Seth Sawyers

Writer

With only the outer layer of skin from before

From Haruki Murakami’s novel Sputnik Sweetheart:

“So that’s how we live our lives. No matter how deep and fatal the loss, no matter how important the thing that’s stolen from us–that’s snatched right out of our hands–even if we are left completely changed, with only the outer layer of skin from before, we continue to play out our lives this way, in silence. We draw ever nearer to the end of our alotted span of time, bidding it farewell as it trails off behind. Repeating, often adroitly, the endless deeds of the everyday. Leaving behind a feeling of immeasurable emptiness.”

You Wish to Obtain a Parking Permit for Zone 1

Sometimes stuff gets rejected but it still pleases me. This is a funny one, or is supposed to be. So here it is. 

You have indicated that you wish to obtain a parking permit for Zone 1. First, you are required to present a valid driver’s license, in person, at our office located at 200 Washington Street. Listen carefully, as our hours have changed. Our office is now open only on Thursdays in months ending in “-arch.” On occasion, it is necessary to close our office unexpectedly. Consult our website for updates on these closings. Note that the website is available between the hours of 3 a.m. and 3:45 a.m., and is available only in Spanish. Also note that our website is currently down.

Second, we require proof of your automobile’s current registration. Remember to have
your registration certificate notarized. As of the first of this year, note that the person
notarizing your registration certificate must be certified with the State Board of Authorized Notaries. To verify that the notary notarizing your certificate is certified, complete Form 999995.6K&. This form must be notarized. Note that this form is currently unavailable.

Listen carefully to instructions in regard to payment, as these have recently changed. You must make out your check or money order to The Department of Transportation and Parking Enforcement, Regulation, and Taxation: Permitting, Administrative, and [unintelligible]. Note that this department no longer exists. Note that we no longer accept checks. Money orders must be notarized. Note that due to recent budget cuts, staff members handling money orders are currently furloughed and that all applications containing money orders cannot be processed. Money orders must be for exact amounts.

Note also that we have issued the maximum allotted number of parking permits for Zone 1 and that applications are currently closed. If you wish to be added to the waitlist, visit our website. Note that the waitlist is available only to those applicants who have completed forms 100-T, 100-TT, and 100-EZ, available at the public library branch most inconvenient to you. Note that all public libraries are currently permanently temporarily closed.

Finally, note that Zone 1 has been absorbed by Zone 2. If you wish to apply for a Zone 2 permit, hang up and listen to this recording again. Goodbye.

Talking with Geoff Wyss

I had a great time talking writing with Geoff Wyss. We met at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference back in 2013 (we were suitemates in a dorm, which was something we discovered only halfway through the thing) and I’m glad we met. Writing-wise, he’s about polar opposite of what I’m trying to do. And, to be clear: he’s already mastered what I’m trying to to–traditional “moralist” fiction with traditional story arcs and so forth–and now he’s waist-deep in something else. He’s an exciting writer, and one of the smartest, quickest guys I know. Also he’s terrible at squash. I have no idea if that’s true. I’m sure he’s great at it. He’s just the only guy I’ve ever met who plays squash.

Here’s our talk, up at the Baltimore Review: http://baltimorereview.org/index.php/blog/post/baltimore-review-interview-with-geoff-wyss

That other religion

I don’t know why–let’s blame the act of getting older–but I’ve gotten back into baseball again. So, as one does, I’ve been watching introductions to games one of past World Series. Relics, time capsules of how actual, non-acting humans moved, looked, talked, is one of the best parts about things like Youtube. For all its straight-up time-waste properties, you can get something out of it, too.

So, early 1980s (I’m talking Orioles-Phillies in ’83 and Tigers-Padres in ’84):

  • So many more black ballplayers and so many fewer Latinos. It’s remtumblr_mb0suxMX2P1qhqxuso1_1280arkable.
  • So many mustaches. My dad had one back then and I guess so did every other dad in America. Everyone looks like they’re doing a Magnum P.I. impression.
  • The lighting in the parks is so much spottier or thinner than it is now. Look at the now-razed Tiger Stadium. It looks like a high-school field, the way it’s lit. In general, though it’s only been 30 or so years, the logistics, the surfaces of the game have been super-charged. Obviously, with money. Everything’s shinier now. I suppose this comes with the fact that every game now is on TV, of course. Back then, I remember you’d be lucky to get a game a week on TV. When every blade of grass is on display (and shot on better cameras under better lights, etc.), you’re going to make sure that blade of grass looks good.
  • The pitching is so much slower. Everyone now throws seventeen billion miles per hour.
  • The names! Chet Lemon. Sparky Anderson. Al Bumbry. Jack Morris. Like a peek into a world that feels familiar but which is just past what we can touch.
  • Finally, the atmosphere, the parks, the broadcasts, well, they’re so much more milquetoast. Baseball’s never been very cutting-edge (it’s not the NBA or the NFL) but, still, everything feels like it came from, you know, a studio in Springfield, Illinois. Though I’m sure that someone in 1984 looking back on broadcasts from 1954 would have had a similar reaction. This culture of ours, it keeps on zooming.

The Flickering Images that Stay with You

We’ve all got our own recurring images, the scenes, the smiles, the shots, the words. Turns out Susan Sarandon, especially from Bull Durham, she’s stuck with me. And not just because of the baseball (or the Whitman). But for a certain kind of woman: confident, sexy, smart, yearning. Sure, it’s 80s rom-com stuff, standard in a way, but somehow she elevated it, burrowing inside some soft part that yearns to be Crash Davis. I bet there’s a whole generation of us, maybe two.

MSDBUDU EC011

BULL DURHAM, Susan Sarandon, 1988

One about trying to go home, in WhiskeyPaper

A short one up over at WhiskeyPaper, called “Cumberland Briefly,” about trying to go home again, about shots of Lord Calvert, Nintendo games, and about trying to not feel so strange.

Star Wars for the Rest of Us

First day of my first semester of college, and I’m walking across campus behind two boys who are arguing, red-faced, about things I’d heard about but had never thought about. (This was essentially my college experience.) The first boy was convinced Star Trek was the best science-fiction franchise. The second was equally convinced it was Star Wars that had the more fully realized world. That’s what he said: “A more fully realized world.” By the time we were climbing the steps to Susquehanna Hall, the Star Trek boy had given up, or else was the lesser arguer, or maybe he’d just gotten hungry.

Like so many things that I encountered in earnest in college—books, languages, music, movies, drugs—I was blown away by the depth with which other people, people who looked more or less like me, felt about the Star Wars movies. These two boys thought about Star Wars, and they thought about it a lot, and with great intensity. I thought about girls a lot and I thought about the Pittsburgh Pirates and Led Zeppelin a lot, and I’d soon enough add to that short list, but it was in Star Wars that I first noticed that other people had been doing this kind of deep thinking, this obsessing about things that had been there all along but which I’d ignored.

And, looking back, of course Star Wars would be the first to reach inside and shake me up. Not only because these boys, like me, were 18, ripe to become absorbed by a long, in-depth story involving laser battles and love and duty and destiny. But also because it’s always been bigger than that, wider, more global. Everybody’s seen Star Wars, or at the least seen the toys, the backpacks. Everyone’s neurons fire when you say “Yoda” or “Luke Skywalker” or, for sure, “Darth Vader.” While perhaps past generations had the Bible or baseball, Star Wars has been our common story, our common language. Almost everybody likes it, or at least something about it. Many love it. Very few hate it. Star Wars dings us. It does not, usually, just sit there.

Only, for me, it did just sit there. Even after listening to that argument that first day of college, I’d never loved these movies. Since college, my interests wound up going deep, too, but for other things. I threw my late nights, my quiet Sundays, down other dark wells. I promise, Star Wars superfans, that I’m not trying to annoy you. I’m not trying to be contrary. I’m not being the guy who hates football or the Beatles or, you know, fun. It’s only that, for me, Star Wars was just another set of movies. I’ve long known about grown men my age—friends—who own replicas of the Millennium Falcon, but for me, the movies were simply entertaining, and cool to look at, and big and epic, but, well, turns out I’d never seen the second half of The Empire Strikes Back.

So, with the release of the seventh movie imminent, I tasked myself with watching all six of them. Tough job, I know. (I work from home.) With relatively fresh eyes, here’s maybe a little about what’s going on here, with these X-wings, these cantina scenes, these droids of yours.

Richness of the World. It’s just flat-out a big, intricate, layered, dangerous world, with lots of history and conflict and drama. You can lose yourself in Star Wars. I get that. I read Lord of the Rings when I was—ahem, 25—and it reached up and pulled me in. Everything in Star Wars has a name. There are nooks. It accepts your time, your energy. It rewards obsession. It’s all about your dorkiness, these movies.

Hero’s Journey to the Max, Dudes. As someone who tries (poorly, slowly) to study how stories get told, if there’s one story type that seems to work well for the big fantasy world (Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter and Hunger Games stories), it’s the lowly nobody who discovers inner strength to defeat great odds, and great evil, with some messy internal conflicts along the way. And Darth Vader is famous for good reason. He’s a great villain, a great fallen character. Having just watched all six movies, I’m surprised he wasn’t a bigger deal around Halloween time when I was, you know, eight.

The Older Three Are Indeed So Much Better Than the Newer Three. For an epic that’s so concerned with dichotomies: father/son, good/bad, The Force/The Dark Side, Jedis/Siths, green light sabers/red light sabers, it’s perhaps appropriate that the older three movies, when compared to the newer three, are relatively bad. It’s not even close. This opinion is so nearly universal among hardcore Star Wars people so as to be cliché. My friend who loaned me the six DVDs called the ones released in 1999, 2002, and 2005 “dogshit garbage,” and, if anything, among superfans, he’s on the gentler end of the spectrum. The truth is that the newer three, while not terrible, are not nearly as good as the three released in 1977, 1980, and 1983. Creator George Lucas, hamstrung by the digital effects of the time, made compelling movies with good stories underpinned by actual physical models of spaceships and stop-motion photography which apparently he thought looked clunky but to my eyes just looks cool.* The newer movies, on the other hand, are so jam-packed with computer-generated slickness that they’re comparatively soulless. Again, this is not news to dedicated fans, but to someone watching them for only the second time, the newer trilogy feels ironically wooden and slick for slick’s sake and generally pretty corny. I can understand, in other words, why the hardcore-types were so upset (and they were very upset) with George Lucas for the newer three. They felt their beloved story had been dipped in bleach. I get it. It was how I felt when Barry Bonds left Pittsburgh for San Francisco.

* The Imperial Snow-Walkers. I know they have actual names, but the big gray hulking Imperial snow-walkers in Empire Strikes Back are, for my money, some of the coolest non-human things in any movie. I find myself picturing these awful machines when I see a Great Dane. I think about them sometimes at night, while falling asleep, the threatening lurching-ness, the animal-like groaning. I see them in construction cranes. My neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying. I see lots of cranes.

Han Solo and Sex. I never understood, until I watched all six movies, why so many women responded, and continue to respond, so strongly to Harrison Ford as Han Solo. He’s a charming dickhead. I spent many hours in my 20s, in bars and at parties, marveling at how much some girls liked charming dickheads. I’ve asked several women about Han Solo in the past few weeks. Try it. There’s a strong reaction. And he’s another reason the newer three movies fall flat. There’s no Han Solo, or anyone taking his place. In the older three, Han and Leia, they wanted to bone. There’s very little sex in the newer trilogy. I can’t overstate this. No one’s getting laid, not even the people (the young Darth Vader and the queen played by Natalie Portman) who technically have sex (in order to produce Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia). I assume they procreated asexually. There is no boning in the newer movies, nor even a threat of it. The chance of boning is near zero percent. There’s a lot of Samuel Jackson as a really boring Jedi and a lot of Yoda spinning around in the air and there are a lot of angry light sabers getting waved around, but those light sabers aren’t doing anything fun. I think I’ve made my point here.

The Music Is Cool, Man. I swear that, back in the mid-80s, before I’d seen much of the Star Wars movies at all, there was a college football band that played the Darth Vader theme. I know it. I can remember doing whatever it was I was doing, hearing the Darth Vader theme, asking my mom about it, and she saying something like, “Oh, that’s Star Wars, I think.” It’s so good, John Williams’ music, that it sent chills up my spine when played by a college marching band on a third-and-long on some November afternoon a long, long time ago.

In the end, I think I’m growing up. While the nerdy part of me liked the cool stuff, the spaceships, those snow walkers, the light-saber battles bored me much more than I’d been expecting. I found Luke’s story, his boy-to-man journey, touching. He’s a vulnerable, rash, young man who’s forced to grow up. I liked Princess Leia a lot. I understand why she was into Han Solo. I felt bad for Darth Vader. R2D2 really is the heart of the whole thing. What I’m saying is I’m a-gonna watch that new Star Wars. Maybe not tomorrow, but I’ll get there. Probably on Tuesday. Maybe Monday.

 

 

Reading: Summer the Way You Wish It Was

Sometimes I read books written in a way I could never write. Gabe Durham’s Fun Camp–funny, strange, short–is one of those, and it delighted me. I reviewed it over at the Baltimore Review.

I’ve got some questions

I wonder how, in America, from way back until about, you know, practically last week, we’ve managed to get the treatment of black people (and other minorities, to be sure) so wrong? How, even after the Civil War, after our great national wrong was finally fully exposed, fully ended, it took us a hundred years, more than a hundred years, to stop getting it wrong. What’s at work there? I don’t know.

I’ve been reading some history lately. I’ve been watching Ken Burns’ Civil War.

I wonder: what is the human’s base state? Is there one? Is it fear? Is it boredom? Hunger (and not just for food)?

I’ve been looking at Facebook maybe a little too much.

I wonder about fear. About how maybe the old thing about how there are two kinds of people comes down to those who have fear and those who don’t. Well, that’s not fair. Everyone has it. Maybe it’s those who allow fear to rule and those who refuse. Or fear versus the opposite of it. And what is that? Love? Is it no versus yes? Is it usually no versus usually yes? Or is it no and yes all mixed up? (Could it be love?)

I wonder if our American politics have always been so nasty, so reductive, so black and white. Why is it that it enrages me seeing that high school friends have shared Fox News items about how many American states have moved to block Syrian only when I learn that this high school friend actually approves of this, is in favor of it?

So much fear. Is this normal? Has it always been this way? Is something big and awful truly coming? I don’t know. I think signs of the apocalypse have always been there, if you look hard enough. Someone’s always hopeful the end is nigh. And why is that? So they can stop worrying, planning, going to work, faking it? So they can have it end without they themselves doing the ending? Just to say “I told you so”?

I’ve been looking at Facebook too much.

I also wonder about this chili I just made. It’s my best one ever. I think it’s because I didn’t put any cumin in it. I wonder if I should eat another bowl.

Woke up with this poem in my head, from a dream. You’re welcome?

     Sarah bird has all these little birds

     Suzie bird wants to put those birds in jail

     Sarah bird won’t let that happen

     She knows that birds grow up to become stars.