Friday, February 28, 2014

Is it that you have to be incredibly tolerant, overly generous, treat the creative self with a kindness bordering on irresponsibility in order to write…  Why, what are you working on, even?  What's the point?  A million skeptical voices, the buzz of an entire city…  and yet, you persist.

Some are born to family lineage, taught at an early age, possessing obvious talent, a rare enough human being like an Andrew Wyeth who's going to paint his entire life, possessing with confidence a tolerance for  humoring the creative mode.  And for some the mode itself is instinctive enough, a way of being, such that fitting in is not high on the list of considerations, a Ted Hughes realizing he cannot write papers but must write poetry.  Like Jesus, teaching with authority, in a way blasphemous to the cultural expectation.  A kind of rebellion.

Sometimes you'll just write cliché, hoary platitude, embarrassing common obvious observations a clever person would laugh at.  You never know.  It's just part of the deal.  It's not all going to be brilliant.  But you have to save that kindness with respect for your efforts.

Is there such a thing as self knowledge?  Is that something gained?  Do you follow the urge to join in with outer things?  Is there a tension between the worldly, the seekers of that kind of knowledge, those kinds of luxury, with that of the simple, those things like lilies of the field, the raiment of sparrows… Always hard to figure.  You're left to use your gut instinct:  was the night out (to which I was susceptible) all that useful, or was it another exercise in worldliness.  And worldliness is very important to us, the source of pleasures…  How could you avoid the night out, the real pleasure of company.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Viewed on tv after a long shift:  PBS--why a Nova piece on luxury sky scraper 57 something, near the Essex House?  Is that what they did with my hundred bucks?  I liked the workers, I felt for the other people involved with the promotional, but, is that what we need to talk about in today's world, the high luxury end, the $19 million condo?  Did I really see this on public educational television?  A bathtub being cut out of Italian marble?  This is not educational.  Anyone can do that.  Does it make a bathtub better?  Where's the old claw foot?  When PBS starts preaching vanity, then you know.  And it was a preaching, a subtle lesson, why not, go for the big bucks and the spending of big bucks.  I watched it, stomached it, didn't want to take it out on anyone in particular, but, this is exactly what a new good religious figure, Francis, is telling us about, the economy coming before man and woman.  Blindsiding material bandwagon, trickle down jobs, bold entrepreneurship…

Rant rant rant.  I'm provoked into such thoughts as I shake off dealing with the drunk hyper guy who feels like the bar where I work is his personal playhouse.  Is that Zeppelin?  Is that Floyd?  Each and every song, the guy has to talk about it.  You need a haircut, he says, trying to push a way into my wall of ignoring him.  A few minutes later, I come back from bringing the singer's PA system downstairs, load it in the back of her SUV--she strained her back recently--and K has plugged his iPhone music into the bar's sound system.  I quickly unplug it, which garners another comment, whoa…  and a chuckle from the man quietly finishing a small dinner after a long day.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I found it more interesting to read what I'd written the day before than the news on the web, after a quick scan.  There were faults in what I'd written, but it felt vital and necessary to track the thoughts as they came and went out of whatever frame or state of mind they came out of.  Before work I felt the despair of disorganization, of finding my job an evil one getting me nowhere closer to a good life, but that seemed like as good a point as any to think about larger issues.  Did I want to go back to school, yes.  Did I want to try physician's assistant program, maybe… Or did I feel there was some overarching reason, as if true literary education was more important for health than any particular medical procedure, thus an interest in Christian healing, in a general way.  What was it about good health that drew me, even as the night shifts were hard to deal with, as depression over thinking one had taken the wrong path in life, fallen in with bad things, was hard to deal with, but by taking a positive step forward each day and writing as honestly as one could, for no better reason than to sort things out.

No literary critic would in their right mind discuss healing by faith in a personal way, truly entertaining the concept in its vastness, Gopnik in The New Yorker far more suited to a piece in the rise of disbelief, an intellectual history to delight and entertain.  What I wrote would only be craziness highlighted by more craziness.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Great Author:

It felt sometimes like my getting closer to the verge of the battle lines between good and evil.  You work as a writer, you work at finding your way to deeper reality.  And when I scratched the surface it looked more and more like a Christian battle with the devil.  Demons could enter you and mess up your health.  And I saw a good amount of that working at night, being around wine and alcohol.  Night shifts, when you were tempted away, when people's demons came out.  I regretted ever getting into such a business, but it was as if I knew that this was a place to encounter the spiritual poor who needed help.

Demons had entered me, when I was young and susceptible, when I was not wary enough, the same demons that haunted my grandfather, who had his battles.  Shift work in restaurants.

If good makes a stand, evil is rebuked, goes away in angst.  And when good comes around in your life, you feel like Simon Peter, "depart from me, Master, for I am a sinful man."  You know good, you know where to find it, but it just seems the light of it dims sometimes and you get lost in things without thinking, yes, without thinking, along for a ride, as if you had no power.  Where, how to fight evil but by reading the Gospels, so you have a kind of dry run, a plan, a schematic…  And if you can, then maybe you're helping out humanity in a crucial battle.

It does feel strange to stand up, to expel the demons from your own self, if you can, of course with higher help, and I would hope, that just as the stories say, you are returned to health, mental, physical, otherwise.

To read from Luke, say, it's really all quite common, the number of people with evil spirits, unclean spirits, a fever in them that the Holy One of God can rebuke.  How many people does Jesus cure?  There's the demon talking back to him, throwing its inhabitant down on the floor, but departing without harming the man.  There's the girl, the leper, the man lowered down through the roof, Simon's mother.  And really, they are restored, made whole again, returned to alignment with God's heavenly order.

Jesus didn't go around like a doctor with a great variety of illnesses, fever, high cholesterol, joint inflammation, blood pressure, each on a separate basis, clinically….  Makes you wonder.  I know, that would be a thought easy to laugh at, bitterly, particularly by those who've had to grimly face real illnesses.  But the miracles are a representation, of an order beyond us, beyond our science.  The miracles show that good prevails, or something like that.

As the poor know, it would be too terrifying to live in a world without that power of Jesus Christ to know the difference between good and evil and stand rightly.  Yes, the poor and the sinful and the possessed, they would know a bit better than the rich person sealed off in their wealth with modern medicine and modern science at their call.  You'd be far more feeling the need to believe, or find the Christian healing accessible.  And I wonder, if you have succumbed to the notion that the only way to go through life is to amass riches and securities and protections, well, you're susceptible to not seeing the demons when they come to tempt, influence, enter…  Sophistication doesn't do much good when there's some basic evil spirit gnawing away at you.  Even an exercise program, even a career.  The high place of the mountain, the pedestal of the Temple…

It takes being humbled to want to see it, or to know that you have to read, just to be able to fight through the day, to not lose your mind as you try to attend to things it seems you have to do if you want to eat and half the roof over your head.  Maybe you just have to be humbled down to that poor reality for you to really wake up, for your belief to wake and then experience the joy you so badly need.  How to put it into words, into a story, into language, into the thoughts in your own mind?  Will some event come, like passing the man possessed with demons as you walk to work, whereby you pull out some faith and power, something dramatic like that?  No, probably not.  Probably you'll just find yourself clinging to that bit of sanity it all allows you, just taking along your own limping hurt Christian body through another day, as you wonder, what to do with life, what to do with faith even, wonder if you have enough faith, of if you just aren't weak.  Well, you can only admit the truth.  The truth will always help, a step that allows other steps forward, to know what's good from what isn't.  And maybe your health recovers as you take up such good things.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

I stood with him on the deck, on the bridge of the night, when he came by to order his dinner through a touch of the computer screen with an extended finger.  I heard a soft, deep-voiced, hey, how you doing man…  We watched the water of the evening flowing, running out now, the last waves, as we always dealt with upstairs.  We spoke quietly for the night.  "Yeah, I'm fine when I get here, just during the daytime… Don't look forward to it."   He chuckled, louder than I'd heard him chuckle over anything I'd said for a long time.  Our most substantive conversations were about the exercise and the yoga we did during the day.  He'd get up earlier than I would.  He wasted far less time.  And what do you do when you get home, take the time to unwind, finally get to bed having processed it all, then sleep as the body deserves, get up late, don't do much, you get ashamed.

Later he came back from the office up the hall where he disappeared with a finished dinner plate, a napkin and a plastic wire bread basket.  Excellent, he said.  We had an eight top and I hoped they wouldn't want dessert and that no one else would want to come and want to linger over a glass of wine.

It was an interesting moment of candor between us, and perhaps he had more time, more a chance to exchange a word, on a weekend night, a Saturday, moreso than other nights I worked.  He had up 'til a few years ago regularly gone to karate practice early on weekend mornings.  "Gets the aggressions out."  Now he was really into the yoga, and swimming and biking.

Then later on I came home finally after spending some time with a  coworker.  He'd come up at the end of the night for a sip of wine.  It was the eight year anniversary of his father's death to brain cancer.  I wasted time plucking a banjo, putting a capo on it, adding to my understanding of Irish music.  But the wasting of time, the odd hours, how the wine was always soothing, the time completely alone, it was all beginning to gnaw on me, my life style of twenty five years of night shifts.  Cooking something, a hamburger for myself, in the wee hours.  Something creepy about it, knowing it would have to end someday and not feeling prepared for such circumstances.

Yeah, I was a country boy as far as the whole thing was concerned.  And as a country boy, I don't know, it's just that you have a set of morals.   Sometimes you bite off more than you can chew, in the way of rugged quiet poetic suffering of the sort a country boy feels normal with.  You're use to a lot of silence.  You listen to trees and brooks and creeks and grasses and all that sort of thing… cattails, snow.  But sometimes you bite off like thirty years of daily…  I don't know… should haves?  Or, that 'you were cool, and deserved it,'  to which you have to add, 'as if anyone would have known…'  but then, people are supposed to know.  Be discerning, right...

So when I said, okay, I won't write you, even if I do find a piece of paper and a pencil in the dust, and then didn't write that summer, that was just me being me.  Stupid, I know.  Because time is not infinite, at least you come to realize.  And it was all totally stupid.  Of course I wanted to write her.  What else did I want to do with my summer, but, just because I had my fool standards.  I could say I did a lot of things wrong that year, like when I picked out a place to live up on a hill away from campus a bit.  Incredibly stupid.  I had a great bunch of friends down in a dorm on campus.  But no, I had to go walking out past Emily Dickinson's house every day and night.

I think I tried to write a sketch of a story, like I went back to where I was from after, and there was a girl I could talk to, metaphorically, maybe she was big, maybe she was little, maybe she was old, maybe she was young, maybe she sat in fields all day and milked cows, and knitted sweaters by hand, cooked for her brothers, or maybe she played music.  Maybe she stood somewhere outside a mythical farm house and knew the ridges the way I did, knew where the next bend in the road, 12B, was, or how a road from the ridge dropped down into Deansboro, and old Indian trading road that came from Munnsville and Knoxboro, crossing 26.  Did I find her in rain?  Was I the one lost in the rain, and then saw someone far away who was comfortable with the rain and the cold…  I got the impression sometimes that was what I was dealing with in other people, that they were able to live like that, bare in a way, or that maybe I could.

I realized quickly on that I didn't have a sketch, or more than a sketch.  What I needed was to talk to people, to find a place to find them and talk to them, and sort of conduct interviews about what sort of nature they knew, what elements, what experiences.  They were too busy, really.  They knew something I didn't. But I was looking for authenticity, I guess, and you found it if you stood there long enough as a bartender.  Though, Jesus, the repetitive shows I've seen, acted out, time and time again….

Books are ghosts, or have ghosts…  I don't think I really read them anymore.  I just keep them, and there they are on the shelf, containing what they contain.  An interesting hodgepodge, as all libraries are.  Wine books mixed with art books, some book of Kerouac's you found supportive once, now distanced, but still reachable.  Like I remember the guys I worked with at McDonald's behind the line back in my hometown.  Kundera, Twain, Cheever, Chekhov, old yearbooks, American Library works of Lincoln, I & II, texts, poems, anthologies, letters, biographies, epics, classics, Faerie Queen.  A few shelves of Ireland related things.  Madam Korbonski's Encyclopedia B., saved from the rain.

I don't want to obsess, I don't mean to obsess, I try not to, and I don't, but, it's just that there is in everything some kind of a lesson.  Like when Samuel Clemens finds himself out of work and has to slink around in shame, avoiding his landlord, when he had failed at some 'real job.'  He snuck off, slinked around I mean, or hid, and that's when, through the awful grace of God, his career as a journalist started.  I'll just write well about something, he told himself.  And that's what Twain and Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, that's where they call come from  and what they're like.  They are creatures of good free writing, true stuff, stuff that made the author feel things, remember, summon scenes emotionally out of his own stuff, like we all have stuff.  He just started writing real, and after a while, you stop looking over you shoulder and just keep doing it.

Maybe it's more like cooking than anything else.  Cook something you sear it on both sides, then give it heat, but not too much, then you let it rest, to let the juices redistribute and become the sauce.  Twain didn't give a shit, he just wanted to write how he really felt, and goddamn, after all those jobs and all that real life experience--did they have the term then?--he just wrote.  The Dauphine, hell, I'm going to write about the Dolphin, or someone talking about him…  Fundamental way to write something, just by being real about it, not creepy, joyful, accepting, forgiving…  That's the great thing about Chekhov… It's like no one ever needed to say, oh, this guy is fucking great, absolutely awesome, and even shy about how fantastic, absolutely, he is, like he was hiding something like an ikon...

Friday, February 21, 2014

Great Author:

Yes, Luke 4…  So why does Jesus get offended, as he comes home and preaches, reads from Isiah in the synagogue, when they look at themselves and say, 'is that not the son of Joseph?'  Is Jesus simply highlighting that his time, and the time to believe faithfully, has come, that it's time to get with it?  Is he making some subtle point, observing that people are so what we might call today ego-driven, so rooted in the illusion of 'who a person is,' so attached to seeing a person as someone they already know, already defined, that they cannot open themselves to the the possibilities, the possibilities of seeing the deeper wisdom of someone else, which is surprising to them, but then also able to in their own lives respond to that wisdom…

Does that sound a little bit Buddhist, or a little bit Eckhardt Tolle?  Does the state of being free of one's ego, thus not judgmental, open spiritual potential?  Would that turn the world on its head, that the person we, through our egos and judgments, normally would not even think have the potential to teach great things might have as much value as that person whom we have already a professional expectation of being in that realm…  Where does the carpenter's son get the authority when he's not a rabbi…  Is that not radical…

But then, to temper our fears that we have turned into radicals, about to tip over the sacred, what do we have but these sketches of Jesus?  Is this enough to go on?  Do we not have a tendency to feel a little creepy even about reading Luke, I mean, if you haven't bought into the Catholic party line…  Is thinking about this stuff, meditating alone upon it, is that a bit creepy?  Shouldn't you focus on your job, or at least having some sort of feeling of envy to those who do have careers of note and societal worth… the television producer, the judge, the expert?  Do we feel a little sad ruminating over all the possibilities alone on a Friday evening, considering our reaction to Jesus here in Luke when they almost want to throw him off the edge for insulting their piety anyway…  Do we think that perhaps in some small metaphoric way that we might at least be wise like Jesus was, to make good sound judgments about what to do on a daily moral basis, even if we obviously have no power of miracles, which we wouldn't want anyway given how you'd end up being hounded to death by fame.

It's all theater, of the Christian sort, yes, but really not so different from reading Shakespeare, in a certain sense, who himself came out of the morality play, juicing it up.  So it's okay for us to read the Gospels, I mean, if you have to be apologetic about it.  And who is not at least in the beginning of a thing of two minds about it, not sure what to think…  Yes, if you stop too, to think about your own sins, do you not want to have some model before you, to help you make better decisions…  And hopefully, in the long run, Jesus is such a role model, though of course, given what happens to him, we don't want to be too much like him.  Will one cause a stir by even mentioning him, provoke a reaction, knowing that this can be a violent world when beliefs and religious systems are involved, yet another consideration, but one that points back to that strange thing, the ego in people, the defined sense of self or identity or whatever you want to call that fixedness.   When even our atoms aren't fixed…

I feel sad talking about these things, lonely in a way.  But in a way, also calm and stilled, I hope.  Time flies by, and here I am thinking about these things.  Is that the way being in the Garden of Gethsemane, tinged with a hopelessness, would have felt, I don't know, can't pretend to know, that feeling of being an amateur.   Isn't that the son of that guy we know...

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A day off, and feebly I do laundry.  A warmer day in a cold winter, a bit of spring cleaning, enough light to see the dust on a dry hard wood floor, evidence of the dryness of heat.  Things in the fridge to toss.  The night before, after coming home from a long shift, in the night, looking up the intellectual world of an old professor of mine, a great democrat, small d, I discover a line, a piece to look over.

The Fate of the Union:  Kennedy and After, by Benjamin DeMott, December 26, 1963, The New York Review of Books.

Shrewd observer, keen eye, stimulating prose, that's my old professor, sterling and revered, cutting through the illusions, challenging the mind.

Within the article, a summoning of Oswald's world, the imaginary, the fantasy, and through it also the possibilities of someone like President Kennedy allowed.

In a world in which work is the only “socialization” and socialization the only salvation, he had no mastered technique, no low number slot on the plant bowling team, no lunch hour appointments with a personally interested aide in the department of human engineering, hence no on-the-job redemption.

The look at Oswald/A. Hydell brings forward a common social problem, young people, caught in fantasy, not belonging anywhere, the difficulty of finding the support for higher education, professional development.

It does cut close to the writer's world, the necessity of work, just for that social life, that acceptance as a member of society.  It tweaks at the writer's propensity for the numerous fantasies of life that suggest that one is doing okay.  Where did the dishonesty begin?

That insight, one might say, was itself allowed by the G.I. Bill, the great post war social program that allowed DeMott, my father as well, an entire generation, the chance of higher education, resources invested in the individual.  Given the opportunity, DeMott received an education, turned it into a job as an English professor, went on for a Ph.D, was able to engage in the sort of writing from which this article comes from, a platform meeting a gift.  (Is that related to my own fantasy:  you work, hard enough, and one day, you get to go to school free;  that you are recognized as enough of a writer and artist to receive some form of employment, as the WPA allowed.)

I should be happy enough to be employed at something, to have some modicum of skill, a bit of wine knowledge, a cultural base to participate in conversation.  And one day, maybe I'll have the sense to know the elements of a fantasy when I encounter them.

So, what work can one find, so far out of school?  Where does one buckle down, with some sense of satisfaction and professional development?  Where to find redemption?  Parsing through difficult passages of Luke 4, Jesus speaking of the heavens closed to an undeserving Israel?  Or wouldn't even that be fantasy, a gospel's offer of a form of personal development…

Okay, obviously, it seems, there is a good possibility in Oswald, who spent long hours alone as a truant child, that there were grounds for the psychological ills that would lead him to do violence upon a stranger.  In summoning both the world of Oswald and the social problems that we would have woken to and addressed post-Kennedy's leadership, a sketch of Kennedy as well, perhaps that freakish cold blood killer genie was kept apart from the author's main point.

But in reading a great thinker, a great writer, the reader finds, as if by sheer coincidence, an addressing of the problems he might himself be sensing, not quite present enough to begin without a teacher's eye. There it is, right in front of you all along.  It just had to be revealed to you.

For a moment, reflecting on the act of writing this, I might appreciate a particular quality of the "greatest generation," the G.I. Bill guys who'd learned Latin in school, enlisted, survived, how from our lens now they might represent a feel of 19th Century, the classicism, the belief in education, humanities, learning, sciences, poetry, a belief in articles and Science journals, the spiritual intertwine that made their work in whatever they did devout as that of Amish farmers.  The children of slaves and immigrants integrated with them…

So yes, what would they be able to make of an Oswald, in their sadness, but to think of a lost child, a man let down for lack of help, left completely adrift, no structure, school or church to, well, maybe yes, provide him a meaning to his struggles, a subtle support system to the ways in which he, an individual, might want to say things, a forgiveness.  And with forgiveness, maybe some kind fatherly hand, perhaps things would have turned out differently.

But without credential or platform, stuck in a kind of unreality, not matching anywhere to anything, not in Russia, not in Texas, an Oswald drifts…  And for us even to touch upon the subject of him so doing is eery and weird.

Benjamin DeMott, cultural critic, democrat, created a form, a place to be honest and candid, brought forth something really vital, a style, a way, fresh, creative, and for this he deserves a huge amount of credit.  And right now, from somewhere, he's giving me a C plus, perhaps worse, and showing me I'm doing things the wrong way.

Monday, February 17, 2014

I think we'd better change the subject, my father said, once when I was driving him over to my brother's house to see his grandchildren.  I had brought up the possibility of a scholarly appreciation of him, a collection of student's memories, colleagues…  We ended up talking about how they had him drive a weather instrument truck, in preparation of the invasion of Japan.  But his sentiment was clear, and perhaps for similar reasons there is only one known photograph of his mentor, Dr. Ray Ethan Torrey.

Not wanting to quote the gospels anymore than you, Matthew, 19:17 comes to my mind.  "And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good?  there is none good but one, that is, God:  but if thou will enter into life, keep the commandments."  Not an issue at the forefront of everyone's mind, that there is only one real source of goodness, and that it is beyond the self.  And anyone here blogging, for whatever reason, apparently bears the danger of calling attention to himself/herself, maybe in particular to the style blog.  Hey, everyone, look at me.  Yeah, I might think I'm laying down some interesting personal discovery related to Chinese medicine, the beauty of astragalus and other natural anti-inflammatories, but here I go on Insta-twit.  Only a Neanderthal mind would even want to object, or the mind of a fundamentalist, the urge to call notice to the self.

So where do you go with it?  What do you do?  Maybe it's just more like a garden, really;  you plant things, hoping they grow, in their own organic way.  It isn't me.  I must be humble.  I just listen.

Some ancient wisdom, well regarded by enough personal experience to bear repeating, meditation and study, tells us that we get a more accurate picture of reality if we look beyond the illusions of ego and self.  "This too shall pass."  Take a step back.  Is this particular disconnected moment really me?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

I like writing in dialog as a way of exploring things.  If there is truth or accuracy in representation it's complex, an interplay as all things human are, a lot of sides to everything.  And if you say one thing one day, get it down, then the next day you feel differently about it, that there is another angle to catch, which perhaps speaks to a Buddhist concept of the illusion of ego, the ever-changing quality of everything.

I probably don't belong in a city.  There's something…  Maybe Natalie Merchant, how did she put it, like "who was I kidding?"  She couldn't pass someone eating garbage and not want to do something about it.  Maybe that speaks of my basic problem.  People have told me as much.  Small town, too kind, or simply, 'you don't belong here, I don't see you here.'

And it was true.  What was I doing here.  I mean, yeah, moving to a big city sounds like a fine idea, New York, sure.  Who wouldn't want to live there, all the culture, all the fine stuff... I didn't realize how much I was encountering the city's influence even in the bucolic setting where I was lucky enough to go to school.  People were ambitious, opinionated, striving in a way I simply wasn't, aggressive…  and yeah, I'm sure people like that don't really like dealing with people like me, without becoming irritated, confused by such idiotic behavior such as I can barely even understand myself sometimes.  I should have known then.  I half pretended I belonged there, and you could get away with it because there was a lot of countryside there and all the small ways to find a shelter in reading, learning about something.

Well, what options do you have outside the city?  Where do you belong?  What can you do so you won't go crazy?  How, where, to find your own life?

I guess that's why I like Chekhov stories, like The Steppe, the long one about a boy making a long trip to stay with a relative and go to school, or that one about the waiter who slips on some peas and injures himself such that he has to go back to the hovel where he's from.  That's a human story.

And I know, if you say something true, at least partially, well, you're getting a leg up on something, making a small advancement.
A woman I've known vaguely anonymously for a dozen years or so, bartender, client, comes in after a long absence.  It was hard to get back to DC from New York given the winter storm, she tells me.
"How's New York?"
"It's a shit show.  A lot of angry people," she says.  African descent, like all of us.  British accent.  My guess she's in style, hair, maybe.  "And if you're nice, people take it as a sign of weakness, {and take their nastiness and anger out on your flesh}…"
My boss sits near her to eat his dinner.  It's been a busy Valentine's Day.  It's after ten, we opened a half an hour early, at five.  I relate out loud what the lady was telling me, as my boss worked in New York for well long enough to know.  Quietly, as he finishes his soup:  "You run.  All the time, you run."

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Great Author:

… Well, obviously I would empathize…  It would be like having a border collie and keeping him inside by a piano in an apartment, not giving him room to run or a sense of work to do, an outer space to patrol.  Look at Shakespeare's forehead, the hair worn off it, shaped like a bottle-nosed dolphin's almost, all that wild wordy frontal lobe activity.  You can see it on Joyce's face, in the proclivity toward schizophrenia, an excess of words, in his line, his daughter.  There's a need to write thoughts down on a regular basis.  Like a need to keep up with something.  Thus is it isn't always polite.   Like Hamlet, wild and wordy and borderline, I mean, looking at it one way.  No wonder for some of us Hamlet is the picture of sanity, or a kind of role model of how to deal… Sanity is found in the activity of writing, in Shakespeare's case, dramatic verse, a thousand characters, all of them inhabited, all of them with words appropriate to them,  a great character active, mutable, changing all the time, worth catching 'live,' and portrayable in a different way each time.

With Hemingway too, the strange sexual fantasy of having manhood blown off in the war in his first novel…  Not surprising a son of his, again schizophrenic, dressing as a woman, dying in jail.  Evidence of a need to get something down, out of one's system, or simply 'out.'  Papa was, or could be, a sensitive guy, could tap into his affection and appreciation of animals, like his cats, just as he could shoot other animals.  Strange…

But basically this is why I see value in a daily, or regular, exercise of writing.  We can't all let the television do the talking for us, to sort out all our things.  We have to be active in it, just as we have to eat.  We read good stuff in order to appreciate that need we have.  To deprive one of that is to mistreat a dog, animal cruelty.  Perhaps implying that we have to listen and to entertain, leave a door open for forms of verbal activity that are intimate and conversational.  A sorting out of thoughts, a sorting out of chemistry.

I'm sure all of this is quite obvious.  It's why we watch Jimmy Fallon, or why an actor can do impersonations, or the wordiness of rock'n'roll, like Freddie Mercury, Queen.  An anthropologist looking at us from a distance would take it all in stride…  Conversations in bars, Ulysses, old pagan myths handed down verbally, Shakespearean theater, all of us trying to keep our brains in tune.

If you were an author, I suppose you could study the way conversations misfire.  People mean to be on the same page, they want to talk about the same thing, to make sense, to be understood, to understand another, but we so often miss.  We get cut off.  We don't get to say things as we might like to.  Maybe it's just that another person's thoughts are just going off in another direction.  All you can do it listen to her thoughts.  Try to engage.

But it all had been so horribly counterproductive…  It was as if you had made a great scientific discovery.  You'd been morally upright about your science, disciplined, upstanding, done good science.  All of which felt good, deeply satisfying, fulfilling…  But you'd left the door to your workshop laboratory atelier open enough, and someone else had come along and claimed the principal spoils, just out of simple selfish pleasure, the easiest thing to do in the world, something that makes you look good even.

My mother's feminist preachings had not served me well to understand the situation.  Women are passive creatures, who must be courted.  They are not the decision makers they're made out to be.  While they may choose lots of things in this basic matter they must be chosen by the man.  I made far too much out of surface rejections, episodic things…  And I never made myself clear, always stopped short of expressing myself, the heart, that sort of thing.  I thought the science was enough, quite obliviously, like your typical awkward intellectual.

A lot of things that followed upon this failure of mine--I don't know, was it simply a matter of self-confidence?--were pointless, counterproductive.  The great scientist was reduced to being a humble workman, reduced to overalls, sadly, against his will, knowing now what he'd missed.  Down and out, nobody knows you.  And no Ayn Rand fantasy, no Patricia Neal coming to Gary Cooper.  Society takes you as a kind of madman, for your humility really.

I can understand Melville's Ahab somehow.  "Strike through the mask…"  Look to the great Biblical injustice you've been dealt with, though of course you yourself caused it, completely responsible for the whole thing, the absence of a leg, the scar of lightning, like the destruction of all of Job's happy life, the seeming thanks for his good science of believing faithfully in his God.  But of course, as far as Captain Ahab, you can't be violent or aggressive, violence only begetting violence….  You have to listen to God saying "where you there when I laid the foundations of the world?"  Faithful servant, you have to accept.

So what good does science do you?  Did you even learn anything?  Maybe you  learned more about bravery and of ostracism than you'd like to know.  "Who needs science anyway?"  What good does it do?  Or, rather, the science should be about living, on a daily basis, just trying to be happy and do all the things required of us.  No need for grand noble-sounding experiments of the sort great author's like to run.  Psychological flaw.  Just keep it mindless and happy.  Write popular recipe sort of books, how-tos.  Focus on the worldly…

Or maybe the failure itself, maybe that too is the science, like a king stripped of everything, learning to be a pauper and deal with everybody in a new way.  No, not really.  How I blather on.

Can you resurrect your science, make it vital again, as it once was?  Or do people change so much, so that the science is completely reformed, as if on a different scale, or like the Big Bang theory suddenly working not forwards but backwards, everything fallen back into the minuscule origin point…  No, I guess not.  Science is, as poetry, meant to be sweet, happy or at least at peace.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A guy I deal with on a regular basis is calling out my name during jazz night.    He is beckoning for the third time to get drinks for a couple he's just met.  The couple has been in since early, enjoying happy hour, and the guy has already had his second cognac.  "Ted, Ted, back these guys up.  This guy's Navy," K announces in his merriment in the midst of another jazz night, frenetic gypsy jazz keeping me on the edge of mental balance.  On into the night, the pace rises.  My coworker needs an amaretto on the rocks, meaning I need to run downstairs to find a bottle of it.  Dirty dinner plates are handed to me, to stack on milk crates beneath the bar, scraped, silver ware into little plastic buckets.  Now comes dessert phase, the busboy distracted, making cappuccino.  More of K's friends show up.  My efforts to slow down Navy guy have been lost in the melee.  "Ted, get these guys an escargot, and then a salmon."  "Who's check on they on?"  "Put the drinks on our check, and put their food on their own."  Yeah yeah yeah, he goes back to his hosting.  "Ted, get these ladies some champagne," K says, glomming on to two women quietly enjoying grad school talk over a cheese plate.  "K, why don't you open your own restaurant," I mutter.  Finally, as things calm, near getting the band fed, Navy guy is leaning over his table, hand up agains the tryptic oil painting of piglets in a child's restaurant scene.  "You better get that guy a bucket," a clearer minded customer suggests, having sat at the bar for a late dinner with a woman whose Mondays are free from the kids.

Tuesday night, I go in, in gear, ready for Free Wine Tasting night.  I stocked the bar pretty well, after last night's roughness, but I'm in right on time, having walked through the woods to work in the cold, bringing up the case of the Languedoc white we're tasting with Oscar the importer.  My coworker Joe, rarely on time, comes up the stairs talking on the phone with the waiter who's stuck in France, his green card denied.  He walks around the dining room, not doing much of anything.  I've got the majority of the case of wine chilled in the sink. Stock the mineral water, get the fruit tray out, assess what else I need to grab in the way of miscellaneous stuff.   The busboy is never on time.  "Hey, you want to say hi..." I hear as I'm putting things in order.  I wave him off.  I got stuff to do.

We sit and eat, I come back up, tie my tie, brush and floss, get things into place, glasses out for the tasting.  A moment break from early customers so I go grab a few more sodas to even their ranks ready to go, down to the basement.  "Here are the specials," the downstairs waiter says, handing me a scrap of paper.

I come back up.  Joe is talking now to a former regular who's slipped in early.  She's in town for job interviews.  Joe's talking about his upcoming trip.   I kneel to put the sodas away in an orderly way.  I clean out the fruit containers and get ready to cut the lemons and the lime we'll need tonight, one for lemon twists.  "Hey, man, you get the specials?"  Yeah, I tucked the piece of paper right at the edge of the Campari bar matt at the bar opening.  Joe picks it up and looks at it.  "What's with the rack of lamb?"  I don't know, I haven't looked at it yet, the piece of paper I grabbed in my organizing and preparations.  Joe chuckles, as if to suggest irresponsibility on someone's part.

Wednesday Jazz, the forecast is for big snow.  I end up hanging out late with K's buddy, who was kind enough to say, "Hey, I really appreciate you telling K earlier he's too much sometimes.  He starts buying everyone drinks, and then he wants to split the tab…"  ("Are joo keeding me…" my coworker says to me when she sees them arrive, early.)  We end up having a few glasses of wine at the end of the night after everyone else's has left, listening to David Bowie and looking out the bar's windows down on the street below and the great snow shawling down at an angle, a background of snow dust in the air beneath street lamps.  I'm not at all sure I handled it well, but I tried to explain things to K as he held his first glass of wine with bright expectancy, already starting on his jibber jabber running commentary on the night.  I finally get something to eat.  A lunch size serving of dug leg isn't quite enough.  At 9:20 I was told the kitchen was closing at 9:30.  I ordered hastily, getting the band's food order in, also getting another order in right at closing, and I regret it as the last bite disappears.

The next day I wake up with a headache, feeling slightly guilty for forgetting to put the last espresso on a check.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Very rarely, late at night, I look through my blog pieces.  As any writer can imagine, anyone really, this can be an awkward and embarrassing thing to do.  Particularly with just this sort of writing, the musings of blog pieces, wandering, almost irresponsible.  I can't always bear to look at them, to relish exploring what I wrote five years ago.  But every now and then, I think, 'hmm, not bad.'  Just that they have  no shape, that there's no way to make them anything other than what they are, unmarketable, except that they are like apples, just made by nature, a good thing to bite into if it's a good one.

Blogging… is it my fault such a thing was created for amateurs like us?

Friday, February 7, 2014

"You're blocking your energies," a Czech woman once told me, observing me during the tail end of a shift one night.  "You have so much energy...  you could build a schoolhouse all by yourself..."  Of course, I looked at her, wondering what she meant, absorbing it, looking for the wisdom.  Which may have been plainly obvious, out in the open, there before me, but I didn't quite see it.  It implied something.  What should I do?  What was I doing, what should I be doing?  Her grandmother was a witch, and there was something trustworthy to my visitor, a large person.

I could answer that question with a tepid statement that I was writing, but I wasn't sure of that, by any means.  It is a hard thing to define, an array of activities, but no clear way of fitting in, or maybe inherently fitting in.  What was the purpose of writing, if you could be building a house with your own two hands, or did she say barn, or was there implication of a school?

In truth the built up wave of the water of work would sweep through me, through my lines and defenses and take me along with it, the hot energy of people intent on relaxing blowing through my night, leaving me hungry and wiped out.  There should have been a slow easy shift that ended early now and again, but they never happened.  It would take time to come down, to calm down, from the whole complex of things, and the pattern meant getting up late, and really not writing much, except on days off, a nocturnal shift existence.  How to come to the daylight?  I had no clear idea.  The job kept me in such a state, I found it impossible even to try anything else.

I'd write whenever I could, mainly as a way of thinking, to clarify all the elements going on in my mind, even holding opposite and contradictory thoughts.  But it seemed an uneasy existence, with something never resolved, as much as we must live in the present.  Years went by, and there I was, still bobbing in the wind, it seemed, grateful for a roof over my head, the future unclear.  Indeed, what was I doing wrong?  And from where does that magic thing, the money for earning a steady place in this world come anyway?

The day off would come upon me.  I'd do the dishes, the laundry, sit down here and there to write, but feeling distracted, feeling as if I were caught in some perpetual form of sin that the modern world only encouraged with all its distractions, all the small ways in when you're trying to protect your psyche and your deeper understandings of yourself, the invitation.  And I'd rue the fact that tending bar left me vulnerable, in the way an Amish farmer simply isn't, from worldly influences.

If thy right eye offends thee...  Was that where I was headed?  Was it too late?
I guess you just stop blaming yourself after a certain point, or maybe the blame is transformed into something else, transformed by taking to a deeper standard.   You grow up in the country, every day exposed to nature, encountering it intimately on any scale you care to, always there, the backdrop, the place you are in.  The Irish or Greek boy comes from a country side, a farming life, comes to the New World, to The City, finds himself most at ease in a pub or a diner.  Maybe he's a cop.  I find a sympathy with a Shane MacGowan, a smart literary sensitive guy with a crazy streak, rooted in a rural life and farm people, who comes to the big city in a crucial time of transformation, and how he must take his rural inner life and maintain it in some form, out of a deep need, in his case to preserve the traditional countryside Irish music, but really to preserve something important to him within, such that life doesn't become completely inconsistent.  (Is that a luxury, or something fought for?)

I grew up around barns and cornfields, stretches of road along pastures and woods, large open spaces between towns, terrain, hills.  I grew up around farm houses with a line of trees in front of them, maples, a yard.  I grew up before the countryside had been subtly industrialized by the reach of cyberspace, when there still was a downtown Utica with thriving shops and a beautiful old movie theater and a Philip Johnson art museum, and still with restaurants, before the box store and the malls.  And still, near where I'm from, there are still farms and towns tucked away, a volunteer firehouse, a gas station, an old cemetery, up on the ridge Mennonite silos.  I'd ride my bike over the ridges, wary of farmhouse dogs doing their natural duty.  I remember the green of grass in summer, the color of dirt, the world blanketed by snow.  I remember the school bus driver with his tractor driver hat.  I used to keep a phrase to myself, that had to do with a local boy's sense of the world James Dean grew up in, rural farm boy Indiana, the roads connecting the stretches between the towns with town halls and the old bank buildings and a movie theater made of brick.  To understand the work of James Dean, its rootedness in humanity, it helped to know where he came from.

I take little credit for growing up positioned so and I feel lucky, though of course to be real costs something to maintain, maybe in a strange parallel to the way being materialistic costs something, but something different, something else, though I regard the costs for the former a good thing as far as character building.  I had sensitive parents and this was the luck of their draw during a period of change, when we left Amherst, even as my father had been a very accomplished professor there, but unrewarded for the academic rigor and the subsequent beauty of learning he imposed upon the students of the University there.  They built a house on acres of land up a farm road in a land dipping gently, a grove of elms, an old orchard taken back by nature, a swamp, a stream that ran clear hard water.  That was where I grew up, and there was, for me, some feelings when we left it, moving on.  There was a beauty and a grace to that too, as there was about all of it, to the trees, the cats, to the Irish Wolfhounds and the Corgi we had, the ducks we raised once in the bathtub, the fire pot, all of it.

It is nice to remember, and I take pride in it, that we lived with the land, that the three of us, my dad, my brother and I, would split the wood and shovel the snow and mow the lawn and paint the house and stain the decks.  We would hear at night the sound of the big orange painted snow plows, the sounds of their chains on the road, the scraping of the plow blades, the puff of engine reverberating as we lay in bed with blankets over us, the road becoming clear again, a visitation.

That was some of the stuff I've always felt obliged to bring along with me in the things I do.

The countryside instills a sense of humor in you.  It gives you a perspective you'll rely on your whole life, even in the city.  It gives you a pace of life.  It gives you a sensibility, broadly applied, not necessarily funneled into a particular craft, but in all things you do.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What man, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave (the) ninety nine… and go after the one…?  Luke 15:4, as quoted in Amish Shunned:  American Experience, PBS.

Great Author's Friend:  And so I felt, deeply in my inner mind, in a way I could not control.  I went to the city--not knowing one from another really--looking for the one lost sheep.  It had always been that way.  Just that it took years to realize.  It wasn't about a job, or a career, never about that.  But just looking for that one, as if calling out.

The one had gone in a crazy way, lost abilities to forgive, suggested that you yourself were the crazy one.  That one lost sheep was me, known more intimately, just as it was about anyone else, a loved one, a family member, one cared about.  Sometimes you love by strictness, sometimes, yes, by some form of shunning, in an attempt to discipline, and sometimes, yes, by falling, by being cast into exile, all of it at a deeper subconscious level.

Perhaps in your search you find that many people are lost, incredibly, widely, vastly, living in the worldly society, swept into a vortex.  The one seemed symptomatic of the whole, and the whole, of the one.  You go and try to find them too, and bring them back.  You find a place on a stony pass, looking, seeking to intercept.

Sometimes all that seems to happen is that you get stuck, pulled into the vortex.  (This is blasphemy against modern society's illusions of security.)  A holding pattern, if one were to measure it by time.  Years go by.  You went looking for the one you could not forget, and then you begin to realize that all, just about, are lost, lost out of trying to belong.   A heavy weight.  If they were not lost, as if you needed any more proof, why then would they come to you, the shepherd searching, if they too were not lost, unless if they too by coincidence had at least some need, small or large, of being looked for, tended, being called back, called back in a higher language whereas all they can say basically in their materialist language is, 'bah.'

But it was all a lost place, with people talking much, talking so much, as if to prove something, the subtlety of their wit and understanding, their control over everything.  Busy busy busy.  And many of them were the elites of the modern worldly society, still busy, very busy, continuing to be elites, to play their roles as had come to them.  Hypnotized.  Polite they were, and hard working and surely disciplined, but lost too because of attitude of materialism in a way that really could not be denied.  Great people, enjoyable to spend time in the presence of, but always a cold tightness about them, a plastic seal.  The hermetic seal was fine for them, as long as they were content and the great perpetual all-encompassing lie that extended all through known logical society that the masses too belonged to, until, either suddenly or through long years of hidden angst and psychological torment they would realize that it was all not okay and in fact the opposite.  (It would all be fine as long as the world known in their science cooperated.)  They sensed they would be eventually like Lear out on the heath with the fool in the blast, and they simply gambled against it as long as they could, finding such things most of the time highly unlikely--how could such happen with such a driveway in front of such a house?  Vaguely, they would sense, it could all come apart widespread and suddenly, but because there were reassuring things like the Fed or the stock market or tall buildings and airplanes and news covering everything from here to there they would live complacently every day tending to their own business.

As a sensitive young person you realized this, piecemeal, vaguely, distantly, obscurely.  You weren't a shrink with degrees and platitudes on the wall, you didn't have anything beyond a bachelor's degree, you didn't have any particular skill, but on a deeper level you sensed something.   Following on that, there could never be an intent to go and seize something grand like Wall Street or the publishing house or the newsroom or the operating room or the state assembly or the courthouse…  You knew something that layeth beyond particular skill, something inherent in a human being derived from inner dignity.  You wanted to save people, even if just by your presence or by a quiet contrary opinion.

(This happens to be the same subliminal impulse behind The Catcher in the Rye.  One limited take on what can only be done through some sort of fictional address, if it's still to remain polite.)

By the great grace of God, human society still works.  And so you waited.  You stood in a public place and waited to save who you could, grant them a small measure of real Christian unselfish love even if they in their selfishness could not see beyond the moment, beyond the plane of immediate existence.  Maybe you had to get lost yourself, like the movie shown at Christmastime, in order to get people to find themselves.

And maybe too, like the one, you failed them quite often, suffering the same hypnotism.  You were dragged down into the same misery of belonging to commercial society, sell sell sell, much like over serving the drunkard paid to do it.  The same real world trap as anyone else.  Had you thought you were immune, mystically separate?  You too had the feeling of no way out, no way back, no good thing or place to go work hard tending the land.  You'd worked hard enough to suffer real tiredness, but on the worldly level what good did it do?  What had you achieved?  Was there any career path?  Was the experience worth telling about in detail?  Just a bartender, just the fool you end up with out on the heath when your kingdom falls.  None of it makes any sense.

What a realization it must have been for him, Jesus, his kingdom not of this earth.  That would cause some pause on one of us, wouldn't it?  Make you wonder about a lot.  What good could you do other beings, but the simplest stuff?  Indeed, would one then seem faithless, as if not believing anything can be done in this world?  (No.)  Would it make it all like Judas Iscariot, caught up in worldliness, "I've got it figured out, how I'm making my next buck;  but I don't know about you…"

The one lost sheep, I know, is a metaphor.  That anything, any phenomenon, be boiled down into one…  The one would be an archetype.  Not that we can ignore our impressions about an individual… Maybe some times it is one, clearly one, burned into the psyche somehow, or does that perception reveal the presence of ego?  Is the one ultimately a stand-in for all, once viewed maturely?  Obviously the one has emotional import to the shepherd, leave it at that.

For me, personally, it's taken a lot of clarification, a lot of time.  In a lot of ways I've never really liked the city.  I always felt it a lonely place, in great contrast with my brother, who's thrived here.  I always felt deprived from interacting with nature in the way I'd want to.  And I always felt it was full of people who were distracted, often taken with false personalities, acts, as if they were trying to hide.  I know that sounds clichéd, overly dramatic, bigoted, narrow minded, unrealistic, contrary to the laws of the modern economy, and even ungrateful to my home.  Maybe the fact that I am a bartender contributes to my sense of isolation, my unease, the sense of not belonging.  Why did I come to the city?  To try to fit in, I suppose, so that I'd look good, worthy in the eyes of the lost sheep, as if a career would happen in such a place where I felt so awkward and unsettled.  So my work here has been of soothing those who also find their souls here in the city, such a place, in need of something more in tune with nature.  Was it my fault for feeling that way?  Was it my fault for missing nature and animals and a sense of land around me?  Was it my fault being ill at ease "in the dominant culture"( to use the words of an Amish interloper?)  Or maybe I just get enough of it doing what I do for walk, then having to retreat, in order to deal with the odd hours and so forth.

But you're never going to bring back the one lost sheep unless you claim your own authority, comfortable with the shepherd within, as we live in a society in which we have to renounce a lot of our deeper morality in order to fit in, which isn't healthy.  Cleverness valued over neighborliness… Affectation and arrogance over brotherly love…  And so it is on the street, so it is in the culture, the values, the distortion of the importance of things due to the cult of self-importance…  I've always needed room to think.  And because of the way I think, because of the things I express, society relegates me to be the humble servant, not the high nor the mighty nor the respected, not the first in line, the proud, the one with the big car and the powerful job, the big money making CEO engine of the great economic engine…  Feeling the pressure to be such, it's easy to treat people as if they, not you, were fools.

When we will we find ourselves so surrounded by walls of commercialism and hype and fake sweet hypnotic voices and pulsing bursts from monitor and speaker that we finally getting disgusted with pervasive materialism…?  Comcast On Demand.  Step right up.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Mad rehearsals of things that never happened, dream of changing my mind at a tattoo parlor at the last minute but offending the culture and antagonism when I bravely decide no I'm not going to do that to the skin on my shoulder, no refund then returning to a dingy apartment where I live with my brother, the toilet not working well, and last night, my birthday, a quiet party for me, north and looking back at our valley, at an outdoor place, sort of like a resort meets a nature zoo meets an elementary school with my brother, and then sweetly my mom comes, having travelled a very long way while it still is my birthday, still light out before midnight.  Dreams, funny things.

I came home last night and watched public television, segments of a piece on the Amish, one scene of fireflies at night twinkling in a field, barns in the distance.  Beautiful countryside.  Young folk leaving the community, shunned, but able to keep their lives together with work and housing and cars.  I work in the city, and remember wanting to cry whenever we'd leave dad's small driveway up back home and make the long drive back to the city and the fallen life I lead here alone.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

I wonder sometimes if it is an inherently evil business, serving wine.  You try to be accommodating to regulars, help them out with tastings, converse with them, take care of them, let them hang out as long as they want to, trying all the while not to over-serve, making sure everyone gets something to eat.  What could be evil about it?

But a temple is a temple.  There is, of course, a bottom line (which everyone respects.)  But, jealousies arise, contrasts of styles.  Customers ask servers, where's our wine guy, we want to deal with him.  Servers tell wine guy, your friend wants something, retreating to a corner to fold napkins.  Then it becomes a narrative, wine guy gives stuff away, free, which is not true.  Wine guy has regular customers, yes, like a cop out on his beat, checking in on a neighborhood that is kind enough to check in with him.

Wine guy walks home, frustrated.  He walks past shitty bars on the avenue at one in the morning, not even wanting to bother with them, but in a bad mood, needing human presence.  A woman, gussied up, asks him a question at the street corner, maybe directions?  A truck is rumbling, he can't hear, he takes his winter hat off, pardon me?  She says something inaudible, looks at him funny, turns away, and he walks home, all the while conscious of sin and the evils of drinking too much.  He goes home and turns on the television, does some dishes, wishes to go to sleep but can't.  Jazz Night alone up at the wine bar, everyone high maintenance, taking time to aid an elder retired congressman up the stairs then finally down and out the door, all of which was a pleasure.  Try to make people feel at home.  Now there's no choice but to look for wine, and he already ate, and eating a meal will just keep him up further.  Too tired to engage in words.  Finally, bed, the good Christian mood and sense having turned into The Godfather, keep your friends close, and the Pharisees and Scribes closer.

Tonight, forecast for freezing rain on wine tasting night.   And rather than having help, another server for moral support, there's a very good chance I'll have to do it all alone again, bar, back room, front room, wine chatter, explanation of discounts, specials.

New Year's Eve the boss, while we sat down for our family meal, asks, who's working upstairs with wine guy tonight?  Wine guy makes a joke, as his help has come quite late, oh, I'll do it by myself, then mutters quietly, just throw me under the bus….  Boss goes, I'm thinking about it.


Well, it's time to burn some incense and light a Virgin of Guadalupe candle, walk through the woods to work.  The boss was nice enough to thank me when I told him 'old people at the door,' as they weren't sure of which door to enter.

And I'll attempt to place Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "Christianity conceals within itself a germ hostile to the church," in a proper Protestant place on the shelf.

Post script:  I talk to mom on the phone as I walk through the woods to work.  We talk of my coworker who has the habit of talking (talking shit) about everyone from the customers on down.  Much of it is in Central American Spanish with other staff.  Some of it is directed my way, during service, where she is laughing at customers and making imitative faces.  So I shouldn't be surprised if she talks about my habits, 'my customers,' my 'friends,' and how I treat them (politely and deferentially.)  "I'm sorry," my mother says.  "That's really corrosive in the workplace."  And gradually I feel better.

Monday, February 3, 2014

I write, often enough, for the writer, or for other writers.  I know the difficulties of the situations we face, and so I wrote about ones I knew or perceived in others.  There has to be a reason to get up in the morning, there has to be a way of negotiating the job you work and the night after it.  There has to be a way of nourishing yourself for the long time that you write in the wilderness.  You might write from young adulthood into middle age, writing on your own, not for a job of any sort, not as a journalist or an editor or a copywriter.  Stubbornly, on your own.  Slowly putting down what you have to say, as the spirit allows.

But there has to be a way of looking at it all, once you've piled up a modest body of works, that speaks of the vision, of why you did it, why you thought you simply should.  There are real reasons to write, but one always has to find them and hold on to them when you feel lost and like it all might well be pointless.

For the sake of other writers--I'm sure they go through the same--one shares the observation that writing is a Christian act, an act of the Holy Spirit that fills people from time to time, maybe some of us more than others, but who has that much of a choice in the matter.

All Quiet on the Western Front, I would say, to help identify parameters, is a Christian work, and it's no wonder that the Nazis wanted to remove all traces of it.  It's anti those wars that are fought for the sake of the Egos of a few who crave power and position rather than works of the soul.  Chekhov, who understood the great garden variety of human suffering, I would take as a Christian writer too.

I mention such a viewpoint because that from whence working from the Holy Spirit the writer, to be aligned, must understand his work as coming from the Holy Spirit.  He cannot be a house divided against himself.  He cannot let the unclean spirits that might linger around each of us gain the upper hand, either through pessimism toward the work that is holy or other forms of misdirection, self laceration, mad shouting, craziness, intoxication.  The writer's inner world must be in contact with the outer world, the everyday.  If not he or she will be greatly discouraged and take to counterproductive behaviors, as is well enough known in the world of people who make art for, more or less, a living, people I do not envy, unless they find a proper channel.

And so, from time to time, rather than cringing at them and wishing little to do with them, I look upon this or any other collection of pieces gently, and understand them as an attempt to show the human truths that often suffer alone or out in wilderness or without communion or sharing.  Not too wild a claim, I would hope.  The fine example of the true writer, like a Dickinson, a Melville, like all of us on a good day is working sweetly from the depths of the Holy Spirit that comes and innocently and properly visits us.  And that's why one shouldn't make a big commercial deal about it, claim that any work is great or 'life changing' or a particular triumph, or useful without keeping in mind the same guiding spirit and touch.  Because they are all humble efforts which succeed only by being, quite by dumb luck and persistence and showing up when you can, in tune with a greater thing.  And also, I suppose, they all can be greatly misread or misinterpreted and serve to increase unhealthy illusions, the cult of personality that is a great trap for any poor and unlucky writer who must have some fame.  The writer must always issue the statement, that it's a matter merely of being in touch with what all souls are inherently in touch with if not blinded by beams and motes and thoughts of how riches might bring one closer to the kingdom of God's heaven.  (Maybe it is a good thing that the Christian story comes with a great warning to be careful, reiterating "go and tell no one.")

By thinking that, then am I able to be encouraged enough to go do the things it seems I have to do.  Then am I able to avoid the excesses with which one treats pains spiritual and physical, as if it were some form of natural homeopathic anti-inflammatory, a sleep aid, a calming root that aligned one's own dust as it should be with the earth and the heavens.  If it puts your own failings into some form of perspective so that I don't continually repeat them nor dwell upon them to the point of debilitating shame, it's medicine I'll keep around.

Maybe that's how to avoid the sense that as a writer one has removed himself from the world, hasn't even gone down to the coffee shop to see his fellow struggling human beings out of a cowardly dislike of coffee, inane music, the shouts of the shop.

The world would have many ways of interpreting a book someone writes.  (First the critics, like ants over the edits, wanting to make their own bites into the shape.)  The world will have its tastes.  Of my book, the reader could highlight all the faults, leave it at, satisfied.  But the writer, inwardly at least, asks one to look for the beauty of a moment, for the possibility of a Christian moment of selflessness, love even, an egoless purity of creature that even we humans can pull off sometimes, all of which being hard to describe or put into worldly terms of motive and desire and what people take as sanity.

So might one allow himself a chuckle over a critical assessment, the Kirkus Indie Review that costs a writer upwards of $400, missing the point entirely, even explicitly proud of missing the point.

"Hold off, " the Holy Spirit says.  "Don't look at the headlines of the world just yet.  Don't get bogged down with worldly offers, the web, the emails.  Write down what you have to say first, and then, go in peace."

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Great Author:  So how to break down what is essential here, in the message one might call the Christian one?   I can understand the naps, to release one from the world and get back to the creative mode…  Big things like this must be addressed with a clear and fresh mind.  And Son of Man is a useful expression, but there is also Christ's saying from the Gospel of Mary,  "the child of true humanity exists within you."  Maybe that captures the meaning of his reality as it applies to our own.  A truer form of the human being exists within you, and if you look within for it, you will find something.

But then we get to the miracles, the loaves and the fishes…  And involved with this there is the problem of the disciples' faith, that their hearts are so hardened that they remain troubled, as they are in the ship when he comes out walking on the water toward them.  Didn't you remember how we fed so many and had baskets remaining even when there were only five loaves and one fish, all of which I broke…  So why are you troubled by a storm?

I know all this may sound quite silly for us to talk about, but it is one way of thinking about things that are matters of faith, hard to comprehend.  You can read a gospel, but you have to absorb it, toss it around in your mind.

So why are the miracles of Christ and the lackings of faith in the disciples juxtaposed, as if they themselves didn't believe the story that was happening before them?  There is a hint of a parable in feeding the sheep, the gathered masses, teaching them, sustaining them, nourishing them in loaves and fishes, maybe not unlike that of the sower of seed.  Many many will be nourished by my words, don't you believe that?  I know it might seem like just a few words that must feed the needs of so many spirits, so few teachings.   But is it the metaphor, the parable that has come true before them, that they don't get symbolically?  Is in the events themselves, that obvious reality anyone who's ever been hungry knows, that one hamburger is only going to get you so far, no ifs, ands or buts.  I suppose if you're in a good mood you'll take the one hamburger and it might take you a bit further than otherwise, but still, these people had come from far and they had far to travel, for they had stayed and listened to Jesus about as long as they could.

Is it a matter of mutual faith combining to feed everyone, the firm knowledge of Jesus on the one hand, and the faith of the believers?  Is a matter of gathering up the courage to believe in the Good whole-heartedly?   Is it a matter we must chew on, as it were?

But it's obvious something physically must have happened.  Five loaves became twenty five hundred, just a guess.  I've seen a movie version of it, with people crowded around baskets, and there was some editing going on.

What's the meaning of it all?  That we should just believe?  That we will miss the main reality if we don't observe and remember, allowing for things mysterious to remain so while accepting them?   I don't know.

Perhaps it is that the act of faith has a satisfying fullness, a sufficiency to it.  A writer often has that feeling that whatever he might write, it's never going to be enough, it's never going to do the trick, it's never going to reach that strange perfectly mysterious goal anyway that allows the writer to have a lasting satisfaction that what he's written is any good… But if the writer has some faith, then it's as if he could tell himself that the small plain thing he wrote is good, as good as it needs to be, maybe better, doesn't have to go beyond that.  Maybe that's the truth about an act of faith coming out of the spirit, is that it goes a long way.  Sufficient to the day the evil thereof, Jesus says, and here, perhaps, is the other side of the equation.  Thus he can place the emphasis not on the facts of how many pounds of bread and fish were served, which anyway did the trick, but on the reaction of the disciples, who are nervous about the ship, as if they were about the general state of things as well.  Fellahs, it's all going to be sufficient.  It's all going to work out, and in the end, after the good lesson, many will find nourishment.

How about that, to find, as a regular person on this earth, some peace, serenity, calm, faith, a respite from the sense of pending doom and horror, thoughts of homelessness, sickness, dying, the things that haunt us when we're tired and confused, the sense that we can never do enough to provide reasonable safety and security.

Christ tells us that the good act is wholesomely sufficient, that we must accept the belief that, contrary to what we might think, a good spiritual act or thought or teaching in its purity really can achieve something.  Because I know myself, the feeling, "what good did that do," or "that only succeeded in causing me greater troubles than I had before," when you tried to do something "good" or "kind."  And the scribes were giving Jesus and the disciples a pretty hard time, so its an atmosphere that would be rattling on top of one's usual circumspect doubts.   Of course it can also seem, on top of that, that everyone in the whole world is a doubter, an officious nit-picker intent on taking you down, ganging up on you, waiting, wanting you to do something so they can say, "I knew it, I gotcha."  Checking off a list with their negativity.  How small and naked and even pathetic and misunderstood the good act.

Lest we forget, there is the great metaphorical aspect of bread, which Jesus reminds the disciples of, as if the whole series of incidents allowed the metaphor to continue on and gain meaning.  Beware the leaven of the Pharisees, beware the leaven of Herod…  He explains then the two miracles of feeding the crowds by this light too.  And people need that spark of intelligence and humor to speak metaphorically, or it would be a miserable world.  Perhaps that itself is an argument against the hardhearted literalism of the stickler scribes.  Jesus is able to dance around them, directly combats them in word, contradicts their efforts to tempt him.

Then, on another topic, there are the unclean spirits, which may well be the sources of our own sins and regrettable actions, sickness and crazy behavior.  It's nice to think, that truly with Christ's help, we can shed such demons, largely through faith.  And isn't it true, how our own inner demons talk back…  Leave us alone, what do we have to do with you, Son of God…  But these are spirits separate from our own selves, separate from our realities, and sometimes maybe we just need convincing of that, to tell distractions to hit the road and bother us no more.  Who might not feel, at least initially, some sadness about that, feeling a responsibility for having fallen in with or taken in the evil companion.  Enough to make me cringe, anyway, and want to shout.  But there you are, clean, and restored to your mind.  Amazing.

And maybe you change.

Perhaps it's true of the whole of Talmud and Bible, but there is a tremendous literary quality, reality, aspect, talent to Jesus Christ.  That I find reaffirming.  His story is also one of realizing that.

It took me a long time to realize that for me being Christian and being literary were one and the same.  That's why I went out into the world to do what I did.  Which I did not do so perfectly but with, I don't know, suffering, shame, sin?, mistakes, foolishness, all those human things.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Hapless Christian, how so, hapless?

Great Author:  That's my own sense of it, at least sometimes.  One cannot control his reaction to things. The "Christian" within, the innate sense of God inborn, knows sin and impropriety, debauchery and injustice.  Being holy, not so much through our own will, we react to things in certain ways.  And as we mature, we can control this less and less.  We become more aware.

So I found myself less and less able to stomach certain things, including my own behavior, though I tried to override my dissatisfaction through the drinking too much wine, escapist stuff, things like that.  A gut reaction against falseness.  Perhaps I felt I was living in such a blur of disappointment that I felt it in keeping to continually disappoint myself.

It's not a logic, not a list of commandments, albeit helpful as they are, that comes first, but a sense, probably unconscious a lot of the time, that feeling of being uncomfortable with things, the feeling of participating in a lie.

I had a kind of sadness about me, just sort of ingrained.  Somethings I could respond to happily, spiritual things, simple things, poems, books, nature, but maybe not so much with some social aspects of life, not that I ever wanted to be a hermit.  None of it was rational or thought out, just as if some kind of strange and mysterious inner morals were easily offended.  And I rebelled and re-acted, as young people do, as if to push matters, as if not handing a paper in on time in order to do a better job was of a high moral order, which I chuckle over now, somewhat ruefully.  Still a mystery why, or what a reaction to something can be.  I get embarrassed…

But that's what you have, your gut reaction to things, complicated, seemingly hard to even remotely codify but in an ad hoc way, and that's probably my own laziness.  And I made a lot of mistakes.   Unaware of the strong Christ within, feeling a bit mystified, I tried to cope.  And then you do some counter-productive things, you know.  We fail Christ, like the disciples did, being of little faith at least some of the time.  As if the Gospels mimic or trace our own journeys and of how we have to listen deeply to hear the voice.  A road map, a prediction of our behavior...

Does there come a time when the body rejects, when the heart shifts focus, when we feel anguish at being no longer able to rationalize what we use to be able to, see the element of debauchery in our activities?  With sinful behavior then behind us, do we not fear, or at least wonder deeply, about the path before us;  do we not feel inadequate to change…

So, I say, yes, hapless, sad for my own failings, sad for my own sins.  Maybe that's the way forward.  That feeling of being like Jonah on the ship in the storm, knowing you've defied God's will…  You want to shake your head sometimes, at your self.

But as I say, or I should say, there is that Christian heart within us, and that is the good thing, something to listen to.

And I think it might just be psychological better for you to accept all the sins of yours that went with learning, to accept your flaws, to understand your shortcomings.  You'll be less inclined to think that you missed out on things, because maybe you didn't realize, or even deserve them at the time.  That softens the absences in your life, I suppose.