dead letter office

Nothing in life has a zero percent failure rate, right? And certainly not the post office, whose accuracy in delivering mail to the address I once held in Oakland hovered around 85% (by which I mean: roughly 15% of the mail we received was meant to go somewhere else, addressed usually to another street; and who knows how much of our own mail never arrived, presumably delivered somewhere else).

It stands to reason that there must be one mailbox somewhere that the USPS has completely forgotten about. I wonder where it is and what’s in it. Whenever I mail anything I consider this. And then I think about the resolute trust we place in institutions like the U.S. Post Office. Um, is this weird? If that 85% accuracy rate was normal instead of (let’s hope) some temporary ghetto Oakland anomaly (disturbing enough), would we all stop mailing things? What if it dropped to 50%? Is there a support group for this mailbox concern? And is everyone in it wearing a tinfoil hat?

straight from the USPS FAQ:

What factors determine where Collection Boxes are installed?

The number of street collection boxes installed, their location, and the frequency of collection service depend primarily on the mailing patterns and the volume of mail generated by the individual community. As these and other local conditions change, collection service is modified and adapted accordingly. For decisions on specific collection boxes, post offices will apply the applicable Postal Operations Manual guidance.

The United States Postal Service relies upon its postmasters to make the decision on where these boxes should be deployed as they are in the best position to review their use and value to the community.

Really. Is this a war? Like maybe some vexed postmaster filled out the “Install New Outgoing Parcel Receptacle” form and stuck it in Box A and thought it would be really fucking funny not to put the “Add Mailbox to Carrier Route” form in Box B. Or maybe a mailbox was slated for removal, but the email ended up in someone’s spam folder. Seriously. Or the mailbox removal guy, after several numbing years of driving around waiting in vain for the dispatcher to give him an address, figured it was a safe bet to play hooky for a day and head to the beach. Maybe the pickups were re-zoned, and one mailbox just got spaced. Anything could happen. Administrative errors happen all the time. I bet there’s a lot of red tape involved in installing a mailbox, judging by how hard it is to do something like request a new stop sign in your neighborhood. I’ve tried this, by the way, with no success, although I occasionally visit my old apartment building and there are now humps all over the road. I’d call them speed bumps, but they are clearly labeled “humps.” Obviously less labor intensive than installing a stop sign. And more effective, since when confronted unexpectedly with the word “hump” I’d guess a lot of us would be willing to comply. Hump? Sure! Stop? No!

Another thing I’ve always wondered: who works in the dead letter office, and how long do they have to wait before the dead letters are public domain? Does someone make art out of the unclaimed mail? Or does it all go straight to the shredder? I’ll take it. I will hold funerals for all the dead letters. This could be a groundbreaking art project. I’ll take the Santa letters too, and I’ll write back to all the kids and dash their hopes. Better coming from a total stranger than their parents, whom they trust. I’ll tell them bad kids sometimes get better presents than they do, and they’d better get used to it. Next year.

Next year.


art and artifice part 4: Emma Hack + Florence Broadhurst

Another bodypainter who hits the ball straight out of the park.

Emma Hack, blending her models into Florence Broadhurst wallpapers (just like that scene in Garden State):

... and a still from Garden State .. 

art and artifice part 3: Guido Daniele

I am always on the lookout for artists who find an incredibly unique niche and then proceed to set the bar for their medium so high they become synonymous with it.  Bonus points if there is optical illusion involved, which to me is like the painter's or photographer's fourth dimension.

So without further ado, the work of Guido Daniele:

guido daniele

and .. it seems appropriate to tack this on, a brilliant bus ad for the copenhagen zoo:



I’m in the midst of some unforeseen character growth, or priority shuffling, that I don’t quite fathom yet.  A shedding of some kind of skin. I feel like something furry followed me home and I don’t know what to feed it or what language it speaks.

I am split in two, looking at my own things, puzzled.  interesting that she keeps this here, I think.  this might be a nice place for a vacation.

There is a moment I always love when working on a film set. Everything is warmly lit. All of the crew members have exited the scene and linger, waiting for the actors to arrive. My apartment feels exactly like this: it’s simply stunning how it evokes reality. I am about to walk in and say something.  It will sound spontaneous, but someone will have labored over its composition.

Both audience and talent, I await my own action.

(images: apostrophe hotel, paris)


fortune (2015 dubstep remix)

Unsolicited advice, to you or to me.

Part I: Thought

When you think too hard about someone, I swear they can feel it (unconsciously).

I say this from experience and not because I have read about mirror neurons, which actually are a conduit for contagion with other people’s behaviors and feelings when you are in their close proximity; I posit that you don’t need to be in any kind of proximity. Nor do you need to be playing a round of golf to improve your golf game; you merely need to imagine that you are playing a game of golf.

That said, it is possible for unconsummated desires to wreak as much havoc as realized desires do; and so, remember this when you want to achieve something (or wreck it): thinking it is half – maybe all – the battle.

And if you are warring with yourself, your self will win ... this is why, when dark clouds hover over you, you must look through them and find the sun.  And when the path is clear, walk it.

Part II: Intention

If that came off a little creepy, let me unpack it.  This is a new thing I'm learning: not to toss a zip file of ideas out there with a rock star title and hope for the best (in life or in print), but to stick around and make sure my intention is understood.  Intention and understanding don't always have to match, by the way.  Observing can be an art of its own, and as long as it doesn't muck up the intentions of the source material, it has its own validity.  But if we're talking about being human, not an art project, the person I am and the person you see are striving for harmony with each other.

I'm willing to take the riches / excess / success / business self help genre(s) and chuck every character and convention and the whole lot of related books into the sea uninspected, but for Steven Covey (who would agree with me anyway, about contemporary success literature).  He has some sharp insights, so listen up.  In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (note the word "effective" rather than successful, wealthy, powerful, admired, etc.), he frequently drifts into metaphor and fable but presents all stories as real life anecdotes, so I'm inclined to think he's reworked some Zen parables and thrown them into the mix.  It's a brave book which opens with an admission of failure: his words of encouragement to his academically and socially flailing teenage son were not helping, he realized, because his perception of his son was that he was inadequate, and regardless of intention, that's what he was communicating.

The opening segment, "Inside-out" is plenty illuminating all by itself. Don't play the game, he says.  I'll give you one especially packed paragraph:

Many people with secondary greatness – that is, social recognition for their talents – lack primary greatness or goodness in their character.  Sooner or later, you'll see this in every long-term relationship they have, whether it is with a business associate, a spouse, a friend, or a teenage child going through an identity crisis. It is character that communicates most eloquently. As Emerson once put it, "What you are shouts so loudly in my ears I cannot hear what you say."

Part III: Reality

Recently I discovered what's known as the Monster Study.  We've done worse things to humans in the name of science, and for lesser reasons. But I don't like it anyhow.  Dehydrated pocket version: a psychologist gave a bunch of children speech impediments by repeatedly telling them they had those impediments already.  I wonder what else you could give someone by expecting it, or insisting on it? The possibilities are endless, and include success.

Now split yourself in two: 1. your introspective analytical self, and 2. your inner five year old, who hears what person #1 has to say, and trusts it. Speak thoughtfully.

Part IV: Imagination

and where the snake eats its tail.

Although it may never occur to us to apply it medicinally, all this is instinctive to artists & writers. We think things into existence for fun.

I wrote this for a Powell's Books contest in 2004 (and it is not fiction, by the way!).  Initially it was written in the style of House of Leaves, with a million progressively derailing footnotes.  Here's the housebroken, prose only version (still a house of mirrors).

Conjuring Holden Caulfield

Some teen magazine once polled their readers:  “If you could go on a date with a fictional character, who would it be?”  Sassy, I think it was.  Whoever—Holden Caulfield, of course, won by a landslide.  Reading The Catcher in the Rye is better than most dates. Lots of people in books are better than real people, since we never have to do their laundry, they never tire, and they’re eternally young.
Tibetan Buddhists have a word for a person imagined into existence by intense visualization: a tulpa. If someone taught a weekend class on how to make tulpas, book lovers would sell it out.  Finally, we could bring our desired partners to life.  But since we can’t, we become writers (or painters, or musicians, or sculptors…).  We submerge our deepest longings in works of art, then stand back and watch them come alive—not as we had envisioned, but rather as children do—to terrorize us.  We nurture them as infants and then we lose control.  They barge into our bedrooms in the middle of the night screaming.  Forget sleeping, ever again.
Last summer I read Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves.  Its aim is to gradually lead you into a state of panic mimicking that of its characters, who become lost inside a house that is a morphing mirror of their psychological failings. It ensnared me until I felt empathetically confined and, worried, began to read more urgently.  I suspected that I didn’t have to find my way out of the house; eventually I would come to the end of the book and resume the safety of real life—the sooner the better.
But at the height of my discomfort, a footnote read my mind: “This is what happens when you hurry through a maze: the faster you go, the worse you are entangled,” then: “If one reads too quickly or too slowly, one understands nothing.” Convinced the footnote was actually reflecting me, I dropped the book and ran to the bathroom mirror, where I found, as always, myself (I don’t know what I expected to see—a footnote?  Some had to be read in a mirror, and they were popping up all over the place by then.  The book could have installed itself in my apartment, like a computer virus, for all I knew.  Soon footnotes would appear on the backs of cereal boxes, in my mailbox, on post-it notes, in my diary…).
I peered around the corner: the book, sprawled on the floor uncomfortably, was still alive.  I picked it up and kept reading.  It was 3 a.m., and I was no longer alone in my apartment.  The book was thinking.  Seated next to an open window with a light curtain, I flinched at every tiny sound.  It’s the book, I thought.  Nobody’s out there.  But I felt I was being watched.  And that feeling swelled until I, imagining a gun at the back of my head, leapt out of my seat once again.  As I flung the curtain open a man expertly ducked his head out of view. There truly had been someone outside my window, quietly watching me.
There is a traditional Zen parable that goes like this: a student of a Buddhist monk is told to meditate on an ox and does so for days on end with no result.  He protests, only to be told to resume the meditation.  Finally, outraged, he attempts to come out of the small structure in which he has been meditating, but cannot because his horns are too big to fit through the doorway.
And so we puzzle over fiction (where does it stop and where do we begin?) until the question marks begin to breathe.  Inside each book is a life, brought into crisper focus by each reader until freed of the confines that drive mere humans to the creation of fiction in the first place.  We don’t think it into being so much as it uses our reading it as a vehicle for escape, which it has been hungering all along.
Allegedly, a disproportionate number of “haunted” houses contain teenage girls. The theory is that their hormonal turbulence enables their emotions and desires to become physically manifest. So at sixteen, had I known this and meditated on Holden Caulfield long enough, I might now be married to him.
But I didn’t know, and so I keep reading.

(now you can go back to the beginning and just loop this post. If you're one of those "life imitates art" types .. )


Dear Lowell

this evening as i toppled a stack of books, an anxious letter spilled out of The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky. it was written a very, very, very long time ago, when people still read books.

I transcribe it here as found:

July, 1975

Lowell –

I think of you reading Nijinsky's Diary. I think of sending it to you as a present – to what address? Your mother will know. It is out-of-print, inexpensive now, incoherent, only a human document. Nijinsky would be pleased and not pleased, the same as you, or differently, but to the same effect. The University of California press is a good press. It published Mary Barnard's Sappho.

I will tell you what I am doing. For some reason I was disappointed by my last visit – I lost faith with you. Now I am living with a young writer who is going to Iowa in the fall. he is leaving me I think. It is no matter. We are in Cincinnati where he lives. His mother is dead & her ashes are in the living room. It is hard to live up to her although he does not expect it. For two days I worked for a lawyer – as his secretary, as a replacement. And I have worked one day for a bookstore. Mostly, I work at McDonalds – 2 or 3 hours a day – enough to live on.

I hope you are well. I know Anna & Fred will take care of you. I want to come back to you as soon as I can. I an nogotiating for a job as a poet in Jackson, but I am planning to return to law school – at least for a semester more, and then go to writing school.

Jung says a person like you is my animus – I've known that. The thought of you drives me. I know of no literary or actual examples of what you are to me – although Dante had Beatrice and Faust had Helen of Troy and Pound had a host of goddesses. You are an impetus, a cause of movement & development – not a muse.

I am glad to have lived with Bob & with Don. It has made me loose ...

(i'm compelled to stop here and let that misspelling marinate for a second)

... illusions but not desire. I have become more agressive and independent in a physical way. I feel I have always enjoyed a spiritual independence. Don tells me that his roomate, in law school w/ me, warned him I was the oddest law student there. It pleases me.

My love,


art and artifice part 2: Thomas Allen

Thomas Allen's amazing book cover photography:

book of Thomas Allen's art

art and artifice part 1: Liu Bolin

Liu Bolin and the art of urban camouflage:

these are all unretouched photos.
more on Liu Bolin.