I guess you have to be a bit of a stoic to be a writer. Otherwise you'd be out enjoying people's company. But here you are, after a nice quiet Friday night reading a book, groggy but awake at two in the afternoon aiming yourself at getting ready for a Saturday night behind the bar, muscles stiff, but a decent long sleep, an awareness of rain outside. What's the weather? Okay for biking? Rain is good, taking the pollen out of the air. First the chilled green tea from the refrigerator, made of second steeping, taking a few pills, blinking eyes at the laptop screen, then the fresh pot, hot, is ready.
I don't know if I like my writing style. I don't know if I have a style. I should adjust it, make it consistent. An MFA problem would probably help. Being with writers would probably help. Workshops, listening to readings, maybe giving my own workshop readings, like the ones I used to go to up in Bethesda, that would be good. Working in a bookstore, reading, that would be good. But I take care of the body, try to, get it to work, and work is stoic. I'll enjoy the liberation that comes from being done with a long shift, celebrate by coming home and riding the bike indoors, finish that fool purchase of a Virginia red. But overall, I could use a plot, maybe that's it. Maybe how I became a writer, through dogged determination, through blind ignorance of how the world really works, how I came upon my own style, my own form, not really giving a shit to write in terms of plot. A plot is a thing to stick ideas and notions and observations upon, but what's the bare minimum, so that the thoughts and ideas take over incandescently, burn with their own brightness, their own gatherings of truth, such that you are almost approaching a kind of Buddha-like wisdom, as if such a voice told you, nah, you don't really need a plot?
Is there some magic operating in the atoms of the psyche, that if you have the right thought, the right motive, and that you finally become aware of their overall appropriateness, that you understand your own idiosyncrasies as aiding the expression of who you are as a writer, that the outer world will come into alignment, now that you are freshly serious about what you are doing, understanding it now enough where you can thereby implement it. (Just then the phone rings.)
There are different kinds of plant life. Each has its own way of living. Some are woody plants, some are ferns, some are flowering plants, and I, son of a botanist, while generally aware of such things is regrettably ignorant about the rules and details. But a plant gathers itself according to its inner rules, the logic of its plan, its leaf, its stalk, the way it reaches for the sunlight, the kind of shade where it might chose to live moistly. The Sprengeri Tulip comes from the mountains of Anatolia; it is self-seeding, one of the original species tulips that occur in nature, pre-existing the hybridization. Each an elegant testament. Kelp is strewn over a rocky outcropping, seaweed with little bladders, or broad tagliatelli of an almost translucent brown color, a seaweed with rippled edges, and then there is the bright green seagrass. After the marsh, further inland, there are the forests, tentative enough in their survival here to have a large stable contingent of pine. Then the beautiful variety of trees, and I have never seen the redwood forest.
And while college kids come of age joking and playing around and often goofing off, this is serious stuff, more in keeping with a laboratory of a 19th Century St. Jerome type, pondering the deeply spiritual mysteries on their own terms like Goethe more than the bright modern lab parsing out the strands of DNA, labeling them.
My father knew I would have liked the sort of old school science life of an environmentalist, studying life at water's edge, and he tried to steer me, putting me into the company of old colleagues. And I a perfect fool was still mooning over some inspirational girl and found no energy to carry through with such things, to my regret, as if I had become obsessed with the inner life I found within my own self, as if I were too a biological species with its own logic, its own particular needs, its own unique way of thriving. I did not see life as a matter of finding an approximate livelihood, sticking to it, building a career and then a life out of it. That would have been a good way to be an effective poet. There was also the deep Theosophist side to my father, how the two of us, and few others could talk about the deeper nature of reality, and these things too influenced me and made me like the single mindedness of the writer studying the things within, the perpetual creation of fresh thoughts as if working on a harvest.
Writing as I knew it had to come out of a sweet sadness, if we had to put terms on it. The first hours of thought are crucially important, to limit the external noise, to think quietly, alone, to find thoughts you have not addressed as you would like to, the embarrassing admissions of embarrassing things that somehow are deeply necessary to the sanity of the craft. "Yes, I do stupid shit, but I am still human, still viable, still worthy of respect and an education and kind treatment and democracy in its purest forms." And writing is a kind of free education that comes from within, the realization of knowing what you know, perhaps its remembering, or rather just turning yourself over to your own inner sensitivities, which then show you the way, or give you something to say. The forest gives us positive things, not only serves the planet with its air problems and CO2 through its respirations, but directly gives us the sanity we lose in the modern world's pavement and structures, hustle and bustle and strange rules. We are still human beings when we go into the woods, and we react organically, and the woods, and the rest of the natural world, is the only real reassuring thing that prevents a slow mass suicide out of selfishness and wealth amassing, the One Percent wishing to have their own private forests with money made from chopping public ones down, some basic core of logic and a sense of basic truth and justice seems to say, or maybe I'm just as guilty as the next guy for buying in.
And if you know an ecology without, then you're better clued into the one within. So there is a purpose to yoga and meditation and exercise, rigorously alone and peaceful after the tensions are stretched out, after the core is warm, the inner ecology and guidance and regathering of energy that involves the chakras, the inner flute, the flow of inner wind from base to top and back. Because it's energy, yes, there is a sexual element to it, but this too you come to peace with. The body has its logic, and one day, yes, a kind of decay, slowly gaining, will suddenly advance, but in the meantime, here we are, a beautiful creature indeed. A creature who loves books and thoughts and art as a way of being keeping with the deeper self. The woods is a tender place to go, a place to meditate and to breath.
With each day off, I grew more tender, more open to the world, in a way a continuation with the gentle sadness I knew as the steadiest mode while waiting on the people of the world, as if I wished to protect them from the deeper truths and secrets of our aloneness in our selves. The first day, given a night off, I didn't know what to do with myself, completely missing the social milieu. Then I began to do housework, still on my weird schedule, mostly realizing the need to feed myself and do healthy things first, before anything social. And then on the third day I began to long for all the things I miss in life, the company of my family, the books on the shelf, all the interesting art books that might be waiting somewhere in Second Story Books, a painting being a direct way of showing an expression of deeper knowledge, putting it into terms while people chatter away with making the current moment as full of interaction as possible. I might have even started to remember the literary aspect of life and start to write again, but only in tentative fits and starts. How could you shine down all the inner sweet soft wisdom of Jesus into such a troubled troubling world? But at least I had overcome some of my own fears and my own worries and was back doing something positive and constructive, less interrupted by wants and desires and interference patterns and the television set. And this maybe the mode of Durer when he goes and digs up the piece of sod to render its truths back in his workshop. Hey, this is cool. You have to take things into your own hands. Oh beautiful life.
So what do you want to do with yourself, no-longer-young man? Is this writing something you want to do, to turn into something? Yes, but I don't know what it is and only find out by doing. But yes, it might be nice... to write one more writing shift, now that I am back at it, and do one less obscuring noisy night in a bar amongst people like ants. I could deal with the quiet, with just writing at home, I could.
It is the complicated need of having to belong in the modern world that made me so sad up there on the Maine Coast doing the family vacation. As if knowing I had irrevocably failed at all that, the family and the family wagon, long limbed teenagers sitting around being social as a way around figuring out the basic inner truths of life and the boredom that comes from having to find constant activity and engagement while on vacation, yes, if I got married and had kids when the time was ripe for it, that's how old they'd be, with some tenderness for their aging old man.
There was nature there up on the coast, and in my great pain I walked the beach, all the houses lining the stone breakwater reminding me of the great financial failure of my life, but there was the sea, the beach to walk along, and the rocks with their seaweed hair and the tiny shells strewn in piles along the edge of the tide. A shell of a tiny crab here and there. Nature was there to protect me in my moment of need, even as a week at the beach is a way for one to show off material success, something I don't like about vacations, taking them obligingly to get away and see something else of the world. (What do I have to show, on vacation?)
The writer takes a shower, hot water on the muscles and into the fissures of bone and vertebrae. There is something spiritually significant in bathing, thus Jesus getting his feet washed and doing the same to others a worthy scene. Cleaning on the outside, and also on the inside, the water resuscitating the will of the gentle being within, the one that does not mind working alone or solitary thoughtful walks.
I got myself wrong, for years. I'm a writer, I don't want a conventional relationship. I want a relationship with another writer, and interesting there is a writer, a good one, in all of us. Another person who likes the quiet, doesn't need the direct social life so much, finding a lot of that tedious and fake, a constant reproduction of the same old, dogs sniffing each other's asses, which can be done in writing too, both having an elegance appropriate to their species. The dog thinks mutely, unable to express in words, and for our part we like to smell someone we like or are trying to figure out to. But yes, I would have never fit in, and the writer sought to be a writer, as much as a way of honestly relating to other people, an openness, an address of thoughts and realities deep within, beyond normal conversation.
I should have known, back in college, it was okay to be who I was, the way I was. That I drank to occasional excess was a way of not being so different, so detached, so willing to be alone in a crowd and working on deeper mental processes. I was a born writer, I just didn't know what I was, or how to do it. And this is different from the kind of person who is facile about it, clever, ready to go at it at a young age, full of story lines and embellishments, gifts of magic and some trickery enough to get you off to a head start in it, an athletes self-confidence. But I was not born in a city. I did not come of age, like Jim Morrison, on crowded urban Venice Beach, and my art, less self-destructive as dictated by the crazed environment surrounding it, would be slow, and represent the honesty of a town down in a small valley with dairy farm hills rising from it, and of course the college on an isolated hill. I grew up in something called The Root Glen, red shale paths down to a stream bed, an arboretum with a bordered garden, a primrose basin, a peony collection, a rock garden at the top of on a raised bed. I grew up with the slow steady of peace of nature and towering trees and my father's slow botanical gate and his gentle way of examining with the touch the specimens he came upon. Sure, I would write in such a way, slow and meandering as a cow, not city person fictive point involving complex interpersonal relationships, and that's just how my brain was and is.
How much of a flunky I was, a fan of Chekhov's brilliant but cutting "My Life," I don't know, but I didn't start out that way, and nor was I doomed to be such indefinitely. But a writer is an extension of the scientist in nature, and that's his primary job, not so much out in society, but through his own reaction, nature a reflection of the being he is, nothing more, nothing less.
With the light left I opt for a walk in the woods rather than getting on the bike to the park and back. There's things to chew over, and with the rain the steam might be interesting. I walk up Massachusetts Avenue and over the bridge and down into the woods on a path that goes along the stream banks. But the banks here and on the other side, with the four line highway just past it, are those of a ditch almost, uniform blue grey rock piled up above the water, dirt on top, weeds. And along the side of the path, really all over, climbing up trees, casting a tent-like web over everything, the invasive kudzu vine. Under the bridge, not too muddy the path, and then past the interesting cliff where there is the smell of animal death, and then past that and walking now with the tributary stream that feeds the creek below to the left. But these woods seem to give off a neutral spirit, as if they felt overwhelmed, too bordered on their sides. People jog through, jog with dogs, and over the footbridge people run and bike along the paved sidewalk immediately next to the parkway, the cars rushing along. No one stops to picnic, most everyone intent on motion, little room for contemplation. These woods do not give off to the human passerby the same sense of well-being found deeper in Rock Creek Park. These woods do not proclaim and shelter with the same peaceful good. True, better than nothing, but as I walk back the sadness has not really lifted and I find the voice memo recordings on my cell phone to listen to, recorded from the jazz sessions at work, one a Brazilian guitarist Rodrigo joining Veronneau, and then another one of Lena Seikaly and her trio playing a slow lovely Moonlight in Vermont followed by Skylark, all of it beautiful and the music cheers me, lets me rise above the steady traffic on the avenue. Maybe that's what I'll do with my evening, learn a few chords, remembering to have music from sensitive people if you can't be surrounded by a healthy swath of nature and mountains. And down in the woods I could hear the music from the sound systems of passing cars on the parkway, the intro to "Don't Stop Believing" played loud enough. One of the guitar players told me where they go to find music on a weekend night, curated jazz, but I forget, and I'm tired anyway when I get home and eat cold chicken. Will I get down to the Whole Foods for trail mix and dried figs, a better bottle of wine than the effort from Virginia, a cab franc, I have open, or do I not really need any of that at all. Broccoli florets raw with lemon, olive oil, salt, pumpkin seeds. Tuscan kale beginning to get ripe in the kitchen Rubbermade trashcan. Ready to toss a few things.
Do I sabotage relationships? Do they get too much for me? Why do I rebel? Why not hike the Billygoat with that nice lovely girl, why raise a stink about it, as if you needed to prove a point that even you didn't get.