American Plain Views


I currently live and work in Minneapolis as an educator in an Americorps program and freelance writer. Sometimes it is peculiarly pretty here. It is pretty in a way that’s as much a sensation as a view. These little snippets will hopefully let you in on some of those American plain views.

View Heading Down Penn from Olson:

Olson Memorial Highway pushes out in both directions like big tar rivers and the grey-black backs of big straight serpents swimming into and out of center city. If the light allows, you can ford it all at once and if it doesn’t you are in an island in the middle watching the rust and the shine of cars sprint like metallic fish up and down stream. It is dirt, mud clot, and trash spotted right by Olson but further on past is the Harrison neighborhood where things get cleaner, greener, squarer and on with lawns and their houses. A little black girl cast in bronze statue welcomes you. Here the hills rise and sink slowly as the gentle undulation of a half-urban half-suburban dragon. The way the road stretches, the way there are no trees to block the skies or the hills as they rise, you can see right down Penn as it weaves up and down and up until it is too high to see past; just from seeing how the sky goes and goes and the earth goes and goes you’d guess there wasn’t any end to it. But then, eventually, you’d hit the highways and the interstates.

View From the Back of the 19:

Metro Transit buses have big windows to soothe you that bit they delayed you when they came late. Metro Transit buses are blood capillaries that pump in and out of the downtown heart where folks are moving but not wanting to be seen. Uptown, Northeast, by lakes and by campuses and by dive bars on rise is where people tell me you want to be seen. Metro Transit buses have big windows where these thoughts float out of sight and mind like clouds in the wide sky.

On the good days it feels like a Venice high in the sky. Your four wheeled gondola shared with a smattering of other people goes sailing down the light blue sky; your four wheeled gondola gliding on heaven to get you to the next earthly mess. The 19 – my four wheeled gondola – goes under the dark arches that connect concrete block buildings stretching out over two streets, making Hennepin Medical Center. Sunlight peaks out from the Hospital’s shadow until the 19 plunges fully into the bright light. It weaves up to the long and grassy green lawn in front of the Government Center. That building splits into two dark pillars wrapped together by a glass midsection and pulled tight by heavy black cross-lines so it looks like the corseted back of a boxy, cartoon-ish dominatrix.

After that the 19 comes through downtown where things look new and glassy and the construction turns everything to congestion and tightness. When it pops out into Hennepin it looks like one of those true downtown stretches full of bars and avante-garde buildings twisted up into modernist shapes. When breezes by the stadium, passes the brown and flat Transit Center, and leaks into Olson, it is just apartments and peaks down long and short residential roads.

On the bus a woman – White or Latina – sits and babbles brightly to her child. Another mom – Black – comes on and her toddler rushes up to the other kid and they seem to just stare before the parents direct them away, smiling and managing awkwardly. People come and people go. The driver lets a man know where to get off. The child leaves and the toddler cries for bit. Another mother and her kid – elementary age – comes on and picks up the transparent green binky the toddler dropped. The two mothers talk about the wide blue sky and the hot sun and the children all wrapped up in it; they talk on and past when my stop comes and I go.

~Austin R Ryan

Why I write


I mused to myself in what normally might have served as a journal entry. I tried to pin down what exactly kept me writing, when I saw a post on WordPress offering thought on what other people write and writing out of jealousy. I had the feeling myself some, and still receive it in less frequent bursts nowadays. The post rambles a lot, and lacks clarity. I write most things for myself, but edit them for others. This was no easy edit. But below, in strange and uncertain terms, I explain why I write. As ever, but particularly now, I hope you gain as much reading it as I did writing it.

Everything’s marked by fine lines and people cross at intersections until the pencil marks blur into gray. The landscape painting becomes blackened smudges across a white canvas. I struggle with why I do things. Not knowing does not bother me, nor does thinking. If they got under my skin then I’d have shed this layer long ago. But I do get tired. Everyone does, and we all have to recharge. I have observed people as best I can from my specially tinted shades. I have many ideas, most flawed, but I do think people need to recharge. It gets exhausting to exist. Something’s got to shock the spark back into people. At least, something has to have kept us going this long. Other animals might do well with a good meal but man needs an inch more.

A human being needs something to invigorate the endless repeat. No matter how far the churn of progress pushes us, we still feel each moment of misery so sharply. More life and less death but there’s still something on the TV to complain about. Perfection’s not a point to reach. At least I cannot see it. If I could, I’d never believe it. So long as it eludes us, we have to make do with what we got. We have to accept that conscience creates context, and we will live in that context every day.

There’s painters that put a life together one calculatedly brilliant stroke at a time. Art’s their occupation. What a word to use. It is like your work invaded the country side of your life and set down some barricades. There are these people on wordpress that will shoot a like at my post before it’s been up a minute. As soon as they can they spread their name and their word. Some folks will hit it big here, and many more are trying to right now. It takes effort by the pound and desire by the tons. What would you have me say? I want to write like they write? I want to pour it in and out and exercise it daily to hit it big. I want an interview on day time TV and an Oprah sticker over the synopsis on the back. I want to live putting the pen to the page. Until what? Until the occupation comes. Until the countryside of my mind’s accepted the central state’s apparatus. Until they’ve given up all their grain and said, “fine, feed whatever fire you want.”

Do you want me to admonish that I have never lived in that rapturous moment of desire? How would you like me to answer, if you asked me why I write? That I am out to make it. That I am out to feed the economy with paper purchases. I am here to pump resource into the minds and across the mouths of your friends. Or would you rather I say I was Ting from the start? I just did. I set it all clear from the straight start. Then I sat you down in front of honest work. Beautiful, original work fashioned from a famished mind and full heart. Maybe I am here to motivate you right now. Maybe I am hear to make it larger than life so that every instant of my impermanent instance of existence can eschew across etches of intercrossing black lines coursing across the canvas. I have thought myself in circles until I lied down like a dog and fallen asleep. And I’ll do so again in no short time from now.

Here I set and here I stand. I once wrote for love of a life larger than my own. I wanted words to communicate the brilliance of my ever thinking mind. I never got that my brilliance, if real at all, exists only with another’s dullness. If I am a brand than you are the unbranded and my effort at understanding would singe your skin, and no higher either of us would be. I would shine like I were special, but a light that leads the way can burn. Much worse it can burn out. I wanted a piece of immortality worn by words and born across the rivers of time and valleys of space. I wanted those words to return to me with bags of money. I wanted them to come back with an audience that understood. More than anything else, I wanted that perfect understanding

I did not start so selfishly. I did not do it all for dollars and hollers. There was a fun in it. But for years I could never corner it. I never knew what that fun was, and how I got to it. Half the time I chased after the perfect words and loved each footfall in the race. The other half I forced it. Each step became a struggle. And I said to myself all the running could get me far. I did not know in what direction. I did not know why I wanted distance at all. I just chased, sometimes against the goal. When it felt fun, it would all flow like a river ran beneath my feet. When it dragged, I swam up the creek and into the current. My thoughts became a waterfall contorting across my body. They pulled me back. Images of fame and glory became growing pains. Cutting in swift pangs, my mind sliced me apart as I crawled up the current. Beleaguered and bedraggled I’d drag my mind mangled self onto the shore. I’d hope I waded up enough in the stream. And I’d ask if I still wanted any of it. Did I want even a letter left in the word “Author”? “Well fuck,” I’d reply, “I thought I wanted at least all parts of ‘writer’.”

Currents tend to dash things on the rocks. Here I set, here I stand, and to here I’ve swum. Figuring out the fun’s what it’s about. Let the military men set about occupation. They’ll free the majesty in their minds, and the peasants of their countrysides will emblazon the word “author” all across the fantastic slopes and flats of their heads. I am here. I work, I think, I talk, and I get tired. I want something invigorating to rewind the clock. I want to set my mind in starvation so I can start it all over again. Let me light up the page like woodcarver Ting broke down the branch. Let me starve my mind. The before and the after may become bloated. They may inflate with thoughts of success and failure. But the during, the nitty gritty of pounding every key again and again until these endless hovering bits of meaning shatter together into some broken up shit storm of menial thought, that belongs to me. That belongs to me because that’s my moment to wipe my slate clean. I hold onto it until it lets itself go. I’ll edit it in the morning. I’ll set it straight by night. I’ll post it in the afternoon, and I’ll tag it in the evening. But the moment I set on it I clear my slate.

I once wanted fame and fortune. Still they glitter like gold. Maybe they are. But I want a metal I can fight my battles with, not over. I want no metals at all. I want no distinctions, no anything. I just want a clear moment. I want the silence at the center of the storm. Bring me the vision in the eye of the tornado, words, and I will keep at you. I write to fast from the frenzy of fullness, until I can live life a bit emptier. Or live it however it fits. Or stop the prepositions and words letter by letter until I arrive right to the punctuation mark.

~Austin R Ryan