Sunday, August 30, 2015

Let us go back to Amherst, town of poets, where JFK celebrated the legacy of Robert Frost.  President Kennedy, of course, being Irish, reminded us that 'where power corrupts, poetry cleanses.'  Indeed, poetry is a thing of moderation.

Let us go to the doorstep of Emily Dickinson.  Her poems cover the broad range of emotion, including those that come against our will.  She uses nature, birds, flowers, the wind as her images.  She knows what it's like to have a funeral in the brain, with the formality...  An inebriate of the air, she knew, apparently, what sherry was.  A non conformist, nor a church goer, she finds for us the substantial in the flux of the world.  She'd seen it all, felt it all, and like Frost, knew the midnight of the soul.  Heartbreak, certainly.

Bored at home, the moon full, I go out for a glass of wine, into the ever changing river that is any establishment, and life itself, inside a barroom and out, I look for what is substantial, as I read from my little book of her poems, sip from a Bourgeuil, and then a Langhe Rosso.  Things come and go, there is background buzz, and I have a Valpolicella, from the description Cork offers from their good selection.

I reflect what I've learned about wine in the course of the last week or two.  There was the visit from Charles, the wine expert of Williams Corner Wines, his suggestion of the wines of Sicily, and the subsequent attempt to appreciate the wines of the slopes of Etna, some of the vines higher up in volcanic ash survived the original phylloxera blight. The wines he brought were strange, odd blends, but this man is smart, and he's made wine.

A rating system doesn't seem to me to be the way to go, if one is in search of reality and the earth that ties grape vines and humanity together over the course of many years.  Traditions are upset, wine making styles change to please, whereas California Bordeaux style wines were doing just fine back when in the day.

As a boy I'd take long walks and bike rides through the rolling farmland.  Cows back then forty years ago were out in the fields.  Their reaction to a passer by can be indifference, sometimes defensive, looking up, back to chew on the grass, letting loose a bodily function.  But once, after a trek up through the fields, above a run-down farm where there was a shepherd dog who chased the school bus, I came upon a cow that glowed with friendliness toward my presence.  She beamed at me, it was as if we had conversation.  She looked at me as your lab might, almost tremble with pleasure, like the cat hearing the can open.  Would a rating system for cows have led me to such a wonderful creature?  No, I think the rating system speaks of where cows are now, kept in a factory barn all day, grain in one end, waste channeled away, milk in between.  No more room for personality, for the observations of the cows returning from their pasture.

For a poet looking to unwind, the big score Reds can be too much.  American oak, vanilla--why?  At the end of the day, I must admit, I am homesick, for France, for my own cows, and for that particular sweet one who likes me like I do her.  The one who says, hi, I'm nobody, who are you...  A friendly balance in the glass to be enjoyed on its own.  I'll return to home ground, to, maybe a red from Cheverny in the historic Loire, wines no one can tamper with, because of so many chateaux and royal tradition.  But I must admit, that Frappato from Sicily, purchased as an experiment, not liking it at first, is now delicious, having spent a couple of days open in the fridge even.  It must be a wine not tampered with, not micro-oxygenated, given a quick big life at the cost its longevity.

I ask my friend Ron, of Winebow, who always brings us great wines, about sommeliers.  The restaurant gets a magazine about them.  The movie Somm was to me just as much a turn off as anything else, as if somewhere along the line the whole point of wine had been missed.   He tells me about Jancis Robinson's interview with sommelier legend Larry Stone, mentioning the new sort of elitism rising in the ranks, the sommeliers overdoing their extensive knowledge, such that a list has nothing you've ever even heard of.  "I go to a place, great restaurant in  San Francisco, and six orange wines on the list by the glass...  why?  Really?'  After all, wine is a comfort as a beverage.

I take hope.  There's an excellent piece in The New York Times about Raj Parr, somm turned winemaker, center of a new trend in California against the over-ripe fruit and oak that gets the points that gets the sales.  Wines that are all about terroir.  It makes me have some hope after all my years of tending bar, that against the loud, overbearing and overripe, trumpeting their own achievements, there is still a place, a hopeful chance for subtlety to shine on through.

As a writer, I believe that, like wine, all a text need be, is terroir.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Not a corporate for-profit message, but a spiritual thing, something people will always do, despite obstacles and impediments and burdens of labors.  Different, apart from the same message we get in media over and over again, that a story need narrative arch, a resolution of conflict, a conclusion that people will feel happy about, in a clear way, the good guys finally win, the guy gets the girl...

Writers are writers because of a particular kind of personality.  The personality is first, and it is only fulfilled by the writing and the habit.  They are, I suppose, kind of like the grape vine.  They grow in  a certain place, extracting what they do to support the embellishing fruit.  Their roots, where they stand, are in the collective subconscious.  And this is as a barman is primarily my effort, to stand before people and encourage them to delve deeper down past conscious thoughts to a clear moment.

Like the vine, I use my emotions to create.  Emotions come on their own.  Emily knew this well.  (For me, a photo of Robert Kennedy might do it.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My friend, he plays a Guild arch-top.  He is from the same part of the world where I grew up, Central New York State.  The jazz trio he plays in has long played jazz nights at The Dying Gaul.

He'd not been able to take a week vacation with family up in the Thousand Islands.  At the end of a night we chatted.  I ask him for guitar advice.  Life advice.  Maybe I should get a hard-shell case for my new Epiphone Casino, rather than a gig bag.

He'd worked a pit crew in Watkins Glen, before coming to Washington, D.C., for school.  Race cars like Formula One, but smaller, a quarter (or half) of the size and power of the real monsters.  Still very fast.  And the experience, the observation, when you work in a pit crew, you find people who find an immediate answer, solving a problem.

That ability, solving a problem, hands on, the clock ticking.   Hands on in an office, the early computer system neglected, he pokes around, gets it moving.  Parlays that.  Gets a job, because of that experience, and the real ability to solve problems, think on one's feet, not be stuck in the formulae of languages already written, code accepted.

Musicians, he says.  Problem solvers.  He motions with his hands, what we do, guitar players.  Left hand, on the neck, right hand, in unison.

That's how I've always viewed music.  Solving a problem.
There's that great long short story of his, simply called, "My Life."  Chekhov often made cracks about artistic types, provincial theater.  Even reliable narrators belittle the creative endeavors in convincing ways.  And here his persona is that of a bum son, a disappointment to a father who's made every effort to keep him employed at decent jobs in the local bureaucracies.  The son is patently unable to keep a job and please the authorities however one does, deserving a painful strike from his old man's wiry muscles for his incapacity to behave.   (Chekhov's own father beat him as a boy growing up.  Does the story allude to the resulting contrarian deep in the writer's soul?  One of his great early works, the long story "The Steppe," inhabits the mind of a boy sent off to relatives across a great expanse to go to school, signaling a closeness between the grown man and the fertile silent inner imagination of young people.)  The story leads us to a life around a local theater, where he serves as a painter and meets an actress and carries on with life such as it is.  Is there much meaning, who knows, in such a life as Chekhov paints...  Cross reference with "The Grasshopper," the wife of the hard-working doctor tending to typhus patients, seeking a cure, a treatment, while she fritters away her time with the locale artistes she deems more interesting and even more important and alive, only to realize all the illusion of that world when he, in the line of duty, gets sick and dies.

For Dr. Anton Chekhov, writing was his mistress.

Would Chekhov have wanted to be an actor?    Late in his forty year life, he married the actress Olga Knipper...  Would he have ever wished it were him out on the stage, to capture just so a character or a line or an emotion...  Good looking guy, multi talented, a good doctor himself seems to aligned him into a respectable life, but maybe all writers wish, like Shakespeare, or dramatic Cervantes, to be as directly involved as possible with the stage?   Would it have been something one would have brought up to the shrinks of the day, "you know, there was this time in life, I shoulda moved to New York, heck, I should have started even earlier than that, what a glorious use of talent that must be, to be upon the stage...  Now look at me...  A bum...  I coulda been an actor, a great one even... (But for life's own dramas, 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune'...)"

But somehow for them some kind of shyness intervened, some hesitancy to carry out the lusty flamboyance of a stage, rather a preference for all the possibilities of words upon a blank page, that primary desire that comes every day, the need for meaning or words themselves to arrange things in the sore parts of the brain that need to be engaged in work to keep anxieties at bay.  The actor is toward the consumer end of the line, away from the great engine of nature and the Universe which says there must be drama and stories and here is one to carry the day or speak for the times and its life participants where the writer, the dramatist sits.  And any actor must admit, the beauty of such things, standing as I once did at night with Jeffrey Wright at the grave of Emily Dickinson under starlight, the writer watching his friend the actor emote over the little lady, the actor himself transformed to the finest and most original of writers better than me at it.  Live before me, with tears that for me stayed within, but which I was grateful for, maybe a bit jealous of the stunning ability.

A lesson is learned from the actor, though.  A reverence for the words, the texts, these scenes plucked from thin air.  A strange manly confidence in the process's fruition...  What the bard quietly transcribed in the tavern smelling of ales is gold to them, perfect, full of all potential.  How beautiful they could take the shy poet's words and do all that, and there's even an industry made out of what at one point can only be naked words, a beginning, a stab in the dark at one lone point of gestation however gestation is done.   Fancy the patrons that come, the bankroll, the lit stage, the audience to buy tickets and spend there own time in blank convinced awe, when they have all their own problems ticking in their heads, inevitable death to worry about.

The poet's work though, itself, oddly, is acting.  And the words themselves always seem to have some deep perhaps cagey reference to the creative process, its answers, its questions, all of it.  Such that how can a writer sit down without thinking somewhere of Hamlet, "such a thing is man..."  Bring me the players, for I've written something out, and somehow it needs the stage.

The writer can have too many worries to think of the potential of the stage, spends a lot of time trying to build up his own head of steam, thus finding himself a fond hanger on at Chekhov's provincial theater a bit out of place but wanting to belong so that his love affair would be complete.

And then there is Emily, who is her own theater, her own stage, her own greatest actors assembled.  Theater itself being a creature of the imagination.

As we all know, Shakespeare had no problem at all appropriating other people's plays and plots, doing his own adaptations.  The culture of the day allowed for that cross-pollination, and they might have bickered and cut at each other, but the whole thing healthily went on in its Elizabethan way, no "I'm shutting you down and suing you, because you've taken my play almost word for word..."  Imagine...  But even with a complete plot and a structure and blanks apparently to fill in and change slightly, here the work just began, to take lifeless characters, make them full, bring them to life through the same process every writer knows, writing, editing, ruminating.  Nakedness.

Perhaps otherwise a writer walks shamefully and shyly, secretively, past a bookstore, looking in from out the window, on the sidewalk, hesitant even of walking in.  "My work will never belong there, that's for all the greats, for all the people who've figured it out and made it happen.  What does my cheap scrawl have as far as attraction to that place of stories that sell, that people like, that have plots and happy or satisfyingly tragic endings, despite all the good lines one might himself come up with, all for naught."  Until an actor friend comes along, hey, c'mon, let's go in.  Values reborn.

Maybe, if I were to rewrite a great like "My Life," I might put the guy as a bartender.  In great cities of the world surely there is symbioses between actors and bartenders, the job to pay the bills while the art is pursued.  There he is, watching all the people over the years come and strut across the stage, wrapped in costume and dramas daily and longer ones.  Then alone, he eats his dinner, pours himself a glass of wine, and without the steadiness of having made any name for himself, a supporting role in life, goes home.  Whereupon, secretively, he works his own craft, writing for the sake of writing, no more, no less.

How sore a writer is sometimes.  But that's the kind of work it is.  After a full enough day of lifting and heaving, and digging, there comes a satisfaction, the return of a humor never far away.  Cause for faith enough.  He walks away, feeling he's split the atom, revealed the nature of light and time, a participant, seen through the act of being that which is, which all people must finally share in, knowingly or not.  Even lines from Yeats seem to make intuitive sense and carry meanings that can be reckoned.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

In the woods I get some thinking done.  It's all a matter of scale.

My job, I am saint manqué, subliminal Jesus of bread and wine and lamb, village idiot on a stipend, wise man, comic, father confessor, subject of pontifications, connective tissue of a neighborhood, friend, confidant, listener, pillar of the community and sometimes sloppy, support group leader, therapist, enabler, wine consultant, guy, garçon.   I listen more than I talk, feeling what I might add would interrupt or disturb.  I listen a lot.  I would like to interject more, share a little knowledge, but, I practice heavy restraint.  I try to follow conversations, broken by duties here and there.

Charles, my hero of wine, beyond knowledgeable in these matters, comes from Williams Corner Wine to share some interesting wine.   He brings in a white and a red, both from just south of Muscadet, in a bottle shaped like the ancient Roman vessels fond in the caves below the chateau.  The white is a blend of chardonnay and chenin blanc, and the red, the true cabernet, and negrette, very rare outside of the south of France.

Eventually I get to ask him what he's drinking.  Italian...  wine...  Sicilian... wine.  He draws this out as he says it, in his French accent.  Wine... the word has an invisible beat before it, and is long for a monosyllable.  It could almost go on forever.  Like 'Aum' every sound that can be made is covered.  Well, we get to talking, about these Sicilian wines, the hottest in all Italy, from the slopes of Etna, higher up the better, to the northeast and southeast.  He rambles off what you call these wines, but it goes in one ear out the other, between his blazered reserve and soft respect and the jostling crowd of Restaurant Week.  (Restaurant Week, right when one could use a vacation, maybe find someway back into the mainstream work or back to school.)

A walk in the woods to the little bridge.  There is the carcass of an adult deer under the bridge by the far bank close to the parkway, on its side, legs up in the air, hide decaying.  These are woods, a landscape, not far away from those of the great Civil War, and here there is the same flavor, to my taste, between Gettysburg, Bull Run, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Fort Stevens just upstream.  Above the bridge coming down from the back there are three young deer making their way uptream before and then through the shallows of the tunnel beneath the parkway's stone bridge.   No snake, no turtle, no duck on the limbs, logs and urban plastic detritus caught on the pilings, but standing away from the odor of decay further on I spot the tiny fresh water shark shape of two alewives circling, then darting back and drifting downstream.  This is the time of the orb spider's great webs.  By the corner of the cemetery, just beyond the fence, as outside of the window of The Gaul, I've seen sizes of the yellow green arachnid, from extra small to extra large, and no one really ever explaining, how they do it.

I need the exercise, and walking is good enough.  The kudzu vine has blanketed the hillsides above the path right down to it and up the trees, as if to beckon in a new geological era in which the whole world is taken over and choked.  The flats are uninteresting as I cross under the Massachusetts Ave. bridge, until the stream is reached, following the rocks in the stream bed upward toward Dumbarton Oaks.

Walking back toward home via the Rite Aid for the odds and ends, wax paper, toilet paper, I feel like singing Hank Williams songs and I'm so lonesome I could cry.  Doing the dishes a friend checks in and gets me out to the Tombs, and I had forgotten how good that place is.  Good glass of French pinot noir, heirloom tomato salad, burger, fantastic, perfectly cast friendly barkeepers.  Even end up dancing a bit, The Twist no less.

Once upon a time, there was a cow in my life.  She was lovely and sweet.

When I was a kid I'd take long walks through the fields.  Dairy country, rolling hills, and back then forty years ago the cows were let out of the barn to feed in the pastures.  Sometimes biking and stopping by a fence a herd would be part curious, part defensive, part ignoring, some calm, going back to eating the grass after stopping and looking up at you, enjoying a bodily function let loose, the confident ones at the barbed wire fence where the grass was longer green going about their business.   But beyond that, not much.  We are cows, kid, you ain't.  Once, I'd walked a long way, over hill and dale, in some revery, all the way from Ernst Road and Chuck Root's field and the house he'd built out of a barn, to Reservoir Road to the farm beneath the big hill where the black and white shepherd dog would crouch low, lining up defenses, and then charge tear ass, always chasing the car and the school bus, going for the tires.  And I came upon a particular cow who beamed at me.  She stood there before me, smiling, almost shimmering in delight to find a new friend.  Who are you?  Sweet to have each other's company.  Did she like me for taking long unfettered walks through the fields like she did?  The other cows stood back, but that just made her more friendly.  We talked for awhile, before I had to head back, being a fairly long distance from the house and dinner approaching.  She was lovely, and sweet, friendliest creature I've ever met, like a lab, like a cat you're about to open a fresh can for in the morning.   It was as if you had come upon a very shy creature who'd not been able to talk to anyone for a long time, and something allowed both of you to open up and shrug off all that which was past, embracing the present in all its joy.

Later on in life I had a friend who'd done TV news in Prague, and once, there was an escaped cow, on the run, a lark.  Out of the pen, no one could catch her.  And such a personality she had.  A lovely cow, and all the people would root for her on a daily night.  Did she do interviews while out on her lark?  Footage of the joy of her freedom, clever contentment in the new woods and fields she'd found.  A great news story.

How far we are removed from nature.  The cows spend all their hours in the bar, lined up in their slots, fed, milked, their waste channeled away, barely moving.  No longer for the fields, to have their individual personalities.

A great story of Chekhov brings us back to nature.  Here we are at the end of The Lady with the Pet Dog, and we see how difficult it will be for them to continue, or discontinue, their relationship.  He is looking at a true state of nature, that it is indeed very difficult to have relationships, if we are honest with ourselves, particularly the kind of relationships of the neat sort of the successful career type.  By taking us to the difficulty he is bringing us back to nature, as if to show us the stars in the night sky again, an open expanse without all the convenience of the city, brought back face to face with our own nature, our own personality.  Taking us back to basic, to the inherent nature of our own creature, we can grasp what allows us to overcome the impossibility of relationship in the modern commodified accounted for times.  We can open trustingly to a kindly friend within, regarded less as babbling inconsequential impractical idiot, more simply something with uniqueness and personality and lots of reserve powers.

And perhaps wine is like that too.   The grape is not a creature of the green house, pampered, tended to to be big and jammy and full of alcohol, trussed, treated.  Is is a creature of nature, left outdoors over night and when the wind is blowing, in heat, and cold.  With each you have the potential of connecting, of appreciating, not just a factory cow, but one of the field, a farm half rundown, with a great personality all her own.  Each night our humanity returns to the vineyard, to nature, to a deeper past of simplicity, the embers of our soul ashine.

Our battles, sometimes, are over words.  No, you can't use that word.  No, you can't use that word that way.  No, you made that word up.  This is what I want the word to mean, indeed, I insist.  And the word applies to this set of things and/or people and not the other.   You can't use that word speaking to me.  (Even if ultimately the word could happily be used together, as far as what it means.)  To which standing in contrast are folks like Shakespeare and a whole line of poets, who, if need be, make up words, and who also put high octane into the meaning of words and give them fresh power through novel usage and application.   And often there is need, and that's how language comes about anyway.  The words find their own places.  I let them be, room to roam.  That basic liberty would have been very important to them, as far as addressing any issue, love, faith, justice, life.  Take Donne, the myriad of meanings, clever, punning, but beyond that, in a poem.  The opening of a word allows the opening of the poetic expanses.

Perhaps writing was one of the very few personally selfish thing she, did, Emily Dickinson.  Maybe she did it to keep her brilliant all-encompassing mind in track, the nightly absorbing, taking the scraps of paper thoughts out of her apron, reassembling, seeing the parts line up.  She had a deeper sense of self, I could imagine, one that lent itself to the Transcendentalism of her day, not far from the Buddhist concept.  As most people necessarily operate--we all do--in selfish ways she, nearer to truth, would have been hard to read for her lacking, her seeming ambivalence.  She was, of course, a non-conformist, even defiant of convention, carrying a finely honed sense of humor toward the vanity of belonging to various worldly activities.  Her lessons come across often through inhabiting nature, the bird about to take wing after taking its worm, carefully halved.  Such a mind would have likely appreciated the world of a domestic job to do on a daily basis, like baking the family bread.

She was true, perhaps as much as a person can be;  her lesson, her message, is the same, one thing said in a myriad of different ways of expression.  Taken as a whole her work lends truth to the old summations of gut spiritual sense, 'the word made flesh,' of a house undivided against itself.

As time passes into our own current now, into a vanity of instant words and out loud thoughts, we need her more than ever.  Instead of tweets, there are her "Gorgeous Nothings."  She herself gathers the things of life into thought, through her brief lines of poetry.  Full of passion, racy, chaste, circumspect, alive as the bird about to take wing just so.   Her inner thoughts, her meditative understandings brought out from deeper places, transmit to us when we allow them space and time.  The flow of one broad consciousness into our own.

Wine, I suppose, begs to be made literary in the same way, for its truths to be sung.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Grappling with a day off, I reread an earlier post.  I edit the excerpt somewhat.  Writing is like grasping at straws somedays.  It's a process that involves a lot of reshaping, reworking, adding to...

I walk down to one of my favorite spots along the creek, where smooth barked trees lean over the bank, as dusk falls.  I go stand on the little bridge cyclists and joggers intently pass over focussed on motion, and look down into the waters to ease my gloom.  There's a turtle still perched on a log by the upstream pilings.  Never far from my mind is the raw painting of Dostoyevsky, standing on a bridge, leaning in a sort of gloomy stance overlooking the Neva, bare grays and brown, the black of the man's coat and cap, the grey of his bearded face.  His hand holds on the railing, this man who was a renter, a breeze is lifting the bottom of his top coat, and way back beyond the limb of a dark tree, to contrast a dark maw of an arched entryway in the middle of the painting, far off, birds against a grey sky with clouds, maybe the slightest hint of a breezy blue somewhere in the tragic cold winter sky.  (Dostoyevsky in St. Petersburg by Glazunov, the back cover of Penguin's The House of the Dead, tells;  like I say, a rough painting, but priceless.)

The things you write about are the things you do not want to talk about.  You write them to get them out, onto some form of paper.  You wonder sometimes if you are simply a bad communicator, as if unable to talk down on some animal cellular level, such that despite your agreeability habits seem to lead to twists of meaning and misunderstandings.  Maybe you childishly expect a deeper intuitive understanding out of people in the city, but that might be expecting too much.  People got their own problems, and traffic, after all, places to get to, the ticking clock.

(I'm reminded of how I first came to DC, got a job as a busboy, living in some fairy tale.  Even back then I would write, out of that place of deeper angst--to use a word too powerful--and some embarrassment, always at a crossroads, seeing what I was doing wrong, but not being able to do anything about it.)

And now, I write what happens at work, as it seems things can go somewhat south on you often enough, as much as they can wind down smoothly, until the night is finally done, as, I would imagine, you'd write about being in a prison camp. You'd make your observations, but you wouldn't want to go home and talk to your friends about it, but rather about different unrelated things.  Your observations don't have much to do with the world that we would ambitiously try to mimic and replicate until we too came to fit in with the perfect picture.  But somehow, you too, as a writer, are drilling down to a deeper bedrock of tradition.

Within that picture of the prison camp, The House of the Dead, remember, is the vision that brought the great allegory of The Brothers Karamazov, each of the three brothers with his own sort of consciousness, habits, understandings of and tastes for the world and its things, set against the rampant madness of their father.  (Published in serial in a magazine as a great crime piece, the Russian people, readers, ate it up.)  Each brother's mind shapes the world they see, and sometimes the most refreshing lines of the book are the simple scenes, a simple line, as if the author himself were letting the reader off the hook from all the mad intrigue and difficult dialog of the author's own creation, as when Alyosha, the youngest, the novice monk of the wise old Father Zossima, returns to the monastery.  A Buddhist or a yogi would feel at home within the book, the projection of individual subconscious making the world appear as it does.  Great literature can dance with deeper spiritual considerations.  It's a vision traceable in his great works, The IdiotCrime and Punishment, I would imagine.

It might not be as deep, this look into the broad effect consciousness has, with the power, the Buddhists say, to transform the world, but it's a working model at least.  It is one that we can basically get, watch as it plays out.  Whether or not Dostoyevsky was exposed to and read Eastern texts is a good question.  He did go to an Orthodox monastery, find a friend, the model of Zossima.

It's an enormously difficult concept to grasp, one for the mystic.  How could one's own individual consciousness or something within that consciousness perhaps obscure but somehow tangible shape the world as we see it?  Is the world, the city, a projection of a collective subconscious in all its shapes and aspects...   Do we not simply mean that if I add a new store, a new shop, a new restaurant to the city, shaping it out of my own tastes and expectations, that my consciousness is directly shaping that city...  Well, that makes sense, indeed, but it seems to miss the point of the deeper insight of Buddha, the real transformative power of it.   Could one mind, deeply attuned to the deepest levels of consciousness, achieved through skilled and effective powers of meditation and mind-clearing and presence get down there and fix things, and then come back with the ability to wake everyone up? 

"But that is a lazy man's point, wishful thinking, that you could change the world without direct difficult action, action involving negotiation, manipulation, political organization...  Believe me, I know, I speak from experience.  Nothing is going to get done with that pie in the sky Buddha stuff."   That would be the practical voice of the doer, the DC person.  Hard-working people justifiably proud of themselves and their achievements and their positive attitudes. 

I have no direct response to the mind-set.  I got a job too.  I know what it's like, somewhat.  I have a sense of career, too.  Not that I would have expected to make a career as such, taking my actual job as a sort of coincidence that hides a deeper work I'd be hard put to explain.   Maybe I just get rattled by that particular job, and seek a rebalance of values when I do hit that odd day off space.  Sometimes more so than others.  I seem to have some predisposition to want to entertain thoughts of consciousness.  After all you wouldn't be a good writer if you couldn't capture the sensibilities of other people.  Pick up Joseph Mitchell's tales of old New York, full of characters, wonderful preservations of mind-sets now odd to us, distant as folk of the 19th Century used to seem to be...

Well, your therapist is going to tell you, duh, that you need to live your values...  So what are your values?  Well, go meditate for a little while, take a little nap like Jesus liked to curl up in the ropes for a good one.  Find a place of peace, and maybe that inner peace will come and then reflect outward, and that's probably the best you can do anyway.

So, while I wait for time to digest this piece, I pull things back into alignment with a home yoga session.  Restaurant Week... a couple of hard shifts...  Get back into a rhythm such as it is.  Is it worth the angst and all it does, this combination of things, job and writer, who knows.  Go for a walk.

And maybe it's a more comforting thought than it might appear, this news of the potential of the deeper mind to shape reality or at least how we might see it.  So do I find support, in Emily Dickinson's poetry, in Van Gogh's art, in the effort that is behind much of the artistic instinct in the human being, the meditations that are crucial and necessary to see the world as it is.  Maybe that is the sovereignty she speaks of, which rings in her little poems, an interesting lesson from a master.  Her interest in writing was true and genuine and focussed, steady.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

I write as a form of meditation.  The way to understanding something is through clearing the mind of thought.

What, for instance, do I have to say about wine?  Well, let me think about it.

And then somewhere after going through a mysterious process an answer arrives.  It might seem strange, but you go with it.  A deeper way to think about something satisfies, lets you connect one thing to another.

Maybe things line up poetically.  That's not bad.

My predilection toward this manner of thought comes out of my education as an English major at Amherst College.  More specifically, as a student of Professor Benjamin DeMott.  Together in his section of English 11 we'd bring a particular moment of literature into its full meaning, bringing the moment to life.  Why this word choice?  Why this image?  I always found it took time, a process of rumination, sleeping on it, a close rereading, memorization.  Then, even if the particular epiphany never fully arrived, sitting in class as he went through what he had in mind, I saw how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.  And this was cool.

Restaurant Week...  The regulars arrive, look at the tight expression on your face...  "Oh, it's Restaurant Week, I forgot."  Yeah.  You plow through a couple shifts.   You want to go back in on a day off, to work again, but you're tired.   Good for the restaurant, good for making a living.  The first stage, of unwinding, in my case, sitting back in one of the pod chairs, after the last have left, the bar clean, restocked, the paperwork done, after cutting into my plate of beef medallions with wine samples, a can of Sierra Nevada in hand, The Pogues CD I burned playing on the juke box stereo system...  It is after the difficult shift of live jazz, that I find I've been published, and that's really great.  There it is, my little article on my phone's little screen.

(Being published might come across as a strange feeling, the moment complicated, like what Kerouac might have felt when the book review in the sunday New York Times came out, proclaiming him "avatar of the Beat Generation."  Had he revealed too much, along the way in all his writings?  But how else could he have otherwise achieved his craft?  Kerouac is not Kerouac without little brother Gerard, stories from Lowell, growing up.)

The deeper mind puts things together in its own way, the result of a lot of observation and reflection.  It makes connections that span the world and the nature of creatures and all living things and how all of us living experience reality, the reality of time, movement, sustenance, particular experiences that fit into larger pictures, the sense of individual self, and of that sense of the individual self breaking down, being emblematic of the life of a planet with all its rocks, its waters, its woods, its light, its herds and flocks and solitary beasts and great collections of them like all the tiniest building blocks within us.

If you are good at the meditations such as happen quite naturally to us to assuage the thinking mind, there's a good chance that like Shane MacGowan, or Dostoyevsky, in my tastes, you end up being a good wordsmith, good at understanding what we call the human condition.  I mean, you can't claim it, nor promise that whatever you might write won't be complete crap more often than not specifically (though the attempt might represent an underlying search that spans life), but you can let it happen, and maybe sometimes it does happen, for which you are very lucky.

Fortunately, there are lots of things to meditate over, lots of things that prompt endless thought.  For which often enough there are no satisfactory answers for beyond acceptance.  Like the old story of the Zen monk, who would respond to people's impressions of what might be construed as good or bad, 'is that so?'  For then, you are allowing the mind to meditate, clearing away differing voices.

In the end, a spiritual peace we all might share?  An understanding of a deeper commonality even as we all struggle the survival of the fittest in order to feed, cloth and shelter ourselves in the communities and company we've chosen... who knows.  The whale finds her krill, the vines grow in places they long have (even if only for the briefest blink of the existence of the human species, since the Romans made their outposts), and people tend and make wine out of the wet fruit that grows, and drink it with dinner and conversation.

And things of the mind can come out sounding pretty silly sometimes.  But, one hopes that things written come out of the meditations, out of the mind when cleared of clutter.   Recorded in any little piece written is the process, of starting at the surface, which is murky, and going down to a clearer place that can stand as thought, comforting, good, basic, acceptable.  A place of poetry.

Friday, August 14, 2015

It's a case of the chicken or the egg...  Does a psychic event, like a 'minor nervous breakdown' to use a term that has many gradations, beg for a different level of consciousness, or does the change of consciousness lead to the things that seem like the psychic event as manifested.  The psychic event being something rather common in young people, idealistic, searching for themselves...  They get inspired by art perhaps, a good poem, and it leads them somewhere, they step out of convention a little bit...  Then it seems to snowball, in an unforgiving place...  Maybe some things are harder to bring up in normal conversation, and so they sit below the surface and don't get talked about and then all this misunderstanding arises.

About the book.  Let's treat this all as fiction.  She came through right in the middle of it.    And between encountering her and the summer and going back to school, I chose to live up in the old DKE house up on the hill above Emily Dickinson's house, rather than living with my closest friends down in B dorm...  The years before I'd had a band, been a success as a guitar player, but that too I kind of retreated from, until you might say I'd gotten pretty depressed about things.

It's something artists go through, when trying to find their values.  Do the outer events precipitate, forcing the hand, initiate a new value system...  You want to communicate more and in a deeper way, but it seems the opposite, in actuality, happens.  Which sucks.  Maybe it turns out that that this change of consciousness, not being so mainstream, is set apart.  It would be hard to place your finger on the exact causes or the chain of reaction.

And even in yourself there is the suffering that comes with change.  You don't know what you want to be yet, even as you have the instinct, the deeper calling, the drive.

Dostoyevsky got hauled in front of a firing squad.  Then at the very last minute they send him off to Siberia to the penal colony.  Out of the experience comes the basic set-up of The Idiot.  The epileptic who went through that firing squad experience, who comes out if it all seeing deeper, his eyes opened, even if it doesn't do him a lot of good personally.  And then evolve with that, to find a kind of home for that Idiot, and you are the author who visits the monastery, talks with the Elder monk, then uses that as the basis for the tale of The Brothers Karamazov.   Even Dostoyevsky didn't know how deep he was going with that, the deepest of Buddhist thought, I'm guessing, just went with his instinct, his vision;  the story kept talking to him, telling him things, which he then left on the canvas.

Did he know what he was getting himself into at the beginning of this chain of events, the wrong kind of political sympathies?   The younger version of him might have laughed at the older version, and the older version might shrug and say, 'well, it's all I got.'  Would you want to take that route toward higher/deeper consciousness?  Would it seem like a plausible career move?  If you were smart you might try to run, immediately, away, except you can't.  Shocking, really.

It's like Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart.  Do you think you're going to be immediately popular, lots of new friends when you accept what you must accept and adjust your mind's ways around it?  Do you say, 'oh great!  yes, sign me up...'  Probably not.  You might be asked to defend yourself from the conventional viewpoint which you have since abandoned...  'Uhh, well...'  No, you're not going to get very far, so your choice is to make some form of art, some form where all the weird fits into, a safe haven for it.  Not that that act would even appear healthy psychologically, at best chalk it up to catharsis...  But against your will maybe, you stick with it.  You construct a form out of broken pieces.  (At least that's what they might look like.)  You remember, hey, I used to be a social guy, good sense of humor, could talk to pretty much anyone, people liked me, thought me versatile, cool, etc.,   But what's the new form of that?  What's the form of the human being that many will, through finally being honest with themselves, or through understanding their vulnerability, their mortality, would grow to accept, and even go, 'hey, that's me...'

So art, of whatever form, becomes part of the old social network habits, even as it appears strange.  "Is writing a book a good way to be social?"  It might not seem so.  But, but...  As a way of talking about the personal stuff, of getting that out into the open, honestly, in a real way, yeah, it amounts to some form of achievement.  I would think.  That's what a writer does, bares his whatever-you'd-want-to-call-it....

And then through all the tedium of this strange artistic avenue, you allow your values to peek through.  Probably timidly at first, scaring yourself, feeling weird and queazy about them, shy, shaking your head, 'I don't think this is going to work...'  But maybe it does.  Or it starts to after trying a while.

Then maybe you'll look back at something you've done, and you can say, yes, that is who I am.  That is who I wanted to become.

So maybe that's it.  It takes a lot of years, a really long time, by anyone's standard, to look back and say, oh, I guess I do know now what that kid was up to, all that instinctive stuff that's played out over the years.  The difficult thing might be that now you are middle aged, with a lot of life and vigor and possibilities of the personal and professional kind all gone, down the river, days of wine and roses sort of things that you regret but can't do much about nor worry about because they can't be changed.

Fuck.  Stay positive.  See the good.  See the potential.  See the achievement, not just the downside of it all.  The left hand does not know what the right is doing, as Jesus says.  There is always forgiveness.  That was always there.  That might have even been close to the initial cause of that which become severe and disappointing, heartbreaking even.  The forgiveness, that's also what gets you through, though, interestingly enough.

In sleep you digest things.  The mind works through them, I mean, we can only guess so, but it seems to make some sense.  Young people, children, they need a lot of sleep.  They digest, they grow, they keep their minds open, they learn fantastic things that an adult might poo-poo.  Imaginations...  And who knows, maybe that kind of shut down sadness thing that comes over young people, maybe it's not all romantic horse manure, that sadness is like sleep.  It protects you and your imagination.  It doesn't let you complicate things more than your mind can bear.  You forgo a lot, sure...  But the monkish cell, it's a place where you can get some thinking done.  Maybe it's okay to be neglected, passed by somewhat, a creature of your own habits...  As much as your shrink might tell you to open up and make your world bigger rather than smaller, that phase could be part of health.  Perhaps it's not for everyone...  To each his own taste, his own way, no?

And maybe, coincidentally, now that I think about it, there's something like Christian thought in that. Jesus is protective of the children, of 'the least of these,' of the mournful, the meek, the poor, the suffering...  They too might be on their way, surpassing convention, to be the good human being they were intended to be.

Well, that's maturity for you, ha ha.  Not that I claim to have it.  Not that I would know.  But it's not all just 'sad, sad, sad,' this sort of deeper consciousness vision stuff.  There's a healthy upside to it, too.  Or maybe that's the point.

Do you have to go through The Idiot Stage...  before The Alyosha Karamazov Stage...  Is one the seed of the other, the inconsequential sapling that will grow into the tree?  Who's to know, going through it?  You had the blues back then, thus you were an idiot.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The chef comes up the stairs with a bum knee to tell me a change he has made to tonight's soft-shell crab special.  He sits down at barstool one to see how, at 6 o'clock, the evening is starting up at the wine bar of The Dying Gaul.  "You have the best job in the place," he tells me, in his Germanic accent, smiling as he looks over at me as I stand my station.  "Yeah, it's cool.  Dead end though," I kid back.  "No, it's not," he says, and that is good to hear.  We get to talking.  I introduce him, showing him off to the early regulars.  Bravo for the new review.  "You can be the best chef in the world, but if you can't get your people trained and on board, it's not going to go anywhere."  That too is good to hear.  Every bit of information, yeah, you hang on to it and store it away, and things like that keep you engaged.  An old liberal arts trick.

By midnight the savages had breached the walls.  The bar had been battered all night and I had succeeded in getting them all drunk and even charging them for it in the usual give and take.  Boss, wife, son, eat at mid bar, and between everyone's water glass and wine glass, it's hard to find space for the second round of small plates, but hey it all works.  The boss's family had hung tight all night  with the regular crew for a good four hours, and the regulars themselves were putting on an excellent performance.  Before the kitchen closed those who'd not eaten ordered dinner and a few then paid their tabs.

It starts with 'hey, can I play one song,' the larger of the two retired colonels of the modern military, after riffing brilliantly all night--"I had a breakthrough in therapy today!:-- wanting to play a song the other had turned him on to, something about 'blanks are taking over the world,' a Leonard Cohen paced song I should never have allowed.  But at that point it is hard to spot the one savage who's charge is fatal to the defenses.  And then, it's over.  They've taken over the sound system.  Just a splash more...  The charming regulars charming.  The last of the usual suspects not giving up their seats.  Yeah, I do it to myself, I say, having a nice conversation with a young lady who hangs out with this crowd.  I've given out three copies of my novel to good friends.  That ain't bad.  There was obvious respect for it.  People who've known me for years...   Many fine moments as people make that August vacation for themselves here at home.  The world is represented.

The music keeps on rolling.  Things I haven't heard.  Good dance moves to Milie Cyrus... Later, Elvis Costello...

It is here where the broken defenses yields a lesson of how deep hospitality goes.  The more tried it is, the best comes out.  The classic Christian jumping in the river to save the drowning...

The barman learns about music, as his sheltered life of long hours at his station sometimes does not allow.

By the time he gets home he might remember how the bar talk had mentioned the Alamo, thanks to the charming presence of a young Texas flower whose polite reserve lighted the evening.  Yup, the Alamo, he thinks of, or is it a movie of the Brits in Africa, their brave fort overrun...

What does the barman find to entertain...  He opens a bottle of wine.  He shared his liver dinner with the last few people at the bar, and he's lifted a glass with them, but now he's on his own.

What will television yield.  Why, yes, The Hank Williams Story, done brilliantly by George Hamilton.   (Old movies like It's a Wonderful Life no one cared about during the political-cat-in-heats of the day, too true, too soulful, making folks uncomfortable so that they got abandoned, copyrights let go, to play late night while there are still things called TV sets...)  Yes, that rings a bell.  They don't get the spinal issue right, but, it's not bad, not at all, rather, pretty honest about drunkenness.  Hank's last stop on the road, they goad him toward taking a drink with them, but he calms them by bringing out his guitar and playing "I'm so lonesome I could cry" for them.  Bravo, George Hamilton, who is not lip synching (tho' faking it on guitar.)

Then, what was that song, Van Morrison, "In the Garden."  Yes, get out the guitar.  Soon it's light out.

This is how the savages are dealt with, when the man is finally home, happy with all the Christian hospitality he provides the world.

Up in the heavens there are meteor showers.  Down here, man wants to make noise.  That is summertime.  Ain't no cure for it.

Friday, August 7, 2015

When I think of wine, and of what I know, I think of the whale.  That the whale, the largest of creatures, travels the vastness of the oceans to find sustenance in the smallest, krill, is interesting.  Her journey through the seas is a continuum of experience.  Time passes in the waves.  Each little moment in our own lives too is sustenance.  The world of wine is vast;  we have our own small pace.

As a sip of champagne enlivens the senses of taste, wine stimulates us to experience.  It's better to go for a walk in the woods than watch sports on television, for the direct experience, for the exercise, and this is how wine plays out too.

It makes sense that Cousteau, the oceanographer who gave us the octopus in his garden, poetically, on television, comes from a country with the imagination to have infinite respect for its vineyards, sacred protected groves aided by man but left to nature.  That France does not allow fracking has something to do with the instinctive sense of preserving the water, the slopes, the nature, the geology of the hills that make Burgundy what it is.  Wine experts pore over maps detailing such things in vibrant colors, here schist, there clay, layered and sloped just so to face the sun...  Each sip we take is the direct enjoyment of all the elements that happen in that particular place in the world where the vines grow, the fruit of a season.  Of course, the European system of wine nomenclature is all about where the wine is from, the particular quality of wine, the tradition, often dating back to Gallo-Roman times.

Yes, traditions arise.  There is participation, the human element.  A longtime customer shows me a menu of his dinner with the Chevalier du Tastevin preserved from 1964 as we sip from a Vougeot.  A hard working economist arrives at the bar after a long day and I know what to pour him as he raises the menu.  It is truly from observing such traditions, as a Melvillian anthropologist, that I have learned as much as anything about wine.

Wine presents the opportunity of a gathering.  The experience of a glass over dinner opens us up, bringing us together.  Customs stand the test of time.  But do I know much about wine?  No.  That's why I keep tasting, like the whale, mouth gently open as I weather and pass the seas of life.

Summer wanes.  The season of rosés with light fare and fresh produce, crab and salads, slows as we enjoy the 2014 vintage supply at the restaurant, wines not doctored to be rushed to market, the true wines of Provence.  And across the northern hemisphere, harvest time of the 2015 vintage approaches, the tannins rising to protect the fruit as it ripens, a new yield of nature's balance.  With that I'll leave you to the true wine experts, and bow to the wine expert you have within, fully equipped, ready for your own experiences, in whichever direction you go.

The pains of summer sunburns pass, into a gentle itch.  And for the other more year round pains of life, there's always wine.