"I don't know, I guess I just feel emasculated, by a lot of things, maybe. The disengagement with academia, the fall into the restaurant business, a lack of money, a lack of understanding about what to do with myself, all that sort of stuff. Was I a kind of a traitor, going into the easy physically hard restaurant business? Didn't have enough courage or the wherewithal to even write a good book or really push it all that much. Just laid down passively, putting my intellectual abilities aside. I guess I was feeling sort of burned, not getting much help or attention after DeMott left, or like I didn't fit in with the way you're supposed to be in the intellectual world. It was such a gut reaction, like I saw the specialization, the need to be a big academic publishing star... As opposed to the true role of teacher, educator... Ach, this is all crap. Or I'm discovering let in mid life a need to stand up for myself or something. Not be a chicken shit. Not knowing what to do with myself, a writer of grocery lists.
"Maybe that's where doing yoga, being a sort of Buddhist came in. Acceptance of everything. Is that healthy, I don't know. Maybe, maybe not."
I do yoga, I begin to feel better about myself. But I still don't feel very good about the whole thing, be it bar tending, or never really getting off the ground as a writer, or never even trying teaching prep school, or maybe just not having enough faith in my own ways as an intellectual.
So, it's one of those days. Feeling out of place since having to switch out a shift, never getting that feeling of reaching the end of the week, that last bugger of jazz night. I get out on the bike, finally, unable to write anything, might as well. Slowly and unenthusiastically I put on my cycle wear, fill the water bottles, plums in the back pocket, inner tube, tire levers, phone, sunglasses, and finally after 30 minutes of side streets my bike is rolling down Tilden in a bike lane, past a parked secret service police car, turning onto the road down past the Czech Embassy to the picnic area, having reached the park at last. Pee, top the bottle off with the drinking fountain. Cross the mowed pasture to the stream. A father comes by with his daughter. "Glad you found Donatello and Michelangelo there," he says to her as she follows him. I smile. Good terms. Through the parking lot, careful merging onto Broadbranch, and then I'm climbing the S Curve hill round a pasture, two men on a blanket having a little Friday afternoon picnic higher up, now below me, and then I'm in the trees, now high above the stream, and the air of the forest greets me, with its clean air, and tells me it's all okay, and instantly I feel better. It's not just good for the body, the immune system, the air found in the woods, the chemical compounds the ecosystem gives off, it must immediately provide something instantly quite calming, such that my mood changes entirely in an instant. Yes. I'm not going fast, but I'm going, and I am out in the park, and finally, for the first time in days, I feel decent. And my breaths confirm, there is something about being the forest that is calming, the perfect drug for what was ailing you in that most important inner place, the mind.
I pedal on, climbing slowly, toward the horse barns, and before I encounter a man prepping what turns out to be a mini-glider remotely controlled. It's long and narrow, looks like a U2 exaggerated, large thin wings that look like solar panels, a balance, and he throws it with a big roundhouse swing like a discus thrower and away it climbs and then he controls it to come back around, marvelous. It turns out to be a kit. After watching several spins, each coming to a perfect clean landing, I remount and head off. I have the road dropping down to Beech Drive to make, and then I'll get a workout in on the long curving straight run by the stream in a minimum of traffic. There is light over the stream, car headlights on coming toward me in the other lane, and I take it easy around curves, a slight headwind.
It's a reasonably long way, and kind of a pain in the ass, to get to the park, and I wonder if the time spent is worth it, but when I get there, there is a sense of well-being, and the more you ride the more comfortable you are on the bike, a good feeling, aided by yoga no doubt. Do I need to go to Whole Foods tonight, the thought crosses my mind. I don't know.
I am now in the second book of Knausgaard's My Struggle. I am enjoying his notes on life and himself, and I recognize myself in it. I was just reading about his sense of emasculation at a class for little toddlers, Rhythm Time, but I feel it in many places reading him. I like his character's spartan quality, how he does not care much what he eats, that he likes anonymity in a cafe where he might read Demons or Karamazov or write himself. I like that he goes to a used bookstore to find an antidote for the knocks to his self-esteem. He likes talking about art, Giotto, Turner, Rembrandt. He knows his modern intellectual terms, has read Foucault, and understands all the modern post-things in a way far more diligently than I, which makes me feel inferior, but that's how it goes. Part of my emasculation being that I was a stupid student after a good sincere start.
That can be a problem, being too spartan, taking refuge in used book stories, finding your self-esteem there, and part of my own damned problem is my not caring for fancy pampering stuff, which I would be faking if I were to indulge. Throw some meat and onions in my cage, and I'll be fine. To be around people occasionally is nice, but I'm fine without the fakeness and the veiled nastiness, the insult, the put-down, the 'tough love' that is lurking, when really you are indeed just trying your best, maybe just a bit confused.
Most people, they like their finer things. I appreciate them too, but I'm more about good basic healthy nutrition, the things that are good for me in particular, my system, not necessarily everyone else's. I only drink to go along with everybody, and when I'm fried for having dealt with a week full of them, when you so far away from nature and the good airs of the forest that you need it in pill form, and I don't doubt there's good natural stuff in wine that we can't see, won't find in the basic breakdown. The airs of Pic St. Loup, indeed.
Academia itself got too fancy, too much about itself, too egotistical. "Look at our fancy equipment, and the experiments we are running here at college level." Look at all we know. Yeah. It's the artist who knows, the poet who knows. They're the scientists. The rest taking credit somehow.
But the writer is never going to get any work done unless finding that spartan sort of way. Which makes him less accessible to people, in a way a sort of Boo Radley for all they know. As if providing no emotional reaction, none of the normal give and take. The focus on the unexpected truths you come across, far more than the commonplace observations of people's social lives, more than the recording of a supposedly interesting conversation had over dinner at a restaurant.
You need that support, of recognizing parts of yourself through the artist's eye, and that helps you from doing stupid shit and wasting your tine in confusion.
After my ride, eating a hamburger patty reheated in the toaster oven, I go down the market with the farmer's market touch nearby above Dupont, crossing Connecticut buy Du Coin, in through the young crowd, surprisingly loud as I turn the corner, they are drinking beers and wine in tumbler glasses, eating pizza, standing around with dogs, sitting at picnic tables telling travel stories, loud laughter that alarms me slightly as I walk in through the automatic sliding glass doors. I'm choosing plums, putting them into the plastic bag when the bearded bartender guy shouts out "Last Call, Last Call for beer," first at the bar area back to the right, then through the main area where there are the same kind of diners as outside. I will stock up for the week. Three plastic vacuum packed ground beef, some bulk brown basmati rice, broccoli, a tomato, an onion. Okay, a rotisserie chicken, half living on them, a good economical buy for $8.99, and then since I'm getting loose with my money, some goat cheese from Maryland, the Monocacy River valley area, and even a Cab Franc from Virginia, as if I need a back up for tonight, surely out of some long old bad habit. A little bag of fig ginger sesame chews, that might come in handy over a long shift, Jesus I'm getting profligate. Vegetables do go bad in my fridge, this is true. I pay and walk out with my bags back into the crowd. One bunch has even opened beer bottles from a six pack container, okay. Some beer glasses, with cloudy wheat beer in them, are tulip shaped, in addition to the pint glasses. A good mix of young men and women, and I am being invisible in plain sight, and probably look old to them, and anyway I have little interest in joining them, as I am reminded of bar duties now wherever I go. Funny to realize that I know myself and that I am in my own mode.
Okay, my book might have its faults, and it's been a long time since I've been able to even open it up to a page and look at the damn thing. But it is art. At least it's art. Even attempt at it, that would be good enough for me, and I know what went into it.
I like this Knausgaard writer, a lot, maybe even too much, but I will say he has the strong athletic confidence toward his own artistic self, and by having the strength and the guts to portray (himself as) an artist of that particular sort that is a writer, rendering his own habits, his ways of working, his ways of thinking, he has accomplished just the sort of strong defense for the artist that our time needs. I am not surprised it took old Viking blood to stand for the artist in the TwentyFirst Century.
Particularly fascinating for me is all the stuff that pertains, recognizably, to the artistic temperament, at least the one I know. I mean, who am I, but that's what I see, now that I'm middle aged old and look back now, perhaps rather than so much forward, at an artist's ways, an artist's special life. That says a lot, that you chose to make art, and in a way this really explains a lot of my behavior in college, how I've always been willing to be, patterned to be, the outsider, the artist, the stoic observer who has no interest in social ins and outs of the cliques and the herd mentality types and all the polite and proper social gatherings. Give me the outsider's way, the lone observer, that's just the way I am.
I walk home, going back down the avenue on the side of Bistrot Du Coin, down to the corner where the Starbuck's is, then along R Street, past the little tea house, its stools up now on the long bench-like table upside down with their legs sticking up. I run into my bartender friend, both of us like ghosts meeting each other, his that of a man with style, hair pulled back, cool glasses, who tells me "slow," meaning the business, which may be why he is heading home already just after 10, and I tell him I've seen a lot of slow this summer. I keep on walking, past Nora's, and the chemistry from the bike ride is good still. If the second hand bookstore was open still around midnight, I might go, but otherwise the artist in me has found support in the literary art of another, and so I can quietly be myself and not wish I was elsewhere, somewhere I am not.
Yes, give me a quiet Friday night away from the crowds and all the loud show, the broad avenue lit with flares and groups belonging to themselves as if having blindly gathered drawn by sound. Give me the Dostoevsky night, up alone at his desk rolling cigarettes he does not smoke, remembering the days in Siberian penal camp. Give me the MacGowan night wandering the streets seeing everything, no one touching him.
Being an artist is simply an instinctive response in a person's life, not a conscious choice, but a natural choice that seems to help one stay alive through life's crises.
When you're older, you realize it doesn't matter, that you're not going to make a splash anymore, so why bother, except for the fact that you need to, you need to write, and you need to support the basic value. And all the values come flooding back to me as I end my long drive, coming up by the river and finally into the town of Oswego, where fate has chosen as the place where my mom lives. By then, or by now, depending how we are writing about time, a memory, a tale of now, past, present, future, the drive has been long. I've come upon Oswego at last, after Fulton, above Syracuse, as blue night drops in on the longest days of summer. I've hit a pothole with the front tire of a rental in the tired drag after the fast food places on Christmas Eve, changed it by myself with the donut spare before driving the last few lovely miles. But there it is, my lovely mom, and her crowded house and all her books, her literary life, a thing that has always been a basic bedrock grounding of my existence, such that I have never even needed to protest loudly about anything contrary to it. Why would I not do literary things with my life? It would be fucked up if I didn't. What else would I be doing with the juice of my life?
A thought is hard to hold on to. It's secure in your mind one moment, and then you check the refrigerator, open, suspiciously, a bottle of Virginia red wine, have a bite of something, and then you've forgotten it. American wines, like soda pop, Jesus Christ, and this is Cabernet Franc. Images from television, sound off, a most innocuous subject, Whistler, becomes intriguing. Then you remember Tim and Daphne's house, when Daphne was very much alive, the neighborhood godmother with her gray streaked greek long dark hair, and then remember her you remember Brenda, and the time you picked up a shift so she could go see the Dead, and much to your guilt the good woman brought Bruce Hornsby by, knocked on the front window after we'd closed, and we didn't open the door not knowing who it was, or maybe we were drunk or angry and not knowing to see an angel when one comes, as is the case often enough. Too many preppy Glover Park shitheads, and we turn away poor good Brenda when she comes to make our lives better, and it was my own damned call from what I remember, not Eliot, the managers. She died a few years later. It was hard to work with her, hard to deal with the daytime bar patrons who followed her, me coming in like the relief pitcher in inning eight, everyone drunk and loud, their checks confused, manipulative people I finally befriended, freaks of an old hippie time in Georgetown long since gone away, as a way to deal with them. One feels a wish for having spoken at her funeral, how she once encouraged me to go talk to the religious people down the street at the university, or told me, there in the Grog & Tankard one night to move to New York and become a song and dance man as was my true calling.
What else is there, in order to truly live, as is known in your insides, but to be a writer, a literary person, a person who believes in the Romantic truth of the poet's eye as the highest best truth. How to live, how to translate that, how to make it happen? And so it always helps to get the vibe from a European nation with a long history of saga, written word, the old cultures and traditions we here can only create in competition with all the things that make a consumer popular splash.
How will I go back to work tomorrow? Will I be able to fall asleep at some point? You've done a job so long, put your literary life on hold, not been able to carry the faith that you see in European culture, don't get any response, I guess you have to do literary things one way or another.