Labor Day out for a ride in the Park.
The long slow miles, I think of what Russell the Muscle was telling me as I rode alongside the master one quiet August evening, that is the way to build the legs, the serious and honest way, which is by putting the muscles to the task, sticking with it, making it routine as work, and then nature will take care of itself. You even want to get out more and more, you know how good it is for you, and with the activity and the repetition of rides, the confidence grows. On all levels. You have the confidence to get on the bike and get to the Park, Beech Drive. You have confidence to be able to get through traffic, to take a main street when the sun is sinking, 34th, rather than the backstreets above the Cathedral and crossing Porter. You have confidence to take hills, to click into a big gear, finding yourself with fresh power uncoiling out of the thighs and the quadriceps. You feel comfortable on the bike. Loose, flexible, responsive. You want to ride on, all night, the air cleared by a thunderstorm.
That's what you cannot forget as a writer. You can't forget the long slow miles, the reaching in to find what you can find, and then you almost feel shameful about it, how you've not been writing, then the feeling of a pointlessness. There's no trick to finding power and speed and direction; you have to go out and do it, and you also have to read the things that you find are good, so that you can have confidence in another example of how it's done and what constitutes good. But you get pulled by various duties, work sucks you in, depletes your energy and your will and your optimism, the agendas of other people, and then the discouragement comes, my first book is total shit, I'm nothing but a jerk off, I'm going to die lonely, destitute, unachieved, my stuff out in the rain, my face is ugly with seriousness, looking like a lawyer when all I do is spread mirth as a comedian then go home alone and sleep and wake in vacuum, and how many years have gone by already?
I talk to my mom on Labor Day and I find solace talking with her. Jim Morrison is wrong: we don't want to fuck our mothers, anymore than we want to kill our dad. Where would you be without your protector, the kind tree of a man who was always there, always caring, even as I did many dumb things in Clinton summers in an effort to be social, whereas he was always quiet and studious and hard working an organized. Your mom gives you love. And there is that way that life takes, the personal chemistry of who you yourself are, all your interests, all your reactions. Life is a matter of finding all of this out, how your wired, how to support your basic reactions to things, your perceptions. That particular chemical signature of personality, and you find it in various ways coming from your parents, and as you grow older you are more and more able to pinpoint and recognize, as if seeing through the obscuring clutter and details of daily life to find the core, even as it might have been staring you in the face. And this is a process and a duty that is completely left up to you to figure out, to recognize, to move upon. There's a good chance that other people, maybe even all of them, are bound to miss, caught up in their own lives.
You thought of jerking off, enjoying a bit of Hairy Erotica, real women, not actresses of professional pornography's inflation, tattooing, falseness, scriptedness, plastic soullessness, buff muscular people with little originality but who show up at the office, make a joke, drink a cup of coffee and go about business quite like accounting. Vintage Danish, an art form of the Seventies, reflecting the culture of a people with a matter of fact view, that yes, people jerk off in the night when the neighbors can't see you, and be happy about it, it's good for our long-spined simian bodies and for releasing all the industrial chemicals and fear hormones that make us sick if we don't relax. Eat cheese, drink a beer, walk down a street, have sex, it's all normal. We also like to use this as a lever of ridicule upon our fellows, the cruelty of imposing upon a natural process no odder than a bird building a nest or a toad's hop. And that jerking off had nothing to do with your mother. It may have had something to do with finding a look in a woman, somehow coming from a photographic image on a computer that conveys a particular look of acceptance, one aimed closely at your own persona, maybe even a look of admiration. I see in one the look I found on a Czech woman years ago, her understanding of me as a writer, making love to me, even taking me down one summer day to L Street to have my four wisdom teeth yanked, for which I, a gagger, had to put under. I woke, she took me back, we made love to ease the pain, and I told her my father had called, betraying his emotion when he wished me, assuringly, well, his baby boy. How sweet, how moving, how transcendent of him. As if to say, "I know what you go through, and I know it's not easy, and I know America is not the same place of opportunity is was for me, somehow, but all of that hard to comprehend." What made the animal aroused was the woman's face, the look, the sweet soft "I get you, what you are about," and nothing can replace that, and if you don't have a lot to show for yourself, this vote of confidence means quite a lot. She lowered herself upon me and I felt at last amongst kinfolk. The sense that we could bounce up out of bed and then go visit with my dad in the Root Glen gardens.
My mother is a purely literary person. She needs no accolade, no great recognition. Her psychic life is built upon the dues a literary person pays for the life of the mind in books. She has too many books, a clutter of newsprint, a protective wish to put aside the harping mail, the advertisements, the complications of officious insurance offices and bills. She, like I, can be truly shaken by turning on the TV, or checking her email and finding Nancy Pelosi addressing her directly with some strong admonishment, truly upsetting a strong capable woman in her mid-seventies who has survived a fair amount of shit.
Her father's life was channeled away, the oldest son enlisted in the family business of diners, a talented writer, and when he had a family rebelled in a way I cannot imagine but which involved some ugly things my mother as a child witnessed, and I have empathy for all involved. How it hurts, how it truly hurts for some of us not to have a literary life of some sort, to have thoughts always have stuck in your craw even as you want to move them along, capture them in some way. A chef running a business is not one with a lot of time for literary things, even as the stories pile like the flooding river (in a Raymond Carver story I once read about the slow guy who starts a fish farm in big barrels, Dummy, gurgling with unknown emotion as he looks down into them.) I saw the tail end of his life, and he was proud to have a house and take care of things, and the same word-agile bloodtype ran in his veins. And there were things I knew about myself I found in him, the same wild streak enjoyed in company, and one time when I mumbled to him, on a visit, underneath the awning the flagstones, how I felt stupid about my haircut, he said softly and deeply, unexpected out of a gruff man who could look at you very directly and ask "what are you doing with your life, get a job," he said "we all feel that way somedays."
The result of which, that childhood, let her make a break, then get caught, and then, to save her own life, having saved it in one way by finding a place away from the traps her father had fallen into, break free, and there were first the notebooks, the small stenographer ones in her neat handwriting, piles of them, working something out, the long slow miles. Everything about her life has been literary, her special karma to fall into the one or two classes taught by Ted Hughes at UMass, 1959, Romantic Poetry, for her to marry my dad, but particularly in her own career when midway through life she found a way to be a literary intellectual in matters of literacy. In that context, then I understand why she came a little bit early to Amherst when I was going through my graduation throes.
She wrote the long slow literary miles without giving up hope, and lined it all up, and wrote a great book. A book, a life which reinforces me, so that I keep up with the belief against a good deal of hope, such that I recognize why I like to read, how I like to read, what I like to read, and inverse about then what comes out in written form. And that can all be daunting when you are trying to get by.
Knowing yourself, that makes it a whole lot easier to understand where your own particular chemistry leads you as far the people who might make up your own personal life. Why pound your head against a wall, attempting to make a literary person out one who refuses to be such a thing. Close, maybe, but different enough, or not without a strong sense of the ancestral background. And even if you think for years how you fucked it up, maybe you didn't. I like to listen to Shane MacGowan singing, I think of the Pogues when I play guitar a good part of the time, and that's just who I am, as far as chemistry allows.