Sunday, August 31, 2014

The animal found itself awake.  Sunday, eve of Labor Day, and in some hours of time back to work, back to the job kept for food and health insurance, the usual bills.  More often than not he spared himself the embarrassment of being awake too early, to avoid the thought constantly in the background, "what's the point of all this anyway."

The day before, with a throbbing headache he had managed to get to the park late afternoon after calling his mother, for a bike ride of medium length, Labor Day picnickers with their parties set up in the wooded pastures where the road diverged from the stream bed and the flats were wide.  The night before, his best friend's 50th, to which he brought four bottles of decent wine.  At some point he had some of the cheap stuff;  was that the source of headache?  It was humid, and his phone allowed him directions to approach a friend's party in Silver Spring, and he almost turned back when he got to 16th Street, but he made his way along a sidewalk, even as they seemed to lead to major roads, but the way proved passable, and he pressed his way along, pedaling up side streets into residential neighborhoods, after the modest shabby brick apartment buildings that seemed to hold recent immigrants, but for which he could probably not be able to afford himself, this animal who wrote and got by with a job of a certain sort.  Past bungalows, and larger Victorian style houses and houses in between and modern square Levittown brick jobs with white trim, a mix, and then better neighborhoods and then pulling up to a ranch, the right address.  He stayed awhile, had a Sprite, smiled awkwardly in his cycling clothes, knowing all the while that he needed to leave soon, before it got dark, sunset at 7:40, less than an hour away.  An adventure, crossing the big roads, finding himself above the high rises of downtown where the metro station sits.  Keyed up, he slipped out and soon enough was climbing up the long hill and crossing Connecticut, to climb up a little more, to come pass the Cathedral, then back down homeward, coming up his street in darkness.  Bats had buzzed the light of his helmet headlamp a week before, none now that he saw.  He got home, did a few stretches, fell into a worn-out kind of a nap on the couch still sticky, twinges in his head still.  Saturday night, what to do, take a nap, rise up at about 11, get in the shower, eat modestly, pick up a book, My Struggle, Book One, curiously led along by it, finding it familiar, speaking to his own writing, the admissions of one's own embarrassments and imperfections and yet also one's deeper unknown style.  And he imagined that he too had something, or still had something, profound, which involved a kind of strange peace the writer had to find with his own personality, the eccentrics that Knausgaard himself made reference to, like the need for the alone-time of night.  If one were to write a book it would have to be, honestly and admittedly, like drilling down into one's own strange center, to capture the outer movements that come, actions not exactly controlled.

Yes, there was something good and decent and even heroic about the writing Knausgaard had come up with, plain, nothing earthshaking happening--thus real--evocative of the animal's own remembered landscapes and experiences, the sensual side of memories that now had long ago vanished leaving him uncomfortable, unprotected, unsettled, undecided, but for the strange fact that now it only seemed possible to continue climbing the strange mountain of writerdom, having once been fool enough to start out and the main mistake being the fact of allowing so many years to pass by in pursuit of it, neither successfully nor unsuccessfully, shit.

The animal's own attempt at a reflective memoir fiction, fiction because any attempt to find form out of the raw material of life, events, people's thoughts, words, must be a construct, had disappeared nicely without a splash, a book anomaly, "the novel in which nothing happens."  Which is actually real because of that 'nothing happening.'  But it had a kindred spirit, if not the self-confidence, perhaps more spun to the softer younger more kid-like reflections that remain even as you have to face some maturity and some decisions and even the consequences of them.  Was it that he had tried to hide, to prolong that time of adolescence, when there was still lots of room, potential, lots of options?   Was writing an extension of that, a further refusal to gel over any thing solid, a career, house, that sort of thing.  Commitments, they are called, by responsible people.  To what could you commit to?  Where could you jump into the stream and feel comfortable or at least deal with it?

To record conscious thoughts and reaction to external and internal stimuli, there is something of Buddhist wisdom to that, finding that experience itself is the foundation, coming before the illusion of a solid fixed separate self.  So that's real, and that's why people respond to a real book, yes, because it goes deep, by recording getting beyond the isolated life, the box of being a particular person with particular duties not the least stuck in the uncomfortable sense of the lacking of one's career record.  Things were never meant with bad intention, as the old saying goes about roads paved, but one can seem to go agreeably or perhaps just out of laziness and indirection to lost places.

But a good book, a good piece of meditation, a good piece of writing, that will always jump out at you, rise of the surface illusions, a thing, rising real, as having come upon a small reflection piece by the guy, on Northern Lights, and a Norway fishing village, and saying to oneself, hmm, that's good.  That's what you're after, the honest shit, that being something to share, that goes beyond the illusion of being just another lone person stuck somewhere in their own private fluctuations.  Maybe the better at it must lived life lost personally in order to be remembering things, or finding a form out of some deeper eye so as to put a particular event in a peaceful context.

That something might rise from the background and catch the eye implies a surface, which implies a spherical object.  Perhaps one might conjecture that there is the outer skin, say of an orange, which tells us useful things, the skin of the peel telling us ripeness, but the essence of the orange, the sweetness of its fruit comes from within, not that this is a perfect metaphor, but perhaps there is the showy selfish part of a surface, obscuring that within, and then within is the selfless part, the quality of all oranges...

Ah, what's this sorry mood the animal is facing in the unenergetic questioning hour before blindly going to work.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The last shift of a five shift week, five nights closing, ends with a hot nap on the couch with the television on, shark safety, and an hour later I rise and take my shoes off, socks, put on cycling shorts and take a roll with a glass of chilled Beaujolais.  Tomato and mozzarella, finally eating another hamburger patty with mushroom and onion, a shower, then off to bed around seven AM and with a few interruptions basically sleeping all day, in late summer waking at dusk, the cicadas humming, passing their grassy message along through the vines.  There are dishes in the sink, piles of laundry in the bedroom.

Ach, what a life, he says to himself, imagining people getting ready to go out and be a little bit social on a Thursday evening, the studen's back, classes beginning.  Parents switching gear.  The animal sees himself as a writer returning to his work, free form, but what to write.  The muscles are stiff.  Green tea tastes good.  Heat some chicken stock in the microwave, mix in flax seed.   Take an allergy tablet, ragweed season, high pollen counts.  Astragalus.  That's how it is, so you meditate, as that has something to do with the pure reasons why one writes, writing an embarrassing activity the animal would wish kept hidden.

The week started on a Saturday, ending with a late couple who just wanted a drink, him a Paloma, tequila, mint, grapefruit juice, simple syrup, her a sparkling wine, I let her taste both and let her pick, coming from a catered Georgetown dinner party given by a customer of ours, who has a beautiful kitchen, a beautiful stove but who never cooks, least of all for a party.  Getting ready to leave, I pour him a shot of tequila at his request, and I break down and have a glass of wine with them, talk of restaurants old and new.  Forty five minutes ago leaving would have been a lot neater, but hey, there's always stuff to do for a bartender.  On my bike, out the door, alarm set, I roll away and down, figure I'll take a swing through Dupont, exiting my isolation, checking out what the town is up to.  I pull up on a sidewalk near the North Metro station, bars with young people drawing their night to a close, reach for my iPhone out of my courier bag.  I am wearing cut-off shorts made from light cargo pants and a white tee shirt.  And every young woman I see is wearing the same high heel sandal type shoe, the corkwood rising steeply, a significant percentage of total height and leg length, platforms, I mean, not that there's anything wrong with that.  Several are obviously drunk now, as you might expect at closing time, and teeter as they wait disconnectedly for their Ubers and talk into their own phones or run after their friends.  Did the larger computerized brain made of ones and zeros all think for them on this Saturday night in late August, coming as it does out of so many outlets, as if to surround them?  But you'd be a crank to say that.  What kind of work do they do?  Sales?  Like me.  What are they like?  Would I hire them?  They seem arrogant, solipsistic in their little crowds, putting on a show.   Or is it that they fit in, implying that I, just getting out of work, do not.  It's now past two, too late to bug another friendly barman like the hard-working guy getting life together over at Duke's Grocery, but I roll down there anyway, and on the way back see more young ladies walking along with the same shoes, the same little trips over sidewalk segments.  I go home, pour a glass of wine, put some cycling shorts on, turn on PBS and get a low key roll in, feeling the bands of muscles work with my fingers, somehow entertaining.

Having not questioned sleep and entering dreaming, the animal's week at the office now passes through the mind, the nice crowd that took up all the stools early on Sunday, the return of a great singer Monday, a very busy night along with a late appearance from Mr. T who had two sidecars to start, a white Clos Vougeot, three courses, then dessert, Tuesday wine tasting uneventful, then a slow Wednesday jazz night too fresh to digest as of yet, the visit of a real professional top tank executive chef originally from the Southwest of France, which may have meant the Bearn region I visited once, though I babble about the usual tourist route along the Mediterranean that now seems like an incomplete dream anyway.  But that is where the great chefs come from, close enough to farming.

"Sounds complicated," my therapist says as I review a few relationships over the past ten years, raising the thought of how to "build something."  Do I consider myself a success as a writer?  I don't know.  Maybe.  I suppose it takes time to find your voice.  Now at this stage I might prefer simply to meditate, to record conscious thoughts to the extent they are worth recording, but as a way to clear the air, to put them out on a shelf, like some household task, like things with like things, then finding the calm that is the answer.


But how, how could you be in the restaurant business, not being a chef, a manager or an owner, and think you had the answer to anything, or consider yourself serious about anything?  That could only be a kind of a lie or a half-hearted answer, meaning you hadn't made up your mind, remained uncommitted, drifting, at odds, unsettled, lost, that sort of thing, like finding yourself awake early in the morning and not knowing what to do with yourself.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, I would only say that I can also          {  pause }       feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed,    and he was killed by a white man."  The pause, real, coming from the guy's heart, and the crowd in Indianapolis, which did not riot as other cities did, was quiet after learning the news of Dr. King's death.  Some skinny little white guy going into the ghetto, the cops telling him no you can't go there, and him telling them back, I'm perfectly fine going down there, it's your problem that you view it so darkly.  And think of how hard that must have been for him to talk about his brother's assassination; that goes without saying.  And here was the way for him to finally talk about it, not to an individual, not to the press on Sunday morning, nor to a therapist or a biographer, perhaps to Jackie, but no real confidant, except Teddy, who knows, but to a crowd, a crowd of people who one might indeed grasp through a Catholic understanding;  that is to say, the poor, the suffering, the mourning.   Here is the guy finally able to talk clear and cleanly about the most horrible thing one could imagine, and after the right amount of time to absorb, one might say, from the blank grief, swollen, numb, un-reactive, unable to, think about it, do anything but stare off, barely able to fix his collar.   Well, the crowd was open to it, seeing it as it was, a real moment, not some fake Nixon Agnew slogans, the pat line about the country not being able to "afford another four more years of so n so."   And they listened when he slipped in a lesson from the Greek poet Aeschylus who knew that when pain fell drop by drop upon the soul there was the deeper truth, through the awful grace of God, wisdom.

Family legend is that we had moved from Amherst, and now in another college town that same year 1968, in an old house that was open to be rented, perhaps due to a strange story that locals had a dark sense, of involving something creepy that might have happened in front of the fireplace in the front room, and when the awful news that Robert F. Kennedy was dying we rented a television.  And it happened that an old family friend from Amherst was visiting, another professor type, a fellow mom had been deeply disappointed by when she found out he was engaged to a Sanskrit scholar years before, in her not too distant undergraduate days.  When the last brother Ted spoke on TV from the New York Cathedral, the 'my brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw war and tried to stop it, saw suffering and tried to heal it'' eulogy, my mother had to tell this clever guy, a Beowulf scholar, to be quiet, to shut up.  She had to speak up and say, as women have the best sense of morality, "(shut up), he's giving his brother's eulogy.  He's giving his brother's eulogy."  What the brother had said about him was, simply, basically, true.  The man being a gift to America, if you think about it, if you think of all our stories about how we got here, how we all need a little bit of support and encouragement that drier minds don't always provide, smart as they think they might be.  Well, people responded to him.  He might even have had enough delegates.  Maybe he could have ironed out Chicago, the meeting of juvenile selfishness of blind protest that only antagonizes the need for Police order, the self feeding nightmare (that ultimately achieved little but fostering the likes of Reagan, destroyer of cooperation and beneficial partnership programs, those random things of good hearts and good luck.)   Yes, Bobby could have calmed all that down, told them to be peaceful, having the credential for it.  (Instead some hothead uneducated idiot from yet another part of the world where that happens, found in hotel pantry hallway, with a pistol, as if to express some difference of opinion.... some weird little guy like a Booth caught in his own theater drama, who knows, even drugged in some way.)

I wondered if I heard that somehow, at age three, who knows.  'Til this day, it always gets me, the Kennedy stuff.  As it should.  Nixon won that year.  George Wallace fucked the whole thing up, one might argue, an early tea party from the old South that still stood in resistance to the Union, bitter, now wanting any thing but libertarian  right of way to impose its own order.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

There is a long history of us, type O.   Suffering from an excess of words.  Carnivores with lots of adrenaline, in need of the tyrosine found in red meats to keep the brain cool, in need of aerobic exercise, lest they fall into manic behavior.

Emily Dickinson was lady-like, quiet about it, kept up her scribbles on backs of envelopes, and invented her own way of keeping the poems that were her way of working things out to satisfaction.  She belongs in the owner's instruction manual.

Dick Nixon, we know was a type O, as was JFK.  Nixon fell into a particular excess of a particular thought, a track of how to "screw" people, Dick Cavett, Teddy Kennedy, McGovern...  He liked the idea of taping the office, to record every word.  JFK branched out, and read a lot, and could talk a mile a minute intelligently.  The agile format of the press conference served him well.  Perhaps an excess of bravery running in his line.

It is said that Lincoln had type A blood, fond of cheese, without weight gain, though he had a lot of words in his head too, interestingly enough, thus maybe shooting my theory down in some way.

James Joyce, quite probably.  Healthier than Hemingway, arguably.  The children of both inheriting, dopamine off kilter, as in schizophrenia.

Robin Williams, classic exhibitor, poor devil, Hamlet's "words, words, words."  He liked his bicycle rides.
The best way to treat the horse after the long shift is to get home and get on the bike.  A slow rolling, a practiced evenness of pressure from both legs, left and right, clipped in to Look pedals, Shimano cycling shoes.  The horse needs to run after the complications, needs to run free, at a pace it feels necessary, fast, slow, full.  The legs swell again, doing what they're meant to do.

Kundera on his father, the composer, musician, professor from Brno:  visiting a man who is dying, riding a horse toward his death, the long unconscious breathing process.  His old man, Kundera's, losing that ability to talk, but pointing to the Beethoven piano sonatas, the very late full ones, close to the variations on the theme Von Beethoven did.  The old man putting his finger on 121, mutely, but expressing, here is the music that will last, that says it all.  Kundera in fiction writes it, turns to the necessary criticism we all must eventually apply to everyone, describing Beethoven's deaf journey touchingly into the very center of music, and the theme of these sonatas, the old man pointing to them no longer able to speak, even as tanks roll in in '68, as people are hung, 'drilling toward the very center of the earth," where in which the writer becomes, properly, the physicist poet philosopher drunk friend politician safe person intellectual teacher Central European tribesman healthy and full of strength.

Drilling into, toward,  the very center of the reality of Earth.  Beethoven.


I remember my brother messing with me on 12b, prompting me to do a thing against my own interest, bite into the bottom of the sugar cone, and the ice cream started to run from the bottom of it.


Monday, August 25, 2014

I took an immediate liking to Knausgaard, My Struggle.   There is a requirement encoded within that bids us to explore our own vulnerability, our own imperfections, our own failings.  The failures of a person, the vices, the relationship realities, need not be tied to a plot line of a story, thus to provide tension and conflict, but rather are best liberated from such a context, set free where such things are free standing, kind of 'just there.'  For the worst disservice you can perform upon humanity is to portray the creature perfect and invulnerable, whereas in fact the creature, as we all really know, at least once we grow up, is not invulnerable, that is an amalgam which is capable of dissolving in a moment on many different levels.  Yes, the creature is brave, brave to be alive, but to be braver still must face the fact of being mortal.   So the reader finds the reality of the male spirit in My Struggle, set in an appropriate form, needing no plot, just providing honest humanity.

For similar reasons are remembered those who do explore and make note of human frailty, vulnerability, imperfection, 'craziness.'  That might explain some of our fondness for a Lincoln or a retrospective look at JFK, no, not perfection, and even early death of a vulnerable kind, as if we are left to perpetually ask, 'but how, how could you die, at this time, just when we were getting going...'  We are drawn closer to the world Kundera leads us to, that of the look at failure that literature provides us, in the way he explicates Madam Bovary's moment of tossing the coin to a beggar when she herself is destitute or the element of mismatch in a sexual encounter.

It's probably for such reasons that I myself, in writing, avoid the heaviness of fitting things into a conscious plot, for the principal reality of shine through.  And this is why heroes go off into the wilderness, not to perfect themselves but to find the real human story.  Which is something not for profit so much, but to learn something that keeps one sane as one must go on failing in life until time runs out on us.

The sensitive ones of us are simply drawn to the lessons of the beautiful flawed vulnerable creature, to learn better the things that one needs to learn.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"Again, quite simple:  American  workers would go to work, work their shifts, eight hours, steadily, have a nice system for it, play softball, drink a beer, have a family life and a modest vacation that was sweet, fun and memorable.  And they knew that they would be working for years and years, just like the mortgages on their reasonable humble homes, just like the reasonable humble restaurants in places like Utica, New York, so they worked on, because there was a job and steadiness.

"But then, things changed.  And the height, the crowning flower and fruition of the changes was the the bankers who took the steady nuts the workers had squirreled away, and the bankers took all this solid fruit, that of honest labor and an honest society, with hospitals, schools and playgrounds and parks, such as any decent even minor city must be about, and guess what... they gambled all that, well, not really gambled, but figured out a way to get their hands into that solid steady created value and figured out a way to disperse all that, to break it into many pieces, each of such ambiguous value that they themselves now would be the arbiter, through their clever world wide trades, trades that seemed to make sense by the old model, the model of decent investments, but that now were substantially shifted to serving the profit-minded speculators, who now would take the invested money, go to small towns around the world, each where people worked decently and hard and with a good morale, and sell some kind of ambiguous system of infallible profit, growth itself, even inventing the word, growth, twisting the word to suit their needs.

"Yes, the bankers were very clever, and even protected, as if they were the saviors!  The saviors of everything, the people to be trusted.  And so did they shove in the face, through all the mortgage derivative what ever they could get their greedy hands on so that they could have beach houses, all the hard work that people had, out of basic human cooperation, done, year in, year out.  And because of the bankers greed, because of their indecency, now everyone looked like an asshole, everything, every job meaningless now, devalued, like currency.  So now, yes, now that the Wall Street guys have gotten their million dollar bonuses, so many of them, paid out for slitting the throat of American labor business potential factory industry optimism whatever you want to call it, yes, guess what, they don't want to live here anymore, and if they do, only by twisting the once free and reasonably beautiful American legislative process to their own greedy slander of it."



"For their stock market, taking the honest savings of the workers who put in their lives, their talents, their GI era parental baby boom industry, a generation suddenly appeared, quite willing to take away into their own personal speculative slush fund all that decent workers had made, to suddenly lose all morality...  Why, because suddenly, under the Reagan era, making the maximum profit had become the moral thing to do, sanctified in church.

"And even my own father's retirement income, the GI Bill professor, who had done so much for society, who had worked away like a monk and been given a reasonable salary, enough, despite a lot, Bank of America gutted quite significantly, and even when he died, they had the temerity to ask if I would like to help pay off the supposed $9000 and change of debt he left behind.  'No, I don't think so,' I said to them in that time of grief, and they kept calling for a while.

"Maybe it wasn't so much out of a greedy intention, although that would be hard to really believe, but that they all became enchanted, through their own perceived cleverness, with the god of ones and zeros, the new machine that could make anything happen, make all investments, even--think of this--promise profit, infallibly, risk free, believing in this.  Spreading risk, making everything connected, thereby implanting a mortal cancer into their whole system.  And then their greed did take over, finding gullible pensioners, small towns in Italy, whomever they could get their hands on physically...

"And what do we have to confront them by, when they could hide in the language of an incomprehensible system that they had created?  What else had we but the human soul, our own gut instincts, our own basic sense of appropriateness?  Even the legal system failed, trying to understand the created beast on its own terms...  Almost like Nazi Germany, no one able to really question the basic logic of building tanks, planes and warships, taking over land, liquidating all the undesirables of society, reinforcing the breeding of the Aryan Race, as the latter steps somehow made the logic air tight...  And who to fight it all but the novelist, the poet, voices from the clerics and studious people like Bonnhoeffer... the few people left with a moral center, a ground underneath them.  The professional politicians, the system set up by its own logic, the great need of money to run campaigns, guess what, Wall Street had and continues to have them all by the testicles, indeed they have everyone so, if you want to make money, so that you can buy real estate, etc., etc.