Thursday, January 30, 2014

It was one of the few talents a country boy has, I suppose, to write.  And probably it was similar and about as useful as being able to play the guitar out on the back porch.  Sure, you might be able to write, taking a stab at figuring things out or making sense of things to leave you feeling some satisfaction;  you might be able to do it reasonably well;  but the problem you encountered was that it had not much in the way of practical application.  It wasn't a big money maker, at all.  Probably was never intended to be.  And only if you were in it for the very long haul, which involved a very big mystery to it, might it possibly amount to anything.  It took a long time to build anything, and sitting down on a daily basis you had nothing but intuition, an inner voice to go on, so that whatever would take shape or eventually acquire some form would come about organically.  And you were never doing anything of a commercial sort;  you weren't writing short stories or a pack of poems or a novel or a thriller, and if you were ever a journalist, or remotely considered one, it would only of the vaguest sort covering things so general that no one would bother with, and in fact the basic viewpoint would be of finding journalism beside the point, which is a silly view to have, but there you go anyway.

So where do you go, writing in a vacuum about nothing?

It would be a talent similar to being a bartender in a tavern, standing in a room, getting people what they felt like they needed.  Any idiot could do it with a bit of coordination and preparation, with some perseverance.  That job too would serve no directly practical end, except keeping the rent and grocery bill up to date without a lot of extra, a holding pattern in some ways.  Smile, wear a clean shirt, don't mess around, maintain some politeness and professionalism and don't overstep your boundaries.

And yet they were oddly similar jobs, as something rested within, an ability to speak or recall or listen in a conversational way to a great variety of topics with a wide range of people and human experience. How could what you wrote be part of a dialog with the rest, so that other minds could participate and feel that they were part of a conversation, and that what I wrote might have a place in their own inner conversations.

Basically you were perfectly fine with the way things were, that if anything being the problem.  You liked bar tending very much.  Sitting in an office of some sort, still a mystery, wouldn't work for a country boy, not unless there were some action going on, and there probably is action going on at least in some offices, but this I personally know little of, except what people tell me, "I was in meetings all morning, and then I tried to answer all my emails."

I wouldn't write such a pompous utterance, but that any writer becomes aware of having to put stuff down in order to find out what it's about, which comes, if at all, later.  There's the sense of having to be honest, of just shut up and do it.  And one can then imagine how a Twain finds a voice from within in which he feels comfortable speaking, Huck's folksy vernacular.  Reading the meandering Russian greats, Fyodor, Leo, one senses the ongoing discovery in apparent vagueness of direction.

Or maybe it's the long journey of discovering the different topics of interest along with way, or of finding a particular grove.  Creating fictional characters would be beyond me.  Updikean abilities would be far beyond my ken.  It seems better just to find topics of interest to chew over, and perhaps we don't realize how different we are from other people and other voices until we do sit down and write for a while, and then you realize, "oh shit, I'm different from everyone else…"  Not to aggrandize.

I gather it was my own sense of work as a fool country boy that led me to feel a kind of satisfaction over the manual labor mixed with repartee that tending bar can be sometimes.  I liked the different faces, the different stories, the differences in human social behavior in great variety.  And it always seemed to me that most people had taken a step, not just being human and saying "well, hey, that's pretty good," but a step beyond that, into being something, changing into an animal unique to their business circumstances, all channeled, one hundred percent, from nose and eyelashes down to the tail, focussed on being whatever they were, energy trader, shipper of weapons and stuff, lobbyist, lawyer arbitrator, doctor, real estate broker, things with so much promise that they seem to shut down largely other stances and possibilities.  The mark of a professional?  I always wanted to be the human being behind things, but that's probably how I've managed to achieve so little by some outside standards.

But there is, finally, a sense of Christian work, of spiritual work.  And that, perhaps, if it exists, is measured differently.  Then a different set of values comes more directly into play, so that what you do in work has some meaning, the meaning of bringing forth the presence of Christian reality.  Jesus did not condemn wine, but indicated that the great reality permeated it too.  And strangely, he wanted it taken as a personal token.  One of the great points of The Brothers Karamazov is Alyosha's dream of the departed Father Zossima calling him to the Wedding at Cana, to the first of all miracles, the miracle of the wine, as God loves human joy significantly enough.   That makes one feel a little better about such a job as bar tending;  it helps one through the sometimes dour moods of the futility of serving the ego parts of people, feeding their illusions, as it might seem.

Even a fellow with little more for a career to show than a wine bar keeper has a sense of the Christian calling.  He can have a sense of its completeness, the surprising quality to it.  And the people who passed in front of him indeed would bear out a Christian shape to their lives.  Less was I ashamed of my work.  Greater was a sense of my worth and the sense of duties immediately behind what I was doing.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Great Author:  To be speculative for a moment, on that passage in Mark leading up to the parable of the House Divided--such a rich and interesting placement there--one has to realize something about what He, Jesus, was doing.  He was democratizing, he was saying that we all are, perhaps sometimes haplessly, a part of the Christian--as it was later to be called--phenomenon.  (Perhaps the studies he conducted earlier in life, whether out in India as a boy, or through the trade routes exposed to the Vedas and Buddha, learning the concept of karma and its great universal applicability, maybe all that influenced him.)  And that's the essence of the miracles and healings he is performing, that he is saying, we are all part of this, all part of the Kingdom of Heaven.

He was saying that the laws of Christian spiritual reality apply to all people fully and completely.  The laws applied to those who were manifesting sickness and species of craziness, and the cure was to accept, to release and expel the resistant demon genies, to come clean, as it were.  His parables speak of waking up to the penetrating reality of the spiritual, as in the Prodigal Son, the mustard seed, the birds and the lilies of the field.  Quite naturally, a lot of people got excited about it, perhaps feeling a liberation from the trying circumstances they lived in as Jews under Roman colonial rule and whatever other hardscrabble circumstances one can easily imagine them as facing.  With water a sort of subconscious metaphor of the permeating quality in wish we, evolved fish, swim in, breath in, the fishermen awakening us to deep reality…  But yes, people must have come running.

And that is the craziness, that both caused people's excitement and also the scandal aspect of this thinker, this sort of teacher or rabbi without the credential of being so perfectly traditional as to toe the party line.  "He must be out of his mind," someone on a familiar basis, with familiar expectations, with the expectancy of normalcy and the workaday world would think, of course.  And he himself is so clear, and understands the logic basis.  A house divided against itself cannot stand.  This was not only to respond to the scribes charges that he must be performing healings through demons, but to speak to people's dividedness, of which they were largely unaware.  Being part of this world here, they forget the larger, the main reality around them that includes them, of which they are a part, subject to the same conditions of being manifested into the world out of That Which Is.

And on top of that, to them he was unconventional, or perhaps too plain.  He kept company with certain types, was gluttonous, and a wine bibber on top of that.  And still to this day his name is a perfect expression of surprise and the unexpected, "Jesus Christ!"  Not for no reason.  Still.  As if things haven't really changed all that much.  Who would have expected…  expected all this wisdom coming from a kind of common man, right?  So it is right that we immortalize a Peter, for believing, for getting it, on whatever level, subconscious or otherwise, intellectually, metaphysically.  And just because he was a fisherman doesn't make him necessarily a dummy or anything.

Like we all feel about our jobs, or come to realize about them, it becomes a matter of just going and doing it.  No point fretting or angst-ing about it or making it more complicated than it is, as any writer knows too I'm sure, just go do it.  A house divided against itself cannot stand.  He had reached that point.

I guess the sadder part is that it is largely his suffering on the Cross, symbol of the dimensional reality we all must live in, that causes us to awake from our enchantment and our worldly strifes and offenses. His life calls us to faith.  You can't blame anyone for trying to do that, it seems to me.  If it helps cease brother killing brother, why not.  But I suppose it, the origin of faith, the higher laws that forbid sin and show sin to be useless behavior, all that must be a very strong thing of energy to bring peace into the world.  One can imagine an anguish attached to the healing vision, for seeing how widespread and pervasive a poorer attitude can be.  No wonder He liked to take naps, burdened, maybe stunned by the release of hatreds and generations of revenge.  To my ear, in His stance, 'let he who is without sin cast the first stone,' you can hear a man tired of witnessing so much ego and drama, as I might imagine a bartender having.

But, on the bright side, one door opens to many others which they themselves upon, and in my father's mansion there are many many rooms, for everyone who calls.

By the end of the week, the individual who keeps bar in a public house is tired.  Not just physically, but  worn  down by all the drama, all the egos that people bring with them.  Not everyone is pleasant and reserved and quiet.  And for some, drink is not medicinal wine, but an exacerbation, a call to civil war and riot in the street and wide-eyed craziness.  It casts light on the deadness of people's corporate moneyed souls, as if an inkling of inner humanity, a memory of trees and nature came back to them.  Appropriately enough, as wine is soil and that which riseth from it.

Monday, January 27, 2014

To be banal, I wake at 1:30, confronted by daylight in the living room.  Jazz Night, the great complication.  Make green tea, sausages under the broiler, chop collard greens to steam.

I think of Mark 3:21, the family going out to restrain Christ and bring him in, saying, "he's out of his mind."  Done beautifully in a pivotal scene in Corpo Celeste in the meeting of a girl headed for her confirmation and the priest of an abandoned mountain town, when she asks him, what does it mean, "Eli, eli, sabacthani…"   The Gospel's story tells, there was the pull of the crowd, all wanting miracles and cures, and the family pulling back, "scandalized" by Him.

I don't know why cooking has such a hold over me.  Restaurant shifts seem to make me always want a back up of protein.

Salinger later regretted, the film tells us, writing the famous book.  What kind of writing should one do in the world?  How to be expressive and personal, to convey the inner experience of humanity without exciting the crazies?  How to take from real life the juice and the crux of matters without interfering with other lives?

I am drawn to the simplicity of cooking, the chasteness of its sufficient creations, sausage, collard greens, onions, chased by a cup of the cooking water, the green tea put out in the cold between the screen and kitchen door.  Tomorrow, will be very cold, and a dentist appointment will remind me of mortality, the sort of fetal figure we are in the x-rays I always try to get out of, not wishing to see my skull as if it were Kennedy's or a glimpse of the funny blueprint the auras and the halos and the energies and the cross the body is formed around.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Great Author:  No, trust me…  Every day I wake up in a state of anguish.  That girl I can't get out of my mind, the stupid things I did twenty five years ago…  I don't know, I felt like we had a bond, psychic, physically telepathic.  But on earth, the real earth, I made this horrible series of blunders, out of shyness or arrogance, out of stupidity, out of foolishness, out of the typical college age drinking at the time…  And because of that the circumstance would be an accurate picture of what I did with all that opportunity.  I don't know what devils possessed me.  Maybe it wasn't a good idea to be an English major?  I don't know.       And even no one in my family was helpful.  "You stalked her."  Well, maybe that was true, but I really tried my best not to, because she was hard to read, one way or another, and when I held myself back, as if responding to the charge, those are exactly the times that I regret, the things that haunt me over and over…  Or, "you drank too much."  Well, I know that.  I don't think my brother's encouragement in that field was much a help.      Then it's over.  You move away, and I will say your, I mean mine, life goes nowhere, and the thing bleeds over onto everything else.  Relationships…  What the hell, can't I just get rid of it, can't I just forget about the whole thing?  Why'd I turn out to be such a bad kid?    Stalking her…  I brought her flowers at the end of the school year.  And at reunions I blew my chances being distracted by my selfish friends and acquaintances, such that the shame came over me again.  Reunions go by quickly.     I know, I'm not great at 'making things happen.'  That is how the world works, isn't it.  Just got to be pushy.  Being a New Yorker, she knew that.  And here was I some dumb hillbilly, son of a Theosophist biology professor out of the Nineteenth Century, gentle ideals.  I let him down too.  And I let the whole place down, fine as it is, a place of doing.   So every day, what do you do?  You get up, or try to, make green tea, maybe do a little yoga just to take care of the tradesman's body, eat a meaty breakfast and kind of just hole up, the writing bunker, the nocturnal life, trying to have a Zen space amidst the modern clutter of stereo, flat screen TV…   "Find what wind serves an honest mind…"  That's Donne, I don't know why it came to mind…   "Go and Catch a Falling Star?"  Kind of a misogynist poem, a modern might say.  I don't mean to offend anyone.  But I know somehow, like my Dad, I should have been a great educator, or maybe in some strange missing parallel universe sort of way, maybe I am, in a, well, ha ha, very subtle way.  And maybe, like a movie I just saw, an Italian film I found for free on late night cable, Corpo Celeste, there's that vision of Christ, from an old priest in an abandoned hill town, as someone tortured by the faithless completely unimaginative idiots, thus bringing to life His angered refrains about the generation, and also His great visible anger at the Temple.  That was, maybe now I get it, something my dad said to me, that Christ was not meek and peaceful, but that He came with a sword, angry at the current order.   Now I get it, Dad.  I shouldn't have gone meekly, even though that is a radical thought.  One that probably wouldn't get one very far anyway.  But then Christ, you know, being the Son of God, can't really control Himself…  Does that sound like too much self-justification, or, what do they call it, rationalizing?  I don't know.  But anyway, it seems in a way Jesus Christ can't really control his reactions.  Thus we almost want to shout at Him to be shrewder about saving Himself, and that's just one instance.  But this is the very source, the well of His wisdom, the things we keep, the words of His we save, the things He says to the Pharisees, the 'render unto Caesar' stuff…  So we can't really tell Him to be quiet or be a bit more cautious, or tell Him to maybe take a weekend off from it, with all this heavy prophecy stuff falling into place, "Jesus, you know, maybe it would be a better idea if we all went golfing this afternoon…"   Maybe that's what it was, in a way, even though the thought doesn't satisfy one very much in the face of palpable feelings of a severed life, one that, you know, should have gone this way, into all those successful things, but instead turned into agony… or a kind of service far more humble than one with any sort of Ego or self-pride would think much of.

Did Christ have a girlfriend and then He fucked it up?  (Some things even He couldn't control.)  And maybe even that soreness kind of drove Him, to be the sort of weirdo…  Within something here is the reason why I avoid social occasions and sit here in silence and attempt to write really what just comes to mind.  And it's not the happy 'blue-eyed' pleasant poetry of ways to happy thoughts one writes, with the hope of some romantic ending like you'd try to tack on at the end of a story that has no end.  It's not like cognitive therapy is going to come along and change me and transform the way my mind works, either, though I realize depression is exacerbated by certain fruitless activities that are often work-related.  "Good employee," crap.  "Come meet us out for a drink," yeah right.

So would I have a greater appreciation of a Kerouac, his radical nature, his belief witnessed in his work of how great profound wisdom can come from within, though maybe he was wrong for feeling that he needed to see all that craziness and all those Saturday nights and Dean Moriarty car rides.  But from him too people want a cuddly vision of something that will make them happy, and this is not what authors are really about, I'm afraid.  Kerouac's vision was great and noble and sad and meant to be closer to deeper reality than this world here we live in.  Maybe there could even be some moral commandments lying within?  No, that's probably a stretch.  Do we want our artists to be happy and contented types?  Would it discredit them in our eyes if we found them burdened by unhappy things?  "Why read that miserable bastard?  Let him go to sea on that miserable ship with Ahab."

Look at the crap that always sells.  Be virtual heroes and great sexy people living in a land of adventure, solving crime, saving the U.S.  Like the Devil himself, you might say, now that I think about it, speaking to Jesus, offering him glorious vision.  Jesus simply turns to him…  "Ouch," sayeth Satan, and is indeed obliged to go away.  Or maybe better, "you're right."

I know, it's not all bad.  Sometimes some radical things do get out there.  Inexplicably.  Maybe I'm just grumpy from having to work another Saturday night.  Am I entitled enough to think of Christian unhappiness and how that does change the world for the better?

Anything you write is going to be flawed.  Something about it will be barely tolerable.  A writer has no control over that, one good thought hidden in organic matter that then maybe needs to be discarded.  Even claims that the thought is good, those too are suspect.

Glorious writer's life…  Larkin was good at capturing that, the staring out of windows, the nighttime, the lethargy, the directionlessness, the bystander-to-life quality…  Freaky old English dude who understood himself.  And how in life, it's better to have a job than not have one.  Go figure that, a writer saying that, when he'd rather have six hours every day to ply his secret real trade, separate from the secretary with the beehive hair and the phone.  In the end, you have faith, because it's healthy, some strange animal core, like a wolf's thick skull, so that jaws could tear meat.   Larkin rode his bicycle to abandoned churches on weekends, with his overcoat.  Magnificent chap.  Honest.  Not lying in your face about all the crap and consumer stuff.  And it's like he invented a new form of writing, almost, went into territory even Shakespeare rarely entered, except in Hamlet, to which an inner voice says, 'well, hey, that's a little too weird, don't you think, admitting that;  they'll know it's you.'  Marvelous stuff, with a music about it.

Too tired to lift a finger today, sore, bit of a headache from the wine I drank when I came home, while I rode my bike on the stand in front of the television to ease the adrenaline out of my system.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

It's the story within the book.  It's the story of how Salinger became a writer, the choice to be that, how that happened, the voice that permitted it.  That's his main choice, and the other things follow, the talent put to use, the work itself, the details of a story.  There's the embryonic quality to the early works, and a preservation of that in later ones.  Holden is the ontogenic.

That's the story I think every real artist of note has to tell:  why did I become what I did, in my own form of the ideal.  It would also include the discovery of the ability to write, or paint or sing (intuitively understood.)

For many reasons Salinger was a searcher, before, during and the long remainder of life.  I know the type.  The writer would gravitate toward sacred texts, but places himself close to the same level as far as the possibilities of what he's saying, either cloaked or less so.  Or he tries to absorb them.

The women in Salinger's life, wise creatures that they are, would see the pattern.  He tries this, he's a Buddhist,  then a Zen Buddhist, and then a Hindu Vedantic, while importantly keeping a character in a Jesus Prayer mantra.  He eats thawed frozen peas for breakfast, puts on his overalls, goes to his writing 'bunker,' works away, comes back, watches Lawrence Welk after dinner to dance with his lady.  My how he shifts around, one might think.  He's searching a lot, but he never lands on anything, but yet to his credit keeps on practicing, and hey, compared to the materialist values of the mainstream, there's a soothing aloe vera reality to him.

I'd put MacGowan in the same boat.  A guy who can sing.  So, he does it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Writing, as I write in this semi-oral fashion here, is as it is for everybody, a product of brain chemistry, blood, the way our minds work.  For some the need to get up and write out all the drivel of thoughts and mental flickerings is like holistic medicine.  It readjusts the dopamine levels and provides relief to people who would otherwise venture toward depression, schizophrenia and other mental ills.

That's really the primary goal of it, so that you feel normal with yourself, that you find a place to vent out all that makes you anxious.
Now really, to include Salinger, what is a writer going to write about but about nervous breakdown stuff, propose a difference of values, go into areas of weirdness, talk about death?  If people can't do that together, he's got to anyway.  He went through the war, give him credit, saw things you and I would immediately sicken and faint at, be reduced to who knows what, as we are talking serious trauma.  "Oh, he wanted to hang out with little school girls."  "Oh, he writes about suicide all the time."  "Depressive."  Well, that's his job, to observe the human condition.  He was just braver, or more confident, than you or I.

So what if you had written something like a parable or a long short story like Salinger's famous book?  What if it was just as good, less voice, more direct thought, so that people wouldn't have to feel latched on to that voice that gets in their head, but then, maybe more like Melville, enjoy the quiet observational poetry, as our own minds get poetic when we go look at the sea.

It would seem the world was so exhausted from enthusiasm over The Catcher in the Rye, and then the great chase for its creator, that it would feel it had to ignore, for lack of energy, the books of like truths.

The authors, speaking as one, of such works as had to come out in that time, had to, broad in style, bridging East and West, would as well feel the same shallowness of the egotistical material culture, such at, as Salinger, would attempt to 'strip away ego,' or 'see the Cross,' as Kerouac attempted to see the Cross, for instance.  There would be the same inclining toward quiet, work space, hours of contemplation, ritual and routine that might leave little time for the active social life as Salinger once had in the great American city of New York.  He pulled away from that, by visceral reaction.

But then so did Dostoevsky before him, a lot of other thinkers too, not to pull away from the basic religious life of man and wife and family and a place to live and work to do, but to get away from distractions and all the people like the ones who bothered poor Kerouac, who demanded a piece of the pop image of the King of the Beats, and all that which wears out a face.

Only the most reverent and judicious of people really are allowed to be writers.  And the rest, the hangers on, the attempters, will, rather than consulting their own religious and moral identities, will cling on, and not be the best of neighbors protective, but want something for their own egos.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

I get to work and upstairs at the wine bar it is as reported, 59 degrees inside, a cold winter evening outside.  Things are fine and warm downstairs in the main dining room, but upstairs the radiators have not been working, even though the thermostat is turned up beyond 85.  I take my coat off in the basement and attend to the problem, slipping in around an extra table stored near the ice machine, squeezing in through a door, to a tiny red button tucked away in the boiler room, nested between two sautered wire ends.  One almost needs a pencil tip to get to it.  I push on it, it clicks in, and the furnace immediately kicks in with a whoosh, gas fire, rising warm air.  Okay.  We have heat.

It's Jazz Night again, and despite the frigid air and icy sidewalks we are going to be busy tonight.  It will take a while, anyway, for the room to warm up.

Later, after we open, the boss comes in, stepping rapidly up the stairs.  Did you turn the heat on?  Did you check the thermostat?  (Not even hello.)  Yeah, I've only worked here ten years.  I tell him I pushed the little button.  You shouldn't have to do that, he replies.  He touches a pipe.  The heat is working now, I say, leaving it at that.  Ten minutes later, as a song on the bossa nova Pandora channel is winding down quietly into a fade, he turns up the sound system, so that the next song is blaring.   Vanessa comes over, 'it's too loud.'

Later on an old friend shows up, in from out of town visiting with pregnant wife.  The waitress has found a seat for them tucked back in the wine room.  Meanwhile, the bar has filled up, the boss's wife and her girlfriend have sat at the bar for dinner, the dining room is full, and two other groups of friends have just arrived, people I will have to chat with at a certain point.  He, old friend, was kind enough to sent me a postcard recently, the scene a French bistrot out in Denver.  "Oh, man, Ted, you'd love the place.  We had the onion soup."

In a way, I'm more clever than J.D. Salinger.  My coming of age school story never made me famous.  I can hide in plain sight, a bartender trying to get through a long night.  Just that it leaves me too tired to write somedays.  It leaves me feeling disgusted, or tired at least, with something, feeling fed up.  Perhaps it is essentially the same disagreement Salinger might have had, that basically most people love the world too much.  I can understand why he wouldn't have wanted any biographer coming knocking, any journalist, wanting a story to sell, a pitch for his own magazine and the ad commerce within.  A tiresome cult of personality hanging about him in every attempt to explain him, all tied back to the same system of judgment, of belonging, or not, to a tribe.

People come in, cling to me, to the extent that they find my reserved self useful to their purposes, to leave with a feeling of marking their territory, of having spoken intelligently off the cuff.  That is what they see in me, the sometimes jolly bartender.  "When did we see you last?"  Nothing to be bitter about, just life, just people trying to have conversation.  Conversations that will have to enter into, before they can be dispensed with, the egos we all carry around, not that there's anything completely finally wrong with that.  Just that it gets tiresome.  As Jesus found his disciples tiresome for their lack of faith.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sin, I suppose, is a literary term, meaning it is a complex issue.  There is the discovery of a garden variety sin, like drinking too much or "jerking off"after a stressful shift, soothing at the time, but leaving one feeling strange and unhappy afterward, thus realizing the sinful nature in the excesses of the activity.  Along with sin, there is attached to it the question of dignity.  Sin compromises dignity.  One thinks less of himself, people think less of him.

But before complete condemnation, there is scale.  People like my old departed Polish neighbor, lady of the Warsaw Underground, understood things about human dignity, in the face of regime, Nazi, Soviet.  They would have a broader, or more direct, view on the issue's manifestation.  Did one, through youthful indiscretions, lose dignity, in the eye of others?  Or would judgment be a little more forgiving in a more encompassing historical view taking in the breadth of atrocities that deprive dignity from both subject and object?  Do people fall, irrevocably, for small things like momentary lapses and bad habits?  Or are the smaller more common garden variety daily excesses more forgivable given who and what we are, by nature, imperfect creatures, and also given the scale of crimes against humanity any century sees?

Such are literary matters, delving into the mistakes of life.  Twain brings to us Huck and Jim, searching for, and largely finding, a dignity that is not easily afforded them in slave-holding economic society.

Some of us are obliged to test others.  A young woman notes how a young man treats himself, to see if he carries himself with dignity or whether he sells him short and falls in with evil companions.  An important matter in choosing a mate.  To judge, too, is human nature.

But is all that hard to figure, sometimes at least?  Might we find a certain Zen in the recognition of the egotism in thoughts that take us out of the moment present before us?   As in cooking something in the kitchen would we not be able to rely on some form of intuition, as in sensing through smell that something is done, the nature of an act.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

January birthday, Restaurant Week, Saturday night shift, could be in contention for worst.

Yoga, a lifting away from the self's illusions, seems to help.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Restaurant Week plus Jazz Night at Bistrot of the Dying Gaul plus Washington, DC attitude equals worst.

Mastroianni played being a waiter, to my knowledge, once, later in life, as a set up for a Chekhovian story directly based on the famous short story about the lady and the pet dog.  I've played waiter, in particular bartender, for, oh, about twenty five years.  I have great respect for one of the great actors for even trying, portraying a lovable loser, a real human being.  I've loved Chekhov as long as I've read him.  And sometimes I find flickers of him.

People in Washington DC, at least of the affluent and successful sort, are the kind to kick you when you're down.  On top of the people who come in during Restaurant Week to make sport of being negative diners intent on writing negative tomes on Yelp, nitpicking, asking such questions as "what is the texture of your flan like," and finding fault with the answer after they've asked twenty other stupid questions, even as their martini arrived right as they sat, on top of those people, on top of the Jazz Night  I'll just drop by without a reservation people with a crowd of South Americans, you get those two ladies:  What does the trout come with?  (Lady, you've had it twenty times.)  Can I directly confirm that the kitchen, a floor and a dining room away, has sautéed spinach tonight as a vegetable at this moment (I end up picking up my cell and calling the restaurant itself to get the answer)?  The snob comes out.

You are busy and sweating profusely, trying to grab what you can, and here come the questions, grilling the waiter, a roll of the eyes in great disappointment as you run from decanting a Madiran for that one Italian guy sitting by himself who is himself beginning to be a bit of a maintenance issue to run downstairs to grab a Cahors for the Argentines, such that you have to stop and go back and ask, okay, what can I do for you, when you are not seated in my section anyway…

I'm reminded of waiting, on just such a busy day, on a famous NPR journalist with a helmet of lady hair.  "The mussel soup, is it a parmantiere?" she asks loftily, chin raised, going in for the kill with her stare, as if to say, I know more than you, imbecile waiter.  Mr. Lehrer, and his wife, on the other hand were a joy to wait on, bringing brightness, stories, questions, humanity and a democratic kindness.  For him I was not a sorry punk loser, but John F. Kennedy about to field a question, or so, at least, I was able to feel one night, and he knew his stuff.

Two at the bar turn to an older gentleman, establish he's worth talking to by Washington standards, and soon the three are talking glowingly about their dogs.  His salmon entree arrives first.  "But how could I come before these ladies who've ordered before me," Mr. Ambassador intones with a great flourish.  I'll only look like an idiot trying to explain how orders queue up in kitchen logic of appetizer and entree and that particular sometimes dicey thing called 'firing' which means telling the chef basically, 'okay, they're about to finish their appetizers, and now, yes, I really need the main event to show up.'  He's a nice enough guy, slips me a twenty before he goes.  I appreciate his sense of humor.  I hear him admit he got a C at a fine institution for his language studies.  He tells better stories than I, one about how LBJ, to keep things even, insisted that American wines be served at American embassies, in Spain for instance.

The night drags on.  Italian guy has worked where they make Ferraris.  He's been a somm himself.  He ends up hanging on, politely, but not paying his check, only finally finally, long after everyone has left. That's okay.  I'm a legend of hospitality.  But on the other hand he's been around since six, has seen how weeded out the   I've been.  We talk about sulfites.  It's all good.  It's all exhausting.

I got into the business only because I was a writer.  I was hungry, thirsty, I needed a social life, home cooking, good decent basic people around me, and many have gone on to get, as I should have, a Ph.D.    I didn't know it would drag on so long, that the poetry I'd write would be stuck like honey around the marauding bear.

"Dear friends, all is lost, all is lost," I want to say after such a night to those who would read.  And I can taste too what might drive a person of some gift to look upon people and see them as a faithless generation difficult and sad to tolerate, addressing them as "ye."

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The daily commute…

How many times have I walked home along Q Street after work well after midnight.  Tonight in a fog, witnessed out the restaurant's windows, I walk out into the night, past Dumbarton Oaks, past Montrose Park, its gas lamps receding into the din where ship ropes were wound, down the hill, Everymay, then the turn onto Q.  The same thing.  Coming home after work, hiking, to save money instead of a cab, to not wait for the bus, a way to relax, get fresh air, unwind with all the keyed up adrenaline from a shift controlling the traffic on a micro level, exercise for the ticker, but always alone.  Always with the vision, like you might have from working a Saturday night, of the world out for dinner with friends and spouses replete with cocktails.  What do you do?  Everyone's gone to bed.  You go home, eat something, watch tv, have your own glass of wine.  And the clock plays its own trick on you, with silly hours hard to believe, a four, a three, a six and no clear signs of sleepiness.

A bus goes by, another one, as I walk.  I remember a nice conversation with a D2 driver.  I walk past a spot where a raccoon, mortally hit in the street, still growled and twitched its tail with the last reflexes of life.  Further ahead, much more recently, a buck stood one night on the lawn in front of an apartment building.  Across the street before the bridge, a neighbor, a general's wife, had, she pointed out once, years ago, lived up there in an apartment with Doolittle's wife during the war.  And I've walked home along Q Street for a long time with nothing changing, the same job, the same duty, the same profession, the same something like just getting by but with health insurance.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

My mom has been commenting to me about the proliferation of political fundraising in her email in box.  She notes the personal-sounding pleas from Nancy and Harry, Obama, Joe, Hilary, addressing her by name, telling her "this is urgent."  Poor retired college professor and they are after her.  I open my eyes and peek at my iPhone first thing, obligingly checking email, to nothing but sales pitches.  Next, Google News, if not the weather icons, but full of similarly useless information, a selling of importance.  And note, sign of the times, or perhaps my own utter unimportance and lack of social utility, the lack of personal correspondence, the lack of the 'hey, how are you,' or anything remotely resembling a letter of old, or a postcard.  I'm guilty of falling into this culture as much as anyone.  It's as if all things were weighed for importance and relevance, maybe in the supposedly 'new' 'world' economy, and the personal came out the loser to the practical.  There's not much money to be made, there's not anything to sell or convince another of a need for a thing.  A quaint habit, squelched.  Just as people used to have real conversations when they picked up the old Ma Bell phone.

Perhaps it's not necessarily the case that, like any inhabitant of the electronic city, guarded against strangers, focussed on our own business, the motives of any personal missive is a primary consideration.  What does this person want from me, we ask.  Wired into, as emails now are, unless you have a really disciplined junk filter, are economic terms:  what is the worth?  a sale?  if too friendly, well, either the fool is dangerous, a crazy, for giving things away, or there is an ulterior motive.

When will we reach the point of making like a diminished tribe a last stand of the personal, for the offer of friendship and camaraderie in the cyber world?  Is such an erosion visible to those who offer personal interaction, as one might being a bartender to a place that allows time for a break, a place to come with regularity and familiarity?  I notice different walks of life accept it.  A noble talk that delves into literature, a bow to culture and travels discussed, a meeting place, a clearinghouse….

I find myself watching religious programming, the Catholic channel, EWTN, to get a break from the commercialization, the materialism, the emphasis on things, the broadcast culture of 'practicality,' economy, the death of attributing worth to human life.  Where does my own professional life of professional personal interaction lead?  When does it turn simply into a lack of funds, a lack of position, a lack of a decent regular life, a lack of tenure, a position untenable?  All for the lack of selling, as we all must, a product…

Must even academics be selling something, a product offered, to allow them the haven of their positions?  Sometimes the selling of anger through poetry or theater… Anger sells.

The words of an old Amherst English professor have a truth, that a teacher must battle against the world.

But as a writer, which is to say, still a human creature with some native wild about himself, I might take notice that the world, through its devices, tries to venture in, to intrude, to attempt to plant seeds of need or outside thought, as one tries to assemble the words that swim and bob in the rivers of his thoughts, really as if many different voices were trying to knock his tray over, to disrupt the thought and tasks at hand, the hands of a needy world of selfish individuals waving him over with their claims.  All of which I say in regard to media and commerce, to the world of advertising, the multifarious nature of just about everything you might look at, the ad next to the news story.

Say what you will about Hemingway or any other writer, but that wisely and humanely, they knew the validity of retreating quietly into silent work.

In the waning light of sunset of a warm January day out on the back porch, I see the rippled quality to the air the light is passing through above the shadow of my body, heat waves rising like billowing gasses pouring out, not unlike the sun does.  A plain observation I might not have otherwise noticed if I'd fallen into the rabbit hole offered by a laptop's web browser.

And I think of Emily Dickinson's work.  Her little blurbs of observations, often containing almost impossibly great power, unselfish, not selling anything, the confession of finding something to share captured in a metaphor or in the sound of the human voice itself…  The original messages that come out of one's own tended gardened brain connecting the day to day so that the next day coming toward us will not be diminished.  Seemingly unimportant little scraps, sketched out originally on odd bits of paper and envelopes before being gathered in to fascicle…

She spanned the Universe eventually without even leaving the confines of her yard and house.  She knew the bird-like creativity we might have with words from little ditties to sing to great epiphanies and gospels.

The first Sunday off I can remember in ages, working Saturday night in exchange.  I'd forgotten what feeling of normalcy a Sunday off brings.  One stops to appreciate the peace of the world, goes out to buy something to cook at home.  It makes me wonder, all the gullible fool kid making his first professional choices put up with to be part of a team.  You can only have one boss, it is wisely said.

How radically different it is to be off on a Sunday, everyone's day of rest.  Not that 'axe murderer feeling' of walking up through the park but different from all the rest, no time to smell the roses.  Not that large gap that must be bridged when talking to others, feeling the low-down shitttyness of Monday mornings.

Friday, January 10, 2014

How to put it without sounding blasphemous, the pattern of Christian life, the discovery of one's own earthly fit into it, the commensurate self-recognition that could only come from such a comparison.  Who would want to say that out loud?  It would be far better to be a religious academic or a defined member of church and clergy, or simply a church goer on Sunday than to observe that even outside of any defined tradition one's own life humbly and with human defect and sin and flaw was in some way a reflection of the pattern of Christ.

He was the anointed Son of God.  He performed miracles, knew His scripture inside and out, and people listened to Him.  It was somehow obvious who He was.

More and more I find myself reading about traditional support of the Bible's revelation.  The Union Theological Seminary that Bonhoeffer encountered struck him as mired in theological schism, disregarding the basis of the Christian story and meaning.  He got more out of the religious fervor and spirituals found up in Harlem.  To understand the history of Luther, the Dark Ages, papism, is to understand the importance of bringing forth the Bible itself to popular readership, the lessons therein largely self-evident, transforming, effective just through reading, no need of heavy handed guide.  To read Testaments Old or New is not an act we would ever need to be afraid of, because we have by dint of being human the intelligence and the spiritual receptors to understand and comprehend.

And so it seems possible that a spiritual life is attainable, with a bit of faith and effort and a good heart, without a great calling of attention to it, without acts of pride to distinguish the self as such.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

If you are a scientist, you look for patterns.  You notice wave and muscle, the rings on a tree, the power of the sea.  Light itself, coming from the sun, has a pattern, a wave, like sound, perhaps like gravity, like time.  We too.

I come at this with the religious background of a child of the Sixties.  I learned good stuff, but was not raised in any church tradition.

But life is life, and we, who have ears and eyes, are able to learn.

Private matters feel embarrassing to share, but, here we are, human beings, and so, we give it a go.

As a reader, with a particular taste, with a particular digestive system, I found a basic need, for that I will not call bread here, as bread does not work for me, but meat, as meat, protein, fish, the main substance, the main nourishment, is what works for me.  This takes a lot of admitting, a lot of acts of recognition in a bread culture, a sandwich culture, and I wish it were otherwise.

I found I needed the Gospels, I needed the Bible.  I found other kinds of literature leaving me with the feeling of watching a joke set-up that I already knew.  Yes, exceptions, but then, to me anyway they would count as great literature, like Chekhov's tales of losers, Dostoevsky's tales of outcastes finding a way.

I found there was a pattern in the Judeo-Christian story, as I read it as literature, a pattern that I could not escape from observing.  Perhaps it was like Einstein looking out the window when he was a clerk and seeing workmen on the roof, falling into a day dream exercise considering if they fell.  But, anyway, a pattern that can not be avoided.

It would be difficult to outline, but for the familiarity of the story, still mysterious as it applies to our condition.  Part of it was the coming forward of the exemplary human being in touch with divine nature of deep reality to be amongst the regular, the rank and file, the publicans, the drinkers, the sinners.  A strange detail, perhaps, and yet a great coincidence.  And why, in such a world as we live in, would our spiritual salvation come from someone not materialistic at all?  someone who would grant himself only a few basics, letting his words stand, calm about everything.  Would this personally or otherwise mean anything to me?  Would it make intuitive sense to me, or to you?  Well, yes it would.

The realization could have made me sad.  Why wasn't I a participant in all this?  Why had I not before found a church to belong to?  Why had I acted in ways that were a little excitable, not calm enough for such undertakings?  Why had I been confused and bad of certain habit?  Why had I been a skeptic?

I had endeavored, like many of younger generations, to be that vague and amorphous thing, a writer.  Why do young people think of that, I wonder sometimes.  What to write?  Who will read?  Who will listen?  And, more importantly, what does one have to say, even anyway?  The world does not seem to need another book of semi-autobiographical self-discovery coming of age, but that such as it is, a human habit to write words when thinking of what to do and where to go.  I might offer that the desire to write comes out of a spiritual need, perhaps unfulfilled in modern secular education, in the absence of the chapel's presence.  So such efforts can be misdirected, a portrait of a life without the substantive guidance of higher belief, of God and divine love even for sinners.  (Was Hemingway one of the stone masons of such?)

So we go through stages, through great periods of being misguided, even if, to our credit, basically we do the right thing, offering kindness, even, or should I say albeit, professionally, to neighbors and strangers.

But there is, finally, the gem, the meat, the basis of literature, of the story itself.  Indirectly, but still, it comes up, embarrassing as it might be.  Something to share.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Lincoln:  {in a whisper}  Kennedy, the truth is, you and I are scribes.  We're meant to interpret the law, apply it to issues, maintain the scriptures.  Sometimes read it.  That's the respectable part of our job.  But… we're still, or at least we want to be, something somewhat someone like Christ or someone like that.  We have to do that part too.

 And I know we all have to go through the spiritual story, that we have to fall, too, like Job or any of them I suppose, in order to really grasp it.  So I was lucky, knowingly, in that I got what sorrows I could out of the way.  And I'd find it didn't kill me, so…  Because I knew unto the world come offenses.   So by the time of the end of it, well, you know, same thing happened to you, you were not…  unready.  Unready, let's say.