“[Americans] believe in a universe of divine justice where the human race is guilty of sin, but they also believe in a secular justice where human beings are presumed innocent. You can’t have both. You know how Americans deal with it? They pretend they are eternally innocent no matter how many times they lose their innocence. The problem is that those who insist on their innocence believe anything they do is just. At least we who believe in our own guilt know what dark things we can do.”

—Viet Thinh Nguyen, The Sympathizer (2015)

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Back-to-school film quiz

From Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2006, dir. Michel Gondry).

Over the past year, I’ve co-written (and turned in) in a book manuscript, and worked extensively with its related blog; acquired and shepherded a difficult but incredibly rewarding book from start to finish; published a couple of book reviews; and began thinking through a screenplay I wrote long ago that I actually want to direct, adapted from a blog post from even longer ago. So, not much writing energy left for the blog or the newsletter. (Though, ahem, I did see through a series on Buster Keaton, refreshing and recharging my criticism in some interesting ways.) And, if I were you, I wouldn’t expect too much from the blog for the time being. But I will always have time for one of Dennis Cozzalio’s film quizzes. Here’s the new one, a back-to-school edition appropriate for me, as I live in the quintessential southern college town. Here we go.

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“One of the most fascinating things about human beings is your imagination and how it can create something that was never in the world before in billions of years and will never be in the world again in that form in billions of years to come. Isn’t that amazing? And you yourselves are of course imaginative adventures that never were in the world before and will never be again in this form. Your parents imagined you into being and here you are but you are different every day and every hour and every minute. You are essentially stories yourselves of course, unwinding and unreeling all the time, never knowing your ending; you tell yourselves every moment. Perhaps some aspect of maturity is when you begin to tell the story of yourself rather than other people telling your story.”

–Pipa Kuapapa, speaking to her classroom of schoolkids, in Brian Doyle’s The Plover (2014)

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Can a man who has often and pointedly claimed independence from all constraint and relationship continue on such a course for his entire lifetime, whether in marine or terrestrial context, without finally arriving not at a welcome solitude but at a fearsome loneliness and desiccation of the soul? Does a man who insists on his own compass and geography and direction, without acknowledgment and correction for the course of others, risk becoming cruel and lonely and hard as a seed that never gave itself a chance to open?”

Brian Doyle, The Plover (2014)

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Prince, 1958-2016: A letterpress print


We wanted to pay respects to the Great One and could not think of a better way than to create something—to give back, somehow, in some small way. So, we made a little work of art, in tribute to a man who gave so much to us all. Here you go:

Prince, 1958-2016. A new letterpress print. 8″ x 10″, black ink on purple 80# paper stock, colophon printed on back. Original drawing by Rebecca A. Norton, designed by Walter Biggins and Margot Ecke, printed on letterpress by Margot Ecke at Smokey Road Press, May 2016. This edition is limited to 75 copies, signed and numbered on the back.

Each print is $20 + $2 shipping. We will ship to all U.S. locations, by USPS media mail with delivery confirmation (i.e., a tracking number).

70 of 75 prints available.

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“Insomnia opens the door to previously untraced memories, makes a mockery of the good sense that possesses us at high noon, and any effort we make to channel our thoughts twists the energy, rebukes us with half-finished faces, sexless bodies; we learn again that our minds are full of snares, knots, goblins, the backward march of the dead, the bridges that end halfway and still hanging in the air, those who failed to love us, those who irreparably harmed us, intentionally or not, even those we hurt badly and live on encapsulated in our regret. The past thrives on a sleepless night, reduces it to the awesome, distorted essence of all we have met.”

–Jim Harrison, Sundog (1984)

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Athens, etc.

Fuji, EtcFuji, Etc. (2004), by Kevin Huizenga. Photo by Walter Biggins.

I do this a lot, these long drives late at night, inching my way from the Atlanta airport to my warm bed in Athens, GA. After the glitter of the Atlanta skylines—yes, there’s more than one—and the shimmer-sheen of cars sliding through the downtown light buzz, there’s suddenly a aural drop-off just northeast of town. As soon as I turn off of I-85 and onto Georgia Highway 316, the darkness envelops my car like a shroud. Other than the occasional pair of headlights cutting through the blackness on my left, or the angry red taillights blinking as I pass them, the nighttime is complete. It’s a lonely highway, punctuated by a few stoplights and overpasses. Buildings are visible mostly through the outlines caused by the light they give off—the flying-saucer glow of a gas station in the distance; the eerie frizz of a strip mall, only the facades and windows visible as if they were emerging from a swamp; a billboard lit from below, asking JESUS: IS HE IN YOU? I have to guess at looming shapes from the shadows created by starlight and moonglow. At some point, I always end up thinking about a Kevin Huizenga drawing I own, and about how art both illuminates and anticipates life.

I bought that drawing, the first original work of art that I ever bought and one of the few that I’ve ever bought directly from the artist, because I couldn’t get what I really wanted. On the back cover of Drawn & Quarterly Showcase #1, which features Huizenga’s comics, there’s a thin-lined, scratchy color drawing of a car driving through the night, lit only by restaurant signs and billboards and streetlights. The aurora commercialis drowns out the stars. In that sense, and so many others, the image feels right. Even though it’s hardly photorealistic, it understands and illuminates what it’s like to experience driving at night on an American road. In those dial-up connection days, it took some doing to find Huizenga’s contact info but I did. (He’s more prominent now.) I emailed him, asking if a print of that back-cover illustration could be purchased. Nope, he responded, but for 75 bucks he could draw a new version. I hemmed and hawed—75 dollars was a lot of money for me then—for a solid twenty seconds, before realizing that a cartoonist whose work I loved was offering a commissioned piece to me for less than it could cost me to buy a print of a cartoonist whose work I hated. Huizenga got the check that week; I got the drawing a week after that.

With the unopened package trembling in my hands, I realized that I didn’t really know what it would look like. I was as in the dark as I was driving late at night, when what’s ahead of me trembles with mystery and possibility. Would the piece be a tracing of that back cover? Would it be a half-assed pencil sketch? Would it be in color? No, no, and no, it turned out. Squarish instead of rectangular like a comics page, glossy black-ink sheen gleaming off of hard white paper stock, Fuji, Etc. was better than I could have expected. The stark contrast, lack of colors, and lack of crosshatching or shading meant that I had to fill in its gaps. To complete the nighttime, I must enter the drawing, and unfold those layers of black upon black. Tilting the paper to and fro, I glimpsed those bedsheets of ink, the muted grays outlining Huizenga’s clouds where the ink overlaps the pencil lines. As compelling as his night sky is, though, the car interests just as much, because it’s so separate from that nightscape. The car rests on white space, only the top half of the vehicle entering into the night frame. It’s in and out of the night all at once. The first time I laid with a woman, that weird and luscious drive into night smells on her skin and night touches on the fingertips, it felt just as dark, just as betwixt and between. Maybe it always does, that first time with a new person. Maybe the journey from “fucking” to “making love” is the closing of that gap between night and illumination, so that the stars and headlights brighten as one being.

Writing, lately, feels like a long and lonely drive into a mysterious night. The metaphor’s not mine—I think E.L. Doctorow got there first—but I’ll take it. I’m on the tail end of a manuscript, turning it in to my publisher (how odd to write that, and to mean it) in mid-June. The light is dim. I squint to see a few feet ahead. Deer’s eyes and the underbellies of clouds blink out at mine, both caressed by the moon and my headlights. I try to trust that I knew how to drive but am so afraid of wrecking that I can barely get on to the road. I’ve got a map, I have a general sense of where I’m headed, but midnight is settling in and I’m getting exhausted.

When the drive gets weary, I remember that, even in solitude, I have passengers that I can turn to. With the book, I have a co-writer, thank God. I couldn’t make this long road trip without him. We call each other late at night—he lives on the West Coast; I live in Eastern Standard Time; we’re always three hours apart—and check in on our progress. When phone calls won’t do, there’s always the comforting rasp of Marc Maron’s voice, or the CDs I keep stocked in my glove compartment, or staticky AM radio stuttering out country music and diatribes and the odd occasional Sun Ra blast into the cosmos.

Through it all, I flash to Huizenga’s Fuji, Etc. I think of how it will feel to turn the backdoor key, glide into my house, feel the cat purr rub against my leg before I turn on the lights to see her, and that I’ll round the hallway corner, and there my drawing will be, clarifying the mystery of my drive and my drive but letting that mystery stay present, too.

For whatever reason, it doesn’t feel like I’m truly home until I see that drawing.

Addendum: One of my favorite late-night driving songs.

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