Yes, writing is an act of self-defense, of standing up for yourself.
So it's Memorial Day, the restaurant is closed and I'm having a good monkishly quiet day, getting some writing done, when my buddy, who's recently been traveling in South America for the good part of a year, comes by, calling first, which I did not pick up, to borrow a bicycle and give me an update. He's found some good possibilities of where to live out in another part of town, a half hour ride. He had a beer or two, and a shot of infused Jameson the bartender was too proud for him to pass on, while researching apartments, and he comes in, looks around, and I get him a pint glass of Britta water and a cup of room temp green tea. And he tells me about the fancy big money restaurant down on the water front, the chef owner who barely acknowledges the greeting of a staff person, about the busboys who elbow him--he shows me as we sit on a bench, what it's like, literally to be at the server station putting in an order, a complicated process, getting jostled by the busboys there, who generally do as little as possible taking half his tips. "Can you run this over to the bar," he asks, in a story he tells, of a busboy who's leaning over talking to another one. "You too busy to do it yourself?" He tells me about the manager dressing him down at line-up...
Truly I did not want to be disturbed. I should have listened to myself. I like people, I like their stories, I would like to help them out, but, I've got my own severe problems. And at this stage of my life, I'm finding something unsettling about such visitors. Odd. It's like I am responding to something intangible, unseen, as if able to read inner motives, inner psychological states, and some people are just way they are and never really change, and probably none of us ever change that much but simple make the act of controlling it.
Anyway, there are my thoughts, there is my work, and I made good headway, waiting, but I get my friend set up on the bike, the thing making me nervous, and off he rides, and then, as I intended when I first heard from him, I call my mom on Memorial Day. And it is a great relief to now hear her voice. Her voice.
She tried to call Aunt Jean in the nursing home, with whom she would go to the cemetery and look at tombstones with in childhood, but couldn't get through. And she's had dinner already, and a little wine with it, but we have a nice conversation, her voice brave above its tiredness. Good stuff we talk about. I tell her I got some good writing in, before my visitor came (even though one always wonders, in the background, but what's the point? will it save me from homelessness, or build me a new career, a fresh outlook over the ruts of life...) "What should I do tonight? Go meet my friend?" Oh, you know the answer to that. Stay in and and read your nice books and have a quiet evening. Always, a great read of people and what kind of influence they turn out to be. I miss her very much, she lives too far away, and here I am living my self-indulgent life... "I miss your father," she says. Yeah, I was thinking of him too. And Madam Korbonski, yes, we shared her too, Mom and I, going to her decorated Polish funeral up in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (which was entirely in Polish.)
I go for a golden walk in the woods off of Massachusetts Avenue, down by the cool slate-smelling stream and pungent weedy banks, but with all those really magnificent trees no one has messed with for a long time after the original deforestation. I love trees very much. My chakras feel open like they've not been in a while. I feel more like myself these days, as if I could accept my sexual energies, which is, I dunno, hard for some of us, even as we might mightily enjoy. Because we have to ask ourselves, what does pleasure mean, and as long as you channel the energy up in a yogi way, then it's good and creative, a light shining within, even if you're left to pursue it on your own in front of a mirror, Catholic God forbid. Yes, as any Frenchman or Elizabethan poet knows, we, all of us, shit and we piss and we come, all with the lower parts of our bodies, even on days when we call our moms. You can take such energies wholesomely, to be more yourself, that being more good news. And to say such is really to get down to the fundamental bedrock of the literary experience, Shakespeare's 'country pleasures," Sam Johnson's 'writing is like shitting.' Flirtatious puns at the edges of the drama, but ensuring some reality, keeping it real, as they say. Indeed, one might write nothing but complete crap, but you write enough of it, and maybe there is a transformation, somehow, shit turned into orgasm, and then carry that up through stomach and heart and up through the throat and into the third eye that sees beyond.
Yes, opening your lower chakras, that might sound a little gay maybe (to those not in touch, busy watching whatever they put on TV), but necessary, one must totally admit. Why wouldn't there be a fast an intimate connection between the two lowest chakras, even situated together as closely as they are, the anal and the sexual.
But it was a good day of thoughts, thinking about what happened to me back when I was studying at Amherst, the things that happened academically, and a sudden inkling of how that spilled over onto my personal life in a way I hadn't seen before, rather blaming the effects on my own self.
And I remember that summer when I couldn't write that paper on the passage in Paradise Lost when they get kicked out of the garden, and I remember one of the few times my father got angry, not at me, as I might have thought, but at the Professor. Years later, Dad explained to me. "Look, I had a student once who had something going on and couldn't complete the assignments. He came in and talked with me and I gave him a decent grade because he was good student." I'd gotten an A minus on my first paper for the class in Elizabethan poetry, about a Donne poem, "Some man, unworthy to be possessor..." I had mailed him the paper, and got back that it was a good appropriate analysis, but, sorry, there are rules and I got a D for the class. I took it with a shrug. I blamed myself.
And then later, add to that the New Yorker young woman's habit of rejection, to her part of the cycle of flirtation, which I did not take well to, rather getting more depressed.
Because, yes, inside of me, there was a fighter. A reader. A good writer wanting to come out. A young man who wanted to be a teacher. Like Professor Demott was a teacher.
But instead I came out of the whole thing feeling like an idiot, and I got so in a state that I even stopped writing papers, out of protest almost. And John F. Kennedy said that to do his real work a student had to neglect his studies sometimes, something like that, when he came to Amherst, right before his death. On top of making a great speech about the importance of art and poetry and of Robert Frost's 'special significance.'
But the main thing for a young kid's heart, never mind his career falling by the wayside, is the beautiful girl, what to do, why did it all go so horribly wrong, what was going on inside my head, etc.
I kinda felt set-up. An innocent young man accused of a lot of things he didn't do, made to look stupid. That's the way a competitive ego-filled place with smart young ambitious people vying to get ahead, a good jump start on the really well-paying job...
Old Demott, I came across him in front of the library when my mom came to visit my last week, met my mother, but before he turned to walk up the chapel, he said, "I let him down," and then walked away, tall, big-shouldered, slightly stooped, thinking on a matter of some weight.
Ah, shit, that's not good. "You didn't let me down," I called, not with great volume, and he kept on walking. Years later I would get some form of a nod for my efforts, when they read a blurb of mine from a letter I'd sent to Pritchard, to 'succinctly' sum up the adventures of his classroom, into the faculty minutes upon his sad passing.
Then to come home to my father for that summer, my lodestone star, my Merlin of spiritual educational guide. Not knowing what to do. But a retreat to the library, where I read, great books, and found an old issue of Life Magazine, James Dean going back to his home in Indiana.
Develop like a goodly flower
rising and opening from musty earth
your stalk, your pressing up
to receive the sun.
No where else to be
I guess I might have felt like some kind of bum, fallen out of a Chekhov story, and writing was the only way to get through that. And then you practice yoga, and that restores you to your native innocence, the freshness with which you were created to go on and do good things and be friends with good people.
Art is the creative process itself. What can you do? You might not be the Grecian Urn in your efforts, but, hey, better than nothing, better than silence. If sadness comes, channel it, upward.
To really write, I think one has to be vulnerable, associated with the humble and the meek, in some way. Which, again, makes Jesus or the Buddha such a good, in effect, writer.