Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The mystery of creativity...  Is it like wine?  In France, vines grow.  No irrigation, only in extremes, by AOC law.  Creating an artificial environment, the wine, high in alcohol, big, fruit bomb, is still wine, but it's odd, less inclined to speak of the subtleties of where it came from, the evocation of the terroir, the play of it all, the unobtrusive wine maker who tends the vines, doesn't get in the way, lets gravity and natural yeasts do their trick...

Okay, one writer might have better stories, be arguably better travelled, more experienced, a real go getter, a prodigious mind, but will it be any better, any deeper, any more human or of the human condition?  Yes, sure, there is craft, just as in making wine.   But the quality of transformation, of water made into wine, is the life blood of literature.  The assessment of a situation through a deeper longer lens...  Dostoevsky suddenly pulls back, as he's been inclined to earlier ond telling the story of Alyosha, and gives us the Grand Inquisitor passage, the old Inquisitor being the embodiment of 'the letter killeth,' Christ silent, under lock and key, defending himself only through a kiss...  It puts the meaning of the usual stuff of novels, money, passion, murder, trials, into a whole new light, by which the storyteller can, in a way, sit back and let the story happen.  And maybe it suggests that we all are prone to that Christian situation, of being accused, accused by the great sticklers of societal rules and propriety, accused of...  what?  Not being clever enough?  Being without enough means to keep up?  Of being too passive?  The Grand Inquisitor punishes, gleefully, and the Christian spirit quietly suffers under lock and key.  (The book presents us with this great wild impossible passivity, on the part of Christ himself, of course--as a counter possibility to much of what organized humanity is up to--and if we, as readers, do not take this passivity in, then there is a lot of the book, the plot, the characters that we simply will not get.  It's an essential flavor, in keeping the 'sudden flooding wind' in the storyteller's preface.)  The story, the nuts and bolts, is transformed, into soulful substance to be held to the light to go with our daily bread, a rainbow's dance when sun meets a passing heavy rain.

Dostoevsky doesn't ask too much of us.  The passage is a creation of Ivan, the skeptic, relayed on to us by the narrator as the words out of a certain character.   The author is not suddenly turning everyone into suffering Christs and saints unfairly bearing the burden of judgmental self-interested humanity.

Updike, I suppose, is far more realistic, with less high expectation, and gives us little incremental human awakenings, like that of the kid walking out of the A&P in a pique of solidarity with girls in swimsuits (though we don't know where this will lead him), or the young husband feeling, typically, desire with a woman different than his pregnant wife in a room with angles of 'threatening verticality.'  Updike doesn't go as deep as to suggest Christ in his canvas.  And this suits him, the kind of wine he is making.

But there is Dostoevsky, asking us to keep the deeper stuff in at least the backs of our minds, as we read of Mitya and Alyosha and precocious school children, as we muddle on in our own lives.  It is said he wrote that book out of a desire to make propaganda for a renewed spiritual life in Russia, but somehow I don't blame him for doing so, as he touches upon some issues that other writers would find wayyy too hot to handle, wayyy too ambitious.

It's as if Dostoevsky is asking us, what is this sadness that comes over us, when our spirit, or some fine thing within us, is being neglected, swept under the rug...

As with wine, a great book relaxes, makes us feel better.

It's not easy, to just be a writer.  Updike seems to be in balance, a perfect terroir for what he writes about, the right intelligence, clever, with craft, a great story teller.  One thinks of his sex scenes.  He is, of course, different than Dostoevsky, who likes comes from the perfect terroir for what he writes about, the right sort of inner conflicts, the personal history.  It's as if the expression is all there, inherent in the vine, and all that has to happen is the writing itself.  Is the writing abstract, unconnected, springing from a foreign imagination?

How does weather for vines, growing conditions, translate over upon the human, a writer being an expression, outward, brought forth, of the thinking creature, who does so much through thoughts and words.  What kinds of catastrophes and blights, along with the sun, the gentle breeze to keep the bugs off, the cool night, what kind of maturity is necessary?  Old vines, poor soil, deep roots, the right exposure... and anything can go wrong.  A hand picking of each grape at optimal ripeness, at just the right time for the tannins, which have risen within the plant to protect itself and its tempting fruit to invaders...  And no, don't put it all in soulless hygenic stainless steel tanks out of which all wine comes out tasting the same...  Let gravity, let old wood, let the character of the cellar sink in as thing happen, as nature and the moon stirs the pot...

It's not a bad thing for a writer to tell the story of becoming, being a writer.  Just as a wine from one place should have that unique character individual to it, say, Puligny Montrachet as opposed to Meursault.   Hemingway is telling that story, and of course he had the confidence to know it all along, that he was a writer, becoming one, sustaining it.  And so his stories acknowledge defeat, destruction or being broken but not defeated, stuff like that, as a shier writer, less certain, might more ease into it, a more sustained thing, an organic cycle, to put into terms the stuff one goes through, the feelings of low and anxious things, along with the rest.  The obligation is the same, to write, to tell the story of how it happens.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Memorial Day cook-out's left me in a mood.  Over at my brother's house I feel a bit like a walking-disaster-area.  The smoke alarm goes off when I cook a burger.  The dog seems confused by my throwing the ball for a little bit then heading back inside.  There are no onions here, only small amounts of designer olive oil.  I brought my own rice and quinoa, spinach.  Don't like his California wine, preferring simple country wines, Languedoc.  Sausages for breakfast in the iron skillet, to let settle, then get out the Windex for the droplets of grease along the stove counter.  Boil water to pour and swirl in the cast iron pan, then wipe with a paper towel.  Throw the ball a few more times to the dog, careful to throw it so that she won't rip the lawn up with a lunge.  I cook in batches, so there will be something to eat later on, a sandwich to warm up in the stove at work at the end of the night.

The voice of Larkin echoes in the head, 'think of being them.'  That's the task of mornings, to turn over failures, it seems.  The day gets better as you go on.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Life seems to lack purpose
as I dog sit over at my brother's house.
Out of boredom I pick up magnolia leaves
from the square of lawn in the back.
The leaves are heavy, leathery,
thick, as if made of rubber,
impeding the grass in its greenness.
The dog wants the ball thrown.
Shall I go and water the lilies out front?
Ten minutes every other day.
A glance traded with a neighbor houses away,
a thin blond woman packing a red cooler
for a day somewhere
as I pick up a stranger's dog poop,
day old, dried, from the sidewalk.
The street is quiet.
I've seen her on TV.
This is Washington, DC.

I'll go back over to my place, then shower and shave,
fold a shirt, make a sandwich, for the shift tonight.
Go back and feed the dog, then go to work,
and tomorrow is Memorial Day.
The night, who knows, it could get busy,
with tourists, people off their schedules.
The pollen is high, so I stay in.
I saute some chard from last weeks farmer's market,
not bothering to trim the stalks.
It ends up very bitter,
tasting like poison,
and I throw it promptly away.

Back over at my workshop, my studio,
where I live, and get nothing done,
life's different.  No dog.
I don't travel far.
I'm not doing anything with my life.
I have strange energy and will,
but don't know what to do with it
except worry.
You discover you're an artist,
when you've narrowed down the self.
But still, you wish there was a girl to paint,
to have her model, life, in front of you.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Mom sends me Jude the Obscure, has me go down to Kramerbooks on Dupont to pick it up.  Guy with the cool haircut, when I explain, 'My mom has bought me a copy of Jude...' says calmly, without any hint of 'pain in the ass,' 'if a book is on hold it's over at the other register,' 'okay, thanks a lot.'  He must recognize me.  I try to tip the other guy with the two dollar bill that he himself gave me when I came in to break a five so I could tip a street musician.  "You never know when you may need it," he tells me.  "Well, it must be my lucky dollar because I got it here."  I pay for the other book, Caesar's Gallic Wars, also a Penguin Classic, like the Hardy.  It's a book I've never read.  Shame on me for not taking 19th Century Novels with Prof. G. Armour Craig...

Literature is the only thing that saves us.  I think that's going on behind the lines of Larkin somehow, indirectly, "nothing to love/ or link with," about his bachelor life.  Like other literary chaps he hasn't been uncomplicated enough to be straight about showing the girl he loves how he loves her and how he's going to take care of everything.  Does the writer have, if you will, a feminine side, a side similarly in touch with nature, less force of the Ego's illusions, too much so that he does not properly show more than appreciation?  Too busy being, not enough 'wanting to be with her, with her being her, not you so much, because you've got to take care of her, so that she can be her.'  Don't f up like Ted Hughes did, leaving her alone, the winter cold, he having been with another woman, caught at it.

There is an event up at Amherst coming, a celebration of 374 years of teaching English at the college.  It would be good to go, just to be part of that.  At least one should contribute a remembrance, a note, maybe some form of crude literary piece about the education one received, looking back on it.

Jude, from reading only the first few chapters, and the quick synopsis from Wikipedia, whom we first encounter as a boy, is looking toward the Oxford/Cambridge type town of Christminster, where one day he will be employed as a stone mason.  He dreams of a university education, of donning the gown. Things befall him.  The putting at arm's length of society and poverty itself 'threaten to ruin him,' as the book's back cover explains.  But he is a reverent kid, with his eyes of a poet, and, anticipating a later poem of Hardy's feeds extra grain to the birds, and gets in serious trouble for it with the old kingpin farmer.

I guess it's easy enough to identify, for most of us, taking a look at our employment situations, and perhaps Larkin felt the same about being a librarian, as I might about serving French wine, not far away from simple work in stone, which, one supposes, is less than gentlemanly work, though it still asks of one to be, in another sense of the term, a gentle man.  As Christ is a gentle man.

And this is the rub.  "The letter killeth."  Not letter in the literary sense, but in the sense of strict enforcement of the letter of the Law, that embodiment of the society's great Ego.  The letter kills the imagination, the creativity, the participation, the great equality, the great decency.

My take on it, is that the literary life somehow makes up for sins, for your bunglings with the girl who came along then, for your bunglings now of being unable to do more than barely provide for your own belly.  And, I suppose, for those well-educated, given a great start at having a decent life, this weighs heavy, that you've let it down in some ways, maybe were just too shy...

But if you try, or tried, at least if you tried, there is something inherently redeeming in your own humble literary efforts, even if they aren't up to the professional stuff of the day with its clever dialog and psychological character' through-lines, with the tension of conflict keeping the eye.  To which I secretly say, 'hasn't anyone ever looked at a painting?'  The eye enjoys a painting, and makes all the meaning it needs to, and simply enjoys the view.  Sure, the painting must have its own craft, but, a little God's light on a tree in a lonely forest, a cabin, a steam, boom, like the guy with the 'fro on late PBS, you got me.

Think of poor Jude.  His heart's in the right place.  And put aside, by the way, the dreary ending; don't be negative about emulating him.

Or is that Jesus speaking, out of an ideal world, in a world where one does have to follow the strict letter of the law, in academia, in the literary world, in law, business, medicine, well, everything...

I like the literary life of barbershops, maybe of bars, if bars weren't immediately associated with work.

Walking the dog, there are a couple of choices.  My brother:  take her down to that new park by the river.  My own instinct:  take her to the woods, away from built up stuff and pavement, to fields, to forest, to dirt paths uneven, leading along the stream down to the creek.

The NY Times Travel, Footsteps, takes us to Pennsylvania, the Brandywine Valley, "In Pennsylvania, Exploring Wyeth's World," by Geraldine Fabrikant, published May 24, 2013.  Within is interesting commentary about how Andrew Wyeth felt he travelled quite well enough in familiar surroundings, one local hill being a thousand others.  He was very secretive about where he was going when he headed out of the house to work.  It seems to make a lot of sense, the ecology of an artist.

Friday, May 24, 2013

I was depressed, that year, I suppose,
when William H. Pritchard
brought in
Frank Kermode.
At the Whole Foods today, after my haircut at Carl's Barber Shop (an institution, and a place that, happily, does not change) down near 14th and P, a diminutive woman, not young, pulled up behind he in her electric wheelchair.  She is small, her joints deformed, her short legs splayed out at the ankle, soft high top sneakers with velcro bands instead of laces, light vaguely orange ginger hair, a bright smile, glasses--she is reclined somewhat, looking up, a small person--wearing a snazzy brimmed hat, a blazer to match.  She looks up, and I hear her say something indistinctly.  "Let me help you with your groceries," I say, and pick up her items from the flat well of the wheelchair below her legs.  "I'm eating healthy."  "You are eating healthy," I say, gathering a piece of fish wrapped in plastic in a bag of crushed ice.  Some tortillas, a package of tofurkey sausages, a small plastic jug of milk, a vegetable, a few other healthy things, and then she hands me a little bag of two cookies.  "Well, she says, as long as I eat two healthy things a day..."  referring to the guilty pleasure of molasses cookie.  But they have ginger and flax in them, so I can say, "But ginger is very good for you.  Anti-inflammatory, great for the joints."  "Really."  She explains the probiotic benefit of buttermilk, the closest thing to something they used to have down south, starts with a hard 'C', or K, sound, she explains.  Good for your immune system.  "Sealtest, I like the brand.  It's an old Southern brand, been around a long long time."  "I know.  Good ice cream," I say, thinking back to elementary school forty years ago.  And so, in a place full of pretty girls, capable women in professional clothes and yoga gear, as I get ready to go through the checkout line, after the lady, I have a new friend, and this is good.  "How's that Ezekial bread," she asks.  "It's pretty good, actually."  I explain to her the blood type philosophy behind it, to avoid things that cause a person with type O to have inflamed joints and bowels.  "I've had rheumatoid arthritis since I was five," she explains.  "Do you know what your blood type is?" "Well, I'm going to the doctor's next week, so I'll ask him."  "Let me know," and I get her email before she goes, and we wish each other a Happy Memorial Day.  By the time I'm through loading everything up, stocking for my stay dogwatching for my brother, she has rolled on, stylishly.  We shook hands, or rather she extended a bent wrist and I took it my hand and we smiled at each other.

I wonder how many other writers have fallen into a trap of low-self esteem and habit of negative feelings of the kind that can cause a tendency to escape in addictive behavior rather than dealing.  There are many probably, with bright literary minds and great educations, maybe who feel themselves less inclined, whether its true or not, to go into an academic line, the research end, the publishing, the dotting the "I"s and crossing the "T"s.  Many of them probably, well, must work at something, and that something may be little more than something which too keeps their levels of self-esteem low, as if they deserved no company, less moral support, and maybe they even might feel they don't deserve to write at all, as is good for them.  What happens to such people?  Do the things which increased and sustained the lack of self-esteem that most of everyone else seems to enjoy stay with them, continue to drag on them, remain in their own language personal failings, mistakes, things that will haunt them the remainder of life?

I make a big deal out of getting a hair cut.  It's crosstown, got to get there, before it gets busy.  My best friend Dan, of Good Wood, hooked me up.  "Go in and say, 'high and tight,' and they'll take care of  you.'" Lovely patina on the place, chairs to sit in, looking across at the barber chairs.  Talk, good talk, the news on the TV prompting discussion, all very intelligent.  Strange local murder with a hatchet, and then a fellow remembering a terrible murder in Georgetown not far from where I work, a mugging, victims do all they're told to, human rights lawyer...  I almost contribute, 'oh, yeah, that's near the restaurant I work at.'  But, I'm practicing, and this is a fresh world, a good world, and now I see it from the other perspective, not the host, but the visitor.  Check out the grace with which men talk to each other.  Careful grooming, everyone a handsome guy in good shape if not great shape, healthiness lingering at the edges, a kind of lift yourself barbell, a scale, thoughtful pictures of Obama just like those soulful pictures of Jack and Bobby revealing them as the soulful thoughtful men they were.  Guys getting their hair cut, groomed, buzzed, shaved, with far more cooler eyewear than mine.  It's not even noon, early for me, and the air is fresh, cool.

It's the boss who cuts my hair.  "Whatever you think," I tell him.  "The last cut was great.  Should I go shorter, more athletic?"  And he listens and responds, "Okay.  If it's not, we'll take more off."  Totally nice.  TV in background, not blaring.  We had all chuckled over The Price is Right, and guess what, the guy, who'd said his sons told him, Daddy win a truck, guesses low on the black pickup, from what we all think, at $27,500, but guess what--he's only off by a thousand, and he wins.  Truck looked tricked out, dude.  But now we see, it's not the $45, 000 double cab, and the rims are the base sticker price ones.

"Rolling thunder," the male TV voice mentions.  Yes, Memorial Day, bikes.  Harleys coming in on 50, New York Ave.  "I used to tend bar next to a strip joint," I say, as the barber takes the clean and liberating buzzes over the back of my head, liberating the back of the egg from comb-over length locks.  "Memorial weekend?  Chill the Bud," I say, and this is true.  No one says too much.  Maybe a nod, or a yes.  "Oh, man, I've hit a clinker," I think to myself.  Not a good idea, maybe? to bring up fat white dudes full of them macho selves... but yeah, I waited on them, and I  hope that comes across.  "Chill the Bud."  Practicality.  Then they'll go away.

Yes, it's nice being on the other side, relaxing, refreshing, a learning experience.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

"Eh, I'm an old man, so don't listen to me anyway.

"We all watch the same television, eat the same things, use the same phrases when we talk, have the same ideas for vacations and most everything else.  The ego of a city, the martini, the big wines, sauvignon blanc for the wives...  The same conversations, the same laughs, all as if we had invented it ourselves.  You get tired serving all that, making it reappear every day, feeding the big egos of DC egos in all their varieties...  the amorphous urban and Euro-trash of clubs on Connecticut Avenue... all that sad stuff, Mara, suffering, trying to cure their suffering through more poison...

"Poor shy Hemingway moved to Paris, where they accepted artistes and flaneurs, creative wine bibbers not adding much but by spending in cafes.  Perhaps he identified with the waiters as much as anyone else.

"Oh, I'm an old man.  Don't listen to me.

"We don't choose to be the strange saints we are, we're just made that way.  And I am for the 'holiness' of the individual, someone who gets the human condition, fallen people who can sing about the grit and alienation of a Saturday night.

"What's that line of MacGowan's...  'And the birds were whistling in the trees, where the winds were gently laughing, and I thought about a pair of brown eyes, that waited once for me,' and this is when he's drunk and down on a Saturday night from listening to some old bloke talk about the reality of war, and he remembers the natural part of the world that's even here in this city setting...

"I'd almost rather be that sort of down and out drunk thinking about it all, remembering the metaphors of nature, the things that save us in our fall...

"But people can't be that sensitive, generally, because that calls for someone to be very attuned, and this makes them shy and look weird to the rest.  They'd say, 'now, why the hell are you singing about the Old Main Drag, it's not that bad.'

"Well, maybe not shy and weird, just that when you make art you tend to be separated from the ego, the selfish view that you are an entity separate from the world, at battle with it.  Most artists and musicians, it doesn't occur to them to go build an oil pipeline.  Wood you use carefully and with great respect to build a musical instrument.  You--I know it sounds stereotypical but--you become attuned to nature, make scientific observations about life in all its forms, sense the intelligence behind it all.

"So art takes us back to nature and all the things we lose touch with.  And so I don't think we'll ever solve all the ecological disasters we're creating.  It will take some great change of attitude, child-like, perhaps, organic, acknowledging the soul in all things, the opposite of building military might.  Militarize and it takes over the soul, co-opts it with the genies of destruction.  Problem is, we all look around and say, 'oh, there are too many bad guys out there; you have to arm yourself...'  Kind of a shitty view on human nature.

"Saints, really, these are the only kinds of being who will save us from burning the planet...  They at least teach us an environmentally appropriate attitude.  It's not just 'go help lepers and poor people,' it's a show of respect to nature, the nature which created the world and all the living things in it.  The emphasis on good works is just a part of an ego-free attitude.  Not many, I suppose, are ready to take up that attitude because it equates to being defenseless, out of the cycle of the logic of self-preservation, an assumption that we can't trust anyone.

"And that's what art is, anyway, the leap, the trust in something beyond, a willingness and a desire to go for a walk in the woods and feed your subconscious.  As often happens when you're cooking;  you relax, you begin to combine ingredients, take tradition, discover it yourself like, how nice pesto is, or zucchini with tomato, onion, herbs, olive oil baked with a crusty grain like breadcrumb or quinoa.  And, strangely, enough, this is where we get our vitality, our vitamins from, fresh stuff from farmer's markets.  Yes, farming is an art, I'm sure.

"Art is tiring.  It takes a lot of energy, a willingness to step into something you're not sure about, a willingness to be wrong.  Perhaps it can be depressing, like when there is not sudden approval but just the same robotic response of cars on a road driving past you obliviously as you walk along with the radio blaring ego stuff.  But who knows, maybe the Universe is reaching out through you somehow, as it were part of the slow grind of the plates moving continents around, you just being on top, going along for the ride, but sensing the movement.  I mean, our senses are very subtle as far as their sensitivity...

"It takes a lot of faith.  Maybe that's the bottom line.  Faith is leading you somewhere, so that eventually by doing you will achieve some confidence in what you're doing.

"Yes, but I'm a folk artist.  I don't get paid for what I do, so I work here."

Friday, May 17, 2013

Too much energy is spent putting writing in boxes, I think anyway.

Writing is a reflection of deeper reality, of that which is everywhere and in everything, and you only need to bite off the piece sufficient unto the day.

...contrary to every book cover, promoting the story of the pages within as if it were a cure for a toothache and bad skin.  The cover promises certain standards, approved as a capable handling of a certain form without ambiguity.  (Because the book is seen as a product, bringing in money, the system of book reviewing also is a money making proposition, and the two feed off each other, enabling.)  "Joe" will travel, there will be tension, the reader's eye will want to follow the conflict, in the end a point will be revealed.

But that's not how life works.  Life is shifting sands ever shifting, changing minds, confusion, nature, never still for a moment, always in flux, like being water in a river, something somewhere in this universe we have collectively dreamed up from being living stardust, a bunch of atoms stuck together in  physical space.

Religious tales are at least an attempt at 'here is what we are, here is what this is all about,' though necessarily they are primitive and rely on magic tricks often enough, as if they felt a subconscious need to say 'wake up,' like a teacher in a post-lunch classroom on a hot day.  There is no real plot to religious stories.  Because they are truer to life they provide a gentle resting place for the mind, just as great poetry can do, asking as much as answering, summoning faith, as in Emily Dickinson's "I'm nobody!  Who are you?"

These stories are quiet, a Buddha posing, Madonna holding her child, a man spread on a cross revealing his deeper nature and glory, apostles with Jesus on a boat, a saint receiving a vision, like Eustace.  They are snapshots, revelations unto themselves, clean and pure, of the kinds of things we remember.

But to make too much out of a plot and the craft behind it objectifies 'the story' as if it were a desirable martini cocktail, a product based on 'what happens to so&so,' as the reader is manipulated into caring... when of course just by our nature caring (unless we are corrupted).  We all have power over words, even the purported 'dumbest,' 'the least of these.'  We can all take an image and run with it, inhabiting otherness.

A person looking down at a stream, that is enough for a story.

Writers far more clever and industrious than I tell stories, the kind that sell, pages of imaginative detail, entire operas...  the accepted form from out of the history of story written down.

But one should also recognize humility, that outer happenstances are of less importance, that a story should not call attention as much to the self, but to The Self we all, more or less, share.

Why pump my image out there, as if it meant more or was better, more beautiful than anyone else's?

We want, in the end, ourselves to be real--the great meditative impulse behind forms of expression.

Manifested, we go out into the world, to realize that we are ever returning.  When we tell a story about Job or Jonah or a prophet who speaks in parables about lost sheep and prodigal sons or read about the life of St. Francis we are engaged in the return, the return to being, 'thou art that which is.'

Stories cannot but help do that.

I'm Nobody! Who are you? (260)

by Emily Dickinson

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one's name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

The poem speaks of people's brilliance.  Of course, they are.  You can explicate truth as a college senior, not that you'll necessarily get a good grade from it or the perfect entree to a job.  (Why I believe in and stand by A Hero For Our Time.)  But no one recognizes it, or pays you for it, even though your utterance might deserve place in a fine museum.

Time, a function of the Universe, will tell, of course.

25 years spent in humility, I don't know, would that be warranted?  I don't know, maybe a token of distractedness just as much.  Maybe egotistical in its own way, too much thought put into it, too much nervous energy, when really, you just need to lean back and look up at the stars.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

He lay there on his back between the sheets with his arms folded across his chest like a dead knight, hands crossed palm downward, bare, the palm of left resting in the hairs of chest, the right hand on top of the left hand, the four fingers on each hand touching his skin.  Then he would turn over on his left side, to the bed's edge and the oxygen, his right hand palm down on the sheet, his left hand propped upward, fingers curled above the open palm barely brushing his lip.  He tried sleeping on his stomach, arm under the pillow, as if embracing something forgotten, head turned to the left, jaw deep with the pillow.  He would turn on his right side, his right fist against the stubble of his chin, thinker style, left arm draped naturally.

He wrote about things like onion sandwiches and coffee-according-to-Myers and beans heated over a campfire, small textural details, the things of regular life.  They were the few things, along with venturing out into the natural world, that helped him in the great unending battle with depression kept-at-bay that one day, one morning he would lose, after a long rich life, up in Idaho.  Often what you had to eat was the only thing to look forward to, so you made the best of the egg or whatever it was.  A small victory before sinking back.  The knowledge of wanting to do something, live somewhere with people he truly liked, but not finding it, nothing but a loneliness that made art private and ill formed.

After the week he didn't want to get up.  He got up, took the tea pot out of the fridge for some cold Moroccan Mint tea, then made a little roast beef sandwich on toasted Ezekial English Muffin with a slice of onion, ate it in careful bites, and went back to bed.  And he thought, perhaps all the while, of the time he'd had to borrow his father's station wagon to get back to a college homecoming weekend.  He went to see her, but when he'd called her that Friday night, not too late, after he'd gotten settled, she'd been very curt with him, and he had even ended up dead-pan laughing, 'ha ha,' into the phone.  "Who's this," she had said, very well, and she probably had a point.  The next day was sunny and bright, and the down at the football game he'd been talking to an acquaintance when she stepped into view, and his psychology had told him to slide in so that he wouldn't see her standing there with her head up, and then he even turned away and walked behind the stands to the far end of the playing field.  She even came down to sit on the grass at the end of the field, but his friends took him back behind a shack where they were smoking, and when he came back he felt stupid and dragged his feet in the cinder track, and when she got up, he didn't look up at her, and she walked past him and away.

He was smart enough to know, had already begun to see it, that steady pushes, didn't have to be anything brilliant, yielded results, and later he understood how perfectly obvious, how appropriate and necessary it had been for her to be mad at him over the initial phone call, and that he shouldn't have taken it as the slight he made it out to be.  And there was his dream, the blond sunlight, the fine Fall day at the old football field where they could sit and just have a nice chat, side by side, and he, not anyone else, had fucked it all up.  Even later that afternoon, back at his friend's room in the old frat house near the four corners at the top of the hill coming into town he had thrown up.  And it quickly became an irrevocable mistake, one he had never intended.  Perhaps the beer from the night before after the phone call had left him depressed, so that he saw things negatively.

Then, yes, things, after that had gone badly.  He kept remembering it all, and how none of it had been right.  And now that he wasn't moving forward and doing anything with his life, now she had a point, or it was as if she had seen something in him.  None of it made him feel any better about the whole thing, and whatever possibilities he had then, were slipping quickly away.  And it was as if, just as she had once said, 'get a life,' the bad things were coming true, at precisely the wrong time.  So, one night, when he called her, after a hard dull day waiting for life to happen working with a landscaper doing tree work on the main residential street in Waterville, a sprinkle of snow on the ground that morning, along with the golden light of morning and the crisp air a sense of not doing anything with his life, of course she said, 'oh, god,' and hung up, and he didn't call back.  Yeah, and anyway he never had that confident manner, so gentle, if that is the word, that he was apologetic, as if asking to be hung up on.

He thought of Agnes Von Kurowsky, couldn't forget the beauty of it all, the kiss, and like Chekhov's shy soldier, tied himself into a knot, didn't become a doctor or a scientist, but a traveller who wrote about his own shyness, as to slightly justify it.  Life was knocked off course, and he had to change, an adjustment that was somehow in keeping with his inner self, but a complete surprise, like it was for the German soldier getting shot just as he came over the stone wall in one of his stories.

No, kid, don't write about things.  That's just giving up, making things worse, probably.  Become a naturalist, go out for a walk and find the stream, where the herring are running now over the creekbed.  Watch the fish swim upstream in the current, flickering their tail fins.  And stay out of the wine.  It will just come round and bite you anyway.

It wasn't the past he had fucked up.  He had done that right, when you stopped and looked back on it.  There had even been some sort of inexplicable virtue, as if coming out of a folk song of an old old sort. It was just the present.  That was always the problem.  Looking back on it, he didn't even want to make too much of it, and had done his best, truly, to let it all go.  But there it was.  The meetings that should have been nice had all gone terribly, after the initial time, but in the present, what? like shouting matches unseen and unheard?  Why?  It occurred to him that there must be something wrong with him, personally, not anyone in his family, who all were great and talented, deep and kind, just himself, inexplicably, confused by time and weather, never in synch.

That depression of Hemingway's he used as a tool, sign of a daily need to pull out the crowbar lever and axis point, to pry, to dig up...  The most meaningful things he came up with were the images of himself as an artist at work, some of it direct, some of it indirect, like the portrait of the old fisherman.  This consciousness of a narrative voice within, needing to find and tell a story, is always there in him.  A man paints a picture of a cat, in doing so revealing his own nature as a painter, in doing so, praying--this is the story of Islands in the Stream.  The depression was a tool.  It kept him quiet enough to write, not mind the solitude, the work, recognize the need for quiet, and it also helped him see, turn on his inner vision to see the real stuff.  Maybe why he did not necessarily avoid depressing things, expose himself to all its forms, brave as he was.

After the Dear Ernest letter, explaining the Italian count and how their own relationship had been a passing youthful fancy, after that there was no contact, no letters between them.  They never spoke as old friends over the phone, and she was probably not a subject to bring up with him.  He used that part of himself, that time, almost defensively, as a way of protecting something.  He accepted his shyness, the strange character of his creative modes, just as Dostoevsky accepted, apparently, his own dislike of electric lights.  And she became woven into the background of his early short story collection and at least two novels, if not, in a way, all of them.

All of it seemed to redefine what it was to be an adult, a human, a person.  And more and more he found that life was far closer to Emily Dickinson's experience, a redefinition of the self, so that being on his own was normal, a way for him to attend to certain realistic things, making narrative art out of the little bits and pieces of life, a base all people could share in.

The problem in the popular image and understanding of Hemingway is viewing him as a layman, as far as his art goes, when he is of a certain church, a church of understanding reality.  He is too immediately constructed out of images of macho outdoorsmen, pompous bullfight aficionado, man of feasts and bars, when he is quieter and more thoughtful than all that.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A generation perdu...  lost.   I kept up at my job as a bartender, and inevitably, it seemed, my mind got duller, less confident with intellectual pursuits, caught between loneliness, working odd hours, a lack of conversation going beyond the basic rot about pretty girls, shop talk, the thought of getting a better more appropriate job, wishes for a social life, and even a family life, all of it going nowhere.  If you don't keep up at it, reading, writing, you fall into a disheartened spiral, depressed, not wanting to get up out of bed before you had to, stretches of work work work, having less faith in it, burned, wanting to go to grad school, but never making it happen, all the while plodding along.   Retirement... forget about it.  What hope had we?  No easy free ride through grad school, if we had known what we wanted, hadn't felt so down about everything when we left school that reading was a chore when we knew it shouldn't be.  Anyway, easy to miss the train.  A year goes by, then another, and you're still struggling along paying the rent.

So you sit down, and try to read a book on your own.  In doing so, putting off the worries, and only when the bulk of the household chores are done, the necessary groceries without which life isn't possible, the laundry, so to show up to work with a shirt to wear, keep the bathroom clean, the dishes not piled dirty in the sink.  And maybe you don't even have time to read, and what comes first is doing what I'm doing now, which is a necessary expression, an attempt to understand what's in the flow of deeper thoughts, thoughts that might give me guidance of some sort.

Showing up at Mother's Day, a lonesome middle aged bachelor, was not a joy.  The great dumbing down of everything...  I'm pumping out widgets in the form of a special four course menu.

Each year it gets worse, and you get stupider.  I once had great lectures about the opening of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, that part about the old carpenter, or about Kerouac, Big Sur, and once on a long car trip back to DC with my mom, as we came closer to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I reeled out my thoughts of how writers suffered and went to work everyday and even did dishonorable things like making their moms work jobs in shoe factories not for a future but because they had to write, to make sense of Eisenhower Era lulled worlds of clean squares, black and white, dedication to economic security, by venturing deeper into what the human mind often enough wonders about.

Long undisciplined lines of prose in need of an editor, but what can you do but try and get the thoughts down as they come.  And Kerouac is brave for finding some lasting settings for his narratives, hiking out west, climbing mountains, California, and to do it he had to suffer a lot of uncomfortable spots.  Still, he found out of the world just the kinds of places he needed to enter into a scholarly life pondering deeper meanings, from nights with Jazzmen blowing, to the woods outside his sister's house in Rocky Mt., NC, where he is St. Jack of the Dogs, to the Cascades where as a fire watcher he did headstands and pondered Buddha's void.  He also struck up camp by the sides of roads where he had to keep hidden to not be arrested, America, no more a place of open communal lands.

Anytime one sits down and writes like this, he feels like Rotarians will come and take him away, that his old Alma Mater, for which he cares deeply, will shake its communal head in disapproval, as if to say, 'what are you trying to do, son;  you're not helping anyone;  did we waste an education on you?'  And for you, personally, the old Alma Mater should have somehow been more help, kinder.

Self-help books will tell you it's all in your head, and I am susceptible to them.  They are seductive in their promotion of self-acceptance, their message to 'be positive (for a change, and maybe something good will come of it and you won't make yourself sick, like you're doing now.)'  No use being a literary bachelor, they tell me.  Get out and get a life.  And that I read them sometimes may well mean, I need to reignite the spark of fiction, of reading something, before I get any dumber and numbed down by routine.  If they teach hope, then I am for them.  We all have spiritual thirst, the need for a quest.

If you do find yourself in the miserable heartbreaking fate of being a confirmed barman, then the only thing you can do, as long as you can, is work in a special place where there is rubbing of elbows and intellectual talk, enough to allow for some semblance of growth, of belonging to community, that you are taken as more than a lackey gopher stuck behind the glass, to others a person who never did anything with his life.  A flaneur.

Yes, how did I get where I am, down and out by most people's count, such that I suffer from shame at the thought of reunions.  Where will I live when I am old, and with whom, in what kind of a situation?  But, alas, America is not the caller of shots anymore, no more healthy pensions, but a cannibalized turn.  No GI Bill for my generation, as there was for the generation that made the babies of the boom, my father going to grad school.  The legal field seemed cluttered even then to justify the big expense.

But I say to myself a lot, what if I had done something, just tried something, early, when doors were still open.  I had not the guts, or the energy, or I was just lazy.  One-way ticket to Palookaville, just as my brother had warned me.

There is still the Irish temperament in the genes.  Lawless, literary, one side a stickler for Catholic order and morality, the other healthily not fond of being part of someone else's empire, with Celtic charisma and joy for liberated moments of music, talk and drink.

If I'd write a musical about Shane MacGowan, the opening strains might be that old song, traditional, "Kitty."  A rebel song, a love song, a calling, a sense of the tragedy imposed by the British Empire, but yes, a calling, a reminder of the human voice, the need for song, sweet, sensitive, coping with the tragic.  "In a day, I'll be over the mountains, there'll be time enough left for to cry, so good night and God guard you forever, and write to me, won't you, good bye."  He was very good when he had it.

Most of us, I warrant, have to live with that odd sense, that wondering of what to do with our hours here on Earth.  Should I exercise, do yoga now, or read a book, or, what?  And the great 'what?' is very frustrating, when you see people set up for one thing, doing it, putting up with it, but then slowly having the vacations, the privileges that membership allows (if you play the game 'wisely'), a car, a house, a family of their own.  But, most of us, just trying to deal with this quite present, momentary, but permanent and building set-up awkward open space of great potential that exists in the current moment.  What to do with it?  Who really wants to share that 'feeling at-a-loss of what to do?  And yet, most of us can agree, we like to go hiking, get out in nature, maybe pitch a tent, something like that.

I remember Madam Korbonski.  The word 'stupid' was in her lexicon, and she said it with a grip of fervor upon it.  She once told me, in our late night "coffee" chats, ha ha ha, that she felt stupid if she drank alone.  In her high voice, almost at a whinny, with a little chuckle, and a quiet, 'oh my God' as if to admit that she must be a little crazy, she would tell stories, not give a shit what hour the clock said, and discuss quite clearly and well the stupidities and the wisdoms of mankind.  The poets and musicians were on the side of the wise.  Those enchanted with power were haunted by righteousness, and Homo Sovieticos could be described, to her taste, as 'slaves.'  In her presence, a good portion of the times I didn't feel like a complete idiot, but instead, initiated into a larger world of ideas, literature, an awareness of history and, even, useful forms of spirituality.  Stupid, that's what a lot of people who'd made their way to power could be.  Interestingly enough, she liked folk medicine, and avoided modern doctoring.

Why do human beings like to defy order, and be bad, get up in the middle of the night to do strange things like read and write, things done, really, just for the sensual pleasure of it, of inhabiting a moment,  of being free, free to think at least.  Let the prose come later, the polish of it I mean, first get the words out.  Unless we're read the Riot Act, we like staying up to late, eating at weird hours so as to make the drinking of wine complete and enjoyable, the appetite fulfilled.

The hard thing is keeping the faith in it, in not losing the possibility of the gift of writing, so that you can find an expression of it, as Joyce finds in various forms.  Reading Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man yields its benefits.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Definitely, a dreamer... that's what a novelist must be.  Able to handle things that don't make sense.  Again, respecting the form, the birth of the new...

Some things are called novels, and they are not new at all, but very old, and predictable, and people like them as distraction, and they sell.  That is one kind of 'novelist.'  Good as far as form, on plot tightness, on solving the crime, the crossword puzzle.  Examples abound.  But they are not, truly, novels, and might indeed do some disservice to the form.  But because such things as these, mysteries, courtroom thrillers, Vincent Flynn/Tom Clancy homeland security/Nelson DeMille society pieces, are taken, popularly, as successes of the novel, a certain view has taken over.   To restore a great respect from the true dream-like almost childish efforts, what can you do?  Flaubert, Quixote, lines from Yeats--

I have met them at close of day  
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey  
Eighteenth-century houses.

what else can cleanse the mind so that the real vibrations of a novel might come out, as they do in Kerouac's picaresques.    Even Hemingway is prone to let the novel down, though he tried to resurrect it, make a long short story technique into something more dreamlike, not his strength.  Kundera is the expert, and I honor him, for helping me, an honest blind clown trying to catch a rabbit, understand the form.

Who amongst us could write a novel?  Is it possible anymore?  This is why I don't mind 5 AM, the chirping of first birds.

Earlier this evening, I dreamt of low income housing for people like myself, an invasive proliferation of rats, my friends the cats I've always had in my family, old Muffler, the tiger tabby big old male, the shoot-outs outside in this poor neighborhood, my own restaurant friends involved in the struggle against rats and thugs.  There is a feminine spirit helping me, not remembered now.

No wonder he wrote at night, Dostoevsky,
as if by ignoring humanity he would then have
a better sense of it.

Friday, May 10, 2013

There are, perhaps, varieties of mental health, we could say.  What's healthy for one may be a bit different than what is for healthy for another.

That great moment in Twain, I think of.  Huck and Jim, separated in the great fog in the river's channels at nightfall, and miraculously finding each other the next day.  Huck plays a little trick, telling his friend it all must have been a dream, though he's given away by the litter of twigs and river detritus on his raft.  Jim:  There I was, most heartbroke, thinking I'd lost Huck, and then I find him...  and all you can think of is playing a trick on old Jim.

Varieties:  the poetic underachiever, the organized overachiever...  one finds health in poetry and long attempts at prose, the other in the advances in neurochemistry, but each seeking an understanding of where kindness and sympathy, decency, empathy and all that stuff comes from and constitutes...

The first day off of the week, I just sleep.  I may get up and blog some, but I wouldn't call that serious, more just an exercise, an attempt to get the guts back in track.  Blogging is not that serious, just sort of lazy writing, writing for the sake of getting back in the stream of things, of first acknowledging the benefits of psychological health that come by it.  And maybe sleep and prolonged napping are a part of that regeneration of wordy thoughts, poking out of the semi-sorry compost heap of the workweek.  Sleep on the couch while all the demons parade, of how you've not done enough in life to make for any kind of lasting security or professional existence counted on, all the neuroses of the world and people you know poking at you, such that the next day you wake in such a sorry and desperate state that you have no choice but to write, like you too were caught in the foggy Mississippi night, lost, and only through struggle of words could hope to get back to dry land.

The one who is poetic is ever accused of being disorganized, time spend usefully being financial reward for all we seem to know.  And yet, why apply the standards of the overachievers upon him?  He's not done anything wrong, except not be as happy and therefore as self-confident as he should be given his talents and the opportunities presented him in life, no?  It would seem racist, in a way, the overachiever shutting the door on him and his poetry.

Who knows why we inflict harm upon other beings.  Perhaps we're just doing so unconsciously, without thinking about it, without being in the other's persons shoes and feeling their wants and needs and the terms of how to approach them politely.  Distracted tom-foolery, probably does as much damage as anything, done without as much thought, without malicious intent, but enough to cause offenses.

It hurts to write, it does.  It's work.  It rises up above you, all you should do, and you can of course only take off a little piece of it to work on, and it's enough to put you back on the couch helpless discouraged and depressed enough to take another nap even as the world outside is filled up with golden sunshine, but you remember, 'this is what it's like,' so you head on.

Why is there pain in life?  Does it represent a kind of molting, changing out of an old skin in order to grow, that wings might come out and finally lift one up with all the built-up strength within, so that one would rise and look back with partially-hidden indigence at how ignored he was, forgotten.

Unfinished thought.

And heading off on an errand to the pharmacy, it occurs to me that you have to embrace a kind of insanity, low grade, harmless, maybe just "less sane than you'd otherwise be if you were taking a practical approach to life," if you are going to write.  And think of it, the first lines of poetry I read in college, with Benjamin DeMott, were the words of John Clare, who himself was bound for an institution.  It's a foray into nature, an expedition to catalog the variety of life, the peace of the natural world, an acceptance of wildness within, the creature life of the subconscious.  For most the tune of a city is the great show of sanity, the advice taken from fashion magazines of how to look, what to wear, how to talk, how to act, what to buy, and if you're not a part of that, a slippery slope to homelessness.  So, you'd have to be careful if you're going to set out to explore the workings of the mind, as they are natural, following their own rules, their own vitality and vigor.  These things too, one must obey, even if they aren't practical at all.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dostoevsky on HLN

I am reminded of the trial scenes of The Brothers Karamazov as I search to write something, begin a new novel perhaps, with the events of the Jodi Arias trial fresh in memory.  I watched, saw the grim accusatory faces seated in rows as the sex-tape was played, followed a skeleton gist of the trial that I had avoided, saw photos, watched the archived coverage to sample the general flavor, and then I turned away, not without some of it sticking to the curls of the intricate brain.  (Today I will light some incense.)

As I say, I had that sensation, Mitya at the trial.  Strange courtroom proceedings, foreign customs, the same righteous serious-about-the-law solemnity, strutting lawyers claiming to know everything, a path to truth.  You're reading The Brothers Karamazov, trying to follow along, and really, besides the Alyosha and the old Father Zossima spiritual stuff, not a whole lot of it makes sense to you, as if it were indeed The classic wandering Russian novel, a wall of verbage full of femme fatals, incomprehensible, hard to predict, hard to figure, 'why is this here?' with its relationships and plot turns.  And I think you even know, as you read, that Dimitri is being railroaded, but doesn't even care, being too involved with a certain kind of woman.  The whole thing, almost hallucinatory, or at the least, baffling, murky, and there's even this other brother, Ivan, the skeptic, who in his own feverish hallucinations dreams up the whole Grand Inquisitor thing, which is itself, haphazardly, as if the landing of a UFO in the midst of novel's plot (serialized, to keep the public interest up, with murder, lurid women, foolish people, humanity misbehaving over money and what-not) one of the greatest observations a novelist has ever made about moral 'realities and pieties,' i.e., it's all bullshit, as only a Russian can understand bullshit, except of course the essential Jesus himself, which one is able to grasp well enough.

CNN, a panel of mock jurors, is interviewed, freshly post the verdict, and a woman is saying, "I want her to fry, fry like that chicken I ate for dinner."  Really?  (Was she, too, constrained to follow the script that itself had become a runaway train constantly wrecking its way down the tracks in slow motion bit-by-bit horror?)

And it might even seem, if you were to be somewhat honest with yourself--'honesty,' hah!--that this one woman on the stand was herself a character worthy of putting into a Russian novel, or even left one with the impression that she was in fact several, almost countless numbers, of characters.  (Her drastically changing appearance cooperated.)  One does not want to really admit nor share too much of his own guesses, having spent so little time following the whole thing--even that sounds coy now--but it could seem that there was a foolish girl who had fallen in with a guy who seemed okay and upright, a Mormon, even, infallible, but who was the perfect utterly shallow make-a-sex-tape (extremely painful to listen to in all its stupidity) kind of a guy, who knew not love, nor spiritual love, but merely puerile porno as a relationship, to which poor girl was all too accommodating, or simply forced, hoping for a relationship with a successful guy.  Living in a porn culture, one is not being completely self-righteous in observing that, given the quick selfish pleasure video-game fix allowed by the digital age, that has made sex into, just that, a video game with a scorecard.  And here's this poor uncentered young woman completely adrift in it, reaching out to the vain picture of modern love, finding it empty, hair-coloring, the guy, the perfect inspirational business salesman, able to be shallow enough to talk the stupid banal talk, from what it would seem, with a perfect backstory.  A disease few, it would seem, are immune to as they conform to the flow of information that bestows status.

Who knows what happened.  I got out of it before forming much of an opinion, beyond that of finding the whole thing a perfect representation of modern times, the lack of morality, and the willingness to turn a blind eye to the words of Jesus himself before the sinful woman and her accusers, now a sort of inapplicable joke almost, 'judge not, lest ye be judged.'  Because we're going to judge, we must judge.  And it is, after all, the law, and you can't go around murdering people, of course.  Justice must play all stories out and attempt to get at the truth, and you can't be cynical about it and say it's all Kafkaesque.  (It is, unfortunately, easier to be negative, critical and accusatory when we try to make clinical sense out of stories, as if there can be no good intentions, or at least ones that don't pave the road to hell.)

If I remember, the condition of Ivan, best financially-situated of the brothers, worsens, and he, with little ceremony, dies.  Dimitri, the eldest, the passionate one, innocent of murder, is found guilty and sent off to hard labor, the bright side being that he will be spiritually-aided (and hopefully made okay) by the quiet hero of the novel, youngest brother and monk, Alyosha.  And all the while, it is this queer idiot sort of handy man of the wicked cruel old man with the money and father of all three, Smerdyakov-- a certain suggestive onomotopoeia to the name-- and one should have been been suspicious about the novelist when he throws in a chapter strangely entitled, "Smerdyakov, with a guitar."  (To which our minds have to stop, take pause, and wonder, why this pointless actionless moment, but Dostoevsky so clever and so great a dreamer of a novelist, with such great faith in the form, such that that faith is astounding and beautiful, that we can't initially see this, suddenly, as a possible suspect and plot denouement ...) Smerdyakov himself has gotten the fever of consumption, and probably would be hardly coherent anyway, but he admits, it was he, with the blunt instrument, bloody and recovered from the crime scene, who did it, even to protect everyone, including Dimitri, ironically.  Is it Alyosha who hears his confession?  I forget.  It is all post-trial, and there's nothing anyone can do about it anyway, as we all begin to drift away, not quite knowing yet, again having no clue, how this all might end, much like life itself.  (This another hint of Dostoevsky's musical genius.)

As a measure of satisfaction, the great moment at the end, that is a reaffirmation of the Christian spirit that itself almost suffered hallucination and imprisonment under some venemous creep of an Archbishop Inquisitor, Christ told that he is meaningless and should simply go away and not mess with the perfect system humanity has figured out quite on its own, thank you very much, Alyosha and the schoolboys, coming to the deathbed of the boy they have previously tormented, now peace made, (through, of all things, a stray dog.)  The little boy then dies, and we're left outside the churchyard after the burial (the poor father sobbing, sobbing), and Alyosha, a pure person, from back in that time we didn't need to think cynical thoughts all the time, gently marshals the boys, his 'little chickens' together, and the boys go, right at the end of, what?, eight hundred and forty pages, "Hurrah for Karamazov."  And after all that, after how many pages of strangeness, facts, legality, characters, it's actually quite touching, as if you yourself was just about to be released from prison for a crime you didn't commit, touching indeed.  That's what you're left with, this little 'hurrah,' and it means all the world.  And it is as if we are all learners, like children again, and we are here at the moment where, from previous lifetimes and understandings, we have already mature knowledge and wisdom, but yet we are learning something new and fresh, reaching that fine point we knew we were somehow always reaching for.  We have, despite all, learned something new and fresh.  (Do we become more adult, or more open, childlike learners--one study question.)

But of course, real life is stranger than fiction, and hard to make sense of.

Maybe novelists aren't so bad after all.

And, as a postscript, after all this great lack of faith in prose and imagination that such a trial and cultural phenomenon represents, unable to extract a larger lesson from the puerility of behavior, unable to find a sensitivity, such that no one stood up for any sensitivity, any sympathy, any Mother Theresa feeling for the lepers, the sick, the dying sensualists, just a blind glassy screen on the television to watch it all, a willingness to hype, it seems plain.  Of course, who wants to understand, who really cares, about such people?  Television reveals no wish but to judge, a pundit poking up at every place to deliver an opinion.  The pleasure of skewering, as if one were, himself, perfect, moral, beyond reproach, immune to what all floats in our blood.  As was noted on Bill Moyers, all the public seems able to do, as in Boston, is to cheer "USA, USA," patriotism, pride in the police state, every criminal caught now a Bin Laden brought to justice.  Legalese, we are caught in legalese.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

"I guess it's easy to be negative, if you feel like making a point.  But, in doing so you have to be very careful, that you are acknowledging positive directions, changes to be made, toward good health.  Otherwise you're just recreating and sustaining a mode of thought which just brings more of the same unhappiness and lack of prosperity.  I guess that is a spiritual rule.  You just have to be careful."
The affirmation, the positive direction, the acceptance, it made sense to me that it came from reading Louse L. Hay, You Can Heal Your Life.  Wisdom comes from those attuned to nature.  (For males, ego often gets in the way.)  Love yourself, forgive, let go, just as I learned to accept people in my line of work then let them go off into the night, with a subtle air of forgiveness, though a deeply surprising thought when it occurred to me.  It made sudden sense to me, on this the Eve of Orthodox Easter, forgiveness being at the center of the Christian message to humanity.  I thought of all I'd distracted myself with, dwelling on the past and many other forms of unhealthy things, and read, and began work on living in the now.  And maybe that wasn't easy if I considered myself a writer in a particular way, a creature of remembrance of things past.  And I saw how I'd taken my problems as unsolvable ones locked in a past, down on myself for, say, the student I was at certain times, the company I kept, and how I did more of what other people wanted to do and less of what I wanted to do to the point of giving up control of my life's decisions.  I had become too much a mourner of paths open once,  not taken, now gone, like that song, "Days of Wine and Roses."  (And yet, this is exactly the place where poets bring in meaning, interpretation, finding an understanding.)

But in the large sense, we come here for a reason, to learn, eventually, all these things about how to live a better way, so to heal, and then, maybe to help others heal.  Maybe that was the story of a lot of admirable people, overcoming fear and distraction, finding a reason.  I needed, first and foremost, before anything else, forgive myself and accept the power to change worn patterns.  I was not being kind to myself, beating myself up and thereby allowing other people to do the same.  I think that somehow, while it might make little logical sense, Lincoln could identify, separating himself from his mind's habit of melancholy take, mastering himself to self-evident truth.

I thought of my job, how after a certain number of extra shifts I would get into a crazy pattern of being awake at night, completely alone, sleeping much of daylight away.  It helped to hear Daniel Day Lewis hint that one good reason for staying in character through the length of a project protected him from being pulled into the social life of a movie set with all its interesting people, that engagement being 'very draining.'  And that was what I was finding out, that it wasn't the duties of the job, but having to balance that with people's need for engagement, such that I couldn't walk past a table without them wanting to converse.  Multiply that, and drag it out over five or six hours, no wonder I was drained.  And somehow I knew within that something was being taken away, that I wasn't doing the things I knew somewhere within I should be doing.

I knew that I had been unhealthily dwelling a long long time on the past, too wrapped up, too identified with it, and I was, I suppose, slowly making myself sick sometimes, such that it took being sick to see it clearly.  Marking time, I felt burdened as a kid stuck in a marching band, unable to play his own music.

We're here for a reason, once we've learned, and it is our great task to find the reasons and explain the wisdom that comes out of them.

So, take a day off, a mental health day, Orthodox Easter, Christ is Risen.

Most importantly, love thyself.

Friday, May 3, 2013

"Think of being them," he writes, Philip Larkin, the poem, Toads Revisited, "turning over their failures by some bed of lobelias, nowhere to go, but indoors..."  I turn to YouTube, remembering it, as I watch late night Maryland Public Television, a show from the early nineties, "Literary Visions."  Half watching it, an invalid from tree pollen and a cold, I find myself seeing Benjamin DeMott speaking from his office, in Johnson Chapel, much as I remember it, stacks of books piled this way and that.  Thank you, Fran Dorn, and the Annenberg CPB Project.  My old teacher, now, seven years dead?

It seems, or is it me, a bit dated, this interest in reading and explicating poetry.  Life seems more a matter of staying employed.  What the banks are up to, what's going on in China...  The great golden calf, The Global Economy...  The environment, suffering with each blow.  What does a poem have to do with that?  And here is Larkin, on work itself.  "Give me your arm, old toad.  Help me (pause) down cemetery road," reading it himself on some old British documentary found on YouTube.

Poets need their jobs, lest they fall into the vacuum, take it all too seriously.  Time off, seems desirable, but all you manage is cooking rice and a vegetable, a wash of whites, work shirts to hang out of the dryer, a nap.  One is reminded of Lincoln's advice to a distant relative who asked for some help, to quit the drink, forgive yourself, and find steady, constant employment.

A meeting at work.  The French waiter had bitched to the chef in the midst of a Saturday night about an overcooked little iron dish of escargot.  The oven door, by this point has opened so often that it's hard to find an even temperature, an even cooking time.  "I can't go into the oven and cook the snails," the chef explains, and I smile, and I totally agree.  Finally, at the end of the meeting, I remind us all of the chef before our friend was chef, how this guy no one remembers spoke to people, the psychological atmosphere he created with his sneers about how he didn't care what we thought, us front of the house, servers.  I remember.  And for a time, the hot heads calm down, stop beating the issue like a dead horse.

The boss thanks me, as I put away a case of Pessac Leognan in the wine room shelves.  French himself, he knows the habit of loud argument.  Once he had a brilliant story of the car rental counter in Europe, noting that in America, everyone stays in line.

What will I do, at this stage of life, but work it out, basically doing more of the same, with the odd hours, the restlessness, the pleasure of having no boss breathing down your neck.  Have I made my choice, then to dig in, even as it's a life that admits no others.  Thursday night, I might have wanted to go check out some music, but once home, with groceries, the energies waned, into a retreat.

Why do I write this crap?  Because, as in Aubade, there is that fine moment we all get.  "I work all day and get half-drunk at night."

For some, that's the battle of the work week, the night shift pitching me forward into night itself, such that I know the morning light as the time to go to back to bed, having two naps earlier.  My body's clock, I suppose.

In actuality, we like advertising and advertisements.  We wouldn't know what to do without them.  We'd feel empty.  We crave them.  Try and go a minute without, and you'll feel lost.  So we allow the look at the latest email, "Two Days Only, Buy One Suit, Get Three Free."  Perhaps for the poetry of them as we shift either toward or away from sleep.  Calmed, as if by a drug.

But if you were to play the game in that email, and make yourself famous or important, then you are only buying in to something deeply fake about that which is most real, the true self.  You'd have to create an ego that took something unimportant seriously, like cupcakes.  Or war.

This is why I'm glad not to be proud of being an English major, and take it as a notch above or below the water's surface, unimportant stuff, except when it floods or when there is a drought.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

"Did you go the Correspondent's Dinner," I ask.

And yes, some people have.  Maybe back in the day.  It was all on closed circuit television, so you could go the particular parties there in the Hilton, and still know what was going on.  I was invited to one and there was William F. Buckley, and he was wearing this beautiful velour purple tuxedo, and he had the perfect velour slippers to go with the tux...

I get interrupted, and have to return to listening.

And ( of course ) someone comes along and scuffs his slipper, and well..

There was a big reaction on his part on behalf of justice.

I once, out of college and drifting, went to visit my brother in Boston.  I went out to the JFK Library.  Many reasons, many things to do.  Hemingway manuscripts--they let me take a peek at some scribblings vaguely related to later sketches, Islands in the Stream...  and of course the Jack and Bobby stuff.   Shuttle to the T, T to one place, switch to another line, and finally I got back to Harvard Square to meet my brother.  But a funny thing happened.  I'm walking up the street, and I see him come by, towards me on his Honda motorcycle, Thunder, with a look I later grasp the coldness of.  And I see my brother like a virile god really, handsome, fun, always kind to me.   Well, hmmm.  Where was he going?  I walk back to toward Somerville, Inman Square.  And when I walk in the house, I get the look.  I had done something horribly wrong dithering over the few documents they reluctantly handed to me, independent scholar of Hemingway, at the JFK library, that and the little sailboat, and admiring the kind of cheesy IM Pei architecture.  I had failed to meet him at a certain time in a certain place, and now he was going to take it out on me, and my own 'but I thought..." were all just more evidence against me.  And I was close.  Did I ever mention how close I was, how I could have almost reached out and touched him as he flung past me on that street that comes from the bridge over the river into Harvard Square, even as I had been there and was sort of patiently waiting for him to appear.
"Yes, I remember Pantani just when he was Pantani.  He had hair on the sides of his head.  He wasn't Il Pirata yet, the Pirate.  This was before the bandana and the colored bicycle tires.  He had his own workman like way of getting up a mountain.  It looked like something he just liked to do, and, you know how they like to put music to videos on YouTube, the best is the Japanese version, like the shakuhachi, wood flute music as if you were watching a dolphin turn over, rolling in the sea.  Not that bumb bump bump disco techno EuroTrash music, like workout time, or something...  His head wasn't shaved, just got male pattern balding of a respectable sort, I mean, not quite like you picked a clerk up from an office and suddenly found the guy could fly up a mountain, but something like that made him interesting.  This was before the whole persona, or the whole, as they might say, 'necessary ego' happened.  Then came the bandana, the team built around him.  I'm sure it fucked him up, when he, quote unquote became somebody.  I'm sure he had plenty personality on his own, but then that sport, which I used to be childishly interested in during my lazy years of pleasure and lack of direction and all that, like it had to make him into marketed stuff.

"Lance, I think they should just leave him alone, and even keep their applause of him somewhere safe.  Why go after him... Only because they have some sort of sworn duty or job.  They were all doing it.  How could they not?  If you could and write a better book, well, everyone else would do it too.  Man versus Nature, I guess.  These guys danced up mountains, the main spectacle of the Tour de France, and ninety seven percent of it was just them, but they all had to do the last three to just see who was who.  Yes, of course...   (a pause in the recording, a long silence, a look off into space, a glassy eye) They... or some of them, well, you could get addicted, one could get addicted to...  that kind of infusion that would let you recover easily and ride the next day like you were a kid again.  Chemistry.  I hold nothing of it against anyone.  That whole period of the late Eighties and into the Nineties and into the Thousand, they all had a special kind of sugar to take, and in fact it worked rather well with all the Billboard advertising they wore on their chests and thighs, bright almost neon colors.  Funny little caps, but all of it, tradition.  Tradition.  And they are tough guys, selected athletes, a natural gift completely rare...

"Lance, I think you have to forgive him most of all.  Pantani, the whole ego, then having to defend all that, having that empire, getting busted so terribly on the even of his greatest victory, really, what is fair?  Was it fair to catch him? Well, yes, I mean, of course it was, but...  It was the nascent days of catching the EPO usage, the high hemoglobin, you can't fault anyone, and must praise them...  He knew it.  Live by the sword, die by it, but it was a terrible fall from which that poor little guy couldn't recover, kind of backed him into an alley.  One of the last races, that stupid kid, what's his name, bald head, Pantani Ego Junior crashed into him on a descent, and old little Saint Marco sat somewhere on the side of the road, steep road, just sort of dumbfounded, stunned, and he had tried so hard to make a clean comeback, and indeed was good old Pantani, with all that Il Pirata ego crap stripped off him, and he sat there with, I think, a good bruise on his shin, and maybe wondering, what is, what is this all about, what is life about.

"Poor kids.  Don't make examples of them because they chose crime, crime in quotes.  They all had class, they just all felt a need to bump it up by one half of one half of one percent.  The pressure was on.  They had no choice."

"But again, it's the ego, that clinging to... but then again, this was their careers, and so they had to.  Or face defeat, because it's a sport with such fine tiny tiny tiny margins, that one moment of two minutes when the legs or the cardio just fade, a sport of empires, like, Cancellara is absolutely right, fighters like Spartacus."

"Pantani, though, they say he got addicted to the needle, or to the drug, and that it plausible.   Thus, the cocaine."

"All of them were used.  The sponsors, the hype, the gear, the tv, and they were left as they were by it all.  But don't blame them.  They were just advertising."