Saturday, November 18, 2017

I could not understand where the shyness came from.  I liked that I had a place to go where I was comfortable, but going out for me was fraught with peril.  Going out after the last night of the work week to the Beaujolais Nouveau party at BDC was a mistake (not that it did not have pleasant moments.)  Where does one belong in this world.

But I began to find that the shyness came from the words.  It came from a self-protective instinct, one that had to do with the words.  It had been a long habit of mine.  The words were not, as Hemingway once put it, vaguely, something about attempting to show something left of what once had been complete;  did he make reference of a broken piece of pottery, or a human limb, I forget.  The urge, the need, to protect something fragile and personal.

It's as if within them there are seeds.  Something to protect for a long time.  Who knows why.  Maybe because the words are serious to you, embedded into a central place within.

And without knowing it, most of the things you do, like the job you choose, the hours  you must keep, speak of being a professional, protecting the life of those words, their sanctity, their importance.  Other people might ask, why are you holding on to such things?  Forget about them.  but they were a crucial part of a garden, the dirt, the roots, the stalk, who knew...

It was all necessary to understand, if you wanted to grapple with those events, the memories of which gnaw at you in unprotected solitary moments such as waking, or alone.

The work you did could never be a professional involvement, a professional engagement, of the sort that writing professionals must embrace journalism, factual details, research and the like.  That would be an offense to the holy spirit.

People then might wonder, why would be such a job, when you could obviously doing something like that, more professionally in keeping, in their understanding, of gift and education and the like...  I'd heard that a few times.

But stubbornly, I put up with that, and just kept on, more or less content within, as long as I got a day off, a bit of protected time to allow the words and I to meet again in that mysterious open plain, a sort of agreed upon secret meeting place, a place of liberation.

I guess the thing you realize is the necessary secrecy, that sense that the words themselves cannot be violated.  Perhaps this makes it difficult for a writer to have a conversation;  the thing that most people identify with as their main topic of conversation is their job, their profession, and this is precisely what a writer must very much avoid, considering it, or rather finding it, a violation of the personal.

So there is a difference, one that goes way back, most likely to formative years, the difference between those who master the surfaces, the styles, the lingo, the gab, the show, and those who keep integral parts of you, involved deep within, not for public consumption.  Do you focus on the shell, or that within?  There seems little choice.   It's a matter of time.

And one can of course hope that the world will come round at some point, be a part of that partnership which is readership.  Like the tossing of a ball from one person to another, a reader sharing what he has read it its essence.

There is the, perhaps there will always be, the authorial balancing act.  What can the writer reveal about the deep, while remaining private.   The only real material he will ever know must come from his own self, his own experiences, his own tastes, his own style, his own encounters.  And the space he can create is done largely through creating a chamber of reflection.  The reader, by this analogy, senses the echoes, the connections, the integrity that makes the chamber a whole, but the main part its he unseen depths.  A lot goes into those depths, down the small daily acts of doing the dishes, or, as Agee does in A Death in the Family, shaving before a mirror.  This is the test of whether a piece works.

Shakespeare could somehow transfer, translate, and do all sorts of math.  But ultimately he is Hamlet, a person with a very rich and personal life with words, with less of a gift to make the clean decisions that those who live on surfaces, ignorant of the interior, do, with their power grabs, with their taking of queens and kingships, with their defense of perceived honor.   Hamlet, who remembers Yorick from childhood...

This is the pleasure of reading, to discover the essential.

And also the test of literature, for both the writer and the reader.

But the times, we have come to live in, the focus on the shallow, on the surface, so focussed, no wonder the powerful gate keeper, rather than focussed on the inner world, have behind their facade, a wealth of inappropriate behavior, particularly centered around that which is most private and unsharable.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Words have a life in you, down to a ghostly cellular level.   Words become a part of the organic being's life.  Words shape, reform, guide inner growth.  We are the patient etherized upon a table, words the spooky doctor.

What you write, what you say, therefore, is rooted in the words you have in you, and more words will come as such, based on your being.  It's the words that come out of you that lift you, or defile you.  The old Christian understanding of what comes out of a man has a depth and an accuracy;  tending to the vineyard of our words and thoughts is a useful practice.  Words can be health, and they can be illness.  This is perhaps why it as an old adage that saying nothing is the best recourse sometimes.

A relationship with another person yields the fruit of who we are as a being, through words.

The character, the college kid in the book I wrote, to bridge the gap between male and female, as a last effort, unanswered, rhetorical, is told he's crazy when he brings the princess flowers for the second time, and his line is, "Crazy to bring flowers to a bring flowers to a beautiful girl."  Nothing more need be said. He said those words, and with them in his possession, he can go on and live his life.

Did the words have any specific motive?  Any particular coveted aim?   Did the words bring terms insistent upon as if in some deal, some bargain?  No.  The words did not.  The words were simply words, observations.  The human being the vessel of them.  

But one was a kid back then.  Later on, you learn a bit more about protecting the words.  You can try to remain in a youthful mode, but the adult learns better to keep the human being in appropriate places doing good things.  This can be solitary work, not the free-flowing swashbuckling kid approach.

Lincoln came to have a seriousness toward his words.  Perhaps he had to, from the professional angle he came to it, at it.  But his seriousness was in keeping his words appropriate to the human soul, and certainly he was well-read in such matters, Old Testament, Shakespeare, etc.  His youth as a reader let him intuitively shape himself from within, so that words had physical weight, cellular material, particular ways of flowing that could not be countered or circumvented.  His words carry the nobility that words.  Of course, he could joke, and engage in humorous frivolity, clevernesses, but the weight of words remain.  And if one were able to write, say, two of his noble addresses and deliver them as such, that would be quite a sufficient and manly literary life.  He was a poet.  Words always meant something to him, had an inner personality in accordance with which one must bring himself into agreement with as being altogether righteous and proper.

One could argue that this is why he lives on, strangely, ghost-like, over the American scene, his cracked negative sagacious smile saying that he had accomplished, as far as words, all that he would have wanted.  (One could say that JFK leaves a similar impression, as a man "true to his word," a phrase carried lightly these days of smug leadership.)

Lincoln's words, like those at Gettysburg, seem to have a deep agreement with the core.  Shakespeare's at a tick removed, at the acting level, but the actors sometimes are able to speak from the core.

For the writer of a more apparently bohemian life, perhaps it's easier to miss the seriousness of words, of the seriousness that words have for all writers and writer souls.  The reality of all human beings is a physiological connection with words and physical material.

Poets have done well to capture the relationship, the connection.  "Was it excess of love," Yeats asks on behalf of the Irish Patriots of the Easter Uprising, "enchantment to a stone in the living stream"  (to paraphrase.)

Hypocrites come along.  They might achieve a lot of damage, but one has the sense that ultimately their words will roast them eventually, one way or another.   One cannot maintain an improper relationship, a divorce between being and words, forever;  it can simply not happen at a molecular level.  The biological being cannot withstand falseness for very long.  Great cracks will appear in such a system, seen as rampage and tirade.  Nixon said as much, bowing out, about that which will destroy you (anger.)

I suppose it possible that a writer would know this, but in a way, not know it, or kind of forget about it, this deep relationship.  After the literary flourishes of his youth, what now?  What is the proper way to proceed, given the seriousness of that which he unveiled?  Into obscurity?

How to go with the light, rather than against it?

But words of yours, in a good way, can never be taken from you.  They are a part of you, part of your being, your personality, your temperament, your physical being.  There is an innate respect for them from within, just as the words are from within.

None of us have ever really figured out what writing is, what its benefit is, what its purpose is.  I suppose only those who do it, though they too must live under a limited understanding, consciously.  They have allowed something to happen in the microcosm of their own world.

Your own words will connect you to the major issues of the day.  Your words will come out to show the great contrast between what you did and the things that the real monsters of sexual harassment, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, etc.   Your words will be a protection, and then a redemption.  They will speak to the deepest issues of the day, of power, of judgment, racism and the like.

And that's all that really matters, the words, your honor.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

It was easier to write about yourself and your experiences in the third person, the man thought, as he drank his first cup of green tea, made before bed the night before.  It was also easier, and better on the stomach, to drink soda water than regular.  He took his pills and vitamins over the course of sitting out on the back porch with a visit from the grey cat for some sunlight on a call fall day, then as he made a tea of muddled lime with turmeric, cracked the eggs on a plate gently, the stove on low, easing them in, yokes whole (botched last time), with the burger patty reheating in the toaster oven with their caramelized onion and fresh broccoli.   He'd made a Safeway run the night before, before it started raining, getting an Uber cab home, then still with difficulty sleeping after running around on a busy Sunday evening at full pace.

There were the medications for mental well-being, manly well-being, stomach well-being, respiratory well-being, for calmness and for immune support.  A shingles shot would be a good idea, and there was also the barnacle on the side of the top of his scalp to get looked at at some point, and there would be the shower before work, on top of breakfast.  The bike was left at work, and so, sunny day, why not walk.

But it was easier to write about yourself in the third person, anonymously, and that fit in with the Zen thing about personal non-importance and the simplest of ego structures.  It was not the individual who was important, but the record of the human experience.
I find myself in a strangely good mood these days.  It happens at work, I notice.  Waiting on the people who come brings me joy.  Wine brings them joy, and I enjoy pouring it for them.  It's a great job.  One that flies under the radar.  It turned out to be a decent job for a writer, such as the way things are for writers now.  The moods surprise me, and I look back at where I've come from, that period in any writer's life that are full of great doubts and worries.

I was a happy kid.  I could find happiness easily, when I wanted it.  I was social, good with people.  Then along came some events, college, a time of life, a time of upheaval.  Maybe I over did it, playing cool, like James Dean.  Yeah, but I was working on something that needed to be done.  And slowly but surely I was seeing to it.  Takes a long time.

But when you are on the side of the good, you are on the right side, and things will work out in the favor of that which you are trying to achieve, it that be of good things too.

It is a simple statement, that life can be, well, difficult, on those of us who are naturally self-content, who are thereby prone to go it their own way.  Other people will always tell you that collaboration is the thing, and this is true to some extent, but first, you have to create, and this happens alone.

I didn't even think I'd have a thing to write today.  End of the week, the last shift of the week the night of live jazz.  Could have been much worse.

The bar was a simple life.  There was always plenty to do, plenty people to talk to, projects, cleaning, no end to it, but your own energy.  And I put my energy, the energy of the day, into it, carefully timed and invested.    Anyone should be so lucky, as to find work with hands and body, mind and communication.  Talk, responding to the continuity of stories, of cultural references in a special little inconspicuous place.  A repository of things put in, remembered.

It was the sort of a job Hemingway would have liked.  But it was no bother that there was not much material that directly came from it.  Those things would remain, in place, left unexploited, a simple background for life as it is.  No need to go game hunting.  No need for anything really.  A simple zen life.

The argument against you came from the Puritans, more or less.  Your small mistakes, they shook their heads at, no, he's not one for us.  You were one of the old faith.  The bad student in front of the authorities.  The thing was to avoid the foolishness as best you could now, as you went on with life, much older now.

My therapist, she reminded me, she nursed me back, back to following through with the values I found important.

In an odd way, you become what write.  And you write what you become.  You keep on tending bar, you keep on writing.  I wrote about that as it applied to Ernest Hemingway as a college senior.  A brief essay that came out of a lot of thought, of a failed thesis, of a failed relationship.  I applied to Professor DeMott's class about contemporary cultural criticism, though it didn't really answer the query he posed of us.

And as I recover my good mood enough to have a health like that of a college student again, I see the work, the thing that I was up to.  Yes, some of it had to do with a girl.  I wanted to be a man in that way, and I really saw no other way to do than to be the kind of writer and person I wanted to be.  And by the time I finally was, I guess she did not matter anymore, but as an archetype, a kind of person that you generally respect and wish to by respected by.    She, herself, outwitted me, was too clever, did not so much want to cater to my baseness, the faults that I liked and kept as a part of myself.

It was all quite amusing.  Hemingway writes that somewhere, in one of those brief italicized tale between the stories of In Our Time.   Germans coming over a wall, picking them off.  "It was all quite amusing."  I wondered where that came from, that assuredness, it was all quite amusing.  How would know that about life at that age, I wondered, as any writer must.  Where does one get the self-possession to think that one knows anything.  How do you get that?  It's something we aim for, I suppose, and allow it to take its time.  Years.  The passing of different conditions...

And then you see, as he did, the importance of all the little scraps of paper, of the little thoughts to capture and record.  Put one down, then another comes, and then another, a self within all allowing it to gel.

But it was not, could not, could never be, easy.  There were excesses.  There were lots of many nice opportunities that had passed into the irretrievable, nice things, like girlfriends, like happy normal jobs and the lives that went with them.  People had aged.  People had died.  Financial security had been permanently faded away.

The story, the only one you really have, I've said it before, is that of how you become a writer.

I was not good enough to go out.  The hours were wrong, and I could not afford to make going out a full meal.  It was better for me to work in such a place, then just go home.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Waking from a dream I am hungry.  I crack open a can of soda water, sip, and lay back, remembering.  In the dream I am almost a different man, but with the same people, my father, in my life.  I have a young girl friend (of legal age), a student.  Am I a student also?  She likes me, which is novel to me.  When I return from a trip of a scientific professional artistic sort, involving underwater photography, optimal use of tight restaurant space, she has missed me.  It's all tentative, but seems to be working.  She is pretty, of a Lauren Bacall sort.  She likes me.

And I wake, and must get ready for work, and the hollow feeling comes back to me.  I must eat something, my stomach tells me.  Back to the sense of shame, of imprisonment.  The writing is the only thing to save me, to convince me I'm still following through with my values.  I suppose I avoid bitterness and something in the neighborhood of anger, inward or outward, fear, confusion, by having to work a hospitality job.  The body has to get up, feed itself, not counting on the staff meal, take medicinal herbs, shower, shave, get ready for work, and at work, no time to dwell on anything.

Where I went to school, the attitude was too WASP to care that much, to look out for a wayward intellectual.  Stiff upper lip.  If you can't keep up with us, darling...  There were teachers who cared, deeply, but not all of them.  To balance this out of really getting it, of really caring, they institute a shift toward ultra liberalism, another form of WASP fairness and the lack of personal treatment, of actually caring for another human being, another human soul in the process of trying to figure out life.

And so I said, to hell with them.

Shakespeare, I was about to say, would not have known WASPs, not their actual Twentieth Century embodiment, but that might not be all fair to say.  For, they say, he was one of the old faith, a Catholic, trying to get by, tenuously, in a dangerous spot, in a very dangerous atmosphere, of spies, and powers in the wrong court.  His Polonius is convincing, and perhaps Leartes, who ultimately kills Hamlet through trickery in their duel, represents WASP forms of "justice."  Yes, back then they didn't just ruin young people's lives through their callousness, they put people's heads on pikes.

And I had come from an Irish tradition, a Polish tradition, non-practicing Catholics, teachers who cared about their maturing charges, who would have reached out to a student going through a hard time.  I had come from a philosophy of the higher purposes of education, which went beyond the WASP bring out the battle fit, the preselected to salvation in a crowd of people.  A blind eye to a stoning, 'couldn't keep up.'

I presented a direct conflict to them, which was not exactly wise.  It cost me a lot of things, including that girl of dreams...  my own place in the sun of education.

And, I suppose, that's why became a writer, even without knowing how to do it, as the only way to save that which they would have thrown away.

The words there, of JFK, one of my sensibilities, held up for me.  And so did those of the at the time avant garde writers.  Hemingway.  They were my torches out of the whole mess, out of the creepy collusion.

Many years later, many scandals began to come out.  Entertainment, the news...

Sunday, November 12, 2017

You never wanted to write after a shift, when you got home.  There might have been a few ideas while you cleaned up, ate something, did the checkout report, counted the cash, lugged up the last few bottles of wine, but by the time you were clean of it, perhaps still there, the ideas of expression and of the impressions you had during the night's service, the thoughts drained out of you into the realization that you were all alone in the restaurant, that there would be no more socializing for the evening, that you now needed to just get home and take care of yourself, then you had no desire to write.  You thought of the next day, what you would eat when you finally woke up.  There was nothing to write, and you just wanted to absorb like a sponge, to let the adrenaline calm even as it contented to rise.

There weren't any characters, no stories.  Nothing to report, really, just life, just the churning shift of the night, the enjoyment of there not being any live jazz to contend with.

Bored you would be.  There were little projects to do, dishes, cleaned, some made dirty again, so breakfast would be easier.  Give yourself a bit of a haircut, far less a trouble to do it yourself then face the whole complication of going down to the Haircuttery, and down there you wouldn't end up stylish anyway, and still with the same head and hair, and at home you could just do it quickly enough and simply with a buzzer beard trimmer without the feigned effort of talk and the awkwardnesses.  There was also a monkish pleasure in keeping things simple and simpler.

And then somewhere along the line you realized you were not able to fall asleep, not ready to think about it.

But it was a perfect job.  It was an excellent job.  There was a deep love in you for it.  It was work, and it seemed to match the natural human skill set.  It was the best town to be a barman, a great variety of conversation, a gathering of interesting people from all over.

Then you would fall quickly into the workweek.  Alone, after work on a Saturday night, you turned on the television.  Mainly out of boredom, too lazy to read.  And then you could not fall asleep.  Then finally, you did, and then slept and slept.

Outtake interview by Burns of Shelby Foote, the writer talking about Lincoln's literary skill.  He was writing in American, like Twain would after him.

Time to go to work.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Good, the man said, cracking two eggs, one at a time on a saucer, easing them into the pan, yolks complete.  Goodly good.  The burger he'd put on a plate, into the toaster oven, set at broil, low.  Turning from the eggs he remembered now, explaining the quiet, that he'd unplugged the toaster the night before.  He had told the woman proprietor at the local market that the new sausage purveyor was not nearly as good as the old one, politely, as she stacked beer cases near the front, having been rearranging the store since one that afternoon.  His stomach hurt vaguely, sipping the second run green tea he had chilled in a  wine bottle from yesterday, and as he sat at the coffee table looking into the macbook pro he sprinkled powdered ginger into soda water in the mug along with a squeeze of lemon and took in a zantac.  He'd picked up the night shift from the kid.  At least it wasn't as cold as the previous day.

There was a busboy once.  Don Eden.  Built low and broad, from El Salvador.  "The ego is the problem," Don Eden would say, and they both would chuckle.

And this truly is what a writer will come to discover.  And it might well make him a bit queasy.  But it is something he has known within for as long as he can remember, and it is a matter of awakening to it.  Where the knowledge came from, from Big Bang, or something at the cellular, molecular, or atomic level, who knows.  Perhaps the knowledge could be facilitated by good parenting, of a teacherly sort.

But every time the man went out, this is what he saw in the city.  Ego.  And when at night he'd mustered the energy and the courage to go out with his shopping bags for groceries, wine, soda water, green tea and other supplies, some of them medicinal in nature, such as immodium and toothpaste, and looked in the through the windows at bars and restaurants, and encountered people gathered in their little groups, he could not but help seeing it.  And while he wished to have people, pretty girls, yoga people, to talk to, friendly encounters over similar interests, while he wished dearly to be, say, at a bar where he was familiar, he knew it was really not for him to participate in such things, strangely, maybe sadly enough.  But he did derive simple happy animal pleasure going to the local wine shop for an inexpensive Beaujolais.  Brave Sir Bobby, he would say to his friend behind the counter.  All wine people, he regarded as a sort of faux Arthurian type.

Then he would hopefully be able to walk back with his bags full and remember the somber thoughts, the observations that had come to him, but as he ate, these proved to be no longer of the moment, fleeting, elusive, though he knew he had stored them somewhere in his brain and sensed he would later be able to remember them if they were worthwhile.  The main thing was to have the observations.  This was the key thing, having them, and knowing them to be tested, true, and real.

He had to work, he had to show up, for Saturday night at the Dying Gaul.  The shift would be shared with an agreeable person, a young woman, quite pleasant, from Mongolia, who was gracious, efficient, and had a deeper understanding of hospitality that puzzled him almost.  And soon he would be pressed to get ready.  But as ever as he woke, it seemed he was already thinking of the people who might come in.  They might come in early, alone, not in the frame of mind of being able to entertain themselves.  Or they might come in late, after he'd been busting his butt all night with dinner service and drinks for those waiting for tables, thinking that now was the party, just as the man had dragged himself through to the closing of the kitchen and the last desserts and coffee.  There were the people who would come, almost specifically, to see him, and the rest of the staff regarded these people as monsters which he had created and was eternally responsible for, in his effort to build up a steady clientele over the however many years he'd been there.  The thought of them unsettled them, for they were the kind of people who'd been taken over by the mainstream sense of human usefulness, polite, well-mannered, certainly, but feeders of ego.