

As a writer, it’s easy to believe that there are certain rules of writing that, if followed, will result in your success. Rules are comforting, in a way. They offer certainty.

The problem with this is that writing is not certain. We can see the end result, pick that apart, and see what works for us. We can fiddle and tinker.

Rules are a different matter. Continue reading

Father Ouzo

I’ve met a pastor named Shandy
And vicar named Brandy
And a sister named Whiskey, it’s true

But for my tribulations
Across this creation
There’s but one thing that can get me through

For when I’m gone
And it’s rough
It’s that licorice stuff
That leads me to my life again

He’s a Greek
Never weak
He’s a cloudy-white freak…

Father Ouzo, forgive me my sins. Continue reading

The Mechanics and Importance of Friendship

The Westside of Grand Rapids is an odd place.

This makes it, along with the sidewalks that run near every street, one of the best places to amble in the city. You’ll always see something over there that will jar your thoughts to their furthest corners. Last time I was there, I was walking with a friend of mine. We saw, in order: Continue reading

Sweetwaters!

I sing that song!
That old song!
The dirty shoulders, the styrofoam
The great murky black
Uncreamed unsugared
I could write with it
Write the world with it
Right the world with it!
And I will scribble a song sugar sweet and syrupy
I will eat them all
Jelly filled
Cream filled
Joy filled!
The freeway!
The freeways where asylum can be found!
Oh Kalamazoo!
Sins of dirty dishwater
Can be made clean by fried sugar
That is the American night, Jack Kerouac!
We will read our Carl Sandburg until we are sick
Then we will sleep
Unless we are at Fourth Coast
And a man named Vahan is there.

My head will never be right
Because there are too many words stuffed in.
That is alright.
That is all right.