Sunday, November 30, 2014

Novel sketches continued.

But, doctor, there are good days, but there are also bad days.  Maybe it's a sign I'm heading in a better direction, trying to take control of my life, the demons come out.  So, yeah, the days you wonder:  What good have I achieved, in my selfishness, my attempt at writing books, my attempt at being a Dostoevsky or a Shakespeare, what good have I done but destroy a family, bring my unmanly unhappiness to it...  You try to not hide your light under a basket, but in so doing, what have you achieved?  Your creative effort is a negative thing almost.  What can it be but a shame alongside the creation of happy little children with a safe roof over their heads?  While I struggle back and forth, back and forth...  to write, to not write, and what we all need is a good job, employment.  What do I have to show for it?  Nothing.  Nothing at all.  Might as well be honest with myself.  I've been lazy.

Days when you think, I've spent twenty five years, more, being completely unproductive.  It's like I don't know how to be around other people...  I'm stricken by a sense of the great awful meaninglessness of my life.  You know what I mean?  And this Zen Buddhist stuff doesn't always help, I'm afraid to say.

I don't know, I guess I'm just confronting the meaninglessness of life in a restaurant.  I observe it.  I'm tired of lying to myself.  I don't do any good for people.  Or is that too harsh?  I don't know anymore. To make you work on Christmas, that just kills the idea that the job really has any meaning.

Who knew what one had for values...  We think that other people would understand us without words, but we have to explain, explain our vision, and sometimes they are so nascent, so fresh and not yet fully taken to form, still not knowing what direction they might take, even yourself...  Okay, so you've  read The Brothers Karamazov, then what.  So what?

I dunno, doc, I feel sometimes at the end of my rope, I just don't know what to do and I'm pretty sick of not having any meaning in my life, just showing up at that job.  It's been years coming;  I don't think I can do it anymore.  I can't face the loneliness anymore.

I'm trying to work things through.  I even got my sorry self down to see the Wyeth exhibit before it closed.  Crowded, and you feel stupid being alone, when everyone else is with family, every guy is walking with his girlfriend on the Mall.  Every adult male has a family...  And that book is right--the demons come out as soon as you try to start steering your ship in the right direction...  Yes, it almost hurt to go see my old friend Andrew Wyeth.  That old house in Maine...  The Pennsylvania farm house, his dad's studio, his own little schoolhouse studio...  The bareness, the vibe that comes out of such soulful alive places...  I can't compete with the good common sense of small government Republican kids on Fox News talking with Huckabee;  they're not going to understand the Buddhist nuances behind what to them is liberal anti-patriotic foolishness.  I need to find my place, like Wyeth did.   A bar might be the closest thing in a city to the Olson House with Christian and Alvaro, but...  I don't know.  Less and less meaning do I take from the exercise, the grunt work.  It's become more a mental ward, where depressives shuffle about amidst a happy Hispanic staff with their music and families and cell phone Facebook stuff, a cold French boss who runs the business quite well, but has a purpose in his life, his own family, meaning, unlike me.

But yeah, the demons come out, man, do they.  Waiting on a Saturday, walking in the woods, "on call."  Just walking in the woods to not go out of my mind or retreat back to bed.

Kerouac, yes, he was Buddhist enough to sense the constant changing within.  I think of my failures, almost every morning when I try to get up.  I wake up, wondering what's happened to my life, why me, and that's why I read up on Zen and listen to Alan Watts, to know I'll change, or that life's appropriate somehow when you understand it on a deeper truer level, so let go of anguish.  I write to hang on to positive directions, for the sense that I'm figuring something out, something that will help me find a way.  And while my first book, yeah, maybe was helpful, it didn't answer all the problems of my world, and I almost felt, well I do, feel ashamed to put it out there, as I think Wyeth would almost be, paintings of intensely private emotions, yeah, almost abstract.  Zen, now that I think about it.  "Let go;  you can't hold on to any fixed self, it will always change;  we come as waves, which means part of it is life, and the rest in not being alive..."

Yes, the demons come out, and so you write, because that seems to help.

Friday, November 28, 2014

But what are my values?  Am I allowed to follow them in the current state?  Haven't I betrayed them all.  No teaching job.  No wife.  No kids.  Where am I, lost...  That's how my how thoughts run sometimes.

But Doctor, maybe that's the problem of courtship, or the kind of thing I went through with that person, that girl, was that you become separated from your values.  Some of the insecurities still mess with you at that stage of life, college days, particularly with this last unexplored new area...  I mean you know yourself as this deeply kind person, would do anything for anyone, indeed love for all people, but then you fall into this back and forth, this tentative mode where insecurities come out, and you get hurt by what a person says, and so you walk away and harbor that kind of 'well, if that's the way you're going to be, well fine, fuck you' thing, and that's not how you want to treat her in any way, but you're too close to it and you perceive hurt feelings.  You have nothing but kindness for this person, but she got a little bitchy with you when you brought her flowers and you end up, I dunno, withdrawing, holding off on your gifts, on your light, on all the nice things you want to do for her and share with her.  You don't know how to read her, and so you retreat.

And then that starts a process of being separated from your values, and perhaps that's the source of the greatest depressions.  You were sort put in a trap, and where you know you've found an outlet for the highest form of kindness a person can express and find fulfillment in, I don't know, you get separated or confused and you start to act out, get angry, get self-destructive, don't follow through on things that you really want, feeling like 'oh what the hell's the point anyway...'  And because of so many little go-rounds, back and forth, kindness, retreat, dismissiveness, that sense begins to bleed over a lot of things.  A cynicism...  And then you might find yourself looking at yourself like 'what's happened to you, my friend, what has happened to you...  You used to be so bright, so engaged, so self-confident and in tune with your values.

It's like she becomes your enemy, and then a lot of people follow suit, like ostracizing you as the weirdo.   "What the fuck did I do?  Can't you see?  I'm not a bad person, I don't have evil intentions, I want to help you, I want to be good to you..."  And by the end of it all you're looking at yourself, "what the fuck happened to you?"

And that's I guess why I stuck with writing so long, because I had this sort of vision of an infinitely gentle infinitely suffering thing, something that could only find expression in literature, much along the lines of The Brothers Karamazov, which shows the real good in people, the real unselfish quality, of wise Alyosha with his schoolboys making peace amongst them, and that iconic picture of the Christ found in The Grand Inquisitor passage, a Jesus who says nothing to his accuser and tormentor, above such things.  Do the good have to be martyred?  No, of course not, but you kind of feel like one who intends to be good is in for a lot of suffering as he formulates his lesson plan to teach the world, a world that does not maybe even want teaching...

And from a practical stand-point, what does a good person have to offer anyway, as far as a solid mate.  No, you have to be entrepreneurial in this world, like Joseph P. Kennedy the father, figuring out how to make good money and support a family.

It's like you fall into a daze.  Don't you know who I am?  Don't you know who my father is and the things I stand for in life?  What do you say to your accuser?  You clam up.  Time passes and you make  few more efforts, but those feel like they got shot down too, so you develop this hair-trigger, self defeating at the mere hint of rejection.  Maybe this was the sort of thing Lincoln was subject to, the ship of his values running up against the rocks of life.  As strong a man as he, even.

And in the mode of being, kind to everyone, well, I'm sorry, but you get distracted.  You'd like to focus it all on her, but, there are lots of people in the world.  There are always 'the least' of us.  You'd want so badly to focus just on her, but there's a lot of noise, a lot of pulls off in different directions.  You end up doing stupid shit too.  Wasting your time on swine.

Maybe, doctor, that's why you become a writer, because it's the only pure world, though of course that is not very satisfying, that the Brothers Karamazov thing happens only in the realm of the book, that you can't teach that in the world so much.  You'd be tossed out of the classroom anyway.  Teach math and computer science.

Funny, you know, the first adult thought you have is that in a way everyone is a scholar, in their own way.  You respect people's native curiosity.  Maybe they don't read books like the way you do or did, but there's something going on, even if it gets misguided or wasted.  And then from that sense of the scholarship in everyone, you come to spiritual ideals, that which too everyone responds to, has some sense of.

Values, yes.  I have values.  I had values.  But you also get lost.  Maybe that's just the way life, being the world, inherently is...  I don't know.

Sad, not knowing what to do with yourself, just a walking blank kindness, maybe that is Jesus, or whoever, Buddha, the situation you just described, feeling you aren't able to do anything, as if you had your hands tied behind you, told to keep quiet, stuck in a prison where no one sees you.

Values, that seemed like a silly almost ridiculous question at first...

Maybe there's a reason Dostoevsky portrayed men and women as extreme, crazy, vixens, madmen...  This quality is part of his palate, his spiritual world expressive of his version of Christianity...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Therapy sketch:

So last time we talked about values.

There are two sides to them, during courtship, definitely.   One side with integrity, but the other must not be so honest, perhaps even lying as she considers and judges a potential mate.  There will be some extremely mixed messages, a swing between poles.  And the male has to simply hold on, stay optimistic and eventually win his way back to her after the initial encounter.  Or, he doesn't, which is his fault.  She could all along have been his to lose, but, he didn't capitalize on his opportunity.  Or, he ended up not working out for her for whatever reason.  And then, if she does chose a mate, basically the old suitor she will exorcise from her realm, wiping him off the map, performing murder on his memory, on the possibility of any interaction.

Yeah, in my state after that, I did not go into the publishing world as I should have.  I didn't do anything, really.  I took whatever job came my way, like I never even tried, never stood up for who  wanted to be or who I was or where I came from.  From the night at the Beach Party, she acted bored with me, my haircut was too short, blah blah blah, 'it's chemistry,' she said, yes, I told her, it is chemistry, I'll see you later, and I then got up...  She lingered at the party.  I got a cigarette and talked to a few regal young women a year above me, and ignored I her seeing her in the corner of my eye.  You're going to be that way with me, fuck you.

Maybe it was in my genetic code, poetically speaking, some kind of old school gallant Austro Hungarian way of courtship, since outmoded, not responsive enough.  And anyway, I was realizing how complex the human creature is.  Being honorable her rebuffs stung.  I should have simply ignored them, not been such a gentleman.  Then it all began to unravel.  The rejection got to me.  But it's not his place to protest unfairness.  You go on.  Stoic.  I was a fool kid from the country.  I did not know about rejection.   I'd never experienced... well, I take that back, I had experienced it before, but not at such a professional level, ha ha ha.  Not such a gang effort as it came to be.

Kindness from the male part is not the same as courtship.  And that leaves some of us to take increasing reliance on the claim of spirituality, decent morals, realistic decency toward other beings.  All of which does not necessarily make for a great mate and protector and the most glorious of bird's nest and plumage.

I guess that's why I become a writer, seeking a redress of grievances through being a moral decent person with some integrity, and so of course, being some form of Judeo-Christian Theosophical kind Buddhist type, as a writer, that's the kind of thing for me to explore, exploring the kind of person who go wait on the lonely leper in us all.

Maybe that's just a juvenile reaction, yeah, as if all people would be kind to each other in the world.

But yeah, sure, integrity.  Of for whatever other reason I'm here.  And I think that one of the reasons why people fall into writing is because your like this guy with an older brother always looking over what you do, a stern voice telling you to not be weird, do this, don't do that, you know, kind of putting you down, and things in life are always complicated.  Because you're nice to your mom and call her a lot doesn't mean you're a momma's boy.  Because you write poetry doesn't impune anything against your manhood, quite the contrary.  And I know from these sessions, you know, anyway, that there's always the voice even in your own head, criticizing, bringing up some account, 'oh, you're worthless, a loser, people don't like you, what have you done with your life... '  And those are demons maybe even a writer has to especially battle with everyday.   Just like I pretty much every day remember her surface level put-down or the old story of 'me fucking it all up with her.'  Stuff which might be true, but which one has to move on from in order to live a fulfilling life.

And you what, I'm finding out, after I've meditated and become mindful and stilled all those voices, that... well, you can always be proud at least of being decent to other people, friendly, to all walks of life, high and low, the high need it too, even as they might look down their nose at you initially, they need kindness too.  How tough it's been, quite often, Jesus Christ, to go do that job, but that self of inner mindful clear sky consciousness would always jump up and be kind to people and engage with them as I had time to, and even if it was awkward, try to ask or express something, something like 'hey, we're human, we all share, it's good stuff, even if it's partly bar talk, sometimes full of too much gesture...'

That's what this writer learned, even with all the voices in his own head, telling him all the things that makes you down about the day and where you are and all the missing engagement in your own life, the structure of your own life stuck around the night shift rut...

You know, the last night came to end, the Pandora wasn't working on the sound system so I had to go looking for the music on the iPod in the closet there at the bar mouth, the busboy coming in and out the linebacker waiter with plates, and the bar is a bit full, nice people, kind of boisterous, a bit drunk and happy at 11:15, Bolivia, Columbia, the military hospital regular guys, one of them knocking Obama (I did not engage, even my mind), and I've played Brubeck and Toussaint, Bryan Ferry, and Roxy Music won't play, so I put on Abbey Road.  "You never give me your money...  Here Comes the Sun...  Boy, you're going to carry that weight...  And in the end, the love you take..."  All those beautiful brief sketches of songs... that seem to come out of, I dunno, somewhere, all the life experience, bunking together while they played the Hamburg strip club...  Some of it has a sort of Lennon violence, yelling in it, but it's more or less like those early songs, like "And I love her," coming back in a deeper kind of poignant form, their last album, a kind of balance before they parted.  That is art, that album.  And it stilled the beast in the barroom last night, yes it did.  "Old and magic feeling..."  "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah."  What else is music for?

And today I got up early.  I didn't dwell on goddamn jazz night beating the crap out of me, no, I got up and wrote and expressed my old values, without going down that dark hole of beating myself up with mind, rehashing the past...

After the session was over and a chore of procuring animal protein and green vegetable and eggs was accomplished I walked home, and I sang to myself,  "she was a girl in a million my friend, I should have known she would win in the end...  although I look and I act like a clown, beneath this mask I am wearing a frown...  I'm a loser, I'm a loser."  Yeah, what can you do.  Go home and meditate.  When you're a younger brother, it's a bit of a habit to listen to the voices.

But I knew my mind was always a bit wilder, less tame, less of the agricultural settling of the human species, therefore smarter, not that it always does you much good to be smarter in that way, a wolf compared to a dog, a mountain lion rather than the kitty cat complacently resting by the radiator.

Creativity, the Zen Buddhist says, the height of artistic expression is selflessness.  Which we might take to mean that mindful higher consciousness that's able to look down at our thoughts and mental processes.   Saying, as Hamlet does, "these are actions that a man might play, but I have that within which passeth show.'  I have that within which passeth show.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

When I can move and get up on Sunday after the Saturday nightshift at the bar, a Lyle Lovett song is playing in my mind, "let's have a hand for that young cowboy, and wish him better luck next time, somewhere later up in Fargo, or somewhere farther down the line."  A slow start, and then, boom, the downstairs second seating is backed up, people are deciding to eat upstairs, the boss with the reservation pad and the phone in his hand is figuring out how to fit everyone in.  Drinks at the bar while your table waits.  A couple decides to sit at the bar, moving from a table too low, looks through the list, I let them taste the Bordeaux by the glass, a 2011 Cotes du Bourg, no, need more cab, gets a 2010 St. Julien.  Okay.  A tall man is hovering over me at the bar, as busboy, waiter and myself equally scramble to clear a table, reset, seat a five top of GW girls, deal with another couple, and another, get them sat and squared away, and the tall man wants "a bottle of Pinot Grigio."   Hmm, well, that's Italian, we are French, try this, a Pinot Blanc from Alsace, and here's a Muscadet;  man choses Muscadet, goes sits, gets up with date, sits in back room, no, not right either, ends up at couch, the table moved from now seated with another couple.  St. Julien, Lalande, decanted, their food ordered, then an old friend of the chef, a dentist, an Ethiopian princess, sits at bar with two equally regal friends, but unfamiliar with their new servant, I get them squared away.  He wants a light wine, a Malbec.  Okay, I pour him a Malbec.  In the midst of this our friend who came in originally on Wednesday jazz night comes back with a report on his conference and sits at mid bar.

The night scrambles on, picking up tape speed, the bar is being fed, amidst the chaos of plates which must be cleared, scraped off, then rudely stacked on milk crates under the bar's rail pours, desserts, coffees, walkie talkie beeping, pick up pick up....  Another bottle of Left Bank Bordeaux, a St. Estephe, is ordered by the gentleman of the couple, and by now, a glass for our new friend, and let's share.  The liver is excellent, the talk is good, wandering over Europe and the Middle East and graduate schools, etc.  "Don't go to Iran;  it's not a good place."  Friend reciprocates, asks me to pick out a good Bordeaux, and I chose a good value, a 2010 Cotes Du Bourg, a surprisingly good offering to a Left Bank drinker, decant that, boom boom, all good.  The evening is winding down.

Cut, fast forward to midnight, bar closing time.  Original man of couple is now hanging on, we have to go do something with our new friend, come over, lets open something from the cellar...  orders a greyhound.  Wife leaves after champagne.   Man is focussing, leaning in, wanting to buy me a drink.  I told them earlier, don't get me started, I'm an animal.  New friend chuckles.  Then the talk starts, about opening that $1600 bottle of '93 Petrus.  "Can you give me a discount, a better price," the now tipsy man is asking me.  "Call your owner."  Some time passes.  "No, I think it would be wasted on us at this hour, and we'd need to decant it anyway."  "Well, pick something else out that we should have, the best we have."   I stare at the list.  "I dunno, I'm kind of happy with my simple little glass of Beaujolais..." I mumble into the dust of the night.  Jesus Christ, can't this night just come to a clean end.  The tipsy man queries me, hunching somewhat as not to sway his vision.  Why, exactly, am I'm not opening the great wine at this past midnight hour.  Drunkenly and directly, the calculating part of his mind, he is looking directly at me.  "Why not?"  Awkwardness.  Meanwhile, "What's so good about it," conference friend is asking, then coming gallantly to my defense.  "What a good man, not pushing overpriced wine on you," he says with the right chuckle and pleased smile. Yeah, I tell them, look, it's after midnight.  I don't want to serve, the employee handbook does not allow it.

Finally I get them out the door.  Yes, we'll all have a drink up the street.  That works, except I have to go along with them, the local guide, pass the problem on to the next bar, and the guy isn't driving.  The drunkenly engaged conversation, the egos out, and I hook up with an old friend I've not seen in two years, and we have lots to chat about, and his new girlfriend is very nice.  Night comes to an end eating a burger with my conference friend, seated out in the cold wind on steps next to the old Austin Grill, the original, where I worked and tended bar a long time.  Across geography and life, I have established a kind of brotherhood with this guy, and that's cool, and as a bonus we stayed out of Good Guys.  "Hope the other guy got home okay."  "Yeah."  And then it's time, finally, for a cab ride home.  I wake up on couch in the morning, stiff, left my contacts in, socks on, as the light comes up, lye, before putting the stiff body properly under the bed covers, setting the alarm for the shift tonight.

Getting up an hour later, I muster my energy.  Ah well, what can you do.  The night ended without incident.  I do the dishes, sweep and mop the floor to a YouTube about Zen practices and tea ceremonies.  Do you wonder about your values, do I really want to be doing this, the awkward thing of keeping people in control when their judgment goes, when the night passes on into the obligations of the ritual of having engaged in conversation, wine shared, talk of the state of the world.

Taking a page from the Eckhardt Tolle playbook, I light a stick of sandalwood incense, cook some Merguez sausages under the broiler, sliced sweet potato in the oven, take a hot shower to loosen things up, a few poses of yoga and then it will be off to work, this time more with a cop mentality toward that late hour when the drunkenness comes out.

And such are the problems, in my case a habit of people-pleasing, an overextension of hospitality, a giving in to the hunger for the numbing pleasure of the drink, which itself is a facet of ego.  The ego wants more to drink, in its battle between good and bad thoughts, tending to heighten both in the perception.  Grand gestures.  And I would sometimes fall into that myself, rather than keeping my head clear so that the simple mindful consciousness that makes no judgment would continue to shine through.  And once bitten by it taste, it seems like the best option is to continue on with the exploration of an evening.

After assuaging all the bad thoughts I could come up, rehashing the past, the self-name calling, I would end the night in some form of numb state apart from the self, escaping away from the basic inner value I've always and ever meant to uphold.  That can be a hard thing to sustain sometimes, when the wolves seem at the door, to simply uphold your upright conscious fully awake and aware presence in the moment.  Things can tweak you, get you nervous.  And so, oddly, being a proponent of the light of consciousness, attempting in some way to formulate it as a profession, or part of a profession, or simply a leading voice somehow over all the choices one makes in life on a daily basis and over time, I could find myself vulnerable, alone and afraid.

The odd sense, what are you doing with your time?, you can't just sit and meditate all day, such things would prey upon my days and make me depressed, the thoughts of the mind and all its voices, and I wished to hide out and sleep through it, and often enough I wasn't much feeling for getting up out of bed anyway out of the things I'd done in the night to escape the lonesomeness.  Yeah, and in a way, I had almost worked against my values, of promoting the high consciousness and presence in the moment out of all my worries, sometimes first of all to give people good service and respect and all that stuff, bending over backwards to be their therapist, their confidante, their company in the night as they stared into cellphone screens and took things very pessimistically, humorlessly, literally, burdened by things.  And my bright natural innate conscious presence would shine over their distractions, engaging in bright conversation, a touch of self-deprecating humor.

Believe me, I know what it's like to be preyed upon by the bully in the mind, by all its demons that jump out and go "HUH!" and try to scare you as best they can.  "Buddha, Jesus, where are you, come and save me, be a model," you cry within, and then, as if like your own father's voice in yourself, the recollection that you yourself are Buddha and just need to remember it.

But the voices from the night shift before, if I were over-tolerant, and allowed things to go on too long, the voices would be transmuted next day to sit hauntingly upon my spirits.  "Oh, I shouldn't have done this, I shouldn't have done that, I was just trying to placate them all so they'd leave but that was self-defeating..."  Well, at least I was working on it, from time to time, putting the rough math together, this equals that.  As they say, respect yourself.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My interviews with the old barman continued.

"If you ever look at pictures of Lincoln--take him as a clean-shaven lawyer in his prairie years--you can see it, the demons haunting his psyche.  The sad emotional things that would sit on his brow or somewhere behind the eyes or in the crook of his lips and the mouth behind them.  What it was, we don't know.  We can speculate.  What made it hard for him to commit to Mary?  Why did he pull away from his decision to marry her, initially?  What was it that would lay him up like that, bad weather, the time he felt like giving up on it all and they took care of him back at Speed's family home?  Was it a particular thing, a number of things, a fluke of genes and psychological tendency?  But there he was, great joke teller, great story teller, great with words, saying things precisely, a command over words, we see even before the legacy of his great oral compositions.

"I got into this line of work to support my writing.   But now I wonder at this mature age if a lot of that wasn't so much as a reaction, a reaction to things that brought me, when I thought of them, and I had trouble not thinking about them, things that brought me pain, a psychic spiritual pain, one that affected me physically.  And one which was a kind of a feedback loop.  Maybe it was in some ways healthy to keep the wound open and try to write it out, but then I guess, or rather I began to see, that to keep writing as I was, and really, I must admit, thinking of the same sad things on a daily basis, which is why I see in Lincoln's eyes and face and even deep in his stature the pain of sad things, things that cut deep, that hit you as a man where you are a man, that can really kick you in the ass, well, thinking those worn thoughts, even he used that particular term, the worn ruts of them worn threadbare and joyless--what a great sense of humor he had--those worn thoughts weren't doing me in any good.

"Maybe this is why Hemingway writes of bullfights or the artillery shell coming his way and opening up like an oven, to kind of personify or encapsulate the thousands of things that make you feel bad and fire your adrenaline with nowhere to run.  Later on in his work we see more the endurance figure, the old fisherman...

"Well, eventually, you got to step out of all that.  You got to go and find meaning, above all that.  And first maybe you have to realize something, which is that you are in pain, and that you are doing things that bring a temporary numbness, a way of escape here and there, and I was very familiar with them, and even when I did not overdo it always, or all that frequently, I drank wine to numb the pain, to medicate myself against it.

"Now mind you, I know good and well that anyone who's been through a long goddamn shift of people riding you, picking at you, you know that glass of wine is going to taste pretty good, immediately soothing.  And it will give you some energy when you're running out of it, so you can get through the last chores all cleaning up.  I'm not going to blame anyone or myself for that.  And I might say, that being poor I didn't have the funds to go out to a bar after work, as good as that might have been for a man in my circumstances, for then I could at least be around other people sort of in the same boat as myself....

"But I went to a therapist and she gave me a book and I started reading it, something about "The Happiness Trap" and "Acceptance and Commitment Therapy," and I saw that really you have to accept, more or less out of being natural, just the way we're built and survived this long as a species, that you have a lot of negative emotions.  Well, I know I did, and maybe that's the meaning I take from my own little personal view on someone like an Abraham Lincoln, someone subject to a whole lot of melancholy.  And I'd done my yoga and more importantly my meditations, where you sit in some form of the Lotus Position or Corpse Pose and let all your thoughts go and just be consciousness.  I knew about that stuff, and I more or less came to practice that, as if I knew I had to. But the book was really quite a help, to let you accept those bad feelings, the heartbreak, the sense of not knowing where my life was headed, you know, as being a barman it's always more or less get through the next month or so, which ain't a great way to live... You accept that stuff, take the step of realizing that this is your mind, your thinking mind talking, tell you a tale, and that you also have to accept such things, not try to hide, but rather expand.  That's the term the guy used.  Expand.  Take in all your pain, breathe, allow space to grow around the painful areas.  And maybe for that it helps to have that Buddhist sense of vast amounts of time, kalpas, and the subtle mind's nucleus tiny within us with all this great space all the way into the depths of space and the stars we can see, huge space.

"And maybe that brings me to think of how poor old Lincoln found, had to find, some kind of meaning in life.  Maybe in a way he found that by being expansive.  I mean, he always was, expansive over people and critters, kittens and birds, but the small maybe coincidental evidence that he thought less of pork barrel and more of the expansive notions of a nation conceived and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, which is pretty good stuff for a practical, intensely practical and calculating politician such as he was.  He could feel a lot of pain, and in his maturity he survived by expanding...  And by finding meaning.

"That's what I'm looking for now.  Meaning.  Not for the same old escapist stuff and not coming to grips with the stuff that brought me sorrow, those bad voices in the head telling me bad things that sort of compounded upon each other in the sensitive mind...

"But honestly, every time I'd go in to tend bar, every single night, I hated going in and I felt very sad, each and every time, kind of like, seriously, dragging a cross with me.  And the only way out of this, and out of my own craziness, all these thoughts and memories gnawing away at me like demons, the only out of it and to get through those shifts was to expand, to make believe, faking it, that there was this large self that could go and do that.  Unfortunately there were no real laurels, no great amount of achievements and money piled away for the poor beast that had expanded each time he fearfully went off to work.  Other than finding that this was the only way you survived, that rewarded your getting up out of bed every day.  And maybe that is what's meant by 'thou shall earn thy bread by the sweat of thy face,' come to think of it.

"Oh, all that pain.  No wonder I drank.  No wonder I felt like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca.  Same damn thing for his character, Rick, the poor guy expanded, found a meaning, hard as that is most days."

"He was braver than I, Lincoln.  He had fortitude.  He got things done.  He didn't hole up like I did sometimes, not wanting to get up out of bed before I had to to shower and get ready for work, though part of that is the imposition of the schedule of working night shifts.  He worked on, through is pain.  Sure, he acknowledged how things went slowly for him, how he worked slowly, things taking him a long time to get;  and people would observe him staring off into space or lying on a couch reading from Shakespeare...

"I'm too much a literary guy, more an Ichabod Crane when it comes to these things.  Demons get to a chicken like me, I guess.  Too sensitive or something.  And work was at least at times a vicious cycle of not feeling good and then drinking a bottle of wine to feel better but all the while not getting to the root of the problem which was not understanding my values like I needed to, not in a grown-up way, and maybe just trying to fit in, get through one more day of the faking it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Okay, just report what happens.

"Ali was the cousin of the prophet Mo'hamm'ed.  He was married to a daughter of the prophet, so, being son-in-law, and then not elected as the succeeding leader in a vote over five or seven, well, that's where the difference comes from, the Fifteenth Century, Sunni versus Shia.  Ali didn't get the vote, but, hey, that wasn't right, given who he was.  Or was it.  Sunni, believe in the vote, and Shia in the lineage of Ali.

"The old Sunnis under Saddam of Irag, the Baathist party, this is one side of the political reality.  The old Shias, those in Iraq, want power, so, they have Hezbollah in Lebanon.  And again, the big difference between Shia and Sunni, and this is where some of Syria comes in, or rather, the story of the Assad regime, are you following me?  Because the Assad paternal line, being of (something that sounds like) "Alowite" persuasion, a sect agreeable over the lineage of Ali believing in Ali's continuation of the prophet Mohammad's wisdom and message as opposed to, if you follow the logic, what must be the point of those Sunnis, who believe in the power of the vote...  So,  the father of Assad is, in a way, family friendly to the Shias of Iraq, and thus receives support from the important neighbor who is Iraq... There is also Turkey in the mix too.

"More of the game as it is played:  The US gives lots, lots of money to Jordan, and this is another part of it.  Jordan is perfectly happy receiving lots of US money, and it builds royal courts, and has a great time, and a lot of money disappears and the same people as the poor who are stuck in the roadblocks etc. that Israel sets up are in Jordan quite happy and for the status quo just as it is.  A lot of US tax payer dollar disappears, a lot of people live absolutely lavishly, and the poor Lebanese still are stuck. Five road blocks a day.

"Here's another important part of it all:  The Saudis, they do not care.  They spend more than a trillion on U.S. arms, so the U.S. supports their decadence.  They don't have much to do with Islam.  They'd have nothing to do with it.  Disdain those who do.  But, they don't like Iraq, the growing Islamist power in the region, and one of a particular stripe.  The Saudis like their economy and their world, and are content with their wealth, and really want nothing to do with anything beyond that.  It makes great sense that they do no like the Islamist, but, this doesn't want to make them fight, therefore having to take a stance now does it.  As if, happily, anointed, the ineffectual power of the region out of natural resources, out of what?, out of moderation, has no will to do anything.  Do the Saudis look around and wonder, what's going on around them?  Do they?

"The U.S. has spent more than one trillion on the war in Iraq."

"And then, as far as the war on terror, traveling, being on airplanes, going through customs, what's it like for, say, for someone from the Middle Eats, the general area, the sirian, when along comes the home intelligence troopers serving all of us  through the security forces of many official nations, looking for means to sustain all its employment and resources, that of course must grow and meet further projections and thus find guilty people out of the straight, vulnerable almost in particular those straight and good people who are the connective tissues of different societies, the decent, the well-educated still trying to conduct some kind of normal business.  They find something on you, some soap powder, and then you're lucky to not wake up in Guantanamo. "

In this conversation, and always a bad sign, arriving after 9:45, Dennis.  Dennis is surprisingly sober, and with a tale of giving his father's eulogy, a week and a half ago, shit.  But you'd be proud of me, T.

It has been a busy night.  It will not end easily, but, it might be interesting in some way.

"And then there's Reagan.  Reagan, who believed, contrary to the very spirit of the good American nation, that public education should not be free.  Reagan, gutting the great public university of the California system which produced so many bright and well-educated and finished people. The great actor, acting, making his statement, the act that he was 'helping the general public,' when really, as he knew quite well, he meant to benefit the eager rich who wanted more riches unto themselves, personally, more, and to hell with public education and the great raising of the public minds, which would only be dangerous to the special interests.  What a great actor he was.  And many bought into him, and still believe in him today.

"His descendants in a Milton Friedman mood privatize.  Privatize the decisions of foreign policy and war.  It will drive the economy after all.  And so, who makes money now out of war, out of any war, war on drugs, war for oil, war against supposed weapons of mass destruction during which Dick Cheney's Halliburton makes a lot of money.

"Privatize what used to be the general public good, the general welfare, all of it, education, the penal system...  Where does it stop?"

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Lord knows, thinking can hurt.

I guess I know how a dog feels.  It's wine tasting night, I'm up there by myself, and the parties come in, largely unannounced, unpredictably.  A few faces, of course, I recognize.  The shift starts hungover, as I ran out of wine as I cooked in the night and pulled out the Fernet-Branca liquer, the current shot of choice, and a decent one, of the DC service industry.  Herbs, many of them, kind of like Yaegermeister, without the annis, something like that.  I should have stuck with wine, or just gone to bed, but, the mind seemed to have needed a blank place to relax, and psychologically I am working on improving this tendency.  Anyway, a regular customer shows up with a 2005 Morey St. Denis to have with dinner at the bar and he has me try it.  The next people come in, and I mumble about the free wine tasting and the bottle discount, all of which seems to make me appear like a madman, offering something unexpected and perhaps inexplicable.  But the night goes on, and I judge how far to render my schpeil accordingly.   To offer a free wine tasting, of course, is to open a can of worms.

So the ladies come to dine, they come to catch up with each other, and I know this and try to be helpful and as unobtrusive as possible.  Would the malbec go with the curried chicken, I don't know wouldn't be my choice (New World jamminess), but here you go and here's a sip of two other wines.  I've got time, and otherwise, really, my job would be too boring and generally pathetic if I didn't take some pedagogical interest in wine and service.  Don't take it personally, I'm not trying to be too kind or anything or too friendly.

But this is the world of being a servant.  You come over to a table, stand around, try to figure out what the fuck people want or why they came here, and you hope they will at some point reveal the nature of their mysterious presence, their relaxed attitude.  One table, three sisters and a friend, I recognize the sisters, are talking about serious stuff when I approach to offer the free tasting.  I might like to talk about how Beaujolais is a beautiful place, appropriate neighbor to the gastronomic capitol Lyon, how Anthony Bourdain was seen swilling down the stuff with the great chefs there, or maybe a note about the granite soil Pinot Noir doesn't do well in, but that sort of thing is immediately rendered unnecessary and trivial when people are talking about, say, melanoma, a health issue that comes with aging.  (And a barman never really knows what kind of stuff might be going on in people, and not understood the last encounter with a man who looked puzzled and a bit out of it, not saying something, that he would soon pass away.)

But a dog, take a beautiful chocolate lab bitch, I see her look up at the table, and she wants to eat what we are eating, and she also wants to talk, to be part of the human experience, but she doesn't have the ability to make words as we know them, just a tiny bit shy of that skill.  And when I wait on people I can feel like that, like a child in an adult world, kind of like an overgrown idiot, or simply there being no bridge between my deep human realities and those of the people at any given table.

The dog wants to be with people, wants to leave with them, sit and relax and be a part of conversations and add to the experience, but by and large to do so would be vastly inappropriate.  You share what you can, you answer questions, you try to entertain, and often times in a city full of successful people there has to be a hanging question, what happened to you, what brought you here to wait on tables when you're obviously intelligent, what kind of craziness or bad choices did you fall into, or what failures amounted to the one well represented by the fact of you standing there waiting on people, because, you know, we wouldn't expect someone with brains and talent to be doing any such job, the irresponsibility of it all mounting....  Life reminds one of the Monty Python sketch of John Cleese playing "the village idiot," secretly erudite and aware behind the expectation of babbling he must put on for a passer-by.

But in a way, perhaps it was all staring me in the face, that really and truly the wine bar is a Zen temple for the modern secularized belief-free world, or it can be.  And perhaps at the core of such a truth is something often referenced and often forgotten.  To state its kernel of truth would perhaps be a kind of arrogance, and something we would find basically untenable, unbelievable.  But on a good day, for a brief shining moment, it can be repeated, he who would tend to the least of us would be the greatest, as we move into the spiritual realm, the last citadel of deep truth.  It's the highest person who would get down and wash the feet of those willing to learn.  The act stands for itself.

(But of course we live in such a world where we do not accept the practical physics of it.  For a long time leading up to the Gulf War, those in the know, DC cabdrivers, natives of the region could tell you, plainly and simply, don't go in there, it's three different countries, three different peoples, three different outlooks, and if you go and topple old Saddam, it's going to be a huge unending mess.  But, of course, there was that notion that since we are the greatest we should do something, and not see being the greatest by the spiritual light, a position full of humble duties, almost passive in nature. )

Of course, it rarely ever feels like you are aligned with the best of humanity when you are a professional waiter eking out a living of some form.  There is something, sure, plain and clean and decent about waiting on people.  Maybe it brings good karma, but at a glance it doesn't seem so wonderful a profession for personal relationships and responsible family life, no.

But if one is aligned with the deep truth, then there is not so much to fear, beyond what we all must fear, death, poor health, aging, obscurity, loneliness, anxiety, things we must deal with.  And maybe that is where the Zen comes in, that doing such  a job on a  daily basis really does lead one to understand deep stuff about how the mind must be observed, how meditation helps, that sort of a thing....

Such a circumstance speaks of the molecular goodness of the Dostoevskian, that imprisoned obscure outsider condition, the Siberian penal colony, of the odd life of a gambling writer itself, which was able to imagine that humble purity, that humble situation allowing him to observe the things he was capable of rendering.

The obscure idiot will tonight return to work, have all the feelings the dog does, wishing to engage, wanting to participate, but of course waiting on the master, wordlessly enduring, his thoughts left to himself whilst people cover the infield with talk, lots of talk, lots and lots of talk.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I have one of the most beautiful jobs in the world.  All walks of life.  A natural way to relax, a healthy community, one without judgment.  About the highest thing you can achieve in the world, outside the classroom.  And it opens up sometimes, and reveals itself, if the topic of conversation is real enough, if the people within are being open.  The ease of conversation of disparate peoples, different walks of life sharing the community connection.  A decent bar should receive a subsidy from the adjacent three zip codes.

What happened tonight?  Who came in?  When?  New Orleans, a good topic of conversation.  David Schulman, on electric violin, Eddy on bass.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

And what is the point of these samurai movies?  What is the point of Harakiri/Sepuku of Kobayashi, the great director of that most interesting movie about life which is really about ghosts, Kwaidan?

The point of these samurai movies...  There is something here, very important, a simple point, something we cannot mess with, something we have to accept... The main guy fights in the movie, after he's lost everything, grandson, daughter, son in law, before that wife...

Is this the Toshiro Mufume guy Kurasawa will later use?

But the truth of the samurai comes through, the reality of the skill of the individual, hidden, waiting, mindful.

One sings like a meadowlark alone at night after Saturday Night Live great hits of the 80s, old Irish songs like Greenland Whale Fisheries, no problem, even well.  Songs to dance to, a whole band within, all those songs.  And yet the talent is hidden, used to maintain mindfulness.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Over the years I drifted as a bartender to wishing to be a simple mountain monk.  The world of people comes to you with problems, dissatisfactions, a need to do something with time, a need for distraction, a need for conviviality.  This is what I think sometimes.  Maybe not all the time.  I began to think of a medicine to treat the common ailment, knowing it myself.

I know, wine soothes in the night when you're tired and can't sleep.  Why is that so?  How does it leave you feeling the next day?  It tastes great going down, but maybe the next day one is a little loagy, a little lazy, not so diligent, not so energetic, a few mysterious aches and pains, as if to pay for the feeling of painlessness and freedom of the night before, the quench of thirst, the calm of nerves bought not through meditation but through a certain kind of medicine not without its risks.  Wine is good medicine sometimes, maybe not always.

My genetic legacy if it was anything involved some form of Buddhist thought, maybe Zen, maybe the Theosophical approach my father engaged.  Something to honor.  Something to help determine one's life path.

The bar I worked I regarded as a kind of temple, and anyone could come to it.  There wasn't the intimidating aspect to it, the sense of having to commit to something life changing but rather some form of steadiness.   Where else was there to go, that wouldn't insist on belief or ritual.  It was a profane place, of gluttons and wine-bibbers.  In a way there was something Zen about that, hidden, therefore constructive.  As we all know, the pretensions of 'holy holy holy' can strike one as immediately tiresome, humored for social benefit, but cause for suspicion, a little creepy.  Maybe there was even direct conduct of sin inherent in the place, but at least it was real, and real is where we find the conditions, the conditions of sickness, of our direct ailments, and a better place by which to conceive of a cure to treat such very ailments.  And that is always the tension.  How steeped in illusion, how tied into the perpetuation of the illusions is a place?  Of course a place has many corners, many sub-climates, all going on at once.  What is the basic overriding message, the tenor of such a place?  How many bells and whistles, how much pumping vapid pop music?  A healthy encounter with other beings with different takes and experiences?

Zen is a healthy way of going about things.  An honest way.  A way that goes beyond the usual ruts and assumptions, the dualisms our thinking falls into.

The barman monk is in an awkward spot perhaps.  He fears if he told the truth the customers would dispel, and then there would be no money to pay the, as Thich Nhat Hahn puts it, best wishes to him, the electricity bill, the water bill, the telephone bill.  So the real retreat, the true place of education must be located somewhere off site or in another realm, another dimension, another time.

In many ways I have grown tired of writing.  What is the point of these exercises?  Sometimes they perpetuate the illusions, the countless little offenses and dissatisfactions one whines about when really everything is completely fine and that one never needed to be restored to good order because one never really left it.  It's all how you see things, and the very first perspective to achieve before anything else is the great fineness of the present moment, it's appropriateness, its necessity.

Perhaps there's something a little Heisenberg Uncertainty to it, at the root of Zen Buddhism, that the real gentle-person is found within, right there without having to measure or search or call holy or sacred.  Just you, on your own terms, accepting, appreciating, no need for anything outside.

To be a writer, hah!   This would be a curse, a juvenile misunderstanding of the brain's chemistry.  Sure, one has native thoughts and takes on things that are healthily expressed as they might usually fall out of the boundaries of normal conversation.  But to attempt to be a great writer is the effort of someone attempting to tame his own demons.  And Hemingway himself writes late in life, to the effect, 'why did I listen to all those taste-maker pilot fish of the wealthy telling me my writing was good and wonderful;  indeed I should have wondered what was wrong with it if they praised it so.'

All there is is the teacher component of writing, being able to present thoughts without intimidating someone else.  Addressing the awkwardness of being human.

And awkwardness, if you listen to it as it comes about, is a good thing.  It helps inform you, guide you.  Mass culture might offer an array of things that strike you as awkward, over which you feel awkwardness participating in, even as there are many people with less cultural distance from the activity.

Friday, November 14, 2014

I guess one makes all the classic mistakes of the young monk, which mainly consist of allowing yourself to be deluded, largely by other people, by attachments and anticipated sensory events in the mind.  You're a Buddha, didn't you know, replete with the six radiant lights of the five senses and the capacity of thought, perfect just as you are, and you only have to realize it.  You simply need to awaken the teacher within, and that's all you need to do.

But this is hard to do in a consumer-based culture.  This is hard to do when you are exposed to constant interruption.  We're taught to be dissatisfied with our natural condition, that we need to be doing something.  People tell you, oh it's fun if you go and do this, get with the program.  You go and do it and it seems like fun, for awhile, but in the end it's a disappointment and you should have simply been doing your own simple studies and reflections, meditating.  Or perhaps they tell you, this is the way to be a scholar, a literary chap.  That's the way to have a good job, right?  This is how to be useful, they say.  But they are doing little more than move things from one pile to another, I mean once they have taught you to open up your mind and be a Buddha, the height of thinking and being human,  and which goes far beyond the realm of the poet, putting poetry into action.  Artist's help, they provide us imagery, but in the end you have to do it yourself, make certain realizations, act with self-confidence, end the confused habits being half in half out.

Everybody's trying to sell you something, it almost seems, not just all the emails and advertisements, but a culture that presses some way of belonging, some way of self-comfort, an identity, I am this, I am that, you should be like this or that, an outside definition intended to make a person dissatisfied with his or her own self.  Don't be weird.  Go and do this and it will be an adventure.  But it all comes down to the simple honest interaction, which is maybe what people find so difficult, which is to communicate deeply about how they really feel.  No matter what the situation, people simply trying to talk, something we are all vulnerable toward and need to do even if we act like we don't need to.  We all can get so crusted with complexes, demons in the eyes of Jesus' psychological understanding of people....  fake things we should rid ourselves of, the things people seem to do with great confidence when really deep down maybe they aren't so sure.

Yes, it's hard to sell a simple life, not knowing the great benefit, the calm it brings, the aid it brings to the beings of the world.  Shift the focus to you.  You are sufficient for all you really truly want to do, to be the true person you are.  The thing maybe is to not be irritated with yourself, intolerant of your self, when you get up and go about your day.  Don't assume such things, the insufficiencies of everything.  Turn all that around. Accept yourself as you really are;  be kind to yourself.  Don't try to be someone you're not, so then you won't have to compensate with silly behavior.

But it's human nature, I know.  You think you've found a new answer, a place to go after work for a drink to hang out with other people in the service industry, a temptation after the morally difficult work of serving people, or maybe morally rich is more what I mean, as it takes a higher being to serve others humbly, at least in some ways.  Yes, being around the temptation presents a moral problem, don't I know it.  Prohibition is not the answer.  The answer is finding your self, finding the beautiful presence of the Buddha within, in your own you know somewhat pitiful self, the glory within the too easily-judged shell.

In the process of writing, I had deceived myself many times over, embarrassingly, attached to particular notions that had little to do with reality.  This speaks of the impossibility of putting life into terms, into dualistic thought.  I had let myself subscribe to many deceptions, whereas in truth the being is complete just as he or she is.  And in some strange way I sensed moving onward into, at last, the position of more the teacher, less the student, as would happen naturally over time anyway.

We all are free-standing good people just as we are.  We don't need anything.  We don't need to long over anything or anyone.  To long for something is to be out of touch with reality; sometimes you have to accept, move on, doing so in the name of understanding your own beauty, your own wisdom, your own self-sufficiency.

It is hard for the Westerner to enter into the monastery situation.  To do so would seem like joining a cult, by and large.  Western society does not take kindly to free-loaders, and will always be skeptical of those who would live off some sort of dole and seem at least to be doing little more  than farming and sitting around.  And so the monastic life, the Zen community, parts of its life, must move on, follow individual lives in different settings.

To reimagine that life of spirituality, without direct opportunity in a sangha community, yes, I think it's natural to explore bonds with other people, other people who read and write, who think, who venture bravely out of the usual report, who craft words for themselves in order to seek a bond of communion with others, with people they know, with intimately known people.
"Yup, the trickle down violence of that which was set in motion."  That's what I said to Jim as we trickled down the river upon the tide of it, headed toward New Orleans.

"Sure was a perfect hit on America they did, Mr. Huck," Jim said.  "They really knew..."  He looked out over the river the twilight falling on its brown surface.  "They really knew how to get at us."

A dark tree trunk with a limb or two left on it followed by a few dark sticks that may have been related passed along.    There were lights of a river boat way way up ahead, you could see as a drifting point now and then, but mainly against the blackening sky.

"Look at all that, Mr. Huck.  They sure knew what they were doing.  Like they'd watched that Apocalypse Now movie, what's that Brando say, the genius, the genius of all them babies arms cut off standing in a pile because of being inoculated....  The horror, the horror... Shit."

The last bit of the light of the setting sun came through the clouds as he calmly faced the river before us, channels, things to navigate, all of which he had some natural confidence about.  We'd been going down now since early early in the morning, hours before the sunrise, and now past dusk.

"That Bin Laden, like he'd knew we as a country, all the army and stuff, the CIA, the State Department, we'd all play into it like a bunch of puppets, just like Punch and Judy whacking themselves...  And the stuff we'd spawn, that we'd do ourselves, as if we couldn't help ourselves, would prove their point, all the mean stuff we'd do to other people, and then to justify it all, an increasing secretive industrially growing need to justify it all, out of guilt, you know, Mister Huck."

There were fish swimming in the river, and it was one of those quiet points.

"And all those poor student children they killed in Mexico, burnt and thrown in the damn river, that's all tied to it too, Huck, if you ask old Jim, yes sir.  Can you imagine that?  Well, it's the damned truth. Because of the damn threat from these imagined ghosts we've made out of that one damn attack, and our own fool letting it happen when we knew the damn shit was going to happen, because of all that, now we got to align the our own damn half part of the world, make it military, make it protecting the natural resources....  Us against them.  And that's what that damn Bin Laden wanted, for whoever leads us whole or in part to forget us good people and act like this damn tyrant, like this bully cop, and damn if we didn't fall for it hook, line and sinker.  Guy's dead, we got him, but his damn ghost's everywhere.  And maybe we deserve it, crazy as that is, I mean... See a crazy man, keep an eye on him...  Don't start shit with him, 'cause he's crazy."

We sat in silence listening to the dusk fall over the river, an egret, a heron taking off now and then as we passed, lifting up on lazy wings that matched the dark over the ripply still water.

"What did we do, as a country... We played right into it.  Violence begets violence, and there's no damn end to it, no safe place, and look at all the shit that's happening, us letting all the aggressive war types take over, so they can perpetuate themselves...  I'll be glad to get down to the town of Louis Armstrong.  He knew what slave life was like.  He knew being poor.  He knew being a good will ambassador, that's right, he did.  And that's some culture.  That's America.  Yes, that's America for you, the good America, Louis Armstrong, not some gun in your hand robot kill 'em before they kill you and get your oil type..."

We went through one of those long broad turns in the river's course.

"Protecting yourself against those perceived bad men, what do we do, we support like it was natural, a happy thing, the hoodlums we support to preserve some Prohibition type view, disciplined cop types intruding into all our business, my god don't ever say this out loud Huck, those people are even worse, and they come from within, like a damn cancer.  And all we want is to eat healthy, a piece of fish, some cornbread, some greens, a sip of something good, something local, not full of chemicals.  Is that a lot to ask for?  And we can't even do it here, and there we are with the next round of a fight, just some kind of ego thing because they did something to, as if there's a they."

There was the river before us.  There on each side its banks, green and low and some of it levy.

"Mr. Huck."

I looked up at him and smiled, as he looked back straight at me with a look of some satisfaction, as if having solved a mathematical problem, or done his checkout report for the night.  "Whose ass are they going to throw in jail for saying so...  Whose employment possibilities are they going to reduce, man, you don't want to know.  Best to keep quiet, Mr. Huck, best to keep quiet.  Lord, um uhm.  Shoulda been a banker, then I'd be above it all."

Later after we ate, pulled up on the bank, starting a fire, and took a fair swig of wine, Jim and I talked about how we wanted to get back to our respective restaurant gigs.  Truth could be told in such places.  "But that's why them kids are dead down in Mexico, has something to do with us lining up everybody to fight some damn ghost, and Bin Laden, he's a ghost, nothing but."

It was as we were drifting off to sleep on the raft, tied up by a tree, Jim murmured, "and we're damn scared of that ghost, apparently, and that damn ghost, like it's going to come and get us, so that we're so afraid we can't take care of business and listen to all these damn people who make money out of going to war one way or another..."

Somewhere in the night, I think I turned in my sleep and looked up to find him sitting up.  "Those old minutemen, weren't they just gentleman, soldiers on top of the things they'd normally do, farmer, millworkers, teachers, normal every day kind of jobs, brewers, bread makers... stuff that kept them out of trouble...  "

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Halloween night, after helping hand out candy to trick or treaters, and hanging out over at my brother's house, the Clint Eastwood Play Misty for Me scenery of Monterey Bay playing somehow appropriately in the background 'til late, a bottle of a wine, I went out to catch a little of the festivities, the outfits.  First down to dreaded M Street, low riders going by, but then up to old Glover Park, my old barman neighborhood, my own small version of McGowan's Soho of rainy night.  And after a bit of that, catching up with my old friend Herb, mayor of the place, a topped off glass of wine, another bar, a double cheeseburger and fries from Z Burger and no luck with any of the fresh nurse outfits, riding home, I hit a patch of uneven pavement and took a spill, the springy front end of my mountain bike dipping as I braked, leaving me with a road rash on the left palm and small pinky finger.  I rode home, carefully, poured hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol and iodine over my wounds, a squeeze of polysporin, and a large bandage, and passed out on the couch.  I was back to work sunday night, stiff in the way a rider of the Tour de France would be very familiar with and wearing latex gloves over my bandaged cuts, moving pretty slow.  I had five shifts to get through, the uncertainty of healing, a few nasty looking spots that required consistent treatment, soaking in epsom salts, a trimming of dead skin with small scissors, and I was reminded of treating an infected wound, also from coming to a stop too quickly, below the ankle on the inside of my upper foot in between day and night jobs when I first came to town here twenty five years ago, having to open up before it could really heal.

And then I'd be flying to New Orleans, to catch up with my college buddies for football.  After the beautiful old city, walking the French Quarter, not enough time, not enough bars and gallant old restaurants and venerable staff, with a taste of the incredible hospitality and humanity of such an old cultured place that might remind me of the old Japanese ghost stories told with stylishness in the 1964 film Kwaidan, I boarded another airplane and came back to DC, stopping after I'd landed at a bar on Connecticut Avenue and having several glasses of wine to ease getting back, then walking home in the kind of way you don't perfectly remember, I mean, you've done it a thousand times, do you remember locking your door always, but you know what I mean.

Two days back to work, a golden day, a jacket on, I head off to work and take the path on my mountain bike through the woods.  I'd walk and call my mom but for the encounter with the Russki Soldatin man who did not take kindly to my talking through my earbuds in the quiet of the park, striking me hard with his hand like an angry cop, the need for quiet something I can understand and maybe I talk too loud when on this gadget the iPhone, being, after all, the son of a lecturer.  I'm taking the winding descending path through the forest there behind Dumbarton Oaks and below the Italian Embassy building at a slow roll.  Usually I'd walk, but there's work to be done, wine tasting night to set-up, and last night was busy enough.  Two women up ahead, standing, studying the environs, and I quietly stop and dismount, walking towards them.   I take a moment to look up, as they are, at the treetops.  "Any owls today," I ask.  "No, but a white chested woodpecker."  "Cool."  A few other bird names are exchanged, and clearly, they know their stuff.  "I saw a turtle a warm day a few weeks ago crossing the path toward the stone wall," I say, pointing down hill where the path parallels the stream and the a stone wall of even stones rises above to hold back the bank.  "Headed toward it's winter nest," one of the ladies says.  I was glad I'd figured the turtle, dark with a small stripe of yellow, observing me,  knew where it was going, and I'd seen it move out of the pebbled harm's way and into the tall grass.  I did not see any obvious large cracks in the WPA era stone blocks.

"We are in the midst of a conversation project here," I'm told, the reintroduction of native species.  Yes, down by the small bridge over the stream.  I've been observing that.  "We're happy to have volunteers."  Nice.  Yes, I say, my dad was a botanist.  I'd be happy to help out.  "I'm a botanist as well," I find out, one of the nice women here on this sunny fall afternoon in the woods.  "Where was your father..." she asks, looking at me.  "Oh, he was an old GI Bill guy at UMass Amherst and then we left and he taught at Kirkland, a woman's college in Central New York..."  Who's ever heard of Kirkland College, a beautiful moment in time that did not last, the legacy of it a Benjamin Thompson beautiful campus below the dairy field rolling hills.  (I don't get to talk to too many people about my dad.  That's how life is.  Thankful for the few remembrances of him on the Hamilton College website.)  And I'm about to go on, wary of already having talked a bit too much, as I am passing through that emotional stage before work and facing raw humanity, having to shepherd myself through the shift just as much a task as anything, ever conscious of walking the line between being open and friendly given a short amount of time and going on too long, a sophisticated business to conduct, no situation like any other.  Shift number how many in my twenty five year Lou Gehrig career?  Will I work alone tonight, or will I have help?

And then a strange response, the woman looking at me now squarely as the sky is blue and the light golden and the leaves yellowing orange and brown, the earth below, trees rising, the usual silence of the woods where my thoughts run, the stream below where I sit sometimes on a log in some form of lotus position.  "Is your father's name Putala?"

"Yes," I say, and often times I've hoped, or thought, or imagined, or figured it would be a prayer of communicating with him to walk such woods, or walked, thinking of life, thinking of him, thinking of the gift he must have passed on to so many people, least of all his gentlemanly politeness, his friendliness and curiosity toward all walks of plant life and trees and people and gardens.  And to stand here and here before me a very nice person making study of such woods and the species within it, here tucked away, telling me she became a botanist because of my father strikes me as a redemptive moment, like something out of A Tale of Two Cities.  And me on my way to work in the obscure Levis and a courier bag over my shoulder an anonymous young-acting fellow without any obvious or real credentials beyond a decent liberal arts education and steady employment in the restaurant business as the very front of the house, that guy who is your entry point, your welcomer, the maker of your cocktail, the presenter of menus, the pourer of your first sips of wine.  All of which I attempt to do using a basically Socratic method, as opposed to aggressive salesmanship, "here's what you want," indeed, the whole job being a platform of the philosophical approach in almost each and every way, even as plates and dishes and glassware and silver ware, food and things to clear off tables make their own rounds of circulation against the backdrop of nervous time and relaxed diners, often enough a room full of many spirits for any Jesus to study, learn from and ultimately cast out.  Finally, standing before me, is a kind person, knowing, in essence, who I am, where I came from, why I've made the choices I've made.

I filled up, of course I did.  Stifled a small blubber, in the same way my old dad did himself sometimes.  In the same way one of my own teacher, Benjamin DeMott of Amherst College did once before my eyes remembering in Shakespeare class burying a family dog with his own father.  And this nice person before me tells me what a true teacher, in the true sense of the term, my father was for her, and how he encouraged her to move on and forward.

Out of coincidence I've been reading a book, one purchased on one of those days after last Christmas with my mom who likes to check out bookstores wherever they are still found.  (Zen Battles, Modern Commentary on the teachings of Master Linji, by Thich Nhat Hahn.)  And within it I find a bit of the music of things my father taught me.  The words, quoted, of the master:  "Do you want to know who our teacher, the Buddha, is?  The Buddha is you yourselves who are standing before me, listening to me teach the Dharma."

And that you sometimes realize is the nature of your legacy, the important thing passed down to you from your father, both your parents, your inheritance, your health, your way to proceed, the way to honest maturity.
So I sat on the proverbial couch, a comfy chair actually, directly facing that of my therapist, a window looking out over a part of Dupont Circle, talking out in many different ways how I had refused to leave the territory of liberal arts one occupies then normally moves on from in college in the course of the twenty five years after it.  I had failed the IQ logic game athletic competition job interview basic competence psychological check-up weirdness test insecurity ritual that is youthful courtship to my own lasting chagrin, and perhaps attempted some compensation, some cold comfort, and so I would not leave.  I perceived liberal arts, at least somewhat fairly, as a family tradition, therefore something to fall back on in seeking life's course.  I walked around in the normal world, but my mind was elsewhere, and if so it's hard to fake it.

In occupying that territory, customarily reserved for education professionals, I had gone down a long path, one of idle thoughts and daily writings, that could only lead to further positions obscure to the normal business practices of the everyday world, finally leaving me little to entertain but Buddhist concepts and the like.  So was I a fairly useless person outside of my day job, which was a night job anyway, by its nature a job obscure to all but other practitioners of it.  And a big voice telling me most days, "grow up!"  Go to law school, do something, graduate school, get a grown-up job, make use of precious time, responsibly, practically, enough with this silly writer mental masturbation business.  Liberal arts ideals had led me deep into a forest that almost everyone avoids, let alone spend years going deeper into it.

But one goes to a therapist because things are, or at least they seem to be, complicated.  A Russian writer named Dostoevsky once wrote, at the peak of his career, a long mad rambling book exalting, putting forth, a humble human version of the foot washing ideal.  And if he had abandoned such impractical matters, had not struggled, grappled with them, either with reluctance or not, we'd not have The Brothers Karamazov.  He was a practical enough a writer to earn his keep, a track record proven.  So you can't really compare, but still, going through his works, Notes from the House of the Dead, The Idiot, yes, you're not far from the mainstream of liberal arts thinking.

Or does one simply need the refuge of the thought-free meditations of Buddhist practice that liberal arts and reading poetry leads to, as a way of tending sympathetically to the organic being?  Socratic dialogs in the mind, questioning.

Looking back on the actual leaving of liberal arts, that awkward period of graduation, the event was marked as much as it was from leaving the beautiful college itself by the unsatisfactory shut off of an interesting interaction with a very interesting young person of the opposite sex, something that gets under your skin and stays with you, something you try your best to be as noble as you can, not knowing you had such an ability to take suffering really.  That person occupies your chest against your will.  And your world can close down around you.  But for the sense of having learned something, something like you'd find in Corinthians, even if it's largely useless.  All good except for what it might offer as far your employment prospects, celebrating an organic uniqueness and individuality that might not come across in a world of advertisements, social media, the get with the program, the style we put on to wear to fit in which is not always ourselves.

Where is that place for Socratic dialogs, Platonic ideal, the higher love spoken of in Corinthians, for Buddhist understandings, for all the ghosts of liberal arts?  Where do we talk about them, leaving for a moment the mode of strutting about like a chicken speaking of how practical we are, how we've got the essential we need to figure out to get through life figured out?   Or should we not go there, have we by definition gone too far into that forest of juvenile thinking, the kind that gets us nowhere?  What modern monastery could we abide in, one that allows for the incarnation of marital love?  A farm?

And yet, I'd written a book, however rude, as a kind of monument.  I suppose it addressed barely enough of accepted form to be a book, where perhaps it was more a series of dialogs about the meaning of life, addressed indirectly, a selfish sliver of a take on such things not intended for mainstream reading experiences.  An account, of a being looking back in on the mysteries of its own self.  Something recorded in the mind during college days, written after the fact.  A Buddhist record, as much as such a thing were possible.

Ah well, move on and start your day.  All of this is written with a sense of humor by a perfectly well-regulated and responsible person out there like the rest of us trying to do as best we can.  It is wisely said that violence only begets violence, and so is it good to be calm, at peace with the world, no bone to pick with anyone.  Peace begets peace.

And here's another good article from the pages of the New York Times:

SundayReview | OPINION

Jesus and the Modern Man

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I went to New Orleans.  I found a town so achingly beautiful I could have softly wept over it.  I came back reaffirmed about the restaurant business.  I saw a town of culture, old and venerable.  I saw a town of incredible priceless cultural value, and a town encroached upon by irrelevance and economically lean times.  I saw it in full swing, Bourbon Street on a  Friday night, Frenchman Street, I observed it in a hotel at the edge of the Quarter.   I came back to DC, a town without as much real culture, corporate implant, and working where I do I saw why I was doing what I was doing.  I saw the innate high-called James Agee-observed Catholic dignity of serving other people, as is done so well and graciously there.  Music, soulfulness, real people, real life, friendliness, the complete opposite of corporate legalese culture.

It doesn't surprise me one would have epiphany moments there, like we imagine a young Lincoln seeing people bought and sold the time he went there.
One more genius with another great internet idea interviewed on Charlie Rose acknowledging humbly his own genius for building a thermostat controlled by an iPhone.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Yes, the snows of irrelevancy must fall to an extent upon us all.  One of those Shakespearean realities of life in the media.  We all know the lines, Buddhist truth almost, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."  Joyce renders it well, poignantly, at the end of the Dubliners collection, in such terms.  Perhaps it's something a writer would tend to identify with, speaking of his own work.  (And any writer who does not realize this central reality is a fool, a lesser one.)  Lincoln wearily realizes it in his groove, "the world will little note, nor long remember..." but still you have to say things.

Here's a good piece about Bono from the NY Times.


Chasing Relevancy at Any Cost, Even Free
For Bono and U2, Apple iTunes Partnership Finally Hits a Wrong Note

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"In agony, learn wisdom," Aeschylus wrote.  "Injustice is the nature of things."  Jackie's influence on Bobby, recommending he read the Greek tragedies as he mourned his brother's death.  The spirit of teaching, of teachings.

SundayReview | OPINION

A Natural Fix for A.D.H.D