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.

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