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.

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