Monday, September 28, 2009

The Meaning of Bartending

When I was young, I came into tending bar the honorable way, if there is such a thing. A knight has a squire, a barman has a busboy and bar back to help him and keep him company at the end of the night when all are gone and time for cleaning and restocking. I guess I learned through awe and observation and appreciation for a barman's work, by those I worked for. Johnny, Lawrence, Jennifer, Brenda, Jodi, Kathleen, Patience. Old Tom from next door.

But of course, I ask myself, the meaning of bartending. A young fool can think it's about the drinking.

Buddha, remember, was an ordinary man, like you and I, who achieved enlightenment. (Okay, maybe he wasn't perfectly ordinary, being an educated Prince and all that.) Maybe the questions he asked weren't so ordinary, either for the time he lived in, nor for the perspective he brought to light. Part of his point, though, was that if he could do it, so could you.

It is written in Buddhist texts that the people we encounter in this life by seeming happenstance are ones we have known in previous lives and incarnations. Think of it. My. Perhaps then it follows that this life presents an opportunity to remember old ties, to reestablish, to share the underlying fundamentals of the nature of reality, and maybe also to make amends for misunderstandings, for mistakes. A good friend of the bar where I work brought in an old Chinese saying, something like, 'you live long enough, you'll see your worst enemies float down the river.' (He says this in a jolly way, suited well to the literacy of the English, and in fact, he is a translator. He likes Bordeaux, if he has to drink French, though he would prefer Italian, a Barolo, as he lived over in Italy as a young man, back when such wines were local and inexpensive.) But we can do better than that, as they say.

It has its rich moments, it does, being a local barman. And last night, was one of them. My old buddy from college dropped in. He's working on development in an African country, so that they too can enjoy some reward for their toils, take care of children, have decent lives.

It does the creature good to have an old friend for company at the end of the night. You listen to happy and sad, of achievements and struggles, of learned lessons and new opportunities and the passing of some things that once were close.

And the next time, a stranger walks in, you bow before the wonder of what is possible, receiving down deep in instinctive ways of inklings of what a person can teach you. My 90 year old Polish neighbor would call this at its basis the love that Christians and Catholics as she attribute to the meaning of existence, and I know that she is right, because I have a deep trust of her, besides what I can figure out on my own, in my own confused way.

I sent an email to my mom elaborating on my friend's news and achievements. And she said to me that something I had said should go into a chapter in my wine book, The Meaning of Bartending. It's been percolating in notebooks somewhere.

No, you're never going to be rich, or be topdog, nor are you going to help people with the world issues that people so much need help in. But you will experience some moments where an equal plane is reached, when the realities of the nature of existence seem to hold there before you and a guest, when a light seems to shine from a heart and point the way toward some sense of satisfaction to be held at the end of the day, or night.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The animals of nature show us that learning is done in play. (Isn't that a fun part of PBS nature shows, kitten bobcats running and bouncing around, little wolves, fox cubs, etc., exploring a new summery world. Mammals have fun, and they also go and deal with life as an adult.)

However, society works by making it so that you don't want to look like an asshole, so that you do a lot of what everyone else does, buy things in plastic containers, buy a car, burn gas, make money, first and foremost, shun the weirdo so as not to be implicated rather than learning something.

Edmund Wilson, in To The Finland Station, brings us a history, the import of one notable person reading a Chekhov masterpiece, Ward #6, against the tableau of revolution. Page 432-433 or so, in my copy of it. The doctor of a pitiful mental hospital comes to identify with a young man who has a persecution complex, taken to a logical conclusion. And that person in Wilson's focus, talking about history, feels like he is there in Ward No. 6.

Chekhov, I'd recommend to anyone, and he'll make your hair stand on end if you give a shit about anyone or yourself.

In a bad mood, I think him useless, so defying my heart's wish that I later regain.

Friday, September 25, 2009


The world cycling championships are being held now in Switzerland.

Televised cycling coverage has improved here in the U.S. This evening we were treated to a a great showing by the home turf champion in the men's individual time trial, Fabian Cancellara. This year he came to win back his crown, and that he did.

I will admit, watching bike racing can be awfully boring. The commentators face a lot of open road, and little but time checks in the way of action. Riders are set off in a race against the clock at one minute intervals.

Finally, after a great showing by a relatively unknown American, Cancellara, in Swiss national colors, atop the same red Specialized time trial bike (or facsimile thereof) machine he handily won the Prologue of this years Tour de France in Monaco, rolled up to the gate. Standing about 6'1" or 6'2", he's a big fellow. "He's a strong man," a fellow racer commented with understatement during the Tour. He has some pretty big legs.

The crowd, obviously, was waiting for him for hours to cheer him on. With the Swiss champ on the road, things became exponentially more interesting for those looking at their TVs.

Power, fluidity, steady cadence, Mr. Cancellara rode to an authoritative victory. (VeloNews.Com gives it far more justice than I.) And to see, on the podium, a big happy gentle rider, easy-going, content, smiling with a genuine grin that had no "In Your Face" quality to it all, made a viewer happy, as he did the crowd seeing the medal awarded to him. Indeed, he knew he had more than a few seconds to spare as he approached the finish line, and gave the gathered crowd an extra long appreciative salute that seemed as much a rolling hug as anything.

There are some fine moments in sports, and this was truly one of them.

Hats off, brother. Hats off.

Mad Men

Did the John Deere riding lawnmower really need to run over the guy's foot?

We were introduced carefully to a Englishman with glasses who would manage the office, then to be told he was being sent away to the Far East. The new appointment loses his foot (in a bloody spray that one could only, in a grisly moment, take to be precursor to an assassination we all know about, either through memory or history, given the show's setting in the first years of the Sixties) and so he won't be staying with us, and we'll have the chap we know already. (Introductory writing classes tell us to keep things streamlined, to not introduce characters who won't later be essential to the plot.)

This viewer feels manipulated. As far as the show, it all makes sense, I suppose, and let's not be overly squeamish. But... The Elizabethans liked gore, by reference, more than show. (There is no mention of any fake blood at the time, even as much as they liked Lady MacBeth trying to wash her hands, and extravagant language incarnadine.) One comes away from Elizabethan drama and swordfights feeling better about himself, and coming away from the recent episode of Mad Men, well, I felt a bit shaken.

Still, the figures on my TV screen seemed to turn to something predicable, in the way of the characters of an old myth, which I hadn't felt before. Must TV life make things escalate with each episode? I don't feel as if the art of story-telling has been advanced by this new turn.

However, it shows a certain democratic vitality, and so we will suspend judgment and continue to view, even though one recalls an excellent nutshell description of the show Dexter by an old colleague I trouble from time to time. "Vile." Her word, not mine.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Joe Scar

Scarborough. Morning coffee.

He's ready to bully right from the first word. He goes on the attack in one sentence, puffs confidently. He looks, checking the other guests in this first sally. His eyebrows are raised. He is checking to see if someone might call his bluff, come out and tell him immediately the truths that he is guilty of refuting in gross error. He is checking to see if someone might not take his lead--all spin toward his own ends--and stand up manly and set the conversation right. He is very careful to, in his charming rational-sounding introduction, say just the right thing, just where he can start, and then in two sentences he is ranting. He doesn't state clearly what criticisms he is about to offer. He hides what he has to say, reveals little, and goes on the attack without looking back.

How MSNBC has employed him as a fair commentator is beyond me. He has been hired to deliver a message people like to hear, go "yeah" too. And even Mike Barnacle--well, I don't know the history of Mr. Barnacle and what he stands for--is, as the three other 'newspeople/guests', even as they 'try' to be 'impartial and fair' are all serving as props for Mr. Morning Joe-the-awakened-eye-opener of confidence and deep good sense, little more than a diluted ingratiating Yes Man.

The studied eye of Mr. Scarborough as he looks at potential opponents for someone who might offer a sound and practiced wisdom rather than a pointed opinion--check it out next time you're watching TV--is akin to many conservative rhetorical weapons that in the end decidedly serve special interests at the cost of the general public. The news is scripted these days, to allow for a lot of smoke that serves those ends opposite to the middle ground of thought and careful consideration.

Take down the opponent. Take down the opponent. Even if he would begin to reform a world of many systems that work inefficiently and corrupted for the sake of profits for few.

This is the voice that does not want change, does not want the possibility of changing out something that is gross and broken. All the while saying, 'we are defending your rights.'

Next time you see Joe, look at him. He's often berating someone who is a good man, putting the other down, in order to make himself aggrandized and better. It's a job, I suppose. Little more.

Morning Joe-ga/Yoga, a slow stretching toward the light of truth, they do not call it. That would require too much thought.

Health Care

A great friend put it to me this way:

You walk into a health care situation. Unlike a restaurant, where you order, after some thought and questions, in health care the server orders for you, "here's what you want." Ordered, is the most expensive thing on the menu. The $1500 bottle of Petrus, instead of the $40 Pic St. Loup.
In previous years the insurance companies would pay back out in medical care 95% of what they had taken in in premiums charged. Now, the insurance companies pay out about 55% in medical care out of what they take in.
As a worker you pay in for years and years, your whole adult working life, but then when you get sick, they are ready to tell you, 'oh, no, we don't cover that.'

Saturday, September 19, 2009


You know, these days you don't feel so bad about having that little bit of sentimentality that lets you equate the statement of an artist, i.e., that of revealing what life is like, with that of that poetic politician--such a bad word--who strives to be clean, simple, in a Jeffersonian way, i.e, reason of enlightenment forward, who has something to say about what is fair. Fairness, the implementation of that mystical good stuff of the founding documents, such as the right to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. (Provide for the common defense. Promote the general welfare.)

MacGowan has a great respect for JFK. And I think it would extend the other way too. Poetry informing policy.

As a legislator--we've all heard this criticism, and there's something to it--what did JFK achieve? The comparison to LBJ is obvious. What did RFK achieve? Again, a comparison. Inspiration, some great speeches--one would would say, in cynical mode--but what could he have accomplished?

For that matter, what did Lincoln accomplish? Well, my thoughts are that he helped promote the definitions of the nation, dusted off the good stuff of Jefferson, clear, clean, the stuff of Virginia Bill of Rights, Declaration, Constitution, and breathed fresh life into them, so that dusty ideas would take a hold, light up, in some brains of the citizens.

Martyrdom, no, no one likes that personally, but between Lincoln and Kennedys you have some guys who, maybe though not being so great in that arm twisting 1000 page slurry of compromises and promised fireplaces and parking spaces and telephone bravery of superhuman LBJ big and earthy stuff (leaving anatomy out of it), all that greasy corn pone stuff, you have, at least for intellectuals, something that makes a good nation still live and breath air and do good things and have life itself.

So, as we watch all them journal pundits bicker on Inside Washington, in the meanwhile, something sits here and there, in Archives, in Smithsonian, in public minds, in books on shelves for you and I to read, some good stuff that is sound thinking, not of any particular religious stripe (and Jefferson would have wished it so, and sat in his rotunda), but of real political geometry. As if to say, look, if we're going to do this, the implication is we must do that. yes, a war was fought over that. If we give it to some people, we got to give it to all people.

This makes me not feel so bad when I feel like I am pressed into glowy hagiography over poor Bob Kennedy shaking hands with people in all parts of the nation and saying some really interesting lines about the GNP (and what it includes.) It makes me feel better, and back in touch with some part of history, the feelings that must have existed if we were to speak of inspiration, that came from JFK Inaugural...

I think it is worth bearing in mind, that the greatest legislators weren't always the greatest legislators. That is the beauty of what happened here away from British soil how many score and how many years ago. Some dudes sat down and put down some good stuff that has made us strive and be upright and decent people, sharing people, kind people, thoughtful people.

And the ground trembles again when someone comes forth and has good ideas, can read into old words and not devolve them, but advance them, make them more inclusive, broader, greater, bring back their shine.

These days, there is such a magnifying glass on the details... You have to step back and look at the canvas. The broad Da Vinci /Giotto /Michelangelo /Norman Rockwell painting of the possible nations of the world as they exist un-Mubagied and un-Putined. (Not killing journalists with actual bullets.) (Maybe there should be museum day for all who work on Capitol Hill.)

There have been martyrs who in words and deeds have subtly and magically and beautifully helped define our country, any country, moral barometers and so forth. (In Western Europe, art and style and realistic living are so that basic agreements that weren't possible back in the day of the Pilgrims, have come to pass somewhat happily.) And one shouldn't feel bad to stop and kneel and pray, and be happy, just as we are happy to watch It's a Wonderful Life, you know, if some old lawmaker steps away from moralizing judgmental 'you are a sinner, whilst I am pure,' kind of crap.

So, who's going to go talk to Rush, the great hater? Obviously the guy is frustrated. He wants to be an artist? He should quiet down and go meditate. He apparently has some great concern to tell us. He should draw it up in some Constitutional sort of thing. What is it? One has the right to hate? To Bully? To wield negativity when people are trying to accomplish some basic balancing of rights and freedom for all? Rush, listen to me, go be Jeffersonian, whatever you have to say, draw it up in some 10 lined form about what we all need in order to get along better, be happier, live longer, have more freedom.

In the meantime, I, not paid as well as you, not having such sponsorship and weighty clout (I am skinny, Rush, where you are meaty... I do yoga and ride a bike and serve people food and drink and chit chat where you yell and shout into a microphone listened to passively and brained-washedly by bitter millions as they drive to work, radio on to numb the inner voices of their own cruel insistent non-ignorable fears, I drink wine and get naturally poetic--or not--where you are into the pharmacy's eithery speed and numbness) will go on hoping that we all have, through the efficient single payer that here is Medicare, that in Europe is an efficient state system, France, Germany, Switzerland, the PUBLIC OPTION, the right, yes, the right to Insurance, the right to good health. Imagine what that would do to the health/medical industry. They would become bloody DaVinci geniuses, think forward, go good work, not just zap your pre-cadavar with x-rays. They would solve problems of head and body and mind/body interfaces, through simple vitamins and instructions as to how to use your body. Think of all--Come on Rush, you are a positive guy, come sing this with me--Think of all humanity could do if they had some good basic feeling that their basic health was looked after. We've all suffered enough, don't you think, after 9/11, that we all might be blown to dust by some other hateful person... why must we negate ourselves in this basic need for maternal milk and peace? (Hmmm, it pays to think out loud, at least for some hearts.)

Yes, again, where are you, Rush, in terms of Jefferson and Declarations and Constitutions? I guess you're freedom of speech. Freedom to pollute. Freedom to poison school buses with the pornography of adult political hatred. Freedom to take deceny away from that said school bus. Freedom to make money from the sweat of other faces. I hope you are enjoying yourself. And I hope you are in good health, really. Take a walk. 30 minutes, every day. Do some yoga. It's good for you. Can you do that for the rest of us, since you're so concerned about the rest of us and our health? Go read Mark Twain. Be Huck Finn for a day, take a raft with an uninsured black man called Jim. Come to Washington. Sneak up on a monument and listen to the profound silence that is not hatred and chatter. Come read Lincoln on two walls, a chair in between with a man who thought about what he said before he said it. Watch Mr. Smith.

You give people the basic freedom of having health insurance, of not having to seriously worry about losing everything to some honest basic human fallibility of poor health, skin, guts, heart and blood and mind and disposition, (as happens to everyone in their crucial forties) and there is no telling what they can do. That would be a great economy, and no wonder all the previous bullshit built on huge money for very few, measly wages for the rest, has basically failed by all definitions of what a nation should be about. It was, it is, a Tower of Babel, and no fifty states goes anywhere without an equal playing field where talents come forth.

(Kanye West, did you see that, taking a microphone away from an honest artist and beautiful talent in her moment? It's not his fault. It's just a sign of the times. Disparity, conflict, the insured versus the uninsured. Kanye has been trained to take advantage, selfishly, of the great undemocratic Rushian inequity. I got a fast car, you don't. I got the microphone and the cognac in my hand and you don't. I can get my hair cut in this way and wear fine clothes where you can't. I'm big and loud and don't know how to respect other people. There is inequity, and I am happy with that, happy with basic inequality, because, hey, I'm successful and you aren't. I don't want us all to have a chance, because "I Made It and I am Beautiful and I am Better than You." My success makes me the arbiter of taste, and to hell the country upstarts.)

I can't find it in myself to find Shane MacGowan any less of a statesman than Jack, Bobby, Abe,FDR, Teddy R. They all know/knew life as it is.

(Cromwell was a public figure too. Big and listened to. Yeah, real decent guy to the Irish. If there's someone who has a self-styled nation, like "Obama Nation," it was Cromwell in Ireland and every now and then one should read and have some respect for history.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


The star has but one purpose,
One place in Space
To shine.
Born to fixed position,
His powers eminent,
The planets ringed round him,
In orbits coalesced.

In one fixed place,
Requited, or not,
--we would never know--
To shine for perpetuity,
Then finally to expand
In gaseous death,
To take all with him,
Even the light he shone.

The tree too,
One place shall he grace,
His limbs spread overhead
To abide with sundial's dignity.
It would depress,
Upset, confuse,
For him to move
His spot where
Sunlight meets the shade,
For wind's caress,
For rain to kiss,
For sleet to hiss,
For snow to tendril in.

Doest one say to the tree
Or to the star in yonder heaven
Why have not ye moved,
Moved on?

Moved on?
What is that?
What would that entail?
What would that be,
Sayeth the tree.

I effect all near
And all far
Just so, from here,
Sayeth the star.

Move along,
That’s for the policeman to call
When fears of public riot grow,
Or to hide from private eyes
The trade he plies.

Me, I tried a poem today.
What more is there to say?

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Here's a creative guy, free flowing, imaginative, his brain not turned off, feet on the ground, able to deal with people, strangers, hungover parts of the world.

He has habits you begin to recognize, drinking a beer, a tone of voice, eyes open. A listener.

The things he eats sometimes. Monkfish, in all it's entirety and small part, prepared in Tokyo.

Classic, classicist, modern creative.

Here's a guy leading the way. A way. Not by specifics, so much, but by example. Listening, watching, maybe taking too much abuse.

Got to love him. God love him.

Kerouac did a lot by himself, like all that writing, but he had the same sort of blend of collaborative experience and personal reflection. Genetically different, of course, Kerouac, more literate, minutely, reflectively, in great extensive detail for which he is known, if you had to pin a word on it, but, maybe there is some form of similarity to a traveling chef, rambling, yet edited.

Okay, I'm having a beer. More later, maybe.
The problem in a recession, could it be, is a lack of imagination. Too much same old, same old, proliferating everywhere with its dull already-known obviousness, like tracts of townhouses raised up overnight on farmland habitat, now sitting empty, the precious natural resource of land and habitat scarred for eternity. It is an economy stuck in a rut, of the plan to be part of the web of making a buck without any thought, without adding anything new, anything fresh. No new ways of doing something, no doing something new, tattooed upon us.

First, there is an admission of the fault, an observation of a need for quality of ideas rather than just copying something in a rote manner. Not just micro-chipping everything better, not just letting one listen to a song quickly and easily, all derivative stuff, but new ideas, new material, or even the appreciation of good old material. (That’s what we’ve invested in, technology to better copy and broadcast everything, and there is some good in that, an education, hopefully not a drowning; let’s not forget originality and fresh invention.) No wonder it's the 'derivative' investing that so inextricably a part of the current mess. They don't call it that for nothing. (And now what are they trying to do, with life insurance policies, betting against real people, real lives, the new bright idea.)

It takes a Presidential act to declare the need for imagination. “We chose to go the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Or a look backward, an observation of a testing of a national idea, as Lincoln gives at Gettysburg, still relevant today.

Build a new Parthenon, just as an invigorating construction project. Duplicate a thatch-roofed Connemara house. Recreate a real log cabin. Create a hiking trail. Celebrate nature. (WPA did stuff like that.) Go back to your roots, and learn something unexpected along the way.

Now some things we say, we regret. That goes without mention. Somethings we wish we said better. Sometimes we realize what we write might sound rather stupid. We fall sometimes into pained exercises. But yet to always be so guarded doesn't help the imagination flow freely, or let the brain reach out and take its own less-rational stab at something. That's something else to learn, something to practice. A reach for a mistake, who knows, could be something else entirely different.

Artists, poets, yogis, musicians, are there to remind us of something, how to create, how to refresh the mind, not just be a blind consumer shoveling into it, ‘getting and spending.’ That is where the modern anxiety comes from, from being stuck into the consumerist traps, not having the chance to do something new, individual, fresh and different. The autism of receiving a thousand messages with no chance to personally create one. There is, after all, a reason some people feel most relaxed when they have a chance to be creative, and some people even seek that out at weird hours, alone, wherever they can.

Have things grown to so big a scale the individual imagination is irrelevant? Invest in the arts. Read history. Write your own poetry.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

My cat, she is the reincarnation
Of some samurai
With a long white whiskery mustache
Who guarded a wintry temple long ago,
Keeping strangers and callers out
So that the thinkers within
Would not be disturbed.

She lies down on her side
Just as he did,
Ready to jump up
In the flash of an instant
And fight.
Other times she whips her tail around,
Cutting the air,
Like he did with his sword,
Practiced and intimidating,
Gripping it with deadly accuracy,
A show of fury,
As I sit in my chair with a cup of green tea
Wondering what to write
In my legal pad notebook.

Warm within her furry robe of calico,
Ever alert and at the ready,
She guards the back deck,
Looking over the garden
With perfect economy of motion
And stillness,
As snow falls,
Her closed eyes open to any intruder.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Zeitgeist of Hamlet

Hamlet has made his way back into the limelight, the front page of the New York Times Sunday Arts & Leisure, thanks to actor Jude Law and a new production. There seems to be a newfound respect for the role, the deeply personal ups and downs, ‘the readiness’ for teetering on the brink of going mad. And today, like a gravedigger or clown from the bard’s frame of a scene, the Times front page gives us a good look at a master carpenter who cannot find work and has given up trying.

The AMC series Madmen punctuates the upheaval to the personal and professional lives of those who work in an ad agency with President Kennedy sitting down with the nation to discuss clearly, calmly, straightforwardly and soberly in understandable terms the events as they were unfolding in the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was one of his great moments before he left us, a rational thinker looking into the face of moral insanity. And certainly the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy reminds us of the politics of the generosity of the New Deal in the face of the disaster caused by financial market speculations. Such efforts represent an effort to find a moral guide to do the right thing in the face of the irrational. As such they do not exist so spiritually faraway from the efforts of Hamlet, just as Madmen lets us in on people dealing with issues of family and marriage and moral choices.

Indeed, people are scared, terrified, hanging on, disheartened, waiting for the next shoe to fall. Living ‘morally’ is all we can do. Of course, these days the word is a troubled term in need of redefinition from being pulled selfishly and opportunistically in so many ways, patriotically and otherwise.

Jesus Christ pointed out to the poor, the meek, the suffering, the sick and the mournful, highlighting them as a factor in the world as if they were the reason the world exists in the first place. His enemies called him, more or less, a moralizing little bastard with no credentials. When in fact he was quite the opposite of a bastard, his moral stuff was in fact on good solid grounds and that his work, amongst publicans and sinners, was in fact a fine credential. Happy are the meek, etc., because they may be associated with the very light that shines into the world and lends it its daily existence.

(Lincoln himself expressed the same ideas at the end of his career in the Second Inaugural in his phrases of binding up the nation's wounds, caring for the battle-scared and the widow, charity for all and a call to cherish a just and a lasting peace, all of which I have spontaneously remembered and rendered without the necessary quotation marks, the words being his, and his alone and not mine. Lincoln was, maybe, a pretty good pre-New Dealer.)

J.C. performed miracles. He had, in other words, read the old scriptures correctly, grasped their points and formed some good policy decisions.

The banking practices that got us into the sub-prime lending situation and all the attendant messes contain a proof of the Buddhist laws of illusion of selfishly minded investing, the morally questionably nature of exploiting the weakness of people’s sensual desires to have a roof, or at least the temporary illusion of one, over their heads. (A peculiar thing, the banks peddled, almost a kind of pornography.)

Reagan had already come along and wiped out the social safety net, the practical worldly attempt to do good works for the homeless, the mentally deranged, social security, etc., all with a libertarian smirk of holier than thou justness. Did he expect God himself to come down and wipe away such problematic types and cast them into a fire thus ridding us of the problem and letting us go on our way of making as much money and being as rich as we felt like personally entitled to. Reagan took away the money to pay for things, destroying a lot of perfectly healthy partner programs between private charity and public effort. He called the effort, and the illusions of wealth and promise detached from the basic troubles of human nature, godly names that sounded good and strong, words invoking trust, security, enterprise, decency, fairness, good politics, etc. He cast the efforts based on simple Christian morality to ease the pain of real people as the problem, and let wealth accumulate where ‘it belongs.’

Trickle down, was his further prophecy. People should be as rich as they wanted to be, and after having used the structure of society to get where they were, give nothing back in return, except, oh yeah, piddling service sector jobs that don’t pay the rent when times get tough. The same mentality sent jobs and opportunity for skilled labor’s development overseas so quickly that it never had a chance. Leaving the wealth of Walmarts in the hands of the few.

The national crisis is a unique opportunity, one that obviously doesn't come often here, one that potentially may lay some important issues clearly before us. We have a chance now to remember the compass of basic morality, the gold of the laws that pertain to our existence on the planet, hidden in plain sight amidst the greedy alchemic schemes of charlatans of illusion. We are left with, or rather given as a democratic tool, the Internet, to blog away in our poor obscurity, but to at least stand for some basic good things. We are left with the chance to say that now is not the time to be a Center-seeking party wanting to please the old Reaganites, but rather the time to be a wild New Dealer, finding a way to put people back to work, a charity that is the face of dignity itself, both in accepting it as well as tendering it.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The novel. The internet. Combine the two, and there is a chance for a kind of democratic revolution, a chance to be read, to be judged on quality and connecting with the reader, to bring forth a greater variety of issues placed before the reading public outside of the established tastes and boundaries.

The published book risks becoming an animal of the market economy rather than an organic creation. The book is crafted for sales, thought of only in such terms. But a book can be deeper than that, deeper than what that appeal offers by way of history and how-to; in its origin, it must be so. Natural growth is stifled by attention to what is already selling, the Stephen Kings, the Danielle Steeles, etc.. There are course good and worthy writers, the tirelessly productive and wonderful Joyce Carol Oates, but is there a great marginal benefit to each new piece given all that's out there? How much benefit is there to the space given some 'critic's' shallow self-advancing careerist note about the latest work of recognized writer X, as such notes quite typically ignore the most crucial and obvious faults and issues and sad realities of modern times, whereas instead a good simple healthy moral light could be shined in favor of good things out of good honest people? The surfaces of everything literary are so littered, the original source literary objects, shining in their own simple human beauty, so hard to see beneath. And yet, why pick on the literary people, the least of all our problems, if not our saviors?

Maybe one just writes one book, an All Quiet on the Western Front, let’s say, and that one book captures something, be it a democratic ideal, a subtle critique of sacred cows. Lincoln is boiled down for most to the two speeches on the walls of his memorial, and the two go a long way for covering what he had to say, great, solitary, away from frivolous nonsense, written under a realization that there is a time to write something, not much time left to do so.

As everyone, agents, editors, publishing houses, is pressed in a direction by, and pressed into service for, the market, unable to absorb the broad originality and range of written work, the great breadth of the democratic, the Shakespearean, the inclusive, perhaps a time comes when independence must be declared from the present publishing world's function as government and powers that be.

What can one do, but break out of the lonesome cycle, declare one’s own inherent goodness and reality. Reject those whose judgment over you was that you were a bad student, a bad future writer.

The novel is written out of freedom and spirit. It is wild and democratic, representing people as they are. It may offend some people and certain private sensibilities. But it is also a gentle act, an act of compassion broader than for just one individual or institution. It is an act of risk. It asks for little in return, but simply to be read, judgment quietly suspended. Its call is to the imagination, to that beyond the ways we normally think, are asked to think. It must be given to the world freely and without shame, out of compassion for unheard voices, far from being a selfish act.

To follow through with an act that began long ago, not as a risk to take for something granted in the way of reward, but as thought, as careful consideration of education, years of toil at other things, letting the writing mature slowly, the events of life maturing the writer, and then finally the writer has real reasons to write, quite beyond technical virtuosity or aim for the reward of being published, but for his work to see the light.
JFK comes as close as anyone on the importance of poetry, at Amherst, October, 1963. “When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truths which serve as the touchstone of judgment. The artist, forever faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state.”

One can easily enough succumb to the notion that he will never be a writer of any significance.

But that is not what the child believes, as when he picks up a pencil to draw. Nor is that what the college kid believes when he listens to records of JFK speeches on wintry days before a turntable, with headphones on, in the music library, drawn by cadence and a tone of voice, by the power of words.

One believes, can only believe, in himself. One believes in himself as a writer, and the belief, I suppose, is the primary, the main, the principle thing.

Any writer is a boy who dreams. To do his work, he must be solitary.

We all want, in a way, the heroic parts of ourselves, to be Lincolns and Kennedys. They were public men who understood poetry and drew on the power of words. Perhaps we think of going to law school as the logical start. But not all of us have the resources of a wealthy father, or of deep ambition and confidence and a patience to find the crux, the principle matter of the day.

To be a statesman of any sort, in any line of work, be it one of letters or music or art, one must believe in himself, in himself just as he is, just as his tastes are, crafted by his nature. He must also have a faith to develop his own nature.

One will fight all sorts of things, strange things, obstacles, the variety of human nature, weaknesses and indirection. There are pitfalls and traps, and one falls into them such that he may well lose his pride and ambition, enchanted as he has become by his own downfalls and the repeated failings of bad habits. Those are the sorts of mistakes that develop wisdom, shrewdness and character, from the very things that one feels tarnished by.

It can be, it may be, easy to miss the common blood of ambition in the boy, particularly when he has fallen. It will help him if he’s had some ambition before, to remember--even if it was little more than arrogance back then—and recognize the fine stuff that breathes inside of him still. For certainly he will, through the difficulties and complexities of life find himself fallen and lost, so as to bring worry and anxiety upon his house. Even by goodness of heart may he fall, for not clinging to a calculating nature.

Then, as before he knew, as a student he will find as a tool, by which to begin to dig himself out of the hole he’s fallen into, something within. His eloquence will have survived the bad years, the lost times, the night, the vagrant companions. Even in his fallen state, it will feel a good and necessary thing for him, to write. He knows this eloquence as the thing to carry him from the mess he has made for himself.

And then, even those who would, out of little fault of their own, shun and avoid him and count him out, will hear his eloquence and take note.

When I was a young fellow fresh out of college I read books about politics. I read about Lincoln. I read about JFK and RFK. And who hasn’t, taken with a flush of adolescent dreamy optimism and hopes to achieve something that stands in the world, something good and wise.

And then there comes a time of apparent realism, apparent realization. Less prone are we to reach for such books, and less optimistic are we that we might ourselves ever live such influential lives. We find realities abounding, and none of those twists of fate that fall in line to raise one up.

Hopes fade. Maybe they are kept in secret reserves, kept out of the light of day. I turned away from Making of the President 1960 and Sandburg’s Lincoln, and more and more I read fictive literature. I put away histories of moral causes and legislative works. I read about people in odd and unhappy situations, as if they reflected my own world. I gained in empathy as I put hopes aside.

And then, as if through reaching an end of a certain weary chapter of my own life, I remembered afresh the vital importance of those works I had come to shun, those of the special people for whom politics and speeches are incredibly creative, boldly and broadly imaginative as art.

To empathize on the one hand, to keep on the other a form of active hope for the issues of the time, of all time, developed out of the seeds of thought into some fruition: this was some way forward.

Is the writer a political force? Does he beckon us to the vital source of existence like unto the Beatitudes, from whence thereupon a direction for public minds might come?

A present age is always ruled by skeptics and faultfinders, by nay-sayers and special interest pessimists mired in the topical arguments of the day. One’s only claim against such force is the benevolence within we all can claim, as the good tree bringeth forth the good fruit.

The good fruit will seem a fiction at first, to be of too low and common and obvious a birth, tainted by humble appearance and humility, as it always will. A candle, held so as to read by.