Thursday, September 18, 2014

Then the day off.  What to do?  Attempts at personal expression are embarrassing failures as often as not, something I should apologize for.   Utter crap.  The veil of awkwardness.

In the latter part of the summer I was back riding.  Out at night with the headlamp and the tail flashers, dealing with the awkwardness of getting down to Hains Point via the sidewalk trail of Rock Creek Parkway then past the Lincoln Memorial and the tour busses, for a few laps out and back the finger of land with the river on both sides, where bats buzzed me from overhead and foxes stared back at me, eyes glowing in reflection as they scouted garbage.  There were hills nearby, easier to get to, traffic free, street lamps.  There was the more ambitious ride, worth the chemistry, to Rock Creek Park.  There were the rides after shifts, the bike on the stand, a bottle of wine at hand to ease the boredom.  Not much on TV, headed toward sleep. And the thigh muscles grew, shaping themselves.  I ate a lot of meat, and it all tasted very good, simply prepared under a gas fire in the stove.  Yoga, stretches  and poses, helped.  And I had the distinct impression that the steady slow rides at night after work in my living room, which might have seemed like idle spinning, were the larger part of my strengthening cycling legs.  Reminding me of the ride back in from Garrett Park years ago in the company of my best friend Dan as we rode with Russell the Muscle on one of his recovery rides, 12, 14 miles per hour.

And so it was that I took this as a lesson, that for writing muscles to grow I had to take those idle spins, just for the generally good feeling of getting out there, working the movements  and the tensions, coming back around in what may have seemed like pointless circles, repetitions, not so much moving forward, a kind of inner movement, an acceptance of the home miles that led when the opportunity allowed, to the open road.  At many points I could say that all of it was pointless, achieving very little, just taking up time, letting the mind spin itself out, as a way of emptying it maybe.  A way of getting out thoughts as those about not being there for my father when he died.  A way of estimating things I did not know about that an intellectual should explore.  A way of getting to, in some way, the sense of being trapped in a strange situation, of catching a thin awkward figure staring back at myself when I passed a mirror.

I had been under the juvenile thought that all things of life should be perfect, that things would work out as they were supposed to, appropriately.  And then slowly you learn that things are not perfect, not at all, and that life is really about taking the best shot at it from what you are given, that you have to be active about it all.  Or you'll end up, you'll end up finding writing as a form of exercise for something you are only aware of in the vaguest of sense.  Writing as a way to cope with the time alone, maybe time you really do in fact need, to put things back in some order.

I'm going long, going slow, out as if for longevity.  And other writers are certainly passing me by, very strong, and I'm out for the scenery, or as a way to hide from the embarrassment of being myself.

There were several magnificent ravens walking the street, looking around, when I took my bike out to go to work yesterday.

So the first day off and I take the route through the city to get down to Hains Point, passing the Washington Monument, then the Jefferson Memorial.  Night has fallen by the time I cut east with the White House shining.  My mind feels disturbed by the lack of social interaction but the exercise will help.  Each time I take the north road heading out east to the point there is a stretch with the distinct smell of fox, a warm rich musty wet aroma that goes with the big river.  Out resting on the water anchored yachts, and different sized pleasure boats moving slowly on both channels, one looking like a river boat, then the longer spaceship dinner cruise Odyssey.  At the point making the turn the steady string of three bright lights coming upstream in for a landing at National just as the same interval planes take off.  I'm clicked into the biggest gear, going out a slow pace.

Today the Kurosawa warrior hero faces the modern battle of getting his manager's license renewed down at the DC government's alcoholic beverage regulatory administration, first the notary public.  A draining battle, finally escaping south in the 14th Street bike lane, mind not feeling good at all, maybe the ragweed, forgetting to shower the night before.  Anonymity, I can understand Knausgaard's appreciation of a place to write where no one knows you.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Extremes sell books, I suppose.  A Times article about the Hachette Amazon dispute mentions a reformed alcoholic, a punk rocker, now a long distance runner who's become a hit in the field of Kindle Singles.  New York style writing, if there is such a thing, bold, in your face, gritty.

Sometimes after a shift I wake up foggy, a dry mouth, throb in the head.  Oh, yes, I rode my bike for an hour, consumed a bottle of Beaujolais, 12% alcohol, and then I had a half a rye ale with a burger before bed.  Oh, yes, had a shot of Jameson's for old times sake with an old bar friend we hadn't seen in a while, who's a campaign organizer for the mayoral run, a gentlemanly tradition.  I probably had a glass while I consumed a small plate of citrus-cured salmon and half of a chicken cheesesteak-style sandwich (failing to avoid the bread) my coworker was kind enough to leave me.  Always starving at the end of a shift.

There is nothing dramatic about it.  Red wine, my blood type diet D'Adamo book tells, is good for me, more or less.  And I swear there are magical compounds in it that bring to it the good chemistry of being out in the countryside, just as going to the woods can instantly smooth jangled nerves.  Even if we can't exactly name these magical chemical evocations of the nature and land from which a wine comes, as if concocted by medieval hermits with a good intuitive sense of health.  Perhaps it's like epsom salts.  We know of the good influences for the bloodstream, lower plague and cholesterol.  I've heard of trace earth elements found particularly in wine from volcanic soil such as platinum having a chemotherapeutic effect against cancers.  I wouldn't doubt it, like that Times piece about the guy who goes back to Greece to die, idles away his time in a vineyard, eats off the land, and forgets to die.

So how to parse out the good and bad effects for you personally?  There are no extremes to write about, no hitting rock bottom, nor any great heights, just is what it is.  Occasional headache from a higher alcohol Ventoux, not enough hydration.

Wine, yes, has been the source of many good conversations, many great and real friendships, not the least between the writer and his mother.  Wine offers a release into the arena of one's own vulnerability and imperfections is, like yoga, somehow good for you, a growing experience, a recalibration of general health as is found in dreaming.

Issues in life--probably most of us have them.  They are complicated.  There's aren't any obvious extremes, unfortunately, gratefully.

To be continued.  Off to work.

Wisdom, true wisdom, like that of the Buddha's, is infinite, applicable to all wounds.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Thus the vanity of writing, the need to see yourself doing it, the clear evidence of script, even if it might be disjointed, nonsequitor, complete crap, whim, what-have-you.

And perhaps I had almost been ready to quit at a time when I needed it most.  I mean, it's an easy thing to want to quit.  Desperately wanting to go back to school, but for what?

The animal is self-healing, for the most part, and speaks in perfect Shakespearean sentences, so why quit.  To quit writing would be like for me giving up meat, or giving up walking or biking, it just wouldn't do.  And I'm a product of my time just as anyone else, and the form the words take comes from outside as much as inside, as a way of adaptation to one's surroundings, a kind of camouflage, like the tiny praying mantis taking the underside of the fig tree's leaf, for humans a way of saying, 'hey, I'm okay, I'm not a crazy man intent on harming society whenever the moon is full,' that sort of thing.  Which is what got me into trouble in the first place, perhaps, because I'm a writer and have to make that a part of me otherwise I look like I am a crazy, this I know quite well.  But if people had said, oh, well, of course, he's a writer, he's okay, it would have been different.

That's what Dostoevksy's doing with that horrible dream of the horse in Crime and Punishment, as if to test you, as if to say, this is what writing is, like the disclaimer, don't let your children watch the following for given reasons, and I myself failed that test, stopped right there, shit that's too weird man.  When I've seen enough then I'll come back and read this, when I am inoculated against it.  His wife was still willing to sleep next to him (though he wrote at night), maybe that says something of the time and place in which he lived, or maybe he didn't tell her (though she his stenographer), 'oh, just fine dear, just writing a little dream sequence...'

My own writing is not filled with creepy horse head dreams, but still I wonder, it's a weird thing to be doing, perhaps for the main reason that it brings no value, it's not a service necessarily, unless you put it in the service and entertainment industry, but still most rational people, even myself, ask why, what's the point, and it's never really something to bring up when people close to you ask you the question, 'so what's going on?...'  Or you're a polite bartender, who should keep his writing to himself when it gets honest and real, when the writer takes risks of self-revealing.

Okay, eat sausages from the broiler while burgers cook for the next meal, shower, shave, dress, fold a servile clerical light blue Jos. A. Bank shirt and place it carefully into a legal pad notebook so it won't wrinkle, and it's off the servile anonymous job, ho hum, fuck me.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Okay.  Do you know where to start?

No, I'm not sure.  I don't know where to exactly start.  Let's get things lined up.

They already are lined up.

Okay.  Let's start.  Do you want to?

Now is the time, I think.  There are things to say.  But I better shut up until we start.  Okay, are we ready to start?  Yes.  Okay, I'll start then.  But let me turn into Charlie Chaplin's tramp, or whatever I am going to be...

Don Quixote, do you know of that old movie that I spoke about?  When I wrote my first piece here, the Louis Malle one about the Tour de France, Vive le Tour, from the early sixties, yes, of course.

There were these men on bikes whizzing by, and they all had these beautiful long legs, thighs of frogs, and forelegs strewn with lean musculature like horses or herons with their rib cages expanding as their powerful chests breathed, and they had jerseys and little caps, and they were tanned and very comfortable on their old beautiful Raleighs and Peugeots, beautiful steel bikes with lugged frame... and it looked like they could serve tea to each other rolling along, holding their cups and saucers, spoons, so comfortable were they as they flew along a tree lined road.

CUT cut cut.

The thing is you remember that.  And that's the only way I can really deal with an indoor training ride, I must admit, I have to put up a mirror, otherwise it's just too boring, and you can't count on TV or a great Saturday night coming to your door.  You watch yourself ride in a mirror and you see your belly and over time the legs grow stronger and the belly gets smaller.  And each pedal stroke, though it might not seem more significant than the smallest flap of wing or a sewing machine, but it adds up. There is a vanity in sport, no doubt, there must be, there has to be.  I look good.  And when you look good you are in shape, and when you are in shape, you both look good and you can go fast and surprise yourself and this makes you feel even better, and so there is a feedback loop.

Now I tell you...

Okay I am listening...

The point that historians miss, that journalists miss, because they are all too close to their own little mind and its vision, the point that takes a poet or a novelist, a broader eye to see, is that vanity is quite a necessary element to all great productions.  Why was Lincoln successful?  Well, because he established the fact that he was photogenic, that he was goddamn mighty looking, formidable, noble, elegant, powerful, poetic and in a folksy way.  No way he could have been an actor, except obscurely for laughs with his buddies, but acting he absorbed.  He was too much who he was to act someone else, and there was this sense of himself, and then the miracle of photography and Brady's studio and Gardner came to him, showed up at his doorstep.  And being  a three dimensional person with things he wanted to get across, like a botany professor trying to teach a lesson, well, there he was himself, a stand in for all human dignity, all the people he ever knew there within the great actor Lincoln who if called upon could have acted anyone, any creature, great or small.

Yes, so let us take Kennedy.  I mean, which one?!  But let's take poor sickly old skinny Jack, malarial guts, long Irish spine, a way with words, the pure chestnut hair, the eyes, all that health and humor beaming out of a sickly sort of a chap, fed the wrong things, limping up steps in Chelsea and Watertown to get votes one by one by himself...  And what did he need?  He needed a view of himself, newsreels, motion picture news of himself doing all this stuff, and his father, versed in Hollywood, knew just how to do that, to make him a guy... as well filmed as Gary Cooper, you know what I mean.  "Who can do...  Kennedy can... Kennedy Can!"  Music set to it, and he, the subject, is the perfect character, and he must have watched it all, of course he did!

And in fact, that's what his friend says about him when up in the old compound, or was it down in the White House media theater room, the clip plays of Berlin, and who is clapping seeing his image but himself, old Jack, bravo, fucking bravo, Ich Bin Ein Berliner, man that's great.  The mirror is very important, and we underestimate the fact that everyone does it.  Jack for good, Jack realizing, aware, literary, full, admissive, supported and supporting.

And we picked up on it too.  Damn, this guys good.  I want to be like him, and maybe somewhere subconsciously understanding that the guy was largely his own media advisor, paying heed to a very great eye, himself, looking at himself, which is a great editing or casting, the secret of Fellini's Mastroianni.  John F. Kennedy, the director of John F. Kennedy, thanks to his old man producer, Joseph P. Kennedy, who also understood image and the spotlight, and the former really, because he was so well read and a great guy and such a sweet genial friend to whoever needed one, really, this is true, because maybe being a sick kid made him shy and sensitive, the real thing, he knew what to do with himself.  He'd make goddamn speeches like Robin Hood, but, he meant them, he knew what he was saying, and he expressed real values.  He took on Big Steal price fixing, he took on the Cuban Missile Crisis, he preserved culture...

And there was always about him, as an adult, the mirror.  The great picture by Jacques Lowe of him looking down into a little rowboat about to cross a river in wintertime out in the state of Washington. In an overcoat, hands in pocket, looking down.  Frozen world around him, not particularly hopeful, but being who he is, which is what life takes; be honest, be yourself, be a damn poet if you like, be a an odd and magnificent politician out of the goddamn blue.  And there are, or were, the sensitive literate real human being reporters back then who caught him saying real words, real stuff from him, from his guts and brain, to Mary McGrory, 'my days are in the yellow leaf.'  Jesus Christ who says that?!  Damn spooky almost.

Regretably, so used to watching him and getting the deeper stuff as if subliminally, all that stuff that was from himself watching and learning how he wanted to be, which then shown and reflected back on us, we the people, we could not take our eyes of him, no more than we could have taken them off of Lincoln.  We watched, we watched, the, you know... Dealey Plaza, the slow turn, the agents backing off, that day in a Dallas sun we all can imagine in November, then the clear night sky dark early after the first stars.  A leader, knowing how to die?  Well, then we're getting ahead of ourselves. The mirror, the self feedback, the circumspection, that died until his brother picked it up, and he was  his own director.

And Bobby, Robert F., was almost even better at it.  A little strident, but he too, even though the old man was too feeble by a stroke to help, he got it, he said volumes through simple and very self-disciplined things, and he wasn't a hard guy or a total prick, but a family man with lots of friends, and he really really cared for so many so many people.  And funny how this projected man, this self creation, this fulfilled prophecy, was such a real great hope of leadership or something that would have been good and ameliorating and calming for the country then.

Jesus, I was thinking about it now, and I had to think of the strange vanity of Richard Nixon.  Nixon looked at himself in the mirror in a strange and different way.  A way that acknowledged himself, but on the edges, saying that he had to 'screw' other people, enemies.  The original negative campaigner in a long slew of them, all hacks really, just negative:  'the country can not take another four more years of so n so...  We have to get back to good old solid Republican values otherwise the whole economy is going to collapse."  Complete salesman bullshit.  Agnew was stuffing money away from mob paper bags dropped off at a Baltimore motel.  Oh, he didn't look guilty all the time, shifty eyed, preaching the finest of decorum?  The perfect fucking guy to nominate over that always strange GOP crowd, strange, weirdly confident in its sell out of emotional truth in order to embrace selfish gain with a whole crowd of newfound selfish friends who really don't like so much the whole democratic game plan.  Trickle down.  Cut the tendons of partner programs helping anyone but themselves.   Good old Republican political values, one after another, parading, not able to watch themselves in a mirror unless a total act, disgusting and self serving....

Bobby, despite all they might say, whatever, he was a good man, a literary type too, just like his brother  The other brother, of course!  He understood it all, of course!

But these men, you know... shit, I lost my point, thinking of my brother's friend, this really funny outgoing guy and his, the extrovert's, son.  Sweet boy, shy and introspective as can be, the little guy, and in a way just like his old man, but in the quiet mode, the deep thoughtful mode.  Like a little Jimi Hendrix for the time being...  AH, forget it, kid, remember your grand papa, and go for it.
I guess you have to be a bit of a stoic to be a writer.  Otherwise you'd be out enjoying people's company.  But here you are, after a nice quiet Friday night reading a book, groggy but awake at two in the afternoon aiming yourself at getting ready for a Saturday night behind the bar, muscles stiff, but a decent long sleep, an awareness of rain outside.  What's the weather?  Okay for biking?  Rain is good, taking the pollen out of the air.  First the chilled green tea from the refrigerator, made of second steeping, taking a few pills, blinking eyes at the laptop screen, then the fresh pot, hot, is ready.

I don't know if I like my writing style.  I don't know if I have a style.  I should adjust it, make it consistent.  An MFA problem would probably help.  Being with writers would probably help.  Workshops, listening to readings, maybe giving my own workshop readings, like the ones I used to go to up in Bethesda, that would be good.  Working in a bookstore, reading, that would be good.  But I take care of the body, try to, get it to work, and work is stoic.  I'll enjoy the liberation that comes from being done with a long shift, celebrate by coming home and riding the bike indoors, finish that fool purchase of a Virginia red.  But overall, I could use a plot, maybe that's it.  Maybe how I became a writer, through dogged determination, through blind ignorance of how the world really works, how I came upon my own style, my own form, not really giving a shit to write in terms of plot.  A plot is a thing to stick ideas and notions and observations upon, but what's the bare minimum, so that the thoughts and ideas take over incandescently, burn with their own brightness, their own gatherings of truth, such that you are almost approaching a kind of Buddha-like wisdom, as if such a voice told you, nah, you don't really need a plot?

Is there some magic operating in the atoms of the psyche, that if you have the right thought, the right motive, and that you finally become aware of their overall appropriateness, that you understand your own idiosyncrasies as aiding the expression of who you are as a writer, that the outer world will come into alignment, now that you are freshly serious about what you are doing, understanding it now enough where you can thereby implement it.  (Just then the phone rings.)

There are different kinds of plant life.  Each has its own way of living.  Some are woody plants, some are ferns, some are flowering plants, and I, son of a botanist, while generally aware of such things is regrettably ignorant about the rules and details.  But a plant gathers itself according to its inner rules, the logic of its plan, its leaf, its stalk, the way it reaches for the sunlight, the kind of shade where it might chose to live moistly.  The Sprengeri Tulip comes from the mountains of Anatolia;  it is self-seeding, one of the original species tulips that occur in nature, pre-existing the hybridization.  Each an elegant testament.  Kelp is strewn over a rocky outcropping, seaweed with little bladders, or broad tagliatelli of an almost translucent brown color, a seaweed with rippled edges, and then there is the bright green seagrass.  After the marsh, further inland, there are the forests, tentative enough in their survival here to have a large stable contingent of pine.  Then the beautiful variety of trees, and I have never seen the redwood forest.

And while college kids come of age joking and playing around and often goofing off, this is serious stuff, more in keeping with a  laboratory of a 19th Century St. Jerome type, pondering the deeply spiritual mysteries on their own terms like Goethe more than the bright modern lab parsing out the strands of DNA, labeling them.

My father knew I would have liked the sort of old school science life of an environmentalist, studying life at water's edge, and he tried to steer me, putting me into the company of old colleagues.  And I a perfect fool was still mooning over some inspirational girl and found no energy to carry through with such things, to my regret, as if I had become obsessed with the inner life I found within my own self, as if I were too a biological species with its own logic, its own particular needs, its own unique way of thriving.   I did not see life as a matter of finding an approximate livelihood, sticking to it, building a career and then a life out of it.  That would have been a good way to be an effective poet.  There was also the deep Theosophist side to my father, how the two of us, and few others could talk about the deeper nature of reality, and these things too influenced me and made me like the single mindedness of the writer studying the things within, the perpetual creation of fresh thoughts as if working on a harvest.

Writing as I knew it had to come out of a sweet sadness, if we had to put terms on it.  The first hours of thought are crucially important, to limit the external noise, to think quietly, alone, to find thoughts you have not addressed as you would like to, the embarrassing admissions of embarrassing things that somehow are deeply necessary to the sanity of the craft.  "Yes, I do stupid shit, but I am still human, still viable, still worthy of respect and an education and kind treatment and democracy in its purest forms."  And writing is a kind of free education that comes from within, the realization of knowing what you know, perhaps its remembering, or rather just turning yourself over to your own inner sensitivities, which then show you the way, or give you something to say.  The forest gives us positive things, not only serves the planet with its air problems and CO2 through its respirations, but directly gives us the sanity we lose in the modern world's pavement and structures, hustle and bustle and strange rules.  We are still human beings when we go into the woods, and we react organically, and the woods, and the rest of the natural world, is the only real reassuring thing that prevents a slow mass suicide out of selfishness and wealth amassing, the One Percent wishing to have their own private forests with money made from chopping public ones down, some basic core of logic and a sense of basic truth and justice seems to say, or maybe I'm just as guilty as the next guy for buying in.

And if you know an ecology without, then you're better clued into the one within.  So there is a purpose to yoga and meditation and exercise, rigorously alone and peaceful after the tensions are stretched out, after the core is warm, the inner ecology and guidance and regathering of energy that involves the chakras, the inner flute, the flow of inner wind from base to top and back.  Because it's energy, yes, there is a sexual element to it, but this too you come to peace with.  The body has its logic, and one day, yes, a kind of decay, slowly gaining, will suddenly advance, but in the meantime, here we are, a beautiful creature indeed.  A creature who loves books and thoughts and art as a way of being keeping with the deeper self.  The woods is a tender place to go, a place to meditate and to breath.

With each day off, I grew more tender, more open to the world, in a way a continuation with the gentle sadness I knew as the steadiest mode while waiting on the people of the world, as if I wished to protect them from the deeper truths and secrets of our aloneness in our selves.  The first day, given a night off, I didn't know what to do with myself, completely missing the social milieu.  Then I began to do housework, still on my weird schedule, mostly realizing the need to feed myself and do healthy things first, before anything social.  And then on the third day I began to long for all the things I miss in life, the company of my family, the books on the shelf, all the interesting art books that might be waiting somewhere in Second Story Books, a painting being a direct way of showing an expression of deeper knowledge, putting it into terms while people chatter away with making the current moment as full of interaction as possible.  I might have even started to remember the literary aspect of life and start to write again, but only in tentative fits and starts.  How could you shine down all the inner sweet soft wisdom of Jesus into such a troubled troubling world?  But at least I had overcome some of my own fears and my own worries and was back doing something positive and constructive, less interrupted by wants and desires and interference patterns and the television set.  And this maybe the mode of Durer when he goes and digs up the piece of sod to render its truths back in his workshop.  Hey, this is cool.  You have to take things into your own hands.  Oh beautiful life.

So what do you want to do with yourself, no-longer-young man?  Is this writing something you want to do, to turn into something?   Yes, but I don't know what it is and only find out by doing.  But yes, it might be nice...  to write one more writing shift, now that I am back at it, and do one less obscuring noisy night in a bar amongst people like ants.  I could deal with the quiet, with just writing at home, I could.

It is the complicated need of having to belong in the modern world that made me so sad up there on the Maine Coast doing the family vacation.  As if knowing I had irrevocably failed at all that, the family and the family wagon, long limbed teenagers sitting around being social as a way around figuring out the basic inner truths of life and the boredom that comes from having to find constant activity and engagement while on vacation, yes, if I got married and had kids when the time was ripe for it, that's how old they'd be, with some tenderness for their aging old man.

There was nature there up on the coast, and in my great pain I walked the beach, all the houses lining the stone breakwater reminding me of the great financial failure of my life, but there was the sea, the beach to walk along, and the rocks with their seaweed hair and the tiny shells strewn in piles along the edge of the tide.  A shell of a tiny crab here and there.  Nature was there to protect me in my moment of need, even as a week at the beach is a way for one to show off material success, something I don't like about vacations, taking them obligingly to get away and see something else of the world.  (What do I have to show, on vacation?)

The writer takes a shower, hot water on the muscles and into the fissures of bone and vertebrae.  There is something spiritually significant in bathing, thus Jesus getting his feet washed and doing the same to others a worthy scene.  Cleaning on the outside, and also on the inside, the water resuscitating the will of the gentle being within, the one that does not mind working alone or solitary thoughtful walks.

I got myself wrong, for years.  I'm a writer, I don't want a conventional relationship.  I want a relationship with another writer, and interesting there is a writer, a good one, in all of us.  Another person who likes the quiet, doesn't need the direct social life so much, finding a lot of that tedious and fake, a constant reproduction of the same old, dogs sniffing each other's asses, which can be done in writing too, both having an elegance appropriate to their species.   The dog thinks mutely, unable to express in words, and for our part we like to smell someone we like or are trying to figure out to.  But yes, I would have never fit in, and the writer sought to be a writer, as much as a way of honestly relating to other people, an openness, an address of thoughts and realities deep within, beyond normal conversation.

I should have known, back in college, it was okay to be who I was, the way I was.  That I drank to occasional excess was a way of not being so different, so detached, so willing to be alone in a crowd and working on deeper mental processes.  I was a born writer, I just didn't know what I was, or how to do it.  And this is different from the kind of person who is facile about it, clever, ready to go at it at a young age, full of story lines and embellishments, gifts of magic and some trickery enough to get you off to a head start in it, an athletes self-confidence.  But I was not born in a city.  I did not come of age, like Jim Morrison, on crowded urban Venice Beach, and my art, less self-destructive as dictated by the crazed environment surrounding it, would be slow, and represent the honesty of a town down in a small valley with dairy farm hills rising from it, and of course the college on an isolated hill.   I grew up in something called The Root Glen, red shale paths down to a stream bed, an arboretum with a bordered garden, a primrose basin, a peony collection, a rock garden at the top of on a raised bed.  I grew up with the slow steady of peace of nature and towering trees and my father's slow botanical gate and his gentle way of examining with the touch the specimens he came upon.  Sure, I would write in such a way, slow and meandering as a cow, not city person fictive point involving complex interpersonal relationships, and that's just how my brain was and is.

How much of a flunky I was, a fan of Chekhov's brilliant but cutting "My Life," I don't know, but I didn't start out that way, and nor was I doomed to be such indefinitely.  But a writer is an extension of the scientist in nature, and that's his primary job, not so much out in society, but through his own reaction, nature a reflection of the being he is, nothing more, nothing less.

With the light left I opt for a walk in the woods rather than getting on the bike to the park and back.  There's things to chew over, and with the rain the steam might be interesting.  I walk up Massachusetts Avenue and over the bridge and down into the woods on a path that goes along the stream banks.  But the banks here and on the other side, with the four line highway just past it, are those of a ditch almost, uniform blue grey rock piled up above the water, dirt on top, weeds.  And along the side of the path, really all over, climbing up trees, casting a tent-like web over everything, the invasive kudzu vine.   Under the bridge, not too muddy the path, and then past the interesting cliff where there is the smell of animal death, and then past that and walking now with the tributary stream that feeds the creek below to the left.  But these woods seem to give off a neutral spirit, as if they felt overwhelmed, too bordered on their sides.  People jog through, jog with dogs, and over the footbridge people run and bike along the paved sidewalk immediately next to the parkway, the cars rushing along.   No one stops to picnic, most everyone intent on motion, little room for contemplation.  These woods do not give off to the human passerby the same sense of well-being found deeper in Rock Creek Park.  These woods do not proclaim and shelter with the same peaceful good.  True, better than nothing, but as I walk back the sadness has not really lifted and I find the voice memo recordings on my cell phone to listen to, recorded from the jazz sessions at work, one a Brazilian guitarist Rodrigo joining Veronneau, and then another one of Lena Seikaly and her trio playing a slow lovely Moonlight in Vermont followed by Skylark, all of it beautiful and the music cheers me, lets me rise above the steady traffic on the avenue.   Maybe that's what I'll do with my evening, learn a few chords, remembering to have music from sensitive people if you can't be surrounded by a healthy swath of nature and mountains.  And down in the woods I could hear the music from the sound systems of passing cars on the parkway, the intro to "Don't Stop Believing" played loud enough.  One of the guitar players told me where they go to find music on a weekend night, curated jazz, but I forget, and I'm tired anyway when I get home and eat cold chicken.   Will I get down to the Whole Foods for trail mix and dried figs, a better bottle of wine than the effort from Virginia, a cab franc, I have open, or do I not really need any of that at all.  Broccoli florets raw with lemon, olive oil, salt, pumpkin seeds.  Tuscan kale beginning to get ripe in the kitchen Rubbermade trashcan.  Ready to toss a few things.

Do I sabotage relationships?  Do they get too much for me?  Why do I rebel?  Why not hike the Billygoat with that nice lovely girl, why raise a stink about it, as if you needed to prove a point that even you didn't get.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Warm ups:

"I don't know, I guess I just feel emasculated, by a lot of things, maybe.  The disengagement with academia, the fall into the restaurant business, a lack of money, a lack of understanding about what to do with myself, all that sort of stuff.  Was I a kind of a traitor, going into the easy physically hard restaurant business?  Didn't have enough courage or the wherewithal to even write a good book or really push it all that much.  Just laid down passively, putting my intellectual abilities aside.  I guess I was feeling sort of burned, not getting much help or attention after DeMott left, or like I didn't fit in with the way you're supposed to be in the intellectual world.  It was such a gut reaction, like I saw the specialization, the need to be a big academic publishing star...  As opposed to the true role of teacher, educator...    Ach, this is all crap.  Or I'm discovering let in mid life a need to stand up for myself or something.  Not be a chicken shit.  Not knowing what to do with myself, a writer of grocery lists.

"Maybe that's where doing yoga, being a sort of Buddhist came in.  Acceptance of everything.  Is that healthy, I don't know.  Maybe, maybe not."

I do yoga, I begin to feel better about myself.  But I still don't feel very good about the whole thing, be it bar tending, or never really getting off the ground as a writer, or never even trying teaching prep school, or maybe just not having enough faith in my own ways as an intellectual.

So, it's one of those days.  Feeling out of place since having to switch out a shift, never getting that feeling of reaching the end of the week, that last bugger of jazz night.  I get out on the bike, finally, unable to write anything, might as well.  Slowly and unenthusiastically I put on my cycle wear, fill the water bottles, plums in the back pocket, inner tube, tire levers, phone, sunglasses, and finally after 30 minutes of side streets my bike is rolling down Tilden in a bike lane, past a parked secret service police car, turning onto the road down past the Czech Embassy to the picnic area, having reached the park at last.  Pee, top the bottle off with the drinking fountain.  Cross the mowed pasture to the stream.  A father comes by with his daughter.  "Glad you found Donatello and Michelangelo there," he says to her as she follows him.  I smile.  Good terms.  Through the parking lot, careful merging onto Broadbranch, and then I'm climbing the S Curve hill round a pasture, two men on a blanket having a little Friday afternoon picnic higher up, now below me, and then I'm in the trees, now high above the stream, and the air of the forest greets me, with its clean air, and tells me it's all okay, and instantly I feel better.  It's not just good for the body, the immune system, the air found in the woods, the chemical compounds the ecosystem gives off, it must immediately provide something instantly quite calming, such that my mood changes entirely in an instant.  Yes.  I'm not going fast, but I'm going, and I am out in the park, and finally, for the first time in days, I feel decent.  And my breaths confirm, there is something about being the forest that is calming, the perfect drug for what was ailing you in that most important inner place, the mind.

I pedal on, climbing slowly, toward the horse barns, and before I encounter a man prepping what turns out to be a mini-glider remotely controlled.  It's long and narrow, looks like a U2 exaggerated, large thin wings that look like solar panels, a balance, and he throws it with a big roundhouse swing like a discus thrower and away it climbs and then he controls it to come back around, marvelous.  It turns out to be a kit.  After watching several spins, each coming to a perfect clean landing, I remount and head off.  I have the road dropping down to Beech Drive to make, and then I'll get a workout in on the long curving straight run by the stream in a minimum of traffic.  There is light over the stream, car headlights on coming toward me in the other lane, and I take it easy around curves, a slight headwind.

It's a reasonably long way, and kind of a pain in the ass, to get to the park, and I wonder if the time spent is worth it, but when I get there, there is a sense of well-being, and the more you ride the more comfortable you are on the bike, a good feeling, aided by yoga no doubt.  Do I need to go to Whole Foods tonight, the thought crosses my mind.  I don't know.

I am now in the second book of Knausgaard's My Struggle.   I am enjoying his notes on life and himself, and I recognize myself in it.  I was just reading about his sense of emasculation at a class for little toddlers, Rhythm Time, but I feel it in many places reading him.  I like his character's spartan quality, how he does not care much what he eats, that he likes anonymity in a cafe where he might read Demons or Karamazov or write himself.  I like that he goes to a used bookstore to find an antidote for the knocks to his self-esteem.  He likes talking about art, Giotto, Turner, Rembrandt.  He knows his modern intellectual terms, has read Foucault, and understands all the modern post-things in a way far more diligently than I, which makes me feel inferior, but that's how it goes.  Part of my emasculation being that I was a stupid student after a good sincere start.

That can be a problem, being too spartan, taking refuge in used book stories, finding your self-esteem there, and part of my own damned problem is my not caring for fancy pampering stuff, which I would be faking if I were to indulge.  Throw some meat and onions in my cage, and I'll be fine.  To be around people occasionally is nice, but I'm fine without the fakeness and the veiled nastiness, the insult, the put-down, the 'tough love' that is lurking, when really you are indeed just trying your best, maybe just a bit confused.

Most people, they like their finer things.  I appreciate them too, but I'm more about good basic healthy nutrition, the things that are good for me in particular, my system, not necessarily everyone else's.  I only drink to go along with everybody, and when I'm fried for having dealt with a week full of them, when you so far away from nature and the good airs of the forest that you need it in pill form, and I don't doubt there's good natural stuff in wine that we can't see, won't find in the basic breakdown.  The airs of Pic St. Loup, indeed.

Academia itself got too fancy, too much about itself, too egotistical.  "Look at our fancy equipment, and the experiments we are running here at college level."  Look at all we know.  Yeah.  It's the artist who knows, the poet who knows.  They're the scientists.  The rest taking credit somehow.

But the writer is never going to get any work done unless finding that spartan sort of way.  Which makes him less accessible to people, in a way a sort of Boo Radley for all they know.  As if providing no emotional reaction, none of the normal give and take.  The focus on the unexpected truths you come across, far more than the commonplace observations of people's social lives, more than the recording of a supposedly interesting conversation had over dinner at a restaurant.

You need that support, of recognizing parts of yourself through the artist's eye, and that helps you from doing stupid shit and wasting your tine in confusion.

After my ride, eating a hamburger patty reheated in the toaster oven, I go down the market with the farmer's market touch nearby above Dupont, crossing Connecticut buy Du Coin, in through the young crowd, surprisingly loud as I turn the corner, they are drinking beers and wine in tumbler glasses, eating pizza, standing around with dogs, sitting at picnic tables telling travel stories, loud laughter that alarms me slightly as I walk in through the automatic sliding glass doors.  I'm choosing plums, putting them into the plastic bag when the bearded bartender guy shouts out "Last Call, Last Call for beer," first at the bar area back to the right, then through the main area where there are the same kind of diners as outside.  I will stock up for the week.  Three plastic vacuum packed ground beef, some bulk brown basmati rice, broccoli, a tomato, an onion.  Okay, a rotisserie chicken, half living on them, a good economical buy for $8.99, and then since I'm getting loose with my money, some goat cheese from Maryland, the Monocacy River valley area, and even a Cab Franc from Virginia, as if I need a back up for tonight, surely out of some long old bad habit.  A little bag of fig ginger sesame chews, that might come in handy over a long shift, Jesus I'm getting profligate.  Vegetables do go bad in my fridge, this is true.  I pay and walk out with my bags back into the crowd.  One bunch has even opened beer bottles from a six pack container, okay.  Some beer glasses, with cloudy wheat beer in them, are tulip shaped, in addition to the pint glasses.  A good mix of young men and women, and I am being invisible in plain sight, and probably look old to them, and anyway I have little interest in joining them, as I am reminded of bar duties now wherever I go.  Funny to realize that I know myself and that I am in my own mode.

Okay, my book might have its faults, and it's been a long time since I've been able to even open it up to a page and look at the damn thing.  But it is art.  At least it's art.  Even attempt at it, that would be good enough for me, and I know what went into it.

I like this Knausgaard writer, a lot, maybe even too much, but I will say he has the strong athletic confidence toward his own artistic self, and by having the strength and the guts to portray (himself as) an artist of that particular sort that is a writer, rendering his own habits, his ways of working, his ways of thinking, he has accomplished just the sort of strong defense for the artist that our time needs.  I am not surprised it took old Viking blood to stand for the artist in the TwentyFirst Century.

Particularly fascinating for me is all the stuff that pertains, recognizably, to the artistic temperament, at least the one I know.  I mean, who am I, but that's what I see, now that I'm middle aged old and look back now, perhaps rather than so much forward, at an artist's ways, an artist's special life.  That says a lot, that you chose to make art, and in a way this really explains a lot of my behavior in college, how I've always been willing to be, patterned to be, the outsider, the artist, the stoic observer who has no interest in social ins and outs of the cliques and the herd mentality types and all the polite and proper social gatherings.  Give me the outsider's way, the lone observer, that's just the way I am.

I walk home, going back down the avenue on the side of Bistrot Du Coin, down to the corner where the Starbuck's is, then along R Street, past the little tea house, its stools up now on the long bench-like table upside down with their legs sticking up.  I run into my bartender friend, both of us like ghosts meeting each other, his that of a man with style, hair pulled back, cool glasses, who tells me "slow," meaning the business, which may be why he is heading home already just after 10, and I tell him I've seen a lot of slow this summer.  I keep on walking, past Nora's, and the chemistry from the bike ride is good still.  If the second hand bookstore was open still around midnight, I might go, but otherwise the artist in me has found support in the literary art of another, and so I can quietly be myself and not wish I was elsewhere, somewhere I am not.

Yes, give me a quiet Friday night away from the crowds and all the loud show, the broad avenue lit with flares and groups belonging to themselves as if having blindly gathered drawn by sound.  Give me the Dostoevsky night, up alone at his desk rolling cigarettes he does not smoke, remembering the days in Siberian penal camp.  Give me the MacGowan night wandering the streets seeing everything, no one touching him.

Being an artist is simply an instinctive response in a person's life, not a conscious choice, but a natural choice that seems to help one stay alive through life's crises.

When you're older, you realize it doesn't matter, that you're not going to make a splash anymore, so why bother, except for the fact that you need to, you need to write, and you need to support the basic value.  And all the values come flooding back to me as I end my long drive, coming up by the river and finally into the town of Oswego, where fate has chosen as the place where my mom lives.  By then, or by now, depending how we are writing about time, a memory, a tale of now, past, present, future, the drive has been long.  I've come upon Oswego at last, after Fulton, above Syracuse, as blue night drops in on the longest days of summer.  I've hit a pothole with the front tire of a rental in the tired drag after the fast food places on Christmas Eve, changed it by myself with the donut spare before driving the last few lovely miles.  But there it is, my lovely mom, and her crowded house and all her books, her literary life, a thing that has always been a basic bedrock grounding of my existence, such that I have never even needed to protest loudly about anything contrary to it.  Why would I not do literary things with my life?  It would be fucked up if I didn't.  What else would I be doing with the juice of my life?

A thought is hard to hold on to.  It's secure in your mind one moment, and then you check the refrigerator, open, suspiciously, a bottle of Virginia red wine, have a bite of something, and then you've forgotten it.  American wines, like soda pop, Jesus Christ, and this is Cabernet Franc.  Images from television, sound off, a most innocuous subject, Whistler, becomes intriguing.  Then you remember Tim and Daphne's house, when Daphne was very much alive, the neighborhood godmother with her gray streaked greek long dark hair, and then remember her you remember Brenda, and the time you picked up a shift so she could go see the Dead, and much to your guilt the good woman brought Bruce Hornsby by, knocked on the front window after we'd closed, and we didn't open the door not knowing who it was, or maybe we were drunk or angry and not knowing to see an angel when one comes, as is the case often enough.  Too many preppy Glover Park shitheads, and we turn away poor good Brenda when she comes to make our lives better, and it was my own damned call from what I remember, not Eliot, the managers.  She died a few years later.  It was hard to work with her, hard to deal with the daytime bar patrons who followed her, me coming in like the relief pitcher in inning eight, everyone drunk and loud, their checks confused, manipulative people I finally befriended, freaks of an old hippie time in Georgetown long since gone away, as a way to deal with them.  One feels a wish for having spoken at her funeral, how she once encouraged me to go talk to the religious people down the street at the university, or told me, there in the Grog & Tankard one night to move to New York and become a song and dance man as was my true calling.

What else is there, in order to truly live, as is known in your insides, but to be a writer, a literary person, a person who believes in the Romantic truth of the poet's eye as the highest best truth.  How to live, how to translate that, how to make it happen?  And so it always helps to get the vibe from a European nation with a long history of saga, written word, the old cultures and traditions we here can only create in competition with all the things that make a consumer popular splash.

How will I go back to work tomorrow?  Will I be able to fall asleep at some point?  You've done a job so long, put your literary life on hold, not been able to carry the faith that you see in European culture, don't get any response, I guess you have to do literary things one way or another.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

I guess you have to have a tolerance for it. A  high tolerance, for the time alone, in many ways, alone, time spent in the antisocial job of poet, writer, essayist, novelist, memoirist.  The verbal habits you have are different, inclusive of the belief that such makes a difference, that such is even essential, the conviction that words are not exclusively for social life, for intimate life.  Thoughts, not shared in the common market of verbal exchange, but submerged.  Not shared in the usual habit of conversation, and so they are different.  Built out of little notes on the side, almost an adolescent thing, of an inner purpose.

And this runs against the main reason why people are verbal, to be social.  They do their exercise, keeping the body in good shape, and to them the whole point of being able to talk about something is to use it for social behavior, to belong in groups.

That's the kind of town it is, where things are getting things done.  Less ambiguity, the better.  A town for clear progress.  And there is no point to writing of a certain kind here, of the kind that's not a report, or a journalist piece, in the eye of the official ego of the town.  At the very least, a clear story about something.  There's so many things to do, so many ways to make money, so many material things to describe, there's no place for any other kind of activity such as writing essentially is for some of us at least.

To not write for a clear purpose or to record a recipe or to explain a part of the world someone has been to, that would be scandalous, as defensible as masturbation.

And yet there is a verbal vanity to the town, so many with a  book they'd like to write, a book about themselves.  A well-read town, of course.

And then there's me, who has absolutely no purpose.  Laundry to do.  No bar stories for not working the night before.  Hot out, ragweed pollen in the air, no sense of how to kickstart the day.  The sheer sense of inactivity that comes when you've not been writing, not been writing down the memory of how my father would come out of the house and wave when I backed out of the small driveway, paused on the road to wave back, before driving away back down College Hill, braced for the long drive back down 81 to Washington, DC and my pointless life alone, no sense of home, home being back there where my father was.

Seeing a therapist, what good does that do but make you wonder about your own good instincts, the thing you have to go on...

It's for the artists not to belong as easily, to not participate.

You have all the time in the world to write, and yet you don't.  Fritter it away, thinking about writing without actually writing.  No job to show up to today.  You don't belong to consumerist society and that state, if anything gives you freedom, because it's not like you're going to pick up any chicks being like that.  There's nothing interesting you have to write about work, just your old aging self that you may take out for a bike ride at some point.  Worry, shame, a sense of not having an honest job, all those things go through your mind.  Where to write, even.  Go down to Starbuck's, which means be a poseur.  Or, give up, get a job, there ceased being a point to this a long time ago.

This is the true stuff of writing, the shit aspect to it, the vagueness, the helplessness, the futility of the activity, the puzzle of being alone in a room, and what do you do with yourself, and how do you avoid falling into some mind game fantasy or projection about what might be going on somewhere else nor or in the future, or even in the past.  The world has gone back to school, back to campuses, and left you in your own disorder, with no sense of a future.  Is it the awkward need for a public living room, just to get out of the house...  The point at which you've done enough yoga, had enough of  Buddha, for the time being, the point at which you are incredibly bored, rudderless on top of that.  What do you do then?  You want to avoid conversation with the neighbor and his 'what, what?' as if wanting an admission of something out of me, a wish to escape, but where, except to park benches, maybe libraries...

My father's humble Timex Indiglo watch still ticks on the little table by my bed, his sandalwood scent on the leather band still, and my own watches issues with their straps...  My fake Panerai, against his humble still functional watch that ticks on years after his passing, his disappearance, his death.  But the watch, with Swiss movement, I did get that for myself, as a treat for having my four wisdom teeth yanked, and I remember his emotion when he called the morning of going it to have that done, so there is a good memory attached to the thing.  I bite the inside of my mouth below the lip as I eat a microwaved Rosada hot dog, spread with mustard to balance the sweetness, and I need to brush my teeth and get out of the house.