Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book Excerpt: Can Animals Be Artists?


Hello Everyone! I thought I would pop in here and post a quick excerpt from "Among the Humans." This clip is taken from the party scene, when Penelope takes Jerry the Bird to meet her artist friends. What happens next is exactly the same thing that happens every time you go to a party: drunken debate.

It's a short clip of a longer scene. If you want to read the whole thing, you can find it here on Smashwords, or here on Amazon.

Observe or perish!

* * *


We moved into a small living room. There were couches against every wall, and people rearranged themselves so Penelope and I could sit down. Gladys deposited Bryce on the floor in the corner and then moved on to mingle with her friends. I pulled out a bottle of wine and Penelope disappeared into the kitchen to find a corkscrew and some cups. I held our spots on the couch, surrounded by the kids.

It probably isn't fair to call them kids. I wasn't sure how old I was, and I didn't know how my age translated to human anyway, but they seemed like kids to me, and I felt like a beat-up old man. They were all talking fast, leaning in close so they could hear each other over the rock and roll music coming out of a record player somewhere. They all looked horny, the guys and girls both, like the whole party was a pretext to meet, pair off, and go hump at high speeds. Probably half of them would get laid tonight. The other half would stumble home wondering what went wrong, or maybe too drunk to care.

A pair of bright-eyed young men came and sat on the floor in front of me. Their beards were neat, and their hair came to their shoulders. One of them had a flower behind his ear. They were both drinking cans of beer.

"Hey, man," one of them said. "How's it going?"

"Fine, man," I said.

Their names were Mitch and Tony. They were art students at the city college.

"Penelope knows a lot of artists," I said.

"It's a small community in this town," Mitch said. "We stick together. We're the New Underground. Are you an artist too?"

"I don't think so," I said. "The New Underground will have to get along without me."

"Too bad," Tony said. "The New Underground could use some bird representation."

"I know a lizard who sings and tap-dances," I said. "Maybe he'd be interested."

"Cool, man," Mitch said. He turned to Tony. "You know, I'm not sure if there really are any animal artists."

"There are," said Tony. He was the one with the flower in his hair. "I read an article. There's an ape in a zoo in Brussels that makes paintings. I think it was Brussels. It might have been a gorilla. And there's an animal shelter somewhere in the States that has cats walk through vegetable paint and then walk across canvases. They sell the paintings to raise funds for the shelter. That's a pretty cool idea, don't you think?" He looked up at me with his bright little eyes.

"I guess so. It's kind of like making the prisoners work to pay for the prison. Hell, that's not a bad idea. You could teach painting classes in all the prisons, sell the paintings, and pay the bills."

Mitch laughed. "I like that! The clink would be like an artists retreat. If I needed to spend some time just working at my craft, I could knock off a liquor store and get a six month sentence."

"Terrific," I said. "And you wouldn't even have to walk through any vegetable paint."

Penelope got back with the corkscrew and a pair of cups. "What's this about vegetable paint?" She sat down next to me and got to work opening one of the bottles.

"Mitch and Tony were telling me about an artist prison camp for cats," I said. "They lock up the cats and make them walk through paint, then across canvasses. It's a racket. They sell the paintings to rich European collectors, and the guys running the camp live the good life. They have a second, smaller work camp for mice. The mice produce much smaller paintings for the postcard market. When the mice get too old and tired, they feed them to the cats. It's a whole animal art compound in Colorado. Or was it Wyoming?"

"Uh, Connecticut, I think," said Tony.

"He's kidding," Mitch said. "There's an animal shelter that uses cat-made paintings for fund-raisers."

Another dude wandered over. "Sounds cool," he said. "But is it art?"

This phrase was apparently some sort of hypnotic command to everyone there. Like in the movies when someone pulls the needle off the record player and everyone stops talking all at once, every conversation in the little room stopped and they all looked over and began to ask, "Is what art?"

Penelope filled up my cup, then her own. We took a good sip as the circle of kids on the floor in front of us expanded from Mitch and Tony to everyone who could jam themselves in. The floor got crowded.

"I think it's art," someone said, "because there is a piece of art being produced. But the cat isn't the artist. It's the person setting it all up and getting the cat to go through the motions."

"Yeah, exactly," said another. "The cat doesn't think, 'oh, I've got to make this a good painting. I really have to make this one special.' It's just walking around."

"But the painting doesn't get done without the cat," someone said.

"Sure, but it's any cat. The cat doesn't matter. It's like a brush."

"Yeah, but I bet some cats are better at it than others."

"A cat is not the same as a paintbrush. It's a living thing."

Like me, I thought. A thing.

"Nah, animals can't be artists," said a big bastard with a beard. "They just do stuff without caring what they're doing. They don't care if it's beautiful. They care about function. Like bees, right? They make a honeycomb and it's beautiful, but they don't care that it's beautiful. That's just the best way to store honey."

"Yes, but you can blend beauty and function!" someone else put in. "You can make something that works really well and add artistic qualities. Like a beautiful car. It's a car, and it drives, but the car designers can make it beautiful if they want to."

"Yeah, but an animal isn't thinking about that," said the big guy. "They only care about function. And just because a cat walks across a canvas with wet feet, doesn't make him cat Van Gogh."

"What about Jerry?" Penelope said. "He's an animal and he's an artist."

Everyone went silent and looked at me.

"What kind of artist are you, Jerry?" someone asked.

"He writes detective novels," Penelope said. "They're really good."

That made me pause. I couldn't remember her saying that she'd actually read my novel. I remember her saying she would read it, but she never mentioned it after that. If she read it and liked it, that would be fine, but I figured she would have mentioned it at some point.

"Detective novels aren't art," the big guy said. I'd met his kind before. A contrarian. Everybody else has to be wrong. "They're just entertainment."

"What do you think, Jerry?" asked Mitch. "Are your novels art?"

I gulped down my wine. "I'm not going to say I'm an artist, and I'm not going to say my books are art. But my first novel probably took five hundred hours of work to produce, including preparation time. I don't know what that means, but it seems like it should mean something."

"Yes!" Penelope said. "Exactly. He spent the time to deliberately create something. That's art. Anything done with an intention above pure function can be art."

"Right," said Tony. "Even broader, anything done really well can be art. That's why we call a good thief a con artist. Or why we call it the art of war."

"Ah, bullshit," said the big guy. "That means everything is art, and if everything is art, nothing is art. Like the conceptual artists who want us to think brushing our teeth is art. Or taking anything they can find, bringing it into a gallery, and saying it's art. It's all a bunch of bullshit and it cheapens the whole concept of art."

"The Art of Being an Asshole," I said, and refilled my glass.

Penelope patted me on the leg. "He's not being an asshole, Jerry," she said. "He's just arguing his point."

The big guy laughed, then he turned and walked out of the room. "Hey guys!" he shouted. "A fucking bird just called me an asshole!"

"He is an asshole," I said.

She shrugged. "Maybe you're right. Anyway, I'm going to see where Gladys got to. She'd be interested in this discussion."

The crowd dispersed, except for Tony and Mitch, who remained sitting at my feet like a couple of disciples. They continued talking about art, while I got drunk. Penelope didn't come back.

* * *

Remember, if you want to read the whole thing, you can find it here on Smashwords, or here on Amazon.

Another excerpt, featuring Jerry and Carter J. Lizardman going to their first (and last) hockey game has been posted on my hockey blog. Read it here:

http://frozensheetshockey.blogspot.ca/2014/08/book-excerpt-bird-and-lizard-go-to.html

Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Poem: Hotel Room

So this is what it's like to be famous

A blurb review in The New York Times
Some royalty checks
And people I've never met wanting to talk to me

And now a hotel room in San Francisco

I heard they talked about me on a TV program
but I don't know which one
or who was talking

I've never owned a TV

I suppose I could afford one now
but if I spent my time watching TV
where would I find the time to write you these poems?

It's a nice hotel room I guess
It might be the nicest room I've ever been welcome to sleep in
Although that isn't saying much

One hundred people bought tickets
to hear me read the poems I wrote for you
and the organizers gave me bottles of fancy beer
and bought me a sandwich
and gave me another check
and drove me to this hotel room

and now I'm in a hotel room
and I guess this is San Francisco
and I guess this is what it's like to be famous

it's being all alone
in a nicer room.


(Jerry's novel Among the Humans is available now.)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Poem: Last Night

I admit I've been think about you lately
but that is nothing new

all that changes is what I think about
when I think about you

I've been thinking about the last night
and what I said
and what you said
and what I could have said
and what you would have said

and what could have happened
if everything went differently

then instead of being the last night
it could have been the first

I could have told you we could go away
somewhere new where nothing mattered

I would write poems
and you would paint pictures

you would paint pictures of me writing poems about you
and I would write poems about you painting pictures of me

but there is no such place
and there is no such time

where we can be just us

and as much as I like to dream
about different possibilities

I still have to admit
that I know
what your answer would have been.


-Jerry the Bird (1976)

Jerry's novel "Among the Humans" is available now!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Among the Humans Now Available!

Among the Humans, Jerry the Bird's long lost novel is now available. Find it here on Smashwords.
Find it here on Amazon.  




Also available is About a Bird: Poems from Jerry the Bird, which collects the poems from this blog, plus an excerpt from Among the Humans, and unreleased material. It is free! Find it here.




Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Poem: On Being Eaten

In all human towns the homeless find their places
they find the parks
they find the alleys
they find the lots
they find the places where they will not be chased away.

Some towns have places for the homeless to sleep
they have shelters
they have houses
but most homeless people have nowhere

and they sleep where they can
sometimes together
sometimes alone.

There used to be things called hobo jungles
which were little shanty-towns
or cardboard villages
which would spring up
outside of real towns.

Sometimes there would be campfires
and the tramps and hobos and homeless poor
could congregate and share and sing
and live like humans.

Sometimes I would join at these campfires.
A young bird
but no ordinary bird
a bird who listens and works out human speech
a bird who decides the campfire is just as good as the forest
a bird who learns the songs
and shares the food
and tries to bring
something to contribute.

A bird learning to live among these strange men.

But to some people
a bird is always a potential meal,
even if the bird can shout and curse

and some men will always laugh
when they hear the words
leave me alone.

Sometimes the most downtrodden
will become the most vicious
when given the opportunity

and there is nothing to do but
puff up your feathers and squawk and crow
flap your wings like you can still fly

make a hell of a racket
and frighten your attackers away
before you end up on a spit
over that campfire.

That's the trouble with joining.

You're never sure if the group will try and eat you.


(1975).

Watch for "Among The Humans," Jerry's novel, due June, 2014.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Poem: "Dear Mister Bird"

Dear Mister Bird

I am an assistant intern here at XXXXXX Poetry Magazine
I would like to thank you for your many submissions over the last year or so
and while none of your poems have been quite right for our magazine
our editorial staff has enjoyed reading and discussing your work

We have often wondered why so are so preoccupied with
the subject of being a bird
whether this is an area of great interest to you
or if you actually are a bird as you claim
but we have speculated that your work might be strengthened
if you would try investigating other subject matter

Have you ever considered writing from other points of view?

Please feel welcome to submit your work in the future

Best of luck

XXXX XXXXX,
Monterey, California.

Have I ever considered writing from other points of view?

I don't know, Fred. I guess I haven't.
When you are continually reminded about your point of view,
or as importantly, when you are reminded
of the point of view others have of you,
it's hard to focus on investigating other subject matters.

Yesterday I went into a donut shop to get coffee and a roll,
and the handsome fellow behind the counter decided he should
yell at the top of his lungs and mention
that I shouldn't shit on the floor inside his business.

Little reminders like that are very effective
to keep you writing on one specific topic
like being a bird

whether it is an area of great interest to me

or if I actually am a bird
as I claim.

(1975)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Poem: I Just Have That Kind of Face

This was in a bar in a pointless place, like Pocatello, Idaho.
I'd been in town a few weeks.
As I was drifting through I answered an ad
and got a job washing windows on the businesses downtown.
I was paid half of minimum wage, but I had job security.
It was the dustiest fucking town the Earth ever shit out.

I went to the same bar every night and drank until closing time.
It was a dirty, ugly place,
but the beer was cheap and popcorn was free,
and the other working class jerks got used to me being there.

After I'd been coming there every night for about a week,
with my feathers a mess from dirty, soapy water,
and me just wanting to kill the night
with beer and noise and juke box music
and whatever stupid shit was on the TV,
a guy decided I was the guy he would tell his story to.

He slid on over to the empty stool next to me,
and seeing that my beer was almost empty,
he gestured to the bartender for two more.
Great game, huh? he said, looking up the baseball game on TV.
They got a great team this year.

Sure, I said, as the fresh bottle appeared in front of me.
I don't know anything about baseball.
Most human sports seem beyond stupid to me.

What line of work you in? he asked.
Sanitation, I said.
Well, there's always demand for that, he said.

Next he started telling me about his line of work: insurance.
He tells me how he travels three or four days a week.
It's hard. He doesn't like to travel.
He used to be married.
His wife couldn't stand him being away all the time.
She thought he was cheating on her,
so she started cheating on him.
He had been cheating on her.
They divorced.

It was for the best, he told me. I nodded.
He ordered another round.
What about you? he asked.
Not married, I told him, and that was enough.
He didn't want to listen. He wanted to talk.

He was getting drunk.
He was getting drunk enough to tell me what he wanted to tell me.

He had a new girlfriend, a real looker, a real beauty.
Great ass, he said. I'm an ass man. You an ass man?

Not specifically, I told him.

I want to do her in the ass, he says, but she keeps saying no.
Too bad, I say.
I want him to go away, but he's enthusiastic about telling me all this.

She told me there's no what she's letting me do that to her
unless I'm willing to do it to myself, he tells me.

Um, I say.

At first I think no way, but then one day I was walking on the beach.
I was walking along and I see this rock. It's about this long,
and he holds up his index finger.

It's this long, about this thick, and smooth.
I figure I could take this, and then she would have to let me do it to her.

Uh, I say. He orders another round.

So I take it home to try it. I get in the shower, cover it in Vaseline,
and I shove it up there. It doesn't hurt much, goes right in.
Then you know what happens?

No, I tell him.

I can't get it back out! It's up there. I'm poking in with my fingers
trying to grab it and it just goes further in. It goes in forever.

Too bad, I say.

Yeah. I don't want to go to the doctor.
How do you explain a rock up the ass?
I don't want to wait and poop it out,
because then I would have to get it out of the toilet.

Wouldn't it just flush? I ask.

Not sure, he says. He didn't want to take the chance.

So I was in the shower for half an hour pushing, fingering my ass,
trying to get the thing out. It was awful.

Oh, I say.

It finally came out, he says.

That's good, I say.

Now I don't mind taking it up the ass, he says.

Oh. Um. Uh.

He puts ten dollars down on the bar and gets up.
Have a good night pal, he says.
Good talking to you.

You too, I tell him.
I've just got that kind of face, I guess.
You can tell things to a bird that you can't tell another man.
But now I have to find another bar to drink in after work.

Why the hell can't he talk to the robins in the park?

But in the end it was just one of those things that happened.
I thought about putting it in a book one day,
but it has no place in any story.
It was just one of those things.