Friday, August 18, 2017

At night, sometimes, in the summer, I go for a ride, late at night, while the city is sleeping.  Up past Kalorama, passed the mosque, there is a road less travelled, that dips down into the dell feeding streams into Rock Creek the other side of the stream from the parkway.  The roads are narrow, well lit by street lamps, well paved, and hilly, such that one can plot out a course of hills to ride in succession.  At night there are bucks, two, with decent horn, in the front yards of home across from the Finnish Ambassador's Residence.

Lincoln, when he was here, as President, of course in the wartime, liked his nighttime horseback rides and walks.  One night he walked all the way from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on up Massachusetts all the way up the Naval Observatory, not far from these night rides.  In your fifties, everyone has come to grasp everyone else's craziness and their own, and he found it not unfitting, and not unwarranted, to for such solitary trips, unprotected by bodyguards, on up to the Soldier's Home, where once someone put a rifle bullet through his top hat.  Something he shrugged off.

You're crazy, you know, your wife is crazy, each in an understandable and coming-by-it-honestly-enough through some curse of depth and talent and spiritual intelligence and intuition;  the whole country of people has gone crazy, and now the most crazy thing, war, is burning like an unstoppable fire, odd because you really just wanted to do something peaceful and biblical, which is to free enslaved peoples, and here you go, Bloody Kansas, this whole uproar just primarily because you were picked to be President, Jesus Christ, why not go out for a nighttime ride to clear the head and at least feel good in an animal way.  Let the rest of this bemudded town disappear below and behind my back as I gain wind, and find that fresh air that lets me deal with it all.  Thunderstorms, I do not care, I welcome, and shoot at me, I don't give a rat's hind as they say.

One day I'll be dead, anyway, and whatever small seeds this old prairie boy is able to plant through is beleaguered words, let it happen, the torch has been passed to a new generation, so it will be one day said, remembering my ghost.


Nighttime, if you live here in this powerful and protected town, is for those who live here, accustomed to it, locals, seasoned veterans.  Big cars darkly muffling prowl through U Street near the Chili Bowl, the old jazz corridors, people adept at being out and talking to each other as one big family, carnivores of fun and no small flirtations...  and in more sedate parts of the Northwest part of the town, where there are significant woodlands and fresh air of a sort lower than Lincoln's cottage at the Soldiers Home, near a favorite tree, and why not liberate yourself from the expectations of minds and punditry and let the imagined and the imagination speak to the silent night filled with sounds like running streams, unbroken by the nagging and frightful sounds of rumbling traffic, sirens, a speeding semi duty of U.S. Postal Service braking to pass through Sheridan Circle early before even the hint of first light.  Dave Chappelle could joke about the contrast, the white guy's night out, versus "his colored friend," that's a joke.  Lincoln,  you know goddamn right and well, loved a good laugh, a good carousing late at night to relieve things, much as he is portrayed a bit dry,  Well, to be so dry and noble, you know the fellows keel ran pretty deep, knowing and partaking in the depths of the waters of how men are, drinking, talking to women, telling stories...  The Second Inaugural doesn't come from playing paddy cake paddy cake, or a strict strictly legal mind.  He wouldn't have chosen to leave the Address at the Cemetery up at Gettysburg to be so brief, had he no sense of humor, and an Irish one at that.  Eloquence is a balance, my friends.  You got to know the shit to know the stars, as any country singer will tell you, vestiges of the earlier America and still a large part of its working soul.  Lincoln was not a plastic bullshitter, waving the flag for the annual Memorial Day concert on the National Mall.  Funny they even made a monument lit at night, such a character, who really is too interesting to be lit at night, who would have preferred some anonymity.


(And he wouldn't have cared so much about himself getting shot, but for the inconvenience of it, so much as them who are supposed to know such things plainly obvious about such men, as much as them letting that poor Kennedy boy get shot as a sitting duck, when they knew Oswald had neon signs about him...)


Hemingway, it strikes me, as I roll free, feeling that excellent feeling of being light and airborne and comfortable on the more modern of my two road bikes, the Cannondale, tires juiced up to near high pressure, my headlamp charged enough, just hungry for getting out into the night, Hemingway's stories are parables of fame, in one way or another.  He was a gentleman coming from a 19th Century literary tradition of gentleman like Turgenev and Balzac.  The Short Happy Life of Francis MacComber speaks of the decay inherent in running the literary business successfully, as do even early short stories hint, like the one about getting caught for poaching game out of season, having to hide out.

It was important for him to make a success out of himself at that venue, and indeed he succeeded, well enough and with some magnificence.  He is an artist, a good will ambassador, deserving credit for taking the time to explore human existence in a developed and sensitive way.  There is spiritual stuff in him, but more as a tale to tell than a complete focus on it.  He reached out to portray the lives of the poor and the injured and with some sensitivity toward those who live in cities, habits of cafe life, and those of the country side.

Hemingway's calling is his, and he hit it in a maturing form.

But knowing what you want to be at age twenty is different from the calling that happens further on in life.  Would one now know, these days, the full nature and meaning of their calling?  I wouldn't have known then, like I knew almost the opposite, even as I kept on.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

One night after heavy rain, after work, just following my return to the city from my mom's, I went out back in the garden and pulled out vines and weeds.  They came out easily and soon there was a good pile of them on the step stones.   In the morning, in the light, there a clump ten feet by ten, about four feet high of pulled vines, small trees, a miscellany of weeds that in the jungle weather and rains had overtaken the garden.  After a few hot dry days there now needed to be a way to get rid of the pile.

Too much to take out to be put in big hefty bags, I choose a late night after work, took out the weber grill from dusty corners, low on charcoal, found an eternolog made of recycled cardboard impregnated with combustible wax, built a starter fire and started piling on the vines, still green, some of them wet.  The dead of summer.  Smoke rose quickly, and then flames, and when the flames went down, I threw on more and the smoke was everywhere, the smell of campfire on the clothes.  I was careful, and nervous, and watching with a hose incase the flames rose too high or any neighbor might wake and call out, what the hell are you doing.  The hour got late, and the pile went up in smoke without incident.

Except for a small scratch on the back of the leg, as I'd been dumb enough to conduct this damp and dirty business wearing shorts rather than jeans.

And weeks later, after attempting to treat something looking ulcerous and the back of my left calve, red, itching.  In an attempt to topically treat, I'd forgotten my allergic reaction to the antibiotic Neosporin.  Bandages, sterile cotton, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, tea tree oil, silver ointment, and Polysporin tube sat around the coffee table as I went to and fro from work.

So I sat waiting in the doc's office on a rainy morning, a copy of The Bhaghavad Gita in the recesses of my wet courier bag as I sat on the examination table, the paper crinkling beneath.

I am told just to cover it and leave it alone.  That's it.  Soap and water.  A bandage.

Funny;  best just to leave things alone, to let wounds heal themselves, no matter how bad, or infected, things might look.

It's a weak spot for me.  I came closer than I'd like to think about an infected wound when I first came to town.  There was a waitress who waited for the poor busboy sweeping up after the night, that first year at Austin Grill.  There was some sort of after work get-together, a break for the norm.  I rode with the cooks, who got there, and decided they needed they needed to make a cigarette run.  And I, being as quiet as I was back then, having a hard time expressing my will, simply opened the door of the moving car and stepped out into the alley of a DC summer night.  Later on I made it back to her mom's apartment with her, and she took care of the wound on my foot, which got worse.  It wasn't til one of my housemates where I lived down on Foxhall, Sandra Patty, a nice woman who'd travelled in Europe and wore European laundry which was often drying upstairs near the bathroom hallway, told me I needed to go to a doctor, gave me a name for one, shaking her head as she looked at the wound just inside and down the foot from my right ankle bone.

That was the time when I'd first came to town and worked two jobs.  The temp job by day, the busboy by night.  The doctor gave me an antibiotic, and showed me I needed to keep the wound clean, etc,. cleaning it out twice a day and keeping it elevated.  Both jobs were ones I had to do on my feet.  I remember sitting in a men's room stall where I cleaned the wound at lunch time in the office somewhere near 19th or 20th and L or K.  The scab gave way under as I swabbed it with the hydrogen peroxide, and black sort of hole opened up, and I almost fainted at the look of it.  I cleaned it out, didn't look too deeply at it, put the antibiotic ointment on it (I wasn't allergic to at that age), bandaged it up, took a deep breath and went back to work.  It hurt.  I took aspirin, and I got through my shifts, and eventually, I forget how long, it began to heal up, no more hole in my leg with black stuff in it.  No more gauze bandage to put over it and limp through a night standing on my feet running around as a busboy.

Healing is a wonderful thing.  And we all have our scars.  We all are, well, almost dead, either in the narrow good way a thing went rather than a bad way.  My brother's fingers remember on cold days holding together the electrical system that kept the motor of a fishing boat running, somehow under the cold sea water that had risen within the boat.  Numb and pain.  He doesn't tell the story often.

Some wounds, though, you have to, as I say, leave alone.



Actually, I found that my hospitality, it came at a good time in the world.  And that life and the world should throw my talents toward the job as it was and had to be dealt with was not a bad thing, once I got healthy, as August with a  belly full of sunlight allows, before the darkness of clock changes and winter night shifts and cold bare commutes on a bicycle.

You had to look at what is going now, as far as automation, globalization, the possibility of robots taking over, no more brick and mortar, etc., etc., etc.   There has to be some common reflection of the hospitality which is at our own spiritual reality as a high animal most capable of hospitality.

Outside on Connecticut Avenue, near the old office of my therapist, and near the alley that takes you from N Street and behind the old low brick stables that have stood since before Lincoln's time, behind the tall office buildings, the side door to enter the red brick cathedral of St. Matthews, there is a halal stand that serves lamb and chicken and felafel, for $6 or $7 a decent meal to have under your belly after the talk at the therapist office regarding your own mental health and life and history and existential situation, there is hospitality.  The young man is from Syria, I think.  I talk with him through Ramadan fasts when it is hot out...


It is a high claim, I suppose, to think you're doing something noble and spiritual serving wine and food.  There could well be Quixotic bluster to it, no doubt.  We are flawed representatives, earthy, sinful, fallen, living in a broken rattling world full of people grasping for power without the balance, perhaps, to keep a balance.

And it is enough to return, after one's labors, to one's own little peaceful chapel and place of prayer, a Buddha statue, some wine, incense, monkish duties, folding too many clothes, fixing supper, taking out the wine bottles, the plastic used, the trash.

I began to not really care about getting published and all that.  I'd found hospitality, and kept at it.  I'd written things as truly as I could see them.
I guess it had just been something I'd gotten use to, the idea of the artist as worthless in society...  something easily felt in a personal way.

Of course I had another job from the writing of whatever I was trying to write.  The published bildungsroman ended up costing more than it was worth after having to file the taxes for the piddling royalties.  (I did not intend it as a moneymaker anyway.)  And other jobs, you can get lost in them, forgetting your mandate to write.  You lose a bit of faith in what to write, why do it, why bother, in the effort to survive.  Hey, that's life, right.  And I guess to make life simpler, when you work your shift you see yourself as that individual doing that job professionally.

Fortunately, a good part of me could deal with the hospitality business, and I could keep a tight enough ship that bosses liked me and my relationship with the customers.  A fortunate state of affairs., in fact.  I got something out of them, I enjoyed being present with them.

But it took me sometime to realize rationally why I did it, or was able to carry on with it, as sometimes it could get a bit bleak and lonely and dark.  Maybe some sort of troubadour I wanted to be, or follow the tradition of Irish folk musicians, an oral tradition, part of being a poet, a bard, the ideal writer behind the acts of writing.  Yes, I liked the soundtrack, good for the muscles, good for the digestion.  I was shy about getting up and singing, and never had voice lessons like I should have in the formative years of self-cultivation.

I guess it began to happen in the course of my college education.  I cared a lot for written things of value, and the papers I wrote in assignments began to take longer and delving deeper into a subconscious realm.  Certain faculty members didn't understand that, and wished to keep me confined to the lines of academic production and credential which then would lead to more academic credential and production and all that.  My heart was not into that.  Or, I guess, with some informative period, and family observations internalized, I had to rebel.  Not that I wished to rebel.  Rebelling was ironic for me, as if it went against the very values my father had instilled in me, that deep clerical response drive to pursue the spiritual parameters at the core of education.  In the way my father referred to Julian Benda's concept of The Treason of the Clerics, a take on that period before, and I suppose after, WWI, in which professional institutional scholars fell into nationalistic habit, politicizing that which should remain most a part of the spiritual realm.  My father saw that the academic world of successful publishing thoroughbreds and loudly direct commentators involved with the political matters of the day, perhaps made inevitable for whatever reason of style or employment in the current atmosphere, was in large part a betrayal of the priestly class ever expanding the examinations concerned with the deeper realities that fall into spiritual learnings and metaphor.  It was more important for him, as a teacher, to declare, "Thou art that which is," than play the game.  And he had his own magnificent style, from those well-rounded days...

That's part of it, certainly.

But pretty much immediately I felt the effects of Cs and Ds, grades which I did not completely deserve.  Someone should have listened a bit better.  Sure, their focus was highly liberal, but it was also politicized, without much room for a wayward college professor's son.

An act of rebellion leads, I suppose, to marginalization, and so it was.

I kept a marvelous ache within, and I found something right and true in it.  Something beautiful, something with some integrity.  Staying above the fray, that of that politicized involvement.  To express that, I guess that would take some definition.  I don't wish to condemn scholars who note that the very language we use is charged with the directions of power and status quo.

In my studies, oddly as he himself had predicted, something slipped in.  A little bit of light, that must have been touched upon by my own inner sense of light and the things I responded to.  Somewhere, sophomore or junior year I found a double record of JFK speeches in the music library.  (I ended up paying the overdue fees on it, meaning to keep it for reference for a thesis that they chose not let me write.)  And on the record was that last speech, the one from, appropriately, Amherst, the Robert Frost library dedication speech.  "Where power corrupts, poetry cleanses."  "When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence."  And while coming from a politician, a consummate one, but also an educated man, a reader, there was that which I was looking for, that spiritual part of education, he's telling us about, or wanted to say.  (As if he knew somehow...)

But anyway, your own work is good.  It takes an effort to sustain.  And I gather, that with the sense of rejection I received there at what was supposed to me a shining moment, leading to other shining moments, things went, well, in their own direction.  I was laid a bit low.  Lost.

Well, you pick yourself up, and keep at it.  Came to Washington, D.C, worked as a miserable clerk, temp agency stuff, began whatever career I might be construed to have as a busboy.  It kept me active, running around, amongst people.

I had really wanted to do something akin to perceptions, albeit boyish, about Robert F. Kennedy.  His graceful sorrow, his eloquence, his reaching out into the spiritual realm of the Gospels, poor folk, Mississippi, West Virginia, migrant farm workers, yes, and his funeral train leaves a lasting impression.   A melancholic Irish man, with good reason, with an incomprehensible depth of soul searchers under his belt...

But when you're feeling low, and the world does not care much about this now embarrassing matter of the book you wrote, which touches painfully on things like being treated like a deviant or a low-life, exiled, besmudged and besmirched, such that one felt too ashamed of himself to be a fledgling prep school teacher or one of those routes...  And you get cast out of the spiritual forests and the literary light of New England and its transcendental waters...  exile.

How do you reinforce feeling good about the work that you do?  As a writer, it seems it happens and exists in secret.  Few notice, few have time, no compensation of any sort.  A professional review of the book, to the cost of paying Kirkus Indie Reviews, four hundred bucks, for a gross misreading, a misreading of a central passage, yeah, the obscurity of Amazon.

So, what do you do?  You go to a therapist.  You end up taking Lexapro, as recommended to you.  You take it once, nah, doesn't seem to do anything, and then, reluctantly, you try it again, wintertime, darkness, night shifts, holidays eating at you, old age of loved ones and distance, and no seeming way out back into the light and the sort of recognition as being a decent person that such an education (on the back's of immigrant's labors) might call for, you just try to get better.

A better mood.  More exercise.  Meditation, bike rides, walks, yoga.  And finally, less of a drive to medicate yourself from the pain.

But really, this must come hand in hand with the spiritual observations.

Such as:  the world of the city and commerce, beyond trying to collect the trends and the styles and that which is currently in fashion aping whatever else is fashion, will not recognize as important the efforts of the poet, the artist, the monastic.  The value is on consumption.   Why would people remove themselves from such Protestant work ethic successes as are so readily available, power, money, real estate, good looking competent spouses, the shared kitty, self-protecting itself against any weirdness and unnecessary and unprofitable pursuits.

I strive now to feel better about myself, to feel justified, at least somewhat, given the state of the bridges I might have burned, accidentally, without intention, in the attempt to listen to and heed something coming from within, as the strange and separate of us are sometimes better able and employed to hear.  And anyway, it would not behoove a mentality to stand against itself.  Better to seek the depths of bedrock for a foundation, as was once said and wisely repeated, if we are to have character as human beings, and the strength to carry on with what we see as a fit pursuit, one which a person might feel a special affinity for, a sense of personal tradition to carry through on, to not hide the light within.

Celibacy allows for a greater expression of hospitality, I read, in The Cloister Walk.  Yes, I suppose this is true, a correlation that at least made me feel a bit better.  Perhaps hospitality actually reinforced that which allows you and pushes you against your desire to be closer to that which is in the field of things in which celibacy exists, a weird part of spirituality that really was the last and least of one's intentions.  In fact, I hoped, and continue to hold out such hope, that it is within the context of the sacred and the spiritual that liberation from celibacy would allow.  Yoga, Tantra, chakras, the replenishing of the spiritual waters through the light of sexual contact between man and woman, the engagement of flow and polarity.

But I guess I was a damn fool with regard to the achievements of such, as if I were almost out to undermine all the nice relationship things I wanted to have happen, monogamously.

Yeah, I'd made some bad choices, thinking that sensual pleasures would fall into alignment, that wine is spiritual, that serving it is additionally so, and that this clear standing-up-for-what-you-believe-in would result in some beneficial ends and not the usual awkwardness and insincerity.

But if you're not valuing yourself for who you are, then you're not comfortable in your own skin.  If you're trying to cohere to social expectations that lie beyond your ken, that lie within a mainstream majority that you find either too challenging or not challenging or simply not engaging.  You can't fool yourself forever, you can't lie, you cannot be other than yourself.  In these matters.

And I was faking it.  I thought a bottle of wine, you know, that liberation was part of it, the dance.  That's when I seemed to feel more at ease, or when I would able to pick up the guitar and sing, that sort of thing.  And there is a precedent for it.  Like, take Shane MacGowan, who'd admit that when he got nervous--as you might when having to perform--you drink a bit.  "And I'm not apologizing," quote him being interviewed in the context of Ronnie Drew's passing, or maybe in a documentary of Fairytale of New York.  It was kind of how my brother worked, as I saw it, entering into the latter part of growing up.  It would be wrong not to enjoy a good beverage in a social setting, indeed!  Look at all his successful friends, enjoying the same.

Except I was too much a pensive type naturally, a bit of an Irishman, melancholic, quiet, feeling inhibited around certain crowds and people.  A drink was a relief from that, into a more free state of action and engagement.  And over the long haul, I found out, just by the nature of my psyche, my moodiness, that I had to be a person of moderation, exercise, aerobic activity.  Social venues put my into uncontrolled situations I felt vulnerable in, acting on my heart, not as rational or controlled, and as an adult, trying to be productive in the world, well, you have to be mindful.  As fun as the ride might be.  You still have to wake up the next day...

You have to stop from time to time and go back to the owner's manual.  And exposed as a bartender is, unfortunately, Christ, you get caught out sometimes, a late hit, running on fumes, having to deal with the loud, the intoxicated telling their stories and commenting about the music on the sound system, etc.  No, the kitchen closed an hour ago.


Yes, I remember my father once, telling me of his childhood, a teacher reaching out to him as his mother was laying in her deathbed dying of tuberculosis.   "Life can be pretty grim sometimes," he said.  A lesson he learned young.  And yeah, life can be lonely.  It can be difficult and unprofitable, lonely, bleak.  There were some times I felt very frustrated, for years.   But you can hope, you can hope that you'll learn something from that, that you'll be given some wherewithal, some strength, some endurance, enough to get you out of, who knows, maybe your own bad habits... to, anyway, a better place, a ledge of understanding and some perspective upon the 'why' of the climb.  There's literature for that, biblical enough, and not in some shallow sanctimonious self-satisfied way, a place blank from all that self regard, something free crawling out from the rocks that have fallen your way. Where you can honestly say, to yourself, look, I guess this was what I was after, all along.



There's a passage in The Brothers Karamazov.  I think it's when Alyosha is praying over the body of his mentor the old monk, and he rises in a trance, awake with some knew knowledge, and the other attendant monk gets it enough to just back up and let him pass, to not interfere with the spinning of someone else's wheels.  Perhaps it's one of few self-portrait touches we get from Dostoevsky, I'd like to think, anyway.  It's a picture of when you don't have a lot of back-up, not a wide public approval rating, so to speak, not a lot of popularity, nor recognition, or people being there to say, "I get you," but you have that crucial back-up, that support that's tailor-made and meant for you, just the right thing, probably too subtle for anyone--like anyone outside a monastery--to get, such as they are, involved with this and that.  Yes, you've put up a show, but this is who you really are, and certain animals, people, can sense it, smell it, get it, know vaguely how to guide you.  But honestly, it doesn't come very open.   It wouldn't be a realistic piece of 'fiction' if you received wide and unanimous recognition;  there would only be a tiny smidge of it, and you'd have to be paying attention to catch it, a kind of harmony, a tuning of notes agreeing, no waves of being off.

In the end you are like the light is, ultimately unquantifiable, impossible to explain except through the admission that there exists no clear understanding but that of being.


As I say, it had been difficult for me to accept, in a lot of conscious ways, doing the work I did, the odd peculiarities of a life working in the hospitality business with all the details that pertain to that particular job, geography and circumstances.  Very hard.  But you can lot live in fear and anxiety and paranoia completely for any longer than you must.  Yes, one life, a good profitable, enjoyable productive one, you missed out on, looking at potential and opportunity.  You fall where you fall, what can you do, and you have to accept that which you have to accept, and then, finally, we hope, come to some peace with it.  And that can take a lot of perspective, a very high one, even, sometimes.

I would offer, or I might guess, that in the acceptance on the part of Jesus towards the odds and ends of humanity, the fisherman, the Samaritans, the poor, the blind, the leper, the dying, the infirm, we see that most odd form of acceptance, that of one's own nature, call it true nature, reality, identity.  Rather than struggle with it, be forever a questioner, is not easier to accept easier to say, thy sins are forgiven, go in peace, first and foremost and primarily to one's own self, letting the chips lay/lie where they have fallen.  Faith, that last thing, that makes you capable of the work you need to do.

And perhaps Jesus had to get over the fact of being somewhat like the nagging essayist, the rabbi teacher without so much credential.  He had to get over that, that unique form of being his own kind of story-teller, in his own vein of the traditional oral culture with a long long history of stories and tales of uncertain and unclear meanings.  He shrugged.  They almost succeeded in throwing him off a cliff at the edge of the town he first lectured in, the crowd angered, without real reason, at what he'd said.  They ask his family to restrain him, this crazy man, before they do it themselves.  All of which he takes in stride and to peaceful ends.  Something made the individuals comprising a crowd look at him and stop in their tracks, at least at the beginning of his career, before he gained momentum and the popular tales we still attribute to him today, in no small reason because the stories of his miracles and his sermons and his steadying of his fellows protect him still to this day, keep him safe, let him be himself.  To let him be himself, the real guy, Jesus, to allow that truth forward, to such ends perhaps a little hyperbole, a few tall tales, a few liberties to make a story better or truer, you can't really argue with.  Those stories passed down serve to tame our own skeptical response, 'well, who the hell re you to claim such authority.'  An artist of any sort has to claim such a natural authority at that which they particularly do, Picasso being Picasso, and so on.

Was he an odd duck, heretofore?  Regular, but strange, unpredicted his eloquence.  He must have had a few odd habits, like that of taking forty days away in the desert for his vision to coalesce.  That he might have been regarded simply as "the carpenter's son" betrays a little mystification at the guy familiarly held.  Yeah, he's... well, he's...  He seems to fall into some form of the son of a scholarly man, as a carpenter must have knows a lot of, if you will, lore and knowledge and knowhow, not just making and doing things, but being able to explain his engineering and the solidity of his principles toward making solid lasting things out of lumber.  And the son seemed to have the same gift and aplomb for that which is a profession and a trade but which is more personal, like the individual touch and the depth of a person if you are intelligent, skilled, human, wise, likable, identifiable.  Jacks of many trades they must have been back then, skilled and resourceful, versatile, broadly confident at work of various sorts, who better, what better model of that than the carpenter scholar shrewd father Joseph with the lady Mary as his wife and foremost believer-in, and she too was no slouch.

And lastly, one gathers that they must have been fun people, friendly, easy to get along with, these characters from the stories of the Gospels and good natured Paul and so forth.  Politically likable. Good friends to have, in an enjoyable way, not oppressive or personally tyrannical or selfish and manipulative or just plain hard to get along with.


The wearing of any personality, though, might get tiresome after a certain point.  What you might have thought once was you, immutable, unchangeable, can turn out to be an illusion to be gotten ride of and put aside.  A problem of being a public persona, if you aren't grounded, and trying to get back to the deeper...

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Why do you hide your light?

Oh, I don't.  Work, I suppose.  Hmm.  Don't you think I bring out some of my light at work, I mean, waiting on people?

Yes, you try.  Do you think you could do better?

Well, yes, but there's a lot of anxiety just in trying to get to work, to get through work, you know, even without the money success end of things on top of that.  I guess that's why they call it work.  That's what they say.

Do you think there's a correlation somewhere, between the work you are doing now and that anxiety?

Well, yes, father, but on many levels...  Where to start?  The odd hours;  not being able to control when you go to sleep, how long you'll sleep.  There's everybody going about nine to five, and where are you?  And it's exhausting anyway, physically.  It is.  The pay.  That's another thing.  What household can live on one income in the city?   Where do you exist?  Where do you find comfort in being where you are?  I suppose that's why I tried bar tending, you know, because the restaurant seems like a home in some way.  You eat there, you find your friends, you encounter strangers who become in a way family.  The restaurant is a model, in a way.  You cook.  You clean up, put some things back in order, pretty simple.  And that's what you strive to do with your own space, you know.

But?

Bit yes, father.  There is some great lacking, hard to put a finger on.  I'm not saying I'm meant to be in a monastery, full time, silent.  But as a writer, I'd like to find, you know, that wise voice...  It just seems like, at least when I don't write, I'm not living up to the mandate I was given.



I feel I've lost my mandate, the strong spiritual sense my father imparted.  I feel miserable about it.  Exercise helps.  And work's not all bad.  There is lots of spirituality in hospitality.  I just read, in The Cloister Walk, that celibacy brings that out in you.  Well, I can say, that is true.  Very true, alas.

Anxiety.  I had one beer at the end of work last night.   Thought of stopping somewhere for a drink, so I ride up to Bedrock, go down in, guy checks my ID, I see my friend is bar tending.  I walk around the bar... nah.  I head home, which is hard, because there are girls out, women I should say.  It's not quite too late yet.  But going out is tainted.  And I'm a social person, I love talking to people.  But it never seems to go quite right, being out you know.  You're giving more than you're getting.

Now I have to get ready, off to Restaurant Week.  I hope the regulars stay away.  I'm going to pretend I don't know them.  I did my buddy a favor, switching shifts.  I was tired anyway, last night.  But it throws me off, you know, when you're plodding through the week.  Jazz Night is always a pain in the ass anyway.  Impossible, really.


I'd been good.  I managed to get through the various jolts of a Saturday night alone up at the bar in the doldrums of August without being pushed over the edge.  I'd had a beer, got out the door and on the bike with my courier bag and helmet, headed toward home, adjusted to going up to Adams Morgan to revisit the places and people of Thursday night, managed to avoid getting involved.  I got as far as locking the bike up and going down into the dungeon of Bedrock Billiards, as if descending into an aquarium.  There was the woman brave enough to tend bar, talking to a few bearded guys in tee shirts, I thought her attractive from the night of the Memorial for a friend's father, but the crowd, intent on pool, going up for air for a surly cigarette, did not engage, and so, you know, this is a waste, let me get out of here.  Which I did.  A woman who'd been out talking to a friend smoking a cigarette encouraged me to hang out;  I thanked her politely and she went through the glass doors and down the stairs.

Out on the street by the bike, I dawdled for a few minutes.  Two women walked by, one wearing overalls, hey, kind of cute, no?  a fun look.  But between the open bars along Columbia, that which might have led one to temptation, well, the bike got me here, it can get me home, easier in fact, downhill, just got to get past Russia House's temptations.  I unlocked the u-lock, slung it over the handlebars, and rode home.  I got in the door, dumped the bag, sat back on the leather couch for a moment, after pulling out the open bottle of wine, out of the fridge for the coffee table, had none of it, didn't even touch it, went to bed.  And even, even if I wasn't going to sleep right away, at least I was resting and it was dark and quiet, and I could relax.

And the next day, before work, I rode the bike, indoors, on the trainer.  I got up a good lather.  A little meditation.  And then I went off to work.  Sunday night.  I got there, feeling good, actually.  I'd cracked the code, finally, so it seemed.  A decent mood.

The evening went on.  And then, all of a sudden, around 8:30, I'm tired, it's slow, the bar stools are full, except for one seat,  I was very very sick of it, tired of it.  Talk about a kitchen renovation, a marble backsplash up against a window sill to go with the marble countertop, while I just wanted to proceed with my job, after the unannounced birthday, the conversations, enjoyable, but taking a huge amount of energy.   As humoring people for five hours straight does.

On Sunday night, just put it on auto pilot.  The Germans, a party of five, the girls stuck me with that, were dry and tedious.  Is the steak special lactose free, what's on the vegetable plate...  And then, to boot, on a tab of $175, a tip of $10.  Such experts, the Germans.  They came in asking for duck, where is the duck?  No, we don't have duck, except as foie gras.  The effort to talk politics, which they brought up, and I humored.

I got enough problems, just want to be done with the night, not be pushed into having a drink, my usual coping mechanism.

I just want to get out of there without being pushed into have a drink.  I just want to get to the Safeway, get restocked a bit, then go home, plan a visit to the doctor for the small scratch which is not healing well, take care of a few things, and mainly, just to get home, to do what I did last night, take it easy, chill, not have any beverage of the wine sort beyond the beer I've had.  Just bedtime, just relaxing, reading.

So Sunday night I got back home, got on the bike, necessary to help unwind as I rode, easing frustrations.  I had a little bit, not too much wine, and woke up tired the next day.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Sometimes you just want a day job.  Wake up feeling stupid.  Everyone else does it, why not you?  Shame.  You went to a nice funeral service up in Shepherd's Park, stayed out too late with the crowd. Restaurant people.  Well, on the good side you made peace with Johnny, an old boss of yours.

The day off.  The spirit was pleased with going to the service, but the shots of Jameson with the restaurant people crowd leaves it anxious, wishing to get back to the quiet, away from 18th Street.  The live music was great, but the rest was strange, a feeling of not being where your own mind is at.

Forgive us, father, for our stupidity.  Nice guys to hang with, but a different pace than the one you normally keep.

Blank look at the computer, the iPhone, what's happening, as if life were led now through the screen thing.  What can you do when you are feeling stupid?  You meditate.  Light some incense.  Take a shower.  Write a grocery list.

But it was not nothing to go seek out an old friend.  You'd worked for him briefly at his new restaurant, but somehow didn't take to it, almost twenty years ago.  You worked a couple of nights, but it wasn't your cup of tea.  You called him to tell him, rather than go face him, and you went back to the restaurant you were familiar with, used to, comfortable with.  You hurt him.   You weren't sure how it was going to go, but you were immediately forgiven, and had a nice chat, catching up, and it felt good.   And then later you talked to the bass player of the blues band that played that night at Madam's Organ.    The old religion, the old way, meeting people out in the life of a street, not always clean, sometimes rather messy.  It had seem called for anyway, to tag along with Jason and his friends at his watering holes along Columbia Road.  And you'd been careful enough to eat at the Korean barbecue, a nice bowl, a full meal.  You'd been careful enough about the shots too.  Beer.  It had been nice to put a suit on and go to a very different part of town, way up Georgia Avenue.

Maybe you'd even made a little progress in this messy thing called life.  A paycheck cleared, and that made you feel better.  There was not yet the energy to do anything resembling hearty exercise.

Observations from a memorial service in an African American funeral home would be that things are taken in stride.  All the ease of friendship and community.  Honoring each other with gesture, brother hugs, the clap of clasped hands.  A celebration of life.

Later I tag along.  The Greek American chef and his girlfriend;  the restaurant guy who now works managing property management, fixing and flipping, down to one night bar tending.  I feel like the gullible one in all this, out of place with shrewd city boys who know the streets and how to talk to women.  Relaxed hang outs, doesn't have to be fancy.

Adventures of a night.


All this is related to the nature of a calling.  The calling, as Kathleen Norris reminds us, in The Cloister Walk, is the story of one who feels the self-based original calling for poetry, the finding of an inner authority that is not based on credential as the rest of life and professions seem to be.  It includes the hardness of Jeremiah, the struggling, the difficulties, the world at odds with callings and the people who receive them.

To be a poet requires invoking your own authority, different from the credentialed academic...

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Nothing much
to write today
it seems.

Start small.

Let's see you, coming in on the end of the week, one more bar shift to go, Wednesday Night Jazz at the Old Gaul.  Sunday, went to work, sick with a cold, sent home, went to bed and slept.  Monday, the star studded farewell party for the singer of the gypsy swing band mainstay of Jazz Nights.  Tuesday, free wine tasting upstairs by myself.  Up at a reasonable hour, in limbo before work.  Nothing much to say.  Checking account low.  I guess it's good I've been pulling five shift weeks, not made easier by having to be the closer each night.

I couldn't afford the new apartment.  God was telling me something.  True I'd been on an expensive trip for my aunt's wedding.  That was a stretch of eleven days without working, plus the rental car, the motel room, dining on the road purchases, gas, taking a dent out of my checking account in the slow months of summer.

Feeling sad again.  One should never turn down the offerings of that rare friendship which is a spiritual one.

The job is hard enough, but that money just isn't there to be living here in DC.



Waking up, day off, nervous.  The realization I've been greatly taken advantage of by the restaurant business.  Which left me with nothing.    All those years of work.  Modest contribution to Social Security, a bit of knowledge, a lot of friends, sure, but in this world you have to take care of yourself. One guy has been on my side a long time, encouraging me like my mother to find plan B.

What was plan B?  Had always thought myself something of a spiritually inclined mind...

But everyday, waking up with anxiety.  The knowledge this is working not working out.  You can only labor so much, and rent at the new place, one didn't even have the energy to move into it, even as low as could be was steep enough.

Thirty years since graduating college.  No resume to speak of, hardly any skill, no real profession.  The son of man.  The fuck-up.   No better than his days as a landscaper, living at home, good at watering plants, petting cats, talking to old people.  Basically lost.  A hard enough worker, sure, when it came to physical things, but is the Amherst grad supposed to end up as a laborer the rest of his life?  My father was angry with the English Department, for tanking my prospects at a decent academic life.  I'd shown up as a good student.  What happened?  Did they care?

Well, I was through the workweek at least.  A funeral service to go, a friend's father.  At least, yes, I had friends, the social life the barman has.  But really, what the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck.  My brother permanently angry with me for my choices, for not "figuring it out."  My old mom  worried about me, etc., etc,

Not much you can do in one day to fix your own deep problems.  Change is very difficult.  But there is an odd good thing that comes through the habit of confession, of confessional writings.  You feel just slightly better.    You then aim for a peaceful evening, not biting off more than what you can chew.  Can't afford to go out, nor go on a date, nor buy a car.

I call mom.  She's sad she can't go visit Aunt Jean out in Saugus at the nursing home for her birthday. But there's no way that could happen.  I remind her our trip to Lee.  We have a nice conversation.  She retells a family story, on the subject of shoes:  when the Irish came here, tried to buy shoes, were told, no, you only bought one shoe for that price (crooked dealings.)  She's pleased I'm making the effort to go to my buddy Jason's father's memorial service way up Georgia Avenue.  "Take a cab," she says.  "I'll send you a little something in the mail."

I mention the Boston Globe headline, how climate change is heavily impacting New England.  We talk about Trump.  "I think it's the time for the wise spiritual being to arrive in  UFO and set things straight," I say, and she says I'd be just the guy to do it.

Climate response could in some way be comparable to our own bodily functions, the response to what we put into our system.   The body has its way of processing, our stool allowing for valuable biofeedback on how we process certain things.  Cheese ends up in little lumps at the other end of things, perhaps.  Perhaps more fiber would be a good thing.  Maybe alcohol leaves a burn in the gorge, to be avoided next time.  How does the nervous system feel?

Nature is telling us things.  Likewise with the mind, which responds as it does, a canary in a coal mine.  Will the new spirituality come up with a kind of dietary restriction, as older ones, for the planet, not just the body...

Are the bulk of out non-commercially related thoughts worth having?   Are they allowed?  Should they be entertained?  Or is one a crack-pot, a deviant for having them...

Mentions to the barman, "I finished your book," or, "how's your writing going," do not sometimes bring him pride.  "Your writing," the very sound of it, embarrassing.  What do you hope to accomplish?

And yet, everyday, you add a little more to the hodgepodge pile.  No one is a good writer, or everyone is.  It's just the weirdness to keep at it, to keep recording thoughts, and that's the basis of the effort.  That's all it is.