Frivolous Universe


A casino lobby in the middle of the desert. Everything you look at is at once banal and terrifying, like ketchup streaked across a used diner plate in a Stephen Shore photograph. I am a member of a traveling band. I sing and play guitar.

Kim Philley, denim trench, trenchcoat, vintage

I get this feeling in Reno that if I could scratch through each texture–polymer, Half & Half, drywall, motel-bed-coverlet chintz–I could touch the great neutral, the dispassionate pith underlying these strange surfaces we call skin.

Circus Circus, Reno, Casino

To be a writer–songs, poems, essays, short stories–is to work through the peaks and troughs of chronic ontological crisis. I look hard at everything. I think about the dark arts: how the Internet traffics in eyes, peddling our vision back to us through cookies, clicks, likes, and links. Most of what I read or see on the web has a mortuary sheen: its inevitable swift decay cannily masked by more of the same. In other words, the medium I am working in at this precise moment has a way of deadening that which is trying to live.

Circus Circus, Reno, Nevada, Casino

Our brains stubbornly cleave to one instant, even as the next instant takes its place. This is the persistence of vision. This is how film tricks our brain into seeing a galloping image in a series of still frames.

Kim Philley, Pyramid Lake, Nevada

I’ve spent the past year looking for the still center of the world, for the instrument that is not an interface, for a sense of disconnection that does not require a wholesale dropping out. I started by learning to play guitar. A guitar is not an interface. My body is not a machine.

Kim Philley, Reno, cowboy boots, vintage, denim, Larry Mahan, El Paso

There’s wild bounty in having no destination. The road abounds in portals you must stumble upon in your own shit-kicking boots. In the border town of McDermitt, the Nevada-Oregon state line runs at a diagonal above the bar inside the White Horse Inn. My parents honeymooned at the White Horse, trapped on the road back to Idaho by a December snowstorm. I played my first gig last October at the Say When Casino across the street. The bar has been closed for about two decades. If you ever find yourself in McDermitt, look for the hermit who resides behind the “Rocks Ghosts” sign. If your luck holds, he will show you the Inn.

Kim Philley, White Horse, McDermitt, Nevada

In David Hinton’s new translation of the I Ching, the ten thousand things emerge from and then return to a root or source from which they reappear in a new form. “Rather than a linear progression the Western tradition assumes to be a kind of metaphysical river flowing past,” Hinton writes, “time becomes an all-encompassing generative present, a constant burgeoning forth that includes everything we think of as past and future.”

Kim Philley, Reno, Nevada

Who am I becoming as days and nights fly past?

Kim Philley, McDermitt, Nevada

Women offer baskets without fruit. Men sacrifice sheep without blood. There’s wild bounty in having no destination.

Degustabox, Degustabox USA, Sweet Dreams, natural sleep product

On the road or off the road, I can’t sleep worth a damn. Degustabox U.S. sent me a soporific surprise in my food box this month: a natural sleep spray named after my favorite Patsy Cline song, “Sweet Dreams.” Happy listening.

Degustabox, Degustabox USA, Sweet Dreams, natural sleep product

Photography: Ned Evett & Kim Philley

All italics from David Hinton’s translation of the I Ching (FSG, 2015)

Denim trench coat: Re-Style Animal Rescue Thrift Store (Boise, Idaho); shit-kicking boots: Larry Mahan, handcrafted in El Paso (Antique World Mall, Boise); iPhone: designed by Apple in California, assembled in China.

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