Tuesday, June 30, 2015
A poem is a blank sheet that has made decisions
Sat folded in a notebook
Like the crisp sheet of another's bed
On which first-time lovers fatally fall
And scrawl their lines for next day's perusal
Sweeter than the morning papers by far
Changing the course of events
Check my new book Idiocy, Ltd. at Amazon.
Saturday, June 20, 2015
Cover blurbs for my new book Idiocy, Ltd.:
From the Introduction:
It’s been said before: Cretins are cretinous, fools are foolish, idiots are idiotic, morons are moronic, dummies are just plain dumb. This has been said, and rightly so. Where, if anywhere, do you fit in this list? . . . My main discovery here is that it is a rare privilege to recognize just how one is idiotic, how idiotic one is, the howness of this state and how it’s interwoven with anything one might call one’s intelligence.
Eric Mader is a steady hand on the helm and a level eye on the sea of balance. He knows the serious and the unserious waves that we all need.
and City of Eternal Spring
The best of these poems surprise us not with a flashy detail, but an image or an abstraction we somehow knew was right around the corner. In the most imaginative moments, where the poems are surprised by translation across language and culture, we are playfully and seriously moved to open our eyes wider and our ears to hear the delight of words.
of the 2014 New Criterion Poetry Prize
“Unpredictability is Mader’s stock in trade . . . an endlessly fascinating eccentric.” --Bradley Winterton
Pick up a copy of Idiocy, Ltd. at Amazon.com HERE.
Friday, June 19, 2015
A few weeks ago I taught one of my classes of Taipei teens a deliciously idiotic text by American prose poet Russell Edson, “The Automobile”. The piece opens like this:
A man had just married an automobile.
But I mean to say, said his father, that the automobile is not a person because it is something different.
For instance, compare it to your mother. Do you see how it is different from your mother? Somehow it seems wider, doesn’t it? And besides, your mother wears her hair differently.
You ought to try to find something in the world that looks like mother.
I have mother, isn’t that enough of a thing that looks like mother? Do I have to gather more mothers?
. . .
Then after we’d finished the reading, I gave them a half hour to come up with their own short text about either a man or woman marrying some inanimate object. Predictably, some of their tales were obscene. Flora and Angel wrote the best of them, below.
(As for Russell Edson, whose work is precious to me, the best collection available is The Tunnel: Selected Poems. For those of you who may be curious.)
But here are Flora and Angel.
The Dangers of Marriage
by Flora Zheng 鄭佳峰
A man decided to marry the sun.
He liked to sunbathe in his yard, and was fascinated by the beauty of sunrise and sunset.
In order not to have to share his wife with others, he broadcast through the media that nobody could be shone on by her. They were not to go outside, but just do indoor activities.
The announcement spread quickly. Everyone had a different opinion.
Mr. Smith: “That’s crazy! The sun belongs to nobody. It’s nature’s creation.”
His parents: “OK! We must all respect our son’s decision. He has many challenges ahead and we should help him. It isn’t easy keeping such a marriage together.”
Of course, opposed by most, the marriage was finally not allowed. But the man was determined. He even began researching how to make an environment on the sun in which a human could live.
As global warming got worse, the man began to argue that it was his wife, she was angry, she wanted to be alone with him.
“Once the earth is finished, you will have to find a new planet for yourselves!”
The Dangers of Marriage
by Angel Zheng 鄭安婕
There was a young Taipei woman who loved shopping even more than most women. She shopped every day. One day she told her parents that she wanted to get married to a department store.
“Are you crazy?” said her father.
“No, I’m not,” she said. “I think he is strong and tall. And besides, he is rich. You should be happy.”
“What’s his name?” asked her mother.
“His name is Taipei 101.”
“But how can I get a grandchild?” asked her father.
“Don’t worry, Dad,” the woman said. “You’ll have new grandchildren all the time: the new bags, shoes and clothes I’ll bring home!”
“New bags?” said her mother. “Alright, you can marry him. But he has to get me what I want too!”
“No problem, Mom!” the young woman said.
Her father thought the two women were crazy.
The marriage happened and the young woman and her mother were very happy.
But three months later they were no longer so happy, and the father was yelling all the time, because there was no more room in the house for all the “grandchildren”.
And not only that, but the young woman’s new husband, Taipei 101, was discovered to be having an affair with a famous Taipei actress. The wife knew nothing about it until her husband was photographed by paparazzi one night in a pub with the actress. The photos showed up in Next Magazine. And there were other photos of the actress out biking with a tall building--her husband!
When she saw the news, she cried and was very angry. She slapped her husband and yelled at him. In the end, she divorced him and had to bring up the children by herself.
But her mother helps her a lot.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
As my English students here in Taipei loved Daniil Kharms’ zany narrative of how he was born three times, I set them a challenge. Write a short tale about their own birth, but in some fantastic register: in short, a myth or legend of how they came into the world. The following are some of the better ones--or at least those I had time to type up.
How I was born
If you are one of the dummies like me, you may have wondered why I have the incredible Indian accent which Indians can’t even imitate. I often tell that it is just a horrible joke, but it’s actually a terrific joke. Let me tell you about it.
As some of you know, my father’s pet cat loves Indian food. So my parents and their cat went on a trip to India. After filling a whole suitcase with cans of Indian curry beef cat food, they were ready for the way back home. They had their lunch in the airport, but the food in the airport McDonald’s was terrible, especially the curry-flavored smoothie. It was so disgusting that they threw it away after trying it. But just as my father tossed the nasty cup into the trash bin, he saw a cute infant dancing in it. The infant looked Taiwanese.
“Holy shit!” he said. “Why is there a cute boy smashing my dear smoothie?”
“Shit? I love shit! I want one of those spicy ones!” I’m told I said in perfect Taiwanese.
My parents thought I was so dumb, so they took me home.
Two months later I was jogging on Xin-Yi Road when I saw a strange Indian obasan who loves Taiwanese culture. She asked me if I could teach her my famous Indian accent that even people in India can’t imitate.
“What will you give me?” I said.
She said she would give me a curry-like object she found on the street.
To get more shit, I said: “Fair trade!”
My Indian accent is very good to use. When I see a ghost, a vampire or some other grim specter, they’ll think I’m an Indian math professor, which makes them scared and run away.
If you dummies want this benefit, I can share some of my Indian accent with you. But remember: Bring something to exchange!
How I was born
In 1999, tensions were roused between Taiwan and China owing to Taiwan’s first presidential election. Many people were afraid we would be attacked by China. My father was one of them, so he decided to try to hack into Chinese government computers to find out what the Chinese plans were. If he found some possible plan for attacking Taiwan, he would do his utmost to stop it.
One day he discovered a message that said a Chinese official was going to send a “surprise” to Taiwan, and it would arrive at Taoyuan airport the following Sunday.
My father hurried to Taoyuan that day. He carefully seized all packages people carried out from the airport and inspected everything. People protested, but my father insisted he was doing it for national security.
Suddenly someone screamed inside the airport and chaos broke out. He rushed toward the commotion and grabbed the object around which a crowd had formed.
“It’s alright! Everything is in my control,” he declared, quickly weaving through the crowd toward the exit.
“Sir! Is that baby yours?” a police officer asked as he tried to get through the exit.
He looked at the object he held. It was actually a baby.
My father was stunned, but with the police officer glaring sternly at him, he saw he had no choice but to take the baby home.
This is the story of my birth. Actually, it was not so much a birth as an incident. On the other hand, my father still doesn’t know what the “surprise” was that China sent to Taiwan that day.
How I was born
by Claire Fan-Chiang
If you’ve listened to the gossiping of the women in the local market, you might have caught a few rumors about my birth. And since it’s become quite a taxing thing to explain the truth seven times a day, I’ve decided to write it down, explaining my birth once and for all.
Storks are real. The scientists and biology textbooks might tell you that babies are born after nine months of pregnancy, but actually my mother knew what I was going to be like before she gave birth to me.
The STORKS is a worldwide organization that delivers children to mothers. It used to be a wealthy baby-delivering organization, but as medical technology has gotten better and better, and the amount of hospitals has increased yearly, people now get their babies through birth rather than stork delivery. This has led people to forget about the STORKS, and it’s caused a lot of storks to lose their jobs.
It started one day when my mother saw a stork on our balcony, holding a package in its beak. My mother, although surprised by the fact that the stork had managed to squeeze through the iron bars of the windows, was more worried about the sanitary problems and told the stork to leave.
The stork, however, had set its mind on finishing the mission no matter what the cost. So it told my mother that she could buy the baby half price. My mother rejected. She already had my sister then, and needed no more babies.
After that day, however, the stork continued to come for nine months, when my mother finally agreed to take the baby. Half moved at the stork’s dedication and half exasperated, she offered the stork 1NT. Though the price was the lowest possible, the stork’s eyes filled with tears when it saw the coin. It left the balcony then, whistling, which my mother said sounded like a cat dying.
My father didn’t say anything when he saw me that night. He just nodded and went to bed. And this is the story of how I was bought for 1NT.
How I was born
One day my mother was chatting with her friends. They were talking about babies and how hard it was to go through pregnancy. None of them wanted to have a baby by herself. They started talking about a post on the Internet: “Healthy babies available. Call 2368-5925.” My mom actually thought it might be a good idea. The others thought she was joking.
That night she discussed it with my father. After a few days, they decided to order one. The delivery date would be October 31, 1995.
When I got to my house, I remember how they all cried. They cried with joy because many people said manufactured babies were ugly, but I was adorable!
At first my parents had some trouble studying the information included about how to raise me. I had been manufactured in Korea, and the manual was in Korean.
I believe this is why I now love Korea so much.
How I was born
It was a sunny day, but my mother was in pain. I kept hitting and kicking her inside. So my father finally took her to the hospital to see the doctor. Together with the doctor they decided that they could induce birth a little early. My mother couldn’t bear the pain any more.
After many hours, I came into the new world successfully. My parents were so happy they couldn’t say anything. They wished me health forever.
How I was born
A handsome man that a woman meets after marriage is sometimes dangerous. For my mother, one such hot man gave her me as a gift.
It happened back in 1995, the year before I was born. Since my parents already had my brother, they didn’t think of having any more children. One day, when my mother was out window-shopping, suddenly she ran into a man more handsome than any she’d seen in her entire life. There were sparkles in both their eyes, and my mother tells me she even felt a kind of electricity running through her body.
The man came forward and said: “Hello, young lady. Free now?”
His voice was too charming. My mother fainted.
When she awoke, a week had passed. And soon she learned she was pregnant! She could only remember that soon after she’d fainted, as she was in a taxi with the man, that he had told her his name: Zeus.
Surprisingly, my father wasn’t angry and never even questioned my mother about her pregnancy. He was just thankful to God for bringing him this child.
Later, in July 1996, I was born. I grew up normally except for one thing. My first word was neither “Mama” nor “Dada”, but “Hey, young lady. Free now?”
Only my mother understood what it meant.
How I was born
It was a cold night in April, 1995. My parents and my brother were walking in a park near their house.
“Look! There’s a comet in the sky!” my brother said.
But my parents didn’t take it seriously because they knew my brother was a fan of Godzilla and Ultraman.
Minutes later, the comet slammed into the side of the building where their apartment was, then bounced down to the ground.
The next day, as my mother was cleaning the living room, she noticed a part of the comet stuck in the sofa. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t pull it out. So they gave up, sat next to the piece of comet and started watching TV.
A few minutes later, as the news was playing, a strange gas came out of the comet.
“Sorry. I had to fart.”
Sunday, May 17, 2015
If you are one who frequents some of the same Leningrad haunts I do, you may at one time or other have heard the strange rumors about my birth. I’m often asked if the story is actually true, and since I’m getting tired of talking about it, I’ve decided to clear things up once and for all. So here’s how it really happened.
As some of you know, my father at that time was working in geophysical science and was quite respected in his field. Though a man of science, he in fact was quite superstitious, and still held to a prediction about me that he’d learned from a gypsy fortune teller during his years in the navy.
“Your first son is destined to be a great man, a genius!” the blind old woman had told him. “He will be born on the first of the year.”
So after my father married my mother, in the fall of 1902, he was careful not to consummate the marriage right away. Rather, though he didn’t explain it to my mother, he decided to wait until April 1, 1903, in that way ensuring that I’d be born on the first of January, 1904 and so could fulfill the prophecy about my birth.
When April 1st finally came round, my father approached my mother and said: “I think it’s time we finally play that game, you know, that can cause a child to come about.”
My mother had been wondering for all the intervening months what her husband was waiting for, and so she said: “Okay, let’s.”
But my father had a sense of humor that sometimes got him in trouble, so he said “April Fool’s!”
Not surprisingly, my mother was very offended by this, and so, even after he explained to her that no, it wasn’t really an April Fool’s joke, that he actually intended that day to climb into bed with her, she angrily refused him.
“You are a moron!” she said, and wouldn’t let him touch her.
So my father had no choice but to wait until April 1st the following year.
But when the following April 1st came, my mother was still so angry about the previous April that she wouldn’t accede to his wishes and again called him a moron. All his pleading did him no good, she wouldn’t get into bed with him.
My father saw no hope but to wait and try again the following year.
And in fact after another year had passed, my mother had forgiven him his joke of 1903 and decided to accede to his wish. So it was that on April 1st, 1905, my parents’ marriage was finally consummated and I was conceived. Finally, my father thought, the prophecy would be fulfilled and he would go down in history as father of a great genius who benefited Russia with his brilliance and brought renown to the family name.
But things didn’t quite turn out that way. My mother went into labor prematurely, and I was delivered by an army surgeon who lived upstairs from us in mid-October, 1905.
The labor was a difficult one. The surgeon administered drugs to my mother which caused her to drift in and out of consciousness during the delivery. When I was finally born, according to those attending, I in fact showed signs of great genius by immediately upbraiding the attending doctor.
“What the hell is this all about?!” I’m told I said in perfect Russian. “I was in the middle of contemplating a very difficult problem in Kant.”
I then allegedly glared at the doctor with such withering contempt that that he didn’t know how to reply.
My father arrived home just after I uttered these words, and he was so angry to have missed my first utterance, and so upset besides that I had been born almost three months early, that he demanded I be put back into my mother’s womb until the New Year.
The army surgeon, and the midwife who was also there, claimed that it was impossible to do such a thing, but as my father threatened violence, the surgeon finally did his best and managed to get me back inside.
When my mother got over the effects of the drugs, she said: “Where is it? Where is my baby?”
But the surgeon and my father both claimed that she hadn’t actually given birth, that she was ill with fever, that the delivery was all a hallucination. She pointed to the blood and the obvious preparations for a birth, but they wouldn’t give in to her and finally, still cloudy from the drugs, she lay back her head and passed out.
The trick was no good, however, because a couple weeks later my mother went into labor once more. And this time no drugs were required and I was born premature, for the second time, on November 1st.
Again my father was so angry he started to demand I be put back in. But this time there was no fooling my mother, so he opted instead for the plan of keeping me in an incubator for the following two months until the New Year.
What’s more, the two births had apparently traumatized me so much that I’d forgotten everything I knew about philosophy and could no longer even speak.
I still remember the incubator well. It was very warm, very clean, and I lay on a soft bed of cotton until January 1st, 1906, when they took me out into the world. Thus it is that I was born for the third time. And this story also probably explains something about the nature of my somewhat broken genius which allows me to write these tales you all complain so much about.
Daniil Kharms was a Russian writer of the pre-World War II period whose hilarious absurdist short texts and theater pieces are among the most cherished remains of the short-lived avant-garde movement OBERIU (“Association for Real Art”). The best-known collection in English of Kharms’ work so far is Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms. The above piece is a very free adaptation of a Kharms text that can be found in “I Am a Phenomenon Quite Out of the Ordinary”, a recent translation of Kharms’ surviving journals and letters. (I did this adaptation as a creative writing prompt for my students in Taiwan, where I teach English.) Like many writers of his generation, Kharms fell foul of the Soviet authorities. Arrested in 1941, he was confined to a psychiatric prison, where he eventually died, presumably of starvation, during the brutal Nazi siege of Leningrad. --E.M.
Saturday, April 25, 2015
“I appreciate people who are open-minded, who don’t judge others for their differences, who try to show openness and tolerance for other viewpoints. I don’t like dogmatic people, but see the world as woven of many different strands. We need to avoid dogmatism.”
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard these sentences, or sentences like them, from American liberals or self-described progressives. And the depressing thing is that the people who come out with such things actually take it as accurate self-description. They really seem to believe they are non-judgmental, or, as they repeat ad nauseum, “open-minded”.
Long ago, decades ago in fact, I learned what most such people were all about. I learned that anyone who describes him- or herself like this will usually, within the next few sentences, prove just the opposite. And how could it not be so? Anyone who utters such trite intellectual gibberish is typically only doing it as prelude to an angry rejection of some different position that is judged to be not open-minded enough.
In fact the “open-minded”, “non-judgmental” American liberal is one of the most close-minded, judgmental species of folk you’re likely to meet. Like the religious fundamentalist, but more dishonest, the typical liberal goes about the day seeking to erase or censure anything that doesn’t fit his or her own “open-minded” sense of right and wrong.
The "open-minded" liberal believes she has already decided all fundamental questions of right and wrong, all ethical conundrums the philosophers might struggle over, all deep cultural conflicts. And the answer to all these conundrums is: “Progress.” And how do we define progress? Like this: “Those who differ from me must finally come around to my way of seeing things.”
Does it get more self-serving or hypocritical than this? "Open-mindedness" is good, it leads to "progress", and progress means: Eventually you must agree with me.
Paradigms that don’t mesh with the hedonistic self-worship of the American liberal are labelled “dogmatic”, “close-minded”, “outdated”. And once any of these three latter adjectives gets stuck onto a view, the liberal can safely treat it as socially anathema. Those who hold to any of the rejected views must then be shunned by the group of “open-minded” people. They can no longer be accepted into polite society.
So much for respecting differences. The liberal way is: “We will respect your difference as long as, in all fundamentals, you are the same as us.”
I could type up a list of some of the current dogmas of this depressingly dogmatic American mindset. I won’t bother. Suffice to say that many of the truths these people take to be obvious and established wouldn’t be recognized as such in most world cultures. But what of that? After all, one of the central dogmas of these “globally-minded” liberals is that world cultures that don’t agree with them now must eventually come around--they’ll come around either through force or the persuasive power of pop culture and Hollywood.
In short, American liberals pay lip service to cultural diversity, but they’re the most avid cultural imperialists you can find on the planet today.
“I don’t like close-minded people” thus means, in American English, “Unless you see things the way I do, you have a closed mind.”
Oh, well, you might say, every group has its propaganda. Why be so disgruntled about this one, why expect American liberals to be any different? Why not just accept that they have their propaganda too?
Perhaps it’s because, unlike with doctrinaire Marxists, unlike with religious fundamentalists, unlike with dyed-in-the-wool misanthropes and cynics, the American liberal’s propaganda is so utterly dishonest, so shallow and self-serving. They've founded it on little more than the half-pint Zeitgeist of their own little echo chamber. They’ve forged it from a pure self-congratulatory lie--that we, the smiling, credit-card wielding First World liberals, have the answers to everything. Naturally. Because we’ve learned to be “open-minded”, see? We’ve gone to university and have read, gee, almost ten books. And look: our friends are the cool people, so, well, we’re in the know. You others--time to get with the program!
Sounds a lot like the way high school kids talk, doesn’t it? There’s a reason for that.
Compared to these trite narcissists, the devout religious person makes for a bracing conversation partner. At least there’s a tradition, a content behind his or her belief that must be referred to. At least the religious person is not all about patting himself on the back. He or she acknowledges his difference from others; he recognizes that this difference implies debate, substantive debate, and struggle. It’s not a matter of saying simply, “Hi, guys. Wow, we're so open-minded, hey?”
Put me at a table of hardcore Marxists, Hindu fanatics or Jesus freaks any day. Just please, keep me away from these "open-minded" consumerist morons now dominating America. God protect me from the droning self-worship of the American liberal.
The assignment this time was to begin with the sentence “On the other side of the mirror is an inverse world.” Students at the Zephyr English Institute (ZEI) had about twenty minutes to write out a description of this “inverse” world. Claire, as usual, wrote brilliantly (this time I had to edit her more, as some of her sentences weren’t clear) and Ryan was up to his usual ryanism. The other students couldn’t finish in time, so took the essay home. I’ll add more as I get them.
Oh, and I wrote my own too, at the bottom.
Oh, and though I wrote it while the students were writing, I cheated a bit, working it into a final draft at home.
Oh, and I’m kind of a ryanist too, aren’t I?
The MirrorOn the other side of the mirror is an inverse world. In that world, people do not exist until you kill them. Living, continuing to survive, is what they most fear. Once they have been killed and enter that world, work is no longer necessary; they are dead. Finally they exist.
You are dead from the second you enter that world. It is upside down in relation to the world on this side. Once there, you float up towards the ground.
Killing and maiming are virtues there, but saving and healing are vices. Whenever one heals or saves, and the operation is a success, the saved one regains life and enters the world on this side of the mirror, where we stand now, the world of the earth.
Those who are unlucky enough to enter our world from that one are disgusted by the human race. They can’t accept that killing others is illegal, while saving people is seen as good. To live is seen as shameful on the other side of the mirror.
But if too many die and enter that inverse world, the number of corpses grows too large. Slowly, some of them begin to come loose from the ground and fall down into the sky, which has the special power to give them life. This falling causes a certain panic in the inverse world. The most decayed are the noblest, while the newly dead are of the lowest rank. Fighting to hold onto death, the newly dead work to heal or restore the more decayed bodies, or push them down toward the sky. They work day and night to resuscitate them, healing as many as they can until the inverse world gains balance again, and they can feel secure in their death.
The fight starts again every time a plague or disaster reaps lives on the earth. The dead crowd into the inverse world, they understand that death is to be cherished, and they fight for their death.
The MirrorOn the other side of the mirror is an inverse world. In that world, everything is backwards.
Clerks give customers money to take their products away.
People use fire extinguishers to start fires in malls and public buildings.
At schools the students stand during the class and watch the seated teacher.
When lunch comes, everyone throws up their lunch boxes.
At dinner time, cows use steak knives to cut people into “peoples”.
People eat food with their navels.
People use parachutes to jump up into planes when they want to travel.
People say “Fuck you” to Fuckyou birds.
They use elevators as subways.
People are punched to death by punching bags.
The MirrorOn the other side of the mirror is an inverse world, where disasters bring joy and celebrations end with leaders promising “Never again.”
In that world the nations compete to see who can ruin their economy faster.
The superstitious wear amulets to attract bad luck, and the beautiful are shunned.
Population shrinks yearly, abandoned land filling in with forests and fields, polluted lakes clearing one by one, new species appearing out of nowhere.
Even the lives there are backward: everyone starting out crippled and old and regressing to childhood.
Youth is thought of as a sad inevitability.
Which is why women spend untold sums keeping their skin wrinkly, adding sags under their eyes; and self-conscious men, once they see their hair start to fill in, take to wearing wigs with artificial bald spots.
But in general the people do what they can to avoid being noticed.
They have their own version of Facebook. When you sign up, you start out with hundreds of friends, most of whom you hardly know; the number slowly whittles itself down to your real friends, who then disappear one by one, leaving you finally with only your profile picture, which you delete.
Their Facebook won’t last long, however, because every year exciting new technologies are forgotten. Dumps and vacant lots are stacked with equipment the people have forgotten how to use, devices they no longer comprehend.
Idealists can dream of the day writing will be uninvented, then agriculture.
At the edge of the park the bushes mark their territory on every passing dog.
Tombstone inscriptions are tattooed on your mother’s belly after you’ve entered the womb. Her pregnancy recedes, until you are forgotten; until there’s only lovemaking, then dates, then glances across a room.
I know this because for a time I was in that world myself. I even won the lottery. They came and took everything.