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Barker, Duncan, Vandermeer, Mieville, Irving, and Kant

Posted in Uncategorized on August 5, 2010 by Tony M. Vinci

Life has a strange texture lately.  Always hectic, even in intense repose, as if a subtle yet insistent subterranean pulse threatens to explode the surface.  It’s a bit unsettling but exciting as well.  New guitars, new music, pushing forward on my two cd projects (Eleventh Hour and the follow up to 2006’s Speaking to Stones).  And reading.

Barker’s The Adventures of Maximillian Bachus and His Traveling Circus was rather exceptional.  Beautiful, striking narratives with a talking crocodile.  It reads as a precursor to both his plays and the Abarat series, with some hints at Weaveworld.

Duncan’s The Night Cache is a nice, poignant ghost story but not too much more than that.

Vandermeer’s Finch almost makes me want to quit as a writer.  Such unified vision with stark, machine-gun prose.  God I hate him.

Mieville’s Perdido Street Station: a classic now, I know, but I still can’t wade through his descriptions of the city—they’re beautiful, but they lack the lens of central characters.

Washington Irving’s Sketchbook—surprisingly beautiful and Romantic.  A clear goad to the American Fantastic Tradition.

Kant—German Idealism in the most painfully careful prose.  Love the ideas; want to stab myself with multiple sporks because of the sentences.

Thomsen’s anthology: The American Fantasy Tradition.  This will be a primary inspiration for my dissertation.  Thomsen argues quickly and assertively that American literature has its own significant contribution to the Fantasy genre; moreover, there are certain threads of fantasy that could not have been created by any other nation.  I’d like to extend his thesis by arguing that this burgeoning American Fantasy offers an essential component to what John Clute and Farah Mendelssohn call “portal fantasy.”

So, I Went to England Last Fall

Posted in Uncategorized on August 5, 2010 by Tony M. Vinci

These are unedited excerpts from journal entries written on my November 2009 trip to Great Britain.

11-20-09 (En Route)

In flight.  Feet swollen and hands tight.  After two plus hours of awkward teenagers on broomsticks in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I’m beginning to relax.  For the first time in months, my shoulders fall and I can inhale without anxiety.  It’s been eight years since I’ve stepped onto this soil.  Eight years since I’ve dreamt this hazy light and breathed history like autumn.  I wonder if the part of me that used to live in London is still there, captured in stone and cloud, or if those forests of memory are now barren and burnt, branches and roots nothing more than ash, seeds that try to dream green forever straining for light.

I guess I’m searching for a balance between.  I hope that the green and the stones and the clouds still hold part of me left here last decade.  I hope that if I open my skull and veins that I’ll be able to meet the stranger in my skin, say hello and begin.

The plane is about to descend.

11-21-09 (Chepstow and Tintern)

Rain.  Rain.  Um . . . more water falling from the sky.  A few scattered frogs.  Rain.  More rain fell today than in 1,000 years.

Chepstow is a gathering of hills that mysteriously do not descend.  The rain never let up.  A wet but rewarding day.

It’s been ten years since I’ve been in Chepstow castle.  It was cool today, though, this time my goal was to document, to take pictures for my students.  Seeing through the lens, framing history and stone as though they might actually continue digitally—it erased the moment for me.  That grey and green might have held the stranger I had hoped to meet, but I didn’t get to see him today.  Now, sitting inside an inn across from Tintern Abbey, by the fire, glancing at the photos I took, they do seem brighter, deeper than what my eyes took in.  Perhaps this 8 gig memory card captured what my too-soaked brain couldn’t.  Maybe I’ll be able to break time through image.

Random quote: “Bodies mutilated for cosmetic industry.  Lured victims into Peruvian jungle to cut off heads and limbs.”—this from a story in “The Times.”

11-22-09 (Tintern by Midnight Moonlight)

The gate clangs behind me and I look through where stained glass once filtered sunlight.  The dreaming stones of Tintern Abbey stretch from the earth and frame stars.  Jagged cosmos of hewn dark pointing at the big dipper.  Centuries of prayer and starlight here.  Oxygen lights to spirit.

11-23-09 (Oxford)

Today, I added to my store of time.  Began by hunting Alice (and a snark) at the Alice Shop in Oxford, but mostly Christ Church, its angles and meadow.  Bulls in the meadow, almost too much for the eye—spires and branches reaching through clouds.

Cathedral shared with a gaggle of tourists complete with requisite cameras.  Pale, stained glass windows of see-through saints posing for places in scrapbooks.  Beautiful, though.  Peaceful except for the constant click of heels on stone.

Also, got my “drink me” video—simulating little Alice swaying through this Oxford universe, stretching and shrinking, falling through a small walkway to a sweeping sky.

* * *

Tolkien’s Pinus Nigra tree in Botanical Garden looks like a stone troll, arms and nose bulging through bark.

* * *

Radcliffe Camera seems too pretty too bright to be Sauron’s monument to Morgoth, but the doors, studded and black, seem to make sense.

* * *

Magdelen College made me deeply, profoundly jealous.  Watching a young girl step to a huge oak door, unlock it with an old iron key, and swing it open—knowing that this is her dorm—filled me with a sense of awe and envy.  To be surrounded by this on a daily basis, to live and study in a world of oak and stone and large iron keys—it must create a larger cultural space for education.

* * *

Addison’s walk, where Tolkien and Lewis walked by midnight moonlight . . . the place slows time.  Lothlorien slow.  Sunlight pauses the cloudflow.  Water moves quickly, but the rest—the roots and needles, the squirrels and wind—take their time.  The sky relaxes here, takes a break from the business of spinning gravity, lets itself graze the grass like cattle.

* * *

Now, after an impotent and long walk to Wolvercote Cemetery, back at the Bird and Baby, sitting where the Inklings sat and read, listening to Euro-shit dance music.  I wonder what Jack and John would think about this endless digital nonsense dropping through the air.  Would they tap their walking sticks to the endless 4/4, or would they simply read more loudly.  Maybe they’d just leave . . . this pub, this city . . . leave it all and search for Aslan singing the world awake or the light dying in the west.

A bit more to the story–a moment from Liz and Haddie’s childhood

Posted in Uncategorized on August 5, 2010 by Tony M. Vinci

As children, Liz and Haddie would play in their backyard in Connecticut, running through ferns and flowers, convinced that they lived among fairies and monsters.  Every patch of land was a universe of magic, every ladybug an imp princess, every silverfish a fiend.  Liz loved being led out there by her older sister, loved how Haddie would weave entire worlds for her from overgrown grass and translucent insect wings.  Everything else—helping mom clean the bathroom, dad’s beer-smell, church, math—none of that existed or there, or if it did, it was existed as something to fight against openly, not accept with smiles and nods and hiding in their closet until mom stopped yelling.  The world lived in their minds, and their minds breathed over the world.  And then Haddie changed.  Something happened in the field after they were separated that July twilight.  Liz ran and circled through the green, knew something was wrong but didn’t want to scream for Haddie.  Didn’t want to bring the monsters.  But she knew, even at ten years old, she knew that the monsters had gotten Haddie.  They stole her shine and fire.  Green eyes became gray.  After that, Liz never believed in fairies, but she knew that monsters always existed.  And, truth be told, she wanted them to get her, too.  And they did.  Being devoured was better than being alone.

Along with the monsters, middle-school.  Then divorce.  Then the years of hiding in herself while her body and words became everyone else’s.  Then Jacob.  Then Sam.  Then marriage.

The Story Start Inspired by my Last Bit of Rambling

Posted in Uncategorized on July 16, 2010 by Tony M. Vinci

This is not how this begins.

There is not a group of fat, balding men smoking cigars over the infant’s corpse.  The infant, Samantha, was not just smothered with a gasoline-sodden rag.  The shadows in the corner do not twist and curl into an infinity of teeth and claw.  In the depths of the forest behind the home that Samantha did not grow up in, a woman, chalk-white with delicate silver blades folding out of her back into wings, does not wait.  The world did not just end.

This begins with a shock of purple flowers that spring surprisingly from Elizabeth’s grass-less lawn.  She has been meaning to plant seed for weeks now, but Samantha is teething, and she doesn’t sleep for more than a couple hours at a time, and Jacob . . . well, Jacob is still Jacob.

Phone balancing between shoulder and ear, Liz tries to scrape dried egg off last week’s dishes while explaining to Haddie why moving to Watertown wasn’t the worst decision she’s made in the last decade.

“Jesus, if you had to abandon us, you could have at least moved somewhere with some culture or history.  Why bumshit New York where there are more cows than people?”

Liz cuts the water off and drops the plate.  “It’s nice here.  There’s sky, and we have a yard, an actual yard that Samantha’s going to grow up playing in.  Besides, I like cows.”  Liz hears Haddie stifle a laugh.

“You did date that one fat guy who worked at Uncle Randy’s restaurant.”

Liz is about to turn the water back on and return to scraping when she sees them.  “Holy Crap.  Haddie.  I gotta go.  I’ll call later.  Love ya.”  She doesn’t wait for a response.  She drops the phone on the counter and stares out the window above the sink.

Her front lawn, which until this moment was brown and flat and stagnant, lit up with a forest of flowers.  Purple.  More shades of purple than Liz had ever seen or dreamt.  Sunset purple and jellyfish purple and pigeon feather purple all flowing over the ground in newly formed hills.  And the flowers themselves, some tiny, bursting just an inch or two from the earth; others, as tall as herself, shedding a slight amethyst light onto all that lives below.

She looks down to the soapy water in the sink then back to the yard, as if some washed grease and bubbles would cleanse her sight and show her a lawn of flat, barren dirt.  But no.  The purple still flourished.  Liz felt like she was seeing the world through the heated haze above a flame, distant and shifting.  Feels like she’s falling.  Her hands collapse onto the counter, stabilize her.  Fucking Jake.  Did he smoke some of that shit that the Lamen brothers sold him again?  There was a strange smell when I woke up, wasn’t there?

She closes her eyes and inhales deeply.  Then a cry from behind her.  From her little swing, Sam smiles.  Squeaks out a small giggle.  And those eyes, midnight-dark and deep.  Two endless beautiful holes that Liz loves falling through.

“How did I ever get along without you, huh?”  A little wobbly, Liz bends down to pick up Sam.  “Do you want to go see if Mommy’s losing her mind?”  Liz hefts Sam onto her hip and steps toward the front door.  Somehow, before she opens it, she knows exactly what she’s going to see: a dusty lawn, burnt and empty.

My Head, a New Story Idea, and the Possibility of Pets

Posted in Uncategorized on July 16, 2010 by Tony M. Vinci

I think I might get a pet.  Something small.  A chinchilla or a goldfish or a boa constrictor.  Something to cuddle with.

The silence is deep down here, but it’s bright.  Sunshine silence with a galaxy of stars hidden behind.  It’s nice, but I want to have something else alive in the house with me.  I forget how much crap goes on in my head when it has the space to think on its own.  Broken cathedrals with mossy green vines crawling over gray stone walls.  Plants and trees shattering stained glass.  I’m not sure if I’m supposed to try to repair them or let them rot into something new.  Let the world inside my skull run over them, transform them from the outside in into a world of leaf and vine and crumbling stone.  When I close my eyes, I see this scattered landscape, nothing but ruins and newfound forests and animals reclaiming what they’ve lost.  Foxes and turtles shading themselves in the shadows of fading stone walls.  Hyenas and hippopotami watching light play off of broken televisions like the ghosts of old movies.  Pigeons blotting the sky like scattered ink.

See, this is why I want something else alive in here.  I could talk out the madness with it, have it talk some sense back into me.  Maybe a goldfish is a bad idea then.  I’m not sure I could trust something that opens and closes its mouth all day without saying anything.

All this rambling makes me think of a story start.  Something about a new world growing over ours.  Something that springs from evolution and imagination and god-damned necessity.  I’ll try to draft something today and post it up here.

A Quick Description of Carbondale, Illinois—with Breadcrumbs

Posted in Uncategorized on July 16, 2010 by Tony M. Vinci

A crazed, wild beauty plays over the world in Carbondale. Trees border the roads and strain in all directions, threatening to take over the sky and the concrete. The landscape is hilled by grassy fields and pitted by swamps. Unsuspecting cornfields spring upward. Forests fight each other for space. Lakes split the highway and reflect fire and cumulonimbus. The university, strange and scrambled, is overrun by purple flowers and grassed knolls and thick, southern forests and separate trees scattering for sky, which is so close to the ground you can taste cloud. And in the middle of all this, we try to claim a bit of space. A handful of stores, movie theatres, churches, but we know our place out here. We’re on borrowed land, and we know it, and we prefer it because how could anyone ever own this? I hope that as my body and imagination slow to this wild pulse of daily meditation, I’ll tap into that inner sky, recapture my own wilderness. Maybe I’ll even be able to leave some breadcrumbs. . . .

Why is Tony Writing a Blog? And Why is he in Illinois?

Posted in Uncategorized on July 14, 2010 by Tony M. Vinci

So here we are, in this strange space without, hoping to find all the breathes within.

I never thought about writing a blog until I knew that I was going to leave New York and live the next few years in Illinois, 834 miles away from my old life.  I don’t know how constant I’ll be, but I want a way to document what I’m doing here.  So: blog.

To begin, ask why.

Reasons why Tony is in Illinois (in no particular order):

1.             My slow and almost imperceptible death.

Tony is dead or dying or not quite alive as he used to be.  This pisses me off and worries me.  I need to wake up.

2.            Guitar.

I miss those damned things.  I miss sitting for a day and listening to the sky and waves beneath my heart and translating that to music.  I miss struggling with Gilbert and Petrucci (and now Cooley and Govan).  I miss feeling eternal and free and limitless, like I can open my chest and let shoals of energy slip through, become a conduit.  I miss feeling like there is no distance between the Orion Nebula, my, heart, and my fingers.  I plan on recapturing this.

3.            The PhD in English.

    I’m going to spend the next few years working toward my PhD in English with a focus on contemporary speculative fiction.  More specifically, I want to position the Romantics and Victorians as the instigators of the genre, then analyze the specific industrial, technological, and cultural 20th and 21st century transformations that birth fantasy and develop it into an art form of socio-political reform as well as intellectual and spiritual exploration.  Lastly, I want to assert that fantasy attempts to resolve the tension between our fraught notions of identity—Is there a soul? Are we nothing more than a collection of cultural memes imprinted onto grey matter and other flesh?   Are computers and cell phones suitable houses for soul (if it exists in the first place)?  Why the enduring myth of before and after lives?  Etc. etc. etc.  So, I expect rants on authors I hate and critics that make me want to kill myself by stabbing my eyes with my tongue.  But also I hope to expect moments of revelation and excitement at ideas, sentences, histories.  In short, I can’t wait to be a fucking student again.

    4.            Books.

    Before I became an English Professor, I used to read books.  Then, every moment of time seemed to be stolen by some slippery responsibility or other, and I could barely read what I taught.  In the summer, I could read and research for an article.  During the year, I could slip in a few novels, a few short story collections, and a small handful of critical material—but that was about it.  When I was eighteen, books saved my life.  I’m hoping that they’ll be able to do so again.

    5.             ?

    I’m sure there are tons of other reasons that I have yet to discover, or others that I’m a bit too tired to think about at the moment.  For now, there’s quiet that I need to slow into.  Morning light waking the frogs in the swamp-like pond behind my house.  And a day to try to live.