Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Book of Books: What Literature Owes the Bible
Published: December 22, 2011

This is, as if out of the blue, the best article and commentary on literature I've seen recently, about the significance writing invests in the complexities of daily life. The question of why do we write, and finding a satisfactory answer, has been around a long time, apparent in the Good Book, both in its age and its form. The logic takes us in a certain direction, and here you'll find a fascinating discussion of Christ's assumption of the role of 'the least of these' to show, in short, the reality behind experience.

And given the nostalgia commonly experienced at this time of year, it seems timely to be reminded of Dostoevsky's The Idiot and Faulkner's Benjy.

We could take this article and run with it in many directions, as far as exploring the Christian persona as it applies to writing. Perhaps, the thought might occur, a writer must be humble, something of 'an idiot' to not be blinded by what a society might see as so important, in order to gain a broader vision of reality. To the ends of larger understandings a writer is after, being humble could be a good clean mental habit. (Can that habit be divorced from the general living of life, is one question.)

There is something of the obscure idiot in the lives of many great writers. Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Larkin... more recently D.F. Wallace. The fool is special to Shakespeare. It's as if in order to do the work you have to think completely differently, and that can only be an individual discovery, the bubbling-up of a great intuitive thing, something that doesn't pay off in the short term or in the immediate or in any practical estimation of the world's workings. But from such a quality, an overriding deep sensitivity, an ability to be somewhat Buddha or Christ-like, which normally might bring silence.

The writer is great for his ability to touch that particular creature of particular tastes and temperament, the human being. (Kerouac had that gift, before his own defense mechanisms got him.)

Modern life, of course, requires constant choice-making. It comes at you fast. The clock is ticking, unless you master some ability to refrain, for a time suspending somehow all the extra needs.

And so, the writer's position is a difficult one. How does he maintain a life when he is intuitively distanced from so much that is practical existence, as he is simply in a mode of being elsewhere?

Yes, the idiot... he makes no reaction to something like people normally react. He sits and thinks on his own, as if he weren't a part of time. What language does he have to share his deeper moment with anyone beyond the quick sketch of St. Francis who abhorred money and spoke to creatures? Joyce's, maybe, who took all that dullard rote Catholicism and transformed it into a rich and beautiful examination of the reality of a moment. What chance does an American, wrapped in the shallow but endless cover of the great Now of current style and habit so commonly clung to, have to escape so as just to think a little differently and independently? Each time he does refrain from joining in, it's as if he's using up a finite reserve of ammo, raising the possibility each time that he will be thought of commonly as an idiot.

Sometimes he finds himself gaining in strength from his independence. Sometimes he finds strength, greatly so, from finding older longer traditions or things to do that support a general creativity. He will both like and dislike the time he gets by himself on his own for the work he sees as important. He won't have all the energy he wants, but he will try.

Any writer we know, I get the sense, they just kept at it. Each moment of free time was a moment of Now to take advantage of.

Post Script:

I sometimes wonder, why would we read anything but the Good Book. It's got everything in it. In a way, it's all we need. Does that sound strange to the modern ear? Probably. "We've already read about Job, what else are we going to get out of it?" "Me, I'd rather read about Richard Holbrooke's efforts of diplomacy, or about bio-fuel, or about the economy, the educational system, etc., etc." Or, "why read Faulkner, but out of some exploration of literary technique, though, of course, this business about Benjy being a sort of Christ Stand-In is sort of interesting."

Well, to read the Bible, or something that touches the same issues, invites us toward a broader frame on reality. What is reality? How should we treat the world? Maybe the business about the gentle Lamb of God turns out to be a practical way to go through life after all, even though initially it seems way too passive. Maybe there are deeper things to think about, in a way that is beneficial to our lives and the human condition here, ways to live that we haven't explored so well in our rush to go about 'taking care of things.'

But why read, say Hemingway, when we could be reading Corinthians? Maybe because, to attempt to seriously answer the question, there is buried within it a form of spiritual awakening, a revelation of 'here's what this particular writer's mode of consciousness allows one to see, better than might be, pointing out maybe the particular limitations of such thought so that we can do a little bit better, all part of a great experiment.'

It is interesting that the passive idiot type recurs in literature, or at least the figure of someone walking the line between what seems practical or is allowed by society (like a camping trip conducted in a certain practical way) and the ultimate mysteries that come before him (like the great silence that opens up after all the matters of camping and fishing for dinner are taken care of, bringing a spiritual moment.) Is Nick, the camper in the famous Hemingway story, just a guy with a bit of stress disorder seeking calm in the woods?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Such a gloom Christmas time can bring.

Left alone, one's thoughts become a weary rut, as if not quite gone over a million enough times. Like 'the time I became a loser.'

Went back for my first homecoming. I started out in my old VW Rabbit, but the cylinder head was slowly giving way and the best pressure the cylinders could push was about 45 mph and that was probably going downhill. Not a safe speed for the Thruway. I made it from Westmoreland to the Utica exit. Nursed the thing home to my dad's apartment. He let me borrow his car. That night I called her, the girl I'd courted for a bit more than a year. I had graduated, she was a junior now. I called her up. It didn't last long. "Who's this," she demanded. I tried to explain myself, got cut off. "Ha ha," I said, as she dismissed me.

And so I went to the football game the next day. And all the 'no's of the previous year seem to weigh in on my, even in the bright fall sunlight in one of the beautiful happy places of earth. I saw her walk by as I caught up briefly with a guy about what was going on. And then I walked off in the opposite direction, toward the end of the playing field, not looking back. "One more word and I'll go the dean and charge you with..." that kind of a thing. Not a lot of positive. A lot of stilted conversations. And so I walked down to the end of the football field, to think about it, to stew, to not be happy.

Well, my friends were around. I hadn't seen them in a long time. Two of my closest friends wanted a little puff of doobie so I went off with them. And when I came back, there she was, sitting by herself, on the grass, her legs tucked up. I'd been told by a by a kid I knew in her class that her friends, who had never been at all nice to me, say that I had 'been her boyfriend.' And I said to myself, stung as I was, 'yeah, right.' And so I stood there as she sat there.

I guess I was about to go and say something to her just as about as she stood up. I looked down and dragged my toe through the cinder fine grint of the running track in that classic more of shyness. And she walked past me and away.

And so it's me, you know, who screwed it all up in the end, who was an asshole, who was too pessimistic (a Capricorn.) It's me who did the worst possible thing, me who is responsible for not being open, and for worse, for dashing a relationship between possible soul mates in the trash and ruined in an instant whatever might have come out of it, happy times of adventure, a wedding for family members, happy kids, happy grandparents, even as it would have been a struggle. But no, none of that transpired, that nice meet in college kind of a thing that is so appropriate. The rest I'd rather not talk about.

So that is one person's Christmas gloom, a chasm of grief to buy and hold onto, a fine holiday bitterness, no one's fault, but your own, never to be right again, too many years gone by.

Maybe by writing it, there will be some abatement, some counter swing of a pendulum, that gloom will lift, that the day of Christmas will offer some form of peace and hope.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Then it occurs to me, President Kennedy wanted for us to admit our pain, the pain of being human in this small world that we share. Something he never did in public, the severe physical pain he had.

For the last twenty five years or so I have woken up in one form or another of depression. It varies somewhat. It's not like that of the woman in our town who would walk along College Street in an almost zombie-like medicated state (purportedly she had witnessed something horrible), it's not like I don't function, but it's there on a daily basis. There have been ups and downs as far as days one wants to get up out of bed, days one finds not much reason, maybe just needs rest, lots of rest. I'm probably not that different from a lot of people in that regard; maybe it's just that most people grow up and find some profession to go to during the day, which more or less takes care of things. The fault is mine for the job of working nights, leaving the hours before to stew. (Is writing, just on your own, a job of any sort, one that offers great promise or security?)

I've tried homeopathic stuff, holy basil, GABA, supplements like B vitamins, amino acid tyrosine, L-arginine, 5-HTP. (Along with a fair amount of natural anti-inflammatory herbals like astragalus and Chinese skullcap.) Who knows, sometimes I feel they help, kind of pull away the curtains so that daylight can flow in and out up there, a sense of well-being. Yes, sometimes I could almost swear they help. To find some glimmer of happy childhood, before the morose Irishman, before things like regrets. Of course, this is why we must exercise, yoga, an hour of something aerobic, just to get yourself back in a decent mood. Maybe it's just that for the great percentage of our evolution we walked constantly, always doing something physical, carrying in our hands a reassuring bow and arrow or a spear, or doing something with an axe. And perhaps, maybe most therapeutic of all, words, the writing down of things, the steady 'showing up' to pick up the worded thoughts of a previous day, dust them off, shine them, and then continue with the train of thought.

So you get up out of bed. Leave the curtains open at night, just to get some light to help you get going. Things like dirty dishes in a sink are very heavy. Hard even to make the tea, but you can, and finally do, and stuff like this, small accomplishments, help you not have a poisoned brain toward the day. We're social animals. It helps to get out of the apartment. This is why there are coffee shops, to let one's own brain waves mingle in the electric flows of people who have already started their day, already working on something. But sometimes I find them too noisy, distracting, too much of an effort, and that the best approach to them is that of a birds, like the sparrows one finds on the terrace outside, to find a little comfortable perch in the sun.

When you are depressed you can fall to that foolish thing called living in the past. There are the ninja armies of should'a, would'a, could'a, leaping out at you unannounced, a particular memory, options not taken, gracious efforts not made in your stung shyness that was already prone to 'the artistic high-strung temperament' already even back then, as if you didn't have your eyes open to the beauty of life before you. Things of your youth you feel bad about in middle age. You'd like to, as they say, seize the day, but of course, you can't.

Our college wants us to write a little blurb about what we've been up to as we go to our 25th reunion. Maybe that too, besides praying to President Kennedy, prompts these thoughts. What have I done... Well, basically I've been a barman. I've worked in two establishments, neighborhood places, but places well-known, well-respected enough to get flow from a good portion of the town. I get up, get ready, and then I go in, get the bar ready, get set-up, the door opens, and then I'm solicitous for the next hours, etc. I've conversed with many people, with many on a regular basis. I've served some function in the town, and been there steadily, on Wisconsin Avenue, waiting on whoever walks in the door (with some exceptions) for a good amount of time. Not showy enough to be a legend, but maybe a guy who's generous as long as he can stand it.

Something to mention, but not a huge amount to crow about. I'll mention too that I worked on one project steadily, thus the novel, self-published. I try not to talk too much about it at work, the 'what else do you do besides tend bar (because obviously you are intelligent),' oh, I wrote a novel, it's kind of like The Catcher in the Rye... boy meets girl, boy fucks it up, repeatedly, blah blah, what the hell is it about anyway, I don't know, I just wrote the damn thing, I guess it's like this modern take on Hamlet, as if we were to drop into a college setting, but not the court intrigue plot level, no nothing like that, basically about as readable and publishable as Joyce, later Joyce... Gloomy crap no one needs to read, and look here I am staring at my naval again talking about it and don't we have anything better to talk about and hey how's your wine working with whatever . Whatever.

But I say all this because we all our brave, what we do, how we live and face life, knowing an inkling of what ultimately will happen to us. I say this knowing that we all have regrets. And ultimately we all must find some faith in the notion that the world is, as it were, our soul mate, that therefore we love the world, that we trust the world implicitly, even knowing that in doing so we open ourselves up to pain. Maybe that is a reason, yet another one, why we forgive, forgive another as one who just like us has walked out onto the ice in hopes of finding.

I have no doubts in my mind that Lincoln suffered from the gloom, fought to live through it, to find a way 'out' as it were, to find a satisfying solution, a connection, to a great puzzle to put his foot upon, to find a meaning to 'dedicate' his own life to. Perhaps he was lucky to find such a role, though all the issues he would then face each presented itself with the problem of depression in various states of scale, and to not just sit there feeling helpless, lost.

One day, I vaguely remember, we saw the woman walking along College Street, and she looked surprisingly normal, as if something had blown away, and she was taking one step at a time and taking care of things. She had her life back, if not all those lost years.

Postscript, the usual after-thoughts that pile in: There is a part of the mind, the thinking artistic mind that, perhaps because of its highness, leaves one gentle to the point of passivity. The artist can't help the mode, passive to the truth, and this habit tends to place him at odds, to some extent, with any society she/he falls into, which does not encourage passivity because all must have rules to follow, to take a place in the pecking order. The vehicle by which he/she takes in that which shall be reformed and recreated as art seems to cause him to fight less than he should for the life he wants and the things even his heart cries out for. Sad on both ends, witnessing the sufferings of others, like the busboy with family and children far away, not seen in years, unable to help, realizing life must therefore be a self-minded battle, sad for not being as pro-active as he should be for his own.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Hic Iacet Arthurus, Rex Quondam Rexque Futurus

Christmas shopping... I think I'd rather be reading Finnegan's Wake. Not an easy time for an attempted writer, feeling the obligation to find decent presents for everyone. You can only imagine how Ernest H. felt when he couldn't write anymore, mumbling to himself, turning previously written pages. Get out of the house. Go to some little coffee shop, just to be away from the desire to organize. Sit in a sunny spot, write a letter to an old professor of mine. (Sent hi a copy of my book, never got back to me.) Satisfied, a little bit, I go looking for guitar strings, and maybe a Shake Shack hamburger. Guitar Shop is closed, done. (I have a feeling they brought it on themselves from what people tell me about the experience there, but hard times for a mom & pop brick and mortar.) Hamburger okay, no epiphany. Didn't eat the bun anyway.

The greening bronze dome of Saint Matthew's rises above all the interesting people walking by on Connecticut Avenue excited that it's Friday in the cold mid-afternoon twilight. Women walking awkwardly on heels stepping along the pavement. Many people hip. Cars. A "GOING OUT OF BUSINESS, 50% off, everything must go" Filene's Basement placard spotted above M Street. Hmm, should a ragamuffin like me try to find something decent to wear, not really able to face the notion of serious Christmas present shopping? Feel like a creep, but also a flowing empathy for everyone, their faces, their shoes, their burdens... some people you take a liking to, though you don't need to know them... It's as if you had the sympathy of God for all them.

I head off to St. Matthew's. Which I'm a bit shy about. Fresh from the doom of writing in a notebook about events that didn't augur well, just a mood, I have a need to go see that spot where President Kennedy's casket rested in the great church, lain, after he was slain. I have need of a prayer and a brief cathartic gush of mourning for someone who knew the burden of pain, who loved life and the world enough to think about the deeper meaning of reality behind daily events, something my father thought worthy, something John F. Kennedy grew into, the light by which he inspired us then and to this day. The past is the past. You may want to change parts of it, but you can't, and there are good and great things about current reality, but there also are things that haunt you like ghosts. And you need a sort of talisman, a prayer, a mandala, to protect you, or else such things can eat at you. You wish them to go away, but they say things to you. You try not to spiral. Walk, do yoga, ride a bike, whatever it takes.

Entering through a side door, the one Pani Korbonska liked to enter through, one found four or five people praying in silence, either before lit candle, or facing the altar, a low soft hum from them. One woman sitting upright, staring ahead without emotion, taking a break. Gregorian chants playing quietly in the background, sounding live acoustically, but invisible. No vacuuming going on, though afternoon in-between masses vacuuming is not an unpleasant sound in a cathedral somehow, as if integrally related to the swinging of smoky incense, just its opposite, as if one had to carefully gather holy dust and scent back up again, recycling it, as it were. Three o'clock, on a Friday... The last time I was down here was to buy a black tie and a white shirt from Brooks Brothers for my father's memorial service. Music in background. Heavily curtained confessional booth. Serious prayer going on for a few. I dip my hand in the water, do a cross yourself thing, make a little bow, take a right, then a left, into the main aisle.

Walk up the carpet, to the edge, the marble's beginning before the main altar. A round inlay on the floor. ... The Mortal Remains of President Kennedy... I approach it, having bowed, slipped my courier bag into a pew (number 3, on the right), and now, now it's time for a prayer, one you've felt you've wanted to say for a long time, maybe since you were a kid. Gentle knight. Take a picture, read the words, look, the little cross inlay. It was here. Here, though hard to imagine the casket, moreso the swirling atomic dust of the living man frozen for a little while as the soul had left it still in form, and the soul present somehow, as if to say, 'this was finally me and all my works for you.' Bow down, on one knee, and one puts a hand down on the marble, just at the front edge of this circle inlayed. Amidst all the "Oh, No's" of life, you were a kid, you listened to his speeches, a record in the college library, many times, over again, that calling voice, comforting, telling us the meaning of life and what we should do, yeah, sometimes coached in and heavy with political and Cold War era terms, but often a good deal deeper than that. Yes.

Paw-like hand gently touching the marble, and no one saying, no you can't do that, just a fine moment of prayer coming up and down through fingertips, "President Kennedy, thank you and please show me, if you have any wise advice, the way for here I am and I have tried and feel I need to pray to you, for I have things that I'd like to redo in the past, and maybe I am not so sure of what I am doing here and now, but here I am comforted by you and by all you did and your words, which I am indebted to." Or maybe I was telling him of my father's passing, or of some sorrow or of some question, finding within a guide for life. "Jack. Show me the way, the right thing to do, and what this writer should do with himself." While trying to keep it on the light side, because he had such a good sense of humor.

A meditation in the pew, looking over at the spot. Kneel for a prayer. A prayer to my Dad. Then, to the chapel of St. Francis, mosaic inlay, green happy rolling Tuscan hills, animals and birds, waters, distant hill towns with glints of gold, blue sky, fowl of the air. Another prayer, kneeling, and then, it begins to wear off and one must quietly exit and allow other people their little real prayer time before more church business comes. Softly out through the side door.

Then feeling some dim obligation to go shopping, I enter the doors of Filene's Basement, already teeming at four o'clock, workers looking for bargains, long lines at cash register. Upstairs to Men's. Find a suit, charcoal black, 40 regular, seems to fit, though I look like a bum what I've put on today, my hair. "She wanted you to be a gentleman afterward, not before," a friend's words ring. "Treat a duchess like a whore, and a whore like a duchess," it reads, some saying somewhere in one of the JFK biographies. Shopping obligation, not shopping therapy. President Kennedy wore suits. My Dad too. Maybe a suit will help, help me find some golden inner guidance. Put on jacket, look in mirror. Futz over to the fitting room. Pay something like $105 for the suit. Then go look at shoes. some shopper I am, but I find a few pairs, maybe for work, left foot hurting, Chuck Taylor and pavement causing a particular 'what are you doing with your life' kind of pain in the ball of the foot that you can't even limp to sooth. Maybe it's about time I got some better shoes for work.

Then it's a quiet night. The kind you order Chinese food delivery and don't want to talk to anyone, but maybe clean the house a little, before the shopping, still deeply disturbing at this point, in earnest must commence.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

General Wine Thoughts

When I first came to tend bar at a French bistrot some seven years ago I really didn't know too much about wine, other than that it tasted good and that there was alcohol in it, allowing for the famous mildly euphoric and relaxing effect. I don't suppose it took long for a rudimentary understanding of French wines, Bordeaux being blends of Cabernet and Merlot, Red Burgandies being Pinot Noir, the Southern Rhone and Languedoc wines being of Grenache and Syrah along with a few other varietals, and then along with a whole range of minor exceptions, varieties, particular wines unique to certain areas, all alike but different. I'd ask my guys, long experienced drinkers of French wines, what's this Faugeres, or what's a Bandol, or a Madiran, I mean, as far as being able to explain it to people. And typically the cat would reply, 'oh, lovely wine, inky, spice...' and then go about his business.

The more you know about wine, the less it seems. Of course there are a whole range of intimidating titles, sommelier, second level, master of wine, and there are people who without being told can take a sip and tell you the particular wine it is, maybe even the chateau, and probably, the year. Jesus Christ. Yeah, I can roll wine over my tongue and make that slurp sound. I have a nose, though it's not always as clear as I'd like it to be. It is good, I'll tell you, to take your time. You might as well study the appearance of the wine, and then, after swirling the wine in a glass, you must give it a long good nose, which is basically the same as tasting the wine, but with some obvious difference, your tongue being the tactile part of your nose.

Now, humanity has evolved over a very long time from fish-like creatures. We have senses of sight, smell and taste for very good reasons, for having kept us alive and happy for so long. Our brains give us constant feedback, just as our guts do, though with guts usually there is some lag time, some delay, before you realize, hmm, maybe I shouldn't have eaten that. It is all these basic senses that we employ when we bring a glass of wine before us, and eventually with some intention of bringing that wine to match with something that we are going to eat. When you bring food and wine together, magic worlds of cuisine open up.

Noted wine writer Hugh Johnson makes an interesting point. The wine in your glass is water that has fallen from the sky, that has gone down into the earth, and then brought up through roots, then up the stalk of a grape vine and out to sustain the growth of the little budding grape which itself will hang there a whole season until it is perfectly ripe. Think of it! And so it comes to be that there is a mightily important concept that dovetails so neatly with French life. Terroir, the word is. And it refers to the locale where the grapes grow. It means this in the broadest sense. A wine's terroir, 'earth,' literally translated, is sun exposure, the slope, the type of soil, the kind of growing season, the weather, the kind of wine, the drainage of the soil; poetically used, terroir invokes, or evokes, basically all the living DNA that finds itself into all living things native to a region. There is the obvious suggestion that the grape is a very sensitive creature. Almost as if, if a Chinese restaurant delivery gu drove by a field of Pinot Noir often enough, you might get a hint of soy sauce in the air that touches the grape's skin.

Let's have an example of one kind of terroir. Let's take the South of France, maybe, oh, somewhere in the Languedoc. Say, Pic St. Loup, which is an interesting mesa-like mountainous formation that juts up from the hot plains near Montpellier, near Carcassone. Or perhaps a Corbieres, let's say. Down here, in this part of France, not to far away from Spain, we have what is called 'garrigue,' which means, 'dust,' more or less, but refers to all the wild aromatic herbs that grow there, happy in the sun, lavender, thyme, rosemary, sage. Just as we would in Provence, and in the Southern Rhone and in the Luberon. The roots up here on the slope have to reach way down to get their water and nutrients, bound to help produce a wine with minerally character, earthiness. And wine making itself is a natural process, after all. Just pick some ripe grapes, put them into a barrel, give them a crush and a stir, and the local yeast will come and enjoy a feast, in doing so, making wine out of grape juice. And even, in France, the wine maker, who takes the grape and juice and wine all through an aging process, is referred to as a 'vigneron,' a tender of the vines. And it is, indeed, in tending the vines where she or he succeeds. As they say, "God makes the wine. Just don't get in the way." If things are done right, if short-cuts aren't used, if grapes from a large area of varying stages of ripeness were thrown in together, necessitating some added chemical preservatives, if things aren't done stupidly, a wine comes out as it is meant to. A wine has character, just like a person or a dog, really. And this is a very good thing.

Now we come to food matching, or wine pairing, whatever you want to call it, ha ha. A wine that offers that taste and aroma of garrigue will go very well with a dish that has rosemary and thyme in it. It will work well with a dish that has black olive, caper, basil, garlic, the outer periphery of the garrigue neighborhood. The wild boar who has roamed through the scrub brush will eventually taste fine with a glass of such a wine.

I am reminded of the time the chef sat down at the bar to enjoy a plate of veal kidneys. Uhmm, he sort of grunted, when I asked him what sort of wine he might like. I was still learning, so I thought of rudimentary pairing guidelines, like maybe something peppery that generally works with red meat, like a Southern Rhone, or maybe a Bordeaux, for different reasons involving tannins. But the Chef shook his head, to say I should know better and that I had overlooked the basic element tying the dish together, a mustard sauce. And so, I was obliged to say "Duh" to myself, and go for a wine close to Dijon, the home of French mustard, which is a Burgandy, or, if had to, a wine from the Southern part of Burgandy, which is Beaujolais. It wasn't the red meat part, but the mustard, and the mustard itself worked well with the strong irony flavors of kidneys. In fact, the earth of the famous Cotes De Nuit, the Northern part of Burgandy's Cote D'Or, is irony stuff from the center of the Earth, whereas to the South it's ancient seabed limestone. (Now, I suppose a Madiran, which works well with liver, would have worked too, for the same iron red soil reasons, but that we didn't offer by the glass. ) And so Red Burgandy wines have an earthiness to them, even as they are on the lighter end as far as thickness in the mouth.

And that is yet another way how one learns the regional agreement as far as food and wine pairing. The dish of a particular area, a cassoulet, for instance, works perfectly with the wines of the region, as if everyone, God, chefs, tradition, and eaters, were in complete unspoken harmony.

Everything within the grape follows the timeline of maturity. Toward the end of the growing season, as the fruit is now ample and juicy, it is prone to being preyed upon by insect life, who cleverly are set on enjoying their own little share of the energy release of a long-ago Big Bang and the sunlight of a growing season. And so, naturally, the plant produces tannins, bitter darkening chemical compounds that work well to deter invasion and harm. These tannins are thought of, and treated carefully, so that a ripe grape is considered to also have not just ripe fruitiness but ripe tannins, that astringent quality that makes wine enjoyable in the mouth and quite obviously healthy as far as every sense of ours tells us. (Unless we find out the next day that the wine was a 'headache wine.')

And if balance has been achieved in the wonderful ripeness of fruit that has happened at the end of that long growing season, with the right amount of rain, a harvest time not too wet (to make the resultant juice flabby), nor too hot or whatever grapes don't really like, if all that year has gone well, then it stands, and often happens, that a wine has a beautiful balance, that the elements of its fruit, structure, acidity and tannins, mouthfeel and finish are harmonious to each other.

Ulysses, one of the greats

The Modernists (maybe they would have preferred 'modernists'), they asked questions, like 'why make art,' 'what is art,' 'how do we perceive the things and objects that make up reality,' 'how does the artist's point of view effect the art,' 'what can we rightfully consider to be art,' and many more individual ones concerning their mediums and metiérs. The questions enlivened and inspired them, gave them raison d'etre and even firm ground to stand on. A miraculous period of art, often marked by boldness and also subtlety, portraying three-dimensional objects, landscapes, workings and inner ticking of the human mind, moods and mental states, modern life... and it all came out with clarity, if clarity was the proper thing for it.

Ulysses stands as a Modernist work, true to a bold and adventurous and innovative time. Joyce's use of stream of consciousness and repetition of a word through a passage was a big influence on Hemingway and the whole gang. Perhaps there is no better metaphor for what a book might be than that great book (which of course bows to the great epic ancient poem, itself one of the great examples of human literature.) It is a long book. It took a long time to write, as Joyce took progressively longer with each of his projects. (After all, things like that don't happen in a day.) There are many twists and turns, there is a lot of texture, and there is ever the question at the edge for the reader 'why write this, why read this,' while still reading it drop by drop.' The reader is entering the mind of someone, entering the flow of the words and thoughts. Is this heroic, both the effort and the slice of life portrayed? What is heroism? On every level a lot to sort through, and an overall lasting impression. The book is 'something.' It is a cultural milestone, a great achievement in history.

And perhaps along with that, there was (hopefully, is) a sense of a writer as someone giving us a grasp on reality and the passing of the days of life, the slices of moments of now that are both capturing the present moment but with the simultaneous ability to enjoy the past moments. It sounds like, or takes after, modern physics, quantum understandings. The sense of achievement we attach to such a work (even as so many thoughts are currently flowing through our heads as if a thousand Shakespeare characters were speaking their lines to us all at once) leaves us with a satisfaction of coming to an approximate guess about the big question, why do we write.

Anyone in the game these days has to ask the same question. Why write? How should we write? What is the intention? Do we write for any reason beyond the satisfaction it provides, the sense of calm? Do we do it for money, for fame and recognition, to which we must answer, obviously no, the mantle of humility ever attached to it. Writing comes from beyond us, after all, leaving us just the vessel of a day (like Ulysses' ship.)

MIlan Kundera recently posed the observing question, the issue of whether literature was destroying itself through the sheer overproduction of everyone, as indeed they are these days, writing a book, attempting to get it published. Somewhere in Le Rideau, The Curtain. It's a good point. Is it that everyone is Joyce?

I think it comes down to the condition that we are unable--in an odd way increasingly so, it seems--to recognize who and what is a great writer. Maybe that's selfish of me, an unknown. But I think it bears observing. Is it the 'publishable' work that brings us, typically, more than an experience of a particular set of issues told to us by an expert, a celebrity, a top academic who has mastered publishing the topical? We crave more than that. Is light captured if you understand it as a stream of particles, would be to ask a similar question about writers who have satisfied 'nailing something down.' Perhaps it is the 'unpublishable' stuff, the stuff that is too boring and plotless and amateur, that might better, through grasping the obscure and quiet reasons and guiding lights with no external concern other than to write, receive our general attention as not great marketing but great art. Like, for instance, Emily Dickinson, who couldn't be dragged out away from the house and her great understandings of all things, who wrote the immortal line, 'admiring bog.' (Of course, Joyce was 'published' through the help of Sylvia Beach, the ultimate generous art-house publisher patron.)

Joyce knew he was unpublishable in his great project. Fortunately Nora saved it from the fire. (One wonders, could he have come up with a more unpublishable book on so many levels and issues... Later, he tried actually.)

Having said my piece, I'll add, softly, that like Ulysses, and the hero himself, great art takes its own time. It would appear, perhaps, obsessive, foolish having nothing to do with the practical matters of worldly reality we human beings in society must live with and cope with. It has to include, perhaps softly at the edges, the great extent of the passing of time, 'a long time' in other words. (As Shane MacGowan observes in song.) And at the same time a sense of what time in the sense of moments to portray, is, that crazy thing, ever changing, ever slipping past us, ('bravely we beat on,' Fitzgerald wrote) that marvelous beautiful now we ever live in. How rich and rewarding life is, just as it is. That is all a great book needs to do. Like Keats' urn.

As an afterthought, a question: What has the digital age done to, or for, that moment of now? Our own now is peppered with now, other nows, but now qualified, sometimes real, as you can indeed share something real, even on facebook, with someone, but often muddled, overripe with illusory things of materialism, fame, with all the instant news we've developed a serious craving for, a lot of it pushing our own little real moments of now off to some exiled edge. Now gets corrupted, often enough, all too easily.

My sense is that if you were to wipe the slate clean from all the distractions, from all the diversions, you would find that the human being is an incredibly intelligent animal who is able to get some deep amazing stuff as far as thinking and considerations of what daily reality is. And you would find in the human the greatest faith in writing, just as Joyce must have had that unquestioning faith in writing as the thing to do.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A writer's thoughts

Okay, a wise young woman shared with me some observations after reading A Hero For Our Time. She recognized the element of insecurity in boy-girl relationships in the college setting. She pointed out a passage that captured a moment of insecurity (one way to read it), and what follows in the courtship dynamic, the attempt of reassurance, the thought, 'oh, I messed up the flow of things,' etc. College is a place where we first put ourselves on the line, and hopefully it goes well, when we say, 'here, this is who I really am, my dreams, my wants, my goals, my careful expectations.

In the face of insecurity, the question is, where do we find affirmation? Do we renounce our own powers to figure it all out by seeking affirmation outside of ourselves? Do we give all that power to another person, so that one's own self-image and self respect are tied to whether or not they accept us? Do we allow the steady relinquish and compromise of that which we would do pursuing our dreams and the utilizing of the talent we feel within?

Then the question, 'how have I fared in all of this?' Have I not challenged myself, wound up in some line of work that I am so hopelessly over-qualified for out of a psychology of failing to be accepted? Did the author, speaking through his main character, find a situation in which he sought out someone who would never accept him, thus finding a way to be lazy, 'well, I tried...' for the rest of his days? Does he personally hold on to that which is kryptonite to him, always reminding himself of imagined mistakes and shortcomings, as one might in a cyclical form of depression?

So, how have I fared? How has the author fared? What are his dreams, past, present and future? What were all those years of tending bar all about, the once bright young man now older with water under the bridge? Is it his dream to be the last one in a restaurant after all the waiters are gone night after night, as if he were some masochist, numbing the pains of tedium of the last few customers ('we're not keeping you, are we?') with a glass of wine, secretly desperate to escape?

Did he write a book as a way to gain that acceptance he once craved? Or rather was that effort about following the inner dream and then, somewhat bravely, putting it out there? While sometimes guilty of wishing otherwise of the nonacceptance, the author finds it a case of the latter, at the end of the day.

Perhaps it's not easy to go your own way. The same reader points out that here in the U.S. we are over-educated and therefore risk-averse, that we crave the beaten path, follow the checkpoints of societal acceptance, do not ruffle many feathers, make a decent buck and go on our merry way. Why should it be otherwise, but that perhaps some of us seek some form of innovation.

What do we want? What are our dreams? What holds us back?

It was an interesting sensation, this conversation mentioned above. That's why we write books, to shed light on matters that people don't immediately bring to discussion. Mind you, I don't mind, or rather welcome, a general remark upon the part of a reader, such as "yeah, I finished it," or, "solid effort," or some bare comment that leads to more silence, blankness. That is and will always be part of the authorial experience. And maybe for most on the time, oh, Jesus, you really don't want to go into the book you wrote (while you were and still are a barman), just too embarrassing, or just not an appropriate comfortable time and place to bring up such a thing. You didn't write a book for that external approbation, 'oh, that's good.' (Thus Ernest Hemingway's beautiful comment in the last vignette of A Moveable Feast concerning the praise offered to him by the rich, 'if the bastards liked it, I should have asked myself what the hell I was doing wrong.' not exactly quoted.) You wrote it to enter, if anyone pleases, the human conversation. You wrote it so that, if anyone might want, there could be a conversation, maybe an intelligent one about something. Like my father had made deeper comment about A Hero as an explication, a tale of 'a budding Theosophist,' in a letter. As a writer, remember, you don't always know, consciously (I guess is the word) what a book is about, which makes it art, for capturing things and thoughts and conversations at flora and fauna level, without saying interpretively, 'here's what it means,' in big letters; you just wrote it, guided by something, making no judgments, with few hopes, other than that the thing was/is somehow true, true to life, though it be a novel, or, if not a novel, at least a short story of long length.

So there it was, one early afternoon, as I had to think of getting ready, a little nervously, for work, a little kernal about insecurities, about putting yourself out there, early attempts of which, about the effects of lives beyond that, about that pernicious habit we always have going on in our heads to put meaning on something rather than just appreciatively living in the moment. Interesting.

The world from time to time gets sleepy, too involved with the news and worries, and ceases to believe in the notion of a great writer. Being a writer becomes to the world in general a question of who is published, and so it comes to be that a writer should be an expert in the field, someone at Harvard, a professional book churner of known name, a media celebrity. Which is to say that we don't recognize just anyone into the ranks, especially if you're not a 'someone.' No, we say to ourselves, we have to be scrupulous, time spent reading is money, it had better be for some sort of advancement. 'Someone as frivolous as a barman? No way, could never be a great writer. Just doesn't fit, you know, with the image. I mean, what's he got to say? How much tonic to put in?' And so the world goes round, ever needing a wake up call to what talents we, as a world of people, might possess, and the possibility for something to be said in a new or old way that works quite well.

I'm trying to get up in the mornings now. I'll get tired toward the end of the shift, but if it's possible, given the physical effort one must make in a night, it's probably worth it. Because it's all too easy to lose a grip on that important Circadian rhythm of daylight, all too easy to clasp a bottle of wine in your hand in hopes of calming down at the end of the night. I am a faulted person for having fallen into that trap so very often, that for too long, I'll admit, it became a habit, a norm. It is a good thing, along the lines of controlling such behavior, to write down one's goals. And so I try to get up and take a walk outdoors, to limber up, to get some daylight on me.

One of which should be GET THE HELL OUT OF THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS. Give yourself, what, a year? Six months? Three? Maybe not the sudden drastic change, but the pursuit of a goal, lining things up, instead of going, as it were, cold turkey. Why? Why is in necessary, this departure from a profession? I think largely because it erodes one's sense of self-esteem. Of course that isn't necessarily the case; one could perfectly maintain a fine sense of self-confidence, if working amidst restaurant and hospitality were one's life-long dream. But if you're like me, while you'll find the flow of people and personalities interesting, while you might find your co-workers interesting and honorable, you'll find that your dream is a bit different. Maybe you can find amelioration, accept that you yourself bring a certain theater to the serving end of things. After all, hospitality is entertainment. And of course, that involves acting, a worthy enough profession, I suppose.

Restaurant's may well work through harnessing a basic decency, something inherited and learned from parents. Regular guests enjoy the cultural conversation you have to offer. You work hard because your co-workers are working hard. A basic politeness rules an establishment, occasionally stressed, but always underlying. But, politeness can have the effect of sucking you into a cult, as perhaps there is something of that to the lives of those who work at night. When done with what work (the cult) demands of them, they unwind perhaps with like 'lost souls,' then go home alone after everyone else has gone to bed, too tired to do much more than watch a flickering TV screen. Restaurant people, oddly enough, are self-disciplined.

Did the restaurant initially seem like a refuge for creative types? Was it that it let you with days free, back when you were working on something of a piece of writing? Was it that the office life just struck you as so grossly unnatural (and hard on the spine) that you couldn't make the initial investment in it? Was it the thirst for something not boring, or the adrenaline rush? Did you think the restaurant business would allow you a better freedom to exercise?

And so you toiled away, sort of half-assed, but getting the job done. Years went by. You trusted. You pursued your stuff on the side, as best you could, hey, to your credit. You have to hand it to the bravery of the effort and its patient steadfastness. But, where did it get you? How much were you able to save? A retirement plan? Not that you were spending money on more than the basics.

To make enough money to get by, you lose an amount of your will, an amount of your pride. It is a physical challenge, not so much an intellectual one. The passing stranger has the reaction of wondering what someone of your intelligence in doing in such a job, and sometimes sense your frustration. Or, easier, they won't attribute to you (in your professional quietness) the quality of intelligence and knowledge of matters in general. And on the working end of it, you hopefully remember, and look forward to the times when there was an intelligent conversation you were engaged in, maybe one that called up some part of hidden skill that people did not expect of you, and remember, on some gut level, the brightness and engaging quality of the guy you tip for the service he provides, twenty percent or so. An odd bird, perhaps.

Murakami, he worked in his jazz bar. And then he got published, and then he changed his life, and became a great writer.

Friday, December 2, 2011

It takes a lot of hard work, just to write one sentence. (Maybe it's why I fell into the restaurant business, for mirroring the physical exhaustion a day's work is.) You need a lot of rest for it, a lot of quiet time.

It doesn't surprise me, why one might rather read an Ernest Hemingway short story rather than practice post-modern academic speak. The former is elemental, recognizable, real. The former is a hard effort, but it has rewards. The latter offers complications rather than evoking clarification. You can, I suppose, try to straddle the two, perhaps what David Foster Wallace achieved, but not all of us are up to such a game.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

And then sometimes you get to talk with a guy who is a trauma room military doctor back from a hospital in Afghanistan, someone to talk with about London chefs, Hestor Blumenthal, Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver, and a mutual regard for mountain scenes come up, and where I had a children's book about Sir Edmund Hilary and Everest, this guy has been to the top of a big mountain. Just passing through, going back to the UK.

"It's not so much about the good versus the excellent versus the absolutely brilliant," this chap says, "it's that the people you dealt with were nice, that makes it a great place."

He tells me about health care in the UK. The little sign on the desk between patient and doctor, a disclaimer, saying the doctor is fallible, quite. Politics, we talk. He sees the gross profiteering, the port where Iraq's oil gets shipped--there's no flow-meter on the pumps whatsoever. The GIs are supplied with all the Budweiser, Tabasco, lobster, steaks, whatever, so everyone's happy.

There is little choice, it seems to me, sometimes, but to be an artist. Maybe that's what Kerouac was saying in the oft quoted, Roman Candle People passage at the start of On The Road. Which means that it is natural and healthy for one to, rather than go out and find some profession that plugs a hole in a dyke, or that assumes more on the side that people won't be shot with bullets at the end of the day rather than that they will, rather just be an artist, a representer of nature and humanity.
The making of conversation is the most exhausting thing for a barman. It must require a huge expenditure of electrical energy. Or it is the simultaneous and opposing needs to provide conversation and to break away and serve the various physical duties, which come often as an interruption.

on Woody Allen on November 22nd

PBS, running a good piece on Woody Allen on American Masters. A man who tells jokes because that's what he does, writing jokes in his head basically as he walks down the street. It's what he does. It's what he does in interviews throughout this piece. And we, the viewer, are left with saying to ourselves, 'this is what he does, he is funny, he tells jokes, and the jokes are about real life.' It's a perfect dovetail. It's poetry, truly, like Larkin is a poet.

Any writer would almost be envious. Here's a guy, writing about his own life, and making it funny. Like, for instance, there is Diane Keaton's grandmother, who really was a good deal anti-Jew. He's funny, and he's wonderful.

But then one realizes, you know, what today's date is, and it's a not so funny day. It's November 22nd. And we are edging up to the 50th anniversary, if that is the term for it, of a very very horrible day, an event, who knows what to call it.

My lovely mom tells a story. It was close to my brother's birthday, a little party for kids, out in Berkeley, when my father, my father was out there getting a PhD. later in career, able to switch, quite ably, as he was, from old school classic botany, to electronic microscopy, teacher on one hand, scientist on the other, and anyway, what's on the radio around noon or early afternoon out on the West Coast, as my young mom turns the dial looking for music that will go with cake and games for 2 and 3 and 4 year olds, with a little happy glamour, but, on every station, somber music, classical music. Every station. Bach? Barber? Mahler? Chopin? (Today, would that be done? One hopes.) You are not in Massachusetts, you're in San Fran, with 2 year old handsome baby boy, new at being a mom, and somehow, somehow, someone is, or is about to tell you, at this modern age, that Kennedy--what else can you call him--that Kennedy, oh, what to say, an Irishman, a Prince, a young energetic cultured funny guy, that he has, here in the United States of America, most civilized country in the world, that he, the youthful President who said those great lines on a cold day, unfurling his great talent, had been instantly murdered, was, yes, dead, dead, killed, murdered, dead by all reports anyway, and that, somehow--and this was bad too, on top of everything, and just showed you how obvious it was to everyone that, in one moment, in one weird horrible gunshot act, or Walter Cronkite with glasses, or all the radio bulletins that came out of news flashes, that he, he, was dead--everyone knew, instantly, all news sources, that he was dead, that basically, he was shot in the head, and that it was the most devastating sort of a thing. And of all the heads to shoot, on top of a million other things.

The Umbrella Man, in today's Times... an interesting little piece about, you know, the usual conspiracy theories. Turns out Mr. Umbrella Man, who later was identified, and testified on Capitol Hill for the assassination committee was really just making, interestingly enough, given Why England Slept, JFK's senior Harvard thesis about Chamberlain's acquiescence to Hitler, a small protest of his own sort, the umbrella being the very signature of Neville Chamberlain, really a pointed jab on the protester's part against the old man, Joseph P. Kennedy, JFK's dad, who, as we know, was a bit 'let's not get involved.'

Woody Allen, I don't know, would he make a joke of some sort, about something that day, or a joke about conspiracy theories, or about a lone gunman? Would Woody ever play Oswald in a tee shirt, drinking a Dr. Pepper, eating a thigh of fried chicken looking out the Book Depository window?

The clock ticks, and it's November the 22nd, and something there is about this day that hangs in silence and sends a chill down the soul and leaves us feeling alone.

A free way on-ramp, or leading up to it... America changed for ever, more so than by 9/11.

What happened on that day? Why does one feel it so? Why does it hit one in the stomach so? Why does it appall so much? Well, of course it does.

Woody Allen gives us jokes and good movies. With pretty girls around him. And us, the rest of us, or you or me in particular... I know we take something from Mr. Allen, as far as candor, but... we have November 22nd Syndrome, for good reason, and it's hard to get rid of, and maybe it is, given the horror of real history, a realistic thing.

Your correspondent, to use a Hemingway phrase, is 46 at the writing of this, the same age of President Kennedy that day, in fact, older by about 4 months, so...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Treason of the Clerics

Google "Treason of the Clerics" today and you will see the main bulk of what the phrase has come to be, topically related to 9/11, Muslim clerics, etc. But fortunately you will also find an offering at, a 1957 article by a Russell Kirk about a book published in the Twentieth Century between the two great wars by a Frenchman, Julien Benda entitled, Le Trahison des Clercs., coining the phrase.

The idea is simple enough, the intellectual class's abandonment of Platonic truths to the habit of serving the State. And because things come down to money, particularly evident today in the matter of the economy and the health of a nation, one might think this obscure intellectual thought might be worth tossing around these days. Where would the uncorrupted intellectual, the writer, the teacher, end up today? What would his or her role or life look like? Hopefully there would be something for such a person? Academics, like everyone else these days (except the billionaires), are just trying to survive.

Fortunately, for the sake of morale, a few examples of good health come to mind, which I, in my limited existence, have inkling of, Stephen Greenblatt, at Harvard, William H. Pritchard, at Amherst. Benjamin DeMott, deceased, who I hoped would have had a chance in life to have a chat with my father on such matters. (DeMott regarded the 9/11 Report as government whitewash.)

But, these days, its not so much about the Hellenic Truth of morality, human being, nature, but, you guessed it, the health of the corporations and business of varying sizes that drive the economy.

And this author of small books trying to shed some light on ideals has to go off and serve wine and food presently, and then be left to confront his own sensual nature, dumbed down by the grinding effort to keep afloat.

Monday, November 14, 2011

On Sexual Harassment

It seems about time. It is about time. It had to come from the female sector. "Sex Harrassment - What on Earth is That?" NY Times "In Favor of Dirty Jokes and Risqué Remarks," by Katie Roiphe, Opinion, November 12, 2011.

The creativity and resourcefulness of the definitions, the broadness and rigor of the rules and codes, have always betrayed their more Orwellian purpose: when I was at Princeton in the ’90s, the guidelines distributed to students about sexual harassment stated, “sexual harassment may result from a conscious or unconscious action, and can be subtle or blatant.” It is, of course, notoriously hard to control one’s unconscious, and one can behave quite hideously in one’s dreams, but that did not deter the determined scolds.

One can gather, easily enough, from the unlucky, the serious undermining of life and morale wrought by the insidious charges, even barely suggested, of those days, the atomic bomb dropped to eliminate a squirrel. Such a charge, insinuated or direct, puts a mark upon one's honor to be remembered every day of his existence, even as he is not entitled to feel any possible injustice for being so charged, as if the Kafkaesque had, unwittingly, come to rule over the deeper aspects of personal life.

Blinking at this new light outside the cell he's long been relegated to, one almost feels confused. What? is it sunspots? Is it the same wave that wrought Arab Spring, toppling dictators? The so-called perfectly reasoned liberal, secretly almost fascist, stiff (almost Inquisitor-like) arbiters of taste and proper behavior are crumbling, and now it's okay to be male, not just male but a male of the refined sort who has benefitted enough from previous history and basic human nature to be vulnerable, to be not such a complete prick or the usual tool who's so full of himself he somehow tends to get forgiven even if he does indeed to do bad stuff because of his supreme self-confidence? Now male randomness (he does have to produce however many billions of individual sperm cells each swimming with personal vitality, after all) is now more inclined to be understood and maybe even politely welcomed? I don't know, it almost seems like the end of the world must indeed be coming.

Life's already ruined, I don't even want to hear it, one is tempted to say.

Being a fellow of some humor, or once was, I wrote a book about a fellow who falls into such a situation, a college kid who seems adept at offending sensibilities, thereby leading to the attitude upon the part of 'the princess' that he is an harasser. One point of this tale being--taking place in the setting of a liberal arts college--that dreams at that age are a group of things, a field, a body of hopes for career and love, art and professional fulfillment all tied together. Like an atom, I suppose, a core with energy spinning around it. And in this particular setting he finds, if not a general disappointment, his dreams beset upon in a number of areas, on a number of fronts, at several crucial junctions of dreams and goals on one hand, and whatever we actually encounter in 'this practical age,' on the other. Fortunately, he does find the things that sustain and nourish him.

I have to wonder, about the cost to the economy, to productivity, a society makes in the process of sorting out and judging the efficacy of a kid's dreams. I think of the imperviousness of certain types back in that era of 'sexual harassment' charges for whom such charges didn't matter, i.e., the computer-tinkerer, who knows he is a geek anyway and doesn't have to bother with girls of a particular haughty sort. Nerdy techie guys are doing well these days, and so is the high tech sector of the economy. And similarly, a certain type finds success within the mafias of current academia, those too gifted at convoluted language experiments to chat up the opposite sex. (Being a deconstructionist post-Modernist doesn't seem like much of of a grand dream to me, anyway, and I can't see much as far as what it all has produced beyond lip service. And we wonder why our age has not produced any Shakespeares, for a Shakespeare would be exiled, his productivity discouraged, stifled. And it shows, if something is too complicated for the basic masses, such as this Average Joe, how does it help us face the every day, the need to go off and do some kind of productive work?)

And then on the other side, you had whole sectors of people shrewd enough to just avoid being weird enough to fall into behavior leading to the judgment of 'sexual harassment,' i.e., those who had their minds fixed on getting into banking and making tons of money through long hours, as if all that stuff about liberal arts was just window dressing, not pertaining to what they should do with life, the choices they should make. Never having found themselves outside of societal approval--the very colleges themselves coming to praise them--for their money making skills, they never had to question what they were doing. whether anything they did was right or wrong (and now look what came of all that, those heady days of happy money, if not the failure of the entire Western World, enchanted by numbers, profit and greed.) Banks sold packaged housing debt securities to pensions, then bet against those securities and walked away with the profits. Where is behavior like that going to lead us? Take a good look at economies that aren't very healthy or moral, like a Russia under thugs and oligarchs approved by powers that be, where everything, including virtue, is for sale to the highest bidder. You can forget harassment.

Yes, I wrote a book about those days of the idol of the 'level playing field,' of a young man who, rather than being praised, is being blamed for having dreams and also for the very tragedy of his dreams, as if having dreams was a crime itself. A Hero For Our Time, available on Amazon. It is, properly, in art that we first come to terms, to explain, to 'go there,' preceding general opinion and conventional wisdom.

Dreams, yes, they go together, the girl you liked, the kind of life you thought would be good for you, the kind of vocation you felt calling you. Dreams, after all, are fragile things. To discourage an honest mind, and a good heart, well, what purpose does it all serve, except some kind of Orwellian world as Ms. Roiphe points out. It's all just sad. Very very sad.

One hopes there is a basic underlying decency in humanity, worth putting some trust in, worth placing come confidence in, worth acknowledging, that makes the faulted forgivable and even quite redeemable.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

They knew what little time they had,
back then, in the renaissance.
They grabbed brushes and marble,
and some even fussed with words.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Personal Gravity, Personal Quantum Mechanics

PBS's NOVA, on The Fabric of the Cosmos, brought to us by physicist Brian Greene, is interesting. A viewer can't help musing about time and space, gravity, energy, electromagnetic forces, down into the quantum level.

A large object, in this case the sun, rests in the middle of the fabric of space, as if on a trampoline, the surface of the trampoline bent so that a round object approaching the sun would fall inward on the down slope into the where the sun is. That bend of gravity effects time as well.

And so, one might be tempted to think that each person has, if you will, a gravity force around them. Other people and beings around them are effected, as if that person projected a force that held something of us, of our minds, in some kind of orbit.

Then would it follow perhaps that some individual beings have a larger or more compelling effect upon the rest of us, say a JFK or an Abraham Lincoln? As if such people had an ability to intuitively recognize the potential, such that we end up wanting to read about them, study them, appreciate their own words, follow the lines of their histories... And perhaps maybe some of us are more prone to the influence of particular suns and planets, as it were, than other people might feel, and feel ever the pull of influence upon our own lives of such a person even though they may have died long before we were born.

It would be as if that person who has such an influence shaping the fabric of our world had grasped something about what it is to be human, as if he or she had a better grasp on what the reality of and behind every day life was about.

Anyway, this is why sometimes it is difficult for, say, a writer to start the day being contaminated with verbal interactions from outside, as such tends to throw him off from getting to the thoughts within. Politics, like creating literature, too is a matter of staying on subject, not being pulled away from the point by a meandering conversation. There is, of course, a time for interaction, but the thinker must say his piece or feel frustration.

The work week is only four shifts, but I feel pretty wiped by the end of them. Bartending is a hard job on the psyche. It is a hard contest of deprivation, of being out of synch with society's hours, and probably with one's own expectations from having graduated from college. Exercise helps, for freeing the mind from the shackles of the routine.

The weekend becomes for me a matter of clearing the head, of avoiding excessive external chatter. If I'm lucky, I get that one day to be a writer again, to emerge from the confusion of jarring barrages of information to remember a bit of what I've been thinking about. To get there it took a day of rest, then a day of beginning to do the basics, laundry, grocery shopping. The writing day was also by necessity a day of exercise, yoga, a hike in the woods, a bike ride. Part release, part rediscovery, part just letting go, part dusting off an old book, getting reacquainted with things interesting.

The meek inherit the Earth, it is said. Maybe that thought refers to the quiet that allows one to get back to a sense of her own innate gravitational force. Yes, it doesn't seem too much of a coincidence that a serious person who's got it all together is referred to as having gravitas.

And doing so, I am reminded, on a Saturday night, what a sweet intimate thing it is to sit with those thoughts and dreams going on inside. The difficulties of life fade away, the frustrations make sense as sign posts, and histories read point to the future somehow.

Who knows what writing is, what it's ultimate overarching purpose is. We see, of course, many many examples of it, a great proliferation even, so much so that the volume can hardly be filtered anymore. The Ancients wrote, rather wisely; there are famous moments where fiction and novels served a great purpose, becoming great vehicles for that purpose; there are great moments in political communication that call that high purpose. There are histories, that too must be well written, with a vision that is fair and appropriate and humane. And now, in this world experiencing another form of Big Bang, where everything people have ever done, it seems, is available for view, or purchase, on the internet, we must continue to enjoy whatever writing is, what it reaches for... Along with science. Along with art.

It is precious to hold on to those moments when we are allowed, somehow, by peace and practice and inspiration, and spirit, to give rise to the pen, to fingers across a keyboard.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

And then the real thing (abuse, harassment, penn state, catholic pedophiles)

And then, interestingly enough, the news comes along with the perfect example of acts that we cannot forgive, the molestation charges associated with former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and the ensuing coverup. The stomach cringes, the eyes wish to avert themselves from the train wreck, one thinks of the innocent victims left with shame and how to cope. Grief spreads out from the epicenters of the collected crimes. The cries against such acts are just indeed, and no stone must be left unturned.

Such acts allow a sense of scale. A long time ago in youth, in your romantic confusion, with bumbling shyness, one had an appreciation for a girl. And yes, maybe it even resembled that which we in our pop culture call stalking and rightly take to be creepy, or at least highly awkward and unwanted. Even if it was never your intention, to be like that, because, after all, you were in better control of yourself than you may have been made out to be. And through passivity or just bad luck or the bad influences of your chums, "come on, let's do a shot," the whole matter was left just hanging over you, unresolved. Because, you are considered far too much of a creep to be addressed, or, quite simply because it all was long ago and just forget it. Whatever you would do, obviously, you can't win, even if the decent part of yourself would want something akin to resolution, maybe a chance to apologize, just briefly, and then let the whole thing drop, no longer to feel about the whole thing. Because you never had bad or selfish intentions anyway. Just that it all got so muddled up in youthful days that you don't want to even deal with it yourself anyway, wishing you could forget it all but for the subtle stain it leaves upon one's honor. But hey, if someone finds you undesirable for whatever reason, like maybe, a: you don't have your shit together, fine, no problem at all. Address your needs as you see fit, that's totally cool and fine with me.

A First-Rate Madness, Uncovering the links between leadership and mental illness, by Dr. Nassir Ghaemi, The Penguin Press, 2011, makes an interesting case. One summary of part of the overall thesis is that in times of great upheaval, we have been well-served by those whose depression and mental illness allowed them to exert a great empathy over their times, along with resilience, the resilience such individuals develop through dealing with their condition's ups and downs over the period of many years. So, an emphasis on Abraham Lincoln for his empathy with those cast into slavery and with those of the Confederate rebellion, as one example. Gandhi came to passive resistance, the book argues, for his ability to emphasize with individuals even if they were of British rule.

Empathy, as we might find in Shakespeare's Hamlet, can perhaps cloud the mind with considerations as far as actions to actively take, famously, if we allow art into the context of such matters. To attribute empathy to Hamlet is but one interpretation upon a work of fiction, anyway. Dr. Ghaemi offers some resolution with the suggestion that empathy and the general sympathetic actions a depressive might take may lead to good things as well. And it seems nice for someone to come along with a decent argument to give credit where credit is due.

But that all still leaves us where we are today. Perhaps empathy here should completely be relegated to the sidelines in this case of willful ignorance and cover-up. A better person of good character will see that there really are no grey areas here, and of course there aren't. Charges must be brought, judgments must be made, and victims hopefully may be helped toward some form of healing as perpetrators are put away where they will do no more harm.

Still, one thinks of, even at such a time, of how charges quickly and rashly made can damage the lives of the charged, and through the passive lack of offering forgiveness or simple understanding to the so charged will continue to do harm as well.

Yes, forgive us of our trespasses where, or as, we would forgive those who trespass against us. Generally speaking, it would be very hard for us to forgive someone who did the things Sandusky did to young boys to us, and righty so.

Oh, how could I forget, the case of sexual harassment charges against Herman Cain, which also have a ring of credibility. Like a true harasser, he seems to carry absolutely no sense of wrong-doing, firm in his conviction that he did nothing wrong, that this is all complete fabrication. No contrition at all. A refusal to face the issue, one that marks him as a particular type not so desirable, to say the least. That, my friends, if true, is real sexual harassment, a serious charge obviously. Mr. Cain's quick denial reminds one, again, of Clarence Thomas's reaction to the same charge. "Clarence Thomas was 'obsessed with porn,' former colleague and girlfriend says in interview," one of several stories dated October 22, 2010.

Yes, self-righteous denials and high claims of occupying moral high ground always and forever, ought to make one suspicious.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Forgive us of our trespasses

It is not a commandment, but it's up there as far as the proper, decent and right moral thing to do. "Forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." It's a good rule of thumb. Each of us grows up as a separate personality within the fields of gravity/space/time that are our unique personal lives, childhoods, parental influences, etc.; Each of us carries such forward, onward into adult life. Given that we each have a personal field of gravity, shaping our space and time, so it is inevitable that differences arise when people meet. It's in the nature of the beast. Trespasses are inevitable, and we forgive these trespasses, because we're probably doing the same thing right back anyway. Rightly, we forgive.

And so, one hopes that there is a certain fairness to forgiveness. One hopes intentions more or less honorable are understood. One would hope that there is some sensitivity. It wouldn't be fair to forgive some people, whose trespasses are gross and ugly, and then not with some people through which trespasses arose over misunderstanding.

Do we apply the same standards of forgiveness to the homeowner in over his head as the Wall Street firm who the taxpayer bailed out? Forgiveness of sins, as a state is concerned, has to do with taxation, it seems. The rich are more forgivable, for their sins, than the middle class?

Judge not, lest ye be judged.

Somewhere along the line in his years of practice, even a mediocre writer of middling talent and little gift for creating fiction learns that there is, after all, some realism in his 'depressed view' of the world. In his writing habits, a very practice of resilience, he finds a form to his empathy. He finds a way to see the general wisdom in forgiving human trespass. He finds a way to support a value system, to identify right and wrong, as vague and as tenuous and as new or under-appreciated or against the grain as that wisdom is generally taken.

It hurts, in a strange way, to take the right way, for it will not appear at all proper, if it is worth writing about. On the other hand, it feels good. Like quantum physics, it's all a lot to take in.

Yes, maybe that's it. Deeper higher morality, the 'love thy neighbor' stuff, is harder to understand than all the supposedly practical things concerning behavior, much more difficult to convey. Maybe even counterintuitive. It's easier to have a little moral-sounding nutshell, some nonsense that seems on the surface to make sense, like 'fight evil,' or 'cut taxes,' or 'job creator,' or pointedly blanket statements about Occupy Wall Street protesters as 'immoral,' 'druggies,' 'sexual deviants,' etc. Shortcuts, sound bytes, Limbaughisms, eroding our deeper value systems with moral bankruptcy... and without morality, people quickly become ungovernable.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

fox five poison

The Fox Five, four of them, along with the whole crew of pundits, are such a great argument for market capitalism. They get paid handsomely to ignore truth, misrepresent, promulgate stupidity in such a way as to foster its repetition, say bad about perfectly good people through categorizing. They get paid, in short, to cause harm and act like idiots. And obviously, they are quite proud of the job they do. Oh sure, they keep a laugh around the edges, as if to say, oh hey we didn't really mean it, this is all innocent fun and games, in doing so smugly planting their opinions deeper in their listener. Which is clever, but to one who doesn't drink their kool-aid, this only has the effect of making them all the more despicable and impossible to stomach.

Last night, one witnessed their rant on government ads that responsibly mention the evils of sweetened soda and the whole slew of junk food pushed on children, who obviously bear the cost through diabetes, obesity, etc., etc. "No, there should be more Dr. Peppers," one triumphantly shouts, "that's what America needs."

Okay. Maybe it's just my bias, wishing Americans to have healthy lives, as life is hard enough already without temptations toward that which makes you sick. But I guess one shouldn't be surprised at the low quality of the pabulum Fox minds would offer the plebians, while they of course, on their way to trickling down from on high in their state of doing better eat well enough, why, because they have earned, earned it even through foisting off phosphates and high fructose corn syrup on school kids.

(And then, in the next segment, to prove the all knowing wisdom of Fox, all knowing Ms. Coulter conveniently has forgotten an interesting tidbit about Clarence Thomas, from accounts by the woman in his life, that he was quite fond of, addicted to, even, shopping at a pornography shop in Dupont Circle in his pre-Justice days, in a manner consistent with a side experienced by Ms. Hill. So, let's maybe get a better picture, even before we get to Mr. Herman Cain, on the original 'high tech lynching,' the Conservatives cry foul over, having coached their support. It's the hypocrisy here. Ah, but you can't argue with the likes of anyone such as Ms. Coulter.)

So, they sit around, getting paid handsomely to poison the public mind, because, hey, they are getting paid for it, therefore it has to be good for everyone, because it's a job and, we need jobs. I can think of better jobs for the lot of them. But, I'm glad they are so self-confident, smug, know-it-all, so untouched by the sad truth of things in general, so, in short, privileged.

Friday, October 28, 2011


"The Underground Man," by Sam Anderson, New York Times Magazine Section, October 23, 2011.

portrait of novelist Haruki Murakami

This happens upon us as one of the more heartening pieces read in recent times. My copy of his book on What We Think About When We Think About Running has been lost out on loan, but the lesson of the physicality of craft remains. "Most of what I know about writing I've learned through running," Mr. Anderson quotes, as I remember. Running gives him a main source of discipline.

There are several gems to take here. He regards himself as a fairly plain and drab vessel, just that it is his job to go and patiently delve into his deeper consciousness for six hours a day on a daily basis. Interestingly enough, this basic set-up covers that part of him which would have political thoughts, which quite largely he keeps to himself. He knows his work; he maintains himself as a novelist.

"For 30 years now, he has lived a monkishly regimented life..."

Interesting, for me personally as well, is his former work in a Tokyo jazz bar, a life amongst people, given up after an intense ten years for the writer's solitude. (It doesn't surprise me that The Brothers Karamazov is one of his favorites.) An epiphany at a baseball game, that he could write a novel, recorded in 'Running.'

This is all hopeful stuff. It's about organic creative processes, and about someone daring to follow them. This is not about the comfortable discomfort we have arguing hopelessly and often tiresomely about politics, the rehash, the necessity of reestablishing the grounds of what constitutes an intelligent discussion freed from polite abeyance to the nut-jobs. This is beyond that, and one must say, it is refreshing.

So, how do you yourself, I posit to you, carry out your own little but significant shot at creativity?

I've fallen so far as to write at night, after I get through four long intense nights at work. My body finds it easier, after all that, to be awake at night, though I am not proud at all of that. It is the source of some misery, after all. Out of synch, but writing must be done. Even if it is accompanied by a lost monasterial bit of dinner and wine to go with it.

Murakami finds his confinement, "voluntary, happy confinement." Blessings to this long-distance runner and writer.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Cosmic dust contains organic matter from stars, study finds
Such chemical complexity was thought to arise only from living organisms"
by Denise Chow (staff writer for headline in October 27 Google News, reporting on a scientific studies at the University of Hong Kong.

Another Keats moment about learning as realizing something we already somehow knew, given our recent discussion about how the heavier elements, those beyond oxygen and carbon and hydrogen, originated far from Earth in the fires of supernova explosions, travel here through space to become the building blocks of everything including us. It makes perfect sense that larger carbon molecules, similar to the ones we later find in the form of plant decay, were out there, floating around as building blocks to be appropriated by the processes of life and living beings.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

In dreams one's teeth fall out.
You find them crumbling, you reach and pull them out,
embarrassed, tuck them in a napkin away into a pocket.
Soaked in the brine of disappointment,
disillusions long held in the mouth, a clenched jaw,
as if looking in--or up--on gentle consciousness
was like standing on the moon
and looking back at the sweet round blue world
glowing in godly darkness,
full of sweet possibility.

You dream you were permitted to hang around,
quiet and innocuous enough of a ghost--
a pacifist, really, too much so for life's dealings--
while something private between her and her father
you didn't understand was going on,
as if she needed perfect peace and quiet,
while your teeth, the back ones crumbling, fall out,
leaving stubs,
so that quietly, you leave.
Back to your own place,
as another tooth, this time a front one
loose already at the base,
starts to crumble.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The thing I don't do, so much, is write anymore.
I don't know why I can't tell you,
or don't bother,
about all the wine knowledge come my way.
It just is. There are funny restaurant stories,
but I don't write them.
Rather, I think of Jack
and Bobby,
of how Irishmen are related,
in their basic character.
They don't have a lot to say,
just the right thing.
Lincoln, obviously, he too
was Irish, and cared
just what to say, exactly,
though it takes creative poetic effort.
He, Lincoln, just was saying,
I'm not going to hang anyone.
And put it in a decent way, one which gave the whole matter
To bind up the nations wounds, malice toward none,
charity for all.

Shane MacGowan on Keats

"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."

See YouTube
Completely Pogued 3/6
around 1 minute 18.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A writer is, or should be, allowed to reference his own work, to critique it, to attempt to understand it. That is a vital part of taking the next creative step, to reference the earlier.

So... Sometimes I wonder, what else to write, or, why write, or, why is it taking so long to find something to else to say...

And then it occurs to you. Basically, you work on something for so long, and then finish it, and then comes a time when you realize (as you have before in small segmented moments) the completeness of the vision. You realize your own work is a great tale of the innate creativity of the human spirit, a great Quixotic vision set in the perfect place for it.

All these outside tendencies to think of some outside way to market... bah.
Keats' notion, mentioned below, sheds an encompassing light on human and professional behavior. In the poet's view, arrived at through careful study and reflection, everyone is intelligent, smart, capable. Everybody knows what's going on. Each and everyone is a useful human being, with a potential for vast revolutionary wisdom, great ideas in their heads. Neither Shakespeare, nor the mighty constructions and engineering marvels of the ancients would have surprised him. Just as nature has cures for our ills and hungers, all the weeds of humanity potentially possess great talents. So, is a college campus a beautiful thing.

If left in relative peace, you'll come up with something, Keats would have held. This is why people write, or draw, or play music, because they have, they know they have, an innate civilizing knowledge within them. So do we have the great expanses of art, from Blake, de Sade, de Maupassant, Caravaggio, Gogol, Chekhov, Freud, Dali, Locke, Hume, Jefferson, Phillip Roth, enchanted and engaged, engrossed by art, creativity, and eureka moments, creativity, drifted down upon us like the heavier elements from deep space and stars.

Buddha, of course, a regular person like or I, understood all moral teachings, like cooking an egg, as Goethe understood the primacy of the leaf in all botanical processes, sharing the same foundation that Keats speaks of, that learning is awakening to what one already knows within.

Then, there are the greedy. Creativity, it seems to them, is done in the form of capital profit at the expense of others, at the expense of another's capacity, time and security for creative modes. They amass fortunes without regard for things like putting people out of work, without regard for people's pensions and dreams of home ownership. They seek fortunes in order to establish the right to dominate other people. Is it a coincidence that the highest creative types, while certainly fans of the security allowing for them to be creative, aren't immediately concerned with getting rich in flashy ways. As Wordsworth says, 'getting and spending we lay waste our powers.' It seems hard to be greedy being focussed on the well, on the great messages within, of light-filled learning and wisdom.

People are right to be protesting these days.

Creativity, perhaps, can be a hard garment to wear. A society can chose to look upon those perfectly normal human beings who are simply following that inner knowledge in judgmental ways. Perhaps it's the sensuality involved in creative processes, as if we were instructed to be guilty about our primal sources. Puritanical, we are quick to point out some behavior as, simply, silly. As if only a special class, powerful, could speak for us.

Let us never lose the moral courage to be creative, to go through the process of uncovering what we already, deep in our hearts, know.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Somewhere in my lifetime, I began to get the impression, dark energy, the stuff that pushes the universe apart, began to take hold. I began to look for things, like writing, like restaurants, that helped keep things together, or at least make observations of why and how things held together. Maybe dark energy is creative energy, if you think of it positively, the continuation of the Big Bang. It would be nice to think so.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Keats: Imagining what we already know

It might have been such a day as this was, clear blue, sunny, a hint of color in the leaves, warm with Autumnal promises, that Dad reminded me of, as he referred to it, a line in Keats, "... that learning, awakening to the truth, is a matter of imagining what we already know." I was walking in my neighborhood, at a leisurely pace, up from Sheridan Circle, up to the Spanish Steps, and back along the quiet street here.

He amplified his point. Keats' point was that there already is an understanding in the reader, something much like knowledge. The educating voice just has to bring something out of obscurity, out of where things are not so clearly thought of, bring it to life so that we can see it all well enough to understand it, if I may roughly paraphrase him. He continued. Someone like the Buddha is more or less born, or reborn, with an understanding, a conception of everything there is in the world, everything from the Big Bang, chemistry, mathematics, how to build an atom bomb (Dad may have thrown that out there for hyperbole), everything, in short, that there is to be known about the world and even beyond it out to dimensions beyond what we all see. Buddha seemed to know, he suggested in some way, knew it all like a dream, or to, in fact, be just a great dream, the great dream that it all is.

So, there are, amongst many ramifications of such a philosophy, if you will, a certain logic applicable to the basics of education and the way we go about practicing it. Maybe the student is, at least in some ways, smarter, worth more credit, than we might initially think. Sure, some are perhaps more given to understand some things better than others. Hey, I know my own limitations when it comes to calculus and those logic games found on LSAT exams, for instance.

But I'm sure all of us can remember a story of learning, one in which lines of traditional hierarchy are blurred. I remember high school chemistry class. Mrs. V. asked us to come up with a project where we take it upon ourselves to teach the class about a certain matter not yet touched upon so far in class. I sat down and pondered in the college library, and felt that we were missing something: where do the higher elements come from; how do they get to earth? So, I looked it up, and found out about 'nuclear astrophysics,' that it takes stars and great explosions called super novas to create higher elements out of lower elements. (It hadn't been explained to us how all this had come about, just been presented to us as a given, vague about the creation of all but the basic hydrogen and helium. History Channel's History of the Entire World in Two Hours reminded me of all the import of remarkable elemental processes.)

So me and my buddy, Mark F., we reviewed all we could find in the best library available to us, and we made our presentation. Maybe it was the simplicity of it, that there wasn't all that much to teach or show, just that all this making of metal and stuff had happened very far away, in places very hard to imagine, but that stuff like the iron in our blood came not from the Earth itself, but from cosmic places, think of it. The teacher, she heard us out, but it ended up our buddies who had simply read a chapter from the textbook we had used, got a better grade.

The same thing happens again, and again. A student is asked to read Paradise Lost, that part where we are kicked out of the garden... 'What is happening here?' is the question. Well, you have to stare at it a while to get what's happening... People are turning to words, just as Adam must as he takes his first steps out of the Garden. But you get your paper in too late, and get a D, and life proceeds accordingly. C'est la vie.

Ultimately, there is a point to be made. It could be a revolutionary one. It could be behind the reasons the passing of Mr. Jobs is so important to us, a celebrating of the equality of the learner, of the accessibility of information and, by deduction, the skill we all have for dealing with information.

I am reminded of the basic message of Robert F. Kennedy in his visit to South Africa, in 1966, that the blacks of South Africa were worthy of being educated and having equal rights. It goes without, or with less, saying, but it speaks of an educational attitude, one America stands for, as RFK mentions that America doesn't just stand for what it's against, not just the negative, not just 'we oppose Communism,' and that's all, but that America stands for that positive marvel of equal educations, the power we all have latent within us to be smart, wise, cultured, decent, and even like the Buddha ultimately, understanding everything, with great peace.

Perhaps that is the point of educating and encouraging someone so well as Jack and Bobby were, that the subject begins to understand all the power they have within at the level of personal taste and curiosity and capability. Confidence. As confidence must revolve and center in on the thing one has to be confident about, namely, the power of learning.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Teshuvah. Of the day of atonement that is the celebration Yom Kippur. When the faithful seek out those they have offended and ask for forgiveness, distinct from sins they themselves have made against God.

One asks for forgiveness for sins that have not caused irreparable damage.

Friday, September 30, 2011

There is a creativity in being a bartender if albeit a humble one. The job itself is something imaginatively created, when you think about it. After all, people could just help themselves (well, sort of) or just have a machine do it with the press of a button, 'here's a cosmo.' Fortunately there is, thanks to ingenuity and creativity, an element of personality in it that is traditionally necessary.

I, or you, get to the end of a week, and the creativity is flowing. I walk down the street on an errand to buy cat food and wish to catch some of it, 'glean my teeming brain,' as Keats has it. "Tyger, tyger, burning bright, in the jungles of the night," Blake wrote, possibly with such a mood and energy in mind, the sense of burning creatively. I find myself singing Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," so I must be in a decent mood.

Maybe it helps that it's Friday, a feeling of being in synch with the main part of the world. But the thought comes, as I walk home, that when you finally have a chance to be creative and do something about it, so many fears melt away, the fear of death, the fear of old age poverty, even the fear of being mugged, or that fear of low level mistrust of the crazy fringes of a society with crazy fringes. God, how nice to just walk past a bar and not have anything to do with it, though of course I am speaking about the gross kind of a bar of drunken loud behavior as one tends to find at the corner of P and 22nd Street by The Fireplace.

Creativity, itself, in its highest and purest form, is humble, has a humility that we might associate with the passage from Corinthians. This is why America is a creative place. (One thinks of David Foster Wallace's The Pale King, mining the creativity of people in the situation of being IRS cogs.) We have the humility of the great democracy; we have a great sense of pitching in, innocently and wholeheartedly in our tradition, of mine being equal to yours, philosophically at least, operating under the sense that it will all come out okay if we do our work. (I'm reminded of accounts of late Coltrane, peaceful, drug-free, Buddha-like.)

Creative people are gentled and calmed by their processes. They sense they'll achieve something if they follow an inner voice. The greater the sense of common good intrinsically rests within the artistic motivation, the greater the art.

Children grow up. They try on different art forms. They draw and paint. Maybe they move on to music. Maybe they move on to writing. And always, in that process they are developing and refining, until their art is but the vehicle for the higher spiritual message they are capable of holding. Has the art form itself, the novel, let's say, evolved into, or allowed, a higher form of art? Is a great novel, an Anna Karenina, let's say, something higher than a novel itself, a statement of a personal politic, if you will, based on spiritually minded discovery, no longer 'just a novel.'

Do we always 'get' what an artist might be saying? Do we get Joyce, or Yeats, or Wallace,or are we maybe left thinking.