Saturday, October 31, 2009

It must be, as Buddha tells us, that nothing really is all that important, not such a big deal. Mildew grows on a shower curtain, eh, you spray it with something and wipe it down, scrub the toilet bowl with the scrubber, and life goes on, trying, at least periodically, to keep the bathroom clean. So we all evolve in our own way, in our little niche, and must admit boredom with things that bore us, and interest in things that interest us, though, as adults, we don't always have much time. I'd like to read about botany, or take a bike ride, but tonight I got to work, though I don't usually on Saturday, and I'm sure you have things to do too. It was worse dragging myself in yesterday, after only one day off, but in truth I'm glad I went. The twin sister of a girl I used to date, sweet little thing, came by with two friends, one who is a bit delicious, and we all had wine together, before the usual being left completely alone with the stereo and the lights, a bar to clean. (How clean did I leave it? Oh, yes, I remember lugging up some bottles, the malbec, the Sancerre, the Pinot Noir. Shouldn't be so bad when I go in tonight, though I have to do inventory with the boss.) Yesterday, I don't know, overly concerning myself with troubling thoughts, and I guess I got them through my system. Maybe it was watching Swamp Thing with Adrienne Barbeau on the stupid TV after I got home, cooked a burger.

Life is what it is, for us, the highly evolved, the social animal. So, take things easy, and don't get too stressed about them, and just let them, things, happen.

Friday, October 30, 2009

It hurts, you know,
Digging in the past.
Just a word I need,
Hold my hand just so,
And I’ll be alright, okay?

I don’t mean to say,
You were not fair,
Whatever it was,
The usual.

I know I’ve suffered enough.
Bringeth me your light,
Giveth unto me your wisdom,
And I shall be okay.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Note from Underground

I am a failure.
Completely, utterly,
Through and through.
There were certain events where my failures were
more obvious and pointed,
in particular a few,
that I can not seem
but to relive most everyday.

But there is too long and steady a string of them,
my prodigal nature, no one’s fault,
but my own,
Though one must admit, there were some bad influences
who didn’t matters help.

All that was handed down from generation to generation,
I was not smart enough to protect.
I was stupid, foolish,
Did not understand.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Down and Out in Washington, DC

Things don’t get better, they get worse. If you’re a writer, you’re really just a lonely creep who keeps odd hours, too shy, too down on himself to make an effort. You’re a traitor to your class. You should have been an academic, but instead you basically bit that hand that tried to feed you, and went off in your own stubborn direction that’s not going to get you anywhere at all.

Robert Frost, he had it right. You’re going to be walking alone in a dark wood a lot of the time, up a strange path, and guess what, it’s lonesome and it’s not good for your sanity.

So you thought you had talent. You thought you had all kinds of talents. You thought your particular talent at writing would be recognized. You thought they’d invite you back to teach, a retirement plan. You wanted to teach. You didn’t know how. You didn’t try. Except in some Jesus suffering way, turning the cheek, bowing, putting yourself through real pains.

But look at your life as it actually is. It’s nothing but fuck-ups.

You get so ashamed of what you’ve done with your life, you don’t even want to talk to anyone, old friends, pretty girls you wait next to for the light to change. Don’t even want to show your face.

Everything’s against you if you’re a writer, and you just have to make do with that. It’s an odd life. And why should anyone else listen to you? By what right, why should people bother to read you?

It is a lie, this job I do. For twenty years I’ve done it, just being plain raw nice to people, to a lot of people. But where does it leave you? It leaves you a pariah. Down and out. When’s it my turn, you wonder.

A college girl you honestly liked suggested you were some kind of a stalker, forget it, you’ll be fighting yourself the rest of you life. The voice that tells you that you’re a creep insidiously pokes at you. You do wonder, what did I do to deserve this? Was it me? Why am I afraid now of my own shadow? A bum, confused, hurt, overly sensitive, stubborn, weird, yes, but not a stalker, I’d like to think. Or do I kid myself.

Then some nice woman, a dermatologist attending to a scar, is remotely kind to you and you almost want to cry.

Saturday night, and this writer has to go to work. And even then, he’ll never ever get ahead.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Minuet

The NY Times book review had a recent piece about racist language in Hemingway. Being a sometime defender of him, particularly his nature writing, my initial response was that using terrible words was just being faithful to the cultural milieu of the day. If his uncle said, "damn squaw bitch," that was what his uncle said, bloody finger and all. Racism is cultural. Those were the times he wrote of, and he wrote with realism and accuracy and a good ear.

But. Yes, there could well be something in Hemingway that speaks of a lack of empathy, sympathy to those less economically fortunate, for instance. Let's take the character of Peduzzi, from Out of Season, from the In Our Time collection. We're with a young couple, newly married, a day fishing trip from the hotel. We get it a bit thick that Peduzzi is a drunk, irresponsible with money. He's an element in the story of misadventure. He is what he is. Maybe there is nothing particularly harsh about his portrayal, just the truth that he is so. And remember, that not all the waiters and the like Hemingway gives us are shitty drunks. (One tends a garden on his day off. One, in Venice, is an old comrade.) However, a Chekhov, a Carver, would have been a little more circumspect, and perhaps even given the story from the point of view of a Peduzzi, bring us a quiet moment that shows a dimension we had not expected. (Or perhaps, maybe, subconsciously, this was what ol' Ernie was up to, in this story, if you're feeling generous toward him.)

Maybe there should be, in the story-teller's voice, an acknowledgment of one's own faulted nature. But then again, the young gentleman in the story mentioned above, seems to be doing the same, that the whole thing was a mistake, something his wife didn't need to go through.

Maybe it's just a stylistic matter. Certain things we now find offensive, maybe very much so. But where is the finger pointed, by someone who uses such a word, given the seriousness of the effort required in crafting a short story.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Emily Dickinson and the physical roots of writing well

A writer pursues a basic thesis. It runs through the work, and makes the work worth study, at least to the intellectual satisfaction of figuring out a puzzle.

Writing is physical work. It comes from within. It comes from the body. It comes as physical energy. It rises from the deepest parts of the self, which are located in the body. Perhaps it is too obvious to say that writing is meditation, but it can be forgotten that words arise not so much from the cold logic of the intellect, but from a path within that seems to have a way to make sense of things, just like meditation’s point is a kind of energetic calm, a flow of breath that opens and fills both body and spirit.

It bears to mention those concepts that come out of yoga, the centers of energy placed at, if you will, different levels in the body, called the chakras. It’s worth a quick brushing up on the idea of tantric energy. It’s worth remembering too, not to embarrass anyone, that the root of spiritual energy is sexual energy. Margo Anand has written a fine welcoming introduction to the subject of tantric sexual energy to leave us Westerners un-intimidated about such arcane matters, The Art of Sexual Ecstasy. There is probably a lot of stuff out there worth a read, both within the yoga tradition and without, one would imagine. As we deal culturally with an odd mix of brazenness and shame toward such energies, it doesn’t hurt to read a bit about a different take, about the spiritual/sexual interface, about the benefits of such explorations.

My mother had the being-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time kind of luck to take a class taught by Ted Hughes at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst the year his wife Sylvia Plath returned to Smith to teach. She read Wordsworth with him. She remembers a tall brooding gentleman with a long English overcoat, miserable to be spending his creative powers teaching poetry to a bunch of U-Mees, sweeping flakes of snow from his dark hair when he came in through the door frame. While not knowing what it was, my mom and probably every other girl knew the raw magnificent energy of the poet teaching them English poetry to be the raw unbridled force of sexual energy.

It makes just as much sense to regard his powers in such a way, obviously entwined with his character and the personal life, as the biography will tell, as to say anything else about them. Not that we necessarily need to read his poems in such a way as to look for nothing else but sexual metaphor, as the natural world flows through them heavily, fox cub, owl, crow, hawk in the rain.

Donne’s poems crackle with the energy more boldly suggested, more self-reflectively. Shakespeare’s tragedies hint, perhaps, of erotic longing and craving sentiments, as to know what would make the person whole again, less broken by slings and arrows.

Now what may we say, fairly, about the poetry of Emily Dickinson? Fair to call her transcendental? She was her own phenomenon, who bravely made up her own rules of how to communicate most highly. (Susan Howe renders this well in her book about ED.) Being a fan of hers, I think it fair to say that there was energy flowing powerfully in her. In her poems she finds a way to the same thing, oddly, Jesus was accused of, ‘speaking with authority.’ Here is someone who with delicacy, boldness and her own self-knowledge and authority of all things inside of her and therefore outside of her but taken in through the senses and the mind, channels the ecstatic energy of the sexual up to the highest levels the mind may attain, seeing and knowing.

And here, when we read here, I think we don’t just go, “good poem,” or “that line sounds good.” We have to acknowledge that there is something to her, that her way of viewing stuff is correct. She not only knew how to write, how to feel each word within, then sort them out and get them down on the special paper of her little books, how to put a poem together that sounds right, for She is Right. She was, her poems reveal, not a house divided against herself. "I find ecstasy in living; the mere sense of living is joy enough." She says it herself, and the Linscott edition of her selected poems and letters puts that on its first page.

I wonder how people feel about reading such a person. Here is someone who nailed the marketplace of the popular reader for what it is, an admiring bog fascinated with contemporary glitter. Of course that is a sweeping overstatement, inaccurate for the million varieties of exceptions, each of these with millions of examples. Here was someone who was content to remain in her little place and simply let her own beautiful energies rise. Like all things in nature, her writing would take care of itself if she took care of it. As readers are clerics over their choices of what to read, her claims of knowing all she knows may strike some as blasphemy, as they might prefer their own track of thoughts as to how to get through life comfortably and without complication.

Whether it is worth commenting on her erotic isolation we assume from the best we know of her, whether that keenly felt lacking, if it was that, and we might imagine so, was part of the engine driving her powers, one can't know. And maybe too one doesn't feel comfortable suggesting 'the self-pleasuring ritual' in association with her careful history and life, though various relationship stuff has been suggested.

We all want her to have a happy life, a fulfilled personal life. Maybe some would in their own minds dismiss her as a freakish nervous spinster who would have been fine if she had got some attentions. But reading her, I think one must disagree, in that there is a magnificent majestic rewarded contentment that comes of the page, someone who has found the right sort of work, the soul in the perfect body for it and living the perfect life for that talent to bloom, though still we all wish for her to find her eternal charming Prince of great light and kindly love for her. Maybe on the other side of the firmament, in that place one is called back to, we hope. There, her white dress to be pulled off.

A reader is left to be amazed by her, to care for her, to feel in touch with her, and maybe too to sense that she was a wonderful lover very skilled in all its arts. She preserves and protects all the tensions of desire, and perhaps the very stuff leads her work upward into the deepest matters of the soul and the nature of reality. Which is, after all, why we write.

The image we have of her, from the daguerreotype photo, seems to leave a lot of people with the sense of her as a plain jane. I've even heard the word ugly. But just as easily to get from this one image, is a young woman of poise, of a quiet sensual energy, her breathing and posture both correct and relaxed, rising above a firm shapely comfortable base.

Amherst College keeps a little lock of her hair under glass, along with a white dress of her style. Her hair, it may surprise, is just as she said once, in a letter to Higginson, 'bold as the chestnut bur.' (An ornithological note would have worked too, though the sound of her own choice is highly agreeable.) It deserves the adjectives of observation coppery, golden, a dancing red with lively shine, though words are not adequate to render the energetic glow of nature within the fresh colors of the lock and all its gemstone hues. It fairly speaks her name when you bend to examine it more carefully, and one is not surprised when tears come, as they do to lovers. One can’t help but walk away weakly, with a terrible crush, and with the heart’s feeling of having found someone who is one's perfect match.

But writers entertain such silly notions.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Shakespeare drew parallels out of his own experience as a creative. His works rely on it. Fleshing out in full view on the stage the life behind his artistic process, the characters in his plays are parables of what he went through to bring them there.

The characters of loyal son and daughter of fidelity figure nakedly and crucially in the important plays, Lear and Hamlet, you name it. The Cordelias and the like portray the artist's struggle with remaining true, loyal and active to the calling. They are fleshy and real to us. As one might predict, such characters are called into doubt, either by themselves or by others. These tensions lead the actions of drama. Othello gets messed with; the drama leads down a certain road. Thousands of battles, for self-respect, for justification, for to be heard, for to use good judgement, for to be convinced, for to have courage... So was Cervantes, the Bard's contemporary, involved in portraying similar matter in the original novel in a thousand shades, blows physical and psychic, both painfully real and painfully imagined.

Along the same lines, the clowns at the edge of the dramatic action, bringing us both ridiculousness and insight. Take the gravediggers, the service sector employee of the day. Now you're a gravedigger because you can't get any other job. You aren't qualified for better, and you have to keep at it to avoid homelessness, even as you sink toward it. One could guess that Mr. Shakespeare knew what it was like to live precariously, to room in shabby inns and squalid taverns, to endure a lack of certainty and security, encountering the bizarre. Rending all the while the human condition.

"... and the more pity that great folk should have countenance in this world to drown or hang themselves more than their even Christen. Come, my spade! There is no ancient gentlemen but gardeners, ditchers, and grave-makers. They hold up Adam's profession." Hamlet V: i, lines 26-32.

As the Bard tried to do himself. And here, perhaps-perhaps, the gravedigger's humor brings us close to the essential vitality of Shakespeare, something not lost on the low people in the theater's pit. As the stretch of a yoga pose leads the practitioner toward expanded ability to meditate, so do the events of life and all its ups and downs enable a higher perspective. Rather than eat from a tree of knowledge and claim we could know everything there is to know about the world and existence (which is how people end up wedded to the ill-suited) we gain through persevering through events, reaching calm and peace and wisdom.

So did his buddies remember him when they printed up his folio, a man of excellent good humor.

Monday, October 5, 2009


You know, it is a delicious grape, if done right.
A Cahors is probably my favorite wine, Malbec, back home in France, not far away from Bordeaux, inky and dark, blended with a little bit of Merlot, with many dimensions.
Elite Wines of Lorton, Virginia, has imported a beauty from Mendoza. Las Perdices, the Patridges. (Were they trying to gather the attention of Hemingway's immortal nature-loving spirit by naming it so?)
Rightly so is Malbec hot. Cahors. Kermit Lynch, the venerable 'old school-adventures of the unfiltered wine trail, has a beauty with a stunning bridge on the label, one the Tour de France passed by in recent years, I think. Didier, the genius of Charlottesville's Simon'n'Cellars has a stellar inky big boy, to bow to. Ed Addiss of Wine Traditions has a depth of Cahors offerings you'll almost want to drink by the wheelbarrow, and also some great lesser known wines from nearby, Marcillac, Gaillac, and other wild towns with their own local varietals that--while being snubbed by the big kings up there in Bordeaux by a, one must readily admit, a beautiful system of nomenclature that is exclusive and venerable--still have that beautiful care of making the grape reflect the terroir, the earth, the DNA, the smell and taste of all things in a valley or a region, such that the earth-feel translates to the mouth's wide range of senses...
Here's a wine that you pour down your throat and your whole blood system says "ahhh," quite happily too, as if it were bringing licorice, green tea, all the anti-oxidant power of lavender, thyme, oregano, a good tomato sauce-gravy. Even your spine has a fondness for it, as if to wag a friendly finger and say, I'll work you out in of kidney and liver in the morning, but in the meantime you are welcome to be anti-inflammatory.
Drinking, I know it's a downfall of half the race, but wine is pretty safe, and seems to have loads of benefits, even if there is the old dry feeling and the headache the next day. Wine is a teacher. Who knows what exactly it is teaching, but it is wise and venerable, and too many hairs are split over enjoying it, when it is, when it feels balanced in the mouth, just basically good old good for you.
It filleth the mouth, contenteth the shoulder, calms one in an hour of need. The belly knows if the weight of the juice is right, and this our old friend Malbec remembers from the French hands who loved and cared for it. With Malbec, you're going to be making a wine that feels right in the mouth, a tactile experience, lingering on back sides of the tongue with a finish like nice clean thread-count cotton sheets of a bed you are happy enough to flop into at the end of a day you've shared with another 60 million worker ants, or however many there are of us, particular legal codes and proximity to tectonic faults set aside. Malbec falls lightly like snow into the corral reef of the palate, and the palate is not far away from inner channel of ear, nor of that tickly part where the good old spine meets that floaty thing behind our teeth full of airs and mystery, hidden within our skull, but pouring out like a mighty ocean in blue sunlight, all the world a sandy beach or tempest rock, our conscious glowing, the brain itself, winged companion, infidel, disciple, xerox machine, tall ship, dog paw, stewardly stenographer, addict of all things healthy and the blizzards that whip up in the high howling winds of life to contrast the normal spoon-fed day that one must let go of.
God wanted someone to look back at the sunlight and water and the earth and the creatures and the vine and see from their own eyes the goodness of it all.