[Transcript from an interview exclusive to The Nervous Breakdown.]

Milton: Since Halloween was last night, and October 31st is his birthday, I am here talking with Satan, on Skype, from his holiday villa Pandaemonium deep in the depths of Hell. Satan, let me first wish you a Happy Birthday!

Satan: Gee-wiz, thanks, John. So kind of you to call. I am touched, really, I am. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for you. And may I say you look marvelous for a 400-year-old? What is your secret? Who is your surgeon? You could pass for a teenager. It must be the poetry—Paradise Regained.

It has come to my attention, and perhaps yours as well, that virtually everyone in the digital age considers him- or herself an artist. A glance at Facebook is like a trek through the Casbah, with so many people hawking their photos, their music, their writings, and so on.

How can a seasoned artist make a buck in such a climate? It was never easy, and it’s getting harder all the time, as the competition expands. Soon aspiring creative types will outnumber regular folk, who can only spend but so much money on things that—let’s face it—are almost always headed for permanent obscurity. Then, too, a lot of “artists” give their stuff away for free, leading audiences to think all creative output should be free, unless, for instance, it’s written by Jonathan Franzen, whose wealth must approach Illuminati levels if he charges by the metaphor.

Standing before me
is the naked beauty of possibility—
perfect eyes, perfect lips
perfect hot-and-fresh-off-the-griddle everything.
And I can’t even get up outta trouble’s gutter
to reach her.

’Cause all the wars raging through the world
all the famine, poverty, greed,
earthquakes, hurricanes, oil spills, and disease
got my soul stuck down here
in the gutter’s metaphysical infirmary
right alongside Mother Nature and all her woes,

and history with its terminal amnesia,
so bloated with regret and forgetfulness
it can’t even touch its toes.

And maybe that’s not the Grim Reaper
I’m glimpsing outta the corner of my eye.
Maybe it’s just me
slowly dying of loneliness.

Either way, I can’t find my way up
outta trouble’s gutter.

Yeah, there’s a S.W.A.T. team of linguists
shoving submachine guns and assault rifles
in my face, threatening to blow me away
if I refuse to physically conjugate
the verb,


Still I can’t get my ass up
outta trouble’s gutter.

Down here in trouble’s gutter
I can’t even get a conversation, let alone an amen
from God. Not by prayer, divine intervention,
cell phone, or Internet.

And oh so slinky, double-jointed
and full-breasted infinity
where are you now, when I need you
the most?

You, the one
once so versed in practicing
mirror-worthy aphrodisiacrobatics
before my eyes.

All the times
I risked my life
to prove my love for you
by writing heartfelt haikus
on the heads of speeding bullets.

But with you gone now
every day is just one more day of missing you.
And that’s a gravity that weighs me down.
That’s a gravity
Newton never took into consideration
when talking about how all things eventually fall,
like I’m falling now.

Falling hard.
Right on down into trouble’s gutter.

There was once a day
when I escaped the shadow of the Damned,
the shadow of Zero.
I’ve even mowed Satan’s lawn
without breaking a sweat.

But right now
I can’t find my way
outta trouble’s gutter.

Yet one of these days I’ll rise,
move like the finest of drugs
through the veins of night.
Until then, I’m just lying here in this gutter,
staring up at that night sky,
and it’s looking down at me
like I’m some wounded animal by the side of the road,
believing it’s offering me relief
when it shows up with a gun.

And oh, Saint Elation
I remember those days
when you’d jackhammer my brain to dust
and my heart would still pump
a boogaloo beat for you.

Steal my eyes
and I’d still see you as my one and only.
Rip off my ears
and I’d still hear the music in your every step.
Cut off my arms
and I’d still hold you with all my attention.
If I had no mouth
I’d still speak your name
through telepathy, semaphore, or Scrabble pieces.
Cut off my legs and
I’d still make my way to you by train,
dumb waiter, or levitation.

Yeah, somewhere there’s a gravestone
with my name on it.
Somewhere there’s a cloud
with my face on it.

Somewhere in my gut
there’s this radio that won’t stop playing.

It keeps saying:

“What’re you waiting for?
Get your ass up outta the gutter.
Move through life. And when you do,
do more than just imagine the lives of others.
Breathe their breath, beat their hearts.
Wear their faces.
Let your words be theirs, and their words yours.
And when you speak, speak loud and clear.

And when you speak,
speak only of strength, promise, and love.”

Coming up with a name for something is always fraught, and so naming my column here at The Nervous Breakdown proved to be challenging. While definitely easier than naming my daughter (sometimes I think it makes sense to wait until a child has reached a certain age to give them their final name) it nevertheless was still difficult. What I’ll be doing here is sharing my thoughts about the books I’ve read over the past month, why I’ve chosen them, where they’ve taken me, how they’re impacting me as a writer and a reader, and also, perhaps, offering you some detours, the kinds that will tempt you away from the computer screen and, yes, crack open (but please, not the spine!) some books. They are our friends. With this focus in mind for the column, some of the names I came up with were “Silverfish for Bookworms” (it’s one I’d used for my own blog and wished to resurrect, but I really wanted something new); “Once Upon a Time They Lived Happily Ever After” (a good title, but since it potentially narrows down my focus to “stories” instead of opening to include all fictions, I dropped it); “Babbling About Books” (yes, it’s corny but it did lead me to think of the next one which I also liked); “From the Desk of Babel’s Librarian” (I’m always happy to associate myself with Borges); “Well-Read Man’s Float” (I really liked this one, too, but it sounded kind of cocky and while “Unread Man’s Float” seems closer to the truth, it also felt wrong); and lastly, “A Community of Words” (it’s what William Gass calls texts—more on him later). But I finally came up with “A Reader’s Log(orrhea)”. Beware! The writing here will be unapologetically excessive and wordy, and maybe even (gasp!) purple. Here we go!

The bad thing about being in the mental institution is that everyone there is crazy.

It really wouldn’t be so bad if not for that: it’s clean, it’s quiet, the food isn’t bad, and on top of that, there are plenty of doctors, so if you choke on something or have a stroke or a heart attack your chances of survival are increased.

But then, on the other hand, everyone’s crazy.

And when you’re crazy, that’s not what you need.