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 Idiot, Crime 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.