Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Great Crisis of Pandemic Illusion

After years of bartending, I’ve come to see that there really are angels and demons in and around us. Everywhere, good and bad influences, and a bartender can end up feeling like a poster child of being caught up in people’s personalities. Certainly there can be definably good ways in drinking people, and I can’t say people are intrinsically bad, not at all. The problem hearkens back to the basic tenants of Buddhist thought, the illusions of self, the presence of multiple “I”s within a person, all the voices, conflicting and otherwise that drive people to do what they do.

The point of higher consciousness is first to achieve a distance over the illusory motivations that come with personality and all the acts one puts on. So even in good times, as in friendly times at the bar, I felt a sense of suffering, suffering under the capriciousness of people’s whims. I suffered until finally I realized that much of what I saw before me was all the personas, all the “I”s people brought in with them, expecting me to take them seriously. (Don Quixote seems a classic example of a persona you might find in a bar. One day a novel will be written about his opposite, one who sees all the illusions.) All I could do was, as any bartender does, try to maintain order in greatly fluctuating circumstances.

I could easily be ashamed of all my years behind a bar. It hurts to realize that I’ve had many willful “I”s in myself leading me alone where I did not control them. You do feel foolish when you look back on things you’ve done. One didn’t know. You try to use your judgment, but it isn’t infallible. You can easily fall into a situation where there isn’t any control beyond the misleading appearance of it.

But that’s all how a human being learns a lesson, and that’s the way I learned it as well as I did, through a constant failure, through an embrace of illusions, and finally seeing a light amidst my own mistakes. That’s what you call ‘living.’

There are some things that we do which are good for us. Either good for the body or the soul. And I can say that it is a good thing waiting on people, good for the soul, to the point where it is almost tedious to be waited upon, or to make many social claims that one previously felt comfortable with. One can only feel for the aching heart of humanity. And anyway, such self-questioning is in order in a time when solid economic meaning is stripped away, leaving us to redefine usefulness, professions and basic notions of what represents value to us, what’s worth investing in, as ultimately we invest our lives in whatever we do. Indeed, the timing of the great crisis of pandemic illusions is opportune. To me, after all those years of music played in bars and restaurants, a good guitar seems important, a Martin D-28.

I can’t say there was much that seemed so finally important, other than learning, and a few other things that are good for the soul. Writing remained real, as exercise, as something good for the magnetic flow in the electrical fields of the cells. And things, if you will, or rather people, as Jesus Christ and Buddha became more real to me than anything. A time when what seemed to be illusion turned out to be real, and what seemed so real turned out to be illusory.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A gnostic writer hitting his stride

One has a sense of Mr. Wallace's writings caught in a need to intellectualize what basically are spiritual discoveries. His observations are brilliantly fine, microscopic, telescopic, as his style demands. Yet his powers of observation lead him beyond mere description. He arrives the brink of Gnostic comprehension, deeper considerations of what to do with life based upon the true nature of reality. Did his style deter him from absorbing the intuitive knowledge he came upon through his laboratory vision? Sensitive human being, athlete, full of heart and empathy, what resolutions of observation and insight might he have considered? What are, in full, the icebergs of higher understandings that peek out in virtuosic intellectual craftsmanship of his prose?

Inevitably, having thought the thoughts, it is difficult not to be drawn to conclusions, as his address at Kenyon College renders the importance of empathy. He looked to Dostoevsky and earlier generations of writers as upholding the moral function’s importance in any work of literature too often put aside by the contemporary thinker. One has a sense of an author discovering a great spiritual being within.

Perhaps the journalist, the writer, tends to make a fundamental mistake, that of concentrating too much on the writing, and not enough on growth and attaining whatever enlightenment the human being is capable of striving for. There are, of course, any number of distractions. And the writer suffers even particularly out of all occupations the trap of letting life pass him by as he writes on about sad and stunted affairs. There rises the constant daily effort to take the best of knowledge and put it into practice in the totality of life as any thinker is called to do.

DFW had discovered, uncovered some fine understandings that go beyond the realm of social observation into the realm of Gnostic thought, Christian and Buddhist stuff. Did he allow himself to take some of his conclusions seriously enough to put them into practice in his life? Would that have meant changing from being simply a writer, and in a way, renouncing the cleverness of his craft in order to receive the daily bread? Where would that have left him, and his own sense of maintaining a forward-looking occupation? How would he have been regarded if he became as Tolstoy did later in career?

We might guess he was ready to wield the powers of his discoveries. Was that too much for a writer of such craft to take? Perhaps it is the shyness of an honest country boy who is handed a beautiful instrument to make music with. In his youthful shyness he sees and falls in love with all the beauty of the thing, but feels an awkward sense of unworthiness when asked to play it in public the first time, what with people looking and such. (If one were to attempt to describe shyness.) A more selfish and greedy person would simply grab it, not worrying about playing it as well as it deserves. Bravo for directness.

The writer is given a beautiful instrument, that of his own, to ignore at his own detriment, laid out for him perfectly to strum, and he must lay his own hands on it, to it, and then he must sing. (The feeling of a typing keyboard like that of a good guitar.) It feels awkward to sing outloud, but you sing. You sing and you sing, and then finally you grow comfortable with the instrument and your voice. And maybe it helps you very much to have a sense, a knowledge within, the ultimately the songs you sing are not so far away from the Psalms of David. But it can take a long time, and unfortunately, sadly, time can run out, as it did for a writer just as he hit his stride in all his beauty and majesty. Why that time ran out, in such a particular way, is not for us, the living, to know.