Thursday, May 31, 2012

Back to work at the bar.  Two shifts, a Tuesday night wine tasting (waiter hungover) and Wednesday night jazz (somehow a lot of extra work), and I'm already thrown off, nocturnal, out the door with the old circadian rhythm that's good for the depression prone.  Was that partly for taking the cat in for the steroid shot, a progress report on her cancer, that kept me too anxious to sleep?

Vet's office, a mistake over the appointment, I'll take her back tomorrow, consider lugging her in the old wooden lobster trap-like box exercise.  I end up taking a nap that last more than two hours after taking my old '98 Bianchi Velocé in for a new drive train (new Campy chain, cassette, change of handlebar tape.)  And when I wake up, I know I have it again, not wanting to socialize, not wanting to make calls, not wanting to go out on a beautiful evening.  Grocery shopping, after Superglueing a strap of my cycling shoes back together so I can go for a ride later.

It was a decent break, going up to my 25th college reunion.  It took me days up there and finally a stay in Amherst with some old family friends that brought me out of being the loner.  A day on the train, then back to work, and then it's back to the same again.

Maybe it's the social cues along along with the adrenaline that came of making it through eight straight hours that leave me up all night, as if fighting the rhythm of day and night, diametrically opposed.  I feel a brief wiff of childhood confidence when I almost feel like waking up at 7 AM after four hours of attempted sleep.  Yes, that's what it is, that rush of confidence and happiness that isn't fake or fleeting for all those normal people ('day walkers,' restaurant people call them) who march out into the world all fresh and squeaky clean and looking good, where I feel like a rock that sits there gradually worn away, worn away.  A fleeting taste of that, and then I go back to bed, cat fed.

Maybe we all think it about our jobs, "I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy."

I just know mine to be a completely different kind of thing.

The one thing I'll say, though, is that the few lasting intellectuals there are, who have not fallen into the Treason of the Clerics, are not there because they are necessarily talented any more than you and I;  no, they are there because they simply keep doing it, with nonchalance.  Hemingway (though he knew the treason as soon as he felt the shrapnel fly into his legs,) MacGowan (who didn't want to do anything else, who had a clear vision of taking simple old school music and making it live.)

This is probably the genius of Beethoven too.  Not so much the skill (though I know that sounds silly) but just his ability to avoid the treason, to keep keep doing his thing.

Yes, Woody Allen has it right.  98 percent of being a genius, a Tolstoy, is just showing up.  Along with the right attitude.  Must be a blood type thing.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Writing, like psychoanalysis, is pain, depression, sadness, thoughts of inadequacy transmuted into meaning and poetry.   And so it is like grapes into the wine, we, the vines.  Wine is a condensation of the eternal of any year.  The tender of the vines brings out the best his labor is able to.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

One returns from reunion at the gracious halls of academia back to the hot humid city where stomach contents liquify in the heat, morale sags, appetites wane, enthusiasms crumble...

A thought occurs:

To have any kind of a decent life these days, one must commit a basic treason against that which encourages us to be our finest as human beings.  This Julien Benda essayed about in his work, written between 1924 and 1927, La Trahison des Clercs, or, The Treason of the Clerics, a critique of the practices of the intellectual classes who came at the time to preach not Socrates and Aristotle but nationalism, creating a new morality based on political pragmatism's material ends.  After wading in such waters as a semi-recent translation of Benda (which reads like Old French) a reader is grateful for the novelistic eye of All Quiet on the Western Front to translate abstractions into the real world.  Here, the supposed intellectual cleric schoolmaster preaches military might, conquest and glory to his boys.  "The Fatherland," as opposed to other land and the other people that sit on them.  And then the boys go out into the world, into the events that are the terrible fruits of such treason, and guess what.  Modernity.  A simple but decent example of what Benda is talking about, even if it's on the tail end of moral corruption.  It's enough to give us a rounded picture of preaching and dissemination.  You go away not having to wonder how it all happened, because it happened quite plainly in the classroom under the guise of perfect respectability.

And so, having mingled with the successful, one asks himself, is it true that you have to turn completely into a specialist, a nationalist, a lay business leader, an instrument of the economic might just to have the basics of family, social standing, security that comprise a respectable life?  What happens if you follow the instinctive drive toward, on the other hand, disinterested truth, science, beauty, thought, the broad increase of human potential, something an individual might even join in to, and maybe even add to?

Well, it all makes sense, you say to yourself.  The sharp loneliness, the subtle ostracism that led to depression that led to a disruption of circadian rhythms ('MacBeth doth murder sleep'--Shakespeare knew the night and depression), the odd inability to join in with the normal professions, the choice of an odd one, chosen as if to insure the falling away of normal possibility.  It makes sense that the cleric intellectual these days is your server, who still must play the economic game while her real projects are relegated to the side.

It has come to pass that we generally regard with contempt and disdain those who are not playing along with the great treason and with all its economic raisons d'être. "What, can't you do anything productive?  Can't you join in with the great nationalistic effort to demonstrate might?  You, with the fine education..."  One is naturally excluded for not being card-carrying member of the self-congratulatory age, an age that has led us down the road.

So it happens that when you are most down, most out of heart, most in the state of bottoming out, you come to the realization of the deeper matter.  You would not be as open to it if you were busy with the taste of the rewards of the current system.  And no wonder that the trenches of WWI were one place of clarity in noticing the great treason that led us all to such.

And it is not the fault of anyone in particular, nor can you now find anyone particularly blamable; it is not the fault of a particular professor, because the roots of the treason are so deep their rootedness is obscure to us, and so touching upon everything.  We still blame people, or say "the German people," when the attitude of humanity in society had changed significantly before through gradual steps, courtesy of public intellectuals like Nietzsche and the gang, who have indeed a long and vigorous trail of ancestors operating today, turn on Fox.  Societies have become so immersed in the colonizing habit, we can no longer hold back except by some strange, massive, deep, and yet unknown effort or possibility, to grab what we can out of otherness.  And, as in Afghanistan and before in Iran, other people basically just want to be left alone to do their own thing.

The only refuge is the poet.  Or sometimes a leader like Abraham Lincoln who nudged those who would listen back to a more abstract ideal.

Like wine, poetry, Emily Dickinson's say, is eternal, at least in some cases, not speaking directly of the historical present, but of the deeper roots.  Even Hemingway looks toward the deeper eternal.  Van Gogh as well, though it did not serve him particularly well to argue on behalf of the human spirit in the form of art, any more than it had when he was attempting a more directly spiritual service in the Borinage.

So, what can you do, besides throw your hands up?  Well, I suppose it is still worth the try.  It is still worth the effort to be one of those uncorrupted intellectual teacher types quietly going about fostering the belief in humanity's and the individual's potential to be what we call 'spiritual,' or decent, or constructive.

The Weather Channel guy, like every other weatherman on television, speaks of a vast tornado system approaching, of a coming severe heatwave in the South, but where and when, he will tell you after the commercial break.  I might feel obliged to watch the commercial if he had told us where the tornado was to be, or when exactly the heatwave, but instead, I turn the TV off, and I think it's for the best actually.  I would read things if they weren't immediately upon inception so tailored to the commercial market.

Take any problem today of any shape and size, and within, at the core you will find a treason of the intellectual.  And the only thing effective to treating all the vast ills around us, is for us not to commit treason, treason on behalf of dubious materialism.

The human critter can't be all bad, it occurs to me, if he can still get up and sit down and write something of his thoughts out.  That is a good sign.  Hemingway who knew the daily battle to write had a line for it, from The Old Man and the Sea: "But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated."

I wonder, as I go for a slow walk in Rock Creek Park down and under the Massachusetts Avenue bridge and up behind Montrose Park, to get enough sun on me to combat the late night adrenaline, what would the last few remaining public intellectuals substantially free from the basic treason look like?  Where would they be found?  On television, agreeing with David Gregory?  (Probably not.)  At this point, you'd probably have to go looking for them, as a bird watcher might, discovering one holed up in a tree, or out sleeping on a branch above the creek or down along the bank, out in nature, in other words.  They might be something like we have the picture of Jesus Christ as, mainly passive (though certainly scrappy when he felt it necessary.)  And yet we know ourselves what happens when you adopt a life of passive habits, a blend of horror to chagrin, shoulders stooped under 'truth and wisdom' of handy expressions like 'nice guys finish last,' or 'snooze, you lose,' stuff we seemingly have to buy into these days for an efficacious life.  This is why we are kind to kind people, of those who can conduct themselves with at least a semblance of the social contract and basic decency, as their kindness bears the lamp of the intellectual life fostered by civilization.  (Lincoln was an empathic sort of guy, that side of him shining at Gettysburg.)  They bear a vestige of what we may be significantly in the process of losing, a basic overall sense of things, good and bad, right and wrong, before we get defrayed into small arguments of a thousand cuts.

Perhaps the popular fascination with Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code indicates a readiness to at least imagine that original non-treasonous cleric Jesus as operating in the world as far as his influence.

Friday, May 18, 2012

We only know biography through what we know from within enough to lyrically (or not) recreate.  We only can know Shakespeare through our own curiously overlapping experience and similar condition.  Yes, the scholarly details help, of course, knowing that when Will entered London the great bridge was lined with heads on pikes of Catholics and the like.  After the scholarship it becomes imaginative, personal, our own readings of the imaginative work the subject left behind for us to enter in.  Did he face a tendency for alcoholism, or for finding himself quite worn out at the end of a week, such that he felt he couldn't handle it anymore.  Did he find his creativity an island to cling to?

This may seem selfish, or egotistical, but perhaps it's not.  Perhaps it's something similar to what the Buddhists speak of poetically, a knowledge that in a sense the dead are reincarnated such that the child open to whatever it is will indeed recognize the particular personal objects of the dead.  Whatever gives you a sense of a person who lived and breathed somewhere in the deep past is perhaps something not to be afraid of, but even helpful as we consider are own problems.

Personally, I find it not so hard to place Shane MacGowan's created world, created out of a sense of the real matters of life, of a Tipperary farm boy coming to London with all his own country lyricism very close to what Shakespeare would find and similarly create.  There is that feeling of rawness, a bit of that sense of having just been let out of a home.  (I would venture that a fine musical theatrical production could be made of Pogues songs and MacGowan's creative life intertwined upon a stage, a consideration of the obvious depth he has a thinker, 'a spiritual nut.')  The songs wouldn't be so good, so real, so finely interpreted, so coming off natural if there wasn't some scary stuff and misery behind them.  (Like Larkin's poetry.)

Well... I only know what the end of this guy's workweek feels like after being pushed toward the drink's calming effect, and the great sense of betrayal of the fine opportunities that once were his had he handled them better if he looks upon matters in a certain light that thankfully doesn't always shine that way.  The difficulties of handling things, small tasks, feeding the body that likes to be fed in a certain way, let alone dealing with people, indicate a battered psyche of the kind that writers somehow find essential stuff worth writing about, take for example All Quiet on the Western Front.  "No, it's just not worth doing that to yourself four times a week," the guy foundering in the rut of tending bar in a restaurant says to himself, "it's just not worth it."

But, never the less, I will try, take my small steps of doable things.

The laboring part of the week finished I walk down along Rock Creek at dusk, and soon it is dark.  Climbing the grassy hill below the Omni Shoreham I walk across Duke Ellington Bridge and down through the heart of Adams Morgan, 18th Street a construction zone, dug-up sidewalks and street, backhoes, piles of dirt and gravel.  The jazz clubs, the restaurants that come and go, the coffee shop, the jumbo slice pizza place, here and there music welling out onto the street, perfumed air outside of hookah and ethnic clothing shops...  I peer in through the darkened front windows at an old haunt where my friends tended bar, now a dusty shell what once had been an expensive renovation  certain the pull them in, vacant.  Originally a firehouse, then Cities and then something called Left Bank I never went to, my friends having moved on.  An air of sorry illusion hangs over the street, half-hearted partiers, places closed, shabby, just as it always was even on the busiest of Saturday nights.  I think of my own wasted years.

I walk on further, down to the more lively 14th Street.  A glass of wine at Pilar, two at St. Ex, then as I start to head home, a show coming out of Black Cat, a friendly soulful bartender to say hi to, I slip in for a glass of Cotes du Ventoux.  Here the hipsters and the bar workers have a friendly community, a place to find friends and belonging and people like themselves.  I pay my respects to those I know a little bit, then off into the night, the long walk home ripe with a knowledge of the illusory quality of the world's pleasures.

The Buddhist must view my job as a strange one, that odd thing of enabling people as they grasp for earthly pleasures.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The hardest thing is writing down the first few words, I would say.  The news could distract to you to a moment of clarity bearing upon the news;  one wants to develop the thought, exorcise it.

What follows is just an example of the mind's wanderings, a dramatization of interfering thoughts that must be gotten out of the way before the real stuff happens:

Let's see how that goes, getting the news-related thing out of the way.  Someone, a woman, no less, from what may be discerned from PBS, invented a way of making financial risk less risky by creating a market for derivatives based on what is already derivative.  Great idea.  Bets are hedged.  Basically, then, how does the story go? but that, well, if I am risky, someone buys that risk, but makes clever bets so shrewdly watching things go up and down that... I still don't get it.  Suffice it to say that we live in a world that is, at least temporarily, the end product of this desire to create a new market so that banks could enrich themselves through transaction fees and their own speculations, and those speculations, definitely, being based on the mortgage debts of people offered, well, deals, or what sounded like good deals or opportunities.  And now does it not seem fairly clear that the whole world, and the whole foundation of the financial speculations of the nations that make up the Eurozone, is now connected to these perplexingly strange deals of derivatives, a shadow market.  And now, everyone wants to back away from their municipal/national debts, in a world were things are complicated and interrelated already, so that the world of investing is so... how to put it?, but that all debt seems to be possibly based on bad debts, even though that basis should have proven, thanks to the risk-free nature of derivatives, to be risk free, that bad debt should still be a source somehow to make money...  Greek debt, or default upon debt, now would seem to paralyze any investment anyone makes anywhere because of a created web based on speculative calculations and hocus pocus mathematics that allowed some people, in early, to get rich quick, then leave the stinking pile of the organic residue from that great making of money (see the 1%) for the rest of us, no, not just one investor, but pretty much the whole financial system, such that it will, thanks to this card trick, basically rot until it all is forced to come clean.  (Even J.P. Morgan, the latest infallible victim.)

See, that's stuff that occupies the mind, another example, by the way, of the poison wrought by a lack of fairness, transparency on all levels.

All that aside, the mind must admit it is hard to get the first few words out bearing upon the ideas.  And so the barman, after a load of laundry, finally goes to bed as dawn rises, for a fitful rest.  He didn't even get to anything resembling much his thoughts.  Weary from a very busy night, jazz night, at the bistro, when he wakes he's too tired to get up out of bed, and sensing he hasn't even dreamed, he tries to sleep more, dreaming finally, first of a return to the town of his birth, and then a restaurant dream of trying to put a table for an important large party together out of wobbly puzzle-piece ended two-top tables.

What a disaster, a barman's life.  The last night of the week, he's up til 6 in the morning waiting for the adrenaline to leave his system, gets up at mid afternoon feeling debauched and knowing he's out of synch.  It's a job for supermen, I suppose, who can bounce back, not let it get to them, this whole business of being 'down and out in London and Paris and Washington, DC.'  If you had something useful to say about life, well, maybe it would be worth it, but all that really seems to happen is that many should-have-been-productive years later you are still lost, not sure of what to do with yourself, didn't really try anything new, clung to writing but not professional about it, alone, poor, without a community useful to you, no family, no kids, prospects gone, no future.  But that writing it down helps unblock something, or that it allows some less conscious wheels to spin, so that hopefully the inner you will think a way out of the mess and not have to get up every day filled with regrets and the sense that you let your folks down.

Are you a writer?  What made you think so years ago?  If so, what could you do with it, so that you did make an agreeable living out of it, or are you doomed to the obscure artistic struggle?

It always seems like a tug of war, that part of the self that really truly wants to be practical, and that part of the self that finds a creative outlet, a form of expression that is more perfect than the interactions that happen directly between people.

So, there is the job side, the putting up with things with the general sense that it would be thoroughly impractical to be solely an artist/writer/poet/philosopher/musician, and then there is the opposite side which demands dedication and time for its own pursuits.

Joseph Campbell seems to have a certain view of Hamlet in his considerations of the mythological.  He places the figure of Hamlet as we know him very close to Oedipus, the guy who can't escape his mother complex and his childhood therefore balking on adulthood.  It's a hard logic to argue against, that Hamlet, as Campbell puts it in his conversation with Moyers, is not up for facing his fate and his adult life.  Why do I find that all vastly over reductive?  I see it Hamlet's as more of a story about confronting an actual crime against humanity, the murder of his father.  Yes, there is lots of psychology in it, but Hamlet strikes me as having a good amount of psychological resilience, handling the ghost's appearance, Yorick's skull, seeing through doddering old fools, etc.  The splinter between himself and the fair Ophelia is just one of those shitty things that happens when individuals attempt to put their imprint upon the pure open possibility of the great relationship between the two through advice, through meddling and deceit and the placement of outside insecurity and social complexes.  I think they would have got on just fine hadn't the same selfish forces of power and greed and vain 'honor' hadn't intervened so tragically.  Hamlet's intentions are misinterpreted, monstrously misconstrued.

For his own part of the tragedy, his putting on the antic disposition is well-aimed, except for the one tragic thing about it, which is that Ophelia gets caught in the crossfire between prince and usurper.   And even then it would have worked out alright between the two had not for brother and father, in a stance of social propriety meddled with the poor girl's thoughts.  Of course, the slaying of the old man didn't help Hamlet's case, his ability to do anything really.

I might argue that Shakespeare's great work of words, words, words captures something eternal.  How to express it?   Is he capturing the battle between what we do out of love, our deepest purest desires on the one side and the corrupting influence of social pressure, the placement of value judgments upon who people are and what they do?  Is it the battle of what is spiritual and appropriate on the one hand and all the social externals set up to control people (having a low opinion of them) on the other?  The story, then, of Oedipus is a bit different from that, back on purely mythic territory, stranger, more deeply symbolic in its weirdness.

People judge other people.  Rare to find a non-judgmental soul.  Many are the reasons people do judge, ambitions and the like.  Shakespeare's tale offers some leverage against such, as basically, like To Kill A Mockingbird, we are asked to walk around in someone else's shoes.  It's a tale that cuts against ostracism, that falls in line with the beatitudes.

In Hamlet one finds a whole list of city life, an array of peoples and behaviors the country boy found in his career in the city, the lonely, the vain, the usurpers, the anguish, the mistreatment.  He seems to be doomed most of all because he is good, because he is authentic, liked by people.  It's a simple tale of love between a young man and a young woman thwarted by pressures beyond them.  A reader can almost sense the existence of a great wall to separate the writer/observer and happy people going about their normalcy.

Perhaps Campbell is right in deeming Hamlet as someone not up for his own fate, as if he were, like the drinker, susceptible to sabotaging himself, or getting too wrapped up paralytically in his own head.  But there is the lasting sense that Hamlet is facing is tremendously difficult, and also modern, such that we feel  him to be real, a mortal, one of us, with sets of similar problems somehow.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

I'm beginning to notice the curmudgeon I am becoming, on top of all the other things.  Writing, you see, is kind of like the opposite of the television weatherman with his perfect mood, teeth, hair, physique, skin, go-get-'em I'm-a-fun-guy attitude, place in life, etc., about to break to the commercial.  Writing really has nothing sexy to say to be marketed (along with the rest of the crap that we really don't need).  Writing is contrarian.  Writing runs completely opposite even to the sense of time that we all are sold on, i.e., linear, with the exception that writing reminds us that we are, as Buddha made note, "burning," ephemeral, mortal.

(Not that one can be against Marketing, which is taking something and making it available.  I must remember  that there's nothing wrong with it.  It's even a little flirtatious.  Marketing makes use of sexiness.  Without marketing you'd never get to that market of personal life.  The writing that is to be marketed, that takes well to it, one could well be envious of.  Who wouldn't want that, except one really maybe even perversely afraid or disdainful of fame.)

Perhaps writing is meant for a secret private part of us to respond to.  Writing is traditional, an old school craft practiced by monkish people in stone beehive-like huts on cold rainy islands.  It makes note of the sad and beautiful.  Writing is out of synch with just about everything in modernity except the farmer's market. Maybe it's meant for a certain kind of elite, an intellectual elite, one not particularly concerned with world domination, more about the inherent truths in nature that might be cataloged because they are there, like Everest is there.

This points somehow to the genius of Ernest Hemingway, who was a real writer in that he wasn't telling us particularly happy things to crow about.  He was a naturalist, observing fish in streams just for the simple sake of observing fish in streams, and also observing the human observing fish in streams.  And he knew that writing was, at best, a lonely life, nothing to be particularly proud of.  By generosity of spirit, he kept on, empathizing with the little guy, with beatific types, with the soldier who is f***ed.  And it was a just thing that he, for The Old Man and the Sea, won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  The truths he gathered are often related to the spiritual.  "Our nada, who art in nada, hallowed by thy nada," he wrote.  He was something of a packrat, a clutterer, who kept stuff, like old theater tickets.  He was happiest being out in nature.  He was a shy person, according to the photographer Karsh, the shyest man he ever met.  The literary life worked for him.

A literary scholar informs me that Tolstoy spent something like literally forty years upon horses.  I guess that's better than watching television.  Probably a good escape from writing.

Writing, attempts at writing, tends to make you sick to your stomach after the third day of doing it, for some reason.  All us writers, a bunch of bums, who should be out trying to save and protect nature and folk custom.

I walk downtown, done to the Staples to pick up a ballpoint pen, a Parker Jotter, handy for work.  Don't know where they've all rolled off to.  "I have an addiction," I tell the woman at the check-out counter.  "It's all good," she says in her red shirt, having just said the same to a discombobulated man looking like your typical service lawyer buying a large clear plastic matt to put beneath a desk or a chair, perhaps with computer cables running underneath, to protect the institutional carpet below.  "We all need our vices," she says as she takes her scanning gun across the bar codes.  A blue one, a black one, a stainless one, and a couple non-gel ink refills, gel ink being bad for shirt pockets.  At a certain point in a Jotter's lifespan, the spring seems to stop functioning cleanly, so that you have to push the point back inside the barrel of the pen, even after having clicked the top button with your thumb.

I decide to walk down to check out my old haunts near the office where I worked when I first came to town, 1901 Pennsylvania Ave.  The food court in a large building between I and K seems to have disappeared.  Scholl's Cafeteria, also, a thing of the past.  I stop for a fish taco at Baja Fresh.  A long time ago the spot was a place that sold pretty bad doughy pizza with a complex array of toppings, but I'd go and sit in it sometimes and write in my notebook.  I remember a Fine Young Cannibals song playing, "She drives me crazy."  I go past the front door of the office building, looks pretty much the same, the office directory on a wall by the elevators.  Everyday, up to the sixth floor.  On closer to GW, another place I used to write in a small open air courtyard next to what is now an Au Bon Pain.  It is closing now as I walk past its lowered gate.  A sole woman in her uniform is out smoking a cigarette, looking dazed, a feeling I can empathize with.  What did I do with my life?  What will I do with it now?

What have I done in all these years, twenty four or so, a writer asks himself.  Why I have I put up with strange jobs and hours and strangely non-existent social life, just for the sake of writing something like a book?  Wouldn't wish that life on a dog, one's thoughts go.  Strange, life.

An Aussie lady was by the wine bar on Wednesday night.  Tall, friendly, in with a lobbyist friend of ours.  She is reasonably impressed by the restaurant offerings here in Washington, but, she adds pointedly, "but no one talks to you!"  Interesting, the observations of travelers.  Yes, I guess things would be better if people talked to you.

It is in the field of education that the harmony of mind and nature is evident.  A good thought is a good teaching, even, or particularly, as far as the impact it will have.  Einstein's greatest observations are especially applicable to education.  His lessons are something worth teaching, worth absorbing, a lesson of the highest physics applicable to daily life of time and observational point of view.  By Einstein's own observation, a beautiful theory stands a good chance at capturing truth in its lens.

Makes you wonder about Jesus and Buddha.   What will win the Nobel is first a beautiful teaching, not the complex parsing of thoughts of the hyper specialist, the complications of higher education's specialization. (The dead end of the latest, the newest, in deconstructive... blah.)

Everything is rooted in nature, knowable, perceivable, as much to the child and the idiot as the highest member of society.  (Why we love filmmakers.)  Thus, the great error in assuming that in thinking we have to launch a hostile attack on reality, or that understanding reality is tragic.  And if you think that way, you will lose.

Access to great thought is simple and straightforward.  Too bad that some moral codes appeal to the dark side, the angry cop.  Education is felicitous, even in its hangovers.  Access to knowledge is simple, just act like a poet or a naturalist.

So how sufficient and sustaining a good thought is.  Be your own naturalist, like Ernest Hemingway making observations of fish in streams.  (One of the redeeming qualities of poor Fredo Corleone.)

Friday, May 11, 2012

My mom does not think it the worst thing that I 'ended up a barman in the morning.'  It has kept me around people, and interacting.  Could have ended up with 'a pickup truck and a dog' back home in the Mohawk Valley.  Indeed, it's been a social job, and that has been good for me.  And I've done it now long enough that people and regulars will confide in me when things happen, when life comes at you.

Oh, sure, there is some eccentricity to it, enough to please me, enough of a scheduling like old Dostoevsky, up late at night while the house and the city sleeps, quiet time, alone time to process.  I have to admit that what makes me happy is as simple as taking a walk with my notebook and my thoughts.  Nothing gives you self-confidence more than admitting to yourself your likes and dislikes and following through with them.

Then it becomes a question that you must answer for yourself.  Are you real, or are you a poseur?  Or, to examine it another way, does the roadmap laid out for you by artists immemorial work for you or not, and how does it work for you?  Is what J.D. Salinger did, the disappearance, the rural retreat, the shunning of media, valid, practical, necessary, healthy at least in some ways...  Is what Emily Dickinson did, the retreat into her house, the white dress, the sometimes gardening at night... does that work for you as well to the extent that you are allowed to be so?

The cynic says, oh, that's stupid foolish fantasy, the swelling of self-importance, a vanity of its own, play-acting at being 'a genius,' a running narrative in your head that compels you to act the part of the dark maestro...  the great genius, encountered quietly grocery shopping right under everyone's nose.

But, hey, guess what, people are secretly too wrapped up in their city lives to notice the presence of a thing that is actually common in a profound way, the potential of flowering genius, in the Michelangelos and Leonardo da Vincis present in everyone.  Well, genius in what they do, in how they may be, given good support and love and a decent-hearted education, geniuses of their own if they chose to focus so and give it a bit of commitment enough to receive the natural positive feedback from the self that is a sense of accomplishment.  Leading me to think that genius is largely a matter of focus.  And maybe that speaks of the great risk that is education on all levels, that it is all a matter of the great liberal arts pledge for the individual to, through the course of exposure, find that which makes them tick, that which they are good at.  A liberal arts education is not a snob that tells you you can do this but not that, that you are relegated by your nature to dig ditches the rest of your life.

Maybe it's just better and a cause of more psychological happiness to consider for a moment that pretty much everyone has some, at least if not genius, some cool stuff within.  Hey, my cat's a genius.  She knows what's good for her, when to not run in front of traffic (knock wood.)  It is the vagaries of being an organic being that will get us in the end, not anyone's fault so much (barring dumb behavior and cigarettes and things that inflame our constitution.)

But I do think that you have to be active in carrying through with it, that you need the necessary attitude.  (having slightly lost my train of thought with an apparent computer glitch.)  And I do think that artists have to be sensitive and vulnerable, which sounds like a cliché but isn't.   There are inherent ways to protect the necessary peace against the nerve-wracking and the distractions.

So, maybe it's not so bad to have a protective disguise as you go about your business, an inconspicuous role like barman or grocery shopper, that will serve you well in the long run.  I guess that's as much as I find that it behooves me to be an active member of society.

"Just be yourself," I found myself saying to people, as if I were some sort of expert life coach, a long time ago.  I could cringe for a number of reasons, like just what does that mean?  Does that compel you to act a little different from the rest?  Who was I to be giving intelligent young people any such advice?  And yet, I find myself happy when I pick up my notebook and write in it whatever comes, or when I take it along for a walk down by the stream.  Is that exercise, or is that being an idiot?  Maybe it means, let no one cramp your style, maybe in particular your inner style that is less logical than dressing yourself in a way acceptable to the public, and more intuitive.  Suspend for a time being the 'inner practical voice' that tells you you are wasting time.  What is time for?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Why do you blog," I ask myself tacitly any time I arrive here.  You must be realistic about the venue and the purpose of it.  I guess it's just a good place to share a certain part of your thoughts, different from the notebook's more private recording of dreams and complaints and musings put down raw before filtering.  And even everything written here, you think, 'hmm, should have filtered that out too.'  Despite appearances otherwise, the intentions of a blog are largely private, an attempt at providing a geographic record, perhaps unwittingly capturing samples from layers of life's sediment, a flavor here or there, a remembrance, that later compress over years into rock of some sort, even as one would wish to be a volcano.  It's a forum, it provides a different challenge, suits a new and different purpose than previously found.

But...  but, though none of any of this is immediate or pertinent or even remotely important, each part serves as a step in the exercise of letting something out so that perhaps, ultimately, an overall shape might be gathered out of it. as if to say, 'oh, this was the sauce, this the vegetable, this the starchy grainy thing, and this the sort of main protein meaty fleshy thing to bite into first so as to get a set of tastebuds up and running...'  Or, like I say, just for a sense of an over-all shape that the writer is not completely conscious of, by putting pieces together.

Well, some of us are never good at quite finishing things.  Not to say that things don't get done.  But, like washing dishes in a  tub, a complex process, first making room in the drying rack for the newly washed, then soaking dirty plates and things, then scrubbing them off (say, the uneaten cat food that has adhered to a plate, or that bit of olive oil that lingers so), then taking them out of the tub to be rinsed, then rinsing them and placing them in whatever place you use to rack them where they can dry, I am usually one to get a lot done, but leave, well, a few things soaking, as if leaving them by for the next round of hot water dishwashing, moving on to something.  Like then go finish a cup of tea, or pour a glass of ice water with a splash of apple cider vinegar, or to half record a dream, or to go and lament something on paper such as one's continual exposure to wine-related things such that one feels obliged to finally have, at the end of the night, some of its calming potions, which of course bring some regret the next day in small and sometimes large forms.

There are many tangents you can move off on, and that is a part of the creative way really, or not much would get done.  And the thing about a blog, is that you are writing on a type pad, not longhand, which is kind of fun, keypads being light and magical now.  A better way to go fishing.  Faster, and the record is left without the extra step of transcription.  So, you ask yourself, what thoughts and impressions should I share without burdening reader with excess and whining.  I came home last night and, what was I going to write down?  Was it that sense of failure, of not living up to your own level of intelligence and promise and opportunity?  That weird way a bartender may remember, quite like the elephant, the landscapes of the lives he meets across the bar, and how to temper all that knowledge with the appropriateness of the situation, the subsets of that, like not wanting to appear too creepy just because you remember things so well, indeed maybe a little better than you should, as if you were too intelligent a creature who'd been stuck in a box of some sort, underutilized as far as what he could possibly command first off and then with a bit of training and education, so that then it might make a customer secretly sort of sad that they had found a person wasting his talents over small matters like the difference between rosé wines.  Or, like, 'Christ, I just wanted a glass of wine and not have to talk to anyone, but this guy remembers something I said a year and a half ago...'   Note that the barman would wish to carefully bring such things up to express a care for the solidarity of all who live beneath the human condition.

(Off to look for the cat, potentially save her from another cat making noise somewhere along a fence, nervous now that she won't come back in time to be taken in to the vet for a shot.)

Where was I? Speaking perhaps of finishing things and how some of us are never good at that, as if they lived in a land where things were completely open-ended...  the habit of constantly shaping, constantly creating something you don't know the shape of but knowing how to construct (or feeling a biding need to flesh something out, or get something down for the purposes of psychological understanding.)   But it's not such a great habit as far as certain practical aspects of life.  There are times when you have to nail things down.  There are times when you must move in a relationship, because that particular time is, or may quite well be, the time to make a choice, or the last chance to achieve, the last chance to open up a door that allows a discussion, the last chance to have, say, a fruitful career with retirement benefits, before it all becomes too late.  It was either as if it wasn't patterned into some people's DNA, or maybe they just never passed, through rites, from youth into adulthood, from fixation and emotional attachments to straight independence.

(A shower to calm the nerves, and then the cat comes back to my relief.  Don't want to miss the vet appointment.)

If nature made the male of the species muscularly relaxed in the state of arousal, is the same true for the female, or is it apparently the opposite, that she is relaxed when not in the state of arousal, thus accounting  for a certain excitability as if to protect her own arousal?  Or not?  Maybe all can agree that writing out all the nervous thoughts in one's own head while heightening certain tensions might be ultimately relaxing, as when you've written down what you have in a day, freeing up the writing for other tasks.  Instincts, an organic component of life that must be obeyed.  Yet, you can still want to shout at yourself, 'what's the bloody point of all this writing anyway?!'

Conrad had written his first, Almayer's Folly, referencing his own travels, not usually included in the canon, and now he feels himself at a crossroads, maybe thinking to himself, what an awful failure, why did I bother, and someone says to him, tells him, 'why don't you write another.'  A word of clarity coming from a decent and respectable, gentle and encouraging friend, providing a voice that even Conrad's inner Conrad wasn't so ready to allow through its own clenched teeth, see with his own wincing eyes or take into his own perturbed stomach, the thought.  He might have muttered, as if seeing a tree were about to fall on him.

What does one do with time?  Get a new haircut?  Apply for a job, go back to school, become a full Buddhist?  Acknowledge the awkwardness of getting back to the strange sort of leisure that leads you to write, after a four night work week (not so bad) of physical movement?  Seek out a few healthy activities, yoga, bike ride, walk in the woods, find a book?  Drink more green tea?  Do the laundry?  Try not to fantasize about members of the opposite sex?  People are sitting in offices doing productive things, and what are you doing, not-so-young-anymore man?  Try transcribing that dream in which you were, even in the dream, inadequate about making adult choices, confused about finding a responsible hotel accommodation given one's means as you traveled back to a certain town but fitting into the dream a young woman who came into life since then in the course of your wandering years?

"Life is good," a friend emails me, referring to her own.  And then she adds a refrain as a general note. "Life is good, Ted, enjoy it."  Hmmm.

The cat is back from the vet's.  The vet couldn't be better, or kinder, about providing medical care at this stage of the cat's cancerous growth of the rectum area.  She had her shot of prednisone, I carried her back in the old wooden toolbox/lobster trap cat carrier, she has eaten for the second time and licks now her chops and begins to clean herself, licking her mitt, rubbing it across her brow.  Since the last, there are more dishes, and they are done, down to the silverware left over from the last foray.  A phone call to mom, the planting of some tomato seeds.  Cats have to eat every single day, come to find out from Dr. Drummond (an awesome guy.)  They do not have the fat reserves dogs do.  A cat gets stuck in a garage for forty-eight hours, unable to eat, it will sustain liver damage.  I'd like to ask the vet how the bigger ancestors survive out in the wild, but the thought slips my mind.  No wonder the little things are so intent on being fed in the morning first thing.

I have to think that an artist has a way of seeing things in terms of a very long vision.  The artist sees the detail of one day and senses somehow that detail will fit in to a very long story.  The story will eventually be edited so that it won't seem so long, and the story will come out with a natural beginning, middle and end, an arc, just so.  I don't think it's the 'tension' thing that makes the story go along, because the story goes on by itself organically.  Maybe the story if you could take in its whole doesn't really have a particular beginning other than birth and a particular ending other than death, though we could usefully take a particular slice from it, a couple of years, a part of it, and find a satisfying meaning, the sense of something whole within.  And perhaps it is, that one slice of that whole life has basically the same meaning as any other you might take.  Beneath the picture of that larger understanding of life, maybe you find a better way to focus on or understand a particular moment of life, and in doing so not feel so bad about it, but understand it rather.

Joseph Campbell has a nice passage in his The Hero of a Thousand Faces about Job.  Job, heroically, is able, is allowed, to gain a finer higher conception of God and the nature of reality, greater than that of his peers who sit down with him and say, 'hmm, you must have done something sinful,' applying the familiar logic, though Job knows in his heart that he has done nothing but just things.  Hearing, finally, the voice of God, Job is given to a better understanding.  Of course, it doesn't come easily, in just any old way, no.  And it sets Job apart, and makes his part of the story worth sticking into the Bible at a sort of crucial moment in the developing revelation.  Job is drawn into focus, along with all his woes, and all his myriad woes are transformed into a significant part of the great legend of humanity figuring out life.  A sacrifice, as it were, transformed.

I go for a walk at dusk, again, across the Massachusetts Avenue bridge and down into the woods and along the stream.  Departing from my usual route I go upstream rather than downstream, which is very pleasant in the light, the stream running below in the bare sandy banks beneath beech trees and poplar, to where I can cross a small footbridge to walk along the other side of Rock Creek, herons down in the stream, rising from it as runners pass.  It is a wonderful feeling to walk along with the creek below on my right heading underneath the bridge rising great with ivy climbing heavily up on either side of its arch.  It is easy to imagine the form of Roman ruins even as the parkway and the great arching aqueduct-like bridges are still being used quite steadily in the empire we live in today.

I walk along, the herons, little blues and great blues, rise and off into tree tops, the traffic fades, the stream runs with its pleasant sound of water over rocks, here and there a deeper stream.  Life, it seems to me, can indeed be about these moments where we are discovering who we are, through echoes and rediscovery, in the imaginative ability to summon a sense of someone like, let's say, being here in Washington, a President Lincoln or Kennedy, as if one heard their voices from within, in some form of Yeats mysticism of the dead being 'thrust back into the human mind again.'

By the time I've walked on toward the river under two more bridges and past other structures evoking ruins slowly taken back by fecund nature and night sounds and vegetation, down to P Street and back over that bridge back toward Dupont Circle, then slowly back up the hill, I am certain that the people out and about in society necessarily by their involvement in it can not understand something very important, something that I will somehow try to put into words when I get home after the freedom of my walk.

Life is about learning who you are.   Life is about seeing that you are indeed in a situation like Job's, heavy and lamenting, but then being awoken to the fact of the Divine that is divine and has its own way, such that the lamenting is completely transformed, into something almost gentle and understanding as the stream beside a path.

Epiphanies do not come when you are involved with the crowd.  They happen when you are alone.  Emily Dickinson knew this.  In his own way, Shane MacGowan.  And probably someone like Beethoven.  To be a genius you have to be an idiot.  That's the funny thing.  Perhaps, one day, the species will evolve to better understand that, to allow and accept artists more on their own vulnerable quiet terms.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

When I get to the end of my barman work week, I take myself out for a walk.  I cross the bridge past the mosque and walk down a grassy hill beneath a grove, down past the embassy residences and into the forests of Rock Creek Park.  It's cooler down here, and it feels like stepping back in time.

Bullied by all the vanities and the drinkers, having busted my ass to make it happen, ends of weeks spent exhausted, prone on the couch weary and hungover from the inevitably of joining in with what you can't beat, I go for my walk, and think sometimes what this city would be like if the human activity would recede and the forest take her back.  I sit on rocks overlooking the stream, as if dumbfounded by the week  and how far it took me away from a considered life of letters, taking shelter in the jungly majesty of nature and man's basic loneliness in the world.  I like it by the stream, balanced on rocks, comfortable furniture.

I think of Kerouac sometimes, poor old ruined Kerouac, but before all that his gentle life he wanted away from the crazy excitements he chronicled in order to find a place in the economic world, the time in North Carolina, living with his sister, reading and thinking Buddhist thoughts and being, as he put it, St. Jack of the Dogs.  And I think of the things that he was susceptible to.  Poor old unemployable Kerouac who never the less worked quite hard and a long time at the very dangerous job of being a railroad brakeman.

Inevitably I am dragged back to the city, called by hunger, to go amongst all the people who are happy with the city and themselves on a warm moonlit Thursday night, in synch with the world.  Places are crowded.  I go sit on a park bench and write the last of my thoughts of the day before going to the tea house just before it closes to order carry-out, then going home to my cat who has cancer.

Poor Kerouac, who fell into the role of a kind of priest father accompanying all the wayward, conducting the great body of mythos in his work, not unlike Whitman, falling into the role because of his literary and spiritual interests, leaving him amongst the outsiders of society looking unconsciously for their own mythic understandings...  the unfortunate side-effects being the excesses, the unnecessary comforts of the lost, ultimately his own slow but massive alcoholism...  clear in his moments as when he wrote, "I think of Dean Moriarty... I think of Dean Moriarty," finding a way to express things in the most final way we humans have, in the ancient but abiding myths of passage as a Joseph Campbell would present to us in lieu of their active presence in our lives today.

Whitman attended the sick, the wounded, the grievously wounded, losers in the economic battle of the great civil war, therein finding a way to express the ideals of Christianity.   So, too, would Kerouac, almost  a hundred years later, express forms of spiritual ideal in the company of economic losers and outcasts, finding himself a part of them.  Twain himself--a writer can hardly avoid it--would as well fall in with entertainingly covering the world of outsiders on journeys encountering the hypocrisies of accepted society as if they were the modern equivalent of the trials of Odysseus, as well bringing us a sense of myth and ritual.  They are three writers essential to American Literature.