sin riesgo no hay arte / without risk there is no art

Carlos Fuentes just died.  Carlos Fuentes acaba de morir.

Many people are writing many things about him.

My friend, poet and professor and all around cool human being Lex Runciman, met Fuentes in the late 1990’s on the occasion of a visit he made to the campus of Linfield College in Oregon. Like myself, Lex was (and still is) a fan; he told me today that he found Fuentes ‘deeply impressive’; then he went on to say, ‘he seemed to me to carry in his thinking an appreciation of the Americas (North, Latin, South) and of Europe — all at once, all as part of one reality, one intellectual construct.

Good words to remember the man by.

In English we leave words in memorian for those who have died, passed on, or gone.  A Latin expression which means, literally, “in the memory of.”  We also say RIP, rest in peace. In Spanish the expression is QDEP, que descanse en paz.  Though I wonder to myself about resting in peace: Fuentes, a man who often used words and ideas to provoke and affect, not merely to entertain but also to rile up, to, as the French say, épater la bourgeoisie (or shock the mainstream), might be happier knowing that, though his body has died, his words will continue to stir folks up. In his last published article, which appeared on the 15th of May, 2012, the day he died, Fuentes deplores the fact that the current Mexican presidential candidates seem more interested in petty bickering than in tackling what he calls los grandes temas de la actualidad – the truly big questions which affect all of us today.

Me preocupa e impacienta que estos grandes temas de la actualidad estén fuera del debate de los candidatos a la presidencia de México, dedicados a encontrarse defectos unos a otros y dejar de lado la agenda del porvenir.

But I am remembering Fuentes the writer, Fuentes the thinker.  Fuentes the coiner of brief aphorisms which, though self-evident to some, contain a lot of truth for me in my daily battles, tiny and large, to translate my ideas and feelings onto the metaphorical printed page….to be a writer.

My friend, the Mexican writer and journalist Adriana Degetau, once wrote, para aprender a escribir lo único que se requiere es: escribir, escribir y escribir.  Rough translation — in order to write, the one and only thing that is necessary is: to write, and write – and write.

I agree with those words.  But Carlos Fuentes has a few others which also seem appropriate and real today, as I sit at my keyboard, about to begin writing.  He said –

Sin riesgo no hay arte. Uno siempre debe estar en el borde de un acantilado a punto de caerse y romperse el cuello.

Or, in English –

Without risk there is no art. You should always be on the edge of a cliff about to fall down and break your neck.

Standing on the edge of my own cliff, I wonder about other people’s cliffs.  I wonder about my own neck.  I wonder if breaking it will hurt.  And I wonder what it will feel like….falling.

And is it really falling….if you jump?

Fuentes also said, no me clasifiquen; léanme.  Or – don’t classify me, read me.

I’m going to read more Fuentes.

But I can’t help one tiny last act of classification in memoriam for Señor Fuentes:  you weren’t just a great writer, Carlos.  You were a great jumper.


losing everything

Years ago, starting out as a screenwriter, I heard over and over the apocryphal advice to writers –

“We must kill the thing we love.”

It took me awhile to figure out what it meant. Namely that the one scene in your script which you absolutely will not, can not, ever, conceive of getting rid of, of cutting, of losing – because it is so great, so perfect, so the-essence-of-what-a-good-or-even-great scene should be – may in fact be the scene which you will have to get rid of.  To cut.  Unsentimentally.  To kill.  To make your script ‘work’.

To make it come to life.

To truly transcend. To attain a level or a place you didn’t think possible.

Of course, I didn’t believe it.

Part of me still doesn’t.

It took me a long time to realize – and, yes, I’m still realizing it, as a writer, probably every day – the truth in it. That to really write well….I had to free myself from some fears.  Including the fear of losing something I wouldn’t let go of.  Now, as a writer, I have finally figured out – no, not past tense, let’s make that present tense, am figuring out, ever day – that I have to allow myself the freedom to write anything. And to cut anything.


To kill the thing I love.  Or don’t think I can do without.

Chuck Palahniuk, novelist, and a fine fucking writer, says a variartion of this truth in one of his books.

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”  (The Fight Club)

I think Tsunehisa Kimura, the Japanese artist who died in 2008, expressed something similar. Not in words, but in some of his arresting surreal images.

“Waterfall”, Tsunehisa Kimura

Kill the thing you love.

Lose everything.

Then sit down again at your typewriter and put another sheet of blank paper in.  Or, in this new millenium, open a fresh new virgin file in your word processing app. And see if the loss – the metaphorical murder – has opened a new door…..made a small tiny new connection among the millions of synapses that have to fire….

to write


w o r d s


Stare. It’s the way to educate your eyes. Pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.

–Walker Evans

“Truck and Sign”, New York 1928-1930, photo by Walker Evans

animals on my mind

My cat Barkley, friend and companion of the last dozen odd years, died a few months ago. In what seemed to me a cruel and untimely fashion: he was hit by a car. Part of me, a rational part of my mind, reminds me that this is a common fate of urban animals who dwell in close proximity or adjacency (is that a word? if not, it should be) to streets well-traveled by cars. And part of me, a hand-holding part, tells me to focus on the good, the positive, to remember all the wonderful and crazy and silly times and moments shared with him. To remember the half-eaten, headless voles and mice whose freshly-killed corpses he deposited at the front door, in proof of his prowess. To remember the way he lazed and flopped and rubbed himself orgasmically in the small patch of catnip growing behind the back door.

And then another part of me just misses him.

Growing up, in Pasadena, we didn’t have normal pets. I missed out on the kitties and puppies, the cats and dogs and occasional parakeets or lizards or fish that most kids or neighbors seemed to possess in abundance. Instead, we had an aviary with generations of mourning doves with Greek mythological names. So it took me awhile to get used to – to come to understand – to like and appreciate – quadrupeds.  And many of the other bewildering varieties of fowled and feathered beings who sometimes share space with us bipeds. But I came to like them.  Many of them, anyway.

And now, with Barkley two months gone, I find myself thinking….again….about animals.

And seeing them everywhere. This is easy to do when one lives in semi-rural isolation, just outside of a small town. There are dozens, nay hundreds of bird species, from dark headed Juncos to aggressive Blue Jays to circling, patient, lazy and hungry Turkey Vultures. There are the neighboring cows and horses and goats and, most recently, donkeys. There are thousands (seemingly) of insects, now that Spring is upon us; most recently there have been a spate of visiting Bumblebees, enormous black and gold banded buzzing beasts who go about their business with amazing (to me) diligence and focus.

But, honestly, the last place I expect to see animals is when I go shopping, at the Supermarket. Of course, there are the occasional patient dogs, left tethered and leashed by their owners outside. But inside.…??? Animals in the aisles?  Naaahhhhhh.  I don’t think so.

Except, of course, if you live in Oregon. And if you shop at a Co-op, a ‘co-operative’ market which specializes, among other things, in more kinds of organic goods and foodstuffs than you ever knew existed: not just organic veggies and fruits – but organic (range-fed) chicken – organic (wild) salmon – and, yes, even (especially!) organic cat and dog treats up the yin-yang.

And then there are the Simians.

When you first walk in and enter the fruit/vegetable produce area, you see them hanging from the rafters.

Holding hands.

A group of friends in their own little world.

Some seem….what’s the word? almost….philosophical.

Others despondent. Or perhaps merely stoic.

Moving over to the Organic Pet Food section, there are more. Waiting, silently, to engage those who look up, over the top of the shelves.

And if your pooch is injured or wounded, what better cure than a topical salve to apply to the hurt ‘Owwwie’ spot?  The fact that it is made from Hemp may account for the demented grin that appears on Fido’s fizzyognimee.…. Or is that physiognomy?

Humans get animal treats too. Some are the ordinary garden-variety; but if you have a yen for Buffalo snacks, you may be in luck. And, no, I’m not making this up. The only thing I couldn’t figure out is: is it ‘Grab and Go’ …. or Crab-and-Go?  In either case, the buff Buffalo looks so pleased with himself, you just have to go with the flow.

Near the rear of the store, more animals wait patiently for….adoption. Looking at them made me think of Pip, Charles Dickens’ 19th century orphan – and of other parent-less animals and children I have known, met, or encountered, in ‘real’ life or on the pages of books.  There’s something about their eyes, the way they sit there, patiently, staring at you in silence. And waiting…

And you just know, they know more than they’re saying.  They must.  How else to account for….what you see….if you have the courage to meet their gaze….and look into those eyes.

I turn away, to the section which houses water bottles and thermal coffee mugs and once again must stop.  And stare.  And start to grin….and raise my imaginary but oh-so-real glass of beer or bordeaux in an answering toast –


And, yes, all things must come to an end.  Even the animals.  Stuffed, painted, printed, but all alive in their own ways. And, yes, even those who are no longer among the living….do they qualify as well?  As.… ‘animals’?

I don’t know.

Actually, the truth is….it’s not just animals that I’ve got on the brain.

It’s death, too, sometimes.

And, occasionally, the undead. Like the zombies – and the living – in Colson Whithead’s compelling post-apocalyptic zombie novel, “Zone One”, which I just finished, and can’t seem to get out of my head. They’re in there, too, among my neurons. Some recent. And some going way back, to a distant age…

Like this guy.  My last image on this shopping expedition which has turned into a zoological ramble.

Needless to say, my priorities have changed. I’m not the same person who went in search of organic non-GMO soy dairy creamer hours ago. Now I have a new problem to solve: I need to get a job. And earn some money. To pay for the new Zoo I’m going to have to construct….to house all my new animals. And the organic free-range Treats that I’m going to inundate them with….until I bury them under a raw recycleable tidal wave of hemp-buffalo bites.….

Or maybe I’ll just let them fend for themselves….and come back with half-devoured headless rodent corpses, a la Barkley. I still miss him, by the way.  But even when he’s not here….he’s here.

Good kitty.