Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ahh, the world of blogging, bane of the literary world, a proliferation of misinformed amateurs misconstruing the proper sequences and structures of what there is to know and express professionally in an orderly manner, a free-for-all dragging down of the time-honored traditions and standards of decency and quality. What random thoughts have occurred to you as you went out like Melville trying to not knock hats off but rather to jog idly through the spring woods that you feel compelled to share with us, oh immortal oracle of Delphic cyber obscurity and utter baloney?

Well, since you have chanted so, piously calling forth the blogging gods, yes, I did have a few things on my mind, I mean, if there is such a thing as a mind, or rather if this illusion of mind has much significance compared with the Eternal Mind of transcendental perceptions.

As I finally got out of the house, after the usual week of keeping bar and staying out or up too late, after yoga, heading out for the first attempt at a run since running on pavement back when the first blizzard hit, I began to wonder, how an author could stand giving a reading. It's a common practice. Actually we did it up at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and it was kind of fun. That there are such things as writing classes says, I suppose, something positive about the general public who, in an imaginary world, would attend the reading you would do out at some hypothetical book store somewhere with a small awkward crowd of listeners seeking in some way to gain and benefit from going out to a book store, either socially or intellectually or curiously.

Hemingway was an awkward reader of his own stuff. It would come out sounding stiff and flat. Maybe because so much of his stuff is about summarizing all the myriad thoughts that come streaming through our heads, a great reduction. Reading him, we get the vast rush of thoughts that flavor the brusk sentences. We understand a million unspoken things captured in his shorthand as one of his narrators looks at something and describes it. But, to read aloud from our own thought processes would be equally as strange. Maybe old Ernie was just good at being unbalanced in a balanced judicious clear way put down in elegantly simple sentences that convey actually being there.

Kerouac got nervous, but he was able to get over it. Sometimes, obviously, he drank to get through these things. But moreso, he could take comfort with delivering a passage full of life and stuff going on with windy musicality, a run-on of words that was pleasant and stimulating to say out loud like a new-found kick.

Like Hemingway, maybe moreso, Kerouac was athletic. A football player. (He could have played Lou Gehrig in a movie, though of course God left that to Gary Cooper, rightly so.) Which speaks of self-confidence, the willingness to go and feel capable of doing something without a lot of navel-staring and hesitation. 'Dumb jocks,' the skinny egg-head regards them, soon to find himself quite surprised by the depths of gift and personality and wisdom. (A lesson learned in the restaurant business, along with everywhere else.) Or maybe it's just that athletes have good blood flow, good humor.

What does it take for someone--what would it take for you?--to feel like he or she truly is an author, someone who deserves a chair or stool at the front of the room and listening ears? What out of all the stuff you had written would you feel in particular was worth reading out loud, a passage better, more to the point, more stimulating for reader interest? Would it be a passage of a fellow wrongly accused? Would it be a passage that explained that everything we do here in our manifested bodily incarnated lives is the expression of the cosmic love within, such as going out into the woods and seeing a stream?

My guess is that a fine writer is simply one who goes and does it, no big deal, just the way it is, therapeutic, an attempt to explain what it is, what it's all about, on small level and larger. To write is a random occurrence, just an expression exercise. "Now you want me to come out and read in front of people? What makes my book any better, now that I've gotten over all the long years of external beliefs that my book isn't as good, isn't as professional, as tightly edited and non-nonsensical as it should be?, is really a piece of crap."

Why? What makes anyone a writer? Is it the talent of being able to make a fool out of yourself without too much fear, when there are exactly such fears? And, on the other hand, what makes any judgment, be it of an established literary critic or journal, or even bestseller list, or stamp of marketplace of book convention, valid once we've gotten past certain basics?

Kerouac--here I go off on yet another tangent--tried to translate Buddhist thought into the daily lives of the culture he directly experienced. Maybe like the movies of his day, prone to overstatement and obviousness and being kind of hokey, some of his efforts were a bit clich├ęd, like going off to a mountaintop with his notebooks and canned food, employed as a fire look-out. Does a Buddhist really need to do such things? On the other hand, there is an honesty, a sincerity, a devotional practice to his efforts, and he did his homework, and his fair share of meditating under the stars. All of which should be dearly respected. In his writing practices, he comes as close as any Westerner can come. That, one might believe, shows us that it is worthwhile to, if we can bring ourselves to enjoy it, read Kerouac and regard him as a writer, someone you wouldn't mind going down to the corner bookstore and listen to, even if he's not more fantastically clever than anyone else including your own regarded self.

Blogging would have been truly unimaginable in the 50s, at least if you travelled in decent respectable circles.

But what you find, reading any writer of note, is that we lead oddly similar and related lives. Kerouac had a car accident when he was young, and never really wanted to drive afterward. Like the rest of us, he suffered a nervous breakdown, in his case while in the Armed Services. He was just brave enough to go and fall apart, lie less about it, as a step along the path of sharing really and truly what we all have in common.

Remember, the human being is a wild animal. Let's try at least to be kind to him, to humor him, to read him occasionally without throwing up, but to the contrary, granting him a certain wild dignity best left to savor without much explanation beyond what he himself admitted.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Writers, it seems to me--well, we could say many things about them--are bookish types with a fair amount going on in their heads. They are observers. I think some of them find it, in a way, difficult to be around people all the time. They are sensitive people, vulnerable, and maybe sometimes they have a hard time standing up for themselves, uncertain of what to stand up for, because, well, everything is an experience. But you'd like to whisper over their shoulder sometime, "Jack, say 'no.' Say 'no,' to Neil. I know he's fun and everything, but you have your Buddhism to read up on, meditations to do. Don't get in that car." (Well, on the other hand, if he had listened, we wouldn't have On The Road, such as it is.) Hemingway couldn't say no to wanting to experience things, so he was bold and adventurous. It was his nature to run toward danger and a battle rather than retreat. But all that didn't change the mind-ways of a man essentially shy, at least in some way, who needed to retreat for the first half of the day to his writing chamber.

It's as if people are too much sometime. Each one is a study, after all.

If writers have a tendency toward drinking, toward the social lubricant, perhaps it allows a state of pleasure in their minds that makes it a bit easier to put on the mask required of them.

Writers are people on the way toward Buddhist-type enlightenment. They maintain secret wishes to sit under a tree and meditate as the world goes about its business.

They love being around people, they know how horrible they themselves are... The list goes on and on.

Oh,crap,I didn't say anything new.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pani K.

My friend, my neighbor, a guest of hers has died in a plane crash far away. I got the news when it happened, thinking I heard something, as if though a wall. I got a call from her tonight. I left a note for her, on my way to work a night or two ago, but what can you say, except a great official mourning for another November 22nd. For the Polish nation, of which many of us are ancestors, no, you don't really want to go into what happened at Catyn Woods. No, you don't want to realize that who knows how many were shot one by one, execution style, in a grim prison, one by one by one. It wasn't all mass mow down, no. But they ended up there, like they say, a lot with a bullet in the base of the neck. You can imagine.

This is the Polish President who came up the street one day, and dropped by to visit. She liked exactly what he stood for. Why be so secular in this day and age--maybe something we need to appreciate about human nature, that gift, troublesome as it seems. Someone who seemed to remember the importance of defying Homo Sovieticos. Defying the cold life-is-meaningless spirit.

I sit and have tea with her. She alludes, but she doesn't go into it. Women stripped naked, whipped about the scalp and further tortured by NKVD, Soviet gestapo.

He was pro-Catholic. He was a veteran of Solidarity movement, as were others on that plane. He thought, along with his brother, that it was worth bringing out the abuses of the old Soviet leaning regime. He seems to have spoken for a truth that goes unsaid, or that people are frightened to speak out about, for reasons of being bullied in bad ways. The old apparatchiks. The old thugs. The old grease the wheels, but in cynical ways and corruption. All the things that this old generous wise neighbor takes a real exception to on every level of her being and moral fiber.

If there is anyone you would trust to calibrate or leave Polish sensibility and art and history to, you would pick her, or her husband, who is gone now, but lives on in dignified spirit. The departed Polish President, wife and family, were friends, and she a friend of theirs. Connected to each, to many, and loving all, even me enough to call in the midst of all this, she is someone, someone alive. God bless her, and the Polish nation.

The notion strikes me today that I must qualify the above and apologize for its sentimentality. One meant to say there are lovely people in the world, like my neighbor, and that things come along in life that effect them deeply. One wants to share, to say to random strangers and friends, the things that make them sad, so that events don't just slip away down the hole of what was yesterday without being acknowledged. I think going by one of my old haunts, Bourbon, in Glover Park, my appearance provoking a shot or two clinked over the bar after my shift last night, had something to do with it. Maybe it is a reference to James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, an homage paid, that invites one to qualify and re-qualify, as in the habit of modern master David Foster Wallace too.

There is an epic poem for the Poles, Pan Tadeusz, by Adam Mickiewicz. The Polish lady next door gave me once a rare English translation of this, and I must confess I haven't been able to get very far with it. The poem rises to present a vision of Poland as a Christ amongst nations, and indeed Poland and her people have suffered, and kept true to their faith.

As Buddha tells us, violence only begets violence. Therefore, politics will only beget more politics. One diatribe will only raise another from someone with another point of view. So must I apologize for my outburst of nationalistic sentiment, and only hope that there is some sentiment somewhere... Ahh, yes, Buddha tells us the self is an illusion. What one thinks one day, well, the next day it could be quite different. Still, there are beautiful old neighbors in the world, ones with good karma, who share suffering in the spirit of ... well... love, I suppose.

Did the New Yorker do anything about this?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

More on Kerouac

It was an act of sheer brilliance, generously sustained, written beautifully. Kerouac had the single-handed genius to find an art form to critique the Post-Enlightenment mid-century attitudes of America, to expose the complacent lack of spirituality in every day thought and discourse. His work stands as a way of taking seriously what the nation, in its mood of success, was ignoring.

After his early experimentation, constant writing and correspondence, Kerouac found the form of the 'true life novel.' Any account of life's moments and consciousness is a creation of the mind, a fiction laden with spiritual leanings and beliefs. Kerouac scrubbed and rescrubbed the surface of thoughts recreating moments of life. He tried a thousand voices, a million ways of looking at things, meditating on the nature of thought.

He comes up with a vehicle. He is telling us that life itself, just as it is, is enough by which to achieve enlightenment. His prose suggests that life's moments of day to day reality have great significance, that they may be explored in such a way as to suggest a fictional hand of some divine sort comes up with what is appropriate to our us, our lives, our inner life, our character. From his work it is not a far leap to the real lasting ideas of Buddhism, the facts of karma from previous lives, that weight of the past meeting a reality which offers constant enlightenment and the chance to live properly. Both sides of this equation have their poetry, Kerouac's prose on the one hand, all his artistic ideas, the spirituality of Buddhist law on the other.

And so Kerouac wrote of his home town, of his father and his print shop, of his brother Gerard, of his mother, etc., and all of it true to life, but also developed as far as the poetry native to each subject, as if he could, more or less accurately, bring us something of the cosmic significance of each.

The literary world is still irritated by his form and any follower of it. "What the hell is this? Is it fiction? Is it memoir?" Lawyers from publishing houses, forget about it, those times litigious, maybe not so much as ours. Kerouac changed all the names, had people sign forms so On The Road could finally see the light of day. He wrote about people who might find themselves recognizable, say in a Frisco jazz bar, real people, but few seemed to have taken offense. Maybe those aren't the kind of people to object to being memorialized in a small way in a great American book.

Still, though, Neal Cassidy wouldn't speak to his old buddy Kerouac for two years after On The Road came out. In many ways, Cassidy suffered from the identification and the portrayal. One could guess people were quick to stereotype, 'oh, you're the guy...' Cassidy, aka Dean Moriarty, points this out in a City Lights reading with Ginsburg. "Oh, they expected I was high on marijuana, so I acted it."

No, you can't blame people for wanting their privacy in a country full of so many people, some of them nuts. (The media has greedily taken over telling people's true-life stories as they really are, with all the nitty gritty, as opposed to the official press release version.) But Kerouac had a higher value, one of being on a spiritual pilgrimage, life being full of spiritual lessons, lessons by which to achieve humility and good stuff like that. Kerouac wished to expose his own life in this way, in real honest warts and all detail, as he wanted to achieve spiritual insight and peace. And, he wanted to offer himself as a kind of teacher, teaching by example, but also through administering lessons to those who might be curious. "I treat my own life as a spiritual occurrence, worthy of note through the simple fact that I exist, have a mind and higher consciousness and a memory and beautiful people around me and an understanding of emotion," he seems to have held. And maybe he saw the same in other people, whether or not they were willing to openly admit or not.

Maybe that's some of the beauty of Dean Moriarty, as he is not afraid to be just as he is, as happens, as he his inclinations present themselves. An individual, but not so private that he might not see some higher involvement which made his portrayal by Kerouac--the two were into writing, wrote side by side, influencing in each other in no small amount, at least in their honeymoon--okay.

No, spirituality is something you share, not to keep private. And as an aside, one might note that in regard to the Catholic Church officially covering up quite a lot, to say the least. If spirituality and the lessons that come of studying real life with an eye toward something transcendent, it would come to pass quickly that we would not only listen and bring forward the experiences of the molested, but also of the perpetrating members of the clergy. Let the great lesson about the life of the great spirit come out through the truth. But no, that's not how the church of Christ's steadfast friend Saint Peter wanted to treat the fabric of real actual life and experience both within the church setting and without it.

Again, a sign of the times. The fear of lawsuits, the official silence, the repression behind doors.

But that's not what Kerouac stood for.

Kerouac stood up for an ideal, one of openness, one we can but crudely describe compared to the achievements of his prose. His metaphors and tales stand beside the natural ingredients of parable.

As an afterthought, but one that slips quickly into the stream, we could say that many issues today bear a similarity to the ones Kerouac stood up against. The secrecy which corporations shroud their operations in, the inability for the institutions of Congress, at least part of it, to admit that people get sick and need to be taken care of without being bankrupted, to admit that people benefit from stable secure housing without taking advantage of this need by providing a temporary high that gets further and further away, to admit that people need financial security, no secret rate increases, no hidden charges, no usury, no need for certain medical procedures that people are going to do anyway after having done the math of whether they can afford certain consequences and responsibilities that aren't small... it all boils down to something about hiding, about not taking life as a lesson to learn from and acquire generosity and mutual respect. Physicists collide the atom now in order to learn its secrets. Kerouac was up to the same thing, and rather than a bomb, his work stands as a great positive humane thing.

As Saroyan said, and I've quoted it here before I think, the man wrote of a long series of tender nervous breakdowns, and that at the bottom, you'd be hard-pressed to find within his work an unkind word about anyone.