Friday, October 31, 2014

Chalk it up to it being the day before Halloween in an anxious world, the strange encounter with a man as I walked up the steep road coming out of the woods of Rock Creek Park by Dumbarton Oaks;  I talk with my mom, my iPhone earbuds in, and the man, homeless perhaps, a frightening strongly built man I had seen before with his small backpack walking with dark almost murderous intent, turns, walks back down the steep road toward me, comes up to me quickly.  He closes in.  He pushes me, with his right hand out straight.  "Aggressif!" he shouts, "too aggressive," pushing me strongly on the chest, "too loud!" "Too loud."  He pushing me again. "I am soldier!" He stares at me.  Pushes me again.  "I'm sorry," I tell him.  I wasn't aware I was being overly loud.  I couldn't understand what he was saying earlier.  Earlier I'd taken him as a local Euro functionary diplomat, reasonably dressed. maybe asking for directions.  Acid washed jeans, running shoes, short hair, indeed, the build of a soldier.  I have to get to work, last day of the work week.  I get to work, tell the story to a few co-workers...  get set up, no time to waste.

I have a nice conversation with a kind woman who's come from an art gallery.  We end up talking about learning about New York State history, learning through reading about interesting content, about her journal, about blood type, about the ruined attention spans of the digital age, the kitschy make-a-splash quality into venues that used to be readable, The New Yorker, the New York Times Sunday Book Review, kitsch reviewed by kitsch.

And I finally, nerves still jangled, end up in a bar talking with another gentleman bartender, who takes off on an interesting note, "bartenders are sacred to people, they'd bail you out of jail..."  So sacred that no one's ever really written about them, done a movie...  I have a shot of Frenet with him as I finish my pinot noir before two o'clock and mount my mountain bike to ride home.

When one is tested, faces strange suddenly hostile circumstances, it allows a bit of reflection on life, strangely summed up in random conversations that prove there is indeed meaning to life.  I reflect on how right and decent I've been to be a hardworking barman which is a lot of work and a job important to people particularly as we lose touch with each other, drawn away by the things of work and keeping up with things digital.   The barman's space, indeed, is encroached upon, but there will always be bars, always have been on this planet earth.

And sadly I reflect too on the hidden prejudice, that tacit creation of deviancy out of anyone who listens, in tune with a self, dares to be himself, slightly different from the main stream.  And the perpetrators will come as well from those who most ask for fairness and protection who claim to already be mistreated, more deserving of rights, and their claim to such truth is also Kafkaesque and bureaucratic and impenetrable and impossible to shake, as it is a vague claim, operating by its vagueness.  I was slightly different, listening to myself, a good solid person, and one thing was made out of another.

But I went on, and survived all that, and wrote a book about it, a darn good and true one, even if it was too male to be in style, as old time Irish music is not all the popular rage of the internet now, and then became a decent person anyway, however poor and demoralized.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

It was I suppose all wrapped up in a knot.  Anxiety, the job, the refuge in wine, self-perpetuating.  Things tended to provoke anxiety in me, and habituated to that mode I tended to chose the things that kept anxiety at its customary levels.  There was the job of tending bar, which made me nervous, there was absence of a girlfriend, which made me nervous, that absence making me do lonely things like go to Russia House and other searches in vain.   It was all cycling around me like one big stress fest.  Negative emotions, the attempt to alleviate those, a kind of being out of balance in myself.  The stress of knowing that I wasn't really getting anywhere in my career, no real estate to speak of, a life in flux.  Chalked up to, well, the typical writing kind of a life of a writer.

So, I started seeing a therapist.  A woman, even, which was helpful in and of itself, demystifying, finding kindness and calmness, of a kind not intent on frightening me or being tacitly unkind as a wearer of a feminine role.  I was out of balance and stressed out, on just about all levels you can think about, in this regard, with a fair amount of negative emotions hanging over the whole subject, enough to make me wonder if I'd ever really had a girlfriend, though of course I have and they've been good to me undeniably.  And again, as with everything I say, nothing written one way or another can be complete and true, by the basic Buddhist law that only clear wordless consciousness is correct as to the nature of reality.  Gently talking, I began to recover, slowly, from that old damned if you do, damned if you don't sense of things, the old memory of putting yourself out there, trying to anyway, and being treated harshly, and then having softened the defenses and seen the lady protest a bit too much as the line from Shakespeare has it, I'd been too dumb or shocked to push on a bit further, watching myself retreat into my own coping mechanisms like a dumb animal (though animals are not dumb at all.)  Jesus Christ, have it one way or the other, you almost want to say, not both, never knowing what to respond to.   Am I crazy or am I sane?

But the anxiety would haunt me, a general form of it, making me want to hide.  That's why I would go out of the house with the security blanket of a writer's notebook, to be out amongst people, far more stimulating than sitting at home, but again like Hemingway observing the Parisienne beauty at a nearby table, taking in the observation of the creature, but then looking up later and finding her departed.  The thought of dating itself was almost incomprehensible, and I developed my own little pursuits, that really highlighted the lonesomeness of the human condition rather than alleviate it, as if I inhabited a place with an unreachable gap of language difference, even while knowing full well that the things we really mean are not communicated in words but rather more through presence, more through simple being, rather through subtle brain waves, almost like whales.  It's a beautiful experience to find yourself communicating with a person without need of words, through sheer emotion, through things like longing, anticipating touch.  Like his wife said about him, what he felt the most he said the least about, Mary about her Mr. Lincoln.

To go tend bar was a perpetuation of the confusion, another voyage out upon an unsteady sea, little to hold on to somehow.

And this is where the yoga, too, helped, helped a lot, helped one regain a kind of balance, the calm to face negative emotions and work through them and keep the gentle sense of the world.  Slowly I gained, less excuse for the negative and the hiding away from it, brief spurts of facing things that led to more sustained efforts, hopeful ones, less the negative voice harping on me trying to frighten me away.  My own bravery.

Tending bar is a self-perpetuating job, a cycle of negative emotions and the attempt to escape from them.  Going out on a night off I could not escape from the facts of the life, the permanent tentative quality of such a job.  I could remind myself I fell into the restaurant business because I really wanted to be a writer, and you can't blame me for wanting to eat.  I did not particularly feel good about myself for having the job, even as I felt at times to enjoy it and its challenges, the opportunity for many friendships.  You drank because you did not feel good about yourself, and that did not make me feel any better about things.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

But we have become, at this late stage, as we enter the geologic era of the Holocene, in which the human presence is shaping the form of the planet, the consciousness of the Universe looking back at itself.  This is our only task, nothing more, nothing less, being the consciousness observing the world around that consciousness, which of course calls to mind the Buddhist notion of rigpa, clear thoughtless mind of pure consciousness like, nimble as perhaps, light itself.  We look up at the Milky Way and the Milky Way, the stuff thrown into matter by the original Big Bang, is looking back at itself, appreciating itself, aware of itself.  We have become as the historian, as the caretaker, as the curator, looking back on Abraham Lincoln more than we can really follow very well his example, which of course feels awkward, because we would like to be like him, a man of action.  Action itself is no longer possible (ask anyone in Washington), but this allows another possibility, which is that if we point out, raise a voice, enough of us, over the sheer indecency of Citizens United, for example, we might bring such shame upon those few who do claim power, that we might set up, as nothing else can, the overturning of it.  Aware of itself, eating local produce, the world has the possibility of a Jimmy Steward Mr. Smith, of a Gary Cooper type figure, a good decent in many ways average and unremarkable individual, a kind of Huckleberry Finn coming to influence the big wheels, crazy and as much of a great impossible longshot as it sounds.  Such an outsider, such a democrat, that even the hearty Teapartier could not say no to, forced by internal rules to jump on the bandwagon or reveal themselves as hypocrites.  A person with so many obvious faults that no one could really bring up anything against him as an issue, "he's a drunk who watches pornography..."  "yeah, but he already admitted that himself years ago, we just don't make a big issue out of that kind of a thing anymore, because hey, at least he's honest.'  The honest consciousness of the Universe looking back at itself, which carries law and reason enough to bear listening to.
Wine, for the hunter-gatherer ancestor, was an unpredictable food group.  It tasted good, it made you want more.  It was okay, controllable in predictable circumstances, at home, a certain quantity of it, but going out into the city at night invited trouble.  It could start at a dinner party.  It all tasted good.   Pizza was not a good food for the type O, so he would limit how much he would eat, and meanwhile, the Beaujolais disappeared, followed by the Corbieres, shared between three people, and then the wine from Chile turned out to be a Winebow Import and it too tasted good.  Later he found himself walking, and it was fairly late.  He stopped into Rogue 24 just to check things out, explaining his professional affiliation to a glib hostess who seemed a bit brainwashed about some particular cooking device, a moleculizer, something almost like that, and he walked a few more blocks before getting into a cab at the danger point.  A ride into Georgetown discussing Abebe Bikila and into Ethiopian history.  But the place closed.  A ride back from Georgetown, more Ethiopian history, Selassie not being such a nice guy after all, and into Russia House.  A glass of syrah-heavy Rhone upstairs so jammy that it tasted like it had been open and patrolled by fruit flies for a good while, though it had just been opened, the barmaid assured before turning away drawn and staring into the glowing screen of her cell phone, completely ignoring his presence.  Then, a Cahors downstairs with a very almost stunningly pretty Russian barmaid with a big rock on her finger who was polite and also having her own life to lead, talking joyously with compatriot friends at the other end of the small bar.  Another Cahors before closing, full at last, then stumbling home, not eating anything and waking with it still in his system and wasting a beautiful Fall day, shame on you, oh well, learn from your mistakes.  At least there was no vodka.

But with wine, that was basically the problem.  Your system would always say, take more.  Good fruit.  And if you had money in your pocket and the supply was more or less unlimited, you'd drink your fill when really you should be eating a steak with broccoli.  At the time they seemed more or less equivalent, and who wouldn't want to eat more steak until really you'd had enough, being full, couldn't eat another bite.  With wine, as with cheese, the full light never went on, and you'd simply take in more than you could process, while still being able to stand and walk home, but the next day there was an unease.  It wasn't your fault, anymore than you could control your own system or have another type of blood in your veins, it was just taking a natural creature from a primeval world and putting him into a situation he wasn't meant for.   His blood had been around hundred thousands of years, perhaps, and wine had been there, even in limited quantities and kept by agricultural peoples, for ten thousand.  The modern world, on top of that, largely conducted its social life around the stuff, and how could you avoid it, but by not participating.  What can you do?  Being alone made you vulnerable to it, having no particular point to the evening.  With company, of course, it would have been highly enjoyable, and then you get home, having been out enough, but alone you were looking for company really, and that too made you stay out too late.

And when you were sympathetic, kind, mindful of the world, the world was not as solicitous, keeping its eye on its multifarious business, ignoring the creature that had survived enough to give it life and art and sensibility and the generosity of culture's basic things, like the appreciative portrayal and cataloging of nature.  Early man had figured it all out, but then along came things like the motor car and complex economies, all of which he, being human, could handle well enough but which were in some way baffling, a consternation.

Poor stupid overly intelligent lost caveman, left behind, caught in a catch 22.  And yet, one day, by appreciating himself and understanding his own innate natural system, maybe he'll figure it out, quietly living alongside modern humanity, though it was all quite puzzling, life consisting of pulling the natural out of it where you could find it.  Yes, it's hard when you can't help being an idiot;  at least you can admit it and find a plausible explanation and some satisfaction in that.

Friday, October 24, 2014

As Robert Kennedy said, all it takes for bad things to happen is for good people to sit around doing nothing, and one is reminded of this during campaign cycles.  Karl Rove up to his old tricks, voter suppression, maybe getting ready, as he likes to do in Ohio, to tweak the voting machines a little bit (a company friendly to the conservative cause), the Koch Brothers shelling out big money to get their boys in so they can bend the rules in their favor and support big money making pipelines that rest permanent ruin on the environment, setting up their own crony system, the profiteers milking the War on Terror, making as much money as they can, ruining our reputation forever, harms that will never go away, Homeland Security its own twisted WPA...  All the Ayn Rand reading idiots who believe the marketplace will just jump in and save everything, as in a freshly 'conquered' Iraq.

But that's not the point of today's little sermon in the head, the thoughts from the spiritual part of the mind, or the thinking part of the heart.  Robert Kennedy's old maxim strikes home on a daily basis as one looks back and sees himself doing nothing, caught in some gentleman's bind, feeling quite unhappy, not knowing what to do about it.

Such that one wants to say, take this cup of suffering away, please, and yet, that is not one's fate.  The wearisome problem that seeps into daily life, infects mornings, stifles the enthusiasm if not in a chipper mood, makes one ask, why...  And perhaps all you can do with it, really, is try to mine some kind of spiritual maturity out of it.  "Jesus, don't I have enough of that already?"  Well, like Pema Chodron teaches, breathe in the pain.  Do some yoga, find some way to appreciate yourself, your chakras, your energy, your freedom from ego which is an effort to achieve.

Martin Amis, a greatly seasoned writer, makes a quintessential good point on Charlie Rose as he tacitly discusses his new novel, love taking place in the death camp.  The world is actually less violent now, and the novel, the inhabiting of another soul, has done its part to facilitate the understandings that make it so.  And yes, this is what the novel, or a Chekov story, achieves, the inhabiting of the vast helpless meaningless black complexes of human pain and suffering.  Something done in the spirit of Kafka exploring the deviancy-creating all-reaching bureaucracy. something we know is wrong, just that nothing can be done about it but to suffer on until, spirits finally crushed by the silence, we pass away.  It's a lot to breathe in sometimes, and maybe that's why you write.

Haven't we all noticed?  Don't we feel it creeping in.  The better parts of ourselves, the gentlemanly part, the well-read part, the content-area hands-on learning part, our goodness toward strangers once the very thing of tradition have been turned into deviancy.  The very subtlety of that which we eerily sense, that which we notice in our hearts, when we don't act like sheep going down to a box store to buy a new flat screen TV, hypnotic stupefying cake for the peasants, that we are being monitored, hopefully not individually--though one hears strange creepy clicks when he calls his mom, a retired college professor with sympathies toward bookish things--but as a whole, us, the very same people who stood as children with their little right hands up their beating hearts, looked up at the flag and recited, in good healthy learning-kind classrooms, the Pledge of Allegiance, thought abstractly of the goodness of Lincoln and Washington and Jefferson and words like "all men are created equal."

(Those who suspect others are, of course, accusing the other of all their own worst sins of betraying that which is good.)

The novel has that quality, call it during political campaign season patriotic.  It's the same as walking down your favorite Linden lined street and discovering it's all been dug up, only much much worse, a gross understatement of how it might feel for someone to come into your country, blow up a lot of things, cause a lot of gunfire and bombs, tear up the fabric of daily life, an understanding of which leads us to do our Marshall Plan responsibility, to man the streets with helpful troops and lead the rebuilding ourselves (not waiting for some fairy of the free market to rise up and fix things magically, everyone suddenly cooperating with what is ultimately a selfish profit seeking endeavor anyway.)  That old Mark Twain understand-the-other-guy, after-all, he's-your-friend America.

But what Mark Twain could not really write about was the sense of the erotic, that which is the subtext of Chekhov's tale of The Lady with the Pet Dog.  That which is the subtext of yoga and perhaps of other religions, the erotic incapsulated, for some, in the sweet form of Jesus and Mary, witnessed in the vulva-image of the chaste Amable Virgen de Gaudalupe, madre y auxillo de todos los Cristianos found on votive candles.   Perhaps how to handle such a primal force is a source of tension between Christian and Muslim, ticks of difference in the corresponding concepts of holy matrimony, holding out a unique and reserved disdain for how the other handles their sisters, daughters, wives, abhorring the other, more or less.  (Both agree upon the subtext, that the full expression of sexuality leads us to the proper outlets, self-control, rather than mayhem.)  Note that devout practitioner Bin Laden, wishing almost be a prophetic figure in his own right, kept a trove of Western pornography, as if there 'just in case,' but obviously used on a daily basis and who knows what mysticism he may have been practicing alongside the obvious practice.  Indeed, viewed from one perspective not uncommonly shared, celebrated in Broadway musicals, this, along with news, is one of the great successes of the internet as viewed from a practical standpoint, along with Netflix and Amazon shopping, Google, and Wikipedia.

Anyone who does yoga knows this, can start the day in a great fit of erotic misery of a thousand Chekhov stories over, a nuclear reaction's worth, and find through breathing in from below and rising the breath upward a conquering glow, allowing even those of us who live alone a healthy form of hope.  Whether that is wasted in the present or not, that channeling is renowned to be great for your own health, as common sense, as intuition points out, not taking a genius to realize.   The great subtext.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The first night back, after driving eight hours, starting the day with a speeding ticket between Oswego and Fulton, toward the end of the night I had a glass of wine as I waited out the end of the shift, the dishwashers departure signaling time to go.  I had a few things to do the next day, a more immediate need to find an un-zoned parking spot for the rental car, and when I got home, I hit the hay straightaway.  And then Monday night I got through jazz, and had no wine at all, and when I got home I went to bed, no bike ride, no TV, just a valerian and lights out.  And then Tuesday, wine tasting by myself, the busboy uninspired, talk all the night through with regular customers and good conversations as I hustled around from one end of the room to the other, except for a small sip to toast departed Ben Bradlee, a customer, to the standard Irish music played late at night when everyone has left, I got on my bike, rode home in a fairly heavy rain, the mountain bike front tire beading my glasses with spray, I went home, did something, again without any wine, involving a study of the female form, no TV, a valerian tablet, and off to bed, soon sound asleep.

A pattern emerged.  Up early, surprisingly.  Relaxed energy.  Tea to start, a glass of V8, a hot shower to get limber, and a decent yoga session followed by mediation.  The usual regimen of pills, L-Tyrosine for a balanced mood, astragalus for inflammation.  What to do with all this time and energy before work?  Where is it coming from?  Hmmm.  After yoga, a good bite to eat, following the Blood Type O diet plan, and even some spare time to walk out into the rain for a bit of grocery shopping.

Finally at the end of the second jazz night, just as I seem to have gotten rid of everyone, a customer from earlier returns with an older pair who have just met.  The man and woman, older, stay for one only one round, and my new friend stays, so, with a sense of certain possibilities, someone to talk to, a quick finish up with the paperwork of a shift, clock out, sit down on the other side of the bar for a chat.  I get home safe, repeat the new pattern of no wine, I'm a bit jazzed, eventually calm enough for sleep.  I wake late, with a headache, and that familiar sort of lost feeling of "hmm, now what, what to do with my time..." besides the usual dishes, laundry and exercise.  The wine of the previous night, a little of this and a little of that, but overall really not that much at all, has left me confused.  And again, I am seeing, I'm afraid, a pattern.

"The problem with friends you meet in a barroom," a man says on Tuesday wine tasting night, "is that you cannot exactly trust them."  We all know what he means, after the laughter, the opening up, the semi-truths mixed with the truth and also the bullshit, and I see immediately that this is true, as I fear I am enabling the habits of a few of the old regulars who come in with their standards and are too familiar with me now for any of us to go back, far too entwined, entangled, and this is how many good relationships in a barroom are, and in many ways they are hard to cast judgment upon on either side, what are you going to do, except go home and be healthy yourself at the end of the night.  "My father used to say to me, Bob, you need to get married.  You have to have someone you trust, someone you can completely trust," the man says, seated mid-bar, giving the statement more context.  And I have dealt with him before in later parts of drunken evenings when perhaps his humor has gotten a bit too forward with the ladies near him, and I have been judgmental, in my heart, I must admit, in my regard for him as a customer, and now I see really what a good true person he is, in fact a very fine and interesting gentleman, an empathetic guy.  Upon the last full moon (I almost wrote, 'fool moon') I abruptly and loudly told him and another regular customer to keep in down as the Satin Doll Trio started another set with a softly played "Blue Moon."  To my embarrassment.  Alas, the pressure of Jazz Nights can build.  Bob is the one to tell us, myself, a couple from Georgetown who have come well-dressed from a  cocktail party for a late bite, that Ben Bradlee has passed away.  "I liked him," Bob says, and it sums up.

And the end of the night, I know, can be reserved for bullshitters and not the best of ideas.  It can lead to lonely thirsts that distract, and these lonesome stresses can build over the week, causing a middle aged barman to really want to go home, ride a bike, flip through the channels, and down a bottle of Chinon, a Touraine Pinot Noir or a Beaujolais, which for a habitual wine-bibber is a step in the right direction, because at least such wines are low in percent alcohol.   And far less tendency for a headache than, say, a Ventoux at 14%, or a mix of wines.

I get through the week unscathed, and now the problem is, seeing as I'm not feeling the urge to go back to bed and sleep it off, an embarrassment over what to do, both on small immediate scales and larger ones.

There is, I think, or rather there are, lessons, Buddhist lessons to be learned first-hand.  I'm not exactly sure what they are.  Perhaps they have something to do with participating in an illusion, or at least some form of tension between selfless consciousness and the selfish wants of ego for things like identity, activity, a good buzz, laughter that relieves but which must, as if to put forth its own Buddhist lesson, fades into the night, and there are worst things than laughter, and it's good for your health, so you can't really knock that.   And there is a tension:  it seems that if you want to go out and, say, 'meet chicks,' you participate in something that might have its fake aspect, its insincerity.  But where else can you go that offers the prospect of such good conversations?  And often enough, the conversations, like the one with a new friend that turns to the topic of abortion, are sobering enough anyway in their own right.  Face it, you know within yourself, you're not being serious in such pursuits, and the time of learning through play, as adolescent animals do, is drawing to a close.

But oh, perhaps I am getting too old for such participations, and must mind quieter manners and a more studious life, a healthier life of yoga and meditation and fitting aerobic exercise, and find, someway, a way out of tending bar and drinking wine, when there is much to be gained by avoiding it, I'm afraid to say.

Waking to the sober light of day there is the wheat to separate from the chaff.  For the large part, yes, it's all bullshit.  Except for that which leads you to see the suffering, to take in the suffering and the pain, to find the very real quality of the human condition, to understand that it seeps like ground water into everything of life.

And I wonder, perhaps me with my system and my blood type and my chemistry, perhaps drinking is not a thing I should be doing with my time, that it is, was, as if I got sort of bullied into it, drawn along by a crowd, and many years passing, just like in the song of days of wine and roses.

Reading over previous recent entries here, I am reminded of the thought that the basic thing people really ever own truly is the poor and suffering quality of life.  There should be something corresponding to it in the way that Facebook details, through its implicit rules, mainly the glib and the happy, a social media form of connecting for those who have found life a deep and serious matter, maybe often a lonesome one, but taking a kind of contented solace in the being real aspect, where no commercialism rears its gay bubbly head, where smiles would not be so conspicuous.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

And Lincoln, even if his own early attempts at poetry might not be so great--they led to bigger and better things later on, the early melodramatic rhymes transformed into Old Testament wisdom--was right.  Poetry is largely about the encapsulation, the expression of pain and suffering.  And in the primer areas and years of our lives, pain is often felt over the amorous arena.  Works like Wuthering Heights stick in our consciousness.  The subtext of most poems you can think about have to deal with some form of pain, be that loneliness and uncertainty, as might be present in a Frost poem, be it 'miles to go before I sleep,' or 'I chose the path least travelled of the two,' in an Eliot poem...  the list will go on and on.  Poems express the subtlety, in the intricacy of corners painful in life, the ones we go to therapy for, hopeful of them not being so heavy, blunt and enormous as to suffocate us with things like regret, the burdens of a Job.

The better part of us reads poetry, takes such things, such emotions in, intuitively, directly understanding with a great presence not just a peering in.  And in accordance with the rules of the playbook of a thoughtful life, as the Buddhists have long practiced, we benefit from taking such pains in, letting our hearts soften, unclench, encompassing such pains, sharing in them when they come from exterior sources and when they come from within.

When we open up we become better people.  The basic nuts and bolts of poetry and its work upon us on our behalf, the subtle voice telling us to accept, to encompass the pains of life, not hiding in blame or escape, feeling the pain of other people.

Monday, October 20, 2014

But do you connect with anyone, my therapist asks.  Outside of your role where you work?  Sounds like your intellect gets in the way of expressing your feelings.  Fear of rejection, fear of failure?, something blocking you being in touch with your emotions?
Uhhh...  Well, I think I connect with people at the bar from time to time, I mean, get past all the politesse...  I call my mom every day and we've connected over my therapy sessions.  We connect over a lot of things.
Doesn't sound as if you exactly connected with your mother on your trip.  Sounds as if you felt a little trapped up there.
Well, we did.  It was a short visit.  The weather wasn't great, but we had some nice talks. We took a walk in the nature preserve at the field station.  (But, yes, maybe we could have talked more about my fears, my emotions toward an aging parent, mild aging as it is, as in all of us.)

Indeed, one can shut down, not open up, not have the talk one needs, not do what might seem to be pushing an issue or an agenda, leave things unresolved when there is a lot emotionally at stake.  Why the shut-down?  A knee-jerk attempt to act as an adult and just accept things?  A fear of rocking a boat of some kind of strange implicit understanding, where the matter at stake is some form of not asking questions, not being open with feelings?

Route 81, I gesture, has a sign about it, 'Depression, next 400 miles, ghosts of the past, shoulda, woulda, and coulda...'

I leave the appointment wondering about that.  Do I have anyone to really talk to?  Is it that I felt connected to a special someone but it all went horribly wrong, finding an apparent harshness that existed only on the social surface but which still caused a reaction when you tried to open up further, both parties having, apparently, their insecurities...  the gloomy scars of that, a toughened thickened hide.  Anyway, I know pain, and the pain can come in the middle of the night awake on a fold-out sofa bed mattress, or during a long monotonous drive punctuated by un-zoned sprawl and industrial wastelands, pain that comes in spare time finding yourself alone, pain that comes in the downtime of a few days off, time left to think, to rehash the past of that form to which the present life is attributable, in my case living alone, no one to come home to, to put it one way.

I get back after returning the rental car, walking back over the bridge above Rock Creek, an uprooted tree along the bank of the stream down below from last week's dramatic storm, the Chinese construction project up ahead, one thing at a time.  I get ready to do some yoga, and something prompts me to open up  the Pema Chodron Compassion Box and put the CD on, and it's about Tonglen Meditation, breathing in, taking in the pain, taking it into the heart.  Not running away, not escaping, however, into pleasure, shame, blame, what-have-you, but open to pain and suffering, expanding the heart and taking it in.  The yoga feels good, not having had the chance over the last week or so.  And the words and the gong sound coming now out of a Bose Wave are soothing and guiding.  Open the heart and mind, soften it, loosening the clenched fist aspect of such muscles.

And this strikes me as a good exercise.  Do not run from pain, do not hide, do not escape, your world will only get smaller, more egotistical.  This, the wisdom of Buddhist teaching presents.  Quite interesting, actually.  Take in your pain, breathe it in, and let your heart soften and expand, finding room for it all, even where you don't think this is possible.  You'll be able to absorb all that pain and it will transform your egotistical self with its egotistical smallness and shut-down modes, and give rise to a person, the true being of compassion, kindness and seriousness.

There are mystical moments in history, and who can exactly say why they happen, the mystical ideas behind good governance, of the people, by the people, for the people.  Mom gives me a picture book--she has a lot of books--of the places Lincoln lived and travelled by, one a courthouse, somewhere out on the circuit ride.  One's sense is, he knew pain, he knew the suffering, personally, of humanity, over many things, and even of animal suffering.  This is evident in the first-hand accounts collected by Sandburg, a tale of him reciting a poem of lost love before departing a woman's company one early morning, accounts of stopping his travels to pull a stuck pig out of a mud pit, the anonymous poem printed in his local newspaper on the topic of the grave.

One of those sleepless early mornings I read a Propublica piece about a Koch brother protege who is enjoying making a pretty good system of personal profit through the charter school 'business' in North Carolina.  Here we have humanity, in all its suffering, in all its anxiety, and what we do is provide a public school system, buses to pick kids up so no one has to fret about getting their kids off to school, teachers, books, lunch, gym, the whole bit.  We do this for the common good, to help the least of us, to help everyone.  Something we hold sacred, and indeed we should!  And through some corruption of the system someone wants to make a profit out of this system?  And whenever we as a people have lodged reasonable critique of other nation's ways of doing things, one of the primary evils we would always note, at least back in the sanctity of grade school with an eye for the flag of the U.S. of A. we pledged allegiance to day in day out, was corruption, some party hack making a secretive profit over public monies.  Well, my friends, take to the polls.

Democracy it seems has its fine moments.  More than one of them attributable to Robert Kennedy, the speech in a neighborhood in Indianapolis announcing the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in which he speaks of his own pain, "I had a member of my family killed..."  A basic equation or understanding, I know through life my own pain and therefore having opened to it, suffering it, I know that "you," that others have their own pains to, must needs be.  A concept rooted in the democratic principle that hangs in the statement that all people are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights, and which in all classic examples of being put forth, the end of slavery, the promise of equal rights under the law, the right to have a job as Roosevelt conceived the government's duty during the Great Depression (along with Social Security and health care), in public education itself, seeks to counter suffering and misery, of ill health, of ignorance, of poverty, of inequality, etc., etc.

Some say, "let the market place figure it out;  greater efficiency."  Enable someone to make a profit, maybe even a huge one, at whatever cost, gained in survival of the fittest mode, this is what some people say now, perhaps will always be saying.  "I will make such profits, gain such wealth, that I will eliminate my own suffering."   "I will pollute the ground water, the earth, the sky, the air, but I will make a profit for myself and mine."

To say so sends a message, for people to ignore suffering, to think it doesn't exist, to think humanity doesn't exist, that it doesn't need publicly funded education and public works, a promotion of the general welfare.  And such things are ignorant of the human condition.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

But there is an innate drive to wish to be heroic.  Male and female must know each other as such, certainly, the male, I think.  This is how it's done in countries that have not lost their culture.

And the thing that you fear is your self, the way you are.  Thus is courage relative, the learned managing of fear and anxiety.  The very worst thing you fear, that you must seek therapy turns out to be the very brave act that saves you, oddly enough, the thing that tests your will, from which you take the ultimate satisfying victory, which is self-acceptance, as if that were to come in spite of itself.

We all have our own individual tastes, habits, appetites, ways of doing things, and if we try to do all these things in the ways of other people, having made the false assumptions that such would be good for our own health, we battle ourselves.  The first act is to stand up for yourself, to pursue your own way of doing things.

Courage is relative.  An appointment, renting a car, planning a long drive, packing for a trip, engaging with other people, standing behind a bar for hours maintaining familiar company, just getting out of the apartment, walking across a bridge, all of that might take enormous real bravery for a particular individual.  To lead the life he leads, just as it is, might indeed be an incredible feat of valor, and perhaps people gravitate to the tasks that bring them to the edges of their comfort, walking a manageable line of fear, intuitively understanding that zone as a place of learning.

To know from inside is different from the outside view in, that perhaps even saying hi to a girl he likes takes a huge amount of doing.  No one might know enough to celebrate such victories.  The beauty of Quixote is his bravery to face the things that exist the way they do only in his mind, with all the emotional import of giants one must battle feeling very small against them.  What pains things caused him, what courage to surmount such obstacles, and how satisfying to him the moment of victory, even as no one else may have seen or understood.

So does one take psychological health and well-being on personal terms.  Thus the benefit of being listened to, an affirmation of all the things one does overcome, all the pains one suffers along the way and still managing to get something done, the day finished, the shift complete.

Would we assume an ease of everything for everyone?  For some, walking on open steel girders stories above ground is normal and everyday.

And once you accept yourself, realize your own fears and all you overcome, then you can relax and move on, doing something at least with grace and ease.

I managed to go face the things I feared time and time again, for years, and that's how I grew and finally came to accept myself.

I woke up tired today, a bit hungover.  The thought of a long drive ahead of me with a limited amount of vacation time, and bad weather, considerable, hanging over the route the whole way.  I'd worked some busy shifts the four previous nights and hadn't packed.  Around 12:30 the television, tuned to The Weather Channel, with grim news of green, yellow and red stretched on in a band, began to beep with a Tornado Warning, and then a high wind came ripping through, and that sort of settled the matter.  I postponed picking up the car rental, and finally walked up toward 5:00 across the Connecticut Avenue bridge to Enterprise and its good people and operation.  In the meantime I encountered birds in half bare trees after the front had passed through.  I might indeed fear roads, very reasonably, like Route 81 through Pennsylvania, a juggernaut of eighteen wheelers, monotonous ridge lines, long drops and climbs.  It helps me to observe the birds.  For animals know what we once did, before we had to be preoccupied by the routes of major roads and the like, which is that the land is connected, continuous, contiguous.

Any trip requires maps and proper turns, faith in vehicles, an knowledge of how to operate them.  To drive out onto the open road of 270 after The Beltway is quite a different experience than staying home, doing laundry, taking a nap.  Of course, one finds in himself a certain pleasant competency in driving, the memory, 'oh yes, I used to do this.'  But the bird's knowledge, that the land is connected, that one could first follow the valleys, then roll through farmland, navigate the outskirts of an unfamiliar city, follow the river, then make it over the next stretch that connects on the north-pointing valleys of the Finger Lakes, gives me the courage to plot a new route.  Things like packing now seem manageable, the basics of gear and clothing to keep the creature warm dry and comfortable, less broken into a myriad of little chores, did you do this, did you do that, are you ready to sign up for health insurance, what shoes will you bring, what are you forgetting.

I knew once a young lady for whom it took me a lot of courage to face.  And I wanted, subconsciously as much as anything, to show her that I had heroic stuff in me, and so I chose, again less than consciously, not the easiest and smoothest, nor the most suave kind of a path.  I was young and wanted to show her.  Really, you are far more bound to do courageous stuff in adult life more than the more protected states of youth, but I wanted to show her what I was made of, a natural facet of a natural creature that one cannot help.  I was like the bullfighter that stood on shaking feet but who still had the guts to stand in front of the charging animal even as he himself trembled, then of course leaving the ring as soon as they'll let him after discharging with his basic duties.  And other people, with exterior views upon him might have commented upon his style, his manner, his appearance, his choice of words, but to him the central fact was standing there, even in great fright, and getting over it.  And the whole thing, of course, prompted an emotion, all the emotions, a high of them, that said, 'wow, you had the guts to face that bull as it charged,' something his brain could ride on for a little while, the daredevil's pleasure, the overcoming of odds for another day.

Rest in thy victories, noble valant knight, Don Quixote, before moving on to other ones.  Something for the writers of the great epics of gallantry to write about.  One finds the match of his courage.

Monday, October 13, 2014

He wrote simply and cleanly about the experience of depression.  A fishing trip, camping by a river.  A compelling look at the psyche achieved through the reportage of objects.  The eye engaged.  The reader follows.  Trout holding on the pebbly bottom in the current by the pilings of a bridge, Nick looking down.  A certain starkness to it, loneliness.  There could be happier things to be doing, a stroll with your girl, or with your sister, who's on your side.  Okay, now what.  Keep busy, make camp, check things off one by one.  Time moving slowly, a literary innovation.  We follow along, even through complete avoidance, mutual with the author, until the end, just a quick peek, the line "fishing in the swamp would be tragic."  What does that even mean?  In our world we take care of things, going on-line, remembering a password.  What concrete landscape could we attach our inner lives to?  The mind messes with you, as any reader of words can plainly see, only, or best countered by the wisdom of an old writer, speaking through the context of Hamlet, "nothing is but thinking makes it so."  And you do see scale from the heights of a bridge.  The size of a fish, magnified by the watery lens, compared to our own sized bodies.  The fish sees things its own way, equally.

Depression.  Seems like an abstract term.  Touchy-feely.  Not real.  Molly-coddling.  Shrug and soldier on.  Arms distance.  How would you know you're depressed when you have only your own inner experiences to go on.  What indicator, what litmus test?  You started to read slowly.  You're being a drama queen.  How do you take the term out of the superstitions, out of the unreal, to let it take it's honest claim?  What level of it?  Garden variety, harmless, something you're in some control over, through diet and exercise.

Lincoln had it.  One of the better books I've read, about his melancholy.  You could see where words too, making meaning, would have its attraction for him.  "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.  Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, this mighty scourge of war might speedily pass away."  Half way through life, lost politically, looking for meaning, finding it in something, the half free, half slave house divided against it self thing.  A depression would grow in you a certain weary kindness.  An equal kindly view, considerate of the struggles of life, aimed evenly at the workmen and washerwomen, leaf blower crewmen and cleaning ladies, bum restaurant drop-outs, tavern people, mail recipients.  The crafty cockiness fading to a creaturely understanding, how does it feel to move one's bones.

A walk home from the therapist on an overcast day for Christopher Columbus.  Eliot's Preludes in the mind.  "Six o'clock, the burnt out ends of smoky days."

Writing about depression is not solipsism, nor self-enchantment, not Narcissism.  A great equalizer.  Similar to facing mortality.  To get out of the woods and to help others becomes something of the same thing.

That year, yes, it left a legacy.  The year depression came.  When literature gained a more crucial importance for me, a scientific effort over territory I knew, when the instinct of affection toward anything embraced the quality of a sadness to it, the quality of anything being fun being a private matter.  When the meaning of things expanded.  When the notion of any particular concept, say that of college leading to success, became enshrouded, one having to ask, but what is success anyway, what constitutes it, a cloud of seriousness come drifting in over all things.  Art was about exploring the dark true states of the mind, about acknowledging them, about removing the candy coating from daily existence.   One needed no special event, no grade school textbook tension, man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. himself, to feel the tension of survival.  And it seemed like there wasn't much but a few poets and philosophers attempting at least to make sense, to make shape of the basic subtext to human life, the nakedness, the unhappiness, the wish to sleep, the stress, the varying moods.  For if we adults are in fact as children then who amongst us can bring us comfort and guidance?  And we are children.

Home acknowledges homelessness, love acknowledges the saddest most unprotected vulnerable mode of emotional lives, everything with a point involves pointlessness, work acknowledges a desire for employment at all other things, on and on.

Is this the voice Melville tried to summon, through Ahab, of 'striking through the mask,' the wound giving purpose?  Yet, we probably wouldn't say that Ahab is 'a sweet guy,' no, but Melville is for creating him for us, (an act for which he was not particularly rewarded, the readers of the day, modernized, not wanting to look at such a portrait, whereas in Shakespeare's time it would have been different.)

My own opening depression coincided with my study of literature, with Twain, with Sherwood Anderson, and then that little book of Hemingway from early in his career, In Our Time.  And then what was shrugged off to the side in the daily politeness of society and the sort of fraternity world of college, life taken lightly, find the group to which you belong, was exposed as real and true and the essence of life.  Mind-blowing, as they say, the darkness of Dostoevsky coming to a golden leafy campus of thinkers and movers and shakers.  Works which were not thinking at all, but observational, with a wild raw energy, capable of transporting.  It was as if one were suddenly commanded to stop and listen to what the Old Testament took for God, the commands not being so sanguine and pleasant.

Literature was a way of naming all this, such things.  Literature was like returning to what whales were actually saying to each other, freed from the forced conversations, from the forced thoughts of the human mind thinking it could be intelligent enough to figure everything out in such terms.  Literature was a returning to the things one could not say, an admission, an honesty, therefore a great relief, even as literature is never really tacitly shared, or at least often beyond a like in daily life, outside of the safe preserves.  "I like Hemingway," what does that mean anyway?

Perhaps to acknowledge such things awakens us to the need to take care of organic being we walk around in, opening us to the practice of yoga and its spiritual meditative breath and energy flow aspects, thus easing the troubled and troubling quality of mind.

But it will always remain somewhat awkward, uncomfortable perhaps, for some, to admit, to reveal, to explore the nervous anxious side, the 'depressed' side of the emotional life.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Years later you come to realize the real obscenity.  For whatever reason, the grain of sand that stuck in the craw to become a pearl, the part of the not having sex, yes of course, most largely his fault, which goes without saying, but the tease part of the flirt ended up hurting, the matter's addressing postponed, the slow spiraling demoralization, the utter bratty ridiculousness of it, that came as a repeated shock to the system... the tear in his own heart between knowing one thing and in his own way acting upon it but constantly being told another thing.  Well, it's a matter of the well-off self-confident nobility to figure out, not some poor college professor's son still waiting on his plans.  Trying to be polite, trying to mind his manners, to keep his dignity and continue his form of cool, the sting of cruelty, what are you going to do?

Another party with not a single available woman, few women even to talk benignly to, another Saturday shift being a loser covering for someone...

Friday, October 10, 2014

But a lot of people are bullies when you think about tit.  I can see why someone with food allergies would be sensitive, and if you don't bully people they'll bully you.  The one time a girl liked me at the restaurant, said I was kinda cute, well, after a long night, and almost leaving my wallet in the cab, we get to her place, and I look around, note she has a cat, and just as we're about to get comfortable on the couch, she straightens up and says I must be gay.  Jesus Christ.  There I am, so close, and she's like 'it would have happened by now already,' that circular logic people have.  But, but...  nope, ended up walking home feeling like what the...  You can't win, my friend.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

"How are you?  How did your week go?"

"Well, Monday went well.  After our session, which was a good one I thought, I walked down to the bike shop to pick up my old steed, and it was so nice riding back from 14th Street.  It's such a good feeling being on a bike.  But anyway, the next day was the anniversary of my father's birthday, so that was a hard day.  Monday night was hard enough with the jazz night, so anyway, by the time I was ready to go to work, I wished I had more time.  But I got to the woods, got off my bike, called my dad's Patricia and we had a nice talk.  'I still talk to him,' she said, 'but he doesn't answer me.'  Sweet lady.  I stopped at the stream for a moment, looked up at the trees, though of him, and then I called my mom.  And she was great.  She said she was sorry she was so hard on him, but how that's what wives do...

"But she said an interesting thing.  As I'm walking up the road behind Dumbarton Oaks, which was that my brother would always speak for me.  She said, that's why we got you that punching bag, because he was always bullying you.  And I said how he was kind to me, protective, all that sort of stuff, but it's always been hard to talk, you know, if I think about it, around him.  Like once I was talking in the kitchen looking out the sliding glass door at the bird feeder and the apple tree about how it would be nice if we could go back to old fashioned cars and horse and buggies, and got rid of all the polluting mechanized modern stuff, and there he was like a debate team, older, smarter, well spoken, picking my arguments apart how ridiculous I was, when really it was just one of those intuitive poetic thoughts that comes out of your bloodstream as you look at a budding apple tree, just one of those errant thoughts.  I mean, it may have been what I believed in, and indeed looking at it now forty years later, maybe I wasn't so completely off.  Look at biodynamic vineyards, and foresting with oxen...  Global warming...  But I remember feeling stupid, and taking my arguments away and sitting by the stream or something and didn't talk about it again.

"But I said to my mom, yes, it was like when we were having dinner at the restaurant with our cousin and Bob and he was talking about the Tour and actually riding the Tourmalet with his buddies and he totally took it over and he's not ridden a bike in twenty years...  I mean, I appreciate he's interested in it, that we can talk about it.  In a way, yes, it's good to have a spokesman, a strong eloquent voice, but you know...  There I go, off to college.  And I have to talk for myself.  Speak up.  What do I want.  How do I say it.  And maybe by then that sort of being cowed by a bigger stronger handsome funny engaging guy sort of led me off into the ways I would express myself.  Like with my guitar, or out in nature on my bike going past cows and cornfields and ridges above towns.  Or, yeah, when I wrote.  Early on I was a decent writer.  And once I even made a speech about being a scholar for a high school assembly for the honor society, saying everyone was a scholar as long as you're curious.  Anyway...  Yeah, I wrote this piece about the reservoir down the road, the town didn't use it anymore, and the water was green and there was a heron that would come, and dusk when the bats would come out after the kingfishers, my Walden Pond, and my teacher came to me and said it was really good and got it published in the high school paper...  One of my few triumphs in life, ha ha ha.

"But I was doing a good job at it, speaking up for myself.  I had lots of friends, became buddies with guys from the classes above me, doing well as far as the courses I was taking...  you know, finding myself.  Doing all the things you're supposed to be doing.... And then came the split, moving out of the house, parents going off on their own, different apartments, my mom having to figure it all out.  Stuff you have to accept.  All for the best.  We had good times.  Now move on, it's different now, and then people don't talk anymore.

"And somewhere along comes this beautiful girl.  Just someone I wanted to be with, on all levels, a huge kick just to sit next too.  And you know, you feel it when you want to talk to someone.  It's like beneath, just beneath your skin, your hide, beneath the fascia, the layer of fat, the thickness that grows over you, just beneath the surface there is this vibrant electric being.  Like the spiritual essence of who you are.

"And we all live in coffin-like boxes, like wooden boxes, and we try to be polite and silent and say just the appropriate things, but it's like there's this light, and it escapes out of us.  You can't help it.  Maybe it comes out as light, as beams one might intuitively sense, like when you want to hold someone's hand or just touch it.  Or maybe it comes out as a few squeezed words choked out, not many, but having to hold a lot of meaning, expressive.  All the things you want to say.  You want the time, the opportunity, the right place, the right way, the right circumstances to say them.  You can even think, I need a million bucks first, and then I'll say them, but there's this inner body of man...   And you have to express things somehow.  And that's why I like writing English papers, like, taking apart a poem line by line, because that was getting close to the source of light and all.  All that vibrating twirling energy just below the surface...  Eliot's 'infinitely gentle infinitely suffering thing...'  It comes out as bitten lips and sore eyes and sad looks down toward the ground, just as much as it comes out in the normal hunky dory way.  A million different ways.  Intuitively understood, no matter how you might try to block it or the understanding part.  Everyone is going to get it, sooner or later.

"And that's my great failure.  Before that even I guess I was so frustrated, like missing all my chances with her, fucking them all up, by accident really, I couldn't even write papers anymore.  I couldn't write her, I couldn't talk to her, couldn't run into her, couldn't even see her in the dining hall, all if I were some sort of a creep, like I was ogling her or doing something inappropriate.  Which I wasn't...  Just couldn't talk, didn't have my brother around to speak for me, and he's always understood me so I can't complain.  That's how I came out into the world, being completely shut-down.  Not being able to speak for myself, not able to say, 'hey, would you like to for a walk...'  I'd try, and I felt we'd established enough to speak openly and honestly, but she would shut me down.

"I even remember saying to her once over the phone, when she proposed meeting for lunch so she could explain the situation to me, how I never say anything anyway...   Hmm.

"So how the hell would I ever be able to express myself, to even figure out what I wanted to do now with my life, all along with the silent electric inner being just below the surface kind of wanting to cry out in some like animal pain.  And the few words I said, like, 'crazy to bring flowers to a beautiful girl' would repeat themselves in my idiot head as I went about the daily crap I had to deal with keeping some rotten shitty job way beneath me making no protest just sort of accepting, lying down with dogs, getting fleas.  Taking my goodness and my body of light to go and stand in front of people, wait on them, talk to them.  Because I didn't know what else to do.

"It helped to read the Gospels.  That bit about not hiding your light under a basket, the wedding party, the groom...  So that's why I wrote a book, with a spiritual element in it, because reading The Brother's Karamazov helped me somehow, like, this is life, you have to express yourself, even if it's all gone to hell for me and it will never be right.  It has such a strong inner form, so it has to have an outer form, even if it's like anonymous or something.

"God, at the end of a week putting up with it all I just want to lay down and not get up, just nap like Jesus did, now all that light you have being banded into a sort of substitute life, no longer any girl to express it to, the personal wish and desire so sadly gone, so abandoned, left like an old drive-in movie theater to be overgrown by grass and fall apart, so all your left is sort of Jesus mutterings, as if you could really help the world or had a single teaching that made any sense.  Cold comfort...

"I just feel so awful.   But I did my job as a writer.  Just didn't get me anywhere."

I crossed my legs, looked back at her, reached over and took a sip of water from my red cup.

"Yes, sometimes I sleep all day, and then I'll wake up finally, and I wonder about that spiritual being caught in the cage, how he can never say much to defend himself.  It's like he feels it's just him, that's all I am, the body of light, doesn't own anything, hasn't achieved anything, so conventionally what does he deserve?  He's not making a hundred thousand dollars a year, what could he possibly do to provide for anybody, and all he can seem to do is sell his own labor for food and health insurance.  That's what you get for honoring that inner being.

"I wonder, is the only way out for the psyche, whatever you want to call it, to honor it, and by honoring it do you find yourself getting really serious and saying to those who deserve it, 'Thou hypocrite, enough,' and going down that path, and where does that one end up?  Do you knock over the money changer's tables, do you sit down like the Buddha under a tree, what?  Will they throw you into the funny farm and toss away the key, for taking things too personally, as it were.  I don't know."

Monday, October 6, 2014

It's a rite of passage, something we all must go through as writers, as human beings.  You've written your first book.  And then comes the crisis of faith, the low self-esteem, the self-questioning, 'was it worth it,' or simply, 'why?'   You put forth an enormous literary effort, largely on instinct, as a bird knows how to build a nest.  And then what?  Of course the world takes little notice.  (It is interesting to note the few who do take note, who do provide support.)  That's how it is.

That you finished the book turns out to make no practical difference in your life.  The twenty you earn in yearly royalties versus the one hundred extra you have to spend to do your taxes on-line...  You have the same sort of job you've had while writing the first, and it's just as hard, if not harder, just as uncertain, and all this too can eat away at the positive force that you bring to the task of writing.  It's no one's fault.  Few can take the time out of a busy day to realize the achievement, not having the terms, unless they too see themselves searching for meaning and spiritual fulfillment and the calm as yoga brings calm.

For pretty much all of us now it's head down.  We have time only for the things we know are good writing.  Those of us who grew up in houses with bookshelves are bound to have a broader sense of tastes, but all writers must fight for attention in the bandwidth allowed written works, which creates a hyper competition, one that does not favor good old simple honest spiritual exploration.  Literature has to be culturally supported, an age old value so deeply rooted as Nordic saga and Celtic bard.

For the writer of first novels, there is the sense of having opened up personal and private matters as a framework of the story.  Did you open up too much?  There's the tendency toward shame, oddly enough, even as you are carrying through with your dreams to be something, in the same way a person aspires to be and then becomes an astronaut, a doctor, a philosopher, a deep sea diver.  You had a vision, from deep within, and you carried it out in adverse conditions over time, and you knew that the work had succeeded on the basic terms you in an act of faith set out with.  The story represents a spiritual quest, how could it not, an attempt to find meaning.

Is it that the worries, the particular ones caused by the artistic pursuit, different from other careers in aspects, the fears of insecure futures become the seed, the background turmoil for the continuation of the spiritual quest that will fuel the next literary endeavor, as if the ashes of the first effort is the necessary condition to move forward.  And the next work itself must represent an impossible mountain, requiring the finding of things you knew in some way secret unto yourself, the things you don't know you have in you...  But what are those things, and what are the conditions that allow that way forward?  Must one change himself, or not change?  Or, how, to what degree, what exactly?  What new belief system must he raise, taking from what he knows, his sense of how he really should proceed, which to him might be in many ways represented by becoming a better Buddhist philosopher, accepting the very things most difficult to accept, but which due to the keenness and deep insight of the artistic vision must be undertaken, painful as it may be.

Are you then come to destroy, to cast the unclean elements from the temple, getting down to serious business.

A first step in my writing world was to not be too upset with the kid I wrote about, my actions of a previous time long ago.  To continue to be wasn't good for my health anyway, it caused me stress and the stress caused aging.  Further, no magic wand was going to save me.  Nothing to right the wrongs.  No Winter's Tale fantasy of things fixed after years.  I had to accept, and take the ways of people and things as as they were.  And as far as that kid I wrote about, the things of his were the things of a writer, and that too is a large part of writing, having the proper personality for it, the appropriate habits, the right kind of nobility and decency and noble failure, almost if you weren't in some metaphorical way like Lincoln going through a civil war, so that the house would not be divided against itself.  A writer is a writer, and on good days he writes, and he is often circumspect and internal, appearing slow and quiet as far as action.

I still think of my father's thoughts on the concept of the Treason of the Clerics, the effects of academic specialization.  By the same standards as the academic world, now a writer needs the same kind of conspicuous success; he/she has to write too well, a master of a created genre, in doing so losing the gifts of a generalist, one with the depths of spirit.  The result of which is the heaviness of genre over form, over content, over heart and soul.  Specialty literature speaking to a particular experience and even celebrated as such.  An exaggerated shard of a human being who displays only one side of himself, easy for market label, the specialist who no longer understands his specialty on a fundamental level, a skilled negotiator preaching his own vital importance but no longer seeing the shape of humanity and the world.  The treason is found in many professional forms.  The generalist eats shit.

This is why some of us don't intend to be particularly good stylistic writers.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

It's the stress, that's totally what it is.  The stress will bend your mind, put you in a fog, get you stuck in a pattern of reaction.  Happened to me.  I guess I wasn't exercising enough.  Though I was walking a lot, a lot of walking at night around the town.  But lonesome walks.  Exercises at least.  Young women's protests can cause a lot of stress.  Or maybe they intend it so, to vet the timid, the frail of mind, those who are already stressed or already engaged in some struggle...

Do whatever you can to not be stressed, even become Buddhist.  Exercise,  do yoga.  Take B vitamins and L-tyrosine and Rhodiola.  Stay calm.  Deep breathing exercises.

Remember the finest of people get stressed.  The ones with a natural ecological reaction to the world that comes before any conscious mode of thought.  The natural ones, yes, it follows, they get stressed, have an empathetic reaction to the walruses stranded on melting ice.  Like my mom pointed out, article by Gail Collins.  She accidentally dropped a check from my brother, looked for it all over in the bank parking lot, finally found it, had a pain the center of her chest.  Got home okay, took a Zantac and an aspirin.

Those who aren't stressed maybe aren't as ecologically minded, naturally, but this statement like all both true and untrue at the same time.  Who's to say?  We're all guilty, though it's true some of us have bicycles rather than cars.  Rent one to go see mom.

Even an idiot can cook a hamburger, luckily.  Simple.  Simplify.  Under the broiler, with onions.  Make a batch.  Reheat in toaster oven when needed.

Why do trees have trunks?  I mean, there is a gap between the ground and the low limbs that allows animals to move through the forest.  A tree sprouts and grows that way, and it works for the ecology.  And then I see that everyone has a girlfriend, a wife.  Everyone except me.  Standing at the party, going home alone.  Poor.  Stupid.  Spit out by nature.  As if ashamed to be a writer or whatever I am. The drinking to get through the stress of the restaurant hours, become a habit.  Can't get out of the rut I'm in.  Drop the drinking, the restaurants, get with whatever it is we call God or Buddha or religion.  Give up going against that, the unjust struggle.  Go the farmer's market?  What to wear?  Could a farmer's market be stressful, too personal, cause of agoraphobia?  Had a girlfriend, older, tell me once in a Blockbuster that I looked like I just got out of a home.

Hard to put a day together.  What should I do?  I have to go to work in a few hours.

I go and wander the farmer's market on Dupont.  I end up buying two bricks of frozen ground buffalo, one chuck, one round, from a freckled face boy and we work as a team to work out the change on forty dollars together.  Some young ginger and white turmeric.  A few apples, one on the way home.  I sit for a time on a park bench north of the Metro Station and read the first chapter and leaf through the book I wrote as a younger man.  There are parts overdone, passages that irritate me, I'd want to scratch out.  The public walks by.  Families with little kids are eating pizza together.  A young couple sits on the grass reading the sunday paper.  And each year it seems as autumn comes that my own personality while out in public disappears more and more, light, making little difference, just passing through.  And maybe that's a little scary, feeling so weightless, no need for anything but the simplest. I do now know all these people, and they too seem to me behind the stories quintessentially the same as me, except that they have acts, and their acts have jobs and families.  And I set out as an artist, looking for the truth, looking for accuracy, by being as honest as I could and telling a plain story with no particular point but to record life.  And once that is borne in you by habit you are left to follow it out to its logical progression.  I walk home a Buddhist, a minimalist, bearing the half-sad truth about personality.   And once home I will have to face the burden of putting on a personality that will get me through a night behind the bar, becoming someone when in truth there is little, very simple things, love for a few odd people, a sense of certain duties, and feeling strange about that which we call sanity.  Each year the person you once were recedes into the authorship of the things you write.  And that's the only real role you know, and so be honest about it.

Dwarfed, overwhelmed by the vast variety of vegetables, fruits, radishes, beets, roots, green cauliflower, leeks, offerings of soap and jams and cheeses, array of apples, with my own paperback novel in my courier bag against my back I sense the accuracy of Emily Dickinson, I am No One.  Who are you?  Like Beethoven's sonatas, those words drill down.  And this is a frightening thought for someone who must go meet people in personality mode, who must take one up himself, play the role they want and get through the night, home safe to whatever there is that is the self.  Perhaps you'd even want to ask, why me, why do I get the logic of all this, when everyone else gets it the other way, look out for your own self and then you'll be happy and rewarded, but maybe there is no you really even to ask, but a kind of virtue within, one that's really too deep for most people until they're old.

Small chores I will do up there tonight, one thing after another, and that will get me through.

In contrast to Dickinson, Donne's line, "a lonely thinking heart that makes no show is to a woman but a kind of ghost," has a different twist on how distance from the illusory self might play out.  That John F. Kennedy could quote lines from Frost's The Hired Man, "nothing to look forward to with hope, nothing to look backward on with pride," reveals an understanding worth crediting, and indeed had to the right to it, lying in bed with a hole in his back that wouldn't heal, meeting his own dark night of the soul.

Friday, October 3, 2014

At night, after I get home, with groceries, I have a choice, and I opt to go out for a ride.  And when, in gear, I get out the front door, about 10 PM, I head across town via bike lanes, south under the Washington Monument, to Hains Point.  To exorcise the poisons of stress chemistry by the river under a tilted half moon, and each time I'm brave and do it, I understand better the great field that is the National Mall with its trees, I understand the layout of the town, and with all the lights and buildings this way and that the sense of seeing through an insect's eye, vast changes occurring in the periphery.  I ride the loop.  The legs work.  Leaning over the handlebars I feel the calm of a natural predator, the shark swimming, early man stalking prey, steady, eyes open.  It intrigues my senses to see raccoons stop as I come back toward the monuments, to see the foxes gallop small furry bear horse dogs, loping magnificently in this spit of land where a larger animal would have a hard time keeping to itself.   I could have done the hills, but it's been a good ride, past midnight when I climb the small cobblestone hill below the particular fountain that sits above the street where I live, bamboo and tree hanging above the street above the parked cars, the dirt bank with ivy.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Tuesday, I go into work, wine tasting night, a blanc de blanc crémant from the Loire nice and clean, simple, then a Paul Mas' sparkling rosé from Limoux, and I learn early the busboy has been called off, due to a general lack of reservations.  (The busboy might play the Chief in my equivalent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  He's funny when he opens up.)  Not my call, not running the business.  It puts me into a fret, but I'm ready to go when the first couple comes in the door two minutes after the door opens.  Get them started with cocktails.  Then a kindly well-mannered lady comes, a friend of mine with a grand calm, always well-dressed and coiffed, revealing she's skipping a meeting at her building, a fairly prestigious one up on New Mexico.  I pour her a sip of the two tastings, but not interested, let's taste some white, talk about specials, look over the menu, catch up a bit.  Still quiet.   Madam likes to talk, and speaks in paragraphs, not easily broken up.  I bring up going to a therapist and anxiety, of how I've never been to Charlottesville, as if it were some mythical place, by which I am referring to a particular therapy session, and she immediately speaks up, I know just what you are talking about.

So she tells me how she writes lists, how she had to go out for a family event, how she packed the car with back-up water, protein bars, almonds, bananas, a blanket, etc., prepared for anything that might go wrong.  "Yes, that's why I enjoy mountain climbing books;  they always throw a list in, how much rope, pitons, bag, tent, food..."  And the conversation goes on like this for a good while's amusement. I ask her what her blood type is, and yes, of course, she is an O, and I can, and do, explain the fine fight or flight response, the adrenal reaction.  The difficulty of fitting into the modern bureaucratic world with all its caveats and regulatory habits, of coping with the anxiety of a modern highway system full of traffic, and the beautiful relief of a quiet country highway and of, once you get out there, finding things doable.  I tell her about L-Tyrosine and appropriate dietary measures, of why wine on a balcony might indeed be relaxing after a stressful day of meetings, and how, yes, swimming, any aerobic exercise means natural calm.  Good times, good talk, the bar guy doing his job politely enough, establishing common humanity, even if it's just two of us, and my friend who's working the dining room downstairs coming to check on me, which is extremely helpful, just that little bit of moral support, that bridge over to the corner.  Military people could make effective study of a restaurant, I would imagine, or, the same rules apply, distance, supply roots, effective engagement, help..

But of course, then things get busy, and then busier, and them more people come in, and the speed increases, but still you can't get caught up, and then you are in the weeds, my friend.  The boss helps out.  Opens a Chateauneuf du Pape for a Japanese man with his grown daughter and boyfriend, willing to spend, whilst I hustle.  I get a Bordeaux open, rattled, struggling, decanting it.  And the night goes on and I'm running, and also obliged to keep up the conversation here and there, the couple who met a night here six years ago, a bottle of rosé for them.  At one point the boss:  "I'll cut some bread."  I have to run back from the wine room, back along the bar to get back into it to grab the next round of ammo.  I'll be clearing a lot of plates tonight.  The boss saved I don't know from the busboy's hourly pay, but I'll pay for it.  The kitchen cut its staff too, and things do seem to take awhile...

I get home, finally, and it takes a long time, a long time to calm down.  I resort to making use of a botanical looking object from the annals of animal husbandry for a boost of semi-tantric physical relaxation, too tired to roll on the bike and watch more Ken Burn's Roosevelts.  Six AM, and I have to go to sleep, because I have to face the dentist before going back to work, and anxiously sleep comes.

After the abuse of being left alone, after the dentist, a scraping endured by retreating into the quiet spaces of mind and body that yoga allows, after jazz night, full of pretty much everything from engaging with the band, to the same with the customers and a demanding waitress, I get home, and can't fall asleep, finally do, and then, not sleeping well, I get up well into the afternoon.  I don't even write anymore, don't even want to, have to take care of things...

But who wrote, or read at least, the old versions of what was then modern anxiety, the Bible, or caught what the Buddha said, as passed down, but dumb people like me who toiled their days away as worker bees enough, without glory of authorship, their own works too private to share beyond a certain circle.

The different blood types have different ways, generally, of venting the spleen.  An A is a shrewd farmer.  B a Mongol hordseman ready to let loose with charges and demands and critique.  An O, with it internal, a matter of plumbing, works internally, with athletics.

As dusk falls I am riding my old Bianchi road bike down to the Bike Rack off of 14th Street along the bike line corridor of Q, having made an appointment to have the frayed derailleur cables in the handle bar shifting mechanism redone, along with new handlebars to replace the old bent ones--how they got bent in on the right side I cannot remember--and new bar tape.  Which goes smoothly enough, the drop-off, and then I am outside, after surveying the shop full of interesting things and beautiful bikes and gear, and I walk up 14th.  I walk past Pearl Dive and Ghibellena, past Barcelona and the seats and bars are full of happy good-looking people, and the sidewalks are full of pretty women walking home well-dressed and self-confident.  At dusk the city seems to shine beneath such a sky as it turns into the lens of a jewel deepening toward its stars, and all the people too seem to shine.   Walking past open bar windows I can almost sense the individual auras of each person, certainly the energy given off by their physical beings, transmitting, communicating something, and this signifying from their relaxed state gives them an immediate contentment.  The world has opened up into conversation and discussions I overhear as I aim myself toward the door of Cork's wine shop, where I have found they have the mysterious and mystical red of the Irouléguy, imported by Wine Traditions.  I have a good chat with the very nice and decent young chap who gets what I'm up to, and suades me to an additional red, this one from Gaillac, made with its local grape varietals.  He worked in a place in the East Village, Hearth and Terroir (?), and the wine education was frequent there.  Figures.  Well, at least I know Ed Addiss.

On a Thursday evening in the northwest of the city of Washington, DC, people are happy and successful.  They dress well, eat well, have great hair.  And I am standing on the outside of that, looking in, but not to be a part of that real estate.  I look in through restaurant windows, peek shyly from a distance into open doorways where the hostess waits, but I'll not be going in.  I am the outsider, l'étranger.  I'll pick up some simple groceries on the way home, singing a bit of The Auld Triangle as I walk along.  I call my mom as I stand on the sidewalk, holding the microphone part of the earplugs up so she can hear me, to touch base.  I tell her about my mission, how busy we were last night, and I tell her about all the happy normal people out on such a fine evening with so many things to do and places to go.   She gets me, what I'm saying.  She reminds me, chuckling, of the truth, that I am not such a person, happy and normal, and this comes as a note of relief.  This is true, I say.

This gives me the power set foot, with my bags, in Cork, the bar itself, on my own terms, just to look over the wine list.   The barman, a big guy, gives me a glass of water I am grateful for, and I spend a good five minutes peering through the list.  He returns.  "No thanks, I just got up not long ago," I say, and he understands.  "No worries, man," and he seems to get it as he turns back to his duties.  I leave two bucks beneath the bev nap, pick up my stuff and walk down the hall to the rest room.  On the way back it's as if I sense the dangers of a hallway, and inevitably in restaurants I think of Robert Kennedy putting himself through crowds and ultimately the hotel pantry way behind the stage, not something people would tend to think about when passing through people and seats, the minor distracted self-absorbed gauntlets of humanity in the record groves of the songs of normal happy life, no one seeing the polite somber face, the wish to help somehow above the brow, but not quite knowing what to offer as a beginning.

The side streets are quiet, and I am heading home.  The market awaits, some basics, wine in hand already, and then to cross the busy corridor of Connecticut, and then on toward home.