Saturday, July 31, 2010

Writers are generalists. They look at life, and its problems, not as the professional specifically dealing with a set of human issues, health, law, money, religion, shelter, etc., in an encompassing fashion, often based on their own experiences.

A writer may even create problems, problems related to the basic issues of existence, for himself in order to sound them out in a way that satisfies him and his 'what ifs.' So we see Tolstoy address this issue here, another one here, and then finally other ones here, in the meantime living life. Maybe a writer can be happier being poor in order to understand some facets of life from a more broad and general way. The mechanism is an unconscious one for him, an instinct to touch a base. He stands a chance of going through some fairly scary, unsettling and uncertain times in order to meet his obligation to himself and his craft. Just as Abraham goes through, heroically enough.

We come this way in order to illuminate life for our fellow beings. This is what the writer does.

This is the glory of early Hemingway stories and the pithy reflections of his continued works, the learning-how-to-live, the what to cook, who to trust, what to watch, all of them interesting choices that seem to happen of their own accord, or at least, one way or another. Kerouac too, Melville, and on back to the poets who teach us how to think.

At the end of a book, Kerouac says, 'a new life for me.' And indeed, with a new book comes a new life.

We find the same thing in Irish music, a willing to teach about life that is key to its formula. And of course, the form can be abused, as can happen in pop music, teaching a lower common denominator, an aggression, a crassness. It's the same as what separates good wine from bad wine: are the grapes ripe, are the tannins within (representing the completion of a growing season) ripe, or have the grapes been mishandled, combined with other batches, unripe ones, overripe ones thrown in haphazardly to the mix. It can be fine music, or salsa, or it can be otherwise. It's all in the picking and the care with the fruit of life. (Maybe such a thing could be considered when creating an educational system, high and low, that the mind must gravitate to some basic common wisdom about living, often rendered in plain folk terms. Or do we not acknowledge that art and letters and music are the central attempt to figure out some way or meaning in life when we pick up a book or a poem?)

Hemingway has it in the In Our Time collection. He, Nick, we presume, turns to Rinaldi, who is also wounded, presumably in some form of battle of the First World War, to remark to him that the two of them 'have found a separate peace.' Rinaldi, apparently, is a 'disappointing audience.' Doesn't that say it all, and not without optimism and hope. Maturity, we might call it.

Hemingway went off to follow the Spanish Civil War, looking for a new set of problems and troubles to exert his creativity over. Lincoln did the same, finding a big troublesome issue to match his creativity within.
I am gathering that it is slightly traumatic for a writer to go those final measures of getting into print. A lot of attention to edits, a lot of questions over what was written, etc., etc., etc. Finally, a sense of something being done, for better or worse, and to move on, and start again with exploring the mother lode of stream of consciousness. A couple of helpful examples to read, Hrabal, I Served the King of England, and Dharma Bums. So it's back to thinking what you think, and making yourself more or less comfortable with that.

Jesus is the original creative writer. The things he says could all be taken as a defense of it.

A friend I ran into at the teahouse. I just came in from hiking Old Rag with boss, a gentleman in excellent shape and strength. Plopped my pack down. Ordered a salmon bento. Now, I must admit, I shy away from conversations when I could pull out a notepad and get some headway done, but, a fellow writer, a poet, you compare notes with, a kind old neighbor who's moved out to the glorious Virginia countryside I just came from, admiringly. What are you reading? Kerouac. Oh. She's seen the scroll original manuscript of On The Road up there at New York Public Library.

Great, I think. I want to hear about this. I'd like to see it myself. It must be impressive, inspiring, maybe even more, like somewhat humanly holy.

A woman-hater, obviously from letter tirades picking on Flannery O'Connor. An angry repressed homosexual, refused to admit he was gay.


Well, I'm sorry, I can't see him beyond being heroic at his creativity, advancing literature forward. I mean, I know it's more complex than that, that you could fault him for making his mom work in a shoe factory, but, he's an inspiration if you read him, I think, if you are a creative person.

It might not always be easy to maintain a faith in the benefits of stream of consciousness writing as a practice. But it's much like yoga, a good healthy workout that strengthens a person from within. After going through your first book, you appreciate it more, to the point of daily craving for a good five hours of it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Wine, like a great city or time, like Kundalini, like the great discoveries of stream of consciousness writing of the 1950s of Hrabal and Kerouac, is about the flow of energy. Wine is token of the Earth's flow, up from the soil, down from the rain, inward from the Universe, the sun, the stars, the moon, outward in growth, even mankind taking a part in it at the end of the season. It's the same as good child care; let the flow happen, creative minds seeking forward, growing toward well-rounded imaginative friendly people, just the same as vines.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Good wine is often made by hillbillies. Just enjoy it, don't be intimidated by it.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The blog piece is the enemy of the novel.

Blogs are best left for People Magazine prose. That kind of outward-looking (rather than inner) bourgeois feel-good crap cleverness that shares the same realm with advertisers, but which hides a judgmental haste, a subtle bullying that keeps the dialog constricted to already narrow margins.

There's no help for them.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


The modern barman resembles Cousteau. Prepared, pressurized, sealed off in his equipment he descends, falling over backward with his gear on into an opening of waters, a 5:30, a Tuesday night wine tasting. It's taken him a long time to get ready. There is a system, a checklist. Then it is time to dive.

Aquatic life is the basis for all. It's not odd to expect some kind of a resemblance in the life of the human being as he and she relax under the influence of feeling a natural habitat. Turn the lights on, we're going in to the sacred life of the coral reef.

We'll swim down through the water, maybe passing a shark off on its own errant circles and tail shifts, a creature pure on looking for something, a mouth ready. We'll go down, deeper, to the sponges of a reef. We are observers. The wine breaths, breaths life, respirations that cleans and cool, filtering life, giving it a new cleanliness. Wine is, after all, water that has risen through a particular kind of seemingly static creature, through the rocky beds of old sea floors, drop by drop, into the fruit that reaches for that energy of the sun.

All are happy in the water, and the diver drifts amongst them, attending duties, partly clumsy, a form of interruption. But all are equal in the deep. Couples indulge in dessert, after dinner and all the rituals. Water, by its very nature and texture, brings peace. Small and streamlined creatures, words, dart about, stories from eons ago, told afresh. Some sulk behind shells, or reef-like disguises, or in their rocky holes. The octopus sits in his famous garden, touching all things, tending with his motions, as the capped Gallic poet rendered so freshly, better than Baudelaire.

The barman will, must needs, rise to the surface after the dive. He will rise slowly after leaving the noise and the activity and the shot glances and the greasy rubs behind, after the struttings and the color flexes, the rise of quills, the quick scuttle sideways, the tweek of an eye antennae tasting. All are gone now. He's back safely on his ship, the experiments and the observations done. Risen to the surface, stripping off his gear, it his now his to reflect and do the things of checkout.

For aquatic life exists and thrives, even in the world of land.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"You think a lot of things when you're tired," Gary Cooper's sheriff says to Lloyd Bridges' character who's encouraging him to hop on a horse and leave town just as the bad guys are coming, a movie written, by the way, with the Hollywood blacklisting of 'communists' as a real background.

Sunday was the end of a long busy hard week at the Bistrot Wine Bar. Bastille Day, then big parties over the weekend, a lot of going at full gas. I brought in two copies of the book for co-workers of mine, presenting them to my two friends downstairs after service had began. The waitress chuckled at the picture on the back, "Is this from the '80s?!" "Yup," I said, nodding. "No!" "I know, cheesy, but that's when it was written." When you work in a restaurant you're used to keeping a sense of humor at the ready, about your own foibles as much as anything.

At the end of the night I found our venerable waiter Robert (row-BEAR) reading it at table 14 there by the window, as I made my way to the kitchen to spare the busboy from having to run the last desserts of the night, a pear tart and a creme brulée. "Hey, I am reading your book. I am waiting for my wife. It is good." I wrote an inscription for him, honoring his taking good care of everyone. He knows the many talents and eccentricities of restaurant people. He is a veteran. He has waited on Salvador Dali, and Sophia Loren and Jackie.

I come back the other way to go back upstairs, after Blanca has gone out of her way, just having finished cleanup to make dessert. "Now you have written your first book," he says in accented English. "Hey, you know, it's hard to do," speaking quietly above the peace of a dining room silent and empty at the end of the busy weekend. "All you go through, working, taking care of everything... a little drinking... the people you wait on," he smiles, honoring the accomplishment of one's first, a foundation, perhaps, to build on.

It's a good feeling to be understood. That's restaurant people for you.

Promoting a book is near the last thing you want to do after writing it. People dear to you have begun to read it, again, in its newest and final form. You feel bad about what you people through, for dredging things up, for addressing intricate matters. You wish to reemphasize that it's a work of fiction, and that they tell you in every writing class you ever take that you need TENSION, and so you take raw material and perfectly happy childhoods and basically exaggerate.

The aim was to show humanity, to respect a complexity in life. Maybe you did so awkwardly, without much sophistication, maybe downright clumsily and annoyingly. (But this is where a mensch comes from.)

As they also say in writing classes, if life were all hunky-dory, 100% peachy keen, everything all fine, then people wouldn't read, or write, books. On top of that you try to write good sentences, one after the other, with maybe a melodious ring now and again, a reflection on life.

But it is a highly complex thing, writing your first book, and you go through a lot, yes. And maybe somedays, you want to bury it, so that it won't be found for years and years.

Maybe that sense of things helps you move on to the next thing.

You go through a lot, working in a restaurant. Mentally, emotionally, physically. The heart pounds with anxiety some times. You can't unwind 'til it starts to be light out again. And then you sleep. And you don't get up early enough to do much more than stretch, have some green tea, and get ready for work, waiting for a day off, and recovery. As if life and professions had found a symmetry to that other side which is the writer's work, 'self-appointed,' as Frost said. And just like being in the restaurant business as a way of making a living, you're never certain you're doing, in fact the right thing; you just keep on doing, having not many other choices.

Victor Erofeyev has a good piece back in the December 27, 1999 issue of the New Yorker, about his father, the diplomat, and how he came to be a writer.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I was drawn to restaurant work, and liked bartending, because I found it offered simple understandable relationships, in keeping with the O blood (the oldest type) that courses through limb, organ, sinew, bone, nerve and brain. It's the same reason a maintaining a journal of daily thoughts, upon which to feel secure, is healthy for me. The diary of the animal keeping in touch with his own nature as he deals with the complexities of modern society. One goes and does something, interacts, goes out, etc., and there is a reaction, a need for grounding, a way to combat nervousness and anxiety. The human creature, however gloriously adaptable and resourceful, intelligent beyond belief or any of nature's wildest hopes, is round and organic, an animal, ever being forced to degrees into the square, the cubical, the non-relativistic modern maintenance of time that lives not in the moment, thereby complex.

I'd be very glad to hear that most people don't have such problems, but in the meantime I'll continue attempting to sort out my confusion.

As I say, being a barman is a job I can relate to. Basically, a public house, a gathering place with tribal tones of belonging, as ever since chimps the creature recognizes immediately difference in faces and more than that. It's a job that fits with the organic understanding of time the human being within can keep up with. You've got a task to do. A tiring one. You go in and do it as much as you can in a week's course without messing yourself up too much.

Going out, though, I don't like so much. Too many pretenses, too many lies, too much complexity and hidden nuances, mysteries female, male posturing, aggressions, an uneasy peace. All I can do is slip into the kindest mode possible, if not retreating into a corner to passively observe and let the effects of this strange thing of alcohol by turns relax, energize, make sentimental and reflective, stimulate and deaden, making coping easier in ways, making the animal sorrowfully sluggish and eventually, off to bed, once having dragged myself home where I am happier and far more productive. If I could bring a notepad and sit in a corner, taken care of and undisturbed, observing, I'd be happy. Would that there would be more mellow sidewalk cafes where one could sit for hours, as I hear there are in Europe.

A journal is a chance to seize the day. One wakes up with a theme from past experiences fresh and not so fresh, an idea to develop and let play out. To me it's largely a dialog between nature and modernity and all its products and habits. For an O, at least for me, dealing with the television and the newspaper is a constant trick, a battle requiring the resourcefulness of the hunter-gatherer to put such flickerings and shouts into perspective, to tone down in importance and come back to life directly and its textures and basic needs. How to meet the immediate need for protein.

Would that the historian would account for a subject's blood-type. Why did Darwin suffer such gas, and come up with such a broadly applicable theory? Napoleon? What was Jack's, what was Bobby's? What was Lincoln's? What was Hemingway's?

("Figure it out," my brother, a Type B, said to me once with regards to my writing, referring to the successes of Dan Brown, perhaps hinting that my problems were psychological, ones of laziness maybe. Of course, he was expressing greater concerns of love and things of far greater depth to go into here. I have seen other's reactions to my dumbness, as if to say to me, 'you just don't get it, do you,' and truly, I'm sorry, I don't. All I can do is try to behave according to that person's individual rulebook toward me, even as the creature within might buck and squirm. Even I, though, take pleasure in belonging to the social contract and the world beyond that extends all the way to workers in China and what-have-you. Maybe there's a related dumbness in someone like a Gaudi, who goes on building his wild crazy cathedral no matter what {until hit by a street car.})

So, it is a thing of blood type, I think anyway, why one writes, why one shares. Other people might find such a thing grossly inappropriate.

However, teaching and learning must continue beyond the classroom. Schools, after all, must reflect organic and natural human society and endeavors.

And even in a barroom, there are teachers and students, people who want to learn and partake of wisdom, reaching out hopefully for a greater good and a just and lasting peace.

The Tour de France, it makes this anxious creature happy, as I watch the climb to Station des Rousses. There's something comprehensible about it. I don't need to ask many questions about its basic whys and wherefores. I look at my bike, parked in its trainer stand, and the creature somewhere goes, "ugh," with some satisfaction, as if bone in one hand, wiping meat juice off the side of my mouth with the back of the other. But before a ride, I must go grocery shopping, a complexity I fear, but I have my list, and anticipation is rising in my gorge already. Don't forget figs.

Friday, July 9, 2010

It is again the days of the Tour de France. France opens up and allows herself to be seen intimately, on roads past farm house and town, past Chateau and Cathedral, forest, rivers, and for a wonderful suspended time being, we take a break from the world of professions imposed upon us and we are all living idyllically again, along with farmers rolling their hay and the grace of fine old houses in fine old towns. Yes, a break from the impositions of big egos.

A writer finally offers his book, a novel, to 'the world' through Amazon. Awkward at first, feeling rather shy about it, a little paperback proof copy of it arrives. And yes, it is a book, in fact a decent one, living by its own rules and architecture just as the human creature grasps towards the form and its arch, the golden rectangle in which to fit many many random thoughts and events and give to them shape, coherence and beauty. A novel is not a profession, but yet it is something people must do, instinctively with the essential current and flow of consciousness and mental life.

No, there was another profession that sustained the person who writes, along with a lot of true generosity and support and love and kindness from those who matter to him. There was the great obstacle of work and attending to adult matters of responsibility, such as it is, and, you know, one tries, whether or not he does a perfect job at everything, for at least, he hangs in there. There is work, and work involves recovery. Bob Roll observes that a Tour rider goes through so much in a stage, physically, mentally, emotionally, adrenaline pumping, that it's hard to wind down and get a good night's sleep. One strength of Armstrong, Roll points out, is that 'you're not going to solve anything at 3 AM, and might as well just go to bed,' which is a gift of being able to shut off all the worries and relax, an interesting insight into the Armstrong character, a certain devil may care attitude essential to his sangfroid and exploits in a scary line of work.

Chekhov was smart to line up a professional life as a doctor as he built his writing career, early on even paying for his schooling with little pieces here and there.

Come to find out, a writer feels much more like a writer when he has something to show for it, a manuscript in a form that other people can actually find their own copy of and peruse, at least to keep on the shelf. It's a huge boost of confidence, a great support to the thousand observations, insights and judgments and event the personal wishes that behoove a writer. (No, I don't want to go out tonight.)

It feels right to watch the Tour de France, even with the volume on. I suddenly feel like all that verbal stuff doesn't throw the subconscious sources of thoughts off as a writer does while in a slump, thinking the slightest tire commercial will ruin a day's effort at the notepad.

It is, as Bob Roll points out, here as a comment on Mark Cavendish, initially dry in his efforts to win the sprint stage, a sign of character when a rider can put together a win from a losing streak, when things don't seem to be going right, grasping for what's wrong, living through it, keeping at it until making it work again. "I love the sport," Cavendish tells us. "I want to win."