Sunday, December 21, 2014

There is that special agony of having to make a choice, doctor, and this course of therapy places importance on your choices.   You make a choice to reflect your values, you carry through with it.  Action.  But instantly, after we make a choice, well, you're faced with a myriad of interpretations, the complexities of an act's values.  Like, you ask yourself, in doing something, what value are you standing up for?  Does my act mean this, or that?  And in a way it becomes enormously stressful to make any sort of choice, because then you have to ask yourself and answer all these questions...  And perhaps we can never know, really, the ultimate value.  Am I making a particular choice to reflect my love of family, or am I closing my life down not choosing some wonderful new experience to be had on my birthday...

I mean, doctor, like let's take Jesus.  Doesn't seem he's all that big on choices.  He doesn't stop and interview scores of people who's going to be his disciple.  No, it's that guy standing in front of him, the fisherman guy over there, the tax collector, another guy and his brother.  He doesn't seem all that stressed out about things.  And so this interesting tale of his journey emerges, he did this here, he did that there, he went over there.  People talked to him, asked him questions, he answered them, he explained a few things.  Things were neither within his capabilities nor without.  He was a pretty good psychologist, meaning that he could see people's complexes, the things they were thinking.  So when he said, thou hypocrite, he was saying so out of a pretty close judgment of an individual character.  Some people choose to sit in front rows, to pontificate and make judging statements about the behavior of other people, "you're doing this, such and such a thing, not within the law..."  And when such people define the law in a certain, probably narrow, way, "you can't heal people on the Sabbath,"  Jesus always offers another interpretation, deeper, clear and simple, understandable, and maybe even poetic.  And he's so good at making choices, it's like he can even see into the future.  There'll be an ass waiting for me, he says, and then they get there, and sure enough, there's an ass there waiting for him.

Well, anyway--thanks for listening to my little tale--I found myself a bit stressed out, about the holidays, about working on the holidays, about how I had to express my values, say, of family, what I should do, and on top of buying gifts and the whole list, wrapping paper, etc., etc., I guess my head was about to spin.  And I was feeling really crappy about not being able to get some upcoming time off of work, let alone Christmas night, and I'd picked up a shift for my friend so he could go to his uncle's party, and I dragged myself to work that night, quite unhappy with the schedule, and I bitched a bit, vented my grumpiness, and then, I don't know, it all began to be clear and I could understand why, all the reasonable good reasons behind work.  A guy had to go off to El Salvador for a cousin's wedding.  Christmas night dinner indeed was going to busy enough to warrant bringing in the A-Team.  And as long as it's justified from a business perspective, well, at least you feel better about it.  You do what you can do.

But there is something wiser than the particulars of a choice and reasoning it all out, feeling this way one moment, feeling that way another moment even...  It''s kind of like, let the choice happen, the outcome happen.  Things will work out in the wash.  And maybe some deeper part of the mind we don't consciously know has some sense of the peaceful final outcome, of the deeper general appropriateness.  It can take a lot of stress to get through to that point though.  Self-inflicted.  Over thinking.  Feeling the need to make judgments out of fearing not to make the right ones.  Anxiety loop.

So you let things be, and at least that's easier on your blood pressure.  And this represents a general maturity of stepping away from all the judgments of a thing being good or bad.  And anyway, it lets you live in the current moment, relaxed as you can be.  And that's a good thing.  That's when you can get back aligned with the work you're doing, with the stuff you like, the stuff that engages you.

And maybe that's why I like tending bar.  You're not choosing who comes and sits and what they want, what their tastes may be, and it's a great place to live in the Zen moment.  A guy told me his friends had described me as a guy "who takes care of people."  Wow, that's pretty cool.

A lot of the crap I write, I'm afraid has to do with all that worrying, of making snap judgments of the kind you later regret.  How can you really say a final truth about anything.  Things have to exist yin and yang, spider and fly, talky guy, quiet guy....  It's embarrassing being a writer, or the things you write, until you admit, hey, it's all as substantial as passing shadows, don't get worked up, get enough rest, eat properly, take care of yourself, learn about your true self.  Maybe that's how it works, you have that rough draft where you have something in your craw, so you write something suggesting one side of truth and justice, you write it down, but sooner or later, the way you think about something inevitably gets adjusted.  Yeah, the guy talks a lot, but he's not a bad guy, and he reads books and even writes them.  (Maybe that's what irritated you about him in the first place.)  Yeah, the boss eats with his family, but of course he's not going to tip, because he's working too.

Find something that's good, say, a Beatles song, and there's something simple and intuitive about it, its creation allowed by flow, not by constant judgment.  There's an ease by which they played their instruments and sang, to their lyrics.  "You think you've lost your love, well, I saw her yesterday-ee-yay, It's you she's thinking of.  Apologize to her-et-er."  George Harrison on the lead guitar.

Who even knows what he's producing in his work, by it, through it.  The work accumulates through daily act, and by and by it slowly takes shape as it is.  Or maybe you get better at it, through time.

Christ, I use to have a hard time back when I tended bar.  I'd become very shy, even if I wasn't shy in high school.  But after college, I don't know, like I lost all sense of self-confidence.  I could hardly talk to people, and didn't really care about sports or golf or some televised crap.   Really weird.  Well, now I can talk to pretty much anyone.  That's the craft I've learned over the years in places like the Beatles' Hamburg strip club.   Well, I don't know, I could talk always talk to people, I've always liked talking to people, and you're good at what you like doing.

Did I make a choice being a bartender?  Was it conscious?  No, not at all.  I totally fell into it.  My mom would talk about our visit in Ireland, and how people would talk and talk.  I'd remember the car would stop by the side of the road on a sunny day with the fields around us, and maybe we'd ask for directions, and the guy with the tractor--they always waved to you, even if they just had one spare finger--would talk and talk and ask questions, and it was hard to understand with his accent, but it sounded marvelous, and we'd sit there, and sit there...

I don't know, maybe it was that thing with the girl in college that fucked me up....  Every time I made a choice, tried to talk to her, it always seemed to go awry, she'd snap at me, whatever.  And I would then feel like I'd expressed myself, and was rejected, and that's when she'd be vulnerable, but by the time I let myself see that, her vulnerability, the closeness of my success, the chance had just passed me by, and then it was all back to the start, ground zero, the old drawing board.  Yeah, I felt I'd expressed my values.

And the same thing with my English classes.  I took a long time, I got very focussed on a text, because I love the whole thing,  what you could learn directly from words, but also what you might learn by further study, and there was always something, just sometimes you have to wait for it, 'til your deeper understanding comes out.  Was I rewarded for that?  At times, yes, but sometimes, really not, in fact a great harshness, a D....  Not out of disregard or sloppiness, but really out of a deep love...

So that's why I guess I didn't feel I could trust myself, or anything, really, as if everyone was messing with me.  I mean, you start second-guessing, you start feeling bad about yourself every time you have to make a decision, because of all that weight, fucking things up with the girl you shoulda married, fucking things up with the career you shoulda had.  That will make you depressed, sure.  The thought that anything you do will be wrong.  Even if you're expressing your values.  And college is a time you're supposed to leave with self-confidence...

I guess that's where Jesus comes in.  You come to deeper higher meaning.  You see the shortcomings, the weakness of faith in people.  You see how you have struggled on, and made deeper meaning out of life's twists and turns, sad as they can be sometimes.  You held your little candle flame up so people could eventually see it.

I guess that's what my mother stands for in my book.  Standing up.  Having faith.  Faith when the world gives you obstacles and impediments and coldness.  Trudging on, when few believe in you, when the way it tough...

Funny, we say, when we have to make a choice, 'what would Jesus do.'  What would Jesus do?

Or you make a sort of joke.  "Jesus goes to see his therapist in her office, walks down there, puts in the code to open the door, climbs the stairs, says hello, sits down in the chair.   And he's like, 'what the fuck?  Why are people like that?  I can wake poor sick little princesses from the dead, but I can't get a goddamn date..."

I was talking to my therapist doctor about how my collegiate attempts to express my values, through taking apart a poem to get to the essence of its teaching.  "There is a difference between feelings and values," she said, with some authority.

Hmm.  But that was a value, to explore the deep truths, that literature leads to.  And you have to inhabit a poem before you get it.  It's like acting.  I enjoy that.

"But I wonder," she said, "if some of this isn't obsessive behavior.  You could have written a paper that would have satisfied a professor's needs, handed it in on time, but instead you..."

She looked carefully at me.  In a way she had not looked at me before, squarely, as if to say 'this could well be an issue here, don't you think?'

Well, I never thought of that.  I was an arrogant little guy back then, the son of a professor, looking for deeper meaning... I was doing what I'd found so engaging, that discovery in DeMott's class, the guy I got the most out of, of inhabiting something well enough to finally bring it to life.  I thought for a moment, looking out the window at a grey December day.  But I see what you mean.   But how do you know, whether or not your obsessive?

What if you were less obsessed with writing now, and spent more time sending things off?

Hmm.  I thought about it.  Wasn't the first time I'd heard that.  "You're obsessed."  "Who else am I obsessed with?"  "You're obsessed with lots of people," she'd said as we walked along there in front of the old library.

I don't know, why does one write, why does one do yoga?  To think things through, to do some inversion stands and get yourself in a  better mood.  To figure some stuff out by writing down a sketch.  Each an exercise.  But the best stuff you'll write is the stuff you write for yourself, and at this point in the history of writing, I don't think it's the worst thing to write out what goes on in your head, in the thoughtful parts of it, the feeling parts of it.  Not as glorious as Ulysses, but, honest anyway, little daily exercises when allowed for the sake of some kind of balance.

But is everything I do, the way I live, a bit obsessive?  The way I cook hamburgers, don't eat out hardly ever, have my particular hours...  Yes, could well be.  The things we do alone, are they necessarily obsessive?

Yes, but that's the literary element, the obsession of Captain Ahab, which surely reflects Melville's self, the same with Don Quixote, an old gent who's been around the block a few times obsessed with the gallant chivalry of old tales retold.

The time was up and I pulled out my check book.  "Just when you think you got it figured out," I said, back to the old drawing board," scribbling out thirty five exactly.  "And we can take this up next time."  Okay.

So that was my problem.  Obsession.  Not knowing when to say when, a fixed wheel in my own patterned loop.

Well, you try to think things through.  What do have to go on?  Some form of intuition.  Habit, knowing the things that work for you, like the food that doesn't throw your guts out of whack and give you gas or make your joints ache.  Like the wild experience of writing, of not really knowing what you are thinking until you write it down, a record of it, kind of like a dream, a way of working things out.

Friday, December 19, 2014

I learned about wine from the ground up.  I was rescued from a once original TexMex place, once full of talent, that grew into a chain and then descended into corporate meaninglessness and aggression.  Bruno, a chef, whose crew I would take care of later on a Sunday night at the end of their week, had mentioned opening a wine bar up top of his bistrot.  I'd read New York Times Dining Sections enough to know a good idea when I heard one.  I finally was told to depart, and within two weeks I was down the street, by a good few long blocks.

And so, knowing nothing, I would ask questions.  Questions which may have seemed stupid to the real French-born pros I was now working with.   I had proposed, you know, classic cocktails, in my sit down interview the boss and the wife I already knew, pulled out a Times article, about making your own bitters (this is ten years ago at least now), and wisely Bruno said, well, thank you, but it's really about selling wine, a bottle or two with dinner, to go with the dishes they have.  Okay.  A small ah-hah moment, and a relief.  I had gotten rather tired of selling beer to the softball teams semi-drunk, not eating.  Wine with food.

I'd ask questions.  I'd look through lists, I looked up grapes and regions, and appellations of wine.  So, like, what's a Faugere like, what's a Costiere de Nimes like, and how are they different.  These were questions that distracted the French crew from their normal rounds, but they'd offer a few choice words, 'oh, inky, that wine, full of... ' and they'd mumble the name of a grape and I'd say, oh, I see, of course, yeah.  Later much would I learn to translate wine by their own inherent vocabulary and habit and ground, like the bacon-like hedgerow of herb peppery dark fruit redolent thickness of particular forms of Syrah based wines.  One of the wines we had by the glass, a white, was from Cotes du Tongue, with seven varietals.  Try to explain that from reading a book.  I learned the basic dexterity, or maybe I already knew a little bit of it, for approaching a wine.  Look.  Sniff.  Spin.  Breath.  Slurp up with curved tongue closed against the palate... spit or swallow.

It was after a rather hectic Sunday night and my passing downstairs where and when I discovered my wine moment.  The manager, a famous guy from Laos, lots of restaurant history and restaurant people and restaurant customers under his belt, many connections of all sorts, had opened a particular wine and even decanted it.  It was, I think, an Hermitage Du Pic St. Loup, a Kermit Lynch import.  A 2003 perhaps.  Old Boone poured me a glass, and I swirled it, and then I got it.  In there,yes, there was the manure from the manure spreaders of my child hood, fat back tired, pulled by a pickup truck.  And the manure came in some way from the shale-y underground on which everything in our part of the world grew....
Perhaps Hawking is poetically correct in thinking artificial intelligence will grow smarter and overtake our slowly evolving brain power.

I wake up and the computer tells me how irrelevant I am.
It swallows my attempts at wisdom,
into its myriad infinity.
There are holiday deals to be had.
Get on with it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Yes, Doctor, I guess I was just a bit afraid of all this, like, where would it lead me as far as my feelings, perhaps ones I've not accepted, and what you said the last time when we talked about a person saying she'd 'go to the dean' kind of opened things up a bit.  And that's kind of a turning point, or maybe an opening of the proverbial floodgates on a lot of negative emotions and depressing stuff, uncomfortable thoughts, maybe ones I didn't want to accept, maybe out of being an inherently nice person and giving people benefit of the doubt.  And now what I'm seeing is this great cruelty, this great insensitivity, this incredibly adversarial kind of an attitude.   And people, you know, take up a cop mentality and watching you, watching you rather than like interacting with you and talking to you like you're a fellow human being, and when people are watching you almost by definition, out of being human, you're going to fuck up, you're going to act in ways that allow them to pounce on your behavior and construe like the worst of intentions or bad character.

And when you're charged in such a way, tacitly, by implication, nothing really so overt, you know, it's naturally bound to be hurtful and incredibly depressing.  I don't know, do you internalize it?  Of if you're too nice a guy you kind of don't fight it or something, or you ask yourself what you did wrong, or see that you did wrong, that you were at fault, but missing how things are sort of rigged against you.  When they shouldn't be.

I just find it so depressing now, so hurtful, so cruel, and I never wanted to think that, see the cruelty, the mean spiritedness in, you know, 'a bunch of sweet defenseless college-aged girls.'  Ones whom you seem to have pissed off by just being you.  But Jesus Christ no wonder I sort of gave up, or half gave up, I don't know, like, ever even trying to set up a date or think a phone call might go okay or that things stood even a slim chance of working out.

Yeah, all that treatment was kinda rough, you know.

I looked out the window.  Some of Chekhov's best most sensitive stories are about that sort of a thing.  Ward No. 7.  The things people think about other people... when the other person is you.

I didn't realize it at the time.  Or not consciously.

Or maybe that's just how society is, has to be, adversarial, organized into a kind of police state unwittingly.  And maybe that's kinda scary, on top of being depressing when you're out to give your best and you care.  Maybe that's what a grading system is;  we have to grade everyone.  Fuck it, just let them be.  Learn what you can, interact, two way street.

DeMott, last thing he said to me before I graduated, was that he let me down.  But I... you know, didn't see it, not so clearly, maybe because the whole thing was such a huge let down.  I mean, not all of it, but yeah, shit, at least I learned something, I did.

I smiled at her and then looked down at the carpet, and she gave me a nice 'oh, I'm sorry, poor guy' kind of a looks with her lip.  And I felt like my nervous system was sort of shaking in some kind of unfelt pain, my hands quivering slightly, not wanting to look up at such a generally depressing situation.  "How bad is it, doc?"

And I can see a bit better like, to understand why I would have pulled back some or been a bit hesitant, without wanting to, by conditioning.  Like, don't touch a hot stove.  I've blamed myself for a long time for those times when I wanted to talk to her but...  I'm actually wondering now if my reactions weren't pretty natural after all.

I wonder, given the case of my father, the teacher, do such things happen more to noble people somehow, as if they were a contrast from the norm.  I don't know.

As I wrote her a check at the end of our forty-five minutes I told her about something the chef said to us, about all the pressures on a chef during a restaurant opening, and that he drank to deal with all the stress and negative emotions.  I feel for him.  You might not realize that's what you're doing when you're doing it.  Something to think about, I said.  Next time.


As I left and walked back up Connecticut Avenue passing by Zorba's patio I thought of a sort of Buddhist concept of a Shakespeare.  The odds against a Shakespeare happening are enormous, until you back the lens away to take in vast kalpas of time and the impossibly huge number of different worlds in which in each one and in each age there is a Shakespeare, like the common tiny humming nucleus of all the atoms outer whizzing.  Look up at the stars and ponder the infinite depths of space and the smallness of the things that go on in our minds, and then maybe it's easier to think that there is a common Shakespeare mind within that understandeth all the Othellos and Iagos and Desdemonas and Cordelias and Lears, all possibilities, such a thing is man, so godlike in nature, that no wonder we suffer things too, on our own individual scales, in our own little tragedies and comedies of life.  Which then, indeed, leads us to pluck a certain wisdom, like 'nothing is but thinking makes it so.'  Go through your own emotional life, the experience of your own days good and bad, the fluctuations of moods, and you too are aware of the great Shakespearean complexity of life.  And it's where the rubber hits the road, in the words of it, in the 'sweet sorrows,' in all that attuned sensitivity to the vast myriad of persons we have within us, kings, gravediggers, queens, the shipwrecked, that feeling of all things, as we know, that makes a Shakespeare great and keeps us rapt as we stand in the pit jostled and splashed with ale and wanting to fuck.  We all have within that which passeth show, and we all have the words within to express at least something of all that, we just don't always get the chance, and thus we dream.

Or maybe if you felt all those people inside you enough to write about them and their emotions, maybe you truly would be a head case of some sort.  As a consequence, a Hamlet, unable to do anything but wrapped up in thought.

I got home and took a nap.  Facing the holidays working in a restaurant that would be open on both Christmas Eve and Christmas was putting me in quite a bad depressed mood.  Such that even lying awake I did not want to get up out of bed.  I thought of attempting to smile at the boss's wife and son when my own old Irish mom was coming on a train, spending ten or twelve hours on it to get here for Christmas, and I cannot have Christmas dinner with her.  And that's just a small indication of the incredible complexities we bring with us, to such a job, having to put on a monkey smile.



My weekend finally came, after a pretty long run of five straight nights Saturday to Wednesday, and the first day I was too depressed to do more than lie about, though I was awake for part of it, first bed, then the couch.  Finally out to get groceries around nine at night, and the prospect of how to celebrate my 50th birthday, of how to carry through with my values, having to make a choice out of a yoga retreat in Mexico or a little family get-together, as I would be missing Christmas dinner, was too much to handle.  "Sleep on it," my brother said, then the next day came, the guy came to fix the tiles and the caulking around the tub.  I shaved off my two week growth of beard scrubble, put on my tea coat and went down to take my chances at Haircuttery, needing a trim, then dragging myself over to Georgetown, the walk hopefully helping me think, to get presents, blocks for the kiddies, and when I got home again I slumped into one of those depressed naps.  Jesus, I wondered, waking finally when it was dark out, feeling the need for the shower I'd not yet taken, I have to do something to express my values as far as family and religion and holidays, something, I don't know what.  I felt a small pit in my stomach.  I'd walked right past an old acquaintance, someone I'd flown next to on a plane years ago, but not immediately recognized her face ringed by a furry hood.  I'd even looked away after a few moments of eye contact, as if ashamed of something.  And then finding the toy store on Wisconsin Avenue, and a nice young well-formed young lady who very calmly helped me pick out a few presents, and she too was someone I'd want to spend more time with, but burdened by my burdens, by the difficulties of choices I'd just walked home in the cold.

The initial text response to my request for the weekend of my 50th I didn't get 'til the end of my last night of work, Jazz Night, having entertained a close friend of the boss back in Bali, a former World Bank person, from Africa, now making art of the jewelry sort, much of it copper wire.  I'd already ordered the prize dish of the restaurant, the famous Veal Cheeks Osso Bucco, before the kitchen closed.  I'd not had them in a long time.  I wondered if they were still the same.  "Oh Teddy, sorry," the text read, "M. already asked C. (the local boss) for it off."  A month in advance.  There I was, getting rid of the last customers, and finally ready to blow my stack.  Cursed, I am.  I poured myself a glass of wine.  Almost shaking I stuck the dish into the oven for a while to reheat it, and again the energy was draining out of me, necessary to close the place now that everyone had gone.  Jesus Christ, how much I've given to this place.  Starving I pulled the dish out and sat down at the bar, all alone of course, some kind of music on the Pandora, Herbie Mann jazz, and the taste was good and the braised meat, three pieces or so, was gone in about three minutes time, leaving me staring at the small dice of carrots in the cream tossed pasta, pasta which I am allergic to in the sense that it will gum up my digestive tract as if I ate glue.  And they say it's easier to get bullied when you have a food allergy, forced to eat main stream engineered food that doesn't set will with you.  But starving, knowing it bad for me, I ate the pasta, and by the end I would have rather had the simple meat of a hamburger.  Know what you can handle.  Red wine okay, but other forays into the spirits don't pan out so good, exhilarating as they might seem initially.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The jazz musicians play their last song, sit to eat their dinner after ten o'clock on a Monday night, and an attractive couple who've had dinner and a bottle of Bordeaux and a few glasses dance gently and talk in the space opened up.  There has been talk of the recent protest marches about heavy-handed (to put it mildly) law enforcement aimed at black people.  The bass player holds a glass of wine in his hand as he eats his pear tart dessert and begins to talk, after the couple expresses their appreciation and the friendly warmth of the end of a night opens up.  The waiter attended the "royal family's" dinner over the corner near the musicians and expresses surprise that the gesture of a tip did not happen.  "They never do," I say.  "Not even on Christmas."  He recounts the empty Bordeaux glass held up in his face, the aloof silent 'fill me,' and then after the late dinner, the tasting of dessert wine, three separate trips when one would have done.  He shakes his head and has a quick half tumbler full of wine.  A thank you would have been nice.  It takes the attitude of privilege to justify the things you put other people through, the servant's missing holiday, then the hoop of the holiday party that comes later on.  Oh well.  Chalk it up to a different culture.  Be grateful for your "Christmas bonus."

The talk is of music.  I've found some soft Allen Toussaint for the background.  "I don't even listen to that music they push today.  I mean, Miley Cyrus, what is that?" the bass player says.  "And that gangsta rap shit.  All about guns, cars, drugs and booty," the young lady pipes.  She went to the march. She's from Baltimore.  Her date is a dancer and a DJ, and they are both attractive.  She is of Haitian descent.  (Her auntie died in the earthquake.)  He has tasteful tattoos on his biceps.  I catch a discussion about GoGo music, the African depths of its rhythms.  She talks of Carnival in Trinidad, the sexuality of the driving beat.  The mainstream doesn't acknowledge, doesn't foster the growth of GoGo.  Yet it's known and appreciated in other music loving places, like Japan.  Later I'll tell them my cool boss who lives over there in Bali is an aficionado.  Chuck Brown.

"It's all socially engineered, all this stuff, all the tastes pushed on us," the bass man says as the violinist wraps up some cables after finishing his trout.  "I mean, listen to what you like.  I grew up back in the Seventies.   But then music had to justify all the killing and shit we were doing around the world, Vietnam...  And that's what's happening now.  The culture is engineered to make us use to violence, so we don't question it.  You know, 9/11, three thousand people died.  Social engineering by those in power..  Greed.  Bankers stole trillions of dollars from us, and no one could do anything about it.  Those in power taking it all away from us and telling us what to do...

"But you talk to people, people are peaceful.  They are good people.  Like I went looking for some place where I could buy a turntable and start listening to records, that warm sound, and there's a whole movement of people thinking the same thing.  Records."

I am allowed in at the periphery of the conversation amongst black people.  Eddy the bassist has told good musician stories, a Miles Davis quip, gruff, "you need to learn rhythm and harmony" to a young sax player I've been able to catch at the end of a busy night.  The young lady from Baltimore, a bartender a few nights a week, asks if "we're keeping you too late," to which I reply, not at all and it's nice to have a great conversation.

"Yeah, man, like what you like.  Don't let the mainstream social engineered bullshit  (he rattles off a few pop names) dictate your tastes."

I am not privy to the things that the American of African descent has had to absorb into the molecules and the DNA.  Theirs is a wisdom, and I listen to it.  I respect if I'm not exactly completely allowed one hundred percent into their circle.  I can say I know how they feel, maybe, in some way.


I wake up early the next morning, a bad dream.  But I might as well be up.  Writing down what my values are, acting on them in whatever modest way I can, even if it is uncomfortable and the demons come out when you try to take control of your life, and indeed a sad feeling is known to settle in this time of year.  Truths are uncomfortable to face sometimes, but you plug away, softly onward.


The process of writing is much like that of therapy.  No wonder then Roth the great master put the two together, the monument of Portnoy's Complaint, to be understood at a level deeper than whatever specifics might come out it its own prose.  Much the same as Hamlet's own wanderings around in the spaces of his own mind are very close to the observations a writer would make about his own whole organic process, living as a writer, an unmistakeable sighting like that of a particular bird in a tree seen through binoculars.  "Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to take arms against a sea of troubles..."  Open up that play at random, stick your finger down, and there's a writing life in all its oddity.  Roth wrote it after going through his own process, working through the pains of a bad marriage, finding a fecundity.  Just as some of us have to work through the sense of themselves not as a great writer but a miserable go-for lackey who feels unable to reach out (to the female of the species) even as he does reach out.  A writer works in great discomfort and this is the sweat of his brow by which he earns the bread he gathers, the substance of his work.  None can spare him from it, nor from his work in general.

The whole point of liberal arts, of a place like Amherst, is its irrelevance.  A gentlemanly conversation earlier in the evening before all the people unannounced.



Workman come and gone, I read a piece found on Google news, reported by breitbart.com, "Dishonest Feminist Panics Leave Male Sexuality In Crisis," as I slump off for a weary nap on a rainy wintry day.  And unfortunately the story it tells, of young men giving up, is one I only know too well.  The tacit suggestion of the charge of sexual harassment raised against simple ineptness on the part of the young man, and here in an academic setting, with a lack of encouragement toward the male as he is put on the scale of standards that encourage the female student, making him out to be the deviant.  The article, somewhat overstated perhaps, brings flashes of recognition of my squeezed generation of males.  While not facing on a daily basis angry third wave feminism, I've witnessed the stomping lesbian takeover anger while quietly muse over old DeMott ghosts in Johnson Chapel, such that one indeed made a retreat, 'til the angry drove away speedily in a Subaru down past the old Octagon.  I see  how my self-esteem suffered; I can see how a generation becomes lost, in a double bind, in retreat, victim of social experiments, the young white male rapist bogeyman responsible for all ills, as women take care of themselves and won't even let a guy shovel an old lady neighbor's steps.  I scan part one of the article and fall to sleep under the comforter after setting the alarm to get ready for work.

One cannot expect an apology from the female of the species, oh sorry, we messed your life up acting like a bunch of lawyers, constantly judging you, an attitude to maintain, assuming the worst about you, forgetting you are a human being.

The ironies abound.  Born in the era of The Beatles, songs both sensitive and masculine, son of a feminist and a professor of an all woman's college, taught that being sensitive and deep were okay male things, that there was such a thing as art...  become through practice just another irrelevant piece of the world.

A writer is a conduit of life's information, of the mental vibrations and perceptions, observations.  Whether correct or true or false, right or wrong, that is the human activity, welcome or not.  So doing, one observes the thousand cuts to self-esteem, the thousand mixed messages that eat away the self-confidence, leaving once bright people to fall into things like the Elizabethan theater, the modern restaurant business, useless servile places that occupy the edges of society and normal hours.

But it's important to point out that individuals are not to blame, even as one might want to pursue the fruitless task of attempting to assign it in some particular quarter.  Whether it can even be boiled down to a societal lack of respect for humanity, who knows.  (We sometimes offer terms of more respect to particular people than they might actually deserve.)

It falls upon the artist, who respects the individual, who respects humanity, love, the family, to discover such things, to understand the blameless just people being railroaded quality of life.

All year long I respect humanity.  I'm kind and gracious to people.  And yet, will I be spending Christmas dinner with family?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The mind thinks of a lot of things before a shift.  It thinks of how Christmas night will be, having to work.  Christmas Eve, fine, I'll work, no problem.  But to pretend everything is fine missing Christmas dinner, to be at the table with standing rib and his old mom and his brother's beautiful family, a good wine, the kind of thing you've been preaching about all year, the sanctity of family and the good dining experience, because I have to go in at four in the afternoon and wait on the people who show up on Christmas...  then that last hour, just close the damn kitchen, lock the door, to hell with the drinkers, we served our prix fixe menu and that's it and now it's time to go home, and the boss is there with his family as they were on Christmas Eve, 'why don't you sit downstairs in the main dining room tonight,' as the last few minutes tick down to nine o'clock on this worthless shift that makes me look like an asshole and America is about religious freedom, don't you get American culture Frenchy?  The mind picture the guy who shows up and sits there with a smile on his face waiting to be fed right as you get in, and sits there, and sits there, and is going to take his time over the four courses...  'Here's Kermit Lynch's wine trail adventures, entertain yourself, buddy.'

And then there is the worst bar customer of 2014 contest, a consideration of the people who talk about themselves, turn every conversation their own way,  and us in the service business, we're usually pretty tolerant, willing to try kindness out of a goodness based in the heart but fuck it it's not working.

And I'm some poor bastard literary bachelor of the kind that human history spits out upon occasion, Chekhov, Larkin, but that they had a plan, a way of survival, means to fall back on, which of course you need if you're going to attempt anything so Sisyphusian.

You get there, it's not so bad.  The busboy has disappeared, tinkering away beneath the garbage disposal down in the kitchen as you set up, lug up mineral water yourself...  change a lightbulb, the first customers already at the bar.

3800 in sales later, you eat your piece of liver alone with your iPhone propped up against a bottle of Chiinon, clean, dust, restock, replenish the olive supply, the citrus, the odd bottles gone through, get home past bar closing, have another glass of Beaujolais over some vintage hairy erotica while making good relaxing use of a Fleshlight to keep nature in good working order--ginseng, swear by it--go off to bed just as it gets light out, get up when the alarm goes off after two in the afternoon, fold a shirt, make green tea, reheat a hamburger, grass fed, with caramelized onions, a bit of green vegetable, shower, dress and do it all over again, all without a retirement plan.

Friday, December 12, 2014

How to put it?  What makes me think of The Beatles?  I often talk to the musicians, the guitar players in particular, and maybe it's luck of the draw, one of them is from Blackpool, that can't be far away from Liverpool, and then Ken, one of the blokes I most respect in the world, a guy with a sense of humor, and something about the living spirit.  He plays a Guild arch-top.  I talk to him about Telecasters, Tellys, about Eastman's, about Gretsch guitars.  Talk to him about music history...  deep stuff.

And I think about, you know, Beatles songs, like, you know it totally makes sense people, young ladies, would absolutely scream when they heard these songs.  "Please please, me, oh, yeah, like I please you...  I'm a loser, I'm a loser, and I'm not what I appear to be, she was a girl in a million my friend, I should have known she would win in the end...    I wanna hold your hand hand hand, I wanna hold your hand..."  And the thing about this stuff was that it was real!  It was real emotions, and very brave to admit, like, how a person might really feel, especially given the things you might like to do in life.  "And when I touch you I feel happy inside, it's such a feeling that my love I can't hide, I can't hide..."  I mean, it's real stuff.

To put this stuff out on the page, no wonder people fucking screamed.  It was honesty.  It was an Irish quality, rock n roll, chords, lyrical ability, harmony, a gift of words, a blessing to and contradicting the modern world of Hitler and his plans and his economic strategy and his war machine.  Those take-over-everything kind of shitheads, burn the planet for a buck, no shortage of them...  There was The Beatles.

And it was an intimate kind of honesty that spoke to people's real lives.  And all the others needed was a sketch from these guys gut experiences, I mean, imagine living such a life as an itinerant musician in a new form, rock n roll... and those people would get it, and say, yes, ah-haa, someone else has a soul and a life and all these things.   No wonder one of the great poets Larkin you know comes up with the line of his first year of sexual intercourse and "The Beatles first LP."


I suppose there's a power in admitting things, in letting out what's really on your mind, the things we would seem to feel awkward about, stuff from our intimate lives that doesn't fit neatly in society's arrangements.  Maybe that's why all those girls would scream when they played, for this burst of male honesty, stuff about feelings, far different from the simple old male aggression I'll-tell-you-how-it-is-honey.  "Help me if you can, I'm feeling down..."  And it all was electrified.