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.