Tuesday, February 21, 2017

There are the blips and the blurbs of the writer's mind and sketchbook, scraps of paper with lines, the thoughts that have no immediate joint, no standout alpha.


A sort of waking dream, after a bad cold, aches and pains from head to toe, as I found myself feeling somewhat better amidst all the imposed rest that had been building for a long time in the struggle.  I lie on the tribal rug and feel beneath the outer wrapping many rolled nets in layers pulled from a sea, such that the collection of nets is alive, almost as if there were a horde of tiny sea creatures gurgling about, as I drip on the outside, iodine and seaweeded, as if pulled from drowning or a long day on the cold sea in a curragh, leather skinned it is like me, black on the outside from tar on peat bog worthy skin and the ribs of found wood.  A tiny crab or shrimp -like creature would be at the big end of the scale as fluids adjust and I concentrate one by one on each nodule of vertebrae for how they all fit in this boat of life that is a fisherman's toil.  Beneath my skin as I lie, I am a skandha, a complex, of these nets that have seen the waters of the ocean and their life.  That life, all getting along more or less, but you take a slide, like those idiots who drop a bomb into the archipelago to see what fish live their by assessing and noting, but here, in this case, such a time-honored method, like the old dinghy like long boat good from here to Arran island, or rocky isle, those old nets of rope or twine tied into squares and smaller geometry, to then be tightened as they round the creatures free in their cold clear medium of water.   That's me, the writer, lying there, more or less defeated, or caught, but still breathing as tiny infant eels wiggle somewhere within.  A friend of the seal and all the kelp and things that take to rock and live in tide or depth in worlds obscure to us.  Electricity, the minute lightning and thunder that happens down there beneath that gray or green surface, inky, cold, as it must be off the West Coast of Ireland, or Maine, supportive rocks.    In metal form, as in airplanes, or bigger ships, it only increases the tragedy of simple lives, makes burst for an instant the old back and forth of the tide and the bravery of man, woman and child and houses and families.  The plane will, like the curragh, bring you back, in metal, catafalque, and you will to be that mystery of skin, outer husk of all you know of you, your face, and down through each layer of the seawater wet net-like wrappings, each one, not all neat, down to core.

There are the words in all of this.  Like the nets, they are very old, and as fisherman talk to fish and all creatures of the deep, there's the older way of talking, Shakespeare, John Clare, anyone who gets the guttural, as if we could still make up words, and still could hear them as we spoke them and they intoned in some deeper wooden part attached to jowl, jaw, tooth, lip, tongue, throat, collar, heart, clavicle, lung, while the old brain watches on like an owl silent in the dark wood.

Breathing, I feel the ribs expand of these wrapped coils of old hemp woven, those nets that give a dignity to sea and creatures swim.


My job, I always thought, was to be creative.  But I rest now, pulled up, nothing but wild, dripping...

When you become a writer, you become another thing, another animal, quite different, that lone beast you always protected, from childhood holding bear or doggie, friend of the cats that would come to you.  You stand, autonomous, wild, a creature in some habitat, hiding in the herd, a whale in depths.


Time and thoughts, they come from chewing, as we would, not from labors impressed upon us, the squeezers.

Monday, February 20, 2017

However you can sneak up upon, pass the gates and enter, waylay or entreat, simply befriend, entreat, set forth to, however you do it, whether by style and attitude, or by persistence or self-knowledge, need, superstition, dupe yourself into such belief, however you can do it to get over that magic fence and into that quiet nightly yard of the peaceful mansion where you find the spirits and become enabled to write and explore the muse however you might do, this is worth it.  No doubt, no surprise if some people take it to be a spooky business, a feat of augured listening.

Entering the sacred woods, knowing the way well enough, finding your skill honed by years as hunter or trapper or guide or one knowing simply how to live, what music you might find, you have to keep your field notes as to how you are allowed to pass in.

And once there, you have a time.  Its minutes are numbered.  You cannot be interrupted.  You have to remember the styles of history, to remember the penchant for visiting cemeteries with a wish to almost live in them seen in the Nineteenth Century.

We don't know what the product of such communing will be.  Ghost tales in the form of music, poetry...

I mean, most people are not of that mysticism, that possibility of that ghost yard world.  Of the peace that brings us in touch with ancestor or hereafter, I mean, in the way that we have to grapple with it, our own mortality, the death of people close to us....
Reading it reconstructed in an excellent biography, and having long loved reading him and Moby Dick, I can see why Melville would have like sailing and the sailor life.  Those vast open periods, the space of the sea, the sky at night with stars, seen from mast, silence, communication bound to the rituals of a whaling ship.  The strange tales of the professional sailors, the singing of the sea shanties. And all the tasks the jack of all trades a sailor must be, keeping a man occupied, while the mind works.

A lot of the Indie music these days doesn't do it for me.  I remain in appreciation of what The Pogues accomplished, taking from a large body of traditional music based on older traditional music sometimes directly, indirectly.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

I took to wearing a simple daily uniform in the cold months of blue flannel-lined Dickies work pants, a white tee-shirt, a hunter green LL Bean chamois shirt.  A layer of jackets and that got me to work on my bicycle, a winter hat underneath a helmet.  Very simple, comfortable and wearable to work everyday and home doing the chores and the grocery shopping.  At night, finishing my shift, turning the lights off after the long clean up, the mis en place, the restocking, I changed out of my work slack and shoes, I'd get on the bike and head home.  I'd have a glass of wine, try to not watch too much television, stay up too late often enough, finally go to bed.

It was tiring work.  It became that on days off, despite other options, I'd take to the same outfit, making life simpler.

(And with this cementing of a simple life, my inclinations toward writing became secondary, at least temporarily, in part due to the sense that one must be skilled at something practical in order to live a decent life, a quest that might not been helped by my queer love for that writing habit, and perhaps in part to due to my talks with a professional, a therapist, who made me heedful of staying away from the old minefields of thought habit, which can leave you feeling impotent, handcuffed.   I was meditating anyway, though, with a steady yoga practice.)

The mind can make a lot of things.  I found a picture of an old girlfriend on the web after many years.  She'd been the kind your mind makes you pine for, hold a torch for, an old flame, someone the mind had lingered over, for some psychological reasons, for way too long.  You'd attempted to exorcise the whole thing presenting your side of the story in literary form, helpful in some ways, but not in all.  Finding the picture, though, I almost wanted to laugh, in a good hearted sort of way, no meanness to it.  Somehow, I'd known it all along, it would happen, eventually, in such a way.  A picture.   Not how you remember someone, but how they turned out, not idealized, imaginary, but real, as they deserved to be respected as such, real, not idealized, a living person.  A typical knowledge that comes to us, when we turn adult.  One can regret never really knowing a person, missing the chance, but that is how things turn out sometimes, and you've already lived it anyway, so it can't be a big deal anymore.

Lincoln wrote a letter once, expressing a similar realization over a fiancĂ©.  In his case the situation might have been that she had put on a few pounds, which happens sometimes.  Lord knows, life is not easy, a physical strain, an endurance, sometimes grim.  We go on and plow our rows, and wonder what will become of us, and perhaps the best thing to do is to keep in shape with realistic expectations.  As they say, things turn out for the best, and some form of contentment falls, one no longer cares to be much embarrassed about.   Join the human race, welcome.

Perhaps this is a reason we like to watch violent movies, ones which often deal with revenge, from time to time.  Not out of lust for gratuitous gunnings-down, but out of some sense of peace come from slaying our oldest, worst, longest-standing demons.  And sometimes, maybe a little of Clint Eastwood, Outlaw Josey Wales, rises up in us, before safely diffusing itself into routing household chores and recycling.   Sitting on the rug, Japanese style, my laptop on a low table meant for breakfast in bed, getting over the flu, Clint pulls out his six-guns each time a bad guy rises, bang bang bang, groceries in hand one moment, four fully armed bad guys dead two seconds later, over my left shoulder, volume down on the television, as I write.

One would never get any writing done if it weren't for the alone time, and for this profanely sacred alone time, the road is long and full of tempting illusions, chimeras and dragons that seem to go hand in hand with tiredness and burdens and not feeling good about where you might be in your attempt to be a responsible adult and economic unit.  A long time asleep, a long time dreaming, a lot of time in your own little world, albeit one earned dealing with the general public of a barroom and a long list of diner reservations and the restaurant's scuttlebutt.

Perhaps it is simple, in some basic way, to take care of the human animal.  Hydration, protein, exercise, red wine to keep the bugs away, ginger and turmeric, age old traditions of staying well, mentally and physically.  Maybe even a little writing, notes to self, notes from the underground.  It's a private thing about private matters, and you don't feel like talking to anyone much after you've done it.

There'd been a reason why I liked the old Irish music all along.  The sense of humor, perspective, the quality of a mind liberated from the usual junk, the pricks, the assholes of which there are many.  That sense of humor, that's what keeps you going.  

With one illusion dealt with, may others fall.

Not fair it is to look at a photo and expect much of it, as far as being able to draw any impression, judgement or conclusion.  But, if that's all you are given, than that fact alone must tell you something.
(And yet, still good looking, more than twenty years later.)

Everyone in their own way had been telling me to get over the silliness, to forget all about her.  Perhaps some of us don't mind dwelling in grey areas and unhappy things.  But admittedly, with the weight it wasn't a good habit.  It takes the male of the species a visual, like a photo, to get over things, unfortunately, the only way.

And then, in that new light, freed, as it were, my old habits weren't so bad after all.  You can't blame a guy for liking the medicine of red wine, a bit of talk in a bar.  Dating is pushed on all of us, but it doesn't always work so well, those of us who need to keep to a modest routine.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The writings that change your life, that help you see things clearly, are not literary;  they must be spiritual.  They are not about a story, nor dialog, finer points of accuracy and evocation, but rather about the deeper story of life, as we might find, obviously, in the great texts of spirituality and even the lesser ones found in the spirituality section of a good local bookstore, contemporary as we in our own age deserve to express them as much as in any.   Each reader, each person, must react in his or her own way, to bring together what one's own readership has shown to be valuable, true, to the point, something to hold on to, something that speaks.

I have made the common mistake myself, attempting to tell a story, working on a craft, and I find ultimately that the story I must tell is my own, which is a cause for great humility.  Flaws, mistakes, weaknesses, all the things of the problems flesh is heir to, self-caused.  These are essentially the problems caused by thinking, thinking as opposed to the more meditative mode of being, mind and body in touch, as one, enabled to find then the healthy patterns for the conscious being of body and mind.  Thinking itself is the literary mode, too often, and a writer should sit back and let the deeper consciousness, perhaps even the unconscious, shine through the verbiage surfaced on the pool of the mind.  That is, to let the light shine outward, more so than the attempt to shine a mental light inward.

Awakening, I feel shame and humility.  Unworthy of grace, sad that for the immediate time being I must continue for the near future with the flawed roles the mistaken being fell into, ways prone to mistake.  But yet I am more armed against them, through yoga, through things that bring a better chemistry to the mind's body and the neurochemistry, through meditation, through peace and quiet and walks in nature, observation with a freshness to the day.  Am I deserving, a wretch like me?  Buddha tempted by Mara, sitting in lotus position under the Bodhi Tree reaches his hand down to touch the earth.  Jesus rebukes Satan's promptings.  Both are rooted here in the present, rather than being stuck in the past nor in the misguided behaviors that come of social life in a market society.

There is Alan Watts, and Thich Nhat Hanh, and Thomas Merton, any number of yoga books, Gospel stories of Jonah and Job, the Psalms, tales of Buddha, of how Mohammed went up on the mountain to get the prophetic stuff.

These are the things that lighten our flaws, to make them less of a personal burden.  Conventional literature is in contrast by detailing the myriad of the mistakes the imperfect mortal being will make, and eventually one might want to move past them, as it does little good to obsess over the particular causes, the particular actions, the particular mindset as if provoked, as such things might boil down, by the light of meditation, into false ways of viewing reality and the deeper reality beyond.

Yes, that's what literature must ultimately do, put an eye toward deeper reality itself.  This too is a human effort, but perhaps, hopefully, an informed one, mistaken things cleared away.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

"But the writer is a waiter.  That's how he does his work.  He's always waiting, like a fisherman gently holding a line, pulling it in slowly, slowly.  But this waiting, this is what other people, going at city pace, just might not get.  And with a mind toward fitting in to that economic part of the world, the world of grown-ups and responsibilities, well, their instinct, understandably is self-preservation and on those terms obvious and all about you, like real estate signs, how much does that house cost...

"He's quite an anomaly to the economy burning away, possessions, energy concerns, the next best product thing for productivity's sake.  He's an idiot, and he acts like it too...  invested in archaic practices, archaic jobs, the strange holding power of crafted objects, little figurines even, all very ancient, the pull.  Writers can easily be packrats, crows, like Hemingway.  Wooden objects give them a strange sort of high.  It is all art to him, all of it, to be marveled at, as if all of it were singing its own unique song to him, a knob, the build of a guitar amplifier, the old Polish lady's stone or ironware casserole painted just so, bygone eras, Stonehenges.   No wonder I find myself making little rings of cork to mimic the Paleolithic deep into the night, as they hold a fascination placed just so, balanced horizontally on vertical cork on top the slate bar top.  Writing, for Hemingway, the physical reenactment, the trout steady in the stream below above the pebbly bottom, riffs like that.

"People won't always get that time-lag, that netherworldly focus as the artist silently ponders or moves his body in relationship to a tree or something, or stops to admire the stones laid at an old portico.

"No wonder he'd feel odd being out and about, in a place where the furnishings are minimal, more people than objects, unless that too is cause for reverie as often it certainly is.  People are louder than objects, than bits and pieces of the natural world.  But even the most famous of bar-goers, Hemingway, had an obvious fascination for driftwood, pieces holding his attention rapt for hours on end, such that he studied them by slowly burning them in the fireplaces he documented, watching them change their colors, or squeezing orange peel's oil onto a decent warming fire in a Paris loft.

"A lot of this I would attribute to blood type O, on intuition, but perhaps that's neither here nor there in how a writer's built.

"But the waiting...  'you spent five hours doing what?'

"Well, it taketh that long.  You're slowly getting to the old magic of something, something forgotten, like the way the snow shawls the trees in Joyce's story.  Doesn't make the news, quite.  But shine the light on it and that event speaks in a deeper archaic language, hitting us just so, directly.

"Therefore you're able to turn around that negative take, 'there's the poor waiter guy slowly hunching over year after year waiting to live his life even as it passes him by in speeding amounts...'  Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, you'll find early on a tribute to the profession, something like the good waiter observing as if from a distant tower, unobtrusively, he means...  Maybe the waiter is, subliminally, born into the things of writing, writing as writing is and will always be.  Respect for an honest profession, work itself.  Maybe there is a natural symbiosis.  Hemingway celebrated his guys...

If you can see it, hard as that might be some days, to see it as a respectful profession, then it's easier on you.


There is a strange connection, a mirroring, to the two lines of work, the barman setting up the bar, allowing the conversations of the evening to come forth, waiting it all out, and the writer who gets up, makes his tea, sits down to write however he does for however long he might have with whatever he feels he has to explore or say or write about or pursue emotional truth over.  And if you were to understand that innate naturally occurring balance, then you're more content to rest at the calm center point.  Both are nervous jobs, encountering familiar and strange.
A writer with no credentials, no track record, no attributable sign of popular success.   Okay, give him some credit for attempting old school literature, a book written for good reasons, 'an ambitious attempt undermined by' faults such as leaving scenes and characters opaque, too many comings and goings, repetition, whatever other lackings in narrative arch and psychological through-lines, etc., etc., as the Kirkus Indie Review has it.  The cold critique of writer workshops intended to train the juvenile, the amateur hobbyist.

There are piles of notebooks about, legal pads, of unreadable drivel, notes, the great pile of words going nowhere that are a part of an amateur writer's attempt to get started, to write on a daily basis, to keep a notepad, much of it expressing frustrations of his own making.

The work of tending bar leaves the mind wobbly and unclear, reeling still from all the brain absorbed in the rushed evening, conversations broken up into bite-sized exchanges over say a two hour period. Followed by the effort to pull back together and do the last things of closing duties.  Through the evening brief conversation with people you've known a long time, friends, but no time to sit-down and really talk.  The musicians have serious day jobs to get back to.  A few linger, talking about music and gigs, and the waitress's man comes up to visit and they sit at the bar and have a splash of bubbly.  It's the anniversary of her mother's passing, and M.R. tells the story, influenced by her knowledge of healing energy.  It's been a long time since they've sat for a chat, and the New Year will allow for such things.  J.M. shares a few stories of living in Knightsbridge, the fog, a night spent in the park hiding from the bobbies before he could to go the bank in the morning, with our Englishman friend.   For M.R., a practitioner of Jin Shin Jyutsu, it is significant what the doctor said:  Her heart just stopped, (and that was it.)  There are good people come to this place, this little bar, tucked away upstairs in some woody corner, not too travelled, in the city of Washington, DC.  Interesting things can be allowed to happen, and often later in the evening.

At the end of the night, around 1:30 in the morning, I bundled up and walked out in the 32 degree air up to the Safeway for some supplies and a birthday card for the niece.   The gentleman at the checkout, aisle seven, knows my habits.  Walking out with my bag, "it's chilly out," and he ask if it feels like its going to snow yet, "you know that feeling," and I say, "close."  Then back to the restaurant's door, pack the groceries into the courier bag and out the door on the yellow bike.  There are dirty tea cups on the counter when I come back, in contrast to the clean organized bar I left, but without washing anything I go straight to bed and sleep decently, haunted by a few restaurant dreams as the mind stirs toward waking.

Coming back from taking mom home up North.  Scheduled to work on New Years Eve, having gotten excused from the night before I was also scheduled to do, wary of the weather, I got on the road early, not after stopping to take a picture from the gas station of a winter sky and town covered with snow with its own beauty, inconvenient, sure, but there for sure.  Driving down, first along the wide river, the water high on its banks, enveloping tree, through Fulton, then the road bigger, a palpable nostalgia for this country, the light, the cold blown snow in the fields and the wood, driving, driving, down onto the bigger highway, 81, and navigating through Syracuse on overpasses, then past the Onondaga land and into the hills, the ridges, the flats parallel with farming valleys, the barns perched up on hills with roads that interest me.  There's the usual rest stop with the pretty view, but I push on, not stopping, and then I see the text from the boss, now three plus hours into a seven plus hour drive, I don't need to come in tonight.  I'm just through Scranton.  I call my mom from the next rest stop, but she tells me to push on, get back and get reorganized after the holidays.  There are a few things to take care of, certainly.

Perhaps there are times in life when it seems no decision we make is all that a good one.  Practicality and the sense of obscure obligations weigh against what the heart tells us, what kindness tells us, what loves tells us, even as we sense ourselves imprisoned in ways by previous choices having worn their ruts underneath our souls, the ruts of repetition, closing us down to something when who are we anyway, but creatures of better more refined intentions, civilizing desires of bookish sort.  A sorrow comes in and stays.

Yes, there was the writer doing his noble thing, puzzling the spiritual at life's edges, a few passages here and there, but those are largely memories now.  What do you do when you are unrecognized in your field?   But that's just the way the market is, what people will spend money for, some sort of pleasure, some form of learning, new material that expands a reader's sense of life where one's own work just leads back to navel-staring introspection.  There are hopeful signs now and then, a success to bolster one now and then, the lasting place of Philip Larkin, the recent recognition of Knausgaard My Struggle series.

But there are things we do not know, beyond science so far claims to know, and there will always be that.  And the writer catches these little puzzling things in his web, and they are of an ancient sort, of the kind the Elizabethans, to our current eyes, were open to, more than we are, skeptical rationalists that we have become, and Shakespeare even leaves his tribute to that in his crowning work of Hamlet, having paid the bills writing the histories and so forth.  That little bit about Horatio and there being more to the world than in his physic.  And even to hint at such things, prompts one's own prose to elevate a bit, reach a kind of better groove.  All the fantastic electricity of swirling bright particles beneath what is visible to the eye, cause for the greatest affections and love itself and, of course, life.  These are the mysteries, impalpable, the writer is ultimately after, knowing them deeper in a meditative mind's eye.  And it is the science of the time, in the sense of that science being cold and rational and only of clear cut lines, that can, if in the hands of the wrong kind of educational atmosphere, put a discouraging atmosphere over the brightness of the mind and its intuitive grasp.

(The things the writer catches can be easily taken as trivial, of little import, childish, by the fact-driven eye, engrossed in hard-thought interpretations, the dire issues, the world economy of technology, economic might, military capability, set minds opposed to each other.  And you might say that the truth is a way to make sense of the things of the current affairs eludes the realists too.)

Does the imaginative mind get so well the seeming responsible efforts to live beyond the current moment?   Are we made of cold plans for the future, actions meted out carefully, judiciously?  Or rather do we respond as we do, out into the woods, into the natural world, into the beauty of engaging with fellow life.

"You didn't plan.  You didn't get your paper in on time.  This is the only time you have to make the choice placed before you, so act wisely because there are things at stake."

But all that is foreign.  And there is the educator, sitting quietly, remembering, not obsessing, sharing experience, the contrasts the world falls into of cold dark weighed known things of agreed upon standards and the light of life and creativity.

Of course Hamlet falls, being the creature of sensitivity and possibility, as he is set against the cold rationalist professionals.  But the real mind of the human being, a beautiful thing, is still out there, still at work, still capable, still of deeper insight.  And knowing the processes of writing will lead naturally to that, even as the window of the time's imaginative range in limited as far as its popular appearances.

Always old school, you can't get the better work done without acknowledging the methods of the ancients.  Peace of mind, and John Donne, will lead you there.

That was my father's gentle embracing mode of botany, his wide science expansive, ancient, modern enough, the influence of his mentor, Dr. Torrey.

Old books will always be a comfort, even those kept by idiots.


Writing's a different mode than talking, less susceptible to being dumbed down and narrow minded.

You have to write to find out what you really have to say and think.


My friends, they called me Beast back then in college, Medieval Doctor.  Maybe it's not so wrong where I've ended up, as all the world's a stage.  How would one know what one is doing anyway, in this world, defined so such as it is, largely its own self-creation, a work of PR and canny marketing, an eye toward wealth and profit and pay-offs.

Any outside thing can take your mind from its path into exploration of the territory it seeketh.  The words of a song, ads on TV, responding to a text...  That a natural born writer might put up a bit of a shell, particularly as being seen in contrast to the behavior of other people.