Saturday, June 25, 2011

Even as you begin your voyage, your journey, as a writer, even without consciously knowing, even without a complete language for it, even without any logical comprehension of it, you know, basically the vision, which is itself something triumphant. This is how writers endure. You cannot be afraid of the process, because you've already, through a deep instinct, begun.

It is good to understand this about yourself, as you head into the unknown. You'll know better to love nature and peaceful things. You won't fight yourself with fixations of fear and anxiety. Yes, you'll have to endure some things, but, those too will work out in the end as part of the overall vision.

Certainly, there are patterns for it, to light the way with applicable metaphor. There is the well-known story of Jesus, a broad encapsulation of the things people go through, the Christian understanding of the life of the faithful. There is the wisdom of a Francis, of a Buddha, grasping simplicity. And as you grow, you'll find many examples of what the faithful might endure, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Kundera's The Joke, coming to mind, low grade, but accurate and conspicuously real and of this world. As real as Chekhov is real.

I set out as a writer, without knowing what I was doing. Perhaps it had started back when I began drawing as a child. And the book I wrote was a response to the overall vision, and I am proud of its chasteness. While I might have thought it was about one particular thing, a particular set of circumstances, it was about more than that, even if I did not consciously realize that at the time, or really, for a long time, except, except for the poetry, the archetype imbedded, which at first seemed a sort of after thought, something parallel that built up within as part of its music.

As with anything worthy, I suppose, you have little idea exactly where it will take you, but to live day by day in peace and contentment.

Yes, it seems odd, that you would know, even as you started out, that you would grasp for the right materials, the proper building blocks of a story to give earthly representation of a shared vision. Some might argue, we are predisposed, unconsciously, by some conditioning of the mind. But I don't see it that way. You do what you do out of knowing the good and proceeding self-confidently, even if you are criticized for personal lackings over the same circumstances.

The remainder of the archetypal Judeo-Christian/Buddhist story seems not far behind, the voice of temptation the writer hears on Monday morning, out in the desert waiting for something to come to him in the way of words or story or form of thought. The voice tempts him to quit and seek some less rocky path, one that makes more sense. The voice tempts him as he sits under his tree at the center of the world, laughing at his peaceful logic, asking him 'what right he has...' How could he possibly succeed, the voice asks. The details seems right, even if the scale is less.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The round peg of humanity, the square hole of modern society... different blood types, different mentalities, sensibilities... the inadequacies of modern psychology to address the different social identities inextricably imbedded in the human being, given genetics, evolution of the biological creature...

The type O hunter mind leaves the house, intent, focussing on the hunt for food. I wake from a long early evening nap, done with the week, having been surrounded by construction noise, and go out for a Five Guys hamburger. It's past ten at night and the people of the city are out finishing their dinners and conversations and out for walks in good company. I'm out to fill my hunger. The grocery stores, where I usually take my hunt, are closed. Five Guys is noisy, so I walk home with hamburgers wrapped in their foil in a paper bag. I'll get home and toss the American White Bread buns and eat the rest, though I admit, it's not the same. Society, beyond providing dinner, strikes me, the hunter in his hunger, as being unnecessary. Conversations outside of restaurants solving the world's problems, as people do in bars. My fixated focus, zeroing in on the kill, which is a hunter must do it, after some stalking, has, no doubt, made me appear weird and creepy at various times, were it not for a patience which would save my reputation in the end, make me not the crazy man, completely.

I will admit to loneliness, once I'm done cramming my face. History Channel has something on Sasquatch. They are out in the woods in Northern Ontario at a camp on a lake. It seems like stuff I can relate to, unable to relate to much at the end of a work week and lots of people coming through the restaurant, from Saturday night's couples, to Father's Day special-menu very busy Sunday night, on through a slow but having-to-entertain a small bar crowd Monday, then famous Wine Tasting Tuesday and then at last the long haul of Wednesday Jazz night. Each night, an extra painful hour or two on top of what might have been necessary. Yes, Sasquatch, I can hang with you. I get you. Your shyness, your love of the woods and disappearing, the possible irritation you might feel when you are encroached upon. Your feet and hairy back, your peace with nature, your reverent silence away from the chattering monkey of humanity... where did we go wrong? (Russian Sasquatch creatures have the use of fire, according to legend and eye-witness account.)

All week, at the home front, workmen have been making terrific noises, the power unit behind an automatic nail gun vibrating above, releasing a burst of pressure every three minutes. And next door the Polish Lady's house has been completely stripped down to the two by four framing. I am ready for some quiet time, some time away from this much vaunted social society that people seem so eager to belong to and participate in.

It occurs to me JFK, classic Type O guy that he was, came up with the Peace Corps idea out of his own understanding with boredom and cooped-up'edness. Give young people an outlet to get away from the big city, out into the undeveloped countryside of a rural country. Give them something to do with their bodies and their hands, in the meantime helping other people out and letting the rest of the world that Americans are human beings too. Give them something natural to do, like some good ole' civil engineering and school/hospital clinic building, to keep them from going out of their minds.

There seems to be not much else on TV, surprise surprise, that an O can relate to, no big expanses of nature captured for the TV screen that I can find, but that's okay, I have laundry to do, even if the energy to do it is waning. And I am fed. The tiredness and the blankness of night in a city will close in eventually. I would wish to be transported out to nature, to a lake's shore, a big expanse of stars overhead, but the best that ends up happening is a raccoon that comes to the yard, though he was, I must admit, acting a little funny. Miss Kittycat watched and waited from the back wall of the neighbor's yard along with her new friend, a juvenile tiger tabby male.

For me a Type O has a simple way of dealing with other people. He empathizes with all of them, and he is kind to whomever he can be kind to. He respects their need for food and shelter, and gets that they too have been roped in, given jobs that don't completely agree with them. Having to turn to the imagination, to art and poetry and music, to stay alive and stimulated, his sensitivity toward others is well-honed, even to begin with. He has a great dislike for 'animal cruelty,' being an animal himself.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In writing, the task is always (and ever will be) about caring, about giving a darn about something, caring enough to put something down just as it is. And so is the writer something of a perpetual outsider, for caring about things when other people, or even people in general, do not care about them. People not caring? How is this possible? Because in their survival they fall to care about materialistic things, in that they look not at the substance of a person or a thing but rather how that person or thing is perceived by everyone else. People start to care about appearances and get taken in by the great convenience of doing so, finding it a practical short-cut.

JFK was right, in many ways, in saying that 'perception becomes reality.' So was he burdened. And yet, he cared. He was 'a Christian,' is one sense of him.

Hemingway cared. (He cared about cats, even.) You can see it in his writing.

Who would bother to be a writer? Why bother? Why trouble yourself, realizing there is no pay-off beyond the accomplishment of the work itself? No, you'd only pick up a pen if you cared, if that was the very primary thing about you, as the great thinkers have cared, the Jesuses and the Buddhas.

Are good deeds restricted only to the wealthiest, the only significant acts that of the mighty philanthropic? Are the wealthy the only ones capable, worthy really, of caring in an effective and meaningful way?

We pay attention too much to the wealthy and the famous, the celebrated.

Monday, June 20, 2011

I've come to a suspicion. People with Type O blood, natural hunters, are not as concerned with amassing material possessions. They like their tools, of course, after all, necessary for the hunt and the for the nomadic lifestyle that accompanied it. I like my wine key. I like my bicycle. I like my cooking knives and the honing rod that sharpens them. I like my Parker jotter pen (President Kennedy's favorite, by the way.) I like my tea pot. Perhaps somehow, the fixtures of a standard bar, the shakers, the ice bin, the cooler, all have a vestige, a residual of the practicality of the hunt, and I like the cooler, full of wine, beer and mineral water, as a good place to keep my roast beef sandwich cold, something to look forward to after all the customers have left. The fancy palace, appointed with trappings of luxury and idle cleverness, I do not like so much. I quickly get bored. Perhaps the acoustic guitar I keep around here in my own flat, along with the cat (who does not at all like the guitar, and runs for cover whenever I take it out of its handy case even before I have strummed it) is a way I cope with the modern cooped-up boredom a modern city-dweller must put up with.

There is a lot about modern life that makes me anxious. And I worry that its main securities are things I don't so well 'get,' even though I would like to get them. In my downtime, I have my little interests, one of them being natural herbal supplements and anti-inflammatory substances to go with a proper diet. And I imagine, the hunter has long amused himself, once he put meat and vegetables on the table, with healthy tonics and natural stuff that's good for you. Like green tea, or turmeric, or cayenne, or sparkling mineral water, or dandelion root, or licorice, or the tomato. Good for the stomach, good for digestion, good for the joints, good for the body, good for sleep.

Sunday night, the elderly couple comes. They are extremely nice, a retired physics professor, his wife, of German extraction. They and several other long-standing Sunday regulars like--or at least I imagine they do, from what they have told me--the mellow kind of music we have been playing, for as long as I can remember. Stan Getz, a touch of Brazilian, typical fare. But, even I must admit, somewhat painfully, that it grows boring, not in the least because its selections are entirely predictable. At a certain point in the evening, one has to admit to himself, 'this is boring, and has been boring for some time, and every one in the room has grown bored with it.' (Never mind its potential to foster, through a mirroring of sensitive neurons, peaceful, perhaps lackadaisical, tendencies in the moods of the customer, thus making everyone a little more mellow, if they are not by nature contrarian to such.)

And at this point I realize, guiltily, that it is my own choice of music station selection that has sucked the life out of everyone, never mind that at least one guest wears hearing aids, which make a noisy room an impossible jumble of clashing sounds. Then, in the middle of a rush for a round of coffees for the farthest away tables, in the midst of cleared plates and the ring of the walkie-talkie signaling that down below, a flight of stairs and another dining room away, there is food ready for a table of ours, someone needs to change the music. Tonight, the waitress, gives the signal, "I'm going to fall asleep," and the barman jumps to it. Lets change it to The Meters, I think. (She went to school and waited tables in New Orleans.)

By now the economist has planted himself at the bar, a small one, of seven stools. (Earlier on, one end of the bar was occupied by a large Tiffany-style lamp, until one day I took it downstairs and placed it on the long service bar in a free spot.) He has already become bored by the music, and will settle for the next round of selections, though probably not ideal, neither for him or anyone else. But we are busy still, the busboy, the waitress, the bartender, taking care of the upstairs, the so-called Wine Bar, as a team. Family and friends of the chef, locals, but originally from his country of Cameroon, have been sat up by the front window, and even though the kitchen will be closing soon, they haven't got the charcuterie plates the chef will send them.

They will become the dominant guests, and it is only at the end of the evening, when the Chef himself comes up (after a busy Father's Day service) to have a cognac and boisterous conversation, that it occurs to me we should be listening to music from Africa. And indeed, one guest, in a long white dashiki kind of a gown, proves to be a multi-instrumental musician. On a small iPod I figure out how to delete a station, one hundred of them being the limit, on our house Pandora to put on some King Sun Ade and his Orchestra.

Later, I close up by myself. The kitchen closed, took the last orders, at 9:30, but here it is midnight, and I am so tired I can barely take off my work shoes and pants, put my Levis on, and head home on my bicycle, where I collapse sprawled out on the couch, falling two thirds asleep with the television on, after feeding the cat.

And then I am awake again, and despite a bath in epsom salts, cannot fall back to asleep, and by now it is light out anyway, and I think that perhaps I have too much adrenaline still firing in my aging system from the last two nights of work.

Fortunately, there is Ian Frazier's book about traveling in Siberia, an excellent read, at least to the type O mind. Something to keep unpleasant thoughts about one's own impending old age distracted, at bay. Sleep can be an awkward thing for someone in my line of work, of having your button pushed repeatedly over the course of eight hours in a manner that necessitates a physical response.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

In Washington, or any other official institutional corporate place, there is a conventional morality that reigns supreme. You don't have to be particularly imaginative. Following a conventional morality is better than following lesser moralities, and there are certainly things to celebrate about the conventional. Indeed, it pays to master the conventional reality, certain of one's judgment within its structure, dismissive of what might fall outside of it. But every now and again, we see in scandal and misjudgment the bastions of this conventional morality, be it in private life or in what they allow the profit-minded to do and get away with when they leave them unchecked, assuming the common morality is stronger than it really is.

It is the writer's job to go beyond conventional morality, to do 'the math' that allows a broader look at things beyond the arguments of the daily business.

In order to write the novel I wrote, I had to inhabit its time frame, so I could work out the details and work on a particular time line, starting here, going there, ending somewhere else. And so, in retrospect, it appears I took a job that allowed me keep close to that world I was writing about. I'm not necessarily proud about it, a certain amount of what another would perceive as 'obsession' and that kind of thing the writer engaged in on a personal level, but I am not judgmental about it. Except that maybe I should get a better job. Who knows, maybe it's not so bad to have a restaurant job, in that once you've done for the night you can for the most part leave it behind. Whether or not this is healthy, who am I to say.

Writers don't mind so much things like exile. They don't mind things that let them see beyond the conventional morality, or beyond the conventional concept of time that is allied to it. A writer of the stature of a Kundera needs that sort of thing, like permanent distance from his country. It makes perfect sense to me that his works are free of the conventions of time and lumping certain matters together while keeping others separate, like a personal history separate from a country's history. His is a healthy approach to the difficult task of occupying a time and a situation, real or created, inhabiting it well enough to go about writing about it. His writing would acknowledge, say, an act like mine, occupying one world, in my case a restaurant job/life, while imaging another, in my case a setting of college days.

Joyce was not one for whom conventional morality was enough. And so in his time lines a Dublin day is expanded and exploded and brought together from distant ends. Or whatever he's doing in that book, Ulysses. Like a cat, the literary mind is capable of great leaps, great identifications, great understandings.

To the point where we begin to find ourselves not as far away as we might have thought from the thinking of a Saint Francis, or a Buddha. Even as one feels a certain sorrow for being in such a position, as if having been relegated to the task. Even as the conventional moralist is uncomfortable associating with such, as if they didn't want to see the fuller picture of a more complete and reaching morality.

It is not easy work, often filled with a kind of chagrin, a loneliness associated with it, one necessary to an ultimate resolution that satisfies the eye, and yet it is natural. Without glorifying it, there is a reason why, when it is done well, occasionally, awards are given out for it.

Anyway, done properly one will feel struck dumb by the awakening, as if by an atom bomb's concentric outward rush, as if by thunder and lightning, as if perhaps by stigmata as it is depicted in great paintings. One wants to sit down on the ground like a child, knowing he will forever be gentle, even if incompetent at modern life, and knowing that at least for the time being conventional morality does not personally suffice, even if he might wish a way back.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Some days come along, when finally, you get tired of all the hype. Sure, hype is how you make money selling people things. My line of work, my 'day job,' the hype is about wine, tying into a lot of other hype about wine. And I myself get sucked into too, and fall prey to believing that I too need wine, more than I need. I get hyped into another staff going away party, another bar, another day I will feel like crap.

Hype, the great distraction, the great bombardment we receive from morning to night, compelling even ourselves to sell something to the 'admiring bog,' the verbal punishment of loud voices, the suggestion that each must join in with the din, or else be irrelevant. Caught by the voices, the many demons, of hype we cannot hear the few voices that are clear, as wisdom would never vaunt itself, but simply be wisdom. (Could we imagine a broadcast voice selling wisdom? PBS does it sometimes, somehow.)

You write one book. And that's enough. For that one book is the anchor of your thinking. Okay, maybe right another one to further clarify, but one must avoid that whole model of book selling, cranking out the formulaic. That may be one kind of writing, one form of entertainment, one way to make yourself a money-earning author, but it may not fulfill that grand purpose of the writer to be a kind of philosopher, a proponent of ideas.

Beethoven loved playing on variations. Kundera, in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting has a passage of listening to the later Beethoven sonatas with his father, after his father had a stroke, his old man pointing to one of them knowingly, as if within its mathematics the maestro was drilling down to the center of reality. There are, of course, the Diabelli Variations. Beethoven, over and over, finding the theme, producing logical variation farther and farther afield.

I have written one book. And somehow there is something right to it. And realizing its correctness, its accuracy, the interlocked strength of its poetry pointing in a direction, I am tired of hype. No, the writer who writes only one book is not a fool. Rather, he has found something worthy to say in his long search.

The artist, in his lonely work, is susceptible to hype and fixations and obsessions and attachments. Perhaps the part of the mind which likes folklore and old stories leaves one open to the tug of advertisements and distractions. Perhaps even the artist more so, but perhaps in finding himself so, he is all the more wary of the risk, in greater need of the solitary time, untouched upon by the shouts of television and the internet and personal devices, the time spent in contact with dreams and thoughts.

I am a barman. A job of exile. A job to make money because one's own work as an intellectual, as an artist, seems like no accomplishment. As if I am at the dead end I am at because of my own political beliefs. The reward I get for waiting on people is that I am treated like I am an idiot. I am idiot for the job I have. I am an idiot for the life I lead. I am an idiot for the things I think of. That is, if one were to listen to a certain way of lumping things together. How could I possibly be intelligent? How could I have wholesome notions of life and family?

Once he called me into his room. The variations from the Opus 111 sonata were open on the piano. "Look," he said, pointing to the music (he had lost the ability to play the piano), "look." He kept trying to explain something important to me, but the words he used were completely unintelligible, and seeing that I didn't understand him, he looked at me in amazement and said, "That's strange."
I knew he what he wanted to talk about, of course. He had been involved with the topic a long time. Beethoven had felt a sudden attachment to the variation form toward the end of his life. At first glance it might seem the most superficial of forms, a showcase for technique, the type of work better suited to a lacemaker than to Beethoven. But Beethoven made it one of the most distinguished forms (for the first time in the history of music) and imbued it with some of his finest meditations.

What Beethoven discovered in his variations was another space and another direction. In that sense they are a challenge to undertake the journey, another invitation au voyage.
The variation form is the form of maximum concentration. It enables the composer to limit himself to the matter at hand, to go straight to the heart of it. The subject matter is a theme, which often consists of no more than sixteen measures. Beethoven goes as deeply into those sixteen measures as if he had gone down a mine to the bowels of the earth.
The journey to the second infinity is no less adventurous than the journey of the epic, and closely parallels the physicist's descent into the wondrous innards of the atom. With every variation Beethoven moves farther and farther from the original theme, which bears no more resemblance to the final variation than a flower to its image under the microscope.

It is no wonder, then, that the variation form became the passion of the mature Beethoven, who (like Tamina and like me) knew all too well that there is nothing more unbearable than losing a person we have loved--those sixteen measures and the inner universe of their infinite possibilities.

From Part Six, The Angels, of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, a novel by Milan Kundera, excerpts from part iii, and part vii, pages 160-161, and pages 164-165, HarperPerennial edition.

see also: Beethoven Sonata No. 32 in C MInor, Opus 111 / Arietta: Adagio molto semplice e cantabile. And also his Ouvertüre, Opus 62, "Coriolan," for further example of variation taken to the symphonic orchestra, an entrancing restatement of a theme, the maestro's study of the texture of symphonic instruments. A piece that justly inhabits the same vinyl as the Berlin Philharmonic of Symphonie #9 in D Minor, Opus 125, conducted by Herbert Von Karajan.

I am an idiot. I have written one book, a novel. And tomorrow I will go and face my hod-carrier job, leaving the sweet world of ideas, to entertain a number of guests.

The barman goes off, to play variations. Wine tasting night. Minervois tasting with Charles of Williams Corner wine imports.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Kennedy would return to the theme of Why England Slept during the Berlin Crisis. HIs book didn't point blame so much at Chamberlain. He saw the matter as an expression of the differences between the way a free society and a totalitarian state can motivate, react, take arms and defend freedom against an aggressor. America, of course, had the war for independence, a clear motivation, a clear enemy.

How can a free thinker be motivated to join society, to best put his talents and education to the service of a free society? It seems much can go wrong, perhaps in the psyche of the individual, but also in the treatment he receives. How does the great thinker, the great soul, the Jesus, the Buddha, and by extension, a normal human being fit in, and avoid becoming a drop-out, a martyr, a bum writer, or simply someone not fully using his or her talents?

To go be that 'drop-out,' checking in on the morality of society from its edges, is a recurrent theme in literature, American and other.
One receives the distinct impression, listening to GOP leadership, that Republican rhetoric costs more loss than gain, more loss to national prestige, more loss of jobs rather than gain. And the same old line again and again and again. "Cut corporate taxes, cut regulation, make more jobs." Who wants jobs like that? Only the desperate, as Republicans want us to stay desperate.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I've come to see the low feeling, that one I get before going off to work and other times, akin to a kind of loneliness, as a sign of the mind working on something, grappling with an intuition, seeing out an understanding in the landscape of the unconscious. "Obsessed," some girl once said, heaping praise upon me.

So there is downtime, fraught with what seems to be a great confusion with regard to all the practical matters we all like to attend to in order to feel decently about ourselves and satisfied with our position.

Shakespeare had Hamlet seeing ghosts, getting distracted by one. It is distraction. It's not necessarily a mental habit one feels particularly proud of (well, maybe secretly), it just is. Not much you can do about it. Maybe some people will find your dreaminess not so completely unattractive. Or, not knowing you well, they'll write you off as an odd-ball, which is maybe something of what Steven King's Carrie is about. Book of Job, same damn thing.

Perhaps we are vulnerable to falling into the habit in our educations, liberal arts and that sort of dreamy deep stuff. You learn to live with it, an organic part of human nature.

I go about little chores, and the mind ticks away. The process is not one that leaves you feeling very happy as you go about it. In fact, you feel rather bad about such things as' what you've done with your life' and that sort of thing. But it all comes out in the wash, hopefully.

One hopes, or has a sense, that the work he does is somehow a benefit toward humanity.