Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I'm afraid I'll side with the wild man,
with the red man paraded around in the Wild West Show,
his proud horseman skills now fit
for entertaining middle-aged lawyers
confiding their weepy grandiose
middle aged misery
to themselves in lit grandstands;
or with the Gallic chieftan
Vercingetorix paraded around Rome
after defeat, before his execution,
for the gathered crowd to heap
their bottled scorn upon;
with the once
poetic barman waiting on
the masses' haughty taste,
for wines jammy, fruity,
big and New World, and buttery
oaky Chardonnay where the list
and the cuisine is French.
Does the red man, the wild man,
the Gaul, teach some lesson,
spoken mildly,
of the older way of life,
as he pursues his new career,
a captive to the modern world
and its pointless way of doing things?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I cannot afford to hang men for votes.

Abraham Lincoln

see NY Times. Execution 150 Years Ago Spurs Calls for Pardon

Who protects the artist, the pursuer of a calling, "the savage Indian" from the needs of the news bite? The artist has enough difficulty himself feeling justified about his own pursuits. Good to read an example of such an effort in the annals of American History.

One might gather Lincoln had some familiarity, some personal experience with such protections.

The artist, like the imagined Native American living off the land, follows his own traditions and 'logic,' habits which would be strange to the economic developing world of a growing powerhouse bent on settlements and industry. The native lives in an artistic way, in ways an artist might try to recreate and re-imagine. The savage and the artist think in similar ways, if we had to say. And both are still a mystery in the modern world, and bound perhaps to be judged for their organic habits, and found to be wise.

A modern problem: forgetting the basic innocence of man.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I often think of Kerouac. What was it... the other day I was thinking about a situation he gives us in The Dharma Bums. It's wintertime and he arrives from the West Coast by bus to Rocky Mount, North Carolina, to stay with his sister Nin, his mother and his brother-in-law. He is in full sail in a brilliant writing career, which subliminally and more he must sense. He's found a way not to feel completely guilty, and this is because he's doing good things, things he believes will benefit humanity.

This winter and spring he is St. Jack of the Dogs. There is a place to walk from the cabin and sit in the woods, and the dogs are happy with him. He conducts conversation with them. He finds some peace with himself and all creatures. ( What wonderful obscurity, a time of being in nature for the writer.) At some point there is mention of trials and sufferings:

I wasn't exactly unconscious of the fact that I had a good warm fire to return to after these midnight meditations, provided kindly for me by my brother-in-law, who was getting a little sick and tired of my hanging around not working. Once I told him a line from something, about how one grows through suffering, he said: "If you grow through suffering by this time I oughta be as big as the side of the house." (Chapter 20, fifth paragraph.)

This period here is a secretively productive one. What started as readings in a library now becomes a serious work for him, now recently published, after years of complete obscurity, as "Wake Up," his translation and telling of the life of Buddha. It's a piece that obviously took serious effort, and it's sat around hidden, and to this day we are still realizing the significance of it. How perfect, really. Buddha was humble. Buddha was not about making a cult of his own personality. And really, nor was Kerouac. Kerouac was a serious man, looking for lasting stuff and truth and insight. Again, quite remarkably, and not with any more help than a few books here and there. That is the sweet story of Kerouac, the writer. A man of some deep admissions that are touching. And one can guess, he did not know where he was headed with all this writing stuff and uncertainty, and surely that must have been painful, and surely it would have been healthy for him to write it out.

The other story of him being the personality cult which insisted on selling him not on his merits of sensitivity, but as some sort of early Melville exotica. Good to know that this co-opted popularity as King of the Beatniks ("hey, man') has been embraced by young people not just looking for rebellion but for ways to be thoughtful and consider life. To sell Kerouac on the teller of tales of crazy Dean Moriarty (and all that Roman candle hype, for that matter) is to largely miss the point of a sensitive guy who liked his contemplations and made great stuff happen in them, and not to forget the great prose he wrote.

And sadly, it seems, many wanted a part of telling that tale of the commercial rather than the sensitive artist Kerouac. And even Ginsberg is pushing the story line of 'bloated unrecognizable alcoholic' of strong-framed man thickening with age. Yes, by all accounts he did end up drinking himself to the grave, but one wonders, the persona pushed from all angles. I should think Ginsberg and the like who, after initially criticizing him rather severely as being in need of serious and exhaustive edits, then made careers using his methods of spontaneous bop prosody, the Kerouac style you find in Howl, and which Ginsberg acknowledges, would rest on the positive, as maybe that would have been more helpful to the man.

Yes, your fables, misinterpreted, catch up with you.

He understood it. He grasped suffering and Buddha wisdom that winter in Rocky Mount with the sister and the suffering brother in law. He continued strongly on his way toward lasting achievements philosophical and literary. He made future generations of serious expository literature possible, and to this day and beyond, we are in debt to the man and the style he pretty much founded and set in stone undividedly.

What does the writer do for a job though? That still is the problem. The writing that does sell kowtows to the modern cult of personality and worldliness which quickly gets tiresome.

Kerouac didn't often say it, but he himself had pulled hard jobs on the railroad. He did his best. Not fair to think of him as some sort of slacker, as that he was not.

(Indeed, one could listen to his detractors and find out a lot, about them, not him. He is a kind of blank slate people are willing to read things into, some without too much restraint. Agendas.)

After editing this for correction, in a kind of middle-aged pre-holiday 'who cares' sort of feeling that happens upon those who once temporarily fancied themselves as a writer (ugh) in some form--I am guilty of this juvenile pre-grown up fallacy--I wonder at the purpose of the activity, this solipsistic bouncing of a ball against a wall. A reason I look to Kerouac. Did he find meaning and some modest form of enlightenment in that period in Rocky Mount, NC, that began at Christmastime some more than fifty years ago?

It is a fine moment in American Literature, an asking of basic questions, albeit from the limited perspective of one individual who tries to be well-read as best as he personally can, on top of his own flawed experiences. Can one find a moment of enlightenment? If found, what does one go and do with it? What right does one have to this new inner knowledge? How does one express it, and how does one relate it, or with it, to other people? What does one now go and share with whatever part of the world he comes into contact with?

What does, then, a writer go and do? What will he have to write about? The past is now a lesson of some sort, the learnings of which he must convey.

A calling: that which is not easy, for one reason or another, to do, but which one finds the strength to do consistently and well and with depth.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I wrote a book about a kid who finds that personality is to a large extent something artificial, an illusion of construct. He discovers a way toward selflessness while out wandering during his college days. You know, the usual Mark Twain stuff of trial and tribulation, error, experimentation, attempts at freedom, etc. It is not a knowledge he would necessarily want to find out, but that's life so there you go. No, it's not the peachy kind of knowledge you'd want during the years of fun, being that it is similar to young Gotama realizing that everything is decaying.

And so he sets out on the path of being a person informed by such knowledge, which is basically to be a nice person, as he's been taught by his parents, even if he still is caught up sometimes in the silliness of bearing a personality to show off to other people so that he doesn't appear too odd. He risks appearing as awkward because of this Buddhist knowledge. His passivity puzzles some, and they might misinterpret him in any number of ways. And what can he do, for he is finding himself on deeper levels. He finds Buddhist insight where he can.

I don't know if such a knowledge lies dormant as he moves on into adult life. Maybe it comes and goes. Probably, the knowledge begins to make more sense with each passing day. Add on top of that aging and the passing of time itself.

It seems to a huge burden to place upon an individual, the cult of personality. Commercial television is absolutely burdened with it, jarringly. (Try to find something decent to watch. The selling of cravings and artificial wants, outlandish and outsized and unreal personalities. The innocent viewer will note that maybe they wish they too could make money being Rambo or James Bond, but they know at the end of the day, after a fantasy perhaps, that such things aren't for them. And, yes, we know it, we watch it, celebrities are victims of what they themselves create as far as a 'winning' persona.

Even the Sunday newspaper becomes the same thing, an onslaught of material external to healthy human nature.

The Buddha was wise. He knew what a burden it would be to maintain a personality before other people, like so much of a puppet show. And so he deflected unnecessary questions and concerns. He presented what he found the human personality to really be. He understood what is healthy for us to engage in.

I fear my job sometimes. I man a bar. I am obliged to make conversation with people. Maybe some days you want to tell them, no one is really here, and nor are they, the customers, really there either. I fall into illusions too. I too have problems too distinguishing what is not real and what is real. That's one of the reasons I write, to underscore what is eternal and worth sharing, to distinguish that which is ego's falsehoods. It's hard to know what direction to go in, you know. Like, who wants to really be the perfect monk, just that it makes the most sense of anything sometimes.

"Wake up." That's what Buddha said. Beautiful. Like the light fresh dusting of snow that has come outside the window just now in wee hours like a small miracle.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Life, a mixture of the sacred and the profane. Remarkable people walk that line between the two facets of the world, and to some they appear strange. Emily Dickinson finding the sacredness of words, terms to describe the eternal. Those who stumble into the profane of worldly politics at times, yet who maintain a grasp on the sacred, not quite belonging to the political, but their words from higher. Yes, the sacred doesn't belong in politics, except when it is time to make the big choices and decisions. Earthy and profane, each in their own way, a Lincoln, a Kennedy, flesh and blood, tuned to higher calling and poetry.

The totalitarian economic giant versus the Buddhist monk; the terrorist versus the cleric; the self-promoter versus the teacher--it's often that way.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"I have that within which passeth show."

After running up to The City to witness the huge and natural talent of a great actor in great company in a great play, A Free Man of Color, and have now returned to my normal somewhat sleepy haunts, the observation comes that if people, audience, say, or theater critics, were more Buddhist they would have more natural observation of class acts. They would, as they say, be more appreciative.

One detects in the acts which justify the role of discerning observer a certain vanity, a reaction of a narcissistic sort, as if to say, 'well, if you think that actor is important, let me tell you, I am more important, because I know and will say my opinions very cleverly; after all, it's my job, isn't it.' The greater the natural talent the critic observes, the more dire his situation is.

Taken to logical conclusion, one soon has a whole city full of individuals, each considering himself more important than the next. And soon talent in anything becomes a matter of who is loudest and more egotistically demanding and least observant.

Buddhism observes in its Sanskrit roots the inflated quality of emptiness. To quote Edward Conze from his fine book: "Thus our personality is swollen in so far as constituted by the five skandhas, but it is also hollow inside, because devoid of central self. Furthermore 'swollen' may mean 'filled with something foreign.'" Obviously we live in glass houses if we were to make an observation of what a critic might be full of, were it not for a certain sort of Mark Twain humor we might entertain our own hollowness for a brief moment before passing on.

And we might too praise Mr. Hamlet for saying he doesn't want to be part of that showiness the world seems to expect of us, as if it (the world) didn't place trust or have much faith in that inner selflessness.

If we ignore or downplay the humble, the natural, the organic, the inherent, the earthy, the ordinary we run the risk of ignoring the most valid of arts. If it does work, democracy works by allowing this element in play. Democracy agrees with the Buddhist's selflessness, the inherent quality of humanity. And of course it can also fall to selfishness and egotism and the loudest least-considered voice.

"A Free Man of Color" is redolent with the natural well-springs of a healthy democracy, in its very subject matter, in terribly fine performances of Jeffrey Wright and of Mos Def and of the entire ensemble this writer is too lazy to name at the moment. Its subject of freedom and slavery touch upon that most egotistical, arrogant and selfish act, to subdue another individual's right to freely be himself. Good to know the theater is alive and well these days.

Friday, November 26, 2010

It's not hard to grasp why Salinger went away, ceased sharing what he wrote. It is difficult to put into the action into words--maybe I'm just getting dumbed down with age and not enough intelligent conversation. Leave it to Wikipedia's authors to say it well, and elegantly: "Salinger became reclusive, publishing new work less frequently;" (He)"struggled with unwanted attention."

It seems there's something natural, organic to his 'retreat.' Maybe it comes from revealing something about the human creature that provokes an uncomfortable feeling, as if the performance of the sensitivity inherent in a character like Caulfield is something generally embarrassing, something a lot of people cringe at, as if it implies a weakness they don't want to be seen sharing in.

And yet, a book like The Catcher in the Rye, of course it's going to be a hit because it does so well what a book should, and after all, with a book there is an implicit contract between reader and word, a private matter, one of letting one's guard down, of admission and a subsequent pride.

The Godfather, Parts I and II, were on last night, a good way to digest dinner. In the course of which my brother reminds me of Halloweens more than 35 years ago, when I dressed as Marlon Brando's character, and would offer up to adults opening their trick or treat doors that I would 'make you an offer you cannot refuse,' as he cringes in the background at my theatricality. And walking home I feel a bit like Fredo himself, an embarrassment, a condition that extends to much of what a person does if he is feeling so.

Shakespeare could get away with the act because he had his plots to rely on, ones he didn't need to make up, but just do variations on, and fill up and flesh out as he wanted, which is why the richness of his form. He didn't have to get embarrassed or claim ownership of his main character, attentions deflected by lots of other characters up there on the stage, focus shifting from one's insides to another's. He could hide in plain day. The audience would identify it with the actor, consciously or unconsciously. And then of course, he was British, perfectly comfortable and plucky about the act and humor of revealing the self (and having other devices of protection.)

Salinger, a veteran of war in Europe, felt obliged to write. He began to say his piece. And of course as he wrote a great book, a very sensitive book that managed to see the light of day, it was very popular (and still is.) To the point where he became a focal point, a celebrity, a star. Which must be, for the writer, a great appreciator of quiet peace and privacy by the very nature of his work, especially tedious and frightening, not in the least for effect it has on a writer's gaze and sight. And the further problem, that public readership takes it as part of the deal that the author owns his character, that 'this is you, ISN'T IT,' and further more, and equally as bad, but in another way, 'if this is you, then these other characters must be real too.'

Which all feeds into the suspicion of the upright, respectful, polite and fairly-compensated-for-their-hard-work contributing members of society, that such a revealing is not to be encouraged. As if the author himself feels 100% great about what he has portrayed.

I don't know enough about Salinger. One hopes Salinger received support from people he trusted. That could have happened as much, and just as easily, in encounters in small-town Cornish, New Hampshire with regular folk as anywhere else.

And he kept what he wrote to himself. Having learned better than to share it in such a way.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Here's an interesting little web piece from, The Health and Medical History of President Abraham Lincoln, for Thanksgiving Day.

He nearly drowned in Knob Creek when he was nine years old. Scars, kicks in the head, genetic make-up and maladies. Marfan Syndrome? He had type A blood.

I haven't read it carefully yet. But, a man who got democracy and the powers of the brain, who brought us the national holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Basically anyone can get the wisdom of something good for you like yoga or the ideas of Buddha. Everyone is allowed, and everyone can access. So it's no great surprise when a writer like Fitzgerald writes a story like Gatsby's, one that 'gets something.' It might sound like a moralizing little tale, like 'don't be greedy, greed is illusion, greed causes others real pain and death,' not unlike the old morality play. But, when you read a story told realistically, it fires neurons and sympathy and understanding deep and common.

And tuned to such, the writer is immersed in the logic of the shapes of life, the courses they take, lives thriving, lives falling, lives taking the middle course.

"There are no second acts in American life," F. Scott sayeth. If you are a writer, and you get it, you want to become little more than who you are, just a wise person, into the Dharma, don't want to make a big show of it, just do the right things and be reverent.

But what happened in Twentieth Century America? Was it ready for accepting a writer's role to transform into a mortal version of Buddha (who was mortal anyway, just like you and I)? Or were there economic demands too pressing to do anything but go on and do it all over again, go down the same mad path of social life and cocktails to come up with another observed and carefully wrought tale?

"So we beat on
boats against the current,
borne back ceaselessly
into the past."

One wonders over the ring of it. It's written on his tombstone, by the way (as I've mentioned, a visit last year on Thanksgiving). Can he stop and get out of the stream, or does he have to go back in, pressed into 'his profession.' No resting on laurels, no becoming a simple frugal life of peace removed from unnecessary stuff. Money had something, obviously, to do with it.

And the same with Kerouac. He got it too. Explicitly. He even became the simple sort of holy man, and wrote out scriptures to make them accessible to late 50's U.S.A. But, it seems all the research of his past life of 'getting it' caught up with him, in many ways, the hubris of empire.

One wishes a second life for them. Or a more modest profession to begin with, though maybe it's not their fault that their occupation must be so glorified for them to be able to make a living at it. Maybe, the light of their own work allows more of the possibility, a masterpiece being after all a token of a workman's competence, acceptance into a trade.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The point of writing is not the writing. It is the contemplation coached within. It is the hint of discovering 'truth,' that which is ultimately behind existence and day-to-day reality. Writing is not a profession. That would be a trap. Buddhism is the profession.

My statue of Buddha, I thought he was just sort of resting his right hand on his knee, his left hand pointing upward, holding something that looks like a seven-tiered pine cone. But the right hand, facing inward, is the Buddha's pose of Calling the Earth to Witness. Mara is tempting him as Buddha sits under the tree, telling Buddha that he has no right to even the ground he is meditating upon. Buddha calls upon the Earth Goddess for help, and She knows that Buddha has been through millions of incarnations, that he has come out of sympathy to every living creature to show them all the way to Enlightenment. And so Mara is defeated, and Buddha attains Nirvana.

A writer goes in places where neither he nor anyone else is particularly enlightened. Only the wish to save is there with him, some vague but persistent and somehow meaningful sense of good. It's like Jesus going amongst publicans and sinners. It's like going to tend bar or anywhere people are significantly blinded by the illusory, even when you are not at all immune to these temptations yourself.

Hopefully one day you begin to put away childish things. You remember maybe the vastness of previous incarnations, all with the same tone, wanting to be like Buddha.

The young people next door are having a loud party. To them the fun they're having sounds to another like a nervous breakdown nightmare. But you say to yourself, I was once like that, I participated in the very same thing.

Friday, November 19, 2010

It's not the greatest of career choices. It's better a hobby than a profession. It's better regarded as something that lets you keep an even keel rather than finding out any ultimate answers to life.

It is always happenstance, the gift of a day, of enough time to sit down and create something spur of the moment. It is some form of exercise for what we don't exactly know, for some inner sense of discipline and training.

It doesn't pay much. It leaves you with dealing with another job entirely. In my case, the night job in the restaurant and more than nineteen years of tending bar. It's not a good job for personal relationships. If you find a schedule that works for you, doesn't wipe you out, it's not lucrative enough to allow you to go out much. So you stay in, cook at home, drink your wine, do your housework, find amusement for odd hours. You wish you felt up for going out when everyone else is. You wonder where everyone goes on Thursday and Friday evenings as you make your way to and from the grocery store. The social being feels sad, deprived.

But you begin to feel you wouldn't be capable or competent at a relationship the way your life is now. And you probably emit that defeatist vibe. Which enhances and contributes to the sense of living on society's fringes, even as you are serious about making a contribution to society.

What was it? Some form of chemistry that came into being in late adolescence, some sort of sense that to be manly and responsible it was some sort of holy duty to write, to write about mistakes maybe, for the sake of others, so that the world would be a kinder more understanding less glossing-over sort of place. You envisioned yourself as some sort of woe-ridden Lincoln and somewhere in your heart a brilliant answer to put all people at peace through the gentleness that you shine out, correcting people's nerves without a word. You wanted to be like Jesus, that original great writer whose words caste out demons and healed the sick.

But if you do so, you do it largely alone, in a place where you feel it is safe to write. Without too much noise, a comfortable chair maybe, not too much of your own clutter around to pull out your hair, and maybe a bicycle or some other form of exercise awaiting you, and trying not to worry about that time when you feel lonely enough to open the bottle of wine to study it and its effects.

People don't really know, I would imagine, about your other life in the course of their experience with you in your other role. They might remember you mumbled something about writing, but they know you mainly as wine-pourer, booze-dispenser, figure of a bar busy and slow, a creature of endurance more than any other skill. The inner life does not exist, and when you've written a book would feel embarrassed to share it with those people. For then they would know the sadness of what you might portray (along with its victories) is something you own, not created out of the blue, and who ever creates out of the blue anyway. No, it almost wouldn't be right to share your tales of woe or whatever and sensitivity, your own failings, your own claim to goodness and decency. That would introduce something inappropriate to any barroom or watering hole except those very fine ones that exist only in the imagination like Rick's Place in Casablanca, Bogart playing the character behind it, muttering 'of all the gin joints in all the world...', some form of pyramid ideal, a ritual tomb to humanity and the Irish and all those goodhearted sorts who open up a bit. In other words, all those things that people find themselves too cool, too serious for, too together, or just not interested in the course of maintaining their careers. No, you can only make very subtle and oblique jokes to reference real struggles and victories that smack of failure and failures that smack of victory.

Mention Kerouac and people might go 'oh,' in an affirmative way, as if to say, "I like that passage from some book somewhere," but that quickly turns to an different sort of 'oh,' an 'oh' of deflation over the impracticality, of the inability of him to, like Van Gogh, fit in with the world, on down the line toward alcoholism and physical ruin. Ahh, but what he did, what he achieved, there is something of achievement, somehow, at least if one respects writers and their work on behalf of the tribe. The great model on the one hand and let's not go there with the rest.

People are busy with their lives. They have lots to do. Even leisure must be carefully parceled out. Why read the lonesome writer anyway? That part I never figured out. Maybe I wasn't supposed to.

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's a guess, but I wonder, is it classic blood type O chemistry running in Hemingway. Os produce more adrenaline and noradrenaline in the fight or flight response, I read in Doctor D'Adamo's book about blood type and diet, one I constantly refer to. And Os have a harder time coming down, of regaining the proper balance of calmness. (Os are susceptible to relying on outside sources of dopamine, like alcohol, for a sense of well-being. Os crave wheat and red meat as both are rich sources of tyrosine, the precursor to dopamine.) Writing is therapeutic, naturally calming for folks with O blood.

Interesting that dopamine works in the parts of the brain where higher thought is handled. One extreme is an excess of dopamine, schizophrenia, marked by excesses like meaningless laughter and verbal behavior, including writing. It would be nice if Os had a fail-safe switch that allows them an increase of dopamine to return to the a lower-adrenal state?

Is writing/proper analysis itself a by-product of proper dopamine returning?

Hemingway's stories often tell of finding a way to unwind after something stressful, or to return to a natural setting, the natural settings that either offer a release from stress or a place where it's okay to have the juices of the driven hunter lingering in the blood. Does a Hemingway story need the war, the bullfight, the hunt in order to bow the cycles of blood chemistry that allow the finely-honed observation?

An O needs the regulation offered by aerobic exercise, it seems. Smaller battles, but with victories just as significant. Less chance of burn-out.

Hemingway poached a blue heron as a teenager, hiding from the law, the game warden. He wrote a story about it, with Nick confiding with his little sister in a peace set apart from the adult world. Read it as an early sign of an addiction to the hunt? Maybe addiction is the wrong word.

Maybe the stories say, in effect, that ultimately you get tired and need to find a way to relax into the Zen of it all. Or rather, a story succeeds to the extent that it builds a relationship between the current state of experience and the religious-toned state of peace, as the knowledge of peace is defined through juxtaposition with that which is not peaceful.

D'Adamo suggests that writing is a natural way for Os to calm down. (Good for anger management for a wound-up O seeking resolution, fairness, what-have-you.) Moby Dick works for the same reason, as a natural organic response to a stressful situation and the occasion of the great hunt. Subliminally, the reader gets it, that the words, in all their great complexity and poetry, are human.

The figure of Ahab bears the suggestion that the mind, the brain's chemistry, isn't always to be trusted, the sort of ritualized addictive behavior that is the natural chemistry of fight-or-flight gone awry into obsession. Melville's portrayal is not sanctimonious, too distantly pious, holy, or preachy, as if there was indeed some of Ahab within his own behavior. Perhaps writing itself can go either way, into healthy working through something, or obsession.

So is the chase a classic subject.

Perhaps it's hard to admit, a sense of guilt by association, that perhaps those who have written well were enabled by some kind of dopamine-fueled flight of proper exercise or artificial means. As we might gather from the Tour de France, those who write better than the rest of mortals might be on something. Or, they may have some tendencies toward chemical imbalances along the lines of schizophrenia and depression plainly visible, one way or another, in their work. We all know the struggles Mr. Wallace had, sadly.

Maybe though still a complete picture should allow that solid writing usually has to it a perspective, both on the self and the world, before we all renounce the exercise of great creative writing as meaningless, pointless, worthless to society, the idiot's game. Struggles are fought in writing; sometimes they are won. A Buddhist-friendly vision, in Shakespeare and Cervantes, in Dickinson, in Hemingway, in Kerouac, is to be praised. Even as there must be an acknowledgment of the great slipperiness as far as keeping these visions and applying them to every day battles to secure basic needs and wants. At the least, an engendering of compassion for fellow beings, is some achievement.

Any writer will have professional worries, ask himself or herself, 'what's the point.' The ego of Hemingway made comparisons with what the rest of the tribe has written into a boxing match where he was the winning side, or at least a draw after a long glorious sporting match. For a writer will respond to what others have written. Kerouac, well-read, studious, deeply reflective, in competition with himself, has some lasting peace, at least stuff that lingers, albeit elusively as answers on life for the rest of us. One wishes him better health, more exercise, enough green vegetables or whatever else would have helped his phlebitis or his alcoholic tendencies. Flawed though he was, not always perfectly non-hypocritical, the reader can't miss a sweetness of heart beyond whatever chemistry there was.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

As Hemingway might have said in one of his early stories, it was all quite amusing. The barman on Monday nights gets to take care of the whole top floor. Sixteen people, grouped into nine parties come at once. And the barman, stretched as he is, gets a group with a waver. A table of young Latin ladies, and one of them, the first one, likes to stick up her hand, even when I'm coming toward her. One, two, three, four, five, six times. As if I am not a member of humanity, as if I'm a dog

And I've had other types who wave. The gentleman on a date who sticks his hand up, wanting if he could, to stick it right in my face. That's the effect anyway. He's some human rights watchdog lawyer type, crusading out to do good in the world. He's on a date. Hard-on is the word.

The wavers... I want to say to them, 'oh, I didn't realize I was a fucking idiot.'

It's a long night. The kitchen closed at 9:30, but I don't get out of there 'til past 2:00 AM.

I go home, and this time I can immediately fall asleep. I have somewhere along the line of sleep, a dream about opening one of the '93 Petrus we have down in our cave. For a customer, though in the dream it also seems an old friend of mine, who often writes about French wines, is there to enjoy it. And I think I even have some in my dream. In a proper Bordeaux glass even. "Fuck you, wavers."

Hemingway, I think he is Buddhist sometimes, in his late career, but his early one too. Not much is thought of the posthumous Islands in the Stream, but I never had much of a problem with it.

And last night, or morning, I dreamed of walking home, tiredly, with groceries, on a fall evening, coming up through Rock Creek Park, edging past the fancy mansions of Kalorama, and curiously, my route has a short cut that takes me through a group house apartment. Apologetically, I walk in through people's rooms, their beds and stuff there, students getting by. They have a few cats. And in the dream over the course of work and back and forth and time I get to talking to them. One cat has three legs, and is a talker connecting with you. One gets up on hind paws stretching up to you. And we start talking, me and one of the guys there, about cooking and groceries and modern life, the loneliness of eating alone, and people's comings and goings. Gradually I meet the others. One seems to be on his way to being a professional psychologist. He studies dreams, and I kind of envy his progress. And by and by, the people become friends with this soul who trudges through politely, who asks questions, and the stranger becomes welcome somehow, accepted.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Does it seem to you
the world exploded?
That it keeps on, everything,
going further and further away,
farther apart?
No longer are we capable of agreeing
upon a single issue. And yes, it is like that,
no way that anything is ever answered,
but by an act of soul.
It's just the animosity that is surprising,
and shocking.
The parent of smugness and self-righteousness
and things which lead us to be Stalins,
that feeling that
I am right.

Who was swallowed by the Leviathan?
Who had boils and rashes,
prosperous grown children wiped away
by thieves?

The human soul was.
And it rose, after carefully considering
all these things in defeat.
No, not defeat. Just

Who had a sense of humor
and perspective
on this election day,
or either in triumph or failure
the day after?
Whoever did, let us toast,
and let us enjoy
their picture,
like Lincoln's,
like JFK.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I talk to the trees

The thing about Clint Eastwood,
hidden tucked away,
behind the sneer
and the gruff remark,
is that he is
a nice guy,
who puts away his pistol
in private moments
and sang once
in love
when you were a child
watching Paint Your Wagon
on the big screen
at the movie theater
with your parents.
Dooming you
to be so
the rest of your life,
Dirty Harry
of the kind.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Okay. I wrote a book about ghosts. Or rather about the ability to see ghosts, as Hamlet does in the famous play. In the play, there is the moral element, the knowing-right-from-wrong, the ghost of Hamlet's father letting Hamlet know something in a way uncommon for beings bound to three-dimensional space/time reality and its limited perspective.

Ghosts. Maybe it sounds like crazy talk. But a metaphor, at least. How do we come into the world, to the family we have? Why do some relationships happen, why do some stick? Why are we where we are? Why do we know the people we know? What is behind it all?

Is this juvenile thinking? ("Yes," I can hear some people say.)

On Hamlet's side, we have the possibility that we know who and what we do for a reason, out of something the Universe(s) deem appropriate. In our lives we come across people and meaningful thoughts and objects, and if we are sensitive and perceptive, we see meaning. As I see meaning in having a lovely old Polish lady with a message for the world as a neighbor of infinite kindness now having passed away from her time on Earth, her spirit with us most definitely. As the Lamas see meaning when a certain child picks out the objects of the previous, piece of cake. As Lincoln saw meaning in certain words he was charged with shepherding.

On Hamlet's side, we have a readiness, a 'readiness for all.' Meaning that when something is meaningful, we take to it, we see its beauty, we see its friendship.

How the world sorts out our connections, the personality of the relationships we have with each other, is not always directly controllable. Your father is your father. Your mother is your mother. Your teacher is your teacher. Your favorite books are your favorite books. Is that too passive for some, for those who want to 'rule their own destiny?' I would think it a matter of letting something organically growing to flourish as it would. I would think it a matter of letting something develop in partly unspoken ways.

Our ghosts oblige us to do certain things, the things that feel right for us. A composer will be a composer. A heroine of Poland's independence and status as a nation will be who she is. A writer will be a writer. And one on a path can only hope that other sort of ghostly presences--we can never be sure exactly of their presence, location and identities, except by sensing them somehow in our hearts, or in the places where we decide what's right and appropriate--will be there for aid and support and direction, inspiration, courage, will and fortitude. We may be left in darkness, but still find a light that shines continuously. It all speaks to what a wonderful thing the brain (and all the nervous connections that tie it to our bodies) is.

Being haunted. Maybe it sounds strange. Maybe it sounds like a bad thing. Maybe it sounds like something best left to old bygone folklore from the West of Ireland and other forgotten places modernity hasn't quite uniformed. Tales told for free. Maybe it sounds like chicken blood superstition.

And yet, has anyone ever came up with a better answer? Has anyone ever come up with a better definition of what it means to be 'a classy guy,' a better mensch, a decent thoughtful person, a friend? Is there a better means of prayer?

Literature: the long and quietly triumphant strain of realizing the ghostly appropriateness of all things. A great beautiful theory of relativity, advanced by the likes of Cervantes and Kundera, by poets, Keats, Ted Hughes, Fellini, and thousands of others known and obscure, by Twain and Hemingway and Kerouac and too many to the point of it being the waterfall itself.

But let me finish where I started. Hamlet, in the course of a play, comes of age. He becomes a man, a just one, shaped and marked by life's events, by birth, growth, love, and events tragic. (Youthful and distracted, he's not a man in the beginning of it, which makes the story interesting. As with any male, it takes a lot of steps, something Shakespeare is quite candid about, not pulling any punches on us, quite mercilessly.) He becomes Hamlet, with dignity, and then, the play ends in a death that preserves him, a man now, for eternity. He becomes, it seems, a kind of ghost himself. Perhaps more serious than he would have ever wanted to be, behind his good-natured manner, able, after all, to see ghosts.
The old mode of the creative...
Jesus used it in the desert.
40 days, back to the way the creature thinks.
Call him an intellectual.
Scholarly because he got it.

What you find about humanity is a secret.
Both strange and eventually obvious.
People are haunted,
by ghosts.
The sensitive and the balanced of us can see that and realize it without going nuts, and even feeling more comfortable.
The dead logical ones will say they aren't haunted, but they are.
This old Irish stuff, the Czech stuff, the Basque stuff, the Polish sensibility,
yeah, all the cultures that can embrace the haunted of people,
that strange and honorable sense of moral obligation that comes,
that will be what we'll end up relying upon.

And look. Ghosts.

Halliburton has them. BP does. You and I do too.
But it's better to face them, and feel their company,
because you can't avoid you and your own.

Okay. Now as far as "I" can tell, the experience of ghosts is a very good thing, a root of education.

And those movies--the ones we see this time of year--that preach that ghosts are horror and scary and things to avoid are travesties to our psyches, and this is why they, like other things that are stupid and bad for us, make money, those movies. The sad part being that we neglect the ghost nature of everyday life.

So, again, another reason the economy is gone crap. The shut down toward seeing ghosts, ghosts being a moral sense.

Rip up the scenic plain, overbuild houses, destroy historic farmland, all for the sake of a quick buck, well, those are the people who deserve to be haunted by darker ghosts, by the expensive sport cars (paid for by raping the land with empty subdivisions) gone out of control. (You can't blame people for trying to make a living, but... seriously...)

Yes, people have a choice. And I'd like to think, the right person (righteous being such a loaded term)...listens.

Monday, October 25, 2010

As a person with type O blood, you can't help but feel co opted. The beautiful honest intelligent and resourceful creature that is the root of all humanity to come afterward, the As, the Bs, the ABs, all the natural mechanisms, of needing exercise, proper diet, the fight or flight adrenal response, taken advantage of. They come along, have an odd and persistent self-confidence, a love of money and agriculture and staying put, as if they never got bored of any of it, show off in front of the poor O creature relegated to--despite all his well-honed survival skills, strength, poetry, humor and dexterity and appetite for life--sidelines inhabited by the manipulated, the ignored, the peasant fringes, victim of marketing. The hint is dropped, O is excitable, crazy, full of odd behaviors that should be left behind if we as a race are to advance.

Strange abhorrent creature, source of all wisdom and invention, civilization.

So, modern times needs art. a way of being in touch.

Ghosts are around us.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Shane MacGowan on music

"Music is just music, really.
People just fucking put it in boxes,
you know?

Like, music,
you can hear it anywhere,
you know,
even if you haven't got an instrument,
you can hear it,
you know.

It's in the wind,
it's in the fucking rain,
it's in the fucking water,
it's in the fucking ground.

Don't know what it's about,
but, I mean,
who cares?
you know.

It's brilliant, you know.
So, that's the way I think about it."

Shane MacGowan
from Completely Pogued

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I'm a barman.
I can understand Lincoln's pain.
A form of envy
for the actor
who walks on
at just the right time
with some form of
self-confidence regained,
a new sense of purpose.
Instead of the continual
I wouldn't quite call it heartbreak
with which to proceed forward,
moral certainty, even if you can,
not much a source of satisfaction.
A sense of private defeat
one is too polite to share.
But that the whole race
in it
knowingly or not.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

It was about five AM,
about this time I write, in other words.
I heard a sobbing through the walls.
April 10, 2010.
The Polish President feared dead,
I knew enough to Google it.

She knew exactly what had happened.
Katyn Woods, Smolensk.
History repeating itself.

I heard her phone ring,
and the news was true.
She cried for a long time,
and I wondered what to do.

But she knew exactly what had happened,
that no story could cover up,
even the slick one
that said it was an accident,
a tragic coincidence,
even Putin himself rending his garments in grief.

She was crying and I heard her,
till finally she quieted,
into an awful silence,
knowing exactly what had happened.
History repeating itself.
The boldface lie,
the control of

And they got away with it.
Thieves in the night.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Further thoughts on poetry

When I was a kid, a tenth grader, we were asked to write a poem.

I strum the strings on my guitar,
and I go free, away from here,
and over trees and through the wood,
away from things I understood.

Okay, it's a little amateur. But it strikes me. I remember even then wondering how I came up with it. I probably just went with the simplest and most straight-forward thing I knew.

We're students of information much of our lives. We're asked to professionally master a good bit of data.

And here is a poem about how you can leave the barrage behind, go for a walk in the woods, and let a cramped brain let its thoughts play out, beginning as soon as you walk out the door. Poetry is found in nature, in the context of natural settings and metaphors that reflect the natural world. In some ways, a poet is a bad student, neglecting something immediate, in order to go chew and mull over things as the mind needs to, processing, out in the quiet.

The poet--again, I refer to a mode of thought--wants for everyone to be able to think poetically, that this mode is not short circuited by all the demands for our attention. (The economy sucks now because of that inattention, that 'I don't care about poetry, or care about others, or care about caring.' That regal Nazi coldness, 'fuck off, I'm minding my business.') The poet is the idiot of modern times, and yet, how else would we keep on without poetry?

To Kill a Mockingbird: here is an example of a book that is unconstrained as far as offering poetry.

JFK: sometimes a student has to neglect his studies in order to follow what he finds important, the work he will take up. Dead on, as far as poets.

Poetry is a way of considering deeper implications. One wishes the modern bank/financial institutions employed them. (They'll use that in their ads. Employ a poetic actor, a Lincoln pretender.)

Poetry: you learn by doing. And funny how you sort of know how to go about it, without too much of a push. An ocean behind you, why not add to it?
Poetry, or the poetic, is first and foremost, a way of thinking. It's a mode of thought vital to a lively brain. One can't afford to be elitist about it, but rather hope that humanity shares in it. The words themselves, the play of sounds, the poetic devices of rhythm and rhyme and meter, all that will follow, falling into place naturally. It's a good way of sorting things out in the mind, and the ear and the brain's vocabulary awakens at its employ.

Poetic thinking is as serious, viable and effective as logic. (We wouldn't be here without it.) As if all else were inadequate, Lincoln employs it in crucial moments, his moments of moral thinking, of finding a solid base for actions to follow upon. (Even as his remarkable rise from backwoods to high office suggests a wide-open world of great possibility for someone who strives with some ambition--maybe more so than our hyper-competitive times allow--it is interesting that once he'd arrived his decisions over what would be just and right were based on poetic understanding, for example, the right tack on 'all men are created equal,' through the definition of a nation at Gettysburg, to the restraint of the Second Inaugural.)

Poetry is a tool in the human tool box, vital and often underestimated. Our minds are capable of and even adept at translating poetic thoughts and putting them into, as the Buddhists say, proper action, proper speech, proper thinking.

A quiet little woman in Amherst was employing it, creating a laboratory of thought in her reclusive chamber. Melville employs it in the blank verse of prose in a great book on industry and nature and religion, Moby Dick. Earlier, Keats was bringing the gift of poetry forward, high thoughts newly accessible, so that all could read what was 'writ on water.' Each a living emblem of democracy.

The poet's ambition is to figure something out. No more, no less. And then to share in what all are capable of, as an example, as a lead, as a follower all in one.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Oh what do you do when a hero, a heroine
Where their battles a coincidence?
They were Nobel Prize material,
in their own fine humble way,
and now the light's off
front and back in that place they lived,
next to you.
When did you see them last
in good health,
but Christmastime.
And how much you missed or ignored
all the chances to have nice times,
the rare times of finding family
where one is not by blood,
that ease.

An old chair, a volume of
Encyclopedia Britannica
pulled from the rain,
a painting that hung in her house.
A letter opener.
Memories of a hostess,
of the most generous person you'll ever meet,
who lived through war,
and then saw people as
all the same.
Next door, the lawyers with cocker spaniels, who rarely say a word to anyone on the street, not that they are bad people, their sprinkler goes off. It's six AM.

I have a sip of Pernod, and go out and strum a few chords underneath the sky, big dipper up above now. It's a quiet time in the city of Washington, DC. It's the one moment the town rests. And even that is interrupted, by a flashing light, or by the traffic that is nervously anticipating all there is to do today. I keep a line to Shane MacGowan, who, oddly, keeps me feeling normal. A legal city, asking questions, why are you here, what are you doing... It's a good time to sing Rainy Night in Soho to the backyard. Before daylight catches me, before the ambitious peer out at the darkness and tell me to pipe down, there's sleep to be had before the work that makes the big bucks.

There are things that you don't like to be interrupted doing. Maybe this is baseball. Gehrig, Williams, you don't interrupt them at the plate, hey what are you doing, much as you might like.

Funny feelings arise.

I'm a barman. Twenty years I've done masterpieces of the moments of bar's healthy ruminations. And like all art, those moments slide away, down a river, held even as they were, close. Bravo to the Nobel winners. They are us.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Marketers want the ease of a level field. Marketing wants people to be, down to their depths, uniform and pliant as a box of Cheerios. Advertisers--this is where the selling happens--they want the feel of the atavistic original genius of humanity in their ads. They want to make the commercial's viewer feel as if it were he himself who were making the discovery, had invented and built, piece by piece, the Jaguar. (Success of Patagonia, of Sir Edmund's own down jacket.)

The survival genes of the race demand that original thinkers come along. Each time one comes forth he'll be viewed as something wild and heretical, foolish.

A MacGowan, a Hemingway, is able to ignore the commercial messages broadcast at him to get him to behave. He'll come along and create, enabling the 'old song,' the powers of the mind. He'll grasp the magic of objects.

This is why the best of art, architecture, painting, music, etc., walks the line between whatever advancements there may be and the primitive, the folk wisdom. Much like Shane MacGowan's, the Pogues,' music does, much like the operative moment of a Hemingway story.

But maybe, you know, it is true: Buy the Hemingway fishing pole, and you'll begin to feel your original genius coming to life.
The cats purr reveals
her closeness,
her proximity,
to litter mate and pride,
the occasional human being,
the pleasure of dining and warmth enhanced by company.
A vibration within, tactile, reaching outward
that says, I,
we, are here.
Being close is good.
It works through her chest,
outward through ribs the same as ours,
up her throat,
and remains a mystery,
a substitute for vocal chords.

The writer works,
by being psychic,
at least in as far as being able
to touch upon the things
we all think about.
Do I drink too much?
What about this job?
I think I'll stay in tonight
and be just and chaste,
and thoughtful,
and wish my neighbor were still alive.

Which is why it hurts to shop
for groceries with piped-in music
of the kind aimed at 'enhancing'
your shopping experience.
A blip, an add, the Weather Channel,
all serving to throw off what you are
about to think of in a deeper careful way.

Lincoln realized he was reincarnated,
a meaningful chip off the whole,
incarnated in his particular life
for a reason.
He encountered a lot of dumb people.
Eventually, his wisdom won out.

A cat purrs, receiving a signal,
the electric energy of touch,
her fur-covered sensitivity to
the presence of her kind.

The writer awakens ancient talents
forgotten, abandoned.
Alone in the desert, the thinker
cracks the code, picks up the signal,
realizes what is finally plain and obvious.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Things haven't changed since the times of Cervantes (and Shakespeare.) The dreamer gets involved in those silly old tomes, the ones that speak to his dreams and his subconscious. He hoards the olde books of chivalry, and eventually--how'd ole' Miquel put it--they make his head soft, and he dreams up the idea that he is a knight of those old words, more or less a writer.

And so the old knight, armed with his delusions, strikes out at the modern world, the world of windmills, practicalities that bleed in on his existence, the world of information demanded by that early and lasting form of artificial intelligence, the market economy. His is a battle of remembering the things that will be forgotten, outmoded by the latest, silly to hold on to.

The knight sets out to catalog, as a botanist might, the intrinsic habits of a humanity, a humanity striving towards decency and a broader mind. He is gifted with memory, or else we wouldn't even have the tale written about him, which is of course Don Quixote itself.

It comes as no surprise, maybe Cervantes was not the best person to assign to tax collecting, that early bombardment of the officialdom of reaching information. But, he had it right about the issue the modern complicated world, forgetfulness, the voice that comes and tells Poland, 'no, forget your silly books and ideas of nationality and character and genius; you no longer exist.'

And over in Britain, Shakespeare, makes, perhaps, a personal choice of a move that was not quite cleanly one of 'moving up in the world,' but a position that allowed him to capture the great wild untamed varied voice (democratic) of people.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Seems Melville had the same problem. When the world and the internet becomes invasive upon one's slow deep thoughts, it's time to chuck everything and get away from it all. Otherwise, you're not going to write much, and you write to solve your head's problems and work things through. Something has to give. Off to sea, 'the watery part of the world.'

Being shy, it gets a bum wrap. It's not always so bad to 'shy away' from things if that's what the mood says.
The writer--memoirist, novelist, poet--so it turns out, is the strongest defense of the brain against the invasiveness of the Net and the effect of wired technology upon our memory. Writing is something we do naturally, but I am surprised at the absolute necessity for it, the crucial role it plays in keeping the tradition of human civilization alive.

We might look at present problems like so: Obama versus Republicans, played out at different levels in different ways, regulatory matters, etc. But, no. The main thing is, as other 'countries' have experienced is the issue of memory.

The material working economy, that which, as far we can tell, generates money, is based on the handling of our collective memory. Google, etc., is such a big hit for telling us, 'eh, you don't need memory; we'll do it for you.' Okay, click away.

And we all do it. Like a drug.

Can you outsmart it? Use the Net to find something to relax, without stupification? Can you find music lessons, for instance, on the Net? Well, yes, you can, so it's not all bad.

However, it's a habit, the quick click, good or bad.

And it's hard not to reach a conclusion, after all the busy voices have said their derivative pieces about what's best: People would be much better off getting back to that core of the spirit of education, which is sitting down and reading a book. The book: a complicated but pure and truthful device that keeps us from forgetting, keeps us from distortions of history, distortions of thought.

Humanity has done such a great job laying the ground work. Look and find, and give credit. But now we could, oddly, despite the promise, become forgetful, even as we might congratulate ourselves for the sophistication we have obtained.

Friday, October 1, 2010

How would Ginsberg have put it? There is no arrogance to claiming 'the best minds of my generation;' we all have fine minds, it's just how we use them.

My thoughts are again provoked by a thoughtful author, Nicholas Carr, of a thoughtful book, The Shallows, and one can hope it's not too late.

I saw, in a generation slightly younger than mine, a bipolar ability to gather information and handle it in a sophisticated way and yet to be untouched by it all. The world came available to their fingertips via the Internet. Communications became instantaneous, and they grew to expect it, not just in certain situations, but everywhere. Bipolar, I say, because at the same time, full of information, it seemed that whatever could be garnered through careful thought and converted into substance and moral fiber and conviction--things ruminated on--had with them very little traction. In one door, out the other, with a blindness toward holding on. (Bipolar, I use, I guess, to describe the odd connection with one the one hand lots of information, and, on the other, no meaning that sticks.) Yes, they could certainly talk the talk, and grasp issues, but like parroting automatons, there was a great disconnect, and a real dimwittedness that followed about being able to distinguish who was real and who was good sounding fluff. And we can blame the pervasive reach marketing has in our lives, preaching that all things are the same, just that some are more promoted into some form of dominance and popularity. "Oh, it causes obesity and cancer? Who cares... buy it anyway, everyone else is." The political candidate become a celebrity, antics to be voted for on the basis of popular behaviors.

So, though it would sound very much like they could grasp time-honored stuff like the Golden Rule, or a sympathy toward their fellow earthly beings, when called to implement such things into action and sentiment of the kind carried through, one found a complete disconnect. For them, it seemed, the idea had been found, and having held it for two seconds, it could then be put away, effectively glossed over, as they went looking for the next little thing that caught their eye. All information, be it a statistic on dog-catchers, to a celebrity's latest habits, on up to the Beatitudes, was all the same shit, the same distant matter in a cubbyhole.

How to act around such a crowd? It's as if you're speaking a foreign language to them. Occasionally a twinkle of understanding, but a lot of blank wall.

Yes, and maybe they looked at me as some slow bumbling peasant-type, off on his walks, while they looked at glowing screens and worked on stuff that would lead to their own selfish successes, not caring about things any deeper.

One has to protect his self-confidence, to not begin to think that he himself is the problem. Yes, one has to take things very carefully.

One is reminded of how people of a certain time not far from our own looked at Lincoln, obsessed as they were about the fresh issues of commerce, expansion and slavery's powerful economic benefits, things like the Missouri Compromise. He even admitted to being slow, and just about everything ever observed about him was concurrent evidence. And here was Lincoln, in the midst of these issues, and some people had this wise intuition, it seems, about him, advancing the prairie lawyer along to a Presidency. Here was a man, in great contrast to the omnipresent 'present,' sat and stood back and thought, and went down deeply to the very root of an issue. He had this crazy idea about carrying on a conviction, and tried to do his best by it, not letting it be compromised or conveniently forgotten. All men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and here we are, a nation dedicated to the principle of liberty.

Yes, he was slow for his time too. As if he were completely ignoring the issues at hand, invoking something far away and ethereal to daily practical matters.

Lincoln, to invoke him now, seems to smack of delusions of grandeur. Over that, though, he would have had a fine chuckle, and then told us to not worry about that and just keep going on ahead.

Lincoln might have anticipated a tyranny of the majority, to be held at bay through the courage to be a moral being.

I don't know how much hope one can have though. We created a totalitarian economy, enabled it, fed it, didn't think anything of it, and now it rides us, demands our own minds to be enslaved to its technology.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I come home after a long night at the Bistrot. I'm pretty dead. The TV is sitting there. Feed the cat. Okay, what's on. Answer: crap. Well, there's Comcast on Demand. No decent free movies, of course, so let's check in with Mad Men. Someone to drink with.

This must be quite obvious. We watch our shows basically because we feel emotionally invested in them. They become our virtual friends in our lonely situations. (Even Ken Burns' Baseball series is rooted in this manipulation. We grow to care about Lou Gehrig. And I don't really have a problem with that, as Gehrig was an interesting guy.) I find myself feeling for Don Draper. It's a success of the show, and this is why people say of whatever it is, 'that's my show.' As if they owned it.

Then there's me, the barman, who shows up regularly every week, waiting for people to come. He talks with regulars, has a laugh, maybe shares a drink, gets updates, reports on his own affairs. And at the end of the night, after everyone's gone home and long since in bed, he goes home, pours himself a glass of wine and finds something for himself to do. Year in, year out.

I guess if you're capable of emotional investment in created characters, it's a good thing, a practice of empathy. Not like you wear it out using it. But it says something, we have to turn sometimes to fake people, not the potential real friendships we might make.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Anna Karenina belongs to eternity for the light it sheds on brain circuitry and function. (The Buddhist will continue to study it, if no one else.) Intersections, shared pathways, the basic similarity or cooperation between different outward functions, shown in the two principal characters, present the brain in action, as good a portrait as had been produced in the form of fiction. And it seems there is a message here, that erotic considerations and romantic depth of thought are both excellent for the health of intellectual activity, perhaps as physical action is to the body. Anna's clarity is Levin's clarity, both revealing a fine brain. For some reason, the author saw fit that she falls to tragedy, which strikes us as a departure from the art. Perhaps Tolstoy felt conflicted for underscoring the good health of 'adulterous' thinking, as it contradicted church teachings. He wanes then into his own moralizing, and the reader feels left short.

The intelligent and the accurate have always been bawdy, earthy, 'perverted' around the edges. It's much the same circuitry, part of a finely tuned versatile brain. The nobly romantic and engaged are rooted and wired in all the brain's wide considerations, high and low. And this is why being hypocritical doesn't lead to the highest kind of thinking.

Only the sort of Jesus who drives a Bentley would try to 'cure' certain modes of human sexuality.
In the context of the excellent new book The Shallows, What the Internet is doing to our brains, by Nicholas Carr, a barman's life is not over-stimulated. Well, maybe he is, in the sense of his coping with a busy night, full of drink orders, full of people, full of movement, full of interchanges monetary, verbal, etc. But his job is not involved with any communications outside of his immediate environment. Take it or leave it. Furthermore, those people he talks to, most likely, he has talked with before, if his spot is a neighborhood joint.

My generation, we had a chance to grow up before we were proliferated. We had radio, we had TV, we had record players. And we read books. And I grew up out in the country, in some form of special circumstances, in that I got not just new music, but the long natural spaces and time of being out there. And, again, I had the opportunity to grow up surrounded by books.

When I went away to college, when I sat down and watched my classmates interact, I had a subconscious sense of some form of shallowness to their worldly sophistication, to their abilities to express themselves quite confidently. I sensed that these people, my same age, had an early form of adulthood upon them. They had egos. They liked to hear themselves talk. They liked to argue. They didn't seem to need to think much in order to hold the floor. And their minds seemed to me to work awfully quickly. And they were from a world of the city. And where I grew up sort of unwittingly, the child of liberal arts, surrounded by books and art and architecture, modest, imaginative, broad without that air of sophistication of being a 'know it all,' here I was, with perfect know-it-alls. Again, they liked to talk. And I did not particularly like being around their conversations, which struck me with the feeling that I had been dropped into a support group for divorcees.

I found some mates, definitely, in those days, and they were contrarians like me, even if I was the hick of the whole bunch, prone to being, as they put it, a wild man. I thought that's how you learned, by testing your limits, and following your instincts. And I did learn some things. While they were more controlled than I, and had a prep school sophistication I would never have.

My generation stood at a crossroads, at a point in time. We grew up, when we were little, in quiet days, way before the internet, when going to a movie even was a huge deal. We grew up with long spaces of silence in which to go explore a stream or a wood, a swamp, country roads.

And for my generation some had already been exposed to the seeds of what was coming, a globally connected world of mass and instant communication. Some already smelled it, and sensed that life is adaptation, so adapt.

And then there were those of us who in some ways chose to be left behind, not as conscious ignoramuses or idiots wanting nothing to do with society, but because we had some form of values, ones we sensed but couldn't express beyond a form of art. It was as if some of us chose to be part of an arcane oral culture of winks and nods and eye contact and song. We had a sense of vitality.

And this is my fascination with the music of Shane MacGowan, born Christmas Day, 1959. He grew up, in summers at least, on a farm in Tipperary. He grew up in an oral culture on a real farm where everyone played a musical instrument. At that particular time, he had a chance to live in a way that soon was to disappear. Here he learned, placed up upon a table at age 3, how to sing, traditional songs. It's obvious that he was well-taught, learning from talented singers and musicians. His music reflects a sensibility, a lack of distraction hard to find now.

One finds his music inclusive, broad, covering expanses of life. In a world of specialists, he is a generalist, as all artists should be, sprung from nature, depicting nature.

One senses it as his own form of dirty secret, that he can't ever be fully engaged, at the pace and scale required, with the world wrought by the economic reality of bowing to the technology of the internet. And here, it seems, no one can find a separate peace.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A writer is attempting to describe in the course of his work that beautiful yet often imprisoned thing, the human brain. It's perhaps a similar function to the mating ritual a bird performs, showing off his brain, but with a broader less selfish reaching, an attempt to find 'like minds' through a higher form of communication.

Whereas other work shows off products of the brain--the kind of 'here, look at this,' kind of stuff we find in shallower media--the writer's quiet work reveals how and what we think on an intimate level, as if to instruct the reader that he or she also can think big thoughts in big ways.

That's why people like to read love stories (Anna Karenina), for showing the finest and most courageous acts of the mind, even when they may seem ostensibly misdirected (A Tale of Two Cities). Or it could be a tale of some form of patriotism, the acknowledgment of an ideal to be protected, the endurance of oppression, the magical vitality of an art form taken up.

The brain is its own thing, to be perpetually discovered and rediscovered, a resilient organ of marvels of ingenuity. We mortals live our lives as partner to our brains, instinctive caretakers, defenders of the brain's style of work. Shy and enigmatic, we court it, allowing for its own quiet ways.

That is the source of bravery, that we know we have such a fine instrument within, a secret in the modern world which the modern world still needs to come to terms with, never being able to escape the brain's reality.

I think it's fair for the artist and the writer to say, 'it was not my choice, not my will, but something I was obliged to do out of some real sense of honor and duty.' So is the writer always looking for 'his country, his people.' That is his politics, which, by the way, happens to coincide with the protections of freedom and liberty nations make constitutions out of.

The writer will endure a lot. Even treated like a dog, he will have within a secret source of perfect dignity.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Some people are writers. They get the effort. They see the beauty of it. And some people are not writers, and if you were to ask them about something literary, they might shrug and say, 'eh, it's not so important to me, the latest of Milan Kundera's thoughts on the history of the novel; I'm too busy reading things more pertinent to economic survival, and besides, I get more from non-fiction.'

If you are a writer you'll do yourself the favor of writing a novel and discover a great silence. It's a feeling you might get from having done something inappropriate. No one wants to mention it, for they know that they must upbraid you one way or another.

But there are, you may discover, a few people who do respond with depth and interest, making it clear that their reaction is positive, that they see you've actually accomplished something. The more a writer they are, the more positive they will be. For it is so that anyone who cares seriously enough to write, just by physical laws of machines and the appropriate instrument for a task, will do a darn good job at it. Yes, there might be some minor issues to sweep aside to get at the book's accomplishment, but that is small stuff in comparison to opening the door to experience a book's simple resounding greatness.

In contrast to the certain light-filled people who get books, the lack of response makes one think of a dullard world. A world on Fox, etc.

I find it interesting that I found work that allowed for a very old technology. I was a cog in a tool that allowed for public conversation. I was, in other words, a bar man. It's as old as the hills. People come down to eat, have a drink and relax, listen to some piped-in music that doesn't offend but rather eases, and break into, as awkward as it is, a conversation.

In fact, one of the first stories I ever wrote, inspired as I was by Tolkien, was of a kid who works for a public house pitted, along with his respected wizardly elder, against the stark blighting force of an evil sorcerer (who'd gut forests just for kicks.) We met the kid delivering what sounded like very interesting libations, ale and mead. Funny how things go.

Now I grant, or warrant, that manning the pouring end of a restaurant bar, besides being work, did not lead to the most glorious of conversations. And indeed, the conversations that happened within the establishments I worked maintained a separate reality from the busy work and strivings and no-nonsense practicality of the modern city blossoming as a great crossroads of international relations and domestic politics. But, in speaking, memories, more than anything came up, and I must believe that memories are hugely important--in fact, that it all a great understatement. No, they were not maudlin memories, they were in fact very healthy ones that showed active brains and vivid interaction and trust for the venue. And I could sit back and enjoy, sort of impersonally, that fine thing that was going on, a person and their memories, their footing in the modern world.

The book now, come to hear, from wise circles, is too becoming something of an old 'historic' technology. Do we have time for them? Have our neural pathways gone to mirror the hyper linking bits of information found on the computer, no longer a habit of ours to sit down and take that long slow time with a book that's 'not that interesting'?

What will happen of our brains and our thoughts, our sympathies for our fellows?

It's interesting to me at least that my work brings me to a place where people meet to enjoy a very old and natural technological achievement, wine. (To Hemingway, 'the most civilized thing.') Wine brings mellowness and memory; it eases the blows and self-inflicted wounds of the day; it opens us up to memory and song; even if we might get a little silly, a little maudlin, wine will snap us out of it.

And a great book, say Moby Dick, is told with the ease of a brain on a moment of good wine.

I hop around too much. I think I can tell my brain has been affected (or infected) by the medium of the times, the information super highway that takes us hurtling, for a ride, not sure of which exit to get off, of if we take one, not sure we shouldn't be somewhere else and thereby end up at that which is simple easy pleasure narcotic.

Like the grape that is the most essential part of the wine, we, human being, writer, character, person, are the most essential thing in any intelligent consideration. Let's remember not to forget ourselves in all this.

I say that because when I go out at night in a city I see a lack of attention, a lack of curiosity, sympathy, empathy, and in place of all that--this is nothing new perhaps--highlight on the shallow and the surface, meaning that there is less interplay with an inner world of sensitivity taken seriously, places within that have nothing to do with show.

Oh, well. Hamlet himself said it, not so long ago, but enough to be trustworthy, "man delights not me." The inner workings, yes, the memories, yes, the tale-telling... but the rest... just dull, expected. Try blending in with a Friday night crowd these days (though I'm not completely pessimistic.)

So, really, am I crazy for writing a book, for channelling my prose to the mind's memory banks in hope of some enlightenment? The enlightenment is not in the answers, but in the activity itself.

The internet, the general shapes of our lives, it seems to me, require a lot of downtime, a lot of time to digest, a lot of time to sleep and dream.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Something scary

Technology spokespeople tend to emphasize the good about stuff.

"Wiring the Classroom," Sunday NY Times Magazine Section, by Maggie Jones, p. 62. September 19, 2010. "Technology is redefining what it means to be a student--or a teacher."

Here the emphasis is on the cyber math tutor Isabel. She's watching you work through a set of problems, and through her silicon board of zeros and ones, yeses and nos, she is diagnosing your problems.

This is about such "internet tutors," who are not real people, but programs.

"Some will be assigned to tutors who match their sex and races. Others will be given tutors who do not match. Students will be hooked up to sensors monitoring sweat (which indicate excitement or anxiety), the pressure they place on their mice (frustration) and how much they fidget in their seat cushions. A tiny camera atop the computer will register the slight furrow of the brow, the smile, the tilt of the head and the eye movements that indicate attention, nervousness, satisfaction. The resulting information will be used to tailer the tutors' encouragements to achieve the maximum education outcome."

I am getting a really bad vibe here, about these 'affective pedagogical agents.' LIsten to the tone here. Is this writer someone you want to talk to?

Next, and final paragraph continues: "'Computer tutors are never going to completely replace human teachers or be 100 percent accurate,' Picard warns. But if Isabel keeps students engaged in math with her emotion-friendly style, she will have done plenty."

Jesus, I guess we've all been replaced by machines. Including the faculties of the New York Times. Is this what it's come to?

Oh, no, really, 'it's all good.' Yeah. Get me out of here.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Spirituality is depth, and we live, may be, in shallow times.

We are afraid of goodness. We take it to be a little creepy. It doesn't fit in. How to achieve good anyway these days? Where is its refuge? Where does it gather strength? A church, as it is there too as everywhere else, just highlighted.

Maybe we take goodness too lightly, by habit, thoughtlessly. Kindness and a $1.50 gets you on the bus.

I wonder if drinking wine is an attempt to ease the pain of being spiritual, of having the huge reservoirs of good that are natural in anyone but which leave you feeling baffled to do anything about. What do you do with all that excess? Conviviality seems one outlet, but then that has a way of going too far.

I wrote a book about a kid who's trying to be decent in the modern world. He's trying to take things very seriously. He wants to know why we really read Paradise Lost or Shakespeare, etc. He tries to represent some vague sense of spirituality, a sense of meaning, of being here for a reason. He gets bad grades, gets taken for being a weirdo.

Do you come to loathe your own goodness? Is that what the world does to you? Make you want to disown it for its lack of popularity and caché, leave you mystified and tired?

I was out on a bike ride out past the Beltway, near the Mormon Temple, and my bike chain breaks. Never happened to me before. Not a dollar in my pocket. I'm near a Metro. I walk there, my hand covered in chain oil. I ended up calling a cab. But I wondered, maybe I could ask someone, 'hey, could you loan me two bucks for the metro?' I couldn't find the words to do it. I lacked, I guess, faith.

When I am feeling as if imprisoned by my life, I am reminded of the thought that people come into our lives, for good reason, to highlight certain elements of existence, each serving ultimately to strengthen our faith and help us endure, living in the right as best we are given to.
Writing is a basic freedom. A most fundamental one. One very indicative, as a litmus test, of the health of a society's mental state. It's protected by the Constitution, which is of course itself a written document, the model of one. Writing separates us from beasts and extremism and overbearing religious power and unjust laws. Writing is the vehicle by which we criticize society. Where books are burned, watch out. They burn some other guy's book, they'll burn yours. And whatever it is is not the book's fault, it's in the way people read it.

My friend Pierre over there at has got it. Do check it out.
What a horror show she was, a grizzly bear raging invisibly. I never wanted to admit that to myself, much less say it in public. Yes, I get why Stephen King paints meaning with his palette. I know why some women like to go to horror movies, to exorcise the horror and atrocities that they themselves are capable of, not out of any real fear of a creepy guy with an axe coming out of the woods. (They're stronger than him anyway.) What they do, the harsh cuts they are capable of, sneaks up on them, out of the blue, and they can't control themselves. Creepiness is just an excuse they use when they don't care to understand someone else, to accept them into the realm of humanity. It's an argument one can never win. All that is blasphemy, garnering more vengeance.

Back away, climb a tree. No, run. Fight back? No, curl up like a fetal ball, and hope the anger isn't total, wait for it to blow over, your arms still attached. The hapless victim blamed, blows rained down upon his head, the flame-thrower charring his sorry ass, his stupid mawkish face.

Placidness just means another attack. Stay away. Mourn your loss of finger, the opening below the rib cage, and move on.
I wonder, you know, sometimes. Is writing a dead art? Has it been usurped by FinalCut Pro? Has its relevance been reduced to the kind of necessary information we need simply to sustain ourselves and be responsible?

No, writing, and novels, and poetry are not dead arts. They live to this day, and will continue to do so, remarkably enough. Is it as if the cave painters of Lascaux were to say, 'whatever we do, whoever follows us will always work this form, and so we do it, knowing its potential, (rather innocently, or not).' They were the same fools who, like many greats, thought they could, and did, somewhat like children, in good spirit.

Reading books we are touched and awed. We don't know what to say. And this is the foundation of education, an attempt to explain why the creature did that, and of what the ochre meant, well, you don't need to think, just have a look!

The only problem may be/is that We all can do it, just like we all can enjoy wine, beer, alcohol. We all have memories worth writing down.

I think sometimes that we are just the same as dogs. We sit waiting and happy for some positive thing, shiver when it's cold and we're not getting any praise, while all the time keeping a respectful sort of neediness, an appreciation for that potential of being allowed to be ourselves in our grace, fine ear, and jumping beauty. The dog, yes, was heaven-sent, so that we could 'get' something.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Doesn't one always feel,
as is the official censor is about to come,
the neighbor to call, or pound
on a wall,
and tell you you're playing
your music too loud,
or that, you shouldn't write that,
no. It's true but you can't say that.
There'll be
some repercussion
some job you don't get,
because of it.

another of Madam Korbonski's stories

Crossing 57th Street, she finds herself next to Gary Cooper. (Was he fresh from High Noon?)
She stops and looks up at him, looks up, and she smiles telling the story.
Oh, Gary Cooper! Oh! She laughs happily.
Did they cross the street together?
She acts the pause, the 'oh, my god, I'm standing next to Gary Cooper, waiting with him, furthermore, for a traffic light," as if to look around and wonder about such a day to bring such an event.

I, to this day, wonder his reaction. How could he have resisted smiling to her, in some way, small or large.

JFK she met too. He had a grey suit on, and moved like a panther, she said.

She escaped a DC mugging by running.

So funny with her stories.

My Imagination

Do you ever feel this way?

"Bah, I am on a losing streak. I made a miscalculation somewhere along the line as far as my career as a writer. Maybe it was entering the restaurant business in the first place, which doomed me to a life where it is impossible not to drink, impossible not to have odd hours and so many things that make me undesirable as a mate. I'll never push a conversation with a woman, I'm too old for it.

"And yet the great Chekhov was a bachelor, and wanted the wife he finally took to be, like the moon, not in his sky all the time, as he put it.

"And if you don't settle down at a young age, well, past a certain point, it just seems strange and too much to deal with. Who in their right female mind would be interested in the quirks of a writer any way?

"And so I sink in the quicksand of bachelordom. Life becomes a routine. Groceries. Cooking at home, out of financial reasons."


A pretty young woman is in the line behind me, Friday at the Whole Foods. I've got my meats, my frozen breads, my greens, a bottle of wine, fruit/nut bars for work. I've had to go to the Bistrot for a meeting, which has thrown off my writing. My pile, spread out on the little conveyor belt, separated from the elder woman in front of me, the cold things grouped together, some apples for good measure, a tomato. Bachelor life, type O diet. Pretty gal has forgotten something, comes back a minute later with a pomegranate, which she places down on the belt after my stuff. "Don't forget your pomegranate," I say. "No, gotta have your pomegranate," she replies friendly. "It's not too much work, is it," I offer, after pondering it a moment, its pretty skin neatly coming to a top. "I enjoy it, actually. And anyway, I find it hard to distinguish between hunger and boredom." Now that's pretty funny. "Yeah, and it's not boozing either," I offer. Typical degenerate Irishman's line. Well, an honesty with respect to boredom, anyway. Then back to the mode of paying, taking my bags, then the business of arranging what I got into my bicycle courier bag to eventually hoist over my shoulder and ride home looking like a mushroom or some kind of bug riding a bike. I wish I saw her on my way out. Someone that bright shouldn't be bored, but, you know, it happens. It happens to me too, and that's why I like to cook and find it satisfying.

I ride home, back to my bachelor life, feeling as if I were some sort of immigrant, unable to grasp how the present culture socializes, grumpy enough so that I can tell I need to go for a bike ride. Before it gets dark.

I will be left with the unhappy mystery of encountering someone somehow desirable to me who I shall never see ever again, wondering about a chance meeting, over a few words, over missing words and where they would have gone. "It was the mood I was in," I'll attempt to excuse myself. "I am, like Johnny Carson off screen, a shy man." I am a sick man, an ill man... I am an artist. Until the memory of her wears off safely, the taste of the physical proximity of a grocery check out line, forgotten in the atoms. "I drink to forget," observes the drunkard in Petit Prince. Which starts him on a whole new path to repeat what just happened, perhaps.

It's a feeling brought across by the movie "Groundhog Day," the repetitions of life, part routine, work, of course, but also of the basic condition of life. Like for instance, the loneliness, and that vague sense that follows after it of being, well, maybe a little creepy. Hmm, maybe I do creepy things, maybe I truly am a creep, I really don't mean to be, I really try to behave and be polite, friendly but not step beyond the Heismann Trophy boundaries of polite and respectable society. Feeling chagrin, one has a Buddhist moment, which is perhaps somewhat logical (if you buy into it) but not so satisfying. Is it good health psychologically to say, 'oh well, that's life.'? Do you say the AA mantra to yourself, of changing what you can?

Ironic. I wanted to be a writer to be the best possible person I could be. As far back as I can remember, at least after I put drawing aside. I happened to write a book about a kid who, even though he's just trying to be benevolent, even though he tries absolutely to leave her alone when she expresses some coldness in his direction, enters that strange place where he can't redeem himself. Maybe it's a story like Chekhov's "Ward No. 6," where a doctor, exposed to a madman patient, begins his own slide into madness, thanks in part to accusations against him. And, well, if you have to deny that you are a creep or that you are crazy, well, it's like politics, trying to get the stain from your reputation, ("Jesus, Lyndon, we can't call him a pig fucker." LBJ: "Make him deny it!") or worse, you start to feel that maybe you really are that which you are charged with, which isn't good for your self-confidence.

As Chekhov says, a book should ask questions, not answer them. That's in its very nature. I don't have answers.

Be careful who you pick to be nice to. And maybe the greater part of socially acceptable nice is politely faked anyway. You want to be good, go join a church congregation. Volunteer at Boys and Girls Club.

What happens after the delivery of the self-fulfilling prophecy? Not completely, but your life takes a certain shape after something like that. You withdraw. Or, maybe, you know, you always wanted to be a writer, felt it a strong calling, shaped very much by meaningful events in your life, and maybe that alone is enough to make you a deviant.

It doesn't surprise me Stephen King, a real writer, writes the kind of crazy spooky stories he does, and I'm glad this sort of 'admission of weirdness' strikes a chord in people, as if to say, you know, I'm weird too, Mr. King. "Look around, and you will see," Lyle Lovett sings, "the world is full of creeps like me."

I can't help it. I wasn't raised a church-goer (maybe why I'm bad at fiction and a lousy storyteller), nor by members of the local Chamber of Commerce. No, I was raised by professors, exposed to literature and art, architecture and music and cultural events at a young age. A print-rich environment. And back then kids had really good toys, like the basic Lego building blocks (before they got so specific and fancy), didn't have to worry about computers and the only video game was Pong, a beeping dot that allowed you to play a back and forth game like ping pong. Life has led me, semi-professionally, to wine at least, and wine is civilized, a part of culture. I seem to have fallen down as far as making myself useful as any form of teacher beyond that.

Maybe the one thing attractive about writing is that it might serve as a free form of (self-)psychotherapy, I've often wondered. You get some painful issues out into the open, and at least you feel somewhat better for having done so.

Chekhov, you could say, began his serious career with "The Steppe," which is a story of a little boy traveling with a priest and a trader on a long journey to be dropped off at a distant relative's for his schooling. (My copy's out on loan at the moment.) From there, Chekhov takes us (amongst other places) to "Ward No. 6," as if to take that sensitive little boy and show him what life is like as a grown-up in society, in particular how a little charge, an insinuation, can grow from incipient form to something that ruins lives. His imagination is inherited, of course, by Kafka, and later to Kundera, take The Joke for example. And or course history, Hitler and the Nazi, Stalinist purges and the like, would prove the point, quite beyond anyone's wildest imagination. "The Lady with the Pet Dog," would make a similar point, here about the broader judgments of society against say, 'adultery.' It's interesting how a writer's stories develop.

One doesn't himself know what effect a charge will have upon him. He doesn't realize the effect it will have upon his attitude, the teacher who didn't say 'good paper, kid,' no reaction to it at all, just another bad grade on his record. He'll shrug it off at first, like any painful thing, an embarrassment he doesn't want to talk about. He'll be brave about it. "Oh, it was nothing." Little does he realize, at least in conscious thought, the deep effect a few words might have upon him, how such a thing will truly shape his life, leaving him, amongst other things, scared to say more than a few kindly intended words to a pretty girl in a grocery checkout line, unwilling to enter, fine and holy thing it should be, a classroom. Lord, how regrettable things snowball.

What did Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird say? "I felt sorry for her." For that act...

Anger, bitterness, they are not much my thing. I write. And I find myself comforted that it takes sometimes a writer's imagination to reveal such things, to flesh them out, to understand them. There is a purpose to it. Good luck to us all.

Skvorecky, 1986, Amherst

I was a senior that year, fall semester, and we had a visiting writer at Amherst, a very important and respectable one, Josef Skvorecky. He was offering a course in short fiction, something like that. One had to submit a sample piece of fiction for his personal review to gain entry in the class. There weren't too many extras, but enough, and we all met in a room one day in the old library, cut up into classrooms, if I remember correctly. I didn't have a piece of fiction. (I've never seen writing that way, anyway, and believe the conventional view of consumer 'fiction' as a delusion. Fiction comes from real life. In my book, anyway.) So, what did I have for him to express my enthusiasm? I offered my essay on the early Hemingway short story, "The End of Something," from In Our Time, that great beautiful episodic piece that revealed Hemingway's basic dictionary, philosophy and working encyclopedia and palate and all that. As important as Joyce.

I show up to that first class, first days of the working semester. And there were young people who seemed like, well, real fiction writers, I mean to say, with that imagination that is able to, like I can't, make stuff up, good liars, Steven Kings and that sort. There was a short impenetrable impervious pretty blond of two syllable first name who seemed assured that she had completed whatever was necessary and was even better than whatever the course might offer. (And she was accepted into the class.)

Okay, so the old man comes out, and his English isn't quite so hot, and a thick accent, and he says a little bit, really not much that would indicate who he is in real Kundera terms (MK bows to his efforts of making Czech lit stay alive). It was as if a plumber... well, I exaggerate. He had his gravitas, thick glasses, he knew how to handle himself, with pauses and wasn't going to be rushed. He was obviously something, but whatever it was, remained impenetrably distant, as if he had been sent by the real professor to perform the trade aspect of the classroom.

So, the second class--I can't remember him teaching anything in the first class-- he reads off a list, the ten applicants accepted, out of the 18 who applied, something like that. I heard him call the names. One almost sounded like mine, last name, but it wasn't.

And for a first assignment, we're going to read the short story, of Hemingway, "The End of Something." And speak of it critically.

No, you're kidding me. He said it with a completely straight face. Maybe he was telling me, in some deeply impersonal way, he liked what I wrote. Or that he liked what Hemingway wrote, the story of a date, a kind of 'after they've fucked, a day or 3 later,' told from his perspective and trot lines, the after you've came in a woman, or whatever it is. (I'm being crass, I'm sorry, just a voice I'm trying out.)

Wait, no, can't I participate? Was what I wrote about the story right or wrong?

I never found out. I wasn't invited.

And maybe that's a valuable lesson. You don't learn how to write in a class, meaningfully. Maybe I learned something being left out.

Mr. Skvorecky, who writes out of real life, I salute and honor you and all you've been through, far more interesting than what I go through simply by historical matters and World War II. Peace, my friend.

And indeed, I continue to believe it to this day, if you are going to be a writer, you have to define yourself what a writer is. You do it by doing. A lot of blind persistence. Your cutting out from granite a statue of what you yourself would want to be.