Thursday, March 29, 2012

I'll use a term, vocabulary, for the writer's reach into life. There is the artistic vocabulary, and it is hard to find, and difficult to apply. Any attempt at writing something meaningful is an attempt to bring one's sympathetic vocabulary into play. Chekhov comes to mind, a greatly sympathetic person with the proverbial big heart who went through a lot to get there. Joyce, too. Enjoyable to take in broad range of people who populate their stories.

A writer's life work shows the seeds planted, then developing, into a great sensibility, compassionate, sympathetic in its scope.

And then the critic's job, the reader's job, is apples and oranges. What did Hemingway do with his early good touch? (Why I like Islands in the Stream.) How might Chekhov's short life continued to inform him all the way through as if he were his own great spiritual guide, as in that brilliant and very real ending of The Lady with the Pet Dog, where he is almost asking them to have the courage to go on with it.

What is the artist's botanic timeline as far as bringing the greater compassionate sense into seed, sprout, shoot and flower and tree? Note how it is all an organic process, internally derived.

What happens, to a Tolstoy, as he grows and grows? What happens to the art, to the sympathy for a serf, or Levin's inner life?

At the bottom of it all, and in the last analysis, it is human to write, to explore in creative form a life. Theoretically a story could be written about a whale, or a dog, or a cat. No surprise that Chekhov did. Was it a sense of his mortality (knowing of disease, eventually of his own tuberculosis) that posed to him his own life as a vehicle for understanding human hunger?

Friday, March 23, 2012

We're all heroic, in our own way, probably just by being born. Now and again it occurs to me how heroic it is to be a writer, to be an unsung one, to do another job like bartending to support the principle. Heroic to go down into the quick pleasure-driven hell of a restaurant bar, to be dragged down each night by their cravings, so much so that your energy is consumed, so that you don't look that much like a writer but more a sort of general loser type, so that, if you wrote a book, that achievement too would be disguised as rant and rave, obsession, unhealthiness. The late nights up, waiting for sleep to come, the poor sleep, waking up late over and over, for what, you ask. Shunned by popular society, having little standing, or is it the destiny to be alone, to live like a hermit in the midst of a major city, headed in a direction different, opposite, from the crowd.

Compassion, of course, extends everywhere, even the depths and obscure places, even to poor old barmen and his suffering watches, permeates, at least in classical understanding, everywhere, without judgment.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

So at the end of Jazz Night, everyone's left and I pull my cassoulet out of the oven up at the bar, sit down and eat, of course with a glass of wine, a sip of Paul Mas single vineyard Malbec from the Languedoc, a sip of Minervois, a sip of the red Sablet Cotes du Rhone Villages. I manage to do the paperwork, put away the wine list iPads, the last odds and ends. I bike home, sit on the couch for a little bit, then get up to do a load of laundry, a bit of recycling of newspapers and cardboard, some general tidying. Gordon Ramsey's show is on in the background as I do the dishes, feed the cat, give her her medicine, clean the mail of the work week off my desk. And of course, this is a lonely time of night, and so I have a glass of wine. I drink a couple glasses of ice water, another glass of wine. But nothing crazy, just what seems like the right amount of medication. I'm up 'til about seven by the time the laundry is in the dryer and done with chores, finally relaxing to the tail end of a 1979 Sean Connery film with a great cast, Meteor, I guess it was called, hard to resist. (Henry Fonda, Karl Mauldin, Natalie Wood...) And then, I go to sleep.

But I must not be sleeping well, because even when I try to get up, succeed in making a pot of tea and some breakfast, I am still wiped out. The cycle I wanted to avoid, the drinking of wine before bedtime, and the growing exhaustion through the work week, culminating in sleeping a whole day away, and not feeling good about the waste.

It must be the alcohol. And so, a search through the web about the subject. And here's just one. Seems to make sense.

Good god, has the only way to find a panacea, the only consistent pattern of attempt at feeling good besides exercise and long bike rides in the last twenty five years been through beer and wine and stronger stuff? Is that the only means to find some organic feeling of comfort and escape from problems that a writer and bartender pretty far out of synch with the folks of his town? And even now at midnight, a roasted chicken resting, one glass of wine so far, I already feel the comfort of the wine. It is working, soothing me, making me lazy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The last group, a party of women back in the wine room, are getting up to go off into the warm night after a pleasant mom's night out, just as I sit down to eat a chicken sausage and onion on Ezekial bread English Muffin. The four top that sat down five of ten to have dinner (the kitchen closing at ten) have passed on dessert, thank god, and have left with a pleasant word and a handshake. It's been a fine Spring evening, a wine tasting night, two Cotes Du Rhone Villages from the village of Sablet, just south of Gigondas, a white and a red, provided by our long time friend and great awesome guy in general, Sotiris. But at six hours into it, I sit down at the bar, open my iPhone, propped against a bottle of mineral water, and pretend something of interest might appear. It's time to eat. A lot of talk with regulars, a lot of movement, a busy night, a little Van Morrison playing later in the evening, a Pandora station that seems well-regulated.

So I'm eating, pondering, as John Prine says in a song, "wondering if his life was a terrible mistake," (to rhyme with "Grandpa's on the front porch staring at a rake..."), and there is something sacred to eating uninterrupted, even if you're by yourself sitting at the bar. "Does he work here?" one of the ladies asks another a bit like I didn't exist, as they see now that they are the last ones in a restaurant. And it seems one of them nods back to her, 'yes, he does,' to reassure her. But, somewhat rudely, I don't immediately offer a farewell, and nor do the seven of them. No "enjoy your dinner, sir," but maybe I look to Washingtonian wives too much out of Dostoevsky to engage at this hour of the day. The other guy waited on them. And they did tip well. The busboy is gone, leaving me to pick up the water glasses, the dirty napkins, the place mates, the separate check credit card tickets. Good night. And so the night descends into a solitary state, a non-entity after my twenty four years in hospitality as the friendly neighborhood barman who can converse on a variety of subjects, and sometimes even witty.

My father was a man of science, in a great old school way that embraced the broadest range of biology and beyond from classical times to the modern instant. I should have been a scientist, not a stupid English major, left to toil with no practical applicable expertise, but quietly and obscurely, 'on the side,' as they say. Oh well, Chekhov had it sort of the same way, but of course he had medicine and seems a competent doctor of his day and a wonderful gardener too.

I get my butt home on the bicycle. The town is very quiet, this part of town anyway, and indeed I take a turn past the old 19th Century cemetery on the way. The birds are up still, here and there. And close to home, a hydrant is opened to spill water prodigiously along Sheridan Circle and running down along the curb in front of the Turkish Ambassador's magnificent and newly renovated residence. Bright lights and beeping backhoe and a construction crew is up to something, digging across from the mouth of the little street. The cat, taking into the vet earlier with a condition of a bleeding anus, has recovered from her enema treatment, and spends a bit of time out in the night air on the front stoop and a roll around on the sidewalk for territorial good measure after I get my bicycle in the door, get my helmet off and unsling my courier bag. I crack open a Guinness before administering her liquid medication. And I will be up for a few more hours, but too spent to write or read anything, as a professional really should do when coming home from work, finding solace in Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares, as if I couldn't escape the world of restaurant service.

Kitchen Nightmares turns out to be excellent television, a service to humanity. A restaurant is often family, as in 'family-owned and operated.' And it takes a chef, a fellow like Ramsey, to get a family talking, to get them to open up, to not hide matters, to get things out into the open where they have not been spoken of, where people have refused to speak of them. An earnest son apologizes for saying something disrespectful of his family's business, allowing life and work to go onward, no longer caught in unspoken turmoil. Not a bad way to end the evening, if a lesson is gained from it.

In the great understanding of the Buddha mind where all that is possible is understood one wonders of his own stuff, his own failure to communicate, his failure to be life Chef Ramsey and face the issue before him honestly, to not hide in the usual psychological configurations/call it what you will. To not aid and abet cover-ups, the polite lies, the deeper hidden festering disagreements and unhealthy stuff. Whatever it is, it's your life and you got to go on with it. You have to make decisions like a grown-up.

Ask yourself how you have fared with that.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

To further echo Campbell, do we suffer from a lack of ritual? Do we continuously go through rites but gain no ground on passage? Are the rites so downplayed, so absent that we lose a sense of where we are? Are accepted rites of the day impersonal, the administration of credentials, but not much more?

The modern shaman, as if to mirror, goes through the process day after day, coming back from the psychological trials to murmur the cures for what ails us.

Taking the cat to the vet's leaves one with a sense of mortality.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The term 'shaman' seems a bit abused through popular connotations. We think of Jim Morrison of The Doors, we think of archaic cultures long since receded into forests to disappear. Were one to proclaim a shaman it would only seem to beckon another dismal New Age snake oil salesman. Yet, as PBS goes through a fund raising drive, and the series hosted by Bill Moyers and presented by Joseph Campbell on The Power of Myth, a television viewer might sense a lack of mythological thinking spread across modern times, myth itself disappearing along with its story tellers into the literal nature of the information age's news cycle and our addiction to it. A broad lack of mythological thinking, and by implication, a lack of comforting and constructive rituals, like those of passage, seems the very sign of the times.

Here from Mircea Eliade and Joan P. Couliano's The Harper Collins Concise Guide to World Religions:

"Visited by the spirits, the shamans first went through a period of deep depression and psychic illness that would only give way when, having crossed the desert of death, they returned to life and learned how to control the spirits in order to perform ecstatic journeys whose purpose was usually curative."

And one imagines that myths themselves, with their own curative powers to the individual psyche, are come about in a similar fashion. Myth is a response in the form of creativity and story telling to that which an individual discovers which is of depression and illness and quite possibly social ills.

That is a guess, but to me it holds water. Remarque went through WWI, and he came out of it to write the mythical story that is All Quiet on the Western Front. Shane MacGowan fell out of Irish culture into the modern city of London and the down and out life that awaits the non professional and came up with song, having passed through his own nervous breakdown.

Modern myths in modern forms suggest a kind of a rite of passage, the going through of something that then either forces or enables the person to make art. Perhaps the period of artistic creation is itself a kind of break down, a refusal to enter and completely be at one with modern society, a refraining, such that allowed a Joyce or a Hemingway the time to create in some form.

And so, if one has written or created, what form has he or she now taken? Art has come through the effort, and the creative person is 'in society but not of it.' A shaman of a certain sort.

As an addendum, what is that shaman 'professional life' about now? What accolade is that in the modern world? Don't we, critically trained, insist on so much questioning and placement, that a poet is only a poet, Joyce is only a prose experimentalist, MacGowan only an intoxicated singer, Hemingway, a self-destructive macho fisherman, Bob Dylan only Bob Dylan, so much so that we, in our own times of strange instantaneous unsifted mass culture rolling over us constantly, are distracted from the point, the basic point, that the works of the shaman, the artist, the myth spinner, actually have incredible curative powers, and that indeed such is our salvation, just as Jesus Christ came not to save us so much with the particulars, but to save us with a thoughtful mythos fiction. (A sign of the modernity of his times, that he couldn't simply do the 'shaman' thing and go on his way.)

What does a shaman do, after the initial work, which is very very hard and time consuming and not good for the retirement account? Does he set up a shingle, 'lobbyist to the spirits'? Does she become a 'consultant?' A menu planner? What was left for Joyce but all the support and, on his own time, Finnegan's Wake?

So removed from myth are we, what do we do? The pirates have taken Dionysos hostage, and it is only the old helmsman who gets the god, and says to the rest, 'don't mess with him... well, (having seen them all turn into dolphins) I might have told you so.'

Joseph Campbell, making an interesting point that could have gotten better traction in the last twenty five or so years since, noted that it's the same God the three religions of Beirut and Jerusalem share, the same message, and yet the literal 'translation' manages to offer ways of one group to offend the other and even hate each other. The inefficacy of today's shaman, or, who knows, maybe the inability of people to let go... Ot is it mass culture itself, or is it individuals... the preaching of hatred... Have we become too politicized, too factionalized, too sectarian to even be able to back off and ponder the shaman within us all?

Embarrassing stuff, even to mention, but it has to come up, one way or another.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I sometimes think that within the field of the great variety of humanity, there are two types one dealing in the subject of creativity might highlight. There are artists and there are managers. There are creative types and there are organizational types.

Maybe there is choice involved. Maybe there is training involved, or simply, the habits certain people take to. To the managerial type, perhaps the artist might appear to be an addictive personality, one not rooted in the realities by which society operates, an impractical fellow. And to the artistic type, a managerial type might come across as perversely uncreative.

Can one still argue that a creative type has a mind of a particular shape, which then influences the way he or she works, as a dreamer, sort of all over the place, perhaps a spiritual maniac. And in the midst of all the creativity, the mind might even develop a great distaste for that which managers find so important, things like promotion and marketing. These days, of course, to be successful, an artist must be organized and a bit of a self-promoter and think nothing wrong with it. Maybe the artist gets around that problem by applying creativity, good old naked creativity, to the problem of recognition, doing so at the bidding of a deeper vision, then letting the pieces fall into place, if they, luckily, ever do.

Writing should allow for an insight each day, a clear sense of something emerging out of that which has bubbled and simmered in the background a good while.

I only know that a creative type should enjoy some pride in his organic achievements, as my father held. He should have some sense of accomplishment if he has found a day sufficient thereof, a day where he could write some, let's say, or play some music, in addition to the things one must do on a daily basis to take care of things. For he has explored and developed a certain kind of sensibility, a thought out considered way of looking at daily events and perhaps the greater reality behind daily events in so doing. And perhaps that stands out for him as an alternative to riding, to dwelling on the failure aspect of his organizational failures, his unintentional neglect of things another person, more practically inclined, would see as being stupid not to attend to and pretty obvious.

There's a lot in any artist's life that would puzzle another person, that would prompt the question 'what were you thinking?' But that's just how it goes, I think, anyway.
Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here
Published: February 27, 2012

Now here's an excellent article that simply points out the roots of yoga in the Tantric tradition, one we might indeed look upon as a 'sex cult.' A tradition that got a bit white washed through the ages, so that the roots of the Hatha based yoga we all do is politely skirted.

Well, let's face it. At least to an extent, and of course there's more to it, but religion and spirituality is about sexual ecstasy. Take for instance the candles you see of the Virgin of Guadalupe, proof of a living god, the image imposed as it were on a beautiful pink vagina accented by green lips and golden labia, a crowned clitoris, and even maybe, if you're into that sort of thing, a little anus below. I'm sorry, I know this is a ribald interpretation. But, with all this talk of virginity (which then leads us off on tangents about reproductive right do's and don'ts), it's kind of the same thing as what Congressman Dale Bumpers said to the defense of Bill Clinton, alluding to a saying of Menken's, "if they say it's not about the money, guess what, it's about the money," as a houseful of Republicans rose and preached, "this is not about the sex." The holy holy holy talk is, well, about sex, great and glorious. Just as the energy released, or gotten in touch with, in yoga poses, has a strong sexual element. And so it may come as no surprise when scholars, like Robert Graves and Alan Watts, can trace elements of Christianity back to earthy goddess worship.

Implicit in its energy, this basic element, perhaps it is no wonder the vast sex scandal in a Church, like the Catholic Church, on the one hand preaching healthy 'spirituality,' on the other practicing some weird denial as priests must be celibate to serve their flock (out of some apparent precedent Jesus is supposed to have set, an issue instantly complicated by property rights and probably many other things, not that I am any expert.) And so, quite horribly, there are many innocent victims because of the great hypocrisy.

Of course one could go on, exploring the spiritual practices and images. And on the other, one could temperately rise to the defense and reaffirm the wholesomeness of the healthy institutions a church supports like healthy matrimony. (Now Jesus himself, who preached amongst despised tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes, as if he were like the modern day bartender, strikes one as a guy pretty realistic about human nature.) The world will continue to practice yoga and benefit from it in many ways.