Monday, March 31, 2014

Amateur novelist, author want to be:

I wonder, Doctor, if my problem isn't, quite typical to every thing I do, is that I bring complexity to situations.  Like, for instance, college, going back to a place where there was some family history, my father being a professor at the University down the street, my parents meeting there, and then mix that with other complex things, like trying to figure out what you should study and thereby do with your productive professional life, and then of course the huge complexity of meeting another human being halfway, when she is a she and a different background, city as opposed to country, etc., etc…  I'm afraid I made a great blunder, combining, or mixing everything together, such that I could not respond, or would try to but had all this trying-to-right-the-wrongs-of-the-world and the academy also hanging there in front of me.

And this is when you are supposed to figure out these very important life changing things.  I was stuck in my head, almost.  And now I see my being an English major as terrifically self indulgent and of complete uselessness, and as a supposed adult I went on courting all these complexities.  And so everything I do is unclear, doesn't have anything, or much, to do with the situation really before me.  I take bar tending as being like Jesus, surely mixing business with an attempt at pleasure.

And so my emotions are always complex, about everything.  I feel things too intensely, too much nostalgia, too much sadness, too much complexity to face, when I could just go and do things.  I know, I've read books about how to be in the moment, to not be in the past, to be present.  But I don't know what to do.  I look at this or that, a degree, a new kind of job, and I seem to be unable to move.  You know what I mean?

But writers I suppose are always children, parts of them anyway.  Perhaps it allows us to sometimes look at things freshly, amidst our angst.

When I left home to go out into the world, I guess I wasn't in such good spirits.  I slogged around in shitty temp jobs, became a busboy, fell into bar tending, which is probably the worst possible job in a lot of ways, seeking the approval of strangers, through stupid feats…  I mean, I've always been professional about it, and got the job done, but what a waste of time.  And there are no stories from it, nothing worth writing about, beyond the Melville aspect of the work and the ice cold bosses.  Why would such a smart guy as him signed up for such a thing?  Be a lawyer, a teacher…

Okay, I'm a nice guy, maybe comically so, tragicomically, perhaps being nice, ridiculously kind, but you know that's not going to get you anywhere.  I can't even find a good way to serve humanity…  What do I do…  get them drunk…  Maybe there is no way left to serve humanity…  Everything is so regulated, who'd want to be a teacher?  Try to do something for the environment, well, no, sorry, there is too much money defending the interests of people gathered in corporations for the sake of making money.  Guess what, leaving the earth alone, not polluting it irreparably, you don't make any money.  Making a vineyard, or an ecological organic farm, that sort of stuff, is good...

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Somewhere Fellini is touched.  Somewhere Mastroianni is touched.  Sorrentino's Great Beauty has transmuted the scenes of La Dolce Vita and Otto e Mezzo, refigured them, changed them, an elevator scene from 8 and 1/2 with Cardinal and priests is now the criminal of national industry, equably untouchable.  The party animal, originally Mastroianni, now replayed by a guy who looks like both actor and director.  Borrowing heavily, but changing, reinterpreting, recombining…  The sleek modern bare setting that in the black and white of La Dolce Vita is a hospital where the young journalist's wife has been taken after an overdose is now redone for the meeting of an older man meeting a young woman after the event of the suicide of a socialite son with mental health issues (and self-styled as Jesus.)  Yes, roots are important.  There it all is, the Trevi Fountain, the rooftop salon which in the original is that of the ill-fatted intellectual, Steiner, the mortuary redone as a a temple lined with daily photographs of a young man (not the parental tomb of the original.)  Where Steiner played the organ, 'music coming from the very center of the Earth,' the church now holds a funeral, an it's the Mother Theresa stand in who offers the kernel of wisdom, 'roots are important.'

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Okay.  Try and find a routine, as you adjust to another Saturday night shift.  Get up at some point after noon, make tea, put a cooked hamburger in the toaster oven, take a shower, do a half hour of yoga complete with shoulder stand, plow, headstand, inversion poses being good for the mood.  Remember the third eye, breath through, as you meditate what Wai Lana calls "dahntyen," an area below the navel.  Okay.  Raining.  Time to eat.  Fold a shirt.  Figure out how to get to work.  Big rain.  Walk is good.

Try to find a routine that includes such and also a moment to write, which is to say, a moment to believe in writing and also practice it, not having time to linger over written pieces.  I wonder, a thought of the day, if in what is commonly regarded as meekness, passivity, a Zen sort of servitude toward humble simple things, in that receptiveness not particularly taken as being conspicuously masculine in our society, within that mode, the mind fires up.  It sends out feeler rays, sonar, positioning, and indulges/participates/discovers again the mode of high thought.

I don't mind Saturdays, but my entire body is stiff and sore by the end of the shift.  The next day I get up when I can, and still I'm stiff and very sore.  The thought, each year I do this, and where does it get me?  Therefore, what is wrong with me?  What should I be doing?  Am I too much of a creep to believe in hard work, seventy hours a week?  Do I use the religious mendicant model as a supportive crutch, not that I'd have the courage…  Sunday, a day of rest.  Realize that it's hard dealing with the shifts of a bartender, because he has no escape.  They get him early for drinks, he's got all the set-up to do to keep the restaurant night's flowing, he's the one who has to clean up, even the busboy leaves, then he does the money, still has things to do, eats by himself, not with much joy, but just because he bonked an hour and a half ago.

I dragged myself up the street, up the hill past the Safeway, to stop in at Bread Soda for a glass of wine.  Young attractive people, and there I am, sitting in a corner looking at my phone.  I've become too old for this.  I missed the boat.  I'm not attractive here anymore on the strip where I've tended bar, and I'm fine with that, just lonesome.

Tell me, doctor, what should I believe in on a Sunday?  In porn or bogus personal ads, in exercise, in some form of religion, in sitting here writing down my thoughts as they come, as I sip my tea, washed the dishes from yesterday, careful to take ground flax seed with my tea, 2 ibuprofen, 3 astragalus, an allergy pill, a slippery elm before breakfast?  Should I believe in the job anymore?  If I do yoga and meditate will I have some high insight of the present moment and living in it?  Is it that the endurance of a shift leaves the mind unsettled, just as it pains the body?  Should I believe in the weather radar on the television, confirming it's a rainy day, or in the cable TV's guide list of what's on PBS tonight, or in Eckhart Tolle and light some incense to rid the room of the ego beasts that have entered my head over the last few days?  Should I scan the headlines of the New York Times?

What strange awkward creatures we are, a day off and a writer has nothing to write.  Tired, we miss the chance to offer genuine hospitality to the traveling pilgrim.  Could you love or be loved even if you had no material prosperity, even if you had nothing, just for who you are, but then can you be anyone, do you have any inherent quality of being, good or kind, wise, anything solid, or do all such things themselves disappear too easily?  Does one have any inherent personality, any savor, that would support the meaning of their work as a human being just being who they are?  Can one ever push off the problem of being defined by the work you've done, by the hours you've kept?
"What's to become of us," a young lady asks, sitting outside Glen's Market drinking local beer with three other friends at a table, as I sit with my groceries for a moment before heading on, reading from my blog here on the screen of my iPhone.  It's almost ten, and I don't quite feel like a drink yet, and anyway they are about to close up shop so let's not keep them.  (Still, to get out of work by eleven, that's nice.)  I'm getting hungry, and I walk home.  I smiled at something she said, as I stood up and left, to the guy next to her, "you look sort of ill," and as I wished her quietly a good night I explained I felt the same way, spur of the moment, but true.  She'd been doing yoga, I overheard, while sort of bored, living up in Princeton, and now here in the city, the table agreed, you could meet people, lots going on.

My father tried to set me up with environmental programs after college.  He had an old colleague at Tufts, and I'd been to the mangrove swamps of the Bahama out islands with this guy, who liked to walk around naked over the white sand and the rocky sea shore, encouraging us to do the same.   (Fine until you got an embarrassing erection over a young coed's bare breasts, had to go walk it off.)  Still, we got the point how essential the mangroves are, a nursery to sea life.  And we learned you also don't count fish, like someone else did, by dropping a bomb into the shallow seas and count the bodies.  There were his old colleagues at UMass, and I went on a wintry trip to the North Shore above Gloucester to look at algae.  One of his old fellows, a quiet decent chap, had a son I'd met, who had fallen into schizophrenia.  Why is life such a mix of things, such that when you start describing one thing, the myriads come out.

I wandered home, and cooked hamburgers under the broiler, pouring myself a glass of Ventoux.  And then later in the evening, after finally eating one cold straight from the fridge and after a long midnight nap, I woke and came upon a story about  John Coltrane and the album A Love Supreme.  That too would go in my writer's notebook of interviews of the self, interviews with the many voices in one's own head, the story of an honest artist who goes on, has his struggles out of the hard life on the road with music and making a living at it, then reforms, falls some, gets better, comes up with a great jazz hymn, a psalm about God and love, the main reality behind it all.  That was December, 1964, the recording.  He died of liver cancer, probably related to hepatitis I would guess, as he was a heroin user, not many years later at the age, almost, of 41.  The album will always be a classic, a mellow jazz Stravinsky, an incredible intellectual accomplishment, a full utterance.  At least from an outside perspective, a peace had come to the man, during the recording session and the creativity that led up to it, that filled the liner notes and sketches of score, that is somehow remarkable and beautiful.  And if you were to ask pretty much anyone, what it was about, at least a part of them would have to say, yeah, I get that, it's like this…  and maybe wish they too could come across such a interior thing that bore expression with such skill.

That would go in there somewhere, somewhere near how much courage it took John F. Kennedy, body wracked with pain, despite the picture of great calm and healthy vitality and exuberance and can-do charm, just to get up out of bed and then try to walk.  Easy to look at him and say he had an easy life, little Lord Fauntleroy as LBJ had it, but of course not.  Obviously not.  Who would want to be President anyway, but someone steeped in history, with a deeper understanding, put into words in Berlin.

Such a mix of things we are.  Hamlet says as much, 'how like a god…'  And yet… as is if to say, or paraphrase, we can get dragged down, not with any particularly bad intention, just happens.

As much as we might like to, it is very difficult for us to bear the sufferings of others.  We're all like, 'well… I got enough shit on my own to worry about.'  It's human nature to watch the news and to wonder, but not really be able to fathom what it's like for a whole little quiet community to be buried by a mud slide.  How could I pick up the sufferings of other people?  Funny we ask that question.  Strange we realize the difficulty of being able to do anything more than provide what small support we can.  Strange how we know we ourselves may well suffer things that are ungraspable to other people, even those we know well.  We stand mutely over our grandfather who's had a stroke, laying there in the hospital bed.  Another person's loneliness we cannot touch, but only to offer our own, offer our own 'tycoon' 'depression,' the great raw sensitivity that Lincoln cultivated along with all the things he cultivated, better than doing labor, to read a law book or Euclid.  'The tycoon,' the nickname Hay and Nikolay, his assistants when he was President, used, and still something widely open to historical interpretation.  To me, the nickname invokes the singular person he was, how, unlike anyone else, everyone else being distracted as the rest of us, he would stop to grieve at the fallen bird, pull a pig out of the mud it was crying from, that strange individual who has their own sensibility, to which most of us might wonder, 'hmm, who does he think he is.'

Maybe it's the Love Supreme, our version of it, that is the best we can do, before we too go on our own way.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The first order of business for the writer is for him to be comfortable with himself and the pursuit of what might be described as author interviews conducted by the self.  Which has a strange sound to it, but really is part of the writer's bill of rights.  This appears to be a blasphemy upon the conventions commonly held in writing, which is to be largely story based, in an obvious way, a kind of puppet show.  This, to be comfortable with the form within, formless as it may seem, is the basis of all, allowing then for the creation of a real character, the self revealed through a narration of events and thoughts.  This happens on its own, as one might create a persona, such as this writer has by hodgepodge means created DC Literary Outsider, through a kind of scrapbook, the kernel of which is to be that outsider a writer always is, at least initially, and also to have what to him at least are literary thoughts and considerations.  The blog started as DC Outsider, but something compelled me to identify it a little bit more, to side with more soulful things, more broadly based, deeper than a political issue.  And anyway, the DC I saw, of service people, chefs and servers, of bars I would wander into late with something to read, just to be out of the house, around people, even if the light was bad, was a good bit different from K Street and Capitol Hill or the office of the Peace Corps or USAID or the World Bank and all that kind of business.

But I felt no urge to write anything in particular, just the daily thoughts as they happened, as if sitting on a pier somewhere with a fishing pole, day by day, nothing major, just seeing what I might catch.  It was a regular business, done often enough on the couch straight onto the laptop, without great hopes, sometimes the lazy scribblings down at a Starbuck's patio in a legal pad, just to be out of the house, no longer secluded, around people.

Maybe there was about it, for me, a quiet revolution, as if to say that actually writing had far more value than anything you could put money on, terms of monetary value.  That's just how I felt about it, taking it as something worth doing, even as I had to venture into a lack of security, the risks of really having to rely on working double shifts, something I didn't really see as possible, to get by, something I don't even want to think of.  Irresponsible, what can I tell you, but it all seemed like really the best I could do.

But who are you, to take it upon yourself to be some kind of hillbilly saint, quietly doing his own thing, largely oblivious to the city's business, a refugee from the Lost Generation too timid to really do the hang out in cafe thing.  Writers are dependent people, in need of help and support, as Sylvia Beach of the Paris bookstore helped out a good number, Joyce, Hemingway, not that that will ever happen again.

"In it, but not of it," my mother observes about my condition.  But I'll always take writing as a form of self-protection, a way of keeping an identity, self preservation, a way to hang on to my own definitions in the face of less charitable viewpoints.  I will say that my status as a literary person, therefore a kind of outsider in the doings of a good portion of the world, allowed me to entertain things that work of me, a diet for people like myself whose veins bear Type O blood and all that went with it, the need for cardiovascular exercise and even writing itself as a way of emotional management.  My being a writer, a literary outsider, allowed me to understand the religious tradition, the essential literary quality of a Jesus, of a Buddha.   It allowed me a way to let my perceived problems shrink down some.

To paraphrase Tolstoy, every story is about an outsider, that of a stranger coming to town, or of someone leaving the town they come from.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

And then, when you can write, or take an hour to read from your own stuff, you're okay.  Maybe you even see, not to jinx yourself, a kind of form evolving.

There are the things a writer holds on to in his head, to maintain a compass, a direction.  They would be similar to the things that might be found in a crow's nest, shiny objects, a button that caught the bird's eye.  For me there is the portrait of Dostoevsky by Perov, in which he is pictured sitting, wearing an overcoat, his hands folded on his knee, one leg crossed over the other, the author looking off to the side, down into a thoughtful detached distance, the painting done in tempera tones.  (Notes from the House of the Dead was a comeback for him after a long exile both literary and real.  He would always doubt the value of his works, even as he wrote his greatest, an article in the Guardian points out, noting how far his reputation fell in his own life.  There is Chekhov, all of Chekhov, who was great and humbly common at the same time, alive and dying, a letter, a travelogue, a story all in one, each.  There is the sketch found in A Moveable Feast in which the writer remembers writing in a cafĂ©, finding his eyes falling on a beauty of a Parisienne, then falling into his work and then looking up finding her gone.  There is that subdued quality to it, that of a person of countryside experiences finding himself in the great city abounding with life.  How often does the writer find that same experience, and on through it, the beautiful woman, he goes on writing, both anonymous to each other (if he's even noticed at all), and if he is wise, and still working, he lets the anonymity remain.  And the sketch of course speaks to the great form of writing, the artistic diary, nothing more, the highest, the purest in a lot of ways, the writer has stumbled across, such that he does not pass a negative judgment on it, lets it stand, ties it to other sketches, no need of plot or story beyond what it is, the writer's moment.  That writer's moment is the back-up, the saving thing, to let stand the fundamental self-awareness that must happen, free from other realities.  In the moment, the writer is no longer a man who works behind a bar four nights a week, but a real and serious writer.  This is the writer finding his pace, as the buzz of conversations hums amorphously around him, what do people talk about anyway, he wonders, as he sits in his chair, in his own mode that was given to him at birth, being like the whale, speaking in the silent water of written language through echoes and whistles and groans.  What is it, what is he writing?  Not even he knows, but he does it, keeps on doing it, and then he is okay.

Then you come home, have a bite, and then you are tired, as if from an effort of holding something up, but finding it already largely stable and positioned so, such that a frame or a form is taking shape in the writer's eye, an emotional and very satisfying moment that cannot be taken away, done without anything more than a quiet sort of pride, as if having found out on a hike the beauty of the big mountain that you expected there all along suddenly before you, the mountain having risen up inexplicably, a movement of nature.  Then you realize somehow that indeed you were constructing something natural, like a hive of bees makes its honeycomb, at a particular angle, kept at a particular temperature and moistness, so that food could be assembled from the raw materials of the pollen out there.

If the world tells you that you are a writer, it tells you as much that you are not to be.  As much as nature asks you, shows you how, to be a writer, the world of humanity offers its willful skepticism.  As highly as you think of the natural form of writing that you do find, which helps you, which you must do for your own being and good healthy, the world can well say, 'well, no one else is reading you, so why should we.'  This is the great problem of obscurity, though of course no one can ever start instantly with  wide-read success.  But that problem, or perhaps something about the nature of obscurity is in many ways the best source of knowledge.  Such that somehow the greatest book that one could ever write  is really just the notebook, the diary of a writer who was a person who slowly went about confirming that he was that creature, as perhaps exists in all of us, a writer, with completely as possible, the character of the writer, as God gives us to be.  Writing is self evident;  it is speaking with authority, even as the world doubts and questions and places silly demands upon the natural writer, with an attitude, 'show us.'  The writer simply exists.  And this is why many silly books are written and consumed, out of lesser  types who feel they want to harness an energy, but capturing it for needs far smaller than it requires.  The writer must be working on very deep questions on the very nature of existence, even if to do such work is highly unpopular to a readership wanting entertainment who finds truth a subjective thing.

This is the thing about Hemingway, having thought about it long and hard, and which I've known as long as I read him, and Hemingway is not always so popular amongst English Departments.  Within him there is a real writer, a serious one.  He is faulted as a loutish type, a grandiose person, a self-promoter, first and foremost to a lot of people, simply uninteresting, macho bully, and maybe he could be such a person.  But there is purity of form in him, a sensitivity, a poetry, and he should be remembered democratically as one who helped bring forward the form of writing into a modern American worldly time, making an homage to that old story of a young person from the countryside coming to the city, to maturity, while trying to preserve something within.
If I were to see a therapist, god, where would I begin?  What knot of recurrent problems that make my mornings ill and worried, thoughts of bad behavior irredeemable, of golden chances tossed away somehow, why?  Is that what we would get at, the why?  Why did things blow up on you right as you were passing through the rites of college, becoming the bad graded well intentioned student, the solitary type, the writer, the obsessed as she so clearly called it even back then, knowing, as I went through the disaster of attempting to be her boyfriend but somehow always managing to sabotage my own chances, through what…  So long ago, no, it's not a problem per say, just that it seems to tie me into a knot where all I do is go deal with the same thing everyday, the restaurant business which won't end but which I don't give a damn about, which is only deeply incidental to my writing, to my own personal claim of personal literacy and thereby, intelligence…

How would I even face the first phone call, having a headache from the wine that soothed me in this great Fitzgeraldian slowly unfolding disaster…  Stephanie Nakasian wrote a book, You Too Can Sing, something like that, and I ask her at the end of her performance, her and Hod O'Brien, two greats, what in essence that might be, how to teach people to sing, and her response, beside buy the book, is just be natural, relax, open up.  Philip Roth went to the shrink after his first marriage, feeling unable to write, and out of that process came Portnoy…

I suppose it's hard to admit, the need to see a shrink, to get some help…  Therefore something is wrong with you, because you need some help, and that is kind of like the opposite of the placebo, because you think, Jesus…  Then you don't know what to think.  About anything.

But what incredible delusion it is any way you care to look at writing, as if you could right all wrongs and misdeeds and mistakes in novel form, or that you could even think that by being a writer you could establish a reputation as a literary person, let alone even begin to think you could make a living out of it, or that it really is a strong enough calling to warrant further pursuit of it, when maybe writing is just a form of laziness, a kind of watching television on the couch trying to forget all your problems as laundry sits in the dryer, just that the television is the inane babel in your own head, complete with commercials for this and that, buy me, you should do this or that… except you don't, you just sit there for the time being.  And this is like the ghost of Hamlet, the father, the king, who must fast in fires pondering his sins in life, horrible.

But isn't that what got you into trouble in the first place, that you didn't have the courage to make the call, the admission of a need to sit down and talk, as if stoically you felt you weren't entitled to such, as if you thought that things were bound to go the way they were going to gloomily go unless for the happening of a miraculous religious opening of grace and female, and male, beauty, her in a shimmering white robe forgiving you of your sins, bringing out the Jesus in you that was tucked in somewhere as if in another dimension, hidden from plain and mortal sight.  Well, you feel bad, like you let everyone down, like you took the family's built up karma of honor and hard work and disgraced it as if possessed by something self-destructive, I mean, if you were to wake up and think badly about it all, waking up late with a headache after a long shift  not feeling there's much of anything you can do to escape the fate that's coming your way.

Shakespeare in part made a living out of portraying the psyche, putting our collective ills into terms.  In a way the story of Hamlet is his essence, that of a person who's inner head stuff (some would say 'head case') dooms him in a way of inescapable logic.  Within an inner landscape there seems a bravery for asking for help, for sharing, a bravery which reminds me of the reaction one might get, if feeling beleaguered, watching Gary Cooper in High Noon;  the heroism of facing the psyche and its ills and its gnawings portrayed primitively, and beautifully, against a screen.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Which one am I showing up to, the one-armed coat hanger of Tuesday night wine tasting by myself, the jazz nights of Monday and Wednesday, or Saturday?

Customer J detects my boredom with him, being a natural at sales.  I was going to chide him over a line he used on a young woman, something about how if he and she were married there'd be a line down the middle and he wouldn't allow anything over the line from his side longer than his arm, but I didn't have the energy, realizing I'd be alone tonight.  The boss's logic is if there aren't any reservations on the book, cut a waiter.  We used to do this wine tasting with the help of a wine rep.  Sometimes even the principal of an importing company.  To talk about wine making, the soil, the people, the ethos, the year, the varietal, the history, should a customer want to engage and pick up some knowledge.  Then there is the system of bottle discounts to explain, twenty percent off all bottles, fifty percent on the two we are officially tasting, I say, officially, because it often is the easiest route to pour someone a sip from one of the wines we have by the glass, and sometimes it buys the busy barkeep some time.  So, of course, one two top reservation becomes two, and then people start filing in.  "We'd prefer to sit up here," though their reservations were made for the downstairs dining room.

"Theodore, you should write that book, A Bartender's Guide to Sanity.  See, women want to know, women being the only people who read books, want to know how guys think, what they want in a woman.  Write that book and it will sell, and push you over the tipping point.  You'll be famous," customer J launches into, as I struggle to open a bottle of Chinon, the very bottom ring of it, caked with minerally sediment becoming detached from the rest of the cork.  Trying to give people a sense of Bordeaux wines and their ilk.  We're supposed to be offering the discount on two bottles, but we only have two total of the whites, and two and a half of the reds, so what's the point of my spiel about discounts anyway…  "You could write how there's a devil and an angel on your shoulder, what each would say when you're in a bar, and that way it would be them talking, not you."

The night grinds on.  I tell the two women, one pregnant, one drinking soda water, her mother liking "oaky" chardonnay, settling for one by the glass from the Macon in Burgandy, the night's dining specials, the bisque, the calamari, the salad that's hard to explain, the two entree specials…  The mother doesn't want to order yet, because she doesn't want her entree rushed.  "No, we don't do that here," I explain.  Jeremy comes up from downstairs to help me out, as two women from California chose a table way in the back in the wine room.  Three more women come and sit even back farther at the very very back of the restaurant.   The baseball game commences, and fortunately my help stays, as more people come in.

Oh, by the end of it all, hours later I am tired and thirsty and very hungry and need some happy juice to calm my nerves and numb the pain.  The three Lebanese guys who squeezed themselves in for dinner at the bar have been a lot of fun, with talk about Lebanese wines and even a probiotic red wine out there somewhere.  There is laughter, as they talk in French with two other women, who are also from the region.  But by the end of it, I want the effects of the wine, just as it will seem to be a release, though it will eventually stir up some anger along with everything else.

My mom points out that when I drink wine I say things I wouldn't otherwise, things I'd never say.  And this is probably the state I walk home in through the cold, missing the Q Street bus by a block or so, no big deal, I need the exercise.  Today I remember how the front door to an old ambassador's residence was wide open, how I poked my head in, surely a very bad idea, on my way home.  Jesus Christ.

I had a sort of wistful dreamy thought upon waking of working somewhere with bright young people, still fresh college graduates, in neat sweaters and wearing glasses, discussing problems and how to rationally solve them, as if in some sort of effective and involved think tank, news agency, political office, consulting thing, that I once might have thought I'd be part of somehow.  Just good people with fresh ideas, thinking, solving industry problems and the like, bringing values to the table.  A far cry from the restaurant business I now seem to find myself stuck in.  And I look back and think of how during the Reagan Regime, popularly elected, a kind of imposed tyranny of a majority, writers and thinkers were put into exile, just like they were back in the days of the Soviets in Czechoslovakia.  It just became weird and unpatriotic to portray an America different from a golden old man telling people about how taxes were a suck in America's morning.  Sure, 'tear down this wall,' but that only masked something, the destruction of a lot of partner programs between private and funded public efforts of education and the like:  Trickle down economics that never happened, the great dumbing down of the citizenry; Industry, aimed primarily toward 'national interest,' would run education, for profit;  oh,  yeah, sure;  from the man who made a career out of reacting to what happened at Berkeley (where indeed there were excesses on the part of a newly politically aware ultra Left that allowed extremists in), asking, perhaps without intending it, perhaps without mean spirited intention, for intellectuals to practice in more self-loathing, more the feeling of being out of touch somehow, helpless, irrelevant, in the way an artist never was during Kennedy's presidency, indeed somehow the opposite, not that JFK was himself too found of straying from that which was politically efficacious.  Strange, this from an actor, who, you'd think would have allowed that great British gift of the theater revealing the whole range of humanity and psychologic events.  Reagan did not inherit that gift, it seems, and could only act the cowboy, win won for the Gipper, as if mesmerized by his own self-image, no questions to it.  Reagan playing Hamlet is hard to imagine, strange.  Genetically, it just wouldn't have happened.  And some would say that his worry-free quality made him, as opposed to Woody Allen, made him a 'great leader' for that time period, before the multitude of humanity's egotistical qualities and politics came out of the obscure corners.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Did you build your own house on a firm foundation, or not;  that is the question.

Frenchmen have told me they would never work with the French.  Too rigid.  Too much side work.  "This place is too narrow," Marcel confides in me as we eat chicken wings before our shift.  "In France, they make a big block of ice, and then you have to chip it before service…  What a waste of time."  He tells me of a place, run by Ashok.  "He is crazy.  I worked there six month.  I hated every minute of it."  How long have you worked here?  I'm a bit embarrassed to tell him.  When I do, he laughs.  Not in a  bad way, but to say that he knows I'm in on his joke.  "Just like back in France…"  We chuckle.  I'd like to stay chatting with him, but I have things to get ready still, ten minutes before the door opens on wine tasting night.

I want to ask him, what should I do with my life, given my current situation, but the first customer, a nice woman, older, with stories of her Mini Cooper shows up and sits down at the bar.  She likes me reading glasses, as I pull them out.  "Let me see."  Good.  Glasses should make a bold statement.  She is pleased with mine.  I reflect for a moment that my best friend's wife, also a dear old friend of mine, tells me I need to find a shrink.  Which is what Philip Roth did, when he was down after a torturous first marriage.

But I kind of see it, the stiff upper lip uncommunicative Gallic way, this is how we do things, even if it entails holding up a stone above your head in a gail.  I know the shit-show shifts.  I've been through many of them.  I've been left there often enough cleaning up, reorganizing way later into the night than I should have to.  I am the dumb American, gullible, ignorant of this whole thing.  And maybe I see it too, how disheartening it is, how I've put aside my gut feeling with the 'well, it's work;  once you get there it's not so bad.'  It doesn't help to go home at night, to live alone, to not have your own little family, but feeling you couldn't support such a thing anyway.  "You need a woman who is a slave," Madam Korbonska told me.

Well, well…  The French were instrumental in inventing the restaurant as we know it.  The bosses are lovely guys, in fact.  We go hiking with one, and he tells us about his work in the business, different jobs, different bosses, sharing in a confiding way, which we are allowed to when free of the restaurant. It's still a little stifled, but that's how French males are, they don't share too much, for it would be unmanly.  And the other boss, the chef, always makes his gratitude known in his visits, personally.  French culture has a great politeness to it, and it is a kick to practice that genial quality of service, the quiet nod, but of course.

The gospels do talk about the greatness of those who serve the least of us, who do not claim worldly importance, the first pews in front, the proud greetings in the marketplace.  And this, for better or worse, is I guess what, professionally I've become.  Meekly, I serve, even as I maintain a sense of humor about the whole thing.  It just doesn't always feel like godly work all the time, and it is not always, as you might gather, particularly sober, though a far cry from a frat house.  Wine has a civilizing presence.

Happy people are a sort of mystery to writers, as we might gather from Tolstoy.  I serve them, and obviously they have lives, but they are a mystery to me, and I'm afraid of what they might think of me.

Do your yoga, live in the present, do things one step at a time.

But it's a demon you face, always feeling like a loser, because you are in that awful business of an uncertain tomorrow, the restaurant business, compounded with a life often diametrically opposed to that of normal people and the work day, the school day…  Besides the stuff in your own head: the son of college professors reduced to this;  what happened back when I was an English major…  etc., etc.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why does Don Quixote work?

"You're a sadist, a masochist," a young woman once told me, long ago.  And I didn't get it.

The craziness, the ability to endure, or even entertain a kind of pain that feels like a noble calling, a grand destiny, and the difference between that and the practical realities people must live under quite apart from such 'tilting at windmills…'

"But I am being noble."

"No, you're just being very stupid."

And that you would keep on writing, in search of literature or whatever (in your own mind), long after it had become folly, useless in the real world, of no monetary value, is further Quixoticism, further madness.

And yet, it is one of the greatest freedoms, speaking of a spiritual need ingrained in the head and body, that needs to exist in a free society, even if it is impractical and folly.

Of course, unless the effort can slyly pose as humor, to totalitarian authority, and probably others, writing is a subversive act.  On many levels.  Don't be a writer, be a doctor, be a cog in the wheel of the great state plan.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Once again, addicted to the 'neon lights' of blogdom, rather than write anything serious I will use the time I have to jot down a few thoughts before heading off to work.   I wanted to write yesterday, I had a day free, but all I managed was grocery shopping, a walk, a nap, still feeling too low to do the creative thing I felt a need for, still marinated in the bad chemistry of crazy Saturday night shifts.  Finally I had a glass of wine, attempted an indoor bike ride, fell into watching Dragon Tattoo.

And getting up today, still it was easier to just scan the New York Times, finding Krugman's reflection on Paul Ryan.  I agree with Krugman.  I don't see a lot of opportunity anymore, I don't see the wage earner making enough gains to keep him out of serious trouble for all his hard work and sacrifice.  Perhaps I was subconsciously lulled into the political need, the right to a generous society that would take care of its people, born into and taught by the generation of the G.I. Bill.  I don't' know what happened to me.  I thought being a decent guy working hard would let me get somewhere in life, not knowing I'd been globalized.  Nor did the creative life lead anywhere, but why should it.  Writing poetry, whatever, that's for the nobility who don't have to worry, like Yeats.  And as far as American tradition goes, the ability of the common democrat to write in a way to survive, like a Twain, a Hemingway, well, that's all very highly tricky, look at poor Kerouac, who, nominally at least, was a success, even though it killed him.

So, as the editorial mentioned, there's a comparison to be drawn between the modern conservative Ryan and the way England handled the Irish during the Potato Famine.  The Irish found it so hard with their bread, in essence their jobs, their right to a livelihood, shipped away, leaving them to subsist on a potato crop, that they had to pull up stakes and bring what they had to America, so that they might have a family life again, children, a roof.  And all the while the British authorities insisted it would be wrong to let the Irish eat the bread they had gained through the sweat of their own faces.

Okay, as Egan points out in Paul Ryan's Irish Amnesia, the comparison is "a stretch," but there's a similarity, a difference between the mentality and that of the Gospels as far as how to handle the poor, the salt of the earth.

But there is something about the Irish character as it involves literature, a temperament of sharing the experiences of what might well be construed as having to deal with the experience of the poor, the meek, the humble of the Gospels...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

But after working both Friday night and Saturday night behind the bar, I wonder if writing isn't madness, the facing of an inner madness, the preoccupation with the psyche, as perhaps Mr. Roth hints at in his interview, describing his sitting down to write, an act of self preservation.  Those times, 1969, people were into soul searching, the post Ike questioning period, the account and inventory of values during which Mr. Roth made important revelations showing, with some fresh honesty, the nature of the human being, even as that being was, perhaps, focussed a bit too much on its own self.

Times have changed.  We now need more direct answers, as opposed to the soul searching and the inward lens that 20th Century fiction created and fostered and supported and celebrated.  Now we have, as if again, serious worries.  And we seem to think, or hope, that we need now science to save our ship, to keep us from global warming, to solve our energy need's problems.  We don't need Bohemian possibilities of alternative lifestyles of the kind found in Hemingway, nor the questioning of Fitzgerald.

Math and sciences…  that's what we need now, to compete globally.

I should have listened to my brother years ago when he handed me "Drama of the Gifted Child."  Why spend years trying to rationalize your own crazy head stuff--as if you could retract the actions that came out of the craziness, be so revealing of human nature that the apology would be accepted, forgiven for the misunderstandings inherent in life--when, as we all know, we are all just simply trying to survive, the broker with our talents and skills the best kind of job to match, the best pay.   Enough with all the intangibles, the style, the poetry, the humor and errant kindness that pleases the crowd for a day then goes away.

Who wants to sit with the writer and look in on madness?  We might empathize, but we must move on, having stuff to do, grown up stuff.  Enough of the old self-indulgence that gets us nowhere.  Whoever said that such things were crazy was absolutely right, as women are sensitive to mental unhealthiness.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The neighbor's cat comes down the stairs to sit on the back porch.  She hears me rummaging around in the kitchen making my green tea, cooking breakfast.  She'll hop up on the window sill and talk to me through the screen, 'ehrrhw.'   She'll look up at me as I look out the back door's window panes.  She'll chirp a squeak, then back to a more fricative sound.  There she is with her grey face and white nose looking in from the sill as I eat a hamburger after my shower.  Eventually I will go out and say hi to her, give her a rough pat, her hair flying off into the wind, I'll give her a few spanks on her back by the tail, maybe give her tail a pull so that she claws into the banister.  She might make a move, pretending to run away, but she is right back asking for more.  I fold a wrinkle free shirt for work, slip it into the pages of a legal pad, and do the things of getting ready for work.  She doesn't give up on me, and sometimes I let her in, so she can smell the juju of my own Miss Kitty who died more than a year ago.  In life they hissed at each other, a good swat now and again.

I think sometimes of customers in random moments, people I haven't seen for a while.  And then, strange thing, they often show up shortly after.  It's like there is a part of our brains beyond words, a mode in which we might expect each other, see a visit coming, recognize a rhythmic regularity of dropping by, one of the blessings of being a bartender.  The cat and I don't need to set up a meeting, yes, we know our rhythms, but there we are most days going through our little routine.  Where were you?  I wanted to come in.  And I tell a customer, the one I haven't seen in a good while, you know, I was just thinking about you.

The salt of the earth, that's the stuff, not always explained, not always rationally understood.  The Dalai Lama knows that there is an inner world, of the brain, as vast and as unexplored as the Universe without.

Before I go I look through the screen door.  The cat is reclined on her side, her belly toward me, her head up, in a sexy or relaxed mood.  "Ehrrhw," she says, punctuating my activities.  "Who is 'ehrrhw'," I ask.  "EHHRoHWo!" she replies with a squeak.  Okay, good.  I go out and give her another quick vigorous two handed back rub and she digs in on her belly about to run.  I go in, close the door, put my socks on, tie my shoes, and off to work I go.

Yesterday walking through the woods, talking to mom on the phone she tells me, after reading too much Henry James, she has picked up Sherwood Anderson.  Oh, good, I say.  Did you read the introduction about the old carpenter and the old writer who has this vision of something like Joan of Arc clad in armor within?  Oh I'll have to, she replies.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The problem is in not wanting to get up out of bed, knowing the shift you're about to face, the eight straight hours on your feet, followed by the unwinding, always pushing you deep into the night's blackness with nothing to do but find entertainment in a screen, the mind dulled down by the painkilling wine, ready for conversations, no one to have them with.  Shift starts at 4:30.   Years there thrown down a rathole.  Nobody likes people who fail, who don't rise above their circumstances,  fall immediately to sleep when they should, get up when they should.  The subject goes through the failure of such things, and it doesn't make him happy about himself.  But quitting is not the America way.  You shrug, sure, we all have to work at something.  Ten years go by.  No savings added up.  Health insurance, yes.  Work until you drop scenario.

Math and sciences is what the new generation needs.  Wasn't a bright idea to be an English major.  What good does it do, as far as economies, is a good point.  To help you understand science better, to peer into the mind of creation as a poet can?   Or, on the other hand, are you just not standing up enough for writing, by actively participating in it, largely because of the job you have, the great settling for something that isn't what you want.  Is there a spiritual core to bar tending, I wonder?  Are you the good samaritan, for offering the ear you do when dust settles?  But there's no chance that keeping such a job will bring you closer to being an adult, able to have a family…  What's the point of it all, then, this non career.

Jesus tells the seventy two to not take anything along with them, for them not to bring any food along, for them not to worry about it, as houses worthy of the teachings will welcome them, otherwise leave and shake off the dust.   Meaning, if we run with this small item so as to invest it with meaning rather than dismiss it as a meaningless part of the poem, that the teaching disciples don't need to engage in pointless side work, don't need to offer to be laborers for their small keep.  Is that not one of the main points of the teachings anyway, not to worry…

"Look, you, middle aged man child white boy, no one is ever going to be interested in what you write, or about your sissy book about the problems of an elite college young fart.  You're  not a minority.  You're just supposed to do your part in society:  be disciplined, be boring, be a lawyer, sell chemicals, live in the suburbs, send kids to private school, basically be something the rest of the world can have as an example to be envious and contemptuous of, to cast mean dismissive looks at.  Even though you've personally proved yourself for being twenty five years in the service industry, humbly waiting on all folks.  Still, it's easier to think of you as a boring responsible thing of contrast to the exciting potent, un restrained minority..."

Thank you.  But I am a minority, even as a numerical majority, that of blood type, blood type O, the oldest, the universal donor, the original top of the food chain human being, who shares a greater metabolic physical resemblance with people of all shades, stripes and colors, who needs aerobic exercise to keep from going nuts, with worries of inflammation in every part of the body…  And because I am an O, I need to write:  it's the only thing that makes me feel decently, on every level you can think of.  I write as a specimen of that kind of humanity, if not all humanity, whether or not I am to be ignored out of the most superficial of reasons, religion, skin color, greying blond hair, skinny bones, etc.  We're all part of the human family, manifesting all its range.  If you're one thing, then subtly, I'm another, and yet even more subtly, we are all the same.  Have I consciously styled myself to be something?  Or did I just be, whatever came naturally...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cervantes:  The best time you have as a writer is before you are famous.  Unknown.  It is the best.  Then you can imitate everyone.  Like exercises.  Like watching guitar lessons on YouTube.  Hemingway would say something like this:  I was a bartender…  I went to get my groceries, and then I would come home and remember all the pretty girls I had seen, and then I would put away the things I had bought, so that I could eat on my own as my hours demanded, have a sort of restaurant for myself, except that it was always lonely, and I did not know what to do with that but bear it, few others having dinner but other shift workers.
Hemingway:  I would have to then imitate Roth, or someone.  How would I imitate Roth.  There's only one way to do that, from experience.  He is better at revealing that which we would like to do with the pretty girls we see.  Hi.  I'd like to buy you a drink.  no answer.  How about…  that's better.
A Not-So-Quixotic Search for Cervantes, New York Times, by Raphael Minder, March 10, 2014

MADRID — He may be one of Spain’s literary heroes, but during his life four centuries ago, Miguel de Cervantes could have been considered something of “a loser,” said Fernando de Prado, a Spanish historian. 

Yes, here's an article worth a peek.  Wounded in battle, in the chest and the hand, Cervantes was referred to by a contemporary as "the handless Spaniard."  Some accounts picture the hand as split somehow, if I remember correctly, or a gap within its palm.  The account here regards the injured hand as "paralyzed."  

He was, earlier in his career as a writer, a kind of conventional playwright, with pleasing verse for a patron.  The subversive work about the old knight whose head has gone soft from reading too much of the chivalric tradition comes later on, after he'd already been through a lot, some of which the above article catches, some of which it misses.  Of course.  Imprisonment for not being the best tax collector ever… something like that, on top of naval battle wounds and being kidnapped and held hostage for a good amount of time in the prime of his life.  On top of success, as the article points out, coming too late to do him much good.

So yes, 'loser' is one of those things about his life he could have genially shrugged at, indeed one of the great sources of strength behind his great work, the loser old delusional 'knight' whose noble bearing is laughable, something which permeates the entirety of the story of Don Quixote, every page, every element.  What more could a writer expect?

An extra ticket comes up for a concert event, a benefit for The Duke Ellington School of Performance, Sting, Paul Simon.  The off-duty bartender dutifully gets on the Metro, picks up ticket and VIP pass, wearing his new charcoal Brooks Brothers suit purchased in a January sale.  But does he fit in, have anyone to talk to, even as he recognizes a few people, staff from the school nearby his place of employment…  The powerful of the DC area, lawyers, doctors, lobbyists, gathered to support the coming fancy renovation of the old bring building…  He stands around with a glass of wine, greets an old friend who's in the construction business.  And then is sort of asked to remember that really, at the end of the day, he's just a bartender, wearing a suit borrowed from some picture of a normal life.

Life music is always great.  One way or another, it comes from the soul, and so it's fantastic to see Sting there, fingers bumping away on an old Fender bass guitar with finish worn off, twenty yards away down on the stage, playing hits from college days.  Yes, music, a kind of great leveler…  We're all here to celebrate the kids who sing and play beautifully, even the tight corporate males who have a ways to go before they can dance in the aisles with hands clapping up in the air.  This is not a standing crowd like at the 9:30 Club.  Peggy Cooper Cafritz opens the night with gratitude for foundations and sponsors and all those who've bought tickets to raise a good amount of money.  Paul Simon comes out later.  Sting remembers driving across the country with bandmates back in the Eighties, then sings "gone for to look for America…"  The night ends with everyone joining in for "Every breath you take…" and I am reminded of a crush I had as a high school senior on Betsy Sawyer, how I'd take her swimming at the college pool after school, the song playing over the reverberating water.  Another mucky crush that would go nowhere for a young Don Quixote, my brother once telling me, after observing me on the phone with her, "shit or get off the pot."  Still, it's a touching song, with gospel back up kids singing, as was "Bridge Over Troubled Water," Paul Simon at the mike.  A song to get under your skin somehow.

I leave on the metro.  The temperature has dropped.  Stops to go before mine drag on.  I walk home in the cold, pulling a construction sign out of the street as the wind tugs it.  "What have I done with my life…"  I take off my suit, ha ha, and find something to heat up.  There's a certain point in life where there is no turning back from being 'something of a loser.'  Whether a writer is any position to care, is another question (this 'finding religion,' an art form of its own, as a crutch to lean on, like those dusty old tomes of chivalry in whose pages life follows certain ideals, less touched by the crunch and broken bones and mocking laugher of reality.)

Philip Roth, I remember the pleasure of reading him the night before, skimming one of his famous ones.  The secret to him being his openness, his quality of being able to admit bravely, the specifics really not mattering all that much in the long run, though maybe masturbation speaks somehow of the writer's general ways.  At least, you keep in the habit of writing, even it seems utterly pointless, outside of society, outside of any industry of worth.

"Yes, but there are people who do actually do things in real life, who are active, who make a difference.   Maybe you should try that sometime.  Instead of sitting around writing."

Monday, March 10, 2014

Mr. Roth does not believe in God, hasn't a religious bone in his body, he says.  Interesting.

And people no longer have the antennae for serious fiction, too many screens, he says.

I look at him, and celebrate him, for someone who cannot help but to write.  That human trait sticks with me, in a late night scan of Portnoy's Complaint--I'd never really read it that deeply before--and the sketch of 'pulling it out' on the bus as the bus rises up the Pulaski Skyway, seated next to a sleeping shiksa in a tartan skirt.  I see some long regal bloodline that goes back, and so it's hard for me to not see him in a religious context.  Wine, the regal beverage, celebrated in the Passover (the passing over of God's destruction upon the Egyptians), the holy text, expanded upon in intricacies to touch the human condition…  Roth wouldn't want to be canonized.  Jewish tradition doesn't do that so much, being about, as a good friend explained to me the other night at the end of a jazz night at The Dying Gaul, that the holy texts are the interpretations of rabbis, each as good as their own argument (as opposed to the Catholic stamp of authority, the opposite of healthy legal arguments, the Catholics all about hierarchy.)  "It's not about this 'personal salvation' business, but about realizing we have to treat others like we were once ourselves, strangers wandering in a foreign land, hungry, and fed by the grace of God," met friend, a New York Jew who goes down to New Orleans to do legal stuff on behalf of the EPA.  {something like that, his story of how Passover is celebrated}   I can't keep my hands off writing, nor away from wine, it seems, nor about a basically reverent exploration of why people put things into words, even if the subject of such things are beyond them.

And so there is, we might say, thank god, an instinct within us to be protective of writers, even as we all toil under the "Protestant Work Ethic," conceiving work as real science, factories, production, economic exchange.  In the restaurant business, we exchange hospitality for regular customers…

Hitler didn't live long enough to burn Portnoy's Complaint and the rest of Mr. Roth, didn't get to be The Grand Inquisitor holding Philip Roth in a cell for questioning, and certainly, Roth would have represented almost the ideal of "degenerate art" of the kind the Nazis wanted to be so vigilant against, in order to protect God, decency, young maidens, youths in general, the 'fatherland.'  All Quiet on the Western Front survived, Don Quixote survived, and so did the Talmud. Therein, lies some form of victory.

Humanity is built on a kind of monkey who would share through words.
I like cooking very simply.  Meat, under the broiler if not a grill, onions.  I'd sear on the stovetop but my apartment kitchen doesn't have an exhaust hood.  Don't need a carb.  Form burger patties, season, turn once, broiler door cracked open.  Close as we get to the basic cave cooking.  Get a good brown on them, without overcooking.  Let them rest, today without taking them out of the cast iron pan.  Meat, green vegetable at some point.  Rice as a filler.  Hemingway had a favorite burger recipe, spicy, meaning he liked them with a great relish.

Maybe that's how the writing day starts on an off duty day after much rest.  And then once the writing starts, then the coming social interactions don't seem so daunting.  A bit of time, ignoring the iPhone's radar pingings, a chance to explore that what have I-done-with-my-life feeling you want to keep private.  No real thoughts today.  The dream of visiting a wine shop, time ticking, the obligation to attend a party, not being able to find anything.  My boss grins when we work really hard on a busy night.  I like the adrenaline, I like busy, but I'm too old for this.  It gets harder.  Harder to unwind.  Move laundry to dryer, clean socks tomorrow, back to work.  Didn't feel like getting up today, the stress of I don't know what…  The escape into the wine, felt the next day, now tiresome.  Clean the toilet bowl.  Remove the water filter from the kitchen faucet, as it's spraying water out the top.  Tedious to have to take it off anyway to run the dishwasher through, hooking the hose up.  Too hungry to do yoga now, eating feels good, simple, and alone I can think about things people want to talk about but can't unless they open up, as if writing were one's personal shrink, in the certain gloom of slowly waking.  Can barely take care of myself.  But be gentle today, today you are off.  Though that dinner party is irritating you.  We want to be social, we don't want to be social.  We want to stay in and read the good book, imagine how to be like Jesus out there in real life, and cry some, hopeful of finding a corner in life one can control.  We want to be real, we don't want to look weird.  And in the midst call your mom.  Blank stare at email in-box.

They have me working Saturday nights.  Monday through Wednesday, close the restaurant, last one there all four.  Busboy, dishwasher, line cooks, the salad woman Blanca who smiles when she comes in and then stands in the water as the hose down the kitchen at the end of the night.  Monday and Wednesday are live Jazz, Tuesday is Wine Tasting, both activities that make the normal waiting on people that much harder, more complicated.  They are long nights, and it takes a long time to unwind from them, and this I do alone.  I don't have the funds to go out and spend money down on 14th street.  I stay in and cook a chicken, and this too can be tedious.  The engine revved from work for hours on end, the long coming down, the seeing the wrong side of six AM.  Bitch bitch bitch, I know.  I don't like to myself.  I try to be positive, and humorous, at least at work.  But I do think that the great comedian's humor comes from a foundation of angst.

It always felt like I was searching, seeking, for I don't know what.  Always.

Abusive job.  I like it, don't get me wrong, but it's abusive, because it's a waste.  What I like is to watch a documentary about a writer.  Then I feel at home.  Then I don't feel weird like I often do.  Understand the necessity for the time in big chunks.  It's like you are made to feel abnormal if you should even think of taking time to do something on your own, four hours at a time, alone, doing something like writing, talking to yourself, finding out again what you were thinking about in the recesses of your mind where all that action happens.  And that's why my job, though I do it well, I take as abusive.  It's a waste.  All about other people, I mean, if you're good at it.  You don't go there to talk about yourself if you're a good bartender.  No.  You remember what you people have told you over the years, and when they come again, should they come again, well, you have a background, a way to talk to them, an underlying understanding….

You write for yourself.  You are your only audience, at least initially, or you're never going to get off the ground.

I don't try to sabotage things by being this writer.  To the contrary, I write to have a better relationship with people.  I know, it might not seem that way.  It might not.  I don't write to complain about other people or to point out their faults, as if they had any.  I've never found that about people, that they really are faulted, I mean, the ones you don't initially run away from in the first place.  But you're never able to pick and chose them really.  You have to deal with them.  And life happens to everyone, uncontrollably, just as I cannot control this kind of a job I work at because I am a writer though it largely prevents me from being a writer, while my first novel fades into the distance and dust.

So, here I am again on Shane MacGowan time, listening to Philip Roth: Unmasked -- American Masters, talking about how shame is not a thing for a writer to have.  Therefore you have to be honest about people.  About the boring shits who tell you work is a good thing when somewhere within you have your own power to do something better for yourself, along the lines of your own creativity, just that you can't figure out the monetary ins and outs.  However, where you are now, seriously, it might be better just to jump from the sinking ship of the Bistro of the Dying Gaul--I jest--and swim.

You tell me what a good job for a writer is.  I'm not sure there is one.  The secret to being one?  Not giving a shit.  Sharing whatever.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

I wonder if Philip Roth hasn't watched the recent Frontline on the "Like" Generation, (Generation Like) the newfound power of social media hits, 'liking,' following, tweeting,  to spawn commercial influence upon the young.  (How else to put it?)  I am who I like.  The power I have is the influence of my cyber thumbs up.   So pervasive, the world of marketing will never, can never, be the same.

I suspect Mr. Roth, though I wouldn't picture him as much of a Facebook addict, had already been thinking about such things by the time he was interviewed, recently, "My Life as a Writer,"  for The New York Times… (He did once write a fine book about a guy who works in a public library.)

"Now the fantasy that prevails is the all-consuming, voraciously consumed popular culture, seemingly spawned by, of all things, freedom. The young especially live according to beliefs that are thought up for them by the society’s most unthinking people and by the businesses least impeded by innocent ends."

How the describe the fantasy of such a prescient vision?    How to outline it without sounding 'completely out of touch..'   How to put it;  how to think about it without feeling horrified?  The newly powerful, or powerful so it seems, have mastered a way to be popular through making commercials for themselves, for branding their own individual lives…  (Or, rather, the claim of being 'individual,' not on the verge of becoming a commercial product themselves, the selling of all outer trappings, hair style, Taco Bell, Coke, popularity itself of the kind of the bright shiny screen, Facebook and YouTube mimicking the old television commercials we all endured watching TV, waiting for the return of The Wonderful World of Disney.)  How can the thoughtful keep up?  Who's going to "like" the complexities involved with reading Kundera's recent essays?  Who has the attention span?  Switch to the "outgoing" skateboard kid chasing bubble butts in Compton, a product of his times, taking advantage of his own popularity…  Any vision behind that?  Any mortal human wisdom that might attend the town meeting to help decide the fate of the common green?

Okay, there is content on Facebook that is wise and mature (in the best sense), I'm sure.  People do share things that are real.  Old people like me get back in touch with old chums.   Is one prone to jealousy not being popular of the sort Frontline is talking about?  Would one wish to be a sell out himself?  (The kids interviewed could not even remotely pin down what the term 'selling out' means, and maybe the term has in fact lost its meaning, as you and I know the term.)

What is promotion?  Can one go, get, anywhere without it?  Would Jesus himself be on social media, friends with Peter and Paul…  (If the church is the fantasy being sold, as Roth hints, speaking of earlier times, maybe that wouldn't be inappropriate.)

I only know, as a poor old bartender who still endeavors to write a little bit, that time spent on any popular media causes distraction, breaks apart chains of thought, trashes the expression of ideas and thoughts one might have.  Thus, the inherent weakness that the commercial world takes great advantage of, co-opting our minds to sing in synch.  "Don't explore your own thoughts, don't follow your own imagination too far."

The strange thing:  one is already an outcast for not participating in it.  Not on Twitter?  Forget it, my irrelevant friend…

But, what can you do, but self-promote, using every angle possible...

Thursday, March 6, 2014

It took 'til six AM to be calm enough for bed.  Another busy jazz night with the World Bank crowd.  Every table arrived in a ten minute window just before seven, when the group V started playing.  Drink orders, dirty plates, a waiter comes up from downstairs just to help out, and it will be like that 'til the last desserts are served.  The place is full, but the menu never changes, and the specials…

So, when I leave, around one, to get a cab home, I'm starting to stiffen.  I watch TV, vacuum a bit, sip on some Brouilly, more because it feels good, like it does something for the blood that acts as an anti-inflammatory.  I'd like to do something creative, but I'm too tired to get the guitar out, and I'm not up for reading.  Wasted time, what can you do.  Take a melatonin, under the covers, a glass of water nearby and the fitful night ends in sleep.

I'm up around two, and summon the energy to hobble into the kitchen, after turning the heat up, for some chilled mint tea.  I'm hungry, stiff and sore.  I want to write, to get that ball rolling again, but, as always, what?  All that seems self-evident enough is that things aren't going so well.  Not able to get much done.  Forget even what writing is about, not about specifics, not about fiction filled with moving figures, descriptions, places, actions, conflicts, tensions, narrative arches, none of that 'show, don't tell' stuff.  All of which, Lord knows, takes a long time anyway for a mortal.  No, you can't beat the system;  don't even try.  Take the entrance exams, keep on pushing, don't lax off thinking you have something to say or a need for saying it.  The restaurant business will break your heart, my mom said, speaking from experience.

But I look around at the world, at heroin use in Vermont, and at least I have a job, if not a lot to look forward to.  I am reminded of the spiritual need, the spiritual struggle, those of Old Testament Philip Roth, or sad New types.  What else is there to write about?  You have compassion for the human race, but not enough for your own self and now look at you, scratching your head, in a sweat shirt with athletic pants on sitting on a rented couch.  Or just not enough drive, not enough aggression, or just susceptible to things that make wasting time too much of a pattern, as if doing things that didn't make money have much a point behind them.

The only thing you can do is write a few things down, as honestly as you can.  And then maybe once you've said them, then you know you have to address them, like the bad feelings you have when getting up out of bed like 'what's the point' beyond everyone has got to do it.  I've failed, I know that.  I keep up a show by having a job, some sort of job that itself is pretending something.

"Worthless sketches, that don't even say anything accurately," Van Gogh might have said to himself… Reactions, an inner landscape…  Painting his hotel room like Job with the hope of Spring outside the window.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Sunday's New York Times Book Review interview with Philip Roth, March 2, My Life as a Writer, comes out of a deeper mind.

I think of the Christian life in terms of the novel's form, the novel's embrace of thought, its grasp of reality out of fiction.  What gave the man we know as Jesus Christ the confidence, the acceptance of belief and faith, the authority to give, so strongly, his version of human reality?  So blasphemous and unbelievable to accepted norms of the expectations of what life was about as far as its possibilities…  Who is it that can cure on the sabbath day?  How can the poor and the meek and the humble possibly be the inheritors of contended things?  What a fairy tale to believe…  even putting aside the miraculous, the healings…  And yet, the man goes about 'writing his novel.'  The confidence comes from somewhere, a primary understanding of the world of the human being.  The cynicism we know is gone, out of play.

And so, Novelist, where does your confidence come from?  Is it based on some form of hope, that we might then judge as being realistic or not (as if we had an ultimate test for such)?  Does that form of hope have something to do with the sense of being able to do good in the world, for self, for others, for all?  Is there a body of fundamental realities capable of being understood and corroborated by the symbols of whatever kind of science humans can discover?  How could the Christian story fall in with the understandings of the rational mind trained by Western sophistication?  How can that story be integrated actively into life, moving beyond the base camp of any church and the entire form of church structure?

Yes, follow the commandments, learn by err and sin.  Remember always the real good one can do when in the present moment with people, being simply hospitable, kind, sharing life in a friendly manner, even if it would seem that one could never cure the real ills and sicknesses and problems that prey on all of us.  Have faith.  Christian confidence is of a different sort, it seems, than the picture of self-confidence as believing in the ability to beat the next guy at whatever or to achieve any particular goal other than to know the right.  In other words, as far as much of us are concerned, entering into the world of fiction.

Within this world of fiction, vaguely (or perhaps explicitly, in an odd roundabout kind of way) Christian, what are the possibilities raised for living a full human life?  Can a novel reveal from out of its crystal prisms a picture of marriage and good profession, a chaste quality with a deeper understanding, even as it would seem suspended from the realities that press so.  Can it suggest things to honor and respect?  Can its world show the falling into the worldly, young people trying to fit in, but within still the instinct, still the asking of questions leading in good directions?

Does the world of Christ the perceptive imaginative being rise over the world of any particular novelist, a kind of model?  Does that model provide the confidence to allow one to work at such things?  Does that model bring a lasting sense of good to the things that are good as far as people are able to do the good?  Does that model allow us the sense that goodness is not some separate fantasy, not some meddlesome thing?

Mr. Roth comments on the "all-consuming, voraciously consumed popular culture," and one such as myself can easily agree with his commentary here in its extensive reach.  What would an obscure novelist who, in humble hopes of maintaining a salon of some accessible sort, tends bar know beyond the sense of a need for an alternative to that mass culture, "the moronic amusement park," in Roth's terms.  Like a nineteenth century Russian novelist of a Karamazov or a Karenina, there seems a form in the Christian ethos and story something the imagination can cease upon, and perhaps even from that find, as they call it, a real life, a better sense of how to act in the world, thereby defending the 'absolute craziness' of the primacy of Christian love over some material concerns.

Philip Roth:  "The thought of the writer that matters most is the thought that makes him a novelist."

That is an interesting statement.  It may say something about the great novel, the great novelist, at the center of the Christian treatment of the world.

"It was also my good luck that happiness didn’t matter to me and I had no compassion for myself."  Another vital insight on the authorial life, from the Roth interview.  The necessity of a writer admitting his own faults and sins in a tradition-honored conversation with God is a page from an older style book.  He has a fellowship with Czech writers living in political disgrace under the regime, children of Kafka, more shunned than celebrated in their own times.