Friday, October 31, 2014

Chalk it up to it being the day before Halloween in an anxious world, the strange encounter with a man as I walked up the steep road coming out of the woods of Rock Creek Park by Dumbarton Oaks;  I talk with my mom, my iPhone earbuds in, and the man, homeless perhaps, a frightening man I had seen before with his small backpack walking with murderous intent almost, turned, walked toward me, pushed me, "aggressif!" he shouts, pushing me strongly on the chest, "too loud!" pushing me again, "I am soldier." "I'm sorry," I tell him.  I wasn't aware I was being overly loud.  Acid washed jeans, running shoes, short hair, indeed, the build of a soldier.  I have to get to work, last day of the work week.  I get to work, tell the story to a few co-workers...  get set up, no time to waste.

I have a nice conversation with a kind woman who's come from an art gallery.  We end up talking about New York, the state, about her journal, about blood type, about the ruined attention spans of the digital age, the kitschy make-a-splash quality into venues that used to be readable, The New Yorker, the New York Times Sunday Book Review, kitsch reviewed by kitsch.

And I finally, nerves still jangled, end up in a bar talking with another gentleman bartender, who takes off on an interesting note, "bartenders are sacred to people, they'd bail you out of jail..."  So sacred that no one's ever really written about them, done a movie...  I have a shot of Frenet with him as I finish my pinot noir before two o'clock and mount my mountain bike to ride home.

When one is tested, faces strange suddenly hostile circumstances, it allows a bit of reflection on life, strangely summed up in random conversations that prove there is indeed meaning to life.  I reflect on how right and decent I've been to be a hardworking barman which is a lot of work and a job important to people particularly as we lose touch with each other, drawn away by the things of work and keeping up with things digital.   The barman's space, indeed, is encroached upon, but there will always be bars, always have been on this planet earth.

And sadly I reflect too on the hidden racism, that tacit creation of deviancy out of anyone who listens, in tune with his self, and dares to be himself, slightly different from the main stream.  And the perpetrators will come as well from those who most ask for fairness and protection who claim to already be mistreated, and their claim to such truth is also Kafkaesque and bureaucratic and impenetrable.  I was slightly different, listening to myself, a good solid person, and you made me into something I wasn't, telling me I was crazy.

But I went on, and survived all that, and wrote a book about it, a darn good and true one, even if it was too male to be in style, as old time Irish music is not all the popular rage of the internet now, and then became a decent person anyway, however poor and demoralized.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

It was I suppose all wrapped up in a knot.  Anxiety, the job, the refuge in wine, self-perpetuating.  Things tended to provoke anxiety in me, and habituated to that mode I tended to chose the things that kept anxiety at its customary levels.  There was the job of tending bar, which made me nervous, there was absence of a girlfriend, which made me nervous, that absence making me do lonely things like go to Russia House and other searches in vain.   It was all cycling around me like one big stress fest.  Negative emotions, the attempt to alleviate those, a kind of being out of balance in myself.  The stress of knowing that I wasn't really getting anywhere in my career, no real estate to speak of, a life in flux.  Chalked up to, well, the typical writing kind of a life of a writer.

So, I started seeing a therapist.  A woman, even, which was helpful in and of itself, demystifying, finding kindness and calmness, of a kind not intent on frightening me or being tacitly unkind as a wearer of a feminine role.  I was out of balance and stressed out, on just about all levels you can think about, in this regard, with a fair amount of negative emotions hanging over the whole subject, enough to make me wonder if I'd ever really had a girlfriend, though of course I have and they've been good to me undeniably.  And again, as with everything I say, nothing written one way or another can be complete and true, by the basic Buddhist law that only clear wordless consciousness is correct as to the nature of reality.  Gently talking, I began to recover, slowly, from that old damned if you do, damned if you don't sense of things, the old memory of putting yourself out there, trying to anyway, and being treated harshly, and then having softened the defenses and seen the lady protest a bit too much as the line from Shakespeare has it, I'd been too dumb or shocked to push on a bit further, watching myself retreat into my own coping mechanisms like a dumb animal (though animals are not dumb at all.)  Jesus Christ, have it one way or the other, you almost want to say, not both, never knowing what to respond to.   Am I crazy or am I sane?

But the anxiety would haunt me, a general form of it, making me want to hide.  That's why I would go out of the house with the security blanket of a writer's notebook, to be out amongst people, far more stimulating than sitting at home, but again like Hemingway observing the Parisienne beauty at a nearby table, taking in the observation of the creature, but then looking up later and finding her departed.  The thought of dating itself was almost incomprehensible, and I developed my own little pursuits, that really highlighted the lonesomeness of the human condition rather than alleviate it, as if I inhabited a place with an unreachable gap of language difference, even while knowing full well that the things we really mean are not communicated in words but rather more through presence, more through simple being, rather through subtle brain waves, almost like whales.  It's a beautiful experience to find yourself communicating with a person without need of words, through sheer emotion, through things like longing, anticipating touch.  Like his wife said about him, what he felt the most he said the least about, Mary about her Mr. Lincoln.

To go tend bar was a perpetuation of the confusion, another voyage out upon an unsteady sea, little to hold on to somehow.

And this is where the yoga, too, helped, helped a lot, helped one regain a kind of balance, the calm to face negative emotions and work through them and keep the gentle sense of the world.  Slowly I gained, less excuse for the negative and the hiding away from it, brief spurts of facing things that led to more sustained efforts, hopeful ones, less the negative voice harping on me trying to frighten me away.  My own bravery.

Tending bar is a self-perpetuating job, a cycle of negative emotions and the attempt to escape from them.  Going out on a night off I could not escape from the facts of the life, the permanent tentative quality of such a job.  I could remind myself I fell into the restaurant business because I really wanted to be a writer, and you can't blame me for wanting to eat.  I did not particularly feel good about myself for having the job, even as I felt at times to enjoy it and its challenges, the opportunity for many friendships.  You drank because you did not feel good about yourself, and that did not make me feel any better about things.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

But we have become, at this late stage, as we enter the geologic era of the Holocene, in which the human presence is shaping the form of the planet, the consciousness of the Universe looking back at itself.  This is our only task, nothing more, nothing less, being the consciousness observing the world around that consciousness, which of course calls to mind the Buddhist notion of rigpa, clear thoughtless mind of pure consciousness like, nimble as perhaps, light itself.  We look up at the Milky Way and the Milky Way, the stuff thrown into matter by the original Big Bang, is looking back at itself, appreciating itself, aware of itself.  We have become as the historian, as the caretaker, as the curator, looking back on Abraham Lincoln more than we can really follow very well his example, which of course feels awkward, because we would like to be like him, a man of action.  Action itself is no longer possible (ask anyone in Washington), but this allows another possibility, which is that if we point out, raise a voice, enough of us, over the sheer indecency of Citizens United, for example, we might bring such shame upon those few who do claim power, that we might set up, as nothing else can, the overturning of it.  Aware of itself, eating local produce, the world has the possibility of a Jimmy Steward Mr. Smith, of a Gary Cooper type figure, a good decent in many ways average and unremarkable individual, a kind of Huckleberry Finn coming to influence the big wheels, crazy and as much of a great impossible longshot as it sounds.  Such an outsider, such a democrat, that even the hearty Teapartier could not say no to, forced by internal rules to jump on the bandwagon or reveal themselves as hypocrites.  A person with so many obvious faults that no one could really bring up anything against him as an issue, "he's a drunk who watches pornography..."  "yeah, but he already admitted that himself years ago, we just don't make a big issue out of that kind of a thing anymore, because hey, at least he's honest.'  The honest consciousness of the Universe looking back at itself, which carries law and reason enough to bear listening to.
Wine, for the hunter-gatherer ancestor, was an unpredictable food group.  It tasted good, it made you want more.  It was okay, controllable in predictable circumstances, at home, a certain quantity of it, but going out into the city at night invited trouble.  It could start at a dinner party.  It all tasted good.   Pizza was not a good food for the type O, so he would limit how much he would eat, and meanwhile, the Beaujolais disappeared, followed by the Corbieres, shared between three people, and then the wine from Chile turned out to be a Winebow Import and it too tasted good.  Later he found himself walking, and it was fairly late.  He stopped into Rogue 24 just to check things out, explaining his professional affiliation to a glib hostess who seemed a bit brainwashed about some particular cooking device, a moleculizer, something almost like that, and he walked a few more blocks before getting into a cab at the danger point.  A ride into Georgetown discussing Abebe Bikila and into Ethiopian history.  But the place closed.  A ride back from Georgetown, more Ethiopian history, Selassie not being such a nice guy after all, and into Russia House.  A glass of syrah-heavy Rhone upstairs so jammy that it tasted like it had been open and patrolled by fruit flies for a good while, though it had just been opened, the barmaid assured before turning away drawn and staring into the glowing screen of her cell phone, completely ignoring his presence.  Then, a Cahors downstairs with a very almost stunningly pretty Russian barmaid with a big rock on her finger who was polite and also having her own life to lead, talking joyously with compatriot friends at the other end of the small bar.  Another Cahors before closing, full at last, then stumbling home, not eating anything and waking with it still in his system and wasting a beautiful Fall day, shame on you, oh well, learn from your mistakes.  At least there was no vodka.

But with wine, that was basically the problem.  Your system would always say, take more.  Good fruit.  And if you had money in your pocket and the supply was more or less unlimited, you'd drink your fill when really you should be eating a steak with broccoli.  At the time they seemed more or less equivalent, and who wouldn't want to eat more steak until really you'd had enough, being full, couldn't eat another bite.  With wine, as with cheese, the full light never went on, and you'd simply take in more than you could process, while still being able to stand and walk home, but the next day there was an unease.  It wasn't your fault, anymore than you could control your own system or have another type of blood in your veins, it was just taking a natural creature from a primeval world and putting him into a situation he wasn't meant for.   His blood had been around hundred thousands of years, perhaps, and wine had been there, even in limited quantities and kept by agricultural peoples, for ten thousand.  The modern world, on top of that, largely conducted its social life around the stuff, and how could you avoid it, but by not participating.  What can you do?  Being alone made you vulnerable to it, having no particular point to the evening.  With company, of course, it would have been highly enjoyable, and then you get home, having been out enough, but alone you were looking for company really, and that too made you stay out too late.

And when you were sympathetic, kind, mindful of the world, the world was not as solicitous, keeping its eye on its multifarious business, ignoring the creature that had survived enough to give it life and art and sensibility and the generosity of culture's basic things, like the appreciative portrayal and cataloging of nature.  Early man had figured it all out, but then along came things like the motor car and complex economies, all of which he, being human, could handle well enough but which were in some way baffling, a consternation.

Poor stupid overly intelligent lost caveman, left behind, caught in a catch 22.  And yet, one day, by appreciating himself and understanding his own innate natural system, maybe he'll figure it out, quietly living alongside modern humanity, though it was all quite puzzling, life consisting of pulling the natural out of it where you could find it.  Yes, it's hard when you can't help being an idiot;  at least you can admit it and find a plausible explanation and some satisfaction in that.

Friday, October 24, 2014

As Robert Kennedy said, all it takes for bad things to happen is for good people to sit around doing nothing, and one is reminded of this during campaign cycles.  Karl Rove up to his old tricks, voter suppression, maybe getting ready, as he likes to do in Ohio, to tweak the voting machines a little bit (a company friendly to the conservative cause), the Koch Brothers shelling out big money to get their boys in so they can bend the rules in their favor and support big money making pipelines that rest permanent ruin on the environment, setting up their own crony system, the profiteers milking the War on Terror, making as much money as they can, ruining our reputation forever, harms that will never go away, Homeland Security its own twisted WPA...  All the Ayn Rand reading idiots who believe the marketplace will just jump in and save everything, as in a freshly 'conquered' Iraq.

But that's not the point of today's little sermon in the head, the thoughts from the spiritual part of the mind, or the thinking part of the heart.  Robert Kennedy's old maxim strikes home on a daily basis as one looks back and sees himself doing nothing, caught in some gentleman's bind, feeling quite unhappy, not knowing what to do about it.

Such that one wants to say, take this cup of suffering away, please, and yet, that is not one's fate.  The wearisome problem that seeps into daily life, infects mornings, stifles the enthusiasm if not in a chipper mood, makes one ask, why...  And perhaps all you can do with it, really, is try to mine some kind of spiritual maturity out of it.  "Jesus, don't I have enough of that already?"  Well, like Pema Chodron teaches, breathe in the pain.  Do some yoga, find some way to appreciate yourself, your chakras, your energy, your freedom from ego which is an effort to achieve.

Martin Amis, a greatly seasoned writer, makes a quintessential good point on Charlie Rose as he tacitly discusses his new novel, love taking place in the death camp.  The world is actually less violent now, and the novel, the inhabiting of another soul, has done its part to facilitate the understandings that make it so.  And yes, this is what the novel, or a Chekov story, achieves, the inhabiting of the vast helpless meaningless black complexes of human pain and suffering.  Something done in the spirit of Kafka exploring the deviancy-creating all-reaching bureaucracy. something we know is wrong, just that nothing can be done about it but to suffer on until, spirits finally crushed by the silence, we pass away.  It's a lot to breathe in sometimes, and maybe that's why you write.

Haven't we all noticed?  Don't we feel it creeping in.  The better parts of ourselves, the gentlemanly part, the well-read part, the content-area hands-on learning part, our goodness toward strangers once the very thing of tradition have been turned into deviancy.  The very subtlety of that which we eerily sense, that which we notice in our hearts, when we don't act like sheep going down to a box store to buy a new flat screen TV, hypnotic stupefying cake for the peasants, that we are being monitored, hopefully not individually--though one hears strange creepy clicks when he calls his mom, a retired college professor with sympathies toward bookish things--but as a whole, us, the very same people who stood as children with their little right hands up their beating hearts, looked up at the flag and recited, in good healthy learning-kind classrooms, the Pledge of Allegiance, thought abstractly of the goodness of Lincoln and Washington and Jefferson and words like "all men are created equal."

(Those who suspect others are, of course, accusing the other of all their own worst sins of betraying that which is good.)

The novel has that quality, call it during political campaign season patriotic.  It's the same as walking down your favorite Linden lined street and discovering it's all been dug up, only much much worse, a gross understatement of how it might feel for someone to come into your country, blow up a lot of things, cause a lot of gunfire and bombs, tear up the fabric of daily life, an understanding of which leads us to do our Marshall Plan responsibility, to man the streets with helpful troops and lead the rebuilding ourselves (not waiting for some fairy of the free market to rise up and fix things magically, everyone suddenly cooperating with what is ultimately a selfish profit seeking endeavor anyway.)  That old Mark Twain understand-the-other-guy, after-all, he's-your-friend America.

But what Mark Twain could not really write about was the sense of the erotic, that which is the subtext of Chekhov's tale of The Lady with the Pet Dog.  That which is the subtext of yoga and perhaps of other religions, the erotic incapsulated, for some, in the sweet form of Jesus and Mary, witnessed in the vulva-image of the chaste Amable Virgen de Gaudalupe, madre y auxillo de todos los Cristianos found on votive candles.   Perhaps how to handle such a primal force is a source of tension between Christian and Muslim, ticks of difference in the corresponding concepts of holy matrimony, holding out a unique and reserved disdain for how the other handles their sisters, daughters, wives, abhorring the other, more or less.  (Both agree upon the subtext, that the full expression of sexuality leads us to the proper outlets, self-control, rather than mayhem.)  Note that devout practitioner Bin Laden, wishing almost be a prophetic figure in his own right, kept a trove of Western pornography, as if there 'just in case,' but obviously used on a daily basis and who knows what mysticism he may have been practicing alongside the obvious practice.  Indeed, viewed from one perspective not uncommonly shared, celebrated in Broadway musicals, this, along with news, is one of the great successes of the internet as viewed from a practical standpoint, along with Netflix and Amazon shopping, Google, and Wikipedia.

Anyone who does yoga knows this, can start the day in a great fit of erotic misery of a thousand Chekhov stories over, a nuclear reaction's worth, and find through breathing in from below and rising the breath upward a conquering glow, allowing even those of us who live alone a healthy form of hope.  Whether that is wasted in the present or not, that channeling is renowned to be great for your own health, as common sense, as intuition points out, not taking a genius to realize.   The great subtext.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The first night back, after driving eight hours, starting the day with a speeding ticket between Oswego and Fulton, toward the end of the night I had a glass of wine as I waited out the end of the shift, the dishwashers departure signaling time to go.  I had a few things to do the next day, a more immediate need to find an un-zoned parking spot for the rental car, and when I got home, I hit the hay straightaway.  And then Monday night I got through jazz, and had no wine at all, and when I got home I went to bed, no bike ride, no TV, just a valerian and lights out.  And then Tuesday, wine tasting by myself, the busboy uninspired, talk all the night through with regular customers and good conversations as I hustled around from one end of the room to the other, except for a small sip to toast departed Ben Bradlee, a customer, to the standard Irish music played late at night when everyone has left, I got on my bike, rode home in a fairly heavy rain, the mountain bike front tire beading my glasses with spray, I went home, did something, again without any wine, involving a study of the female form, no TV, a valerian tablet, and off to bed, soon sound asleep.

A pattern emerged.  Up early, surprisingly.  Relaxed energy.  Tea to start, a glass of V8, a hot shower to get limber, and a decent yoga session followed by mediation.  The usual regimen of pills, L-Tyrosine for a balanced mood, astragalus for inflammation.  What to do with all this time and energy before work?  Where is it coming from?  Hmmm.  After yoga, a good bite to eat, following the Blood Type O diet plan, and even some spare time to walk out into the rain for a bit of grocery shopping.

Finally at the end of the second jazz night, just as I seem to have gotten rid of everyone, a customer from earlier returns with an older pair who have just met.  The man and woman, older, stay for one only one round, and my new friend stays, so, with a sense of certain possibilities, someone to talk to, a quick finish up with the paperwork of a shift, clock out, sit down on the other side of the bar for a chat.  I get home safe, repeat the new pattern of no wine, I'm a bit jazzed, eventually calm enough for sleep.  I wake late, with a headache, and that familiar sort of lost feeling of "hmm, now what, what to do with my time..." besides the usual dishes, laundry and exercise.  The wine of the previous night, a little of this and a little of that, but overall really not that much at all, has left me confused.  And again, I am seeing, I'm afraid, a pattern.

"The problem with friends you meet in a barroom," a man says on Tuesday wine tasting night, "is that you cannot exactly trust them."  We all know what he means, after the laughter, the opening up, the semi-truths mixed with the truth and also the bullshit, and I see immediately that this is true, as I fear I am enabling the habits of a few of the old regulars who come in with their standards and are too familiar with me now for any of us to go back, far too entwined, entangled, and this is how many good relationships in a barroom are, and in many ways they are hard to cast judgment upon on either side, what are you going to do, except go home and be healthy yourself at the end of the night.  "My father used to say to me, Bob, you need to get married.  You have to have someone you trust, someone you can completely trust," the man says, seated mid-bar, giving the statement more context.  And I have dealt with him before in later parts of drunken evenings when perhaps his humor has gotten a bit too forward with the ladies near him, and I have been judgmental, in my heart, I must admit, in my regard for him as a customer, and now I see really what a good true person he is, in fact a very fine and interesting gentleman, an empathetic guy.  Upon the last full moon (I almost wrote, 'fool moon') I abruptly and loudly told him and another regular customer to keep in down as the Satin Doll Trio started another set with a softly played "Blue Moon."  To my embarrassment.  Alas, the pressure of Jazz Nights can build.  Bob is the one to tell us, myself, a couple from Georgetown who have come well-dressed from a  cocktail party for a late bite, that Ben Bradlee has passed away.  "I liked him," Bob says, and it sums up.

And the end of the night, I know, can be reserved for bullshitters and not the best of ideas.  It can lead to lonely thirsts that distract, and these lonesome stresses can build over the week, causing a middle aged barman to really want to go home, ride a bike, flip through the channels, and down a bottle of Chinon, a Touraine Pinot Noir or a Beaujolais, which for a habitual wine-bibber is a step in the right direction, because at least such wines are low in percent alcohol.   And far less tendency for a headache than, say, a Ventoux at 14%, or a mix of wines.

I get through the week unscathed, and now the problem is, seeing as I'm not feeling the urge to go back to bed and sleep it off, an embarrassment over what to do, both on small immediate scales and larger ones.

There is, I think, or rather there are, lessons, Buddhist lessons to be learned first-hand.  I'm not exactly sure what they are.  Perhaps they have something to do with participating in an illusion, or at least some form of tension between selfless consciousness and the selfish wants of ego for things like identity, activity, a good buzz, laughter that relieves but which must, as if to put forth its own Buddhist lesson, fades into the night, and there are worst things than laughter, and it's good for your health, so you can't really knock that.   And there is a tension:  it seems that if you want to go out and, say, 'meet chicks,' you participate in something that might have its fake aspect, its insincerity.  But where else can you go that offers the prospect of such good conversations?  And often enough, the conversations, like the one with a new friend that turns to the topic of abortion, are sobering enough anyway in their own right.  Face it, you know within yourself, you're not being serious in such pursuits, and the time of learning through play, as adolescent animals do, is drawing to a close.

But oh, perhaps I am getting too old for such participations, and must mind quieter manners and a more studious life, a healthier life of yoga and meditation and fitting aerobic exercise, and find, someway, a way out of tending bar and drinking wine, when there is much to be gained by avoiding it, I'm afraid to say.

Waking to the sober light of day there is the wheat to separate from the chaff.  For the large part, yes, it's all bullshit.  Except for that which leads you to see the suffering, to take in the suffering and the pain, to find the very real quality of the human condition, to understand that it seeps like ground water into everything of life.

And I wonder, perhaps me with my system and my blood type and my chemistry, perhaps drinking is not a thing I should be doing with my time, that it is, was, as if I got sort of bullied into it, drawn along by a crowd, and many years passing, just like in the song of days of wine and roses.

Reading over previous recent entries here, I am reminded of the thought that the basic thing people really ever own truly is the poor and suffering quality of life.  There should be something corresponding to it in the way that Facebook details, through its implicit rules, mainly the glib and the happy, a social media form of connecting for those who have found life a deep and serious matter, maybe often a lonesome one, but taking a kind of contented solace in the being real aspect, where no commercialism rears its gay bubbly head, where smiles would not be so conspicuous.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

And Lincoln, even if his own early attempts at poetry might not be so great--they led to bigger and better things later on, the early melodramatic rhymes transformed into Old Testament wisdom--was right.  Poetry is largely about the encapsulation, the expression of pain and suffering.  And in the primer areas and years of our lives, pain is often felt over the amorous arena.  Works like Wuthering Heights stick in our consciousness.  The subtext of most poems you can think about have to deal with some form of pain, be that loneliness and uncertainty, as might be present in a Frost poem, be it 'miles to go before I sleep,' or 'I chose the path least travelled of the two,' in an Eliot poem...  the list will go on and on.  Poems express the subtlety, in the intricacy of corners painful in life, the ones we go to therapy for, hopeful of them not being so heavy, blunt and enormous as to suffocate us with things like regret, the burdens of a Job.

The better part of us reads poetry, takes such things, such emotions in, intuitively, directly understanding with a great presence not just a peering in.  And in accordance with the rules of the playbook of a thoughtful life, as the Buddhists have long practiced, we benefit from taking such pains in, letting our hearts soften, unclench, encompassing such pains, sharing in them when they come from exterior sources and when they come from within.

When we open up we become better people.  The basic nuts and bolts of poetry and its work upon us on our behalf, the subtle voice telling us to accept, to encompass the pains of life, not hiding in blame or escape, feeling the pain of other people.